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The Lessons

The point is this: weeks have passed
and you won't put your face in the water, won't
lie like a discarded doll on the surface,
won't hold your breath without pinching
your nose. You spend most of the time
watching band-aids loosen and cling
to the bright blue walls as boys' synthetic suits
balloon with cold water and girls'
long ponytails silken into brown ribbons.
You pretend to drift with them, all with their faces
in the water, Ben Merritt above you,
walking along the edge, bellowing
Put yaw face in the watah! like the drill
sergeant he ought to have been, and then,
because of you, Everybody on the grass!
and you all run, resentful and shivering
to that yard where nothing stays
clean. Hard, fat stones litter the crab grass;
a bucket's belly is stuffed with nuts and bolts;
rainwater from last weekend's storm
rots the gutters. Everyone shakes and chatters
in the dirty yard, terrified of landing
in the occasional dog droppings and the sting
of those yellow-green blades of grass
as your lmees sink into sod and peat. Thumbs
angled, palms down, a smooth practice-push back
with the hand dipping down and up to the buttocks
and then the. gear-like ease forward
to the imagined slap between water and air
until he is satisfied enough to say
Back to the watah! and back you go,
the refuse of his yard clinging to your feet
and hands, his pool full of twigs and acorns,
everyone but you continuing
with the Australian crawl
while you admire the skeletal rise
of flowers along the walk and wish hard
for that hour to end.
playtime begins, ten minutes during which
your mother comes to get you, a relief.
But she smiles at Mr. Merritt in a way
she's never smiled at your father; she smiles at his
mottled skin and sandy hair, and her light laugh
makes her tall, young, warm. So you try it,
slip beneath the surface, let the water
hold your hair, feel the sun's slim pulse
through the watery quiet. Under water,
leaves are paws, ferns are wings,
and your mother's skirt is an orange flame
melting the sap from the pool's pine edge
as she hands the weekly check
to Mr. Merritt. You rise to catch a breath
of her, and submerge yourself again.


(from The Lessons [Eugene, OR: Silverfish Review Press, 2011]).