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Swimming Lessons
by David Slavin


I first notice your smile,
dampened but proud.
Your eyes reflect the water
that reflects the incandescence
that illuminates the indoor pool.

At classes for children,
from tadpoles through dolphins,
our moms keep watch,
witness the accident
of our first date.

You are just a tadpole,
but even now you wriggle
toward the deep end.

I am a guppy, nervous;
practice my kick in shallows,
tiny fins still clutch concrete.


We meet for real in high school,
your eyes echo sunlight,
wink past wave equations
on lacquered desk.

I hold your hand, warm, soft
in cool, burning chlorinated haze
that sublimates in the sun;


Out of college I do the crawl.
Force air out gullet, nostrils
anxious to hold back, not embrace, water.

You work on your backstroke, glide fluently
till colliding tersely into walls.
Bruised, abraded you turn, push off,
set out for open water.


I have always been afraid of the sea
daring only to wade at its edges,
but a wave carries you to shore,
then carries us out.

I struggle to hold you, strengthen my kick.
Our lips hold the air, hold back the sea;
a single buoy in the middle of the deep.

Then the fear sets in.
I have swum alone too long,
and you are not a concrete wall,
but a sinuous body, crouching,
ready to plunge.

I lose your hand.
Try calling out,
tongue seared in bitter wash,
am dragged out to sea,
your image dissipating at the horizon.


I try survival floating.
Both arms extended, fingers splayed;
allow the ocean to take my weight,
sink just beneath the waves.

Emerging for intermittent breaths,
each surfacing repaid, not with air,
but sting of brine in eyes, nose, scalded throat.

I fend off the sea;
hands swat, feet twitch, neck cranes, 
head just above the waves.


You have reached the shoals,
are safe within the tide pool's eddies;
a mom now watching her tadpole glimmer,
his eyes reflect yours.

I am drifting still;
paddling slow, deliberate,
waiting on a wave.

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