Swimming

Carolyn Miller (photo by Michael O'Shea)
  • Carolyn Miller (photo by Michael O'Shea)

for Marilyn

  • My old friend and I step down into the pool’s warm
  • chlorinated water, no longer thin, dark-haired girls
  • as when we met. We push out into the lap lanes
  • in our women’s bodies. Her hair, once chestnut,
  • to her waist, is cropped, completely white; mine is mostly gray.
  • We have survived womanhood, the scars hidden
  • underneath our swimsuits: she has only one breast,
  • like an Amazon; I have empty space where my female organs were.
  • We swim slowly, inexpertly, without husbands or children,
  • as we were that summer night in Kansas City, with Ken and Bob
  • at the Jewel Box, our first female-impersonators’ bar,
  • and the Blue Room, our first black bar, drinking
  • Singapore slings and sloe gin fizzes, staying up all night
  • and going swimming in our underwear at 4 a.m.
  • in a lake in Kansas. We built a fire on the shore,
  • and I told Bob he looked like Stephen Dedalus
  • in Portrait of the Artist, in the scene of his epiphany
  • on the beach. I’ve always liked to think I saved our lives
  • later, on the turnpike, by waking Ken when he dozed off
  • behind the wheel. Now, still young, he and Bob are dead of AIDS,
  • deaths none of us then could have imagined.
  • Old friends, we swim our slow, unathletic laps. We were
  • intense, emotional girls. We believed
  • that art made life worth living, and it does. We thought that life
  • would give us everything, and it has.
  • We are still burning, plunging through the pool’s bright surface,
  • buoyant in the sweet and bitter water.

Carolyn Miller is a San Francisco poet, editor and painter who leads poetry-writing workshops in both France and the Bay Area. The poem “Swimming” is from Carolyn Miller’s collection After Cocteau, published by Sixteen Rivers Press, and is reprinted with permission.

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Comments

My tired and apathetic excuse for commentary: I think Stephen Dedalus would look like 'anyboy,' no matter what scene of that book. The four 'b's in the last line don't work. I think Carolyn Miller did workshops at UCSD or something. There used to be a poster for a reading she'd done, hanging up in the office where I worked there.

Alternate title?

Burning, bright, buoyant.....bitter.

I'm just sayin'.

Marilyn...may i call u Marilyn??

i love this free ranging style of poignant reminiscence

I'm getting there into that land of the "fast changing body and still incorruptible mind"

i too am lucky enough to have that friend of "like butta" talk that act as a balm against our bodily dissolution

and dear poetess..perhaps u can answer a question for me...in spite of the Gray and body parts missing...what is old???

i write poetry in my blog here sometime...come vist..oh btb..i'm NOT famous..Nan

Hey nan, I think "Marilyn" is the name in the dedication of the poem--written by Carolyn Miller. Miller's not likely to respond, bein' a famous poet and all ;)

But if it makes you feel better, I can say truthfully that I enjoy some of the original wording in your own free verse--and comments, even--better than I do Miller's stuff.

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