Every Five

In these poems, I use my breathing pattern when I’m swimming to shape the lines. Every five strokes, I breathe. 1 2 3 4 5 breathe left. 1 2 3 4 5 breathe right. Every 5 syllables, I break the line.

At the Lake the Fish in Me Escapes

All winter she waits
Barely alive    iced
under skin    By june
restless    Together
we enter the cold
lake but before the
first stroke she is gone
Returned to endless
blue    Remembering
fins forgetting lungs
legs    January

Submerged

Every 5 strokes I
breathe — a quick sharp in
above, a long slow
out below. A time
to dream, a place to
remember some things
forget others, a
chance to wonder: which
of these lives is true,
which false? Is above’s
separate self fiction,
below’s fluid form-
lessness fact? Are the
borders between us
made up, our skin not
sealed shut but open,
able to be passed
through, dissolved? What if
the real me is a
we not an I? Fish
swimmer water us,
all lake all longing
to stay under, sub-
merged? Yes. For 5 strokes
at a time, we are
together. Freed from
hungry lungs’ demands,
gravity’s tight tug,
land’s need to divide.

Memory Loss

Mid lake the only
evidence I have
of other swimmers
are bent elbows
lime green heads    torsos
tethered to bright pink
buoys    and something
too warm to be a
fish touching my toe.
I encounter whole
swimmers in shallow
water near shore, when
we leave our fish forms
briefly to complain
about blinding sun    
misplaced buoys    waves.
My affection for
these other not quite
fish not quite humans
grows deep as we leave
land, return to the
generosity
of lake water    my
irritation grows
deeper too at their
unwillingness to
swim straight to wrangle
jutting elbows or
flailing frog legs. I
try to remember
affection, forget
irritation, but
when water sloshes
over me gently
it washes away
everything.

I Believe in Buoys

The buoy is not
metaphor for hope
or resiliency
but orange    inflated
a triangle on
the surface, marking
the path, guiding
a swimmer. I look
for it and wonder:
will it appear?
Mostly it doesn’t
hidden by waves    sun
my inability
to see orange often.
Now and then it does–
sometimes the idea
of orange, sometimes a
sense something large looms,
and sometimes, if it
hits in the small bit
of central vision
that’s left, I see it —
a flicker a flash.

How’s it possible
to reach the far shore
when I cannot see?

Why don’t I panic
when nothing is there
but a field of blue
waving endlessly?

I believe in buoys
solid orange real
their existence certain
whether my eyes see
them or not, and when
they don’t, I believe
in sunlit rooftops
an overturned boat’s
silver bottom    bent
elbows’ splashes    breaks
in trees. I believe
in strong shoulders straight
strokes steady breathing.
I believe in lakes
and my ability
to swim across them.

Haunting

No matter how hard
I try, I can’t see
the slimy sand seep
inside to settle
on my skin, but it’s
there after a lake
swim, always when I
take off my suit. I
marvel at the muck
I carry    streaks on
my stomach    half moons
under my breasts    then
wash it off before
it begins to itch.
Even as the silt
dissolves down the drain,
the lake never leaves.
I smell it in my
hair days later, feel
it in my dreams all
winter.
           I wonder —
if part of the lake
stays with me, does part
of me stay with the
lake? What have I left
behind hidden in
its not so deep depths?

Every year the lake
is littered with stuff
flung on purpose or
by accident    coins
rings    a belt buckle
forgotten to all
but the man with a
metal detector
who sweeps the sandy
floor this late summer
morning. He might find
those nose plugs I dropped
a few years ago,
but his machine won’t
ever detect the
trace left by my hands
piercing the surface
then stitching it back
up loop after loop
all summer. Only
the lake remembers
still feels the rings’
reverberations
each February.

There is a limit

to what I need to
know and this is it.
After making eye
contact too many
times with a trio
of hairbands settled
on the sandy floor
I have decided
ignorance is better.
I will believe all
that’s here is me &
water me swimming
water wanting to
hold me up help me
glide go about its
business unnoticed
prepping for splashing
kids    boarding paddlers
diving ducks    floating
bandaids    dearly missed
nose plugs    easily
replaced hairbands and
whatever else joins
us in the lake. By
next week the water
will be opaque    light
brown    steel blue    pea soup
green    or on extra
sunny days    lentil
dal yellow    and I
won’t think about
what it contains. I
will rarely bump in-
to fish, only once
step on a sharp steel
something, and never
again remember
the hairbands sad and
stuck on the lake floor.

The Waves

The waves will come my
daughter’s therapist
tells us. Let them come
let them wash over
you    let them recede
return    know they’ll leave
don’t care they’ll be back.
Impossible to
avoid unwise to
fight. Learn to accept,
find ways to endure
their intensity. When

my mom died it came
up a lot from those
already on the
other side. They warned
about the sudden
rush — being over-
taken swept under
consumed. Not always
unwanted    sometimes
desired    better than
the alternative —
nothing stretched far flat. At

my first open swim,
waves scare me. Choppy
water    whitecaps    swells
hard to breathe    a loss
of control. But soon
I become used to
them, and one summer
I decide I like
the way water rocks
me    rushes over
and into me.    Rough
as a spin cycle
gentle as a cradle.
A chance to fight back
or surrender    be
scrubbed clean    jolted to
life    able to hit
a wall and not fall
apart    gain strength lose
weight — bearings burdens —
as I travel from
one shore to the other.

Afterglow

Reaching the big beach
for a final time
land’s logic returns
too soon. Unsteady,
I stand then drop down,
kneeling in wet sand,
waiting for tired legs
to remember how
to be vertical.

Muscles are grateful,
happy to be used.
A delicious ache
slowly spreads, not pain
or heat, but glowing
satisfaction. Me
& Shoulders. We are
pleased with our effort.
We feel confident
strong    enough    more than
enough    enormous.
Too big to fit in
this lake. No longer
wanting to be water —
formless fluid — but
the land that contains
it. Solid    defined
giving shape to the flow.