Bodies of Water

 

for Scott T. Somerville

9/27/59--4/28/04

You were never a water wimp.

Even at Orchard Beach, you were good

to go. A natural swimmer, graceful

and strong. All of us were.

Natural swimmers, that is.

In water, that is.

But I was afraid to be

out over my head, afraid to swim

at dawn with you and Brutus out on 95th Street

when the lifeguard chairs were still

overturned in the sand on the shanty

“Irish Riviera” where we learned to tread water.

You always went way out.

You were never afraid

to get your ass kicked by a wave.


There was no fear

of losing control, cramping up, no fear of water

rushing to displace the spirit

of your lungs. No fear of the Earth’s

humors, the protean green of its scary

unknown, no fear of the curvaceous

machine of the tides.

And how you love baths! “Tropical Rain Forest”:

smoke a joint, fill the tub with aromatic

bubbles, darken the room, put music on,

pull the curtain, turn the shower on and float

away down the Nile in your vessel. You’ll go

in the water anywhere. When you come out,

it’s always with your head bowed down.

You shake the water off your blond head

like a dog, wearing a Miraculous

Medal, Virgin on a chain. I

never went to the beach with you

where you didn’t swim.

If there was water, you went in.

At the run-down riparian patch of the Yonkers

Hudson by Ludlow Street Station,

where the hookers, junkies and “faggots” congregated

you learned to fish—How I lament my sexual naiveté

(my imaginative deficit—maybe there’s still time, Snow Whitey —

a few moist years—before the onset of desiccation.)

In Rockaway, we learned to swim, across

from Playland, apprentices in anarchy-cumjuvenile

delinquency on lavender boardwalk nights.

We snuck on rides, harassed arcade suckers.

It was ‘69, the summer my breasts arrived.

I liked that 13-year-old Tommy from Kingsbridge.

I guess maybe you did too.


In junior year at Riverdale, they made us read

The Awakening in English class. I don’t remember

much about it. I read it so fast on the 20 bus.

A bored sensitive housewife takes a lover,

but it’s not just a romp;it’s liberty.


There was a seminal passage 

about swimming and sex.

We had to dissect it on the final. 

In The Swimmer, Burt Lancaster

searches for the true meaning of Life.

He hops over a fence and dives into

the pool that belonged to Armina,

Grandmother to Lola and Eve.

He was looking for something

he would never find. All he found

was exhaustion and emptiness

in the shallow end of the Pool of Life.

And who can forget “Daddy” in Come Back

Little Sheba, a chilling flick you’ve seen

a hundred times. Don’t swim

after eating a ham. Don’t dive

into a waterless pool. Don’t let

a drowning victim pull you in.

Use a rope or pole.

It never mattered how cold the water was,

you’d always go in. Wappingers Falls in May,

unremarkable spots on the Sound

where I snapped that shot of you

carrying my man like a bride,

the two of you lean and fashionable

in the parking lot heat.

It was the year of the pale

pink bikini. You look terrific in your suit,

no matter how many cheeseburgers,

no matter what body

of water you swim in.

 

And those bedroom eyes of yours,

sleepy blue, and the curls, romantic,

emblazoned with sun like tendrils on the pate

of that lush god Bacchus, a wild spray charged

with coppery light. I first read Euripides

at age 15. At 19, I met him

in a dream. The poet was avuncular,

charming, sage, lean, more bald than grey.

Wearing a loose white robe and sandals,

he sat elevated on a great rock

overlooking the Aegean, where he entertained

a simple question I’d been puzzling over.

It concerned the huntress.

I learned Adonis does get it in the end,

a disappointing conclusion indeed:

armed huntress clobbers beauteous male love god.


Later I learned the Aegean truly is

“wine-dark,” the color of dolphins, eggplants and plums,

not olive like the sand-salted Atlantic, nor Mexican turquoise,

nor your own warm favorite, your ice

blue water with its penetrable

salt, water clear enough to read through —

Jamaica — where it is your pleasure to swim and bake

beneath the dangerous sun, your nearly naked flesh

well-anointed with luxurious emollients

and fragrant French tanning products.

That day at Coney Island, I had joyous news

to break, but it was the day you became a Mermaid.

You were so wrapped up—so rapt

in the thrall of drag—your emerald

costume—your jade tail and Kelly eyeliner,

green lips and bra-straps of teal

dropping, drooping down upon your nice pair

of bare hairy shoulders, your conch shell choker

and a ratty Godiva wig.

I wanted more.

 

I wanted to throw you over

when the time came to sink or swim.

I wanted to jump in after you.

I wanted more of a role in your management.

I wanted to throw you

a line, but when I did, you hung up on me.

My boat capsized. It wasn’t the worst

of your nefarious multifarious infractions,

transgressions, crimes, violations, no, but

there was piracy, mutiny, pandemonium on the High Seas.

Storm weathered, I shoveled out your little house on

“the Island,” your little place

on the water.