for Scott T. Somerville
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
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
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.
I knew I was lucky
you were alive.
I knew my digging
was the sort one normally does for one’s dead.
That Hollywood still, your poster of Bette and Joan,
I left it behind like a landmark,
I left it hanging like a flag on a sinking ship.
There are plenty of fish
in the sea; why shouldn’t you
have all of them, Sister Girlfriend?
And I hope you know, Stella Maris,
I hope you know—you must know—
that come Hell or high water—
I love you madly, my wild Irish twin.