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John Hodgen

My Mother Swimming, John Hodgen

My Mother Swimming

Chest-deep, my brother and I, the waters of Comet Pond leaping at our little hearts
as we held on for dear life, shrivel-fingered, blue, to the cement block, the boat dock,
as far as we dared go, the self-declared demarcation of our drowning.
Our father lay back on the blanket, lonely as Liechtenstein, his shirt still on, always.
the polioed hunch of his back like a boat overturned on a beach,
my mother swimming alone before us, back and forth, smoothly, shining,
this one time and never again.  Soon she would come in to us, gleaming,
pack up the blanket, the basket, sit like silence next to my father all the way home,
their heads and shoulders looming above us, Scylla and Charybdis,
whom we knew even then we would have to go through to make our way in the world.

But for now, for just this moment, she glowed, she showed us,
moving like language along the water, like handwriting on the horizon,
that oceans of darkness would come,
the long river of abandoned office buildings on a Sunday afternoon,
the silent crow’s nest shadows of all the true angels of death,
or the first step we would take from the train, alighting into the darkness
of our hometown, our mother and father no longer there to meet us,
their shadows run off and drowned somewhere.

But there will be moments, she said, smiling, as she turned on her back,
floating, moments like diamonds in our hands, candles on the waves,
and we could make our way to them, hold them one by one,
like the silver beads of water on the head of a baby being baptized,
the breath she takes in like a dream and lets go.

John Hodgen, Grace (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006).