Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Etiquette of Passing

The Tao of Swimming

I swam in the middle lane today
Where this old Japanese guy
I say old
He was probably sixty

In a blue skull cap and goggles
It’s hard to tell

Tan and lean
With that sweetness
You only see on the faces
Of older men

I say old
But if that’s an old man
Then me, old woman,
Isn’t far behind

This Japanese guy
Was doing wind-sprints
He’d chase the water
And chase again

The kind of swimmer
Who bends his elbows
Flings his arms out to the side
And still goes fast

Usually I take the slow lane
Though I have foolishly
Bragged to my children
About my summer on a swim team
Age fourteen

Now, swimming while pregnant:
That’s what I remember best
Rolling, enormous
In troughs of water
Swimming inside

Today though in the slow lane
There’s this old white man
I mean really old
Persistent like a crab
A procession of one
Taking up all the space

Who wants to swim behind him?
If I swam that slow I’d be treading!
I can’t stay here all day!

There’s the other slow lane of course
Full of moms
With kick boards
Following, waiting
Taking turns

The fast lane is out of the question
The tanned and muscular young
Plunging headlong
I could never stay with it

So I get in the middle lane
And hope I keep pace

It’s just the sprinter and me
Doing laps
And I just want to get moving

But etiquette interferes
We don’t develop a rhythm

I follow and wait
Then crawl one length
Backstroke the next

For a while
We’re in sync

But after each sprint
He catches his breath

Soon I’m following
And waiting again

We’re smiling
And nodding
Till he’s ready
To go

I don’t really want to pass this guy
Transference, I know
And it’s
That time of year

Circling times six
Since my father died

You might call it
The Transference of Everyday Life
Not a bad title
For somebody’s paper

Phase two of the etiquette
Goes something like this:

Once he’s winded
From sprinting
He smiles: “You go.”
“OK,” I say
And push off the wall

I keep up the pace
Not knowing
When he’ll follow

Coming back
On my back
I hit the rope
With my left arm

Etiquette again:
I’m leaving space for him
To swim by
On my right

Excessive politeness
On my part it seems
He’s resting
At the end of the lane

Turned away
He fiddles with goggles
And pushes off the wall

I really don’t want to pass this man
One more time
Yet how can I avoid it?

After so many years in the slow lane
I’m gathering speed

My arms swing
Like windmills

My kick’s light and easy

Air and water
Stream through my mouth

And where my hands cut through
The water’s like silk

“Go ahead,” he says
When I pause
One last time

He smiles permission
But I can barely stop myself


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