Ode to a Swimming Pool
I never told you this, but I love that you are
not the sea, that you have no mile-deep trench,
no lanternfish with their slender, recurved teeth.
For me, you have always been a shapeshifting oracle.
I count on you to indulge my guilt and my loneliness,
to see me through in your winsome, genial way.
It’s not that I want to be your child again,
but I am afraid. And you have always carried me.
I was scarcely five when I saw the skin on my fingertips
shrivel, so I swam underwater happy as an old woman.
In you, I am an infant one hour and a sexy adult
the next. I am curved in places; I, too, must adhere.
In you, I learned to tread water and I was praised—
Good, good! Keep your head up! Keep your head up!—
for that was a kind of swimming then and not
what we do instead of drowning, or before.
Marvelous in Its Volume
The pool I’m conjuring now
can be curved or rectangular,
public or part of a neighborhood
association. Either way, the gate
can be locked, the pool emptied, still.
But in 1964 J.T. Johnson, Al Lingo,
and other protestors were already
in the pool at the Monson Motor
Lodge, St. Augustine, Florida.
When the owner poured acid
into the water, tried to splash
their skin open with burning,
they huddled to the center
while the pool water, marvelous
in its volume, all twenty-thousand
gallons, diluted the dangerous acid
and saved them from the poison
of a white man for several minutes.
Drained in Nashville
Fear of watery black fingers, arms, and legs
gave Kwame Lillard and Matthew Walker
astonishing power in the summer of 1962.
When one suggested the action to the other,
little was said, for transgression had already
claimed them. Wearing swim trunks and
carrying their towels, they walked the long
walk from their side of town to an upscale
whites-only municipal pool. Even now, but
certainly back then, fear of shared water slip-
ping up against black thighs then white thighs
meant all gates would be guarded, would be
broad-shouldered and uniformed even if
they were only chain-link or thin board.
Both men had their dime for entrance.
Though it’s true no one lunged, no bottles
shattered, that predictable refusals
came quickly, the N-word, too, it’s also true
that every gate was shaken loose and even
the water made to change: By week’s end, city
officials drained all twenty-two municipal pools.
Aliesa Zoecklein has poems published in Copper Nickel, Posit, Carolina Quarterly, Seventh Wave, and Split Rock Review among others. In 2014, her chapbook At Each Moment, Air won the Peter Meinke Award and was published by YellowJacket Press. Aliesa lives with her wife in Gainesville, Florida, where she teaches writing at Santa Fe College.
Featured Watercolor Credit: Aliesa Zoecklein