Saturday, May 26, 2007

Swimming: Prose-Poem

I was going to erase yesterday's effort but decided instead to let that rough attempt at a poem stand as evidence of the process. Here it is re-written as prose, and I think it works better. (My editor was right. Then she always is.)


Scanning the pool’s bottom I note the aging plaster in yellowish brown patterns like pee stains. Once at a YMCA I saw a turd on the bottom slowly dispersing. I like children but I canceled my membership because of memory.

Ropes held up by donut floats divide the lanes, each lane with a royal blue stripe down its center, six tiles wide.

How many strokes in a lap? So many variables. Counting, you risk a loss of rhythm. Arithmetic is not forgetting though it prunes language down.

Pearls of exhalation dribble from my mouth. What you inhale in a moment you blow out for three strokes. How can you take all that in with one gulp?

Poetry, how Jane Hirschfield’s three years at a Zen monastery might help silence the mind in the rhythm of the sickle of the harvest, in the planting of the rice shoots, calf deep in muddy water—in the employment of the definite article or in making tea: heat water add tea let steep pour ten spondees.

Thoughts come in words, words written in lipstick on the mind’s mirror where peace might have been. I want being without thought, only water sliding by (look—she swims well in the next lane, nice ass!)

See? Even distractions are verbalized. There is no woman, only these words. But you see her, don’t you, in the black one-piece with the open back, thighs tight and churning?

Words speak only of what’s already past, can never catch up with the next stroke, useless as bus exhaust, I might as well be fart-propelled. I want to be like those apes in 2001, pre-verbal. I envy brain-injured patients who can’t speak or think in words. Then whence epistemology? From a fucking stone? It’s just a word, who needs it?

Some part of me keeps track of every lap: lap 31, chant 31—and how’s my daughter doing, single mother and all, my brain directs my limbs without my thinking, three strokes: swoosh swoosh swoosh: gulp air: breathe out, strings of bubble bath pearls, arms heavy as pewter because lead is cliché and you think you’re a writer.

K-FUCK, my brain’s only station!—all that Sisyphean gossip, all that Herculean chatter and object-association nonsense, plums and apricots and women’s asses, pinking shears and postage stamp borders, how I hate leg irons and iron horses and Lou Gehrig and iron lungs beaten red on anvils like the color of lava expanding as the big island gets bigger with eels for Easter Island and Captain Cook stewed flight steward Hawaiian Airlines need new swim trunks still too fat what kind of salad afterwards maybe Jacuzzi wait for my heart rate to slow?

Perhaps a hemisphereectomy: remove half my brain and it won’t talk to itself so much, or at least a corpus callosotomy, mama disconnect the phone one mind one thought one bliss.

Finally (was it exhaustion that clued me?) how to turn it off:

Pretend you’re asleep. You dream of a body; it’s not your body. Someone else is swimming. You float in wordless sleep. If you start to wake, say only: “not my body, not my body.” Last lap.


  1. Have you seen a movie called The Final Cut with Robin Williams?

    Your post reminded me of that movie.

    It's about a man whose profession involves the editing of memories of the deceased. Set in a near future in which people are implanted at birth with a chip in the brain that records every moment, every memory of that person's life.

    Williams edits these chips into footage that can be viewed at funerals.

    The movie is definitely worth seeing. Robin Williams gives a remarkably subdued performance. And the footage of various people's memories is riveting.

    The sequence that stuck with me, the one that made me profoundly sad was that of a young boy staring into a mirror, then an adolescent, then a young man, then middle aged and so on....and he's just standing there staring into that mirror.

    It brought me to tears.

    I liked your post, sir. It was somewhat dreamish in its quality.

    How many strokes in a lap? How many steps in a mile? How many breaths in either? How many heartbeats?

    I don't swim. I learned how to swim in a lake in New Hampshire and that pretty much took the joy out of swimming for me. (dark, cold water, mucky lake bottoms, fish nibbling on the toes....)

    I'll shut up now.

    Mind's wandering.

  2. So good to hear from you, LKD! I won't go into any specifics, just know I've been worried about you. Nuff said.

    Thanks for the movie rec. I love sci-fi, not even a guilty pleasure. But wasn't Williams in Millennial Man or some such sci-fi that was panned as a stinker?

    I'll check my NetFlix cue for Final Cut. (Been on a Helen Mirren tear lately. Decided I liked my wife better.)

    Final Cut would also be a good title for an obsessed poet trying to write the perfect poem. That would make a good Borges story. Spend a year on an article vs. a definite article. Shit, I've almost done that!

    There are a lot of sci-fi stories based on selling, trading and implanting memories. One of the saddest is a short tale about poor people who have to sell their most cherished memories just to eat-- while the rich consume said memories like cocaine. The poor lose their lives a piece at a time. Experience is the new wealth, as some would argue even now.

  3. Helen.

    When I grow up I want to BE Helen Mirren.

    I just watched The Queen last week and boy oh boy did she totally deserve the Oscar she won for that performance (alhtough, I just saw Notes on a Scandal last night, and Judy Dench's performance was so chilling, so the spider inviting the fly into her parlor that I briefly wished that she'd won the award instead).

    Are you familiar with Helen's work in the very excellent PBS mystery series Prime Suspect? I watched the last one when it was aired months ago and it wore me out emotionally. That character is very close to where I live, very close to my heart.

    I don't think I articulated WHY yoru post reminded me of The Final Cut. You mentioned a hemispherectomy, how that surgery might quiet the brain's dialogue...and that instantly conjured the scene of the man staring into the mirror. (which, when I watched the movie, conjured the image of my father shaving day after day; what did he think of as he performed that daily task? Who was he? What was he thinking of right before the clot floated up through his vein and cut off the flow to his brain and everything went dark?) (I wept during that scene and very few movies will move me to tears these days if only because I feel that they're trying to manipulate my emotions--I prefer not to be forced to cry, ya know?)

    You've been worried about me? Why? I'm fine. SSDD. But less present on the computer and in the land of blog and poetry and words lately. The real world, the outside world, the backyard, has lately been calling loudly to me and I stand out there, cigaretteless, and watch and listen to every every thing and resist the urge to write poems about those moments.

    That short story you mentioned about the poor selling their most cherished memories....who wrote it?

    (Oh, and hey, I was heartened to read in one of your previous posts that you continue to exercise. Go, you. The next battle will be to confront your eating habits. It's such a tough thing to do. We eat for just about every reason in the world EXCEPT real, honest to god hunger. I finally got thin and stayed thin when I stopped eating until I felt real hunger pains and heard my stomach growling--it took about a day and a half if I recall--and from that point forward only ate when I was hungry. I don't eat unless I'm hungry. Period. I eat slowly. I stop eating before I feel full--because once you feel full, you've eaten too much. I only eat what I'm really hungry for. And it works. I swear by it. Everyone thinks I'm crazy when I say my diet is not to diet. They think I'm insane when I say I only eat when I'm hungry. But as with the daily exercise thing, I think we all have to find our own way to it. You'll get there. When you're ready.)

  4. Final Cut - GREAT movie!

    Bicentennial Man - A good movie. No matter what the critics said.

  5. Beau--good, I try not to trust the critics.

    LKD, I consider you my personal fitness coach. You're cheap and you're good, and you don't have to watch me sweating my belly off. I am very much of the opinion your non-diet diet can work for me.

    The memory-selling story I doubt I could unearth with research beyond my brain's certainty that it exists and was made into a half-hour show, as well, as I recall, likely a second generation Twilight Zone--else it was part of a movie, a tryptich of Sci-Fi--one or the other. Have mercy on my memory. I remember stories, ideas, facts, statistics, historical trends, and much more, but I'm terrible with titles and names. I think I'm always impatient to get to the core of something, thinking the name less important. Too late to correct? I hope not.

    I posted several times at your blog about my worry; in working through your grief about your, I assume, recently deceased father (condolences), some of your poems were bleak enough to almost make me cry, which is saying a lot, and also there were almost suicidal brushes with death itself in the poems. That's why I was worried. You never know how confessional a poet may or may not be; in the future I will assume your poems are not particularly confessional in terms of sharing your current state (though it's hard for me to believe that about some of them; perhaps they serve as purgation).

  6. I'm a reluctant confessional poet.

    Reluctant because I was brought up in a house in which self-discretion was held in the highest regard. My parents are two of the most private bordering on secretive people I've ever known...and a child learns by observation. I watched and learned. I don't know that my parents ever told me to keep my problems to myself and to keep my mouth shut regarding the family. I just learned from their example.

    I have driven people out of my life because they could not accept my reluctance to divulge the details of my life to them. It drives some people crazy that I prefer not to talk about myself. I'm a listener not a talker, an asker, not an answerer. I've always been rather quiet, reserved, reticent, choose whatever word you prefer.

    So, yes, poetry is a place to purge. Never consciously anymore. What I write can be read and viewed as a mood snapshot although I think, drama queen that I am, I tend to overexaggerate the dark mood. And sometimes, I'm telling the truth, as much as the truth can be told in a poem. As much as I'm willing to divulge of my truth in a poem. Which is alot. Or a little.

    A young man asked me today what I do for fun and I had no answer.

    So, while I wouldn't describe myself as actively, currently depressed right now...I'm not especially happy either. (ha)

    Glad to be your coach, sir. I have a friend at work who I've been coaching too. She's lost 60 lbs and she comes to me every week and tells me how much she's lost, how much she's exercising...and it means to the world to me that my "atta girl, I'm proud of you, way to go" means so much to her.

    I'm so so damned proud of her. She's changed and is changing her life

    Almost gives me the hope and courage to think that maybe I can change mine.

    Oh, and hey, my father? He, 6 years ago. It will be 6 years in October. So not recently.

    One of these days I'll stop writing dead dad poems. I never intentionally conjure him anymore. After he first died, I wrote countless poems about him, about his death. It was the only way I could deal with my grief.

    Now, he just pops into my poems (pops....ha.....he would've liked that....the man loved puns) from time to time.

    Sorry to ramble on. Long day. Long day of being an adult. I too often forget that I am an adult, so when adult duties call, good lord, do they wear me out.

  7. Wow. Six years ago? I'm going to go comment at your blog. It's getting embarrassing having this much conversation solely on mine.

  8. Six years ago.

    2 weeks after my birthday. 6 weeks after 9/11.

    One of the longest, most comfortable (because we were always uneasy in each other's presence because for some reason, we didn't know how to talk to one another) conversations I shared with him was in front of the tv 2 weeks after 9/11. The tv was muted and we were watching footage of the still smoldering ruins (smoldering underground) and I must've made a comment to the effect that it seemed impossible that those 2 towers had collapsed and that the wreckage was still that hot and he proceeded to quietly explain to me how and why the towers collapsed and why the ruins were still smoldering. This was long, long before any of those documentaries were aired about the towers' structure and how that specific structure made the pancaking of them after the planes hit inevitable.

    He was, and this is not an exaggeration or a daughter idolizing her father, the single most intelligent person I have ever known. He read voraciously, mostly non-fiction. If he didn't know the answer to a question (and what a comfort it was as a child to have a parent who could answer all of my whys and hows because he could), he'd find the answer.

    You're familiar, I'm sure, with that quote about when someone dies, it's like a library burning down to the ground. That quote totally applies to my father. When I think of that great brain going black so suddenly...

    ah, gee.

    I'm getting choked up. My mother was talking about him yesterday to a car's salesman, telling him how my father was her one and only. They met in high school and that was it.

    That same salesman was the one who asked me what I do for fun.

    He also asked me why I'd never been married.

    It's the first time I've ever admitted it out loud to anyone--let alone my mother who was sitting right there:

    I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would be married, I replied.

    Why do we add poems to a time like this?

    To explain times like this to ourselves, maybe. To comfort ourselves, maybe.

    To quiet those voices in our heads.

    Or to fill those silences.

  9. "I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would be married," I replied.

    Nor did I, but I've done it three times. I never imagined having children, either. These things just sort of happened, like my life sort of happened.

    Nothing has really gone according to plan. But thank God I met Kathleen; as your mother said of your Dad, your lost Alexandria, "she's my one and only." As I said in one of my love poems to her, "Name a part of your body I won't kiss." Hmm... Maybe I'll post a few love poems on my blog, get off the poetry theory dime that exploded.

    So I am a truly lucky man, loved by three daughters and my dream woman. And I never imagined any of it.

    In my first two marriages I didn't even believe in romantic love; with the second I thought living with my lover might be more convenient, and women seem to always want to get married, you know; and with the first, my religious beliefs caused me marry in order to have sex without God-Daddy getting too mad at me.

    How's that for a lack of personal discretion, for easy familiarity? (Unlike your family--mine was much the same.)

    Yes, I'm certifiable, or have been. Pretty sane now, I think, except for today's unexpected hangover. I have for the most part stopped drinking but stumbled last night. Eating less made it worse. It's all your fault!

  10. It's weird. I used to think I wanted to get married and have kids but I'm pretty certain now that was merely my longing to fit in, to be one of the crowd. I definitely felt that social/cultural/sexual imperative: MUST marry. MUST have children.

    But I never liked kids. People hand me babies and expect me to melt and I never have. I know I'd make a lousy mother. As for marriage...hell, I was born a loner. I don't really know how to be with people. Never have. I'm guessing I never will.

    It took me a while to accept all of this. I am what I am. No big deal, ya know?

    Drank too much? And ate less? Ouch. Yeah, food does slow alcohol absorption, doesn't it.

    Christ, I don't even drink anymore. I swear to god, I have no vices left. How boring am I.

    So, Kathleen is your one and only? And you knew from the word go? My mother swears she didn't think my dad was anything special the first time they met (he approached her as she was walking home from school to ask if she'd seen The Glen Miller Story)--just another guy from the neighborhood. But he was smitten. He knew.

  11. Kathleen knew right away; it took her less than a week to clue me in; then I knew for certain. It was a bad time in her life, I went to the wall for her, risked everything, and it was well worth it. I would have had no regrets in any case. One is lucky to have true love come once in a lifetime, truly, most never experience it. And if it should come your way someday, and I hope it does, it will change your mind about everything. I mean, Kathleen wanted to have children by me and was disappointed she had entered menopause already! Imagine! Love driving you to procreate near 50?

    That's how crazy it is. I miss her even though she's only gone this afternoon, after almost 8 years. I got it as bad as ever and so does she. I never believed in soulmates before, I still bristle at the idea of it, how it's used so phonily so often, but here we are, living proof. I try to be grateful every day, and it isn't hard to do.

    I'm a cliche'. Love came when I least expected it at a very inconvenient time. But it's always kairos, or "the right time," for love.

    Vices? Down to the occasional drink or drinks. And chocolate.

    Please tell me that at least you eat chocolate! Otherwise I will believe you're boring.

    Let me be your vice president.

    Ouch! How I embareass myself!

  12. I DO eat chocolate.

    I'm very particular about the chocolate I eat. It must be good chocolate.

    Nothing cheap.

    If one is going to indulge, one should really indulge, yes?

    I'm partial to dark chocolate which I loathed as a child.

    And white.

    And yes, you may be my veepee.

    Which makes me president of....


    Oh, and hey, your love story almost gives me hope.



    Ash Wednesday:

    "Because I cannot hope to turn again
    Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
    Upon which to rejoice"

    Almost hope? Try the essay.

    Your nature seems to have as much trouble with hope as mine does.


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