Megan Gail Coles, Public Swimming Pools


Your counsellor prescribes pre-emptive swims
so you search out public swimming pools all over the country
for fear of relapse as the fall crests an overwhelming wave of uncertainty.
You irritate half of everyone in bright rooms with demands for equality
because you can’t just be grateful or the space they made at their table,
temporarily allowing you a moment at the mic, covering your
room service, a garden salad with grilled salmon and a smoothie
costs eighty-five dollars. You imagine telling your nan this later
before deciding you best not soak her so thoroughly
with more proof of the world’s easy disdain.
Instead, you send her selfies from every city, all these green rooms,
you kitted out in your red dress, that blue blazer, trying,
desperately, to be taken seriously.
Your nan prefers pictures with your new boyfriend outside.

You know this because she tells you, repeatedly,
asking when he will come meet her, claiming she will be dead soon,
not gonna make it to another wedding, she goads, though
she’s no illness beyond her chronic inheritance and number of her age.
Your brain surfs its way toward her coast through these pool-lit lanes,
soft pop music playing, some teenager seated overtop you,
a bored expression upon her lips, your lean lover butterflying alongside
knows not of where your mind travels until later in the car when you share
stories of the change room, him having out of character made small talk
with a stranger, claiming this is to your credit, his happy shift toward generosity
is a happy shift. You trade back your recounting of a woman, maybe your age,
maybe older, hardening with the heft of living, proof worn ‘round her waist,
a grave tire she is forced to lug after bearing her many children,
only the one boy sporting hair of any natural colour, his siblings streaked through.
The tween suddenly whipping antisemitism at her littlest little sister
knows nothing of Judaism, knowing only the power of adult words,
hatred slung the room’s length in syllables, the shock on your face caught
by a mother quick to recognize you take offence, the steady swallow,
a humbling navigation, this woman scolding her pink and purple haired daughters,
barking to shut their mouths or she’ll shut it for them, saying this clearly
for the benefit of your ears and you take in the worn swimwear,
the handful of youngsters, no one to help her herd them at this early hour,
where she is trying to teach all to swim or enjoy their childhood.
The tween tossing racism so freely, you nearly swing ‘round at these people,
having nothing to defend the empty change room from but ignorance,
heaving it at each other like a towel flicked in jest
though your hidden beginning stops any offering further shame.

You want these children to have the nice pool as you
sometimes had the nice pool when you needed a place.
They cannot even comprehend the disgrace showered upon them
in public spaces for appearing so poorly as to not know
the meaning of words in their mouths in the context of the world
because the world is so far beyond these children and their mother
who wants you to know they have been swimming before,
going well out of her way to loudly share this information
which sounds like a small plea for patience and a threat,
do not embarrass me now here in front of my children,
she cannot know you lived in a trailer once too,
had your phone regularly unhooked,
ate no name cheese slices after school every day,
saltines and toast keeping you alive through junior high,
how you won’t go handy to Kraft Dinner having sworn
KD can fuck off now and forever but remembering well
powdered cheese, knowing you knew nothing, reliving that feeling again
and again and again, travelling two weeks at a time to another town
for swimming badges, a whole community deciding en masse
no more children would drown in the lake, pond or brook, over
the wharf, the side of a dory, no more, enough, driving
through snowstorms and moose-covered roads only to arrive
in slightly larger places where our parents were constantly
found waiting, ignorant and vulgar, because they too
were taught to speak hate casually as children, the slow re-education
that ensued when you discovered, in your twenties, all the bad things
you did not know you said, all the once informing your whole clan
of mistaken harm, can’t say that, or that, can’t say that either,
half your words were wrong words stinging slaps upon a cheek.

So no, you couldn’t or wouldn’t or won’t taint the pool for those kids
who are judged enough already for how and where they were born,
instead you hope that learning to swim will bring sufficient
strength to pull themselves, stroke after stroke, lap after lap,
up and out of this crude shallow water of disregard.

Alice Burdick

Texte publié dans le No 35. Encrages et recollages

Excerpt from Satched (House of Anansi Press, 2016)
Translated and reproduced with the publisher’s permission

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