8 June 2008 | Vol. 8, No. 2
The Swimming Pool
We'll remember this as my daughter's first summer. The point of reference for all her summers. We go to the university's pool, the swimming pool I love because of such public mothering.
I'll remember the way my husband left her in the sun too long, her face made lovely and pink also my first scare for her life. How she lolled in the carseat covered by towels, the cooing that strangers did over her. Their faces. I'll remember putting on a bathing suit and missing the expanse she made of my belly. My son, less afraid of the water than the last time.
This is my son's third summer. He digs his fingers into my hand when kids in the swimming pool get rowdy. He hesitates around the edge. My son has golden hair. It curls and it traps light. I look like the nanny with my mother's olive skin, black hair. In my lap, he's my prize.
It's personality. He is tentative around slides, rides and boisterous children. He has his own brand of wildness. He doesn't like to be bothered by other children's conception of play. He's acting out the stories in his head complete with voices. Anthropomorphizer of napkins.
In the pool my body floats and I allow in all the ideas I miss about myself. A flossy rope ties me to myself. A leash. Heavenly mother. In the swimming pool I am a child making arcs in the snow.
Other mothers swim in the pool with their children, many of the mothers older. The sun puts a glisten on the ends of their hair. Their bodies underwater look unearthly. The woman in the lane next to me has wide shoulders like my grandmother.
We wrap our children in towels the same way: so that their bodies are swallowed warm with them. We hector them about sunscreen.
When I swim and I am entirely alone with my thoughts, my children only pass through my mind as topics.
I think today when my daughter and son lay together on the bed sleeping. His lanky body next to her curve. Is that not a poem?
Her come from your body, mama.
I try to remember the writing ideas that escaped me the night before. The ones I was certain I would remember. I couldn't get up and write because I was stuck between my children's bodies. Now I don't understand the lines.
Divided into lanes, the ghostly bodies of mothers back and forth, back and forth. We are all submerged away from our lives. A woman's daughter stands at one end, yells Mom, mom, mom and we all look.
The water's tender cradle—it lifts my body back into place. I hear sounds like my daughter must have just two months ago.
The mothers at the pool are slick with water so they look fully emerged.
Tired of thinking of poems, I plan her college years, her wedding. I invent her a big loft apartment in New York.
I'm swimming for blankness but it doesn't come.
Out of the pool and immediately back into it. My daughter pushes her head into my wet body. I want to hold myself to you but you are myself. She's hungry and it's late in the day.
She is lovely with her heartbreaking. She takes no notice of me, what I think of me. Just my body.
As I swim and lift my head to breathe. I catch a glimpse of the world they're in and then recede back to my temporary world.
Motherhood as pastoral.
Motherhood as transcendence, the postmodern kind complete with self-consciousness.
Motherhood as tenancy.
My husband walks the length of the pool as I swim it to meet me at each end. My daughter's big imploring eyes. I ask him to stop.
I sit and talk to a beautiful woman about mothering. I tell her of looking at my daughter's face for beauty, something I didn't do with my son. I remind myself to look for strength, for intelligence in my daughter's face. The beautiful woman asks why.
The beautiful woman talks about being occupied in pregnancy and asks if it's strange to have something so big in you, so living. I am reminded of how gradual the occupation was and thinking this was biology's way of adapting a mother's body to its eventual split.
The beautiful woman has never been pregnant, wants children. I tell her she would be a good mother because I hope it's true.
We can all of us only try to be good mothers I tell her.
I felt occupied, I tell her, when my daughter's presence gave me heartburn. When I couldn't sleep. I couldn't explain how it felt like my body had been finished. That would have been sentimental.
It'll change everything, I say instead. But in a good way. I hope she has children. I hope it goes like it went for me.
Every girl here the future age of my daughter. Every boy the lean body of my son. I hate to live so much in the future but it obsesses me. That they will discover literature, that they will have political leanings. That their bodies might have scars on them. A series of futures. I will them past my end. Rattle my bones like they're charms.
Back in the water for one last swim. My mother can't swim so it's a pride to tell her I've gone swimming. She's afraid of the water, of its depth. She's afraid of my going far down into the water and away.
I tell her about the swimming back and forth and her fear breaks the day into pieces. She's making a day and night of it.
When I was a child I was terrified of the water but swam anyway. My cousin lived in an apartment building and we'd swim in the pool at night, the lights casting our twisted shadows against the walls. I never closed my eyes.
One night the lights blinked out: a short, a timer. Who knows? I called out, Mami, mami, like she might save me. She came to the edge of the pool, kicked off her shoes. She would have drowned. She would have saved me and drowned trying. Just for my fear of the dark water, its lascivious lapping against the wall.
I go swimming for her and against her. I go swimming to take her into the deep water in my heart. I swim as her.
About the author:
Carmen Giménez Smith, a former Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is the author of Odalisque in Pieces (University of Arizona Press, 2009) and Casanova Variations (Dos Press, 2008). Her poetry has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Poetry, Boston Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, POOL, Mandorla, and American Letters and Commentary. She lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she is an assistant professor of creative writing at New Mexico State University, the publisher of Noemi Press, and the editor-in-chief of Puerto del Sol.
For further reading:
Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 8, No. 2, where "The Swimming Pool" ran on June 8, 2008. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, essay, memoir.