Carolyn Miller (photo by Michael O'Shea)
- My old friend and I step down into the pool’s warm
- chlorinated water, no longer thin, dark-haired girls
- as when we met. We push out into the lap lanes
- in our women’s bodies. Her hair, once chestnut,
- to her waist, is cropped, completely white; mine is mostly gray.
- We have survived womanhood, the scars hidden
- underneath our swimsuits: she has only one breast,
- like an Amazon; I have empty space where my female organs were.
- We swim slowly, inexpertly, without husbands or children,
- as we were that summer night in Kansas City, with Ken and Bob
- at the Jewel Box, our first female-impersonators’ bar,
- and the Blue Room, our first black bar, drinking
- Singapore slings and sloe gin fizzes, staying up all night
- and going swimming in our underwear at 4 a.m.
- in a lake in Kansas. We built a fire on the shore,
- and I told Bob he looked like Stephen Dedalus
- in Portrait of the Artist, in the scene of his epiphany
- on the beach. I’ve always liked to think I saved our lives
- later, on the turnpike, by waking Ken when he dozed off
- behind the wheel. Now, still young, he and Bob are dead of AIDS,
- deaths none of us then could have imagined.
- Old friends, we swim our slow, unathletic laps. We were
- intense, emotional girls. We believed
- that art made life worth living, and it does. We thought that life
- would give us everything, and it has.
- We are still burning, plunging through the pool’s bright surface,
- buoyant in the sweet and bitter water.
Carolyn Miller is a San Francisco poet, editor and painter who leads poetry-writing workshops in both France and the Bay Area. The poem “Swimming” is from Carolyn Miller’s collection After Cocteau, published by Sixteen Rivers Press, and is reprinted with permission.