Thursday, September 27, 2012

Swimming Poem


Yesterday at a poetry workshop at the Capitol Senior Center in Columbia we discussed similes. In preparing for it, I found numerous www sites with examples of similes which I copied. I hadn’t thought about it before, but most of the common similes are also clich├ęs, which is another aspect of poetry our group will discuss. Anyway, I also looked for examples of Homeric similes, but lo and behold, Google came up with only one set of three examples, all from The Iliad. At the same time, there were countless pages giving these three examples.

As an aside, I hope Google can get some control over duplications returned by its searches. As many as five of 20 “results” are duplications, and the number seems to be rising. Another problem I have with Google is that its results list sites that have absolutely nothing to do with the words entered as parameters for the search. It seems that some web sites, in their desperation for traffic, enter search words unrelated to the subject of their web page.

Since I couldn’t find Heroic simile examples, I provided one I wrote years ago at a workshop with poet Claire Bateman, which I’ll paste below.


As fear can drown the desire to learn
and trigger the fighting reflex
that inspires your arms and legs
to splash desperately
until water sloshes into your nose
and reminds you oblivion is at the bottom
of the fluid surrounding you,
so can dogged determination
control your coordination,
clear your senses such that,
even in the flow of terror,
you hear the instructor’s voice.

I only remember taking my sons to one swimming lesson—that was when my oldest son was a preschooler. Obviously it wasn’t his first lesson, for I’d stitched his name on a tee shirt to make him known to the teacher. What I remember is sitting in a room beside the pool which had a large plate window with a view of the pool and the children taking the lesson. More to the point, I remember being terrified that my son was drowning for the entire lesson. Even today (some 35 years later) I wonder why I didn’t get up and take him out of the class.

The teacher paid no attention to him, among many other students. My son couldn’t keep his head above the water. He was sputtering, gasping, and trying to pretend he was capable of mastering whatever the teacher had commanded. He was inundated with so much water, he was crying but he pretended the tears were just water splashing in his eyes.

Perhaps I thought he was on the verge of doing better. Perhaps I thought the teacher knew better than I did. Perhaps I thought I didn’t know drowning when I saw it. Perhaps I didn’t have the energy to haul a babe in arms and another in diapers into the swimming area with me. My son survived, but I didn’t take him back for another lesson.

Two of my sons became certified scuba divers, so they must have had lessons along the way, perhaps at school. In any case, they learned to love swimming at Black Creek in South Carolina near the home of my mother. We visited her in the summers and on those many days when the temperature hovered just above or below 100 degrees, we took off for the creek.

Many children swam there every day, from toddlers to teenagers. The water felt like it came from an iceberg and was so clear you could drink it. We swam in an area of swift, running water with a sandy bottom that spread out for about 50 yards after the bridge before rushing into a narrowing of bushes.

In the 1980s the scene changed. Twenty-year-olds began to hang out in packs there. The sound of water rushing the banks was lost to boom boxes. The wet smell of water plants faded to the smell of pot. A rough crowd intimidated children as well as cars crossing the bridge. Eventually the state highway department put up bumper rails to barricade access to the water. Nobody has swum there in over 20 years. The same thing happened at other swimming holes. If there’s any creek or river in Lexington County where youngsters can swim, I don’t know where it is.

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