Swimming with the Masters at Johns Hopkins

April 11, 1994|By Ellen Kirvin Dudis

(for Margaret)

Once a year I come from my rustic shore

and in the predawn twilight go as a guest

to the pool. Under the floodlights indoors

the water looks eerie and bodies undressed

have the same blank sheen, same faceless remove.

We are given our lanes; I share the last

with a man whose question unnerves

me. Do you swim fast?

.` Fast? How fast? Whatever dream

I was dreaming simply changes medium.

But these are the masters. They have paid

for a hellish workout, doctors, lawyers, chief

executives, driven like hostile shades

to press the limits and take back longer life

from this faux underworld with its unreal

lighting and Stygian labors. Their prowess

studies the minutest muscle,

a language of how-to's

churns out of the chlorine

=1 and bounces off walls. Amid the fumes, Charon

the referee is giving us our strokes

in multiples of twenty-five, then the fins

for kicking sequences. The greedy flux

around me turns to whiplash, adrenalin

races the ropes, and gulping my toes, haste

sucks like a nightmare. O when was the water

so serious! Do you swim fast?

Forgive me, master.

It was a dream. Poetry

D8 too has a way of swimming back, breast, fly, free --

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