Learning to Swim - Catherine Bateson
Every time we touched each other, we left a fingerprint of sweat,
the grass died back, the hens stopped laying,
and on the fig tree outside my bedroom the figs ripened.
That summer we read girlie magazines spilling beer
on my white sheets and over the pages of Penthouse.
His big body was as pale as parsnip, black hairs sprouted
in unlikely places but his hands were like talk and
I loved his unhappiness, his migraines.
I'd always had boys before, stumbling through their paces
lights off and everything, even their knees, strange in the dark.
This was no different, like learning to swim
after years of walking your hands in the shallows
Look, now I can backstroke and butterfly,
I can dive from the high tower.
He opened my like an oyster,
like an artichoke. I was brine and undertow when he broke
over me, his hands full of music, each finger
singing a note purer than sainthood.
I swaggered into the year wearing that song
never again so unknowing,
never again so electric.
from Marriage for Beginners, John Leonard Press, 2009.
This poem is set in Bell, Queensland where I spent some of my growing up years. My mother bought a shack in the township and five acres above the township. In time she moved the shack on to the five acres behind the Church of England. But this poem is set when the shack was in the township. We had chooks and there was a fig tree outside my room. I used to ride up to Bell - four to five hours from Brisbane - on the back of my boyfriend's 950 Kawasaki. We'd pull into Dalby which was 22 miles outside of Bell, my face stinging from the wind that had whipped my hair out of the helmet. I'd swagger into the truck stops in my suede fringed boots, dirty blonde hair. It was all new and all as old as Eden.
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