Susan Smith Nash



The technique is different.

You ease in, trying not to slip on rocks,

then you feel the mud slip between your toes,

the muck and slime clinging to your feet

and the possibility of leeches

goose-fleshing you to go chest-first

into the cool, yellowish liquid,

thicker than pool water

thinner than the blood

you feel throbbing up through your chest,

your belly, your face

and while you’re catching your breath

you imagine fish swimming in parallel schools

beneath you, each layer of water

colder and darker than the one above


like memory


the surface is still warm and bright

after all, it is still happening

you’re 55 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg

swimming in a lake not far

from the Finnish border, fairy tale mushrooms and ferns

softer than a newly-hatched chick

the kind they used to dye and sell for Easter

in the local TG&Y store in your Oklahoma home


and then just one layer down,

water like the Vermont lake where you’d dash in

swimming back and forth to the swim buoys

Quebecois French blaring from radios

and noisy boats, piloted by teenagers

laughing and throwing beer cans at you

if they noticed you at all –


a layer lower – wind warnings in flooded Arizona arroyos

canyon edges carved from orange-red Navajo sandstone;

you turn for breath and there is only water –

geology feels like that sometimes

your father’s maps are faded,

the lamp at his drafting table flickering and uncertain


and deeper, the fish are larger

the images massive, dark, and poorly defined –

a moonlit night in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania –

you, swimming alone across a small lake,

cabin lights flanking the shore,

your classmates telling you

it was wrong to swim alone

(but you always do) –


and finally, that dark, bright Nevada day at Donner Lake –

Jane looking thin and radiant

only a year before the schizophrenia

took her nights from her days,

her days from her arm, tracked with pain

and self-lapses she called “finding God”

or simply “her religion” –

and your face

innocence and self-assurance

were the same thing those days;

she would hit & run –

you would keep swimming


The unbearable cold

makes you prefer lap-swimming

in pools these days.