The swimming pool

The sound of a provincial 
swimming pool is syncopated 
splashing. Names shouted, a holler 
and the rocking ring of laps 
a memory of bombs. 
The pool was measured out in yards 
as though you were in another 
country and decade, 
as in the movie you saw 
between Christmas and New Year. 
Sultanas eaten in the aisles 
were planets; a full box, a universe.

Most of the day you’d lie 
on warm concrete 
beside the pool that was cold as needles 
even in late summer 
until you could almost smell your skin 
burning in the unfiltered sun 
then you’d run to the cool, and leap. 
Those seconds between solid earth and transparent 
water, you were ageless—a flash of stasis 
in which you weren’t longing to grow up.

Cycling home, friends doing wheelies 
before they peeled off, you doubled back 
riding up and down the street 
outside your ex-state house, reluctant 
to go in for tea, to let the night 
pile down and crush another day. 
Finally, muscles aching, burnt, 
you ate and watched the news 
with the cat’s tail hanging 
over the anchor’s face.

At school on Monday, rumours. 
A man was found dead at the edge 
of the field. The police quietly talking 
to the principal. Teachers carrying screens out 
to the courtyard, our drawings of the summer 
holiday just past, lumpy families 
around Christmas trees, a shark 
at the New Year’s pool party, taken down 
exposing grey felt, which the constable carried away. 
From then on, when we ran circuits 
of the field, we leapt over 
that spot, as though something 
might reach up to grab us.

It was the strange verge of childhood, 
an age where will 
is unappreciated. 
Compliance was no questions, 
drawing nice borders, 
your exercise book 
a formal garden. 
You held your tongue, 
promised yourself one day 
you’d be skinless 
and free of this town 
the way you felt swimming 
in the rain that hammered 
when you put your head 
above water to see 
lightning flash 
in the pitch of the sky.

Morgan Bach is from Wellington, though she is currently living in London. Her first book, Some of Us Eat the Seeds, was published by Victoria University Press in 2015. She co-edits the online journal Sweet Mammalian with poets Hannah Mettner and Sugar Magnolia Wilson.

Bach comments: ‘In the middle years of my childhood my mother and I upped sticks and moved to a small town called Te Kuiti. This poem draws on memories of that time, which are boring and nostalgic and sometimes a bit magic, like childhood itself.

‘For readers in the northern hemisphere I should note our summer holidays of course contained Christmas, after which they rolled on with a kind of incendiary boredom that I conversely hoped would never end, because in it you existed outside the rules.’

Poem source details >


Victoria University Press author page
Sweet Mammalian