Tuesday, July 05, 2005

today I heard a whistle, and...


for Andrew

I remember that April afternoon, in college,
the sun pouring into the kitchen through the sliding doors,
Andrew said why don’t you come to Europe with us.
I just looked outside and did not answer. Then a few weeks later
I drove in my brown car back to Pennsylvania.
I lived in my mother’s house, in my old room,
and every morning I woke up at dawn and rode my
red bicycle fast through the carless streets to the pool,
water glinting with early sun, and I cleaned until the first kids came.
Then I was tough, nice but mean when I had to be,
and the team never lost in three years. After practice
I taught swimming lessons for one hour; so many
pale little bodies trembling with mouths shut tight,
wincing as they fell into the water where I would
catch them. Then at noon a quick break; I would ride away
and smoke a joint, maybe, and then go back to lifeguard.
I was terribly cool, ray-bans and twirling my whistle
and leaning, in the office, into the microphone, making
the sound of thunder if the clouds looked right, so that the
swimmers would have to leave the water and my friends and
I could have a break from working. Every day the same,
at ten (after work) we would gather at the lake and drink and
fool around. And I was so strong, I would carry twenty tables,
each one ninety pounds at least, over my head from one end of the place
to the other, and do hundreds of pullups and swim lap after furious lap,
and carry fifty twenty-gallon jugs of chlorine into the pumphouse
until my muscles were big, my shoulders wide and my hair
bleached almost blonde from the sun (true though you would not believe it now).
And at the end of August I put my things in that same brown car
and drove north. To Poughkeepsie, my heart sinking a bit as
I crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge and then pulling up to the apartment
there sat my housemate “poet” back from his summer in Europe
and he looked at me in my preppy clothes with my suntan and muscles
and laughed. In that moment, deciding not to punch his teeth out
I walked past him and went inside. But for at least one day
I was too scared to leave my hot, tiny room.

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