With Emma at the Ladies-Only Swimming Pond on Hampstead Heath

In payment for those mornings at the mirror while,
                        at her
            expense, I’d started my late learning in Applied

French Braids, for all
                        the mornings afterward of Hush
            and Just stand still,

to make some small amends for every reg-
            ed bathtime and short-shrifted goodnight kiss,

I did as I was told for once,
                        gave up
            my map, let Emma lead us through the woods

“by instinct,” as the drunkard knew
                        the natural
            prince. We had no towels, we had

no “bathing costumes,” as the children’s novels
                        call them here, and I
            am summer’s dullest hand at un-

premeditated moves. But when
                        the coppice of sheltering boxwood
            disclosed its path and posted

rules, our wonted bows to seemliness seemed
                        poor excuse.
            The ladies in their lumpy variety lay

on their public half-acre of lawn,
                        the water
            lay in dappled shade, while Emma

in her underwear and I
                        in an ill-
            fitting borrowed suit availed us of

the breast stroke and a modified
            She’s eight now. She will rather

die than do this in a year or two
                        and lobbies,
            even as we swim, to be allowed to cut

her hair. I do, dear girl, I will
                        give up
            this honey-colored metric of augmented

thirds, but not (shall we climb
                        on the raft
            for a while?) not yet.


From Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2014. Copyright © 2015 by Linda Gregerson. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.