Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


She Returns to the Water

The dive starts
on the board….
                                                                    
something Steve
often said,

or Rub some dirt
in it, Princess,
when in his lesser

inscrutable mood;                         

Steve of the hair gel,
and whistle, a man
who was her
                                                          
diving coach,
who never seemed
to like her much.

Which was odd,

given, objectively,
her admirable discipline,
and natural gifts,

the years and years                                                          
of practice, and the long                                                          
row of golden
trophies she won
                                                                    
for his team. The girl
she was then,

confused, partly
feral, like the outdoor
cat you feed,

when you remember
to, but won’t allow

to come inside….

She’s thinking of Steve
now, many years
later, while swimming

naked in her wealthy
landlord’s pool. Or

“grotto,” to call it
properly, an ugly,
Italian word for

something lovely,

ringed, as it is,
with red hibiscus;                                                  

white lights
in the mimosa trees                                                                  
draping their blurry
pearls along
the water’s skin.

It’s 3 am,

which seemed
the safest time for
this experiment,

in which she’s turned
her strange and aging
body loose. Once,

a man she loved
observed, You’re
the kind of woman

who feels embarrassed
just standing in 

a room alone,
a comment, like him,
two parts ill spirited,

and one perceptive.

But this night she’s
dropped her robe,                                                            
come here to be

the kind of woman
who swims naked                                                             
without asking
for permission, risking
a stray neighbor

getting the full gander,

buoyed by saltwater;
all the tough and sag
of her softened by

this moonlight’s near-
sighted courtesy.

Look at her: how
the woman is floating,

while trying to recall
the exact last
moment of her girlhood—

where she was,
what she was doing—

when she finally
learned what she’d                                               
been taught: to hate

this fleshy sack
of boring anecdotes                                                          
and moles she’s lived

inside so long,
nemesis without                                                                           
a zipper for escape.

A pearl is the oyster’s

autobiography,
Fellini said. How  
clean and weightless

the dive returns
to the woman now;

climbing the high
metal ladder, then

launching herself,
no fear, no notion

of self-preservation,

the arc of her
trajectory pretty
as any arrow’s

in St. Sebastian’s
side. How keen                                                                              
that girl, and sleek,

tumbling more
gorgeous than two                                                            
hawks courting

in a dead drop.                                                                             

Floating, the woman
remembers this again,

how pristine she was
in pike, or tucked
tighter than a socialite, or

twisting in reverse
like a barber’s pole,

her body flying
toward its pivot,
which is, in those seconds,

the Infinite,

before each
possible outcome
tears itself away

(the woman climbing
from the water now)

like the silvery tissue
swaddling a costly
gift.

Credit


Copyright © 2020 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


“For me, ‘She Returns to the Water,’ turned into a meditation, at least in part, on the beauty and history and gravity of middle age women's bodies. And something about a woman finally tearing off the invisible price tag all girls are assigned around the age of puberty. Imagine the world if we embraced the marks and lines of women's lived experience as we do men's? Wouldn't that be wonderful?”
Erin Belieu

Author


Erin Belieu

Erin Belieu's most recent collection is Slant Six (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She lives in Houston, Texas.

Date Published: 2020-03-25

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/she-returns-water