Published on Academy of American Poets (

Variations in Blue

For Frank X Walker

FXW: I don’t know how to swim
Me: What?!
FXW: There were no pools for Black Folk when I was coming up

In sleep’s 3-D theatre: home,
a green island surrounded
by the blue of ocean. Zoom
to the heart, see the Couva
swimming pool filled with us
—black children shrieking
our joy in a haze of sun; our life-
guard, Rodney, his skin flawless
and gleaming—black as fresh oil
—his strut along the pool’s edge,
his swoonworthy smile; Daddy
a beach-ball-bellied Poseidon,
droplets diamonding his afro;
my brother, hollering as he jumps
into his bright blue fear, his return
to air gasping and triumphant.
And there, the girl I was: dumpling
thick and sun-brown, stripped
down to the red two-piece suit
my mother had made by hand,
afloat in the blue bed of water,
the blue sky beaming above.
When I wake up, I’m in America
where Dorothy Dandridge
once emptied a pool with her pinkie,
and in Texas a black girl’s body
draped in its hopeful, tasseled bikini,
struck earth instead of water,
a policeman’s blue-clad knees
pinning her back, her indigo wail
a siren. I want this to be a dream,
but I am awake and in this place
where the only blue named home
is a song and we are meant to sink,
to sputter, to drown.


Copyright © 2018 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem emerged as a result of a conversation I had with poet Frank X Walker, which I included as an epigraph. I'm from the island of Trinidad and Tobago—a place populated mostly by black people and surrounded by water, and while not everyone knows how to swim, the water was such a defining feature of my ‘coming up’—so my first response to his comment was incredulity. And then a sharp confrontation with the contrasts of growing up as a black person outside of the American context and choosing now to live within it. For days that conversation stayed with me: it triggered memory, history, and outrage about current events, specifically the image of Dajerria Becton pinned beneath a police officer in Texas for trying to use the pool. This all, of course, sent me to the page, and this poem resulted.”
Lauren K. Alleyne


Lauren K. Alleyne

Lauren K. Alleyne is the author of Difficult Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2014).

Date Published: 2018-04-24

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