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Maxine Kumin

Maxine W. Kumin

Photo credit: Georgia Litwack

Morning Swim

Into my empty head there come
A cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

I set out, oily and nude
Through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
To tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
Closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.

Invaded and invader, I
Went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
In their green zone they sang my name

And in the rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed Abide with Me. The beat
Rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

Rose in the bubbles I put out
Slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
Through all my doors. I was the well

That fed the lake that met my sea
In which I sang Abide with Me.

Skinnydipping with William Wordsworth

I lie by the pond in utter nakedness
thinking of you, Will, your epiphanies
of woodcock, raven, rills and craggy steeps,
the solace that seductive nature bore,
and how in my late teens I came to you
with other Radcliffe pagans suckled in
a creed outworn, declaiming whole swatches
of “Intimations” to each other.

Moist-eyed with reverence, lying about
the common room, rising to recite
Great God! I’d rather be . . . How else
redeem the first flush of experience?
How else create it again and again? Not in
entire forgetfulness I raise up my boyfriend,
a Harvard man who could outquote me
in his Groton elocutionary style.

Groping to unhook my bra he swore
poetry could change the world for the better.
The War was on. Was I to let him die
unfulfilled? Soon afterward we parted.
Years later, he a decorated vet,
I a part-time professor, signed the same
guest book in the Lakes country. Stunned
by coincidence we gingerly shared a room.

Ah, Will, high summer now; how many more
of these? Fair seed-time had my soul,
you sang; what seed-times still to come?
How I mistrust them, cheaters that will flame,
gutter and go out, like the scarlet tanager
who lights in the apple tree but will not stay.

Here at the pond, your meadow, grove, and stream
lodged in my head as tight as building blocks,
sun slants through translucent minnows, dragonflies
in paintbox colors couple in midair.
The fickle tanager flies over the tasseled field.
I lay your “Prelude” down under the willow.
My old gnarled body prepares to swim
to the other side.

Come with me, Will.
Let us cross over sleek as otters,
each of us bobbing in the old-fashioned breaststroke,
each of us centered in our belovèd Vales.