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Image by Tim Marshall

Swimming Lessons

When it starts
lapping at your toes
that creeping tide, at first so cold
you flap arms, become a gasp
            of breathy shock
dip in, dip out, like a water
wary cat trying to shake
an ocean from your hide

but pussy footing
at the edges just prolongs
the chill while you shiver
with dilemma to dive, turn back
or drown. Sliding slowly
to its pull as sand beneath
your feet sifts in, sifts out
you drive heels

into an ever sinking
surface, crash, and shock
and thud pounding always
in your ears and swell now
pushing at your knees
            hard to hold your ground
in all this spin
as it froths and bubbles

slams your reason and resistance
until it’s easier to just get swept
away.        You’re adjusting
            to the temperature
in fact, the air around
your unsplashed limbs
becomes a cold reality
            you’d rather refuse

so, you start to place faith
            in submerging:
hum along to songs
of kindred souls beneath
who’ve broken surface
sirening their shared belief
that only weak
            and fearful drown.

            You take a breath
and plunge. Shock of water’s
tingling grasp
            tickles along skin
and for a moment
            freedom is exhilarating
            until you remember
            you never learned to swim.


We wait for dusk. 
Seek shelter in air-conditioned rooms or malls
burning more and more of earth’s insides 
to shield us from her hiss. No use 
walking the dog, shooting hoops, shifting furniture
rubbish, or bulk of fleshy, sweaty bodies. 
Dog paws burn on the baking pavement. 
We’re dripping in our own fluids by the time 
we make it around the block. Sun hates us-
Mother Nature’s fiery index finger 
thrusts palm to heart as she roasts us with scorn
Little pissants. Think you can control me?

So, dog lolls flat out on the floorboards 
panting in his furry unseasonal attire. 
We switch on fans, open windows to catch air
run our forearms and feet under taps 
and melt slowly. Sometimes we drive to the beach. 
Sand stings our soles, sun burns our flimsy skin
eyeballs scald. Then the shock of cold waves 
crashing into legs courses through us like a bolt 
of icy thrill. We stand a while, sway in the swell 
to acclimatise and then dive. Relief is instant-
slippery as silk, loose as a sigh 
            as we stretch legs and arms into sun-killing sea. 

But within minutes gratitude forgets 
when celsius amnesia begins. Now we are cold 
and can’t remember heat. We splash to shore
wrap our shivering bodies in beach towels. 
By the time we sting our hands opening
the metal car door handle and fold ourselves 
into furnace interior, we’ve forgotten cold again. 

So, we wait for dusk
until day’s white-hot rage dissipates 
into simmering despair. We attach the lead 
to dog’s collar, stroll the esplanade, seeking breeze 
or any sign of her forgiveness. We move slowly
shift things here and there. Sweating still. 
And my head throbs with it all 
while I wait for Winter.


Cold swirls around my spine
knocks upon each disc
in grey hollow thuds
while I hum futile songs
            of sun and sand
watch breath burst fisted 
clouds into the frigid 
day and hitch his lead 
into a higher arc 
            to remind dog 
            I am guide 
            even though I follow.

Ungloved fingers tingle
stiffen to the pierce of winter 
spider fangs 
            pumping paralysis 
            into extremities
my nose now brittle, dripping.
Am I to be discovered
            pale, cocooned 
            and solid beside 
my black and tan beast 
            sniffing, licking 
            at my unmoving form?

He bludgeons through 
long grass, lolling tongue
wagging tail 
            and barrel chested 
breathing steam out 
like an engine. I unleash
watch his muscles work 
into warm flow
            grieve gloves 
resting snug upon hall table
thrust hands into pockets
            and wish for fur.

Kate Maxwell is a teacher and writer from Sydney. She’s been published and awarded in many Australian and International literary magazines. Her first poetry anthology, Never Good at Maths (IP Press) was published in 2021, and her second anthology (Ginninderra Press) will be forthcoming in 2023. Kate enjoys writing in many genres including speculative fiction, flash, YA, and poetry. Her interests include film, wine, and sleeping. She can be found at kateswritingplace.com


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