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Image by Tim Marshall
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
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
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
my nose now brittle, dripping.
Am I to be discovered
and solid beside
my black and tan beast
at my unmoving form?
He bludgeons through
long grass, lolling tongue
and barrel chested
breathing steam out
like an engine. I unleash
watch his muscles work
into warm flow
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