Friday, April 3, 2015

Memory Has Depth But No Bottom by Al Maginnex

Memory Has Depth But No Bottom
by Al Maginnex

I am not speaking now of the girls I knew
     who babysat and worked at the theater
or drug store, but who in summer saw
     their local glory eclipsed by the girls
home from college and bored with everything,
     their thick paperbacks more weighty
for sitting unopened while they unfastened
     the tops of their bathing suits, to turn their backs
into planes of unbroken tan, and lit
     cigarettes beneath the disapproving stare
of mothers and friends of mothers. If their talk
     of football games and rum punch made them
the town’s fallen daughters, it was a fall
     with a soft landing. Already I knew
the world was cleaved and cleaved again
     by borders invisible and impossible to cross.
The depth and velocity of the scorn meant
     to drive away anyone not invited
into their coconut-scented kingdom of skin and smoke
     radiated even to the deep end of the pool
where we lined up for the diving board.
     Our game that summer was to toss pennies
into the deep end and dive after them, trying
     to retrieve all we had thrown
until we were tossing more than we could ever bring up.
     I waited in line to dive, learned to stay down
so long water’s silence was a keening, then a roar
     in my ears, until my lungs scorched for want
of air. Some days I would go to the shade and fall
     on the wide shore of a book and read until
my fingers unwrinkled. All summer, the daughters lay
     in the graceful repose of the fallen, motionless
as photographs of stillnesses like the Sphinx

     or the pyramids, but stillnesses of flesh,
and of flesh that would not molder as summer turned
     a corner and the reek of chlorinated water
took our skin. The bath-warm water itself became
     a sentence, no longer the enticement of early June,
and stuck in mid-corruption the daughters began
     to stretch and long for the airy cool of a classroom,
the damp closeness of a mixer, for movement
     that would divide them from these bodies
trapped in the town where they had been born,
     where their names still cast a shadow. In the stare
of one afternoon’s heat, the daughter of the undertaker,
     a bent man who played the piano for hours when he drank,
rose and took the narrow, quivering stage
     of the diving board. A short run, and she rose,
arms spread, as close to the shape of a cross
     as humans can come, no longer fallen but soaring
until she turned and entered the water
     straight as a plumb line, barely a splash
to mark her passage. She swam
     slow as royalty to the ladder, reclaimed
the spot she had left moment before. No pennies had been
     thrown for her to find, but she could have
claimed every one. She returned to college,
     then vanished, as some daughters did, in dark
pools of rumor, living in a teepee somewhere in Arizona
     or Canada. Ten years ago I heard she was selling
real estate in Atlanta. Whatever else we are,
     we are mostly unremembering water.
And the twenty percent of her that is
     not water does not remember
how she rose and turned, plunging into memory
     she has become, like those pennies,
more precious each time she surfaces.

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