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Mortality (or, Song of a Swimmer Child)

Bare feet smooth over the bridge’s planks
To reach the sprawling Victorian pool
Where, year after year, and in rank
A series of faces, watered and cool,

Retreat from the pool, taking position
On the sun-bleached concrete warm but drab;
A group of old ladies huddle and listen,
Their tales staving off clouds maddening, sad.

Genteel old ladies in their summer hats!
With calm voices and pink granite faces
A boy starts to wonder that perhaps
These women never leave for inland places.

Others in the mix: there are wise-men too
With work-roughened hands placed on browning knees
And eyes glinting off the inviting blue;
Smiles respond to the call of the seas.

Frankness, who as a boy lived through dark war
Listens to awry adolescent plans;
Remarks a warm-accented “Oh my poor
Man!”; even the perspective of this gentle-man

Added to by the depth and richness of time
Troubles not in quenching the problem—me!
Oh that trifling capriciousness of mine
And all ‘fore his third tri-daily dip into the sea.

And aft: insignificant world without stress
That everyone else on his island hide
Knows—nods to the only question to press:
“What is the exact hour of high tide?”

Whereupon, at the strike of the water-clock
Ones takes a dive, and spreads arms abreast;
Water entreating at stones like a soft knock
Invites the swimmer in as a foreign guest.

As if, then, an event by happenstance
Perhaps one swam too far; swam too fast
And became pierced by a shrill windy lance,
For cooler weather has arrived, just like last—?

Old ladies have become ageing ladies
Having finished their reminiscing song,
To have gone home; to come back maybe
Here’s hoping they do not take so long.

Poem by R. S. McMullen; photograph courtesy of the Jersey Evening Post

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