Swimming Lessons


Swimming lessons at dads,

flung into the Blue River.

Water enveloping my body,

my mouth, my nose.

Rocks at my back,

the bottom, safety.

I stand from the water afraid,

father laughing above.


Swimming lessons at the YMCA,

at the pool, not

Blue River.

Final swim test in clothes: shirt,

Levi 501’s, shoes.

Fifteen minutes treading water

no sweat.


The ocean: Mighty Pacific, a riptide.

My family swims chest deep,

Ankles snatched and

salty water forces

into nose

out of mouth

gurgling water speeding past

my feet hit something hard.

I bob to the top.

Salty water on lips,

leaking from eyes.

His family 100 yards away,

he swims to them, an angle to shore.


The Snake, through Hell’s Canyon:

they weren’t fucking joking.

The water class 5 and:

“No women on this boat.”

“Who are the best swimmers?”

“Who has whitewater experience?”

“What rivers?”

Overinflate the boat.

The guide makes me ride in back,

to help him steer.

No one knows how to drive and our boat is

a drunken spider meandering towards the first set.

The man next to me falls out, clings to the raft

his terrified eyes beg me, I hit him in the chest with my paddle,

save his life and he hates me for it.

Two thumbs up from the guide.

First set looks like a ripple,

and another fifteen feet out.

We approach:

the guide laughs at the men in front,

running to the back of the boat,

like that’ll help. Fucking idiots, my best friend

among them. I can see it now. A fifteen foot bowl,

the mouth of the rapid, eager, hungry, growling

it swallows the raft,

flexes its jaws and folds the boat in half.

Suddenly I am airborne, an unintended human missile

above the water, laughing.

Catch the eye of my best friend,

his fear equals my joy.

© Michael Barry 2013