I was wrong to make Noreena a synonym for retarded,
wrong to consider the girl herself a science
project in muteness. It’s just that each day her mother
parked her, a package of shivering limbs,
in the club pool, and each day I did equations in my head.
Rich tennis mother + Noreena = no tennis.
Rich tennis mother – Noreena = double sets.
Easy the math. Easy the water. Easy to turn a body
into broken syllables, syllables into a punch line:
Noreena She-ain’t-no-holiday Holladay.
Her shivering filled the pool and emptied the afternoon
of its colors. Lapped at her mother’s polished
Mercedes in the parking lot. All summer
I swam that impossible cold, swam it beside Noreena.
Backstroke, dog paddle, dead man’s float.
And sometimes I held her hand—in secret, under water.
I wanted to take her despair inside. So blue
lipped, so jittery. I wanted to prove it wasn’t mine.
Then I’d dive. And kick for the forgiving deep
where saving myself was the same as treading water.