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.
Lance Larsen teaches at Brigham Young University, where he serves as poetry editor of Literature and Belief. His third collection of poems is due out this year from University of Tampa Press. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Raritan, The Gettysburg Review, AGNI, Orion, The Iowa Review, FIELD, Brevity, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. He has received a number of awards, including a Pushcart Prize and an NEA fellowship in poetry. (updated 10/2008)