The lifeguard and the married lady
lap two racing lanes. They crisscross,
reach their ends at different times,
hang and turn and look
for the other who has looked
and dived and surfaced somewhere else.
The married lady’s muscles,
lax from the hours of the babypool,
are aroused in this deep water.
She recalls her body to her,
remembers cadence, grace and breath,
times her strokes to match the slow
and potent ones she senses
coming through the water like a pulse.
The lifeguard, sated with sun,
with fantasies the oiled young girls
and broiling days demand,
knows she matches moves
somewhere in the cool water —
tries but can’t contrive
a rhythm that will bring them
to the end of the pool together.
I recently ran across this poem in Shenandoah Vol. XXV, No. 2, which is to say the winter of 1964, and I admired its “cadence, breath and grace,” as well as the understated sorrow of missed chances and unmatched histories. Submersion and surfacing, turn and counterturn, final frustration — it’s a poem of summer in which lives in their spring and autumn do not quite converge. It could almost serve as an ars poetica, as well as a commentary on the middle class life and its discontents. “Babypool” takes on a fresh meaning for me here, like “secretarial pool” almost, and I will remember the poem, if only for that . . . and its deliberate, artful obliqueness.