The Swimmer

The Swimmer

The Swimmer

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 13 1998 3:30 AM

The Swimmer

The Swimmer


By Michael Collier

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(posted Wednesday, Aug. 12, 1998)

To hear the poet read "The Swimmer," click here.

Nothing like him in Bosch or Breugel,
nothing so denatured as to resemble
not a semblance of a human face
but the substance of some form made
and then unmade, or like a lump
of human butter excavated from a bog.

His eyes askew, aligned by a jagged
axis that must have balanced once
across the fulcrum of his nose.
The pupils deep and lost but ever seeing
like water in a well at night.
The head misshapen like a too-ripe

melon, dimpled by the forceps mark
of his accident or whatever extracted him
from normalcy, dipped him
in the searing, crushing waters
of disfigurement and then returned him
to the world to fill it with the childish

worrying sound working its way
from his mouth that's not so much a mouth
as a coin purse cinched tight, sewn
with the fragments of his lips--
the yipping gait of breathlessness
he makes, which makes no sense

without the fluttering exuberance
of his hands that come to rest,
delicately, on my shoulders, as if to say:
"Help tie the drawstring of my suit,
shoulder my towel, fit these sandals
to my feet and lead me to the pool

where you will see how struggling
to be what I am, I become--otter, seal,
dolphin--released from myself, though
not absolved, not ever able to hide
the fin or the fluke, my feet
webbed and unwebbed."

Michael Collier's most recent book of poems is The Neighbor. He teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park, and is the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.