Tom Disch


As much as singing swimming
is essentially beyond
me. My torso doesn't turn
sideways in sync with my breath.
My vestigial legs in tow,
I paddle forward, slow

as a disabled steamboat, slow
as the clock on the swimming
pool wall. A will tow-
ing a whale. Ten laps and I'm beyond
caring what my laboring breath
sounds like. I take my turn

within the turn-
ing wheel of swimmers slow
as myself. I hoard a breath,
submerge, and splash my arms, swimming
towards that fabled flash beyond
conscious grasp, tow-

ards an order as tow-
eringly integral as Turn-
er's seas as they roll beyond
their blue horizons, slow
mastodons of color swimming
in their own deep breath.

The measured burning of the breath
as it fights the flesh's undertow,
the meshing of motions till swimming
becomes a single, smooth turn-
table revolving the vertebrae in slow
motion micro-ballets. Is that beyond

what I dare to hope? And beyond
that, is there a higher order, a breath
so light, a light so slow
to dawn, a gift so reluctant to bestow
itself, I can't imagine it–and so return
to my original idea of swimming?

Swimming as hope, as a path beyond
past incapacities, as turn-on. Each breath
a lurch towards that goal. But oh how slow.

Tom Disch, Yes, Let's: New & Selected Poems,
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.