The Lake Swimmer

For S.P. on the occasion of her half-centennial.

Too whipped-up and windy for swimming, she goes
all the same, rolling in the chill, chopped lake
like a foundering ship. Buffeted,
between bobbing breaths and icy swigs,
she cranes her head above the surface and re-plots
a weaving course.

This is how time meanders: stone-fingered and clawing
to keep afloat. Young-headed still,
there’s no outrunning the limbs whose many rings
number the ages they’ve carried her: surprised,
she has spied the rough skin, slack and speckled
on the backs of her hands, and wondered idly,
whose it is.

A steady heart laps in her ears tallying it all up,
or down—all the things she meant to do and hasn’t,
and may not—then leaps ahead, startled:
a fish flickers in the murk-brown deep,
swishing unhurried and prehistoric,
then gone.

Wave-rocked, feeling mortal, she fathoms what’s behind her:
what’s been taken away and what will roll in
on the next tide, or the next,
each rippling into the other like a habit,
or a friendship.

In the shallows, unsteady on lake legs, she makes to stand,
then swaying bends to clutch the pebbled shore, crawling—
neither very young, nor very old,
a watery creature that assumed life’s entirety
was merely currents and eddies, then striking something solid
and unforeseen, finds its first faltering steps and thinks,
astonished, so there’s more then, is there?
There’s more.