“The nighttime sky is all about yesterday”
– Robin Schwartz, Night Swimming
Parked there, in the silent fade-out
of a motel’s parking lot, three cars:
a 57’ Fairlaine, its front grill, ridged
with five long metal lines and taillights
that resembled a startled vireo’s eyes;
a 66’ Oldsmobile Cutlass, its face
squinted, and chomping fresh silver,
and a 1973 Buick Electa, its rear end,
slim-finned, and rectangular taillights
swallowed into the long bumper.
Something magical in these cars –
angels creeping past them; summer’s
fertile design – at the outskirts of
everything; these cars, like chapels.
We’d sneak down to the sidewalk,
where the thick hedgerows draped us
in shade – us, masquerading in pairs –
like pale, mint-green celery stalks
that’d made ourselves vacant before
a moon the color of amber pilsner.
What is it, but a summer’s chemistry
that turns young bodies into music –
at a tired motel’s pool to be reborn –
without dying? In the inevitable grace
of the pool’s baptismal mirror, we’d
dive. In the ballet of ripples into waves
we’d swim the stars’ shimmering codes.
Girls, whose skin turned lavender
as they were chilled, and our bodies,
wetted, turned silver trout. One car’s
radio played Moon River. Another,
played Madman Across the Water.
Years fell away, like inextinguishable
light. My song was Night swimming,
and I played it – over and over – until,
in the pool, I was absorbed, an eel.
And the girl I was with – a whitefish –
her lips, stained the color of mauve.
Occasionally, a brother and sis would
arrive in a rusted, 57’ Cadillac like it
resembled a monster, up from the
depths of the swamps, north of town.
They’d swim to the song, Otopus’s
Garden, by the Beatles as they did laps.
And once, late in the season, I saw
a pair of black, young teen lovers arrive
in a red, 1970 Chevelle, its sleek hood
marked with a wild cat’s stripe across it;
his skin, dark as egg plant and hers,
delicate and smooth, the hue of a deer.
Their song – from what I could hear
while crouching reverent in the star’s ale
and studying their provocation of beauty,
was Al Green’s Take Me to the River.
They entered the water, like dark orbs.
Swam together in a loop of harmony.
And when they emerged from a dive,
both their skin pearled, chocolate prawn.
Author’s Note: This poem pays homage to the idea that experiential memory is titillated and conditioned through sensual experience. Our most positive memory experiences are excited and encoded – in their initial genesis and in their instance of recall – through and through with sensation, coloration, audio replay. The youth, written about in this poem, remain youthful because they’ve been super-charged, via experience, with a vivid sensuality: the sensuality of bodies touching other bodies, and bodies swimming through refreshing water. The automobiles in the poem, coupled with the songs, function as time props and markers. Finally, tenderness – which is the emotional conceit at the center of the poem’s heart – is always awakened via sensual memory.