Because Even The Word Obstacle Is An Obstacle
Try to love everything that gets in your way:
The Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin and doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list.
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side and
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim past obstacles like a minnow,
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking, Obstacle,
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad she’ll have that to look at the rest of her life, and
keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids aren’t supposed
to be in the pool at this hour. Someday,
years from now, this boy
who is kicking and flailing in the exact place
you want to touch and turn
may be a young man at a wedding on a boat,
raising his champagne glass in a toast
when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.
He’ll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,
but he’ll come up like a cork,
alive. So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to the larger story,
because if something is in your way, it is
going your way, the way
of all beings: toward darkness, toward light.
Waking Up
Six-thirty in the morning, in the black belly of winter.
At the kitchen table he eats sausages and reads
the New York Times online, occasionally
chuckling or grunting. I sip coffee and write.
The cat is trying every strategy she can think of
to get onto his lap and closer to those sausages.
The fact that she fails again and again
does not discourage her.

She reminds me of myself, all the long years
I searched for exactly this and failed and fell,
over and over. Mingled smells of cooking and sleep,
the warmth of his absent-minded hand on my thigh,
surprise of long arms wrapped hard around my waist
as I stand washing dishes, the radio switched on
reminding us we are lucky, lucky, lucky.

I’m there at the sink now, writing done, rocking back
on my heels into the long curve of his body
that fits mine like a parenthesis fits the word it encloses.
News of the world’s dangers and beauties
murmurs around us as the sun rises,
spreading a white veil over the yellow grass.
An Encounter
We met naked on the sun deck by the
clothing-optional hot springs,
and I saw the long scar
like a smile across his furred abdomen
where they’d cut the cancer out of him.
He trained people in death and dying,
he told me;
divorced, he’d recently discovered poetry.

We talked as if my loose breasts
were not flopping companionably
against the knee I hugged to my chest.
Sunlight pooled on the wooden deck
like soup — sun soup. A woman did yoga
by the railing, her slender arms
assailing heaven.

I confessed that I am afraid to die
with poems left unsaid inside me,
and he said, “You will.
You’ll die with a great poem in your heart
that will never see paper.”

We were quiet then. A bee buzzed
perilously close to my sweaty thigh,
and I heard it: I heard
the danger and sweetness inside everything.

A different version of “An Encounter” appears in See How We Almost Fly, by Alison Luterman. © 2009 by Alison Luterman. Published by Pearl Editions.