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.
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.
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.