Old men flock in locker rooms,
their tattoos stretched by gravity beyond recognition,
a 1971 bleeding heart with an arrow through the middle,
now a flattened marshmallow with sticks protruding from its sides.
They move slowly these days, like molasses, spreading out onto benches
with all of their stuff: straps and bands, towels and tubes of Aspercreme,
trails of wet gray lint soughing off of their shriveled legs as they trudge
into musty shower stalls.
Their wives walk the lazy river beside the pool,
pushing against the current, praying that Lipitor and eating
more beets and kale will do the trick. “Purple means freedom,”
says the chatty lifeguard whose voice echoes over water. It’s the way
she codes her notes, how she manages her time she explains on her
There are babies being tossed into the kiddie pool, unafraid to leave
their mothers’ waters for the second time, kicking as naturally as guppies.
They need to acquire this skill now to prevent them from drowning later.
There’s always a baby found in some neighbor’s pool, usually around the
4th of July, when too many people are more concerned about the potato salad
The sign reads to shower before you enter the pool, but I never do.
The lifeguards don’t pull rank; I think they may have been tossed into pools
as babies, all of that control and responsibility, the way they see dead people
bobbing in the water; that it would certainly be their fault. I choose to clean myself
with a splash in Lane One, lemon-yellow flippers attached to my feet, propelling me
half-way across the pool in eight strokes. If someone tells me that I’m cheating,
I will remind them that it really doesn’t matter since we are all living on borrowed time.
Outsiders don’t know about the swimming pool
under the street on Michigan Avenue; they might be surprised
if they could see fish in crystal blue lanes, moving through water,
pulling in strength for the day with bright lungs, streamlined fins,
their bodies propelling themselves just meters from the disgusting
sewer pipes above their heads.
Tourists skate around dirty snowbanks, eager to eat art across the street:
to see through Chagalls’ Windows, to have a drink at the Nighthawk’s bar,
to stare in amazement at van Gogh’s bedroom, its stark minimalism.
It’s on their bucket list.
They forget that too much art, like rich drawn butter, is capable of clogging
veins. There’s a cure for that at dark-wood bars and bistros just meters
above the sewer pipes that wash away the city’s sins.
Residents miss the nuance, the 88 shades of white, the hues of blues
that the homeless sing every single day. They are satisfied with dirty water,
with drinking 7 dollar coffees at shops whose owners speak to you only
if you look like a fish from the galleries across the street.
“Swimming Nude on A Pink Beach in Bermuda”
When the sun drops behind the black mangroves across the lane,
a million tree frogs announce the time to move out of the salt
water pool; invite us to abandon our sandals and flip-flops,
approach the pink beach, to hug the remaining light before it is gone.
The purple waves beckon us with blue curls of fingers. Find our cave
with the warm, still pool at its lip, wade in, slide off our shorts,
embrace the water like a lost lover, pulling in its energy,
watching the cuckoos congregate above us on the vine-covered bluff
to see how we do it, how we coax the clear water to accept our whitened
bodies, our limbs that lack the grace of the killifish that explore the bottom
where our toes stir the sand like a kitchen blender.
Is it against some law to spend the night in this paradise? We must
reapply our tight wet skins and crawl like amphibians onto the dry sand,
wade under the burgeoning canopy of frogs and birds to our own private nest
above the hotel pool.
“The Yellow Flippers”
I found them, these canary-yellow flippers,
years ago before a film of chlorine dust
had permanently coated their surfaces like
a thin dead skin. I’d swum through rough-edged
lanes of cabbage-patch dolls, skateboards with three
wheels, and rickety wooden ladders; worn-out
Tupperware bowls, 70’s casserole dishes, and
leather-elbowed cardigans; limp cardboard boxes
of National Geographic and Look, a Remington Rand
typewriter, and well-worn overalls to find them.
The rubber strap of the mated goggles disintegrated
in my hand, but the flippers were solid and called
my name. One dollar and a story by his grand-daughter.
“He wore them forever,” she said. “He loved swimming.
Met my grandma at the city pool. You can have them,”
she said. “Do you plan to use them yourself?”
I felt his toes slide into his history, his heels snug
like they were mine. I’d grown new appendages,
sitting on the edge of the pool, ready to submerge my body
into his blood. I shot across the pool like a dolphin,
the flippers as flexible pistons, propelling me across the water,
cheating gravity, feeling his shins in mine, our upper legs
“You’re cheating,” said the fish in the next lane. “No one
swims that fast,” he said. “I took my goggles off and winked.
“I know,” I said.
Whether John Dorroh taught any high school science is still up for grabs. However, he managed to show up at 6:45 every monring for a couple of decades with at least two lesson plans and a thermos of high-test coffee. His poetry has appeared in Dime Show Review, Red Dirt Forum, Blue Moon Literary & Art Review, Setu, North Dakota Quarterly, Synchronized Chaos, Events Horizon, Piker Press, Tuck, Cactifur, and several others. He also writes flash fiction and the occasional rant.