Thursday, July 15, 2010

Barton Springs

One of my favorite summer things, when the Ohio weather cooperates, is to take a lunch and go out to the lake, where we lie around on inflatable rafts and talk or blow up party island with a battery-operated pump and sail it out armed with water cannons. It's always a party when we take party island, usually one composed of 9-year-olds--kids who are big enough to climb in, but little enough to be pretty un-self-conscious about it.

There is, to me, nothing better than being in the water on a hot day. A pool will do, but so few of them are really deep these days, and a tall person can't swim in shallow water. The ocean is great, but we can't afford to go there very often. As a kid, I sometimes swam in a quarry, which was exciting because of all the warnings about varying depth and no diving. As an adult, I longed to swim in a pool I saw in Hawaii with a waterfall, and was later deeply gratified to get to swim in a waterfall pool in Branson, Missouri. One of the most memorable places I ever swam was Barton Springs, outside of Austin, Texas. It was a 90-degree day, as you can pretty much count on in Texas in July, and the water was only about 60 degrees.

So when I found this poem about Barton Springs in Tony Hoagland's new volume (Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty), I was pre-disposed to like it:

Oh life, how I loved your cold spring mornings
of putting my stuff in the green gym bag
and crossing wet grass to the southeast gate
to push my crumpled dollar through the slot.

When I get my allotted case of cancer,
let me swim ten more times at Barton Springs,
in the outdoor pool at 6 A.M. in the cold water
with the geezers and the jocks.

With my head bald from radiation
and my chemotherapeutic weight loss
I will be sleek as a cheetah
--and I will not complain about life's

pedestrian hypocrisies;
I will not consider death a contractual violation.
Let my cancer be the slow-growing kind
so I will have all the time I need

to backstroke over the rocks and little fishes,
looking upwards through my bronze-tinted goggles
into the vaults and rafters of the oaks,
as the crows exchange their morning gossip

in the pale mutations of early light.
It was worth death to see you through these optic nerves,
to feel breeze through the fur on my arms,
to be chilled and stirred in your mortal martini.

In documents elsewhere I have already recorded
my complaints in some painstaking detail.
Now, because all things near water are joyful,
there might be time to catch up on praise.

"All things near water are joyful." What a phrase to remember on a summer's day. What's the most fun place you've ever been swimming?


FreshHell said...

I do love a pool even though I'm not much of a swimmer having a fear of putting my whole head underwater and being blind without my glasses. But I do love to float. I don't get to do it very often. When we go to the lake, I usually either sit on the blanket and read or I'm playing in the water with the kids. I do dream of owning a pool one day, in the most abstract way, of course. The reality of cost and maintenance pretty much dissipate those dreams quickly.

Lass said...

Barton Springs is actually smack-dab in the middle of Austin. It's a frequent swim spot for me and more beautiful than pictures can convey. It also has a CCC-era bath house with lovely tile work and ancient showers. I love it.

Harriet said...

There have been many spots, but my favorite was during the hot, hot summer I was living in an oven of an apartment in Philadelphia with an artist friend and a med student. It was the summer before me senior year in college and I had the very job I wanted. It was the summer I tried out being a grownup and found I liked it. A high school friend was living across town. His grandparents lived on a lake in the Poconos and one weekend, he took me up there. It was 95 and we hiked up a hill and went blueberry picking. We were absolutely drenched from sweat and covered in berry stains when, on the way back, we came to a waterfall with a pool at the bottom. We were in the middle of nowhere. We stripped down to our underwear and plunged in. It was the most brilliant, bone-chilling cold. Swimming under a waterfall was every bit as magical as I thought it would be.

Anonymous said...

I love swimming almost anywhere. The pool above campus that's full of leaves. The dock at my mom's house. Narragansett Beach. Stinson Beach on those rare days when it's not freezing. The cold pebbly beach on Maine where I learned about body-surfing. Hmmm. Hard to choose.

Jeanne said...

I love hearing about places people swim! I lived near Narragansett Bay for a few months in the winter and remember how the water turned my feet bright red as soon as I put them in there.

Jeanne said...

I love hearing about places people swim!