Learning How
 to Swim

by Lisa Chun

He tells me that he loves me
because I am so full of dark
dark soul
soul which is
the well where you get
your best water from and
I live in a dark apartment
swirls of blue paint in the front room
a string of blue Christmas lights
scented candles and
cigarette smoke
for even more ambience.
is the room
where he first
unfolded me.
He lay his hands on me and

For days I lie open like this, quivering
because he has turned me into a lotus flower.

My hands stay busy and full
turning gold squares of paper
into flying birds.
Each of us
skilled at different things.
He unfolds me as effortlessly as I

One day,
after we had gone to Mass
for the first time
and I am ready to weep
for things that have no name
I study his face
watch the light
sitting on the edge of his skin
wish I could be the light
that so easily finds its way there
that transforms him and me . . . both
the trees and the fields stand still and glow
without knowing that we are moving past them
and he tells me the story of a woman from church,
someone who had watched him grow
through his first year as a new Catholic,
who had prayed with him as he planted new roots
spread his arms out like the first tentative winter crocus.
He says she died last year tells me
how he watched her turn green from cancer
and fade away.
He has to pull over
to the side of the road
he is so overcome with the memory
of this
and he cries without being able to stop himself
and I cry with him
knowing that the only way
in life
is to lose yourself in loving someone.
Knowing that you may lose some part of yourself
and when
they leave you.

This is why I pray.

Because I want what is impossible.
I want this moment to
never end

I want the light to stay
where it is
and I want the trees and the fields
to sing knowing we have stopped here
thinking these things.
I want to hold the light that
only knows itself
because it has found the surface of his skin,
the shape of his eye.
I want to keep swimming in it.
I want to swim in it without drowning.

A friend, a woman who has been with me through the many storms
of the relationships that have passed through me,
that have marked each of the years I have lived
with scars,
comes from Los Angeles to visit me.
I tell her, this one is different. I feel like I've
arrived. She asks, when do I get to meet him?

On her second night
she meets him.
We take her to see the Capitol
and we run around the clean, empty streets
marveling in how clean and empty this city, this night
how the buildings with their tall and graceful columns glow.
He shows her a red dogwood and a Japanese elm.
We stand admiring the height of the magnolia trees.

After a week with no rain
she returns home.
Very soon after arriving there she runs into my mother
and tells her
how I've met "the one."

They must have both sighed.
I can only imagine their relief
after so many years of mutual suffering.

I hold the knowledge of this
at a safe distance from him.
I know the twisting nature of relationship.
I am both excited and scared.

Nearly every night
I have a conversation with him.
I want to convey to him
the shape of my fear held up to
the brightness of the love I feel for him.
I want to talk about intimate things.
That which is dark and in me
I offer up to him.
Old poems, boxes of photographs,
some of them with the blurred shape of the torso of a lover,
who should long ago have been forgotten,
in them. A ghost. Many ghosts
and I am swimming again
this time in their shadows.
I do not mean for this to be an unrecoverable wounding.
I mean for this to be an act of beauty.
Here, this is who I am.
Take me.
Yet, somehow the beauty escapes us
or moves in us and so quickly away
so that what we're both left with is
a brilliant and deeply glistening

Another day,
he shows up late
to the place where I have
gathered with others
and lain out my
old poems and photographs
for sale.
As soon as I see him I put my arms around him.
I've been waiting and anxious
and now I'm only glad
that he is with me.
The look in his eye is not the ocean of light
I am used to seeing. Something has stricken him
and even without knowing what it is
I want to take him away,
take him to some safe place.
More than anything I want to be that safe place.
But how can I
when in me it is so dark?
He would need to trust that I really knew my way

I am holding him and
in that moment we are no longer in this crowd of people.
I build a cave for us to swim into
and that cave is as dark as the night that is in me
and I am holding his hand as we move silently and
smoothly through the water.
I know that it is a matter of
the blind leading the blind. A few stones
on the wall glisten
perhaps reflecting the light that emanates from his eyes

and we mistake them for stars.

His next motion is a breath that almost forms itself
into the shape of words I have never heard him ask.
But instead of asking he feels
the question
and the black water that connects us
translates this feeling to me
so I can feel it, too.
Can he
trust me?

Twelve years of failures.
Twelve years.
By Monday he is absorbed
in the memory of each and every
one of them.
I can say nothing
to heal his wounds.
I cannot even heal my own.
He deals his out like slightly worn out cards
from a deck he neither chose nor asked for.
A marriage that ended when she left him
for the next door neighbor.
A life as a missionary that he gave up
because of his devotion to the marriage.

Now the child that is theirs
will move away with
the wife who has long ago left him.
They will move to a city that is too far away
for him to see either of them
without great difficulty.

He sends me three letters stating that he wants to
end it. Us.

By the third I am
weighted down by sadness.

I cannot stop crying.

I remember the cave that I built for him.

I sign up for swimming lessons.
To build up my skills.
To combat drowning.

I buy a bright purple bathing suit.

In dream after dream
I see myself.
I am a purple orchid.
I take to floating instead of struggling.
I let the water support me.
Some wisdom in me knows it is the only way
to survive.

I had been days away from buying us tickets to Hawaii.

I write him a letter.
In it is a pool of water
and lots of light
but no words.
What I want to say is
Don't go.
I have no reasoning to support this.
No reason except
And love allows
love insists
on us
or choosing
the darkness

I love you.
I am swimming in it.

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