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Charles Fishman: Two Poems
Learning to Swim | This House

Learning to Swim
     —Zach’s Bay, 1951

Field 5 – Jones Beach: it was there,
amid the thousands, I found the power
to survive.

I remember tip-toeing on the edge
blanket to blanket    on burning sand
under a blazing sun

then wading in hip-deep water
that nearly steamed       In July’s torrid heat
I left the earth behind

and pushed toward the vague horizon
until the faint hiss of waves slapping
an old barrier fence

forced me to wake       It all comes back—
how I fought the water, smacking it with my fists,
as if the inlet had a face

battering it    smashing water into water
yelling to be saved       It comes back: how no one
came to the rescue

how I kept my head above the turbid surface
and splashed shorewards    abandoned
but alive.

This House

Potted plants dot the living room window
and at the corner of the house a few roses

have bloomed, but outside my parents’ home
the white flowerbox remains empty    and inside

nothing is blossoming       Out of the bedrock
of the 50s, our house rises: eight years have passed

since the terror of war began to recede     and my sister
was born      I know she is curled up and asleep

under her bright quilt in the back room
where two curtained windows open on the ghosts

of morning      It must be April or May 1953:
spring grass rubs green darkness into the day

and the glare pouring in from the west—the glare
that blurs all edges—is the sign of deliverance

or forgetfulness       Over a slow cigarette, Mother
dreams in the kitchen: the mail will not arrive for hours

nor will Father return from the daily siege of his life
before night sifts down     and grass deepens its hold

on the season       In this house, as always,
it is the past: dimly lit and unrecoverable.

Poet's Biography:
  Charles Fishman is director of the Distinguished Speakers Program at the State University of New York at Farmingdale, where he previously directed the Visiting Writers Program for 18 years. His books include Mortal Companions, The Firewalkers, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and The Death Mazurka, which was selected by the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of the year (1989) and nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. His 8th chapbook, Time Travel Reports, was published by Timberline Press in Fall 2002. His next booklength collection is entitled Chopin’s Piano.

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.