Downing & Gerwin – May 2016
Gail Fishman Gerwin and Elizabeth Downing traded art and words. Liz shared this image, entitled “An Underwater Spirit,” with Gail:
In response, Gail wrote this prose poem:
When I swam the mile at summer camp the year I turned twelve, I didn’t think of thick muck at the bottom of the lake, of how tired I was. Uncle Bill, the camp’s waterfront head counselor, had taught me to swim by looping a hoop at the end of a fishing pole around my eight-year-old waist in what they called the crib my first season away from home, while I splashed and kicked, the strap of my rubber bathing cap gouging a pleat in my neck. And now? Twelve—I could swim a mile, from dock to dock, again, again, until the number of laps reached the goal. I didn’t think that, under my buoyant body, a dangerous being stood ready to rise from the waterbed, her great antlers poised to impale me on the bare space between suit top and bottom. I could hear Uncle Bill, feet away in the rowboat, shouting encouragement, swim, he said, swim like it’s the last chore of your life. As the afternoon waned, bunkmates chanted my name from the shore under pines ready to drop August needles. I thought of my boyfriend, another Bill—Billy, we were the same age, same weight, same height, perfect for trial kisses at the invisible line between the boys’ and girls’ camps. I swam lap upon lap, hour upon hour, yet didn’t think of how proud my parents might be, my parents whose own parents defied history, brought them to America. My parents, who struggled to create a business, who couldn’t in their early marriage imagine their own children in summer camp, an escape from the polio that destroyed other parents’ dreams. Swim, Uncle Bill shouted, as he rowed next to me, his aging face leathered by too many summers in the sun, furrowed by too many cigarettes. Swim, he urged, lest I sink where that viper of the lake waited to leap to the surface, tow me through an eddy to her underwater realm. The western New Jersey sky near dinnertime—rays that reached through clouds. I was sure the largest beam, regal in magenta, was G-d on watch that summer of the year I turned twelve, that glorious summer while Uncle Bill rowed nearby as I swam the mile.
* * * * *
Gail shared this poem with Liz:
shoulder to shoulder,
foot to foot, shatter glass
as equals, her Something Blue
sandals graze his wedding blacks.
There! They kiss, glide to a secluded
site while garden guests, led by drumbeats
and buoyant Klezmer music, form a gentle
parade to a spot high above Plymouth,
where the ocean weds the shore.