The Buoyancy of Potbellied Boys
A sobering thought. Water
is stronger than I, for all my thick-shouldered girth. Frog stroke.
Kick back to move forward. The same philosophy our mother taught
for self-defense. Kick back. Swim, little fish, trust the current.
Avoid every hand with its hook. This is survival. Practice.
Young, I punched myself in the face.
Hard enough to crack bone. Prepared the taste of blood in my mouth.
No surprise when the older boys came to the fight. Choked my-
self to discover how long I could hold my breath, in case
I should find myself short of air, victim of violence or old age.
Asked my friend’s father, the Marine, to bind me with the best knots he knew.
Broke loose, under 2 minutes
to freedom. You never understood this fear of captivity,
this need to prepare for every violence and ready defense. To kick
back. A sobering thought. Water is stronger than prayer.
Quicker to take you to god. I would have learned to swim,
If our teacher had not let you drown. Had not stared so hard
at our father’s thin body, she missed your move to the deep end.
You live there now, though I pulled you from the water. Sister,
the water was stronger.
Pulled thrashing with fear
from the bottom, I never took another lesson. I pretend
my fight for the surface made me a swimmer. A devout minnow,
silver-finned like mother, with praise for the river. Pretend
the fist to the face, the blood in the knuckle, made me a man.
A sobering thought. A man’s past
can drown him as readily as water. Past 40, my knees are not
as strong as your memory. Your face under water. But my children
have never seen the mirror I carry near rivers, to remind myself of the sky.
Never seen the fight inside of their father. The pillow I hold over my face
to test my breath. A sobering thought. My need to defend them from
the fear, as fierce as their need to swim. Blood, once more,the reason I jumped in the water.
"Zachary Kluckman, the National Poetry Awards 2015 Slam Organizer of the Year and 2014 Slam Artist of the Year, is a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medal Poetry Teacher and a founding organizer of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change program. The 2015 Slam of Enchantment Grand Slam Champion, Kluckman has appeared multiple times at the National And Individual World Poetry slams, as well as regional competitions, and has toured the nation performing and facilitating poetry workshops. He serves as Spoken Word Editor for the Pedestal magazine and has authored three poetry collections."