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FXW: I don't know how to swim Me: What?! FXW: There were no pools for Black Folk when I was coming up
In sleep's 3-D theatre: home, a green island surrounded by the blue of ocean. Zoom to the heart, see the Couva swimming pool filled with us —black children shrieking our joy in a haze of sun; our life- guard, Rodney, his skin flawless and gleaming—black as fresh oil —his strut along the pool's edge, his swoonworthy smile; Daddy a beach-ball-bellied Poseidon, droplets diamonding his afro; my brother, hollering as he jumps into his bright blue fear, his return to air gasping and triumphant. And there, the girl I was: dumpling thick and sun-brown, stripped down to the red two-piece suit my mother had made by hand, afloat in the blue bed of water, the blue sky beaming above. When I wake up, I'm in America where Dorothy Dandridge once emptied a pool with her pinkie, and in Texas a black girl's body draped in its hopeful, tasseled bikini, struck earth instead of water, a policeman's blue-clad knees pinning her back, her indigo wail a siren. I want this to be a dream, but I am awake and in this place where the only blue named home is a song and we are meant to sink, to sputter, to drown.
"This poem emerged as a result of a conversation I had with poet Frank X Walker, which I included as an epigraph. I'm from the island of Trinidad and Tobago—a place populated mostly by black people and surrounded by water, and while not everyone knows how to swim, the water was such a defining feature of my 'coming up'—so my first response to his comment was incredulity. And then a sharp confrontation with the contrasts of growing up as a black person outside of the American context and choosing now to live within it. For days that conversation stayed with me: it triggered memory, history, and outrage about current events, specifically the image of Dajerria Becton pinned beneath a police officer in Texas for trying to use the pool. This all, of course, sent me to the page, and this poem resulted." —Lauren K. Alleyne
Lauren K. Alleyne is the author of Difficult Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2014) and Honeyfish, which received the 2018 Green Rose Prize and is forthcoming in 2019 from New Issues Poetry & Prose. Alleyne is currently assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and an associate professor of English at James Madison University. She lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Thanks to Tracy K. Smith, current United States poet laureate and author of Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018), who curated Poem-a-Day this month. Read more about Smith and our guest editors for the year.
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