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Polylith 007   ☷   August 02019

Swimming


Hello you fellow water-bodies, bodies in water. You secretly spring-fed ponds. (I know because I am one too.) Nice to be with you once again.

I write from a peninsula hemmed in by high lapping waters, a peninsula whose margins are chewed at tirelessly by hungry waves. Familiar bluffs and beaches change before the eyes; great wedges of till slump and dissolve in the surf, and the sediment is sorted and raked down the shore like light through a prism. In the newly exposed face we can read ancient cross-beds of sand overlaid by strata of sorted pebbles, clay deposits gritty with shells, thousands of years of meticulously ordered deposition exhumed. Next storm will rearrange these forms into others at once new and recurrent, forms that might themselves emerge in cross-section a thousand years in either direction. Here where this big lake meets land, entropy runs in tiny epicycles.

But:
Just a few paces off shore the water-body is the same as ever; persistent, heavy; by turns still and turbulent, cold and amicable, but withal the same. So, shall we leave the wracked land behind and push out into the lake? Slip out of our pummeled drift-bodies into pliant bodies of water? Shall we ascend toward reunion with the great water-body herself?

Yes? Yes then. I offer you, by way of invitation, a hymn to to this sweet reunion of bodies, to envelopment. A hymn to swimming.

A color photograph taken underwater of a person floating on their back up at the surface. Their reflection repeats in the gentle undulations of the clear turquoise water, and the sunlight shimmers in many little four-pointed stars. Image by Annie Comperchio

A hymn to swimming

First we swim with the eyes. (The eyes, bless the eyes, sensitive soft water-marbles, ray-trace interpolators, saline stereo inputs.) First we swim with the eyes through the warm peach light reflected off the ponderous black glass at sunset, through the insect-wing shimmer late afternoon, among the knapped waves flinty north-wind morning come autumn.

(Down to the shore pulled by that hazel fork in the chest. Coastal cartilage. This way down to the water.)

Then with the hands, plying as we wade out through the clear warm shallows. We swim with the hands over soft rippled sand, over rocks jumping beneath the restless lens, through the shallow water toward the deep. Hands tell the torso what to come.

And then finally with the entire body at once. Then we swim, finally, with the entire body at once. Off earth and into cool quiet surround, into heavy-loving envelopment, into the turquoise chamber of the lake.

Out to where the surface shows depth in vertiginous deep blues, where imagination begins to outpace the oscillating arms. Dive to the bottom where the lakebed drops and the water opens before us into a dark, boundless chasm. The lakebed drops without end; the angle of repose only increases. Be still for a moment and consider the numinous but awful infinitude obscure before terrestrial eyes. The eyes, who led us here in the first place, but, bless them, fail to resolve anything recognizable. Here nonetheless we find the exact balance between the desire to fall and the desire to fly. Swimming, incredibly, we can choose both.

A benediction

Roll to face the sky and drift out over the chasm; all space in all directions. Bright window down to sky, dark depths above. May membranes dissolve, may mind-body unfurl, ascend. And when we emerge from the water, may we emerge rearranged into forms at once new and recurrent.


There we are. Lovely as always to walk together, so to speak, and lovely to share a few actual walks and swims over the last month with a handful of you. Many thanks to my friend Annie for the fine aqueous image to accompany this letter. Do check out her work. Until next month, as the leaves begin to turn, happy unfurling.