July: Water, Water Everywhere*

*In May I learned that this line comes from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

This month is all about water. Being in it, reading about it. I’m swimming almost every day in the lake, and finding water poems, water essays, water words. What a wonderful way to spend a month!

Total Miles Swum in July at Lake Nokomis and Cedar Lake: 48.15

Water Encountered

  • Lake Nokomis
  • Cedar Lake
  • Mississippi River
  • Minnehaha Creek
  • Drips from sewer pipes at 44th, 42nd, and 35th
  • Drops from wet vegetation on the trails, in the grass, under the trees
  • High dew points and oversaturated air
  • Sweat, dampness, drenched
  • Dried out and hard dirt
  • Thirsty leaves

Water Thoughts

  • What is open water swimming and how does it differ from wild swimming? Where does organized lake swimming fit in to various categories of swimming? It’s not wild but it’s not like swimming in a pool. Why do I prefer open water swimming to pool swimming and (most likely) wild swimming? (july 1)
  • Reflecting on why it bothered me so much when people didn’t follow the “traffic” rules in the water: I long for order, and to not care when there isn’t any (july 5).
  • Should I try to turn my swimming poems into one long poem (july 8)?
  • My game for the summer: How little visual data do I need to still keep swimming, to not panic or swam way off course?
  • What’s another word for sloshing (july 11)?
  • I want to write more about the joy of rough water and big(gish) waves (july 13)
  • Instead of being annoyed with how off-course the green buoys are, I’m understanding it as an opportunity to practice sighting and to play my game (how much visual data do I need) (july 15).
  • A description of sighting a green buoy (july 16)
  • Thinking about how much perspective changes in the water: big buoys look tiny, planes look like birds, dragonflies like helicopters (july 18).
  • My central vision is getting worse + being back in love with cedar lake (july 19).
  • The smoke from the wildfires in Canada combined with the choppy waves and the military planes flying low overhead made me feel like I was in a scene from Apocalypse Now (july 20).
  • Going off course and mistaking a buoy for a lifeguard, and a lifeguard for a buoy (july 21).
  • Noticing how much helicopters resemble dragonflies (july 23).
  • Yes, fish make noise (july 24).
  • Drought in Minnesota, wildfires in Canada. The absence of water (last week of july).

Literal and Metaphorical Meanings of Water

  • Literal: The sensation of swimming in rough water, with waves crashing into me or rocking me or pushing me along. Currents that move me off course. Tall waves that disorient. Swells that make it harder to stroke in the water and breathe. All the spray. Feeling powerful as I use my shoulders to lift higher out of the water and slice through it. The initial panic I feel as I adjust to breathing and stroking differently. The enjoyment I get out of wrestling with the water. The satisfaction, from staying on course. The way time disappears as I focus on breathing and not swallowing too much water–no before or after, only now.
  • Metaphorical: Waves of emotion–grief, joy, worry, anxiety–washing over me. Often unanticipated, invisible at first, like the lake from the shore looking deceptively calm. Learning to handle the intensity/overwhelmingness: fighting the waves, surrendering to them, learning to adapt and adjust, relenting to the water or moving with instead of against it. Water as cleansing, scouring, washing away memories. Flowing, erasing, saturating.

Water Poems Studied This Month:

Water Poems Previously Studied:

Favorite Lines

Morning Swim/ Maxine Kumin

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

that fed the lake that met my sea

water in love/ ed bok lee

Worship, splash, guzzle, or forget
it clears any difference
Stone washer and mountain dissolver
that will
outlive us, even the memory of
all any eyes touched

open water/ ada limón

But I keep thinking how something saw you , something
was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean
where you were no one’s mother, and no one’s wife,
but you in your original skin, right before you died,
you were beheld, and today in my kitchen with you
now ten years gone, I was so happy for you.

Fog-thick morning/ Lorine Niedecker

Fog-thick morning—
I see only
where I now walk. I carry
my clarity
with me.

The Thing is/ Ellen Bass

when grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs

The Pond at Dusk/ Jane Kenyon

A fly woulds the water but the wound
soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter
overhead, dropping now and then toward
the outward-radiating evidence of food.

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Each time I tear this seam to enter,
all that I carry is taken from me,
sucked in the dive.
Lovers, children, even words go under.
Matters of dogma spin off in the freestyle
earning that mid-pool spurt, like faith.
Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?

By the Sea/ Emily Dickinson

I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me.

The Nude Swim/ Anne Sexton

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.

Sea Poem/ Alice Oswald

what is the sound of water
after the rain stops you can hear the sea
washing rid of the world’s increasing complexity,
making it perfect again out of perfect sand

oscialation endlessly shaken
into an entirely new structure

Some Exercises to Try

  1. Write about the connections between water and grief.
  2. Make a list of reasons why you love water.
  3. Explore these questions further: what is “wild” swimming? how does open water swimming differ from wild swimming? what connections does open water swimming share with pool swimming, with wild swimming?
  4. Compose an ode or a love poem about your shoulders.
  5. Answer in whatever form you wish: what does swimming help you to remember? what does it allow you to forget?
  6. Write as many poems as you can about open swim: the encounters, the fish, the choppy water, the lifeguards, your pre and post swim rituals.