“Learning to Swim” by C.J. Farnsworth

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2021: Editor’s Choice


Sunline by Annie Kuhn, painting of towels hung across a clothesline

Image: “Sunline” by Annie Kuhn. “Learning to Swim” was written by C.J. Farnsworth for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

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C.J. Farnsworth


Mother fast-friended Daddy’s distant pool cousins
So to be sure we could swim
In their inground kidney with a corkscrew
Slide we bit our tongues as mother jerked
Orange floaties up to our throats
And yanked our hair under latex blossoms
We kicked and screamed and held
Our breath with arms over our ears
As they roared kick/jump/keep your mouth shut
While Daddy’s-Mama’s-Brother’s-Girl
Smoked menthols on a chaise
In a gold bandeau drinking
Gin after gin after gin
Because, Mother said, once upon a time
She was a beauty queen before
She had a boy with sugar they called ‘Tink’
And Katrina with gold skin
And gold hair and gold ankle
Bracelets (a trophy come to life)
Who sometimes showed up
With a long-haired/shirtless/round-shouldered boy
To pick-up a few bucks
While I snuck into the house
To use the drowning-in-pink
Bathroom that was inside
Daddy’s-Mama’s-Brother’s-Girl’s bedroom
To sit at her wicker vanity wondering
Why the sun made my skin red not gold
To clip on earrings that hung
Like bunches of purple grapes
Before sloshing out the sliding doors
Connecting the bedroom to the slab patio
Right beside the pool
Convinced Daddy’s favorite Frank Sinatra’s
Bedroom must be just like this
Until Mother announced it was getting late
Until we packed into our green Pontiac
Until Mother, as heavy as the wet towels
She piled in my arms
Told me to put ’em up
Until I pinned each towel
Until all the corners touched

from Ekphrastic Challenge
June 2021, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the Editor, Timothy Green: “Most of the poems this month, it seemed, in involved childhood memories triggered by Annie Kuhn’s watercolor, but I found ‘Learning to Swim’ to be the most engrossing. It’s always interesting to stroll through someone else’s nostalgia, but especially when the past is painted so vividly. The lack of punctuation captures the breathlessness of a young narrator, and the repetition at the end conveys an impressive range of emotions.”

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