“Swimmers in the Caribbean” by Christine Degenaars

Christine Degenaars


after Susan Mitchell

At a Starbucks
on Union Avenue, it rains
and a stranger closes his eyes
over me. I’d like to blame
him for this, how much
I am like a window now—
it was a cab ride,
those early years. We drove
to Central Park, you pressed
a piece of cloth to a cut
on my heel, remember? Like oil,
it shined in the car light.
Come with me
to Trinidad and Tobago
you said. Your wife, 
your girls gone. Port of Spain,
the air salted with spring—there
you said the lime goes on
forever. I saw us—
beach hat and folding chairs,
watch the ocean tag the shore,
retreat. Ships in the bay
bobbing like bucking horses,
towels the color of sunset.
You said at night we’d sit
flushed with rum and cheap wine,
side by side on the balcony,
looking out—darkness
like the hem of a sheer skirt.
You in white
linen and well into forty. 
My mother warned me: 
never love a man
you can’t understand.
Your teeth were a fence
painted between
your lips. I shouldn’t
have believed you.
Sometimes still, sometimes—
love is a dark pool
at the bottom of a dark well, or
something else: refuse
and rain water
which take me back home.
What I say, I say without
mercy and what you said,
listen to me—
they were not songs.

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022


Christine Degenaars: “Violist and composer Kurt Rohde once said to me that all language is metaphor. It looks to obtain a shared understanding, a meeting of internal worlds, but it never quite gets there. To me, poetry is the closest we can get to crossing the divide between symbol and actual. In some ways, I write because I can’t not write and because bridging this gap—understanding and being understood—seems to me like the most important work we can do.” (web)

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