Memory Has Depth But No Bottom

by Al Maginnes

I am not speaking now of the girls I knew
      who babysat and worked at the theater
or drug store, but who in summer saw

      their local glory eclipsed by the girls
home from college and bored with everything,
      their thick paperbacks more weighty

for sitting unopened while they unfastened
      the tops of their bathing suits, to turn their backs
into planes of unbroken tan, and lit

      cigarettes beneath the disapproving stare
of mothers and friends of mothers. If their talk
      of football games and rum punch made them

the town’s fallen daughters, it was a fall
      with a soft landing. Already I knew
the world was cleaved and cleaved again

      by borders invisible and impossible to cross.
The depth and velocity of the scorn meant
      to drive away anyone not invited

into their coconut-scented kingdom of skin and smoke
      radiated even to the deep end of the pool
where we lined up for the diving board.

      Our game that summer was to toss pennies
into the deep end and dive after them, trying
      to retrieve all we had thrown

until we were tossing more than we could ever bring up.
      I waited in line to dive, learned to stay down
so long water’s silence was a keening, then a roar

      in my ears, until my lungs scorched for want
of air. Some days I would go to the shade and fall
      on the wide shore of a book and read until

my fingers unwrinkled. All summer, the daughters lay
      in the graceful repose of the fallen, motionless
as photographs of stillnesses like the Sphinx

      or the pyramids, but stillnesses of flesh,
and of flesh that would not molder as summer turned
      a corner and the reek of chlorinated water

took our skin. The bath-warm water itself became
      a sentence, no longer the enticement of early June,
and stuck in mid-corruption the daughters began

      to stretch and long for the airy cool of a classroom,
the damp closeness of a mixer, for movement
      that would divide them from these bodies

trapped in the town where they had been born,
      where their names still cast a shadow. In the stare
of one afternoon’s heat, the daughter of the undertaker,

      a bent man who played the piano for hours when he drank,
rose and took the narrow, quivering stage
      of the diving board. A short run, and she rose,

arms spread, as close to the shape of a cross
      as humans can come, no longer fallen but soaring
until she turned and entered the water

      straight as a plumb line, barely a splash
to mark her passage. She swam
      slow as royalty to the ladder, reclaimed

the spot she had left moment before. No pennies had been
      thrown for her to find, but she could have
claimed every one. She returned to college,

      then vanished, as some daughters did, in dark
pools of rumor, living in a teepee somewhere in Arizona
      or Canada. Ten years ago I heard she was selling

real estate in Atlanta. Whatever else we are,
      we are mostly unremembering water.
And the twenty percent of her that is

      not water does not remember
how she rose and turned, plunging into memory
      she has become, like those pennies,

more precious each time she surfaces.

AL MAGINNES is the author of five full length collections and four chapbooks of poetry, most recently Inventing Constellations (Cherry Grove Edition, 2012) and Ghost Alphabet (White Pine Press, 2008), winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize. Recent or forthcoming poems appear in Tar River Poetry, Solo Café, Arkansas Review, Bookends Review, Southern Humanities Review. He lives with his family in Raleigh, NC, and teaches composition, literature and creative writing at Wake Technical Community College.