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Poetry and Medicine
October 6, 2004

Swimmer

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(13):1529. doi:10.1001/jama.292.13.1529

Low water and sharp rocks
worry our guides. Challenge enough
this trip, without the need
to watch out for some gray-haired guy
who plunges head first off boulders, dares
the current in a tight black Speedo,
a sea lion in his element.
I sit with him at dinner
on the second night. His wife
of thirty years has died
after a lingering illness, at eight
on a Tuesday morning just three months ago.
He woke at four. He says he felt her
give him leave to travel on.
“She let me go, and then she died,”
he says without a tear
to a stranger on a white sand beach
a mile deep in the Grand Canyon.
My death-tapes, all of them
replay at once. I’m wondering
who has actually let go of whom.
A little silence. He finally says
he hadn’t thought of it like that before.
Nothing more except good night.
But next morning he chooses
to jump instead of dive, to quit
swimming without a life-jacket
out beyond the eddy-line.

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