Chlorine and languor and vaporous
Threads rising like the steam off soup,
This brackish whirlpool wrinkles us,
And turns us briefly old until our time
Runs out: twenty minutes at the most.
But it’s nothing like those girls
Who heated me to my fingernails
When we slowdanced on lantern-lit patios,
My palms so moist they squeaked
As the girls squealed, pointing,
And my face burned faintly, blue.
Twelve of us, strangers, ring the tub,
Like those early surgeons who bled
The sick, we’re convinced sweat heals,
And loitering in these eddying pools,
Buoyed by the undercurrents, flushes out
The mortal downrush coursing through us.
So that day a new guest waded in—
A man so thin, so undone,
He looked like a trembling aspen
In a flood—we all looked, at a loss,
Then looked away, scanning our hands
For paper cuts, for sores, torn nails,
Any breach in the skin, through which
The idea of such illness could get in.
No one found the nerve to speak, or leave
When the time came. After he waded out,
Trunks clinging to his hips like drenched
Newsprint, we stayed in long enough
For him to shower, dry off, dress.
While the water swirled around us,
I’m sure I heard that August breeze
Disquieting the paper lanterns,
Carrying those girlish whispers back.