Poem of the Week

ddmnr_88Our final poem of the week for National Poetry Month, by Cameron Barnett, was published in the latest issue of the minnesota review, number 88. Explore the full table of contents here.

The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water

Remember the strength of chlorine,
the indoor pool, swim class clinging
to the kickboard then jumping from the ledge
into the arms of the smiling white lady,
only mostly sure she would catch you,
mom calling Cameron! Cameron!
to get you to look, then said kick, kick! Remember,
there’s nothing a mother won’t do
for one still shot of your head
above the water. It’s important
to always practice good form: kick your legs. Remember
Tortola, the sea like melted marbles and the sun
at the equator, your brown skin browning; with a stretch
of snorkel between your teeth you jumped in
and chased a sea turtle for the length
of the tiny island’s beach, the pressure
in your ears right when you thought you could catch it,
mom and dad, sighing when you came back
to the surface. Remember your worst fear
is not being able to breathe. Most people who drown
are brown, and eighty percent of people who drown
are male. Don’t forget to kick your legs.
Don’t forget middle school musicals, all the costumes
and makeup, the white boys making jokes
about blackface, the laughter gurgling in their necks,
no one else like you to back you up.
Sometimes you will swallow water. Remember: a throat
is the size of a Skittle or a hole in a hoodie,
and Trayvon’s legs kicked hard against the night. Drowning
isn’t loud or splashy, it’s silent—autonomic,
neck tilt and terror. When you are drowning, feet become rocks,
hands push down water in vain, and the thump
of blood is the only thing that can be heard. It is all, supposedly,
painless. Always remember that. Always remember
your first girlfriend’s grandmother sneering at the sight
of her white arms wrapped up in your hoodie,
how you pretended it was painless, but you couldn’t
help but kick your legs; or how nobody
will save you anymore when you yell I can’t breathe
so just kick your legs; or every sidewalk
where a white girl sees you, pulls her phone up to her face
and crosses the street like she’s guarding
something secret—kick your legs; remember that you have been
a white girl’s secret before—kick your legs.
When you are drowning, don’t forget to practice good form:
float on the surface; part the water with your lips;
only swallow as much as you can hold.

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