Poetry And, the much-loved public events series at King’s chaired by Professor of Poetry Ruth Padel, is teaming up with the Obsidian Foundation – a new foundation for Black poets – for a free online event on 13th May, presented by Obsidian’s founder Nick Makoha and featuring Ariana Benson, Zakia Carpenter-Hall, and Saddiq Dzukogi. Event details, including how to get your free ticket, can be found here.
Below, Wild Court features a poem by Ariana , ‘Swimming Lessons’, which previously appeared in Lunch Ticket.
i. You turn the creaky faucet, cautious feet planted as though they grew from cracks in the white porcelain tub. You sit, bathed in steam, scrubbing your skin of any traces of outside. Beads of sweat drip from the edges of a black mass fenced in by taut rubber, tucked away beneath a plastic cap. You wish you could slip under, wet your hair. You wonder what the world looks like through eyes blurred by water. But your mother taught you to bathe, not to swim. ii. You feel yourself start to sink. The whites of your eyes skim the surface, pink with chemical sting. You ponder the strange pain of being able to see, yet unable to breathe. A rare agony known by those who plunge into the open arms of an aqua pool, or slipped into the cool relief of a bath they didn't know was their last for the foreseeable future. Men who climbed out of water never to feel clean again. You wrench yourself from the clutches of the seagreen behemoth and perch a safe distance away, avoiding the gaze of the guard looking down on you from his white throne in the sky. The irony drips from your wild hair to your glistening skin. Chlorine makes lava of invisible tears. You bring the towel to your face, cursing the day your mother thought it wise that you try to learn how to swim. iii. You cross your heart, but don't hope to die as you utter the Savior's name and kneel head-first into suffocation – a temporary suffering necessary for the salvation of a mortal soul, naïve and knowing nothing of earthly hell. Forcing air from your nose to avoid the sting of resurfacing, you silently thank the Lord that your mother made you learn how to swim. iv. The waves call to you as sirens hail unsuspecting prey. White-foamed caps bely a danger that lurks just beyond the depth at which your breast grazes the briny surface. Mollusks, bottom- feeders burrow into the shale – a ragged assortment of fragmented shells, stones, broken glass, dust of ancestors' bones. Where others see an endless playground you see only a mass grave. Your friends dive deep into the surf, floating like fish unencumbered by the memory of their brothers dangling on hooks before their damp eyes. Like strange fruit dangles from vines, like men from trees. But you just wade, even though your mother made you learn how to swim. v. It's just a bath, a pool, a basin, an ocean. But your DNA reminds you of a time when a person would enter the water and only a body would emerge. Black and blue have never mixed well against a white background, much less on a wet canvas. And when you are hit with this reality, there is nothing you can do except dig your heels into the weighty sand as though your mother never taught you how to swim.