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Sub Rosa

by Lance Larsen

I was wrong to make Noreena a synonym for retarded,
wrong to consider the girl herself a science
project in muteness. It’s just that each day her mother
parked her, a package of shivering limbs,
in the club pool, and each day I did equations in my head.

Rich tennis mother + Noreena = no tennis.
Rich tennis mother - Noreena = double sets.
Easy the math. Easy the water. Easy to turn a body
into broken syllables, syllables into a punch line:
Noreena She-ain’t-no-holiday Holladay.

Her shivering filled the pool and emptied the afternoon
of its colors. Lapped at her mother’s polished
Mercedes in the parking lot. All summer
I swam that impossible cold, swam it beside Noreena.
Backstroke, dog paddle, dead man’s float.

And sometimes I held her hand—in secret, under water.
I wanted to take her despair inside. So blue
lipped, so jittery. I wanted to prove it wasn’t mine.
Then I’d dive. And kick for the forgiving deep
where saving myself was the same as treading water.


Lance Larsen is the author of Erasable Walls (New Issues Press, 1998). His poems have also appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. Graduate coordinator of English at Brigham Young University, he is married to painter and mixed-media artist Jacqui Larsen. (5/03)

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