The Spirit Award

Daisy Fried

Most Valuable, Most Improved, and for least valuable unimprovables,
the Spirit Award. Skinny in my T-back,
I got Most Valuables. Swimming mostly hurt. My shoulders
are still big from this.

          The chrome-look figures on the trophies
were crudely modelled. Some trained artist
hunched at her rotating pedestal in her high-ceilinged studio,
flicked at the clay with small picks, wire loops. She shrugged and rolled her shoulders,
trying to get it right – but it’s wrong, the pose, legs fused
into one leg, only a cheated indentation between, like symbols
on public bathrooms telling Ladies or Gents.

                   The trophy diver
leans slightly forward at the waist, scrawny arms winged out,
gazes moony at the far deep, closed lips curved into a Mona Lisa.
Not much shoulder, narrow torso, sloping mass of breasts
bigger than you’d see on most swimmers with their breasts like muscley knots.
I quit at puberty: never managed to swim hard enough to swim mine away.

No one dives like that a swim meet. You stand doubled over
on the block in the echoing room, hands gripping the lip by your feet till your hands hurt,
your feet shoulder’s width apart, loose and tense – loose with adrenaline
waiting for the instant the pistol fires; tensely ready, a spring
wound tight, you explode outward
body a circumflex above the sentence of the pool. Enter shallow …
glide into your stroke, water like mercury –
it divides, springs away.

          Maybe they dove like the trophies sixty years ago,
       baggy-suited
and, for the times, immodest. The war over, economy rising,
House Un-Americans beginning – which is also an ending. Movies
spring into colour! Esther Williams backstrokes in lipstick,
look up the clips on YouTube. She slides heavy-hipped
through flower-strewn pools, hardly raises a splash. Frank O’Hara
is home from the South Seas: at Harvard, VA-funded,
his poems ahead of him not yet talking
to the sun at Key West, his liver
not yet enlarged. Simone de Beauvoir travelling
America, falling in love with Nelson Algren,
describing the US in pronouncements
mostly pissed and mostly true.