Mar. 8, 2002

The Swimming Pool

by Thomas Lux

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Poem: "The Swimming Pool," by Thomas Lux from New & Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin).

The Swimming Pool

All around the apt. swimming pool
the boys stare at the girls
and the girls look everywhere but the opposite
or down or up. It is
as it was a thousand years ago: the fat
boy has it hardest, he
takes the sneers,
prefers the winter so he can wear
his heavy pants and sweater.
Today, he's here with the others.
Better they are cruel to him in his presence
than out. Of the five here now (three boys,
two girls) one is fat, three cruel,
and one, a girl, wavers to the side,
all the world tearing at her.
As yet she has no breasts
(her friend does) and were it not
for the forlorn fat boy whom she joins
in taunting, she could not bear her terror,
which is the terror
of being him. Does it make her happy
that she has no need, right now, of ingratiation,
of acting fool to salve
her loneliness? She doesn't seem
so happy. She is like
the lower middle class, that fatal group
handed crumbs so they can drop a few
down lower, to the poor, so they won't kill
the rich. All around
the apt. swimming pool
there is what's everywhere: forsakenness
and fear, a disdain for those beneath us
rather than a rage
against the ones above: the exploiters,
the oblivious and unabashedly cruel.

It's the birthday of journalist and nonfiction writer John McPhee, born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931). McPhee graduated from Princeton University, where he is currently the Ferris Professor of Journalism, in 1953. In 1965 he became a staff writer for The New Yorker, a move that launched his literary career. He has written on a wide variety of subjects, including oranges, aircraft, the atomic bomb, birchbark canoes, basketball, tennis, the Merchant Marines, the Swiss Army, and, frequently, geology. His book Annals of the Former World won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1999. He traveled in Alaska for two years, writing Coming into the Country, and drove thousands of miles in the back country of Georgia for Travels in Georgia. He rarely gives interviews.

It's the birthday of author, journalist and screenwriter (Eu)Gene Fowler, born in Denver, Colorado (1890). His first years as a working journalist were at the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, where he practiced his florid writing style. By the time Fowler moved to New York in 1918, he had become the stereotypical newspaperman of the time: sensational writing coupled with sensational fighting, drinking, and womanizing. He eventually went to Hollywood and became a screenwriter, where he penned such scripts as Call of the Wild (1935), White Fang (1936), and Billy the Kid (1941). He also began to write books, notably biographies of such legendary figures as Mack Sennett, the Hollywood silent film director, and Jimmy Walker, flamboyant mayor of New York City. But his best known work was Good Night, Sweet Prince (1944), the best-selling biography of actor John Barrymore.

It's the birthday of author Kenneth Grahame, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). Although he dreamed of attending Oxford University, his relatives would not fund his education, instead arranging a job for him as a clerk in the Bank of England, where he stayed until 1907. While at the bank, he began to write stories and sketches with names like The Lost Centaur and Orion, most of them based on his theory that people needed to bring out their more animalistic aspects, which had been repressed by the industrial revolution. In 1893, a collection of these stories was published as Pagan Papers. His second and third collections, The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), contained stories about several orphans who lived with their uncaring relatives in a large country house. The books became very popular. However, Graham's claim to fame is a book of related tales he began as bedtime stories for his young son, about a mole, a rat, a badger and a toad. The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908, and met with mixed reviews. It's sales rose slowly, but it is still read by millions of children today and is now considered a classic of children's literature. Grahame wrote very little after The Wind in the Willows, preferring to live quietly in the country with his family. He died in 1932.

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