Jun. 24, 2006

Learning to Float

by April Lindner

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Poem: "Learning to Float" by April Lindner from Skin. © Texas Tech University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Learning to Float

Relax. It's like love. Keep your lips
moist and parted, let your upturned hands
unfold like water lilies, palms exposed.

Breathe deeply, slowly. Forget chlorine
and how the cement bottom was stained
blue so the water looks clear

and Caribbean. Ignore the drowned mosquitoes,
the twigs that gather in the net
of your hair. The sun is your ticket,

your narcotic, blessing your chin,
the floating islands of your knees.
Shut your eyes and give yourself

to the pulsating starfish, purple and red,
that flicker on your inner lids.
Hallucination is part of the process,

like amnesia. Forget how you learned
to swim, forget being told
Don't panic. Don't worry. Let go

of my neck. It's only water. Don't think
unless you're picturing Chagall,
his watercolors of doves and rooftops,

lovers weightless as tissue,
gravity banished, the dissolving voices
of violins and panpipes. The man's hand

circles the woman's wrist so loosely,
what moors her permits her to float,
and she rises past the water's skin,

above verandas and the tossing heads
of willows. Her one link to earth,
his light-almost reluctant-touch, is a rope

unfurling, slipping her past the horizon,
into the cloud-stirring current. This far up,
what can she do but trust he won't let go?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of essayist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce, (books by this author) born near Horse Cave Creek, Ohio (1842). He took a job as a printer's assistant on an antislavery newspaper when he was fifteen, and then became the second person in his county to volunteer for the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War.

He fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including the Battle of Shiloh. During one short campaign, more than a third of his company was killed. But Bierce rose to the level of lieutenant, becoming an expert in typography. Then, in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, he was shot in the head. He later wrote about being shipped to the hospital on a flatcar in a rainstorm, surrounded by hundreds of moaning injured soldiers. He survived, but his friends and family said that injury changed him forever, made him bitter and suspicious.

He headed out west to San Francisco, which was a boomtown of 60,000 people, full of outlaws, gamblers, sailors, and goldmine millionaires. It was also a city full of writers, with six newspapers covering city life. One of the writers who had gotten started around the same time as Bierce was Mark Twain. But Bierce managed to make a name for himself writing fierce social criticism and satire.

He also wrote short stories about the Civil War, some of the bleakest war stories ever written. Bierce's most famous story is "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," about a spy condemned to die by hanging, only to escape when the rope snaps. He runs through the forest, away from enemy gunfire, and eventually finds his home plantation, and is about to embrace his wife when he feels a blow on his neck, and it turns out the whole escape was a daydream in the split second before his death.

One of Bierce's books that's never gone out of print is his Devil's Dictionary (1906), a collection of ironic definitions. The Devil's Dictionary includes the definitions:

"Bride. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her."

"Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited."

It was on this day in 1997 that the Pentagon attempted to end the speculation that the United States had ever intercepted a wrecked alien spacecraft, along with alien bodies, fifty years ago in Roswell, New Mexico. At a press briefing, Pentagon officials issued an official government document called "The Roswell Report: Case Closed." It was 231 pages long and stated that the United States had never captured any alien beings, either dead or alive, and that no alien spaceships had ever invaded U.S. airspace, especially not in the vicinity of Roswell, New Mexico.

But the announcement only fueled more conspiracy theories. According to polls, 34 percent of Americans believe that intelligent beings from other planets have visited Earth; of those, 65 percent believe a UFO crash-landed near Roswell, and 80 percent believe the U.S. government knows more about extraterrestrials than it chooses to let on.

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