lake q3
Mother at the Town Beach
by Marianne Szlyk

You don’t want to swim here.
The weeds won’t drag you down
to where you gulp greeny-
brown water instead of air.
They won’t bind you to the bottom.
You’re not drunk
like the boys who drown.

Those weeds may not
even graze you
with your short legs
as you flutter-kick above.
But there are weeds.

The water is cleaner,
much cleaner than it used to be.
It won’t leave faint scum
on your skirted swimsuit
or your flabby thighs.
Its dark, sour smell
won’t last, not
on your short hair.
A quick shampoo
will wash it off.
But you don’t want to swim here.

The water is cool,
not cold like the ocean.
It sparkles warmly
like a snake in the sun,
like the women
in bikinis basking,
not swimming.
The water is too cool.

Now the sand is damp,
even smooth.
No one pitches broken beer bottles
into this lake anymore
the night before the beach
opens for the season
and the kids’ lessons start.

Still you don’t want
to swim
here.

SOURCE: Previously published in Yellow Chair Review.

PHOTO:  Lake Quinsigamond, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Mother at the Town Beach” responds to Abdul Ali’s prompt to write about a place where we were told not to go. I immediately thought about the beaches on Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. When I was growing up, we never ever ever ever went to those beaches. My brother and I learned to swim in a neighbor’s pool, and when we went to the beach, it was to an ocean beach, thank you very much. I would like to say that I never swam in a lake until I swam in Lake Michigan as a young adult, but unfortunately that’s just not true. The mother’s voice is somewhat like my mother’s except that she would have scorned “the women/ in bikinis basking” rather than short hair. She was always after me to cut my hair.

parent with Marianne

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianne Szlyk is the editor of The Song Is…, an associate poetry editor at Potomac Review, and a professor of English at Montgomery College.  Her second chapbook, I Dream of Empathy, was published by Flutter Press. Her poems have appeared in a variety of online and print venues, including Silver Birch Press, Long Exposure, Front Porch Review, The Syzygn Poetry Journal, Cactifur, Of/with, bird’s thumb, Yellow Chair Review, Snapping Twig, Eunoia Review, and Taj Mahal Review. Her first chapbook is available through Kind of a Hurricane Press. She hopes that you will consider sending work to her magazine. For more information, visit The Song Is blogzine.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I’m including a picture with my mother since her voice is important to this poem.  Paul R. Szlyk, my father, took the picture in 2010 when my parents moved to Rockville, Maryland.  My mother looks full of mischief in the picture.  Ironically, she took better pictures after her Alzheimer’s began.