Saturday, May 27, 2017

Two recent poems

Two recent poems' First one was begun last fall as just some notes. I stumbled across it and decided to reshape it as a poem--the experience of swimming in colder water than I'm used to... maybe others have experienced this?

Cold Swim

Frio, froid, fuar, kold

We’ll think of others, or translate them.

How it burns, goes silent,

a fact, five o’clock. Action News. Weather.

And you swim, water wrapping you in itself,

you the ice cube, the water someone’s drink, but whose?

Step in, tentative.

It gets darker earlier.

The water wears a poker face.

No going back, or is there? Not if you care

about saving face, your own

looking out over the river, appealing for what,

mercy? You take the next best thing,

a swim. The stroke evens.

Face in and out, rhythmic,

water surrounding you, chill eating into you, no

longer a monster;

instead, a cat licking the salt from your sweaty skin.

You begin to fly.

It’s just water. 


The following poem I wrote during a weekend that included my father's birthday (April 28), my first time in the Penn Relays (thanks to my friend Kristine Longshore who needed someone to fill a 4x100 and a 4x400 team. No, Nike is not pounding on my door waiting to sign me up (nice fantasy, though). I am quite slow, but I have a pulse, and that proved to be enough. 

Day after that was swim practice, but sometimes athletic events blend together in significance.

Then my aunt's birthday was April 30 (102!) and she still enjoys the New York Rangers hockey team.. Finally, I'll leave the bobcat to your imagination, although there's a non-fiction basis for that too.


It was his birthday.
There was cake at the bar.

Pistol shot set batons into motion.
Would I know what to do?

The medal was a gift. He had one like it
antique, bristling with tradition.

From below, bubbles surfaced,
friends in a pub, glasses raised. Everyone wore yellow.

Next morning, unheard, I dove in
to my thoughts and swam freestyle

Under water, silence.
Startled, I forgot how to start.

His body shouted
Push off the wall! In his voice, focus.

It was her birthday, over a hundred. In a jacket of many colors, she waited.
Rangers would play soon.

A bobcat’s cry woke them. Nothing but forest
for miles. We found our way out of time.

Diane McManus

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What they found ... Christmas poem

What they found

The light teased them that night. drawing them

away from carpeted hallways, for days

shivering, blizzards erasing their way, invisible

star calling their names.

Desert heat, sun, tepid water. Ground burned.

Sleep never came, between scorpions and thieves. All

sand looked the same, stretched for miles nowhere.

They told stories, memories of home

swirling through dreams.

Families searched, forgot, went on.

Resigned to wandering, so did they.

In the distance, odd light, growing

it seemed from the earth, no visible source.

The house, when they found it, was simple.

A puzzled couple greeted them. Their child, playing,

stared, curious, then returned to his toys.

Was this right?

But unsure what else to do, they left the gifts,

knowing it was time.

Poem and photo by Diane McManus


A note... I was thinking about what the Magi could have encountered after traveling so far, maybe in response to a dream, a star, something that motivated them to keep pursuing the light from the star for miles and months (I'll leave the question of whether this journey actually took place to others to discuss. For now, I just want to reflect on what that journey might mean for the rest of us. Did they come upon a family excited to see them? Or a family that, by then, had developed a routine and settled into the daily rituals of being a couple, caring for a child? How might they have reacted to three strangers coming to their door with gifts. This isn't Publishers' Clearinghouse. And they may have been so taken by surprise not to realize the significance of the event right off.

Yet there these strangers were with gifts they'd brought and wondering too if they'd come to the right address... they were pretty sure, perhaps, but when we follow our stars or intuitions, we do sometimes ask questions. Still, they left the gifts in faith, maybe not knowing, maybe not certain, but sensing the path and following it. 

For so many of us, that's our journey--not always certain, yet trying to stay true to who we are and what we believe is right. The heroism is in the journey, and the affirmation is in the gifts we continue to give, in faith that they've found the right home.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving day poem

“\7777777777777777777777777777777777.” she said. "My novel," she said.



the number she typed repeatedly
a paw resting on keyboard. I go with found
objects, stray clouds and a feather, perfectly
formed before me.

They speak the language of portent, only
lighter, scraps of a day left along the road, waiting
for adoption. I pick them up, treasure
silently.  Shouting boys kick

 a water bottle toward me. I empty it on plants,
forming clouds which fill the camera with odd light.



Thursday, May 05, 2016

Broad Street "Swim" and not going gentle

Two poems are bouncing around in my mind as I reflect on a very rainy Broad Street Run this past Sunday (May 1):

"Do Not Go Gentle" by Dylan Thomas

"Infirm," by Gwendolyn Brooks

At 65, I'm among a growing group of runners and other athletes who continue to work out and compete because it's intrinsically worthwhile to do so, including a friend who aspires in his late sixties to run a 200 mile ultra-distance event, another who competes in swim meets in her 80s having survived pancreatic cancer, and still another who in her late 70s can leave me in the dust in road races.

In the Broad Street Run, May 1, 2016, 40something thousand people ran ten miles at varying speeds in the pouring rain. Many were my age and older. In my age group F65-69, there were 39 runners, with the first place finisher running 1:17:xx, a time I haven't achieved even at my fastest.

I won't claim to speak for others, but my own motivation, with all its various twists and turns, comes down to "because I can," taking in fear that one day I won't be able to, and not wanting that time to come just yet. In my mid-60s, hearing of deaths of people my age and younger, I can't take life for granted. I can't take longevity for granted. Yet I don't see myself as exactly "old," in the sense that although I have a senior pass on SEPTA, Philly's public trans system, I'm using it to go to such places as masters swim practice, track meets, road races, and other pursuits for able-bodied participants.

I don't want the curtain to go down, though. I worry more if some symptom pops up--how long will it last? I fear potholes and other potential hazards that could not only trip me up but put me into nursing care (yes, I have Medicare as well as my work health insurance, but still...). I am officially for the purposes of transit systems, movie theaters, and the like, an "old person." But my age only tells part of the story. My running speed has slowed, and it's harder to recover from injuries--but I still go to Dr. Johnny King Marino, my chiropractor not to fix some kink in my back from getting out of bed, but to perform killer massage on a sore shoulder or hamstring so I can run and swim. Yes, it "hurts so good."

But the fear lurks behind all this. How long can I keep this going? What am I running away from as well as running toward? I'm not ready to yield to the gravity of aging, even as its realities creep up on me. I'm running toward the things that always gave life--not only now but to my younger self--engaging mind and body... playing! This would have to include playing socially as well as in sports: downing beers with fellow runners, margaritas with fellow swimmers, chocolate just about any time with those who appreciate it. Letting it rain while I run, and sometimes even seeking out the puddles. Entering a 5.4 mile swim and planning on an 8 mile one.

And while I acknowledge the fear, I can't let it steal my life from me. Not yet. "Do not go gentle."

Then the question: what really IS a disability? What does it mean to "not go gentle"? Is this advice just for "seniors," a word I use with quotation marks?

During the Broad Street Run, I waited, waited, waited getting cold and wet with the thousands of others awaiting their wave start, thinking "this is the last time I'm going to run this race," yet knowing otherwise. John Kenny, my coach, reminded me that the race was in my mind, not just on that rainy street. So despite worrying I'd be getting tight and cramped, I kept in my mind the words "in your mind," and knew this too would pass and I'd be running--and I'd be once again shivering and cold later, but meanwhile, here was the start, here was my run.

Heading into South Philly, feeling the effort more than I wanted to, I noticed a man in front of me, very severely pigeon-toed, limping as much as running. And if he was persisting, so would I.

We all come to the race in some way "infirm," and I'm thinking here of the human race, but the man with the pigeon-toed run who kept at it, as well as the 100 year old woman who ran the 100 dash at the Penn Relays and the teen-age girl I wrote about several years ago who did wheelchair sports, including track--we come with infirmities (physical, emotional, maybe spiritual), and our goal is to dance, to play, to keep moving, to dance past those barriers erected by those who would put us in boxes marked "aged," "disabled," "transgender," "cancer victim" (just ask my friend Tonia, who ran a 100 mile ultra after completing pancreatic cancer treatment.

We can slide into the fear so easily, the fear that lurks under the surface--and once we do, it can swallow us. But we "do not go gentle." And, with Gwendolyn Brooks, we claim our beauty.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Water poems

Here are a couple of poems I read last night at an open reading, but have not yet posted here--until now. I also read "Flip Turn Lesson" which appears in the previous blog entry. I hadn't noticed until I read the poems how interconnected they all were with water--and two of them with birth ("White Screen on Water" and "Flip Turn Lesson").

The first, "White Screen," I wrote in 2014 on a ferry traveling from Logan Airport to Hull--a ferry I wouldn't be on had the operator not had mercy, heard my shouts and waves, and returned to the dock to pick me up! Having my laptop with me, I opened it to write but not wanting everyone on the ferry to see what I was writing, I wrote in white on a white screen. At that time, I was visiting Boston to run the National Masters Indoor Track Championships (ran the 800--in the same heat as a woman who broke a 60-64 age group record!), but Boston is always a kind of homecoming for me, as I was born there, and that feeling surfaced for me during that ferry ride. At the time, though, I also reflected on what it might be like to swim in those waters, maybe in the Boston Light Swim--by then it was on my horizon as a daydream, a possibility but a distant one still. It almost seems as if this body of water is entwined for me with the Great South Bay, both bringing me to birth in a way.

White screen on water

Text turned white
while riding the ferry to Hull.
The plane skirted the coast, water turning color
as it shallowed.

The laptop hides secrets.
I want to give them a gift, but all I have
are gummy bears bought in the Hyatt lobby, which turn iconic as
planes descend over water.
Now I look up,

eyes opened
in Boston, I still inhabit
its water, its Irishness, its islands, some invisible.

Unseen my words are, as I see
birds flying in tandem, coupled birds, lives
in the making. I will race.
The water moves me,

I write blankly, onlookers seeing
only the squiggles that warn of errors. I see
sun on water, birds and buoys, and the world

widening into ocean.


The next poem, written summer 2015, was inspired by my swim coach, John Kenny's challenge to me to swim 8x50 butterfly. This is my weakest swim stroke and, for that reason  possibly, the one I want most to master (but it's a difficult dance, and I'm still in the early stages....)

Waking the butterfly

Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly’s wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron. It was to be a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses. –Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

That day at the Y, the swimmer called it
a dance, pushing off wavelike, wings for arms, reaching
the wall, laughing. Just try the kick.

Keep trying -- Like Ginger, promising
the impossible
becoming possible.

A dance.

Fifty Fly!
Still larval, I try,
cough, stop, no magic in these ruffled wings
Remember there is iron, remember push-off. Pick yourself up.

Fifty Fly
I’m terrible at this!
He doesn’t stop.  Something stirs inside
the cocoon, breaking bits at a time.

It’s a dance.
We have begun.
We will fly.


The open reading: a truly lovely affair--we were originally to be in a separate room upstairs but because the owner of Xolol's Tacos didn't get word in time, he'd scheduled another event. However, he was most gracious and gave us all free drinks. We were seated at a table near the window, maybe 8 of us, with five readers (including me). What variety--humor and tragedy, childhood and old age, and in between. These readings occur monthly, organized by Tracy Kaufman Wood, who read a very funny memoir about Jewish children in a public school participating in an Easter bonnet contest around the time of Passover. Not an easy act to follow, but we were a most encouraging group!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A swimmer's Crhistmas gift

22 December

By way of background, although I've increased my swimming a lot lately, I've been afraid to do the flip turn that other swimmers do with such ease and that I used to be able to do--but had a bad experience with this kind of turn about ten years ago--and have never wanted to do them again. But the coaches of my masters' team have been urging us to try them, and so I decided I would learn--and got a very wonderful instructor/sport psychologist to help me (Rebecca Smith--I hope she doesn't mind being mentioned!)

She was extremely patient and helpful not only in showing me the mechanics of the turn but in facing the fears I was experiencing.

So as a kind of gift to her, I'm sharing this poem here (and maybe elsewhere).

Flip turn lessons

Look up at your toes
from underwater, fluorescent light shocks.
Memories of somersaults, safe inside
amniotic fluid. Time getting closer. Not ready. Frozen.

She calms me. Breathe.
Baptism at the pool, no priest
needed. Submerged,
we are not in a hurry.

One movement, then another. Fear
dissolves. Time now.
She is a midwife, whatever she calls herself,
turning me over, head in position. No breech
 birth here.

The moment comes. Delivered.

--Diane McManus