I live in the North, where we set fire to the future as we burn the past.
I live in the Shadow of the Elephant, that bawdy collection of vicious history and bepuffed expectations, that demands we nod along with the trumpeting falsehood that the best of them is the entirety of them.
This city here in the shadow is larger than most cities built in most lands during most of history, they tell me, though it looms but tinily on the line-up of metropoles/polei/polises of this age.
This is an oil city, a blue collar town, with pretensions of grit, quite unnecessary given the rural roots that straggle behind many of the transplants here, grubbing along the ditches all the way back to farm fields torn from prairie ecocosms now vaunted by the hipsters sleeting through farmers markets as the model of an Eden both unattainable and fundamentally dependent upon that unattainability for its sanctity.
In the city, one is free to love the wild and keep tidy fingernails. I live as a parasite to an industrial beast, arteries and veins pumping gas and water, obedient as the lightning in my walls. Coral bleach in envy of the structure I have built, lux and plush and decorated in temperate greens and golds year round.
This is no more a little house on the prairie than the klieg-lit lots down in Elephant-land that drooled prechewed dreams into our mind. This is the industrial city, which could be anywhere. The only place immune to our urbanity is the sheer mountain face.
And dreaming of mountain hot springs, I go to the pool.
In tile and fluorescent brightness lit, I float the tub fantastic, observant as a crown-shy tree of the halo of space each bather commands.
See how we flex like a murmuration of swallows, swaddled in lycra and bulging with the evidence of our nutritional excess. See how we loll, a tidal pool full of urchins and seastars, little barnacles creaking our beaks over matters inconsequential, or breathing confidences here in the warm and waveless sanctuary of fellow baskers who may as well be crab and snail, tucked here for respite from the larger ocean.
See how we waft like seaweed up the stairs and wash along the deck now, to the main pool, where we remember our animal nature and cling, shocked into brutal tenacity, to the entrance ladder.
We will summon our courage.
We will breathe past the fear, resuspend our disbelief, become again a sea creature, but this time a seal, slick with oily power, sheathed in subcutaneous flame, not just proof against the shock, but wanting it. We must want it. The elder ladies are beginning to circle, chilling our ankles with disapproval at our wimpicity. We must take the plunge.
Then there is nothing for it but to swim.
Here I am, evidence of my rural childhood and the capacity limits of dugouts as training ground for swimmers. I have no moves. Slowly, blinking like a manatee, I crawl down through the slow lane. The pool edge is studded with convalescents, cuddling foam flotation devices as they inch along the shoreline. So, I shear across to the other margin, to continue my lumberings with the blue buoy line as my guide.
At the deep end, I swirl around and reorient, then lumber back the other way. Tonight, my aim is seven lengths, the starting point after a lay-off. To accomplish this, I give myself an hour, allowing for breaks in the steam room and sauna. In my head, I count.
Tonight, an hour of swimming. If I swim an hour a night, three nights a week for a year, I will accumulate 156 hours. If, as is more realistic, I hit the pool twice a week, it will be 104 hours. Allow for holidays, and I can expect a round 100 hours in a year. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become expert. Thus, it will take 100 years to become proficient.
I labour on, turn again at the shallow end, and allow myself to stand, wheezing. There is no need to push this, I’m 100 years from Olympian; as easy to turn back into a seal. My manatee self shrugs off the impossible, resumes wallowing through the shallows.
This life is a dream within a dream.
Photo credit: D. Barrett