Avia Tadmor

Afloat

It’s Lara’s last day at the residency

and the grounds are almost empty. The other artists

are probably hunched over desks

or easels under fluorescent lights. Two poets,

 

we tell ourselves we’re always writing,

even when we’re not writing writing

which allows us to drink every noon, gulp the mini-

tequilas and whiskies her husband gave her

for advent, hitchhike to Sweet Briar Lake

where today she offers to teach me how to

swim, or float—clearly, I can’t do either.

And she is a good swimmer, Lara. On weekends,

her dad would carry her and her brother at 5am

from their beds to the car, drive almost three hours

down to Assateague—that’s how much water healed him

after her mother left. After breastfeeding

her daughters, Lara’s boobs never shrunk back,

which is why she can float as well as she does—

motherhood keeps her afloat, literally.

I know what she means, though it’s hard

 

to take her seriously with her polychrome

goggles, the dragonflies having a field day

 

seeing themselves in her eyes. Lara says they probably

think she is Freya, Norse goddess of dragonflies,

lust, and fertility. When I try to see myself

in her gaze, I can’t. Besides, I already know

what I look like: graceless, flapping my way in the water,

trying not to sink. Lara explains it’s my own

weightlessness that exhausts me. She’s probably right;

I’m all skin and breastbones and I miss my body,

my curves. The pounds the depression had taken away

all those months I’ve struggled to separate

love from compatibility. Lara is gentle with me,

says to lean back, lower my ears into the water.

I need to find my center point and breathe into it. I let myself drift

on the steadiness of her instructions

for a whole minute before I lose my hold.

We splash our way back to the dock

where she tells me she had a really good Jewish friend

growing up, and what’s that thing you say

in the all-women’s water? She means Mikveh, I think,

but I’m not that kind of Jewish. I’ve only been once,

before my wedding. All I remember is the attendant,

a Yemenite woman and blind in one eye,

peeling loose strands of hair off my back so I can be dirt-free

for my new life with my husband, clean of what

my own body makes. Lara asks, do you mind

if I get naked here? She’d given back her room key

and needs to change before driving home to DC. I don’t

and her swimsuit thuds against the wood,

heavy with lake water. She asks what I’m writing about

but goes on to answer the question, which makes me

feel relieved. She’s writing about Demeter,

the deuteragonist of the story, the de-centered one.

For years, she could only see herself as the daughter,

Persephone: her mother gone, her sex drive steering

the story, driving her toward all kinds of men

from hell. But now she’s almost fifty and nobody’s

daughter. When she’s with her girls, she feels uneasy

seeing herself in their gait, their shrugs. It’s alarming

to know that the story, its center, had shifted. I want to ask her about

the pomegranate but here, we’re up close and I can’t

take her seriously: naked except for her Norse goddess

goggles. To think I couldn’t see myself in her face,

that I was an apparition. Now there are two of me

in each prismatic eye. I’m impossible not to see.  

Avia Tadmor was born in Jerusalem. Her poetry received support from Yaddo, the Rona Jaffe Foundation for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop Series, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The New Republic, New England Review, The Adroit Journal, Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. In 2022, Avia was named a Gregory Djanikian Scholar by the Adroit Journal. She is a Clinical Associate Professor at New York University’s Expository Writing Program.
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