Summer 1983, Grayson Lake (NaPoMo)

Prompt for April 1, 2016

From George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate:

Write about a moment in your childhood when you knew that you were YOU, a separate being from your family. This may have come early or late, have been exhilarating, revelatory, scary, comical. You may have been alone but maybe not. Illumination can arrive anywhere.

Where were you? What could you hear, smell, taste, touch? How did you feel in your body as you met this new understanding?

Summer 1983, Grayson Lake

I played on the rough boat ramp,
its moss sliding between my toes,
the full Kentucky sun on my shoulders,
the smell of Hawaiian Tropics clinging to me,
wave flashes pricking at the back of my eyes.

On this boat ramp,
I perfected my hand stand walk,
learned to float, regular and “short man style,”
got so good at swimming
Grannis allowed me to paddle out far,
so my mom and brother looked tiny,
my sister only a speck with floaties waving around.

Down the shoreline from this boat ramp,
I watched my young father cliff dive,
one time even jump from a bridge
at the same time a boat sped by.
I counted the seconds like the distance
between lightening and thunder,
one Mississippi, two Mississippi,
until his head broke the surface.

On the beach for this boat ramp,
I ate ham and cheese loaf sandwiches
on Heiner’s Old Fashined with mustard
and crushed Snyder’s BBQ chips,
washed down with a glass bottle of 7up
so cold that ice chunks grazed my lips.
From my perch on the green Coleman cooler,
I had to wait til my stomach “settled”
before I could dive in again.

We raced across this boat ramp,
my siblings, cousins, uncles, other kin,
played chicken and water tag,
and who-can-hold-their-breath-the-longest.
We had splash fights and dunk-fests,
played keep-away and monkey-in-the-middle,
until, white t-shirts over our sunburns in the back seat,
we’d sleep the windy roads all the way home.

One day on this boat ramp,
my oldest cousin began splashing me,
and then splashing turned to dunking.
I tried to swim away, but she dunked harder,
bloodied my knees on the slippery rock,
then sat on my shoulders and held me under.
She was four years older, and stronger,
and my fists against her were useless.

I was carried from this boat ramp,
wrapped in a towel, and looked after,
while I could hear my aunt beating the girl,
this girl who my Grannis told me was not my blood,
this girl who hugged too hard, stood too close,
this girl who I could only half understand when she talked,
this girl everyone said was slow.
I could hear her getting her ass busted,
her mom telling her how stupid it was, how stupid she was.

On the way home from the boat ramp,
this girl sat up front on the console,
the rest of us huddled in the back, unsure.
Her mom told me, She’s simple, as if that’s an excuse.
She said, she didn’t mean to, as if that mattered to a 7 year-old.
She made the girl tell me she was sorry.
The girl mumbled the words, but her eyes said something else.

Categories: poetry

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