the day of “Song of Myself,”
knowing I would never finish, I
took in the platforms’ elephantine buttressing,
the steel rails and bottle-green boards’
accommodating, stuttering tongues.
Awed by the bodies of divers,
I wanted to know them, woman and man,
the spice of chlorine and adrenaline,
to be with them at the edge.
I wanted the balk, bust, the first-born
ugly applauded clearance and nailed routine.
I wanted them taut and ropey-calved,
to feel the rigging of musculature,
to hold each high, hard cheek
and fall at those noble feet.
I wanted the arms outstretched
or swinging or absently squeegeeing
off water beads: to be the god
of their pre-dive rituals,
the matter of their irreverent chatter.
In the torment and luxury of time
between dives, I wanted to learn
the art that is mostly waiting
for execution, capitulation.
To know the cutting critique
of their cocky bullish coach
leaning back in the bleachers,
to be so looked upon.
That I might attend
each tea stain birthmark
and low-slung bikini line,
each pressed breast and hugged-over cock.
I understood their suits’ exploding graphics
because they are themselves explosions,
trained to fall like fire. To be faceted
like the water’s welter, rife
with widening, overlapping rings,
which hold the exposure of entries
and shut instantaneously
under nodding boards and dripping
indifferent ledges. To be replenished,
soused by the spray of jets shooting low
arcs down the length of the well.
I wanted to sob
for that good gray, that good gay poet,
to ask him to forgive us
our petty, our precious,
our mean little songs.
Austin Segrest is from Alabama. He’s the poetry editor of the The Missouri Review and a PhD candidate at Mizzou. Other poems can be found in New England Review, The Yale Review, Blackbird, and Threepenny Review.