Try to love everything that gets in your way:
the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list.
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side,
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim through obstacles like a minnow
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking Obstacle
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad she’ll have that to look at all her life,
and keep going, keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids arent allowed at this hour. Someday,
years from now, this boy
who is kicking and flailing in the exact place
you want to touch and turn
will be a young man, at a wedding on a boat
raising his champagne glass in a toast
when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.
He’ll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,
but he’ll come up like a cork,
alive. So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to a larger story,
because if something is in your way it is
going your way, the way
of all beings; towards darkness, towards light.
Because Even the Word Obstacle
Ever since I first read this poem a few years ago, my mind returns to it on those occasions that seem to fit perfectly, in my own experience, into the litany of possibilities which the poet curates for us. And I delight in the humour she brings to these situations which can sometimes help me find a glimmer of amusement in things that can otherwise just frustrate me.
Try to love everything that gets in your way. Such a clear declaration of sage advice, though of course not so easy in practice. If you pool-swim, you will instantly recognize these literal obstacles slowing you down – the women doing leg exercises in your lane, the thrashing heavy-bellied man. Teachers all, such truth in two words. The tattooed teenage girl, the uncle teaching his nephew how to hold his breath underwater which becomes a riff on the boy as a young man washed overboard at a wedding on a boat but he’ll come up like a cork.
Remember that all these people who have slowed you down, be it in a pool, or at the grocery store, or driving late to your appointment, can teach you patience, and we must bow in service to a larger story. More than that, she tells us if something is in your way it is / going your way. She is reminding us that we are all moving towards darkness, towards light. It is the way / of all beings. Something to think about, isn’t it. But don’t let me stand in your way.