- The Swamp
Itching to be big, the stick-thin kid
watched Vic’s gang kick a footy to and fro.
At the paddock’s edge, seepage was oozing through.
The ball soared high, fell near him. Chasing its bounce
towards The Swamp, he stumbled, sank at once
into the sticky green water-filth over his head.
If we hadn’t dragged you out of the sucking mud
you would’ve drowned, they reckoned, drowned for sure.
Vic took him home, sludge-stinky like a sewer.
Drowned! So deep-down dark, the sickening word
sounded as big as The Swamp. He shivered for hours
and was filled with slimy fearful shame for years.
- The Baths
They didn’t call it a swimming pool back then.
Over the road from their school, it was just The Baths
where kids were sent to learn how not to drown –
a defensive knack, cheerless, devoid of hope.
To reach the school and The Baths beyond, he’d run
past pussy willows at the foot of that steep slope
up a zigzag path to sycamores at the top,
grabbing winged seeds to pin like helicopters.
Malice could bring playground games to a stop:
stabbed in his hand by a peevish brat
with a rusty screwdriver, he needed a tetanus shot,
and the sandpit castles built with his Chinese mate
got smashed each lunchtime by the Coleman set,
spitting words thick with spite about yellow skin.
But swimming lessons were the biggest threat.
Marched to The Baths, they changed into daggy togs
and stood in a huddle, thin arms wrapped over ribs,
a chill wind whipping their backs. Their twig legs
quivered. Water lapped greedily. The long dank trough
had an eerie glimmer. Their teacher, Mr Brock,
walked behind each infant, and gave them a shove.
The surface churned. They floundered, gasped, threshed, forced
their desperate way to the edge, clinging there shocked
into tears. So this was ‘Learning To Swim’ – and never to trust.