March 2019

Back to Issue 5

Going Under

By Ian Reid


  1. 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.



  1. 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.