by Sherman Alexie
I know a woman
who swims naked
in the ocean
no matter the season.
I don't have a reason
for telling you this (I never
witnessed her early morning
dips into the salt) other than
to let you know that I once found
the thought of her nudity erotic
but now can only imagine
the incredible cold, how I would want
to cover her body with my coat
and tell her how crazy she is
for having so much faith
in two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.
While reading a mystery novel (I
don't remember the title), I
dropped a cup of hot tea
into my lap. Third degree burns
on my thighs, penis, and scrotum. I
still have the scars and once told
a white woman they were the result
of a highly sacred Spokane Indian adulthood ceremony.
I knew a man
who drowned in three inches of water.
in a tire track.
His family and friends accuse me
of making light
of his death, but I insist
on my innocence. Lord, I think
his death is tragic, possibly epic
the first and last act
of a reservation opera, and I wish
I could use his name here, make him
remembered, but I am forbidden
from doing so by tribal laws
that are more important than any poem.
But I want to give him a name
that means what I say, and I so I name him
Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Noah, Adam.
Boo tells me, "Whenever I feel depressed or lonely
I drink a glass of water and immediately feel better."
In the unlikely event of a water landing
you can use your seat cushion as a floatation device.
I worry about this.
I wonder if the puny cushion can possibly support
my weight. I am a large man. In the unlikely event
of a water landing, you can use your seat cushion
as a floatation device. Of course, we don't crash.
We land safely. We always land safely. And Ha! Ha!
the flight attendant tells the disembarking passengers
to drive safely away from the airport because driving is
so much more dangerous, statistically speaking, than flying.
I want to slap her across the mouth, statistically speaking.
In the unlikely event of a water landing, you can use
your seat cushion as a floatation device. I am suddenly afraid
of gravity so I take my seat cushion off the plane. I steal
the damn thing and run through the airport, chased
by an ever increasing number of security people,
men and women, so I'm glad this airport has progressed
beyond an antiquated notion of gender roles. But wait,
I have no time to be liberal, I have to run fast, so I do run fast
with that seat cushion pressed tightly against my chest.
I cannot run fast enough in such an awkward position
as I am a large man with large hands. I cannot easily hide.
I cannot blend into the crowd. I cannot duck behind
the counter of the Burger King and ask for your order, your order, your
order. Oh, in the event of a water landing, you can use your seat cushion
as a floatation device, and here I am, running, and praying as I run,
every step shouting Lord, Lord, Lord, every other step whispering
amen, amen, amen.
At the restaurant, I ask the waiter to leave the pitcher of water
because I drink lots of water.
I can't do that, he says.
Why not? I ask.
Because we never leave the pitcher, he says.
Not once? I ask.
Never, he says, have we ever left a whole pitcher of water, not once
in the entire history of this restaurant. It is impossible for us to do so.
It is inconceivable for us to even consider such a thing. Who knows
what would happen if we set such a precedent?
When I was seven, I took swim lessons at the YMCA
from three beautiful teenagers who all seemed like women to me.
They hugged me when they saw me waiting in line
to see JAWS at the Fox Theater in downtown Spokane.
Where are those girls now? Somewhere, they are being women.
Do they remember teaching me how to swim? Do they
recognize my face when they pick up the local newspaper
or see my photograph on the back of my latest book?
Oh, strange, strange ego.
Here, I've decided I want them to love me from afar. I want them
to regret their whole lives because they were once sixteen year old
swimmers who never stopped to passionately kiss
the seven year old me, as I floated
from the deep end of the pool back to the shallow.
My brother, the big one, says, "It ain't water
unless it's got some Kool-aid in it."
My wife, the Hidatsa Indian, grew up in Southern California
with a swimming pool. Wow!
Her father, the trickster, called relatives back home
in North Dakota. Called them in late December
when trees were exploding in the high plains cold.
Called them and said, He held the phone up to the air, toward
the empty pool, because it was too cold to swim in December, even
in Southern California, but the North Dakota Indians didn't know
any better, so they were jealous and happy at the same time.
My wife, just a child then of five or ten or eighteen years old,
heard the slurred laughter of her father, the drunk, and
maybe he would laugh and get off the phone and be charming
or maybe he would be the cruel bastard, but there was no way
of knowing until he got off the phone, so she'd sit in her room
with a glass of water on the windowsill, oh, she'd be praying
to that glass of water, oh, she'd be praying
like everything was two parts broken heart and one part hope.