Mysterium Tremendum: YMCA

Alison Pelegrin


One thing I learned at the YMCA
swimming pool is that the soul speaks
through the skin, in words of heat. My charge,
tiny Sissy, deaf, blind, mute, limp,
her clear tubes banded and bagged
so that I could carry her in my arms into the water—
it was she who taught me. I approached my duties
as a priest in chlorine vestments. I sang
to her, held her close and twirled,
and she moved her fingers before her eyes
to make red-rimmed shadows,
and if not smiling, her face spoke of joy.
How many times, since then,
have I known the joy of touch?
Sons napping across my lap at the beach
like sandy puppies, the patchwork
of licked-on pirate tattoos over their bellies
and the bottoms of their feet.
I moved my hands over them,
again like a priest, and when their souls
pushed back against my near-touch
with a magnet of heat, I thought of her.


Alison Pelegrin is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Waterlines with LSU Press. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and had new work featured in The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and The Bennington Review.



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