Free, Fly, Back, Breast

— Kevin Arnold 

The six-and-unders sit in numbered chairs,
then hold hands in a daisy-chain
to walk to the proper lane with their team’s coach
and stand nervously until the horn sounds,
when they get to splash in and make arm-windmills.
I, the false-start judge, see it all—
their legs that don’t contribute much,
and the way they brush the lane-markers
and breathe too often so it seems to take forever.
Still they all finish and how they beam as they climb out!

… as the seven-eights take their places at the start
and at the horn dive straighter out,
stroke with more authority.
My Scotty-boy, normally no star, cuts five seconds off his best time.
And they don’t breathe—coach says, after today
you’ll have all fall to breathe.
The nine-tens don’t hold hands but walk out knowing
this is the combined meet—all the teams are here.
Sure-footed Kate slips in her starting dive and never recovers,
trying to keep up with the eleven-twelves, who really clip along.
But it’s the thirteen-and-unders who take your breath away.
They seem to cover the pool in five strokes,
their parents who’ve shuttled them for years
beaming over this transition from summer to fall,
childhood to adulthood—
this communal concentration on a good start.

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