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David Park, Three Bathers, 1959

 

Three Bathers (After a painting by David Park)

John Peterson

Through August of 1956
the three friends swim until the sun
dips below the lifeguard’s chair,
then it’s time to go.
The rule is be home before
the streetlights come on.
Another rule – their own –
is stop at the penny shop
to buy sheets of taffy
stiff as building materials
and paper straws filled with flavored sugar,
then pad on rubber sandals
that go tufty-tufty-tufty
down hot sidewalks,
wet towels cooling their shoulders,
faces prawn red, sun-bleached crew cuts –
these miracles of the fifth grade
going on sixth.
At the edge of town
they stop and shove and laugh
and trade remaining candy – another rule –
then two of them set off together
beside trimmed lawns
where shadows of new houses
cut rectangles across them,
and over the rooftops
they hear the names of children called
in the big voices of fathers.
The third boy turns another way,
down the rutted shoulder of a dirt road
where trees change the last light into a flickering,
and no one is calling,
and there are no streetlights
to set a rule by – a transparent darkness
in which he swims and won’t be lost,
this separateness he knows
even before he knows to call it that.

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