Why I Never Learn to Swim

Did you drown? The swimming instructor

asks me when I panic as I float on my belly

and she is no longer holding me up. I thrash

around like a trout on a fishing line.

If I drowned, I’d be dead, I laugh. I recall

at eight being pushed in the pool and hitting

my head and watching a child with my same

swimsuit lying on the bottom in the deep end.

The next thing I know I feel a whoosh

and I am back in my body outside of the water

and I wake up spurting water like a whale

while a teenage lifeguard straddles me.


Now I am eighteen working on a Wyoming

ranch, I want to learn to swim so I can

go out on a boat and swim with the dudes.

Before my next lesson, I get the chance.

I throw off my life jacket and jump

in the Snake River remembering

the swim teacher’s instructions:

Just float and the water will hold you up.

But she lied because the water sweeps

and swirls and I’m whirling in a washing

machine that won’t stop. One second

I see shore and the next blue water.

I kick my feet and thrash my arms

and I sink as water swishes and fills

my eyes, nose and mouth until I stop

struggling and my mind goes blank.

I float over to the shore where a teenage

girl I recognize as me sprawls in the sand.

A crowd gathers and the dude ranch

foreman gives her CPR like on TV.

I lose interest as I lie on soft clouds

among the saffron yellow and magenta colors

and then I feel a tug on my suit and I am

pulled back into my body where I sit up.

You’re fine, the foreman says.

You got caught up in a whirlpool.

But as I rest, he whispers voice shaking:

She was dead for a good five minutes.

Originally published in The Vultures Are Circling (Cyberwit 2023)

Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published eight poetry books including My Grandmother Smokes Chesterfields (Flutter Press 2014,) What the Clairvoyant Doesn’t Say and Trials & Tribulations of Sports Bob (Kelsay Books 2021) and Survivors, Saints and Sinners and Kiddos & Mamas Do the Darndest Things (Cyberwit 2022.) Her work has also appeared recently in Discretionary Love, Impspired, GAS Poetry, Art and Music, The Rye Whiskey Review, Black Coffee Review, Terror House Review, Trouvaille Review, ONE ART, Mad Swirl, The Drabble, Gleam, Spillwords, Muddy River Review, Verse-Virtual, Your Daily Poem, Red Eft Review and The Five-Two.