She has three books at her bedside now: The Bible—it’s a fat Bible, y’know—and next to it is a slim book of poetry by a Ms. Mary Oliver, I can see it written on the spine: “poetry of Mary Oliver,” sittin’ there on the bedside table, and I’ve memorized the name cuz it’s been sittin’ there not moving—every once in a while she seems to glance down at that one, but she doesn’t pick it up, see, not for a long time. And I’ve got nothing better to do than switch from star-gazing to glancing back through the window at Ms. Marquetta, just to keep her company, kind of, y’know, cuz you can see she’s lonely, so I just watch her read. And I look at the stars.
So the poetry book is sittin’ there on the bedside table for a long while, so I have time to memorize the spine and the name of Mary Oliver. But the third book, I couldn’t tell what it was until after she picked it up and started writing in it, right after reading the Bible for a bit. So the third one’s a journal, I guess.
So she’s go the three books on her bedside table, and she’s reading in the Bible, then writing in the journal, then reading in the Bible, then writing in the journal; and I’m watchin’ the stars, then watchin’ Ms. Marquetta, watching the stars, then watchin’ Ms. Marquetta. It’s a beautiful night out there. I love being outside at night in the village—don’t believe the kind of hogwash hocus-pocus that you and Ms. Marquetta believe: monsters, scary shit…nah, I believe in the good stuff: nature and the soul. I believe in the soul of our village, Lilly-Anne, you know that.
But, right, back to Ms. Marquetta, who, finally, after sittin’ in bed with the light on for, like, hours, finally, she picks up the little book of poetry. I’m watching now, cuz she’s treating it like a moment of solemnity, or, like, religious devotion—which is weird cuz she’s just been readin’ the Bible and not treating it so serious—or, like she’s really nervous…so, right, I see her kind of fling the book of poetry open, to a random page, maybe, that’s my best guess. And she reads something, y’know, reads that page, and of course I can’t see it at the time, but I saw it later…heck, I’ll read it to you now. It’s called “The Swimming Lesson.”
“Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.
Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,
Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace, –
How to survive in any place.”
…and Ms. Marquetta goes white, and glass-eyed, just fuckin’ staring out at the world, straight out at the world, not blinking, like she just read something that she just cannot comprehend is real, like that it’s really real and there on the page, not just in her head, but like this poet, Mary Oliver, has put on the page a poem that expresses what Ms. Marquetta has been trying not to think, like her doppelgänger evil twin just broadcast her deepest secret, cuz you know what? I heard a rumor….