Because Even the Word Obstacle is an Obstacle

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by

Alison Luterman


Try to love everything that gets in your way:

the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps

murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane

while you execute thirty-six furious laps,

one for every item on your to-do list.

The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water

like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side,

whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.

Teachers all. Learn to be small

and swim through obstacles like a minnow

without grudges or memory. Dart

toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking Obstacle

is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl

idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:

Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,

in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.

Be glad she’ll have that to look at all her life,

and keep going, keep going. Swim by an uncle

in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew

how to hold his breath underwater,

even though kids aren’t allowed at this hour. Someday,

years from now, this boy

who is kicking and flailing in the exact place

you want to touch and turn

will be a young man, at a wedding on a boat

raising his champagne glass in a toast

when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.

He’ll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,

but he’ll come up like a cork,

alive. So your moment

of impatience must bow in service to a larger story, 

because if something is in your way it is

going your way, the way

of all beings; towards darkness, towards light.

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