Agnes Lehóczky - Poem

Agnes Lehóczky

from 'Swimming Pool', 'Book Two: Pool Epitaphs and Other Love Letters'

[ Postscript, Miscellanea; I:1] ‘Torch bearer, faithful concierge’

Torch bearer, faithful concierge; bear the torch for
me for a little longer and guide me through the
labyrinth to the last pool. Look, it happened to me
on an August day when light is darker and the
shadows longer, on an anniversary day when the
nation celebrates itself being a nation, on a day
which unends with trumpets, fireworks and
trombones, that all of a sudden such melancholia
came over me that I lost the will to give my usual
daily visit to the pool. I spent two hours
contemplating in my steam bath staring at the four
tiled walls gathering courage to be able to do
anything productive at all. Finally after hours of
inertia and pathos (o bathos), I recomposed myself
and strolled down the Buda hills not far enough to
reach the Olympic pool that’s next to Lukács Spa
along the Danube, but close enough to arrive at the
local pool perched on the slopes of the Buda hills
which advertises itself quietly with the outer sign, as
if scribbled by a child, stuck just above the small
entrance, on my way unnoticing the silence and
irregular lethargy of the streets. The clouds hung low
and light rain sprinkled the cobbled network of the
XI district. Entering the pool I passed by the
attendant at the pay desk and made my way through
the narrow corridors semi-lit, semi-light. I undressed
quietly in the changing room and entering the small
swimming arena I saw that the pool was empty. Not
a single soul in either of the lanes, the pool stood
there still sans swimmers, sans silhouettes, sans
instructor, the elderly caretaker with a jingling
keyring normally taking care of the pool’s entrance
and exit was missing too, the pool stood there sans
its banterers who would sit on the yellow plastic
chairs bantering away their usual summer banters,

  sans life guard in white t-shirt in the corner cabin
guarding the lives of his swimmers while their
bodies swim up and down, sans wet towels, sans
empty dressing gowns of fellow swimmers regularly
left behind to suggest that there at least had been
someone there before I arrived but had exited by the
time I entered. Other than the tiny blue rescue net
leaning against the white wall, big enough only to
rescue a small child, or a larger fish, all swimming
apparatus was out of sight. Senselessly, I started my
usual lengths with a sublime thrill and otherworldly
greed you feel when you can have the whole pool to
yourself. The empty pool, the swimmer knows, is a
rare and hybrid moment of chance and mercy. The
perfectly still sheet of water was only disturbed by
my own front crawl cutting into the water, body
inching to and fro between the two tiled ends. They
say pools are uneventful places but there and then I
secretly hoped for and anticipated the event. But the
swimming pool stood still, sans silhouettes, sans
souls, sans swimmers either in the water or on
the margins, sans life guard in white t-shirt watching me
swimming up and down so I feared, if I were to get a
stroke or a heart attack, no one would come to my
rescue, that I would helplessly, lonelily drown. Yet I
continued the front crawl to and fro and to and fro
between the two ends of the pool, faster and faster,
each stroke each time stronger and weightier, speed
increasing, heartbeat swifter, until I felt that by each
crawl I too got more outraged, with each strike into
water more caustic, more competitive, more
choleric. And through this fury and frustration which
I couldn’t explain to myself, I peered out of my
goggles: the swimming pool stood still sans
silhouette, sans swimmers, sans souls of banterers
on the yellow plastic chairs bantering away their
usual summer pool banters. My goggles got wet
inside but I knew they did not leak because my
expensive Speedo goggles would never let me down
so I knew the water was leaking inside the goggles,
in other words, inside the swimmer inside. And by
each stroke my body got more vengeful to and
froing, to and froing between the two tiled ends,
each length speedier, faster, weightier until the
moment  when speed could not get speedier, in other
words until speed could not exceed its own speed,
after which all this fury was reversed and weight got
lighter, swim flimsier, and I did not know in which
pool I was swimming or more precisely it felt as if I
had been swimming in an otherworldly pool or more
precisely as if I had been swimming in the pool of
another body’s world. At which point I did not know
whether my body was stiff or swimming, if I was
motionless or motioning an inch closer towards
either end, uncertain if I were a swimmer sans
silhouette, sans soul, or if I was no longer a
swimmer swimming in the pool but merely a particle
of pool, whether I was wholly part of the whole or if
I was pars pro toto; whether I, the former swimmer,
now sans silhouette, sans soul, were a composite of
the swimming pool that stood there sans swimmers,
sans silhouette, sans souls. And then, after a long
levitating hour, or so it seemed, in the milieu of the
swimming pool sans silhouettes, sans swimmers,
sans soul, as I was to and froing between the two
blue tiled margins, I saw a body of a swimmer
sinking slowly, slowly towards the bottom of the
pool. When she reached the bottom tiles her one foot
kicked her body off again upwards towards the neon
light and her figure metamorphosed into a perfect
butterfly. A moment later, when another swimmer
joined the pool and later on many others until the
pool was as full as a pool should be, I understood
that making sense of the senseless does not make
any sense, that there is no such thing as infernal pool
or celestial pool, that pools don’t fade and pools
don’t hide, pools don’t meta-morph or anthropo-
morph, that this pool is the only pool, the same pool,
the right pool and there are no swimming pools in
Canaan. And so, to get more clarity, for more
enlightenment I pulled my goggles off and soon
recognised the figures of two elderly banterers
bantering away on the plastic yellow chairs; I
spotted the perfect life guard, who, during my
timeless, misplaced hour, had mastered the perfect
tan, watching us from his miniature cabin, guarding
the lives of his daily swimmers swimming up and
down, and I saw the eager instructor explaining to
small children from one of the blue tiled ends how to
swim sensibly as if your (eternal) life were at stake,
and the elderly caretaker with a jingling keyring,
who also, by then, took care of both water and dry
land. After finishing my usual lengths, I rested my
upper body with both elbows on one of the tiled
ends, lost, watching from inside the late summer rain
outside stroking the glass. The rage, that had
captured me earlier, with all choleric strokes and
lengthless lengths, had swum out of my body like a
competitive swimmer, who already had reached the
other side, but this other, lazier body I was resting
with on my elbows at this end of the pool, felt all at
once at rest. I took my cap off too and through the
glass that separated inside from outside, I recognised
the quiet outer sign for the building gesturing
towards the outside, inviting the silent street inside
for a brief swim. The sign read: LOOP GNIMMIWS.

copyright © Agnes Lehóczky, 2019