Tuesday Poem: Learning to Swim by Catherine Bateson

Learning to Swim

Every time we touched each other, we left a fingerprint of sweat,
the grass died back, the hens stopped laying,
and on the fig tree outside my bedroom the figs ripened.
That summer we read girlie magazines spilling beer
on my white sheets and over the pages of Penthouse.
His big body was as pale as parsnip, black hairs sprouted
in unlikely places but his hands were like talc and
I loved his unhappiness, his migraines.

I’d always had boys before, stumbling through their paces
lights off and everything, even their knees, strange in the dark.
This was so different, like learning to swim
after years of walking your hands in the shallows
fooling nobody.
Look, now I can backstroke and butterfly,
I can dive from the high tower.

He opened me like an oyster,
like an artichoke. I was brine and undertow when he broke
over me, his hands full of music, each finger
singing a note purer than sainthood.

I swaggered into the year wearing that song
never again so unknowing,
never again so electric.

Catherine Bateson

From 'Marriage for Beginners'
Published by John Leonard Press

As the title suggests - the theme of this collection is relationships, and the ongoing process of learning how to make them - not just marriage, but all human relationships. Catherine tracks their narratives with considerable generosity and insight.
There are several sequences of poems, including Six Degrees in Separation, which charts the end of a relationship:

‘They move from the centre of the bed,
the couch, the conversation,
to the raw, cold edges.....’

The poem identifies ‘These collisions./These absences.’ that are at the heart of every human coupling.

Love and the Cloned Girl is a particularly important sequence. The poems stand up on their own as individual poems, but they are also a dialogue between the girl and the man. I particularly liked this one:

Blind and Burning

She loses weight, shadows
around this house, thinner
than the door frames.
She shaves off her hair.
She’s just eyes and hollows
and now my fingers yearn
to touch her, all her fine beauty extinguished
save for those eyes
I have to shut my own against
as though, like the sun,
they’d sear mine to charred blanks.

I know that this is a collection I will be going back to again and again.  For anyone who wants more information, there's a very good and thorough review of the collection here.

Catherine Bateson is a member of the Tuesday Poem Group. She lives in Australia - just outside Melbourne - and writes for children and young adults (a winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s top award for Younger Readers). This is her 3rd collection. She also teaches Professional Writing and Editing.
Thanks for letting me post these poems Catherine!

For more Tuesday Poems please go to  http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/


  1. isn't it a wonderful collection Kathleen? I've been reading it too... It's getting spooky our reflective reading...


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