about the author

Irene O’Garden is listed in Who’s Who in the World, in America, and of American Women. Her critically acclaimed play, Women on Fire (Samuel French), played to sold-out houses Off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre and was nominated for a 2004 Lucille Lortel award for Best Solo Show. Her new play, Little Heart, won her a Berilla Kerr Playwriting Fellowship awarded by the Millay Colony. O’Garden’s writing is anthologized with Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, and others in The Greatness of Girls. Her performance piece/book, Fat Girl, was published by Harper in hardcover. In addition to publishing in national magazines, O’Garden regularly performs her poetry throughout the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclipse, Tusculum Review, Whiskey Island, and many others. She recently won a Pushcart Prize for her essay, “Glad to Be Human,” now an e-book from Untreed Reads. Untreed Reads also published her book, Fat Girl, in e-form as Goodbye Fat Girl. A Slant of Light, an anthology in which she is included, won the national USA Book Award 2013 for Best Anthology. In 1987 O’Garden founded The Art Garden, a performing literary magazine. After twenty-five years of producing, hosting, and writing for it, she recently put the garden to bed. She blogs at ireneogarden.com.

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An Argument with Water 

Irene O’Garden

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Journey’s end: our final blue Aegean day. Shockingly, you book a swim trip. You hate swimming. A pool’s for cooling ankles, a shiverdip on triple-digit days. You carry from another life an argument with water, an argument unsettled by your swimming-teacher father.

Did you forget it? Let it go? Or did you test it that brilliant sea-smashed morning, boarding the tidy charter?

A dozen tawny bodies unfolding on the deck. Young entwining hands, unlike ours, ringless. A friendly bunch. Gentle laughter, quiet marvels. Swelling sails, whitecaps, gem-blue waves. Soon, an oxblood promentory. Smiles. Yours, too. Fricative shutterclicks.

Fathoms evaporate. Red rock yields to chalkwhite stone. We anchor. I have arguments, but none with water. Off the stern I slip. Under glaciery, crumbling towers, I frolic in the cove; you snap shots from the deck. On we sail. Limerock yields to runnelled pumice, pitchblack beach. Another anchoring.

Is the answer in the fine professor’s lecture months ago, “Swim, swim the hotsprings if you can”? What made you leap your ancient lapping fear, slide into this second bay, tread water next to me, whisper as we clamber up, “I’ll stay in longer, next time”? Next time—why did doubt leap with you?

Third anchor-drop.

We ladder to the water, push off, aiming for the golden cove: balmy hot springs maybe twenty boat-lengths off—aiming to relax, but suddenly swells         churned by swimmer-loaded boats—everyone’s longing to float, to relax—

          saltwater spasms toss us,

                               lurch us,             keeping our    heads

above water           is now,           a living,             idiom. I swim on, glance

                                                             for you over my bobbing shoulder.

         “I’  m not

                                            do ing

                                                                      so                  well,”


                                                                       gasp.        I plunge to you,

hold   you. It’s fine. We’ll swim to that rock

         —miraculous skinny upright poking up just where we need

it, miraculous chain looped over it—

                     Grab    this, I’ll swim back for lifejackets.

                                                                            Breathe.   We’ll be fine.

Did I doubt for a moment your strength, your survival? Never. You’d never die now, on the brink of such wonder. But I felt your doubt and your fear, for you swim and surf in emotion, fearlessly challenge its swells.

Hold on, I’ll be back with a lifejacket.

I don’t want to leave you alone with your fear.

Instead, we conjure up—miraculous—a young man brisking through the surges. “Can I bring you some life jackets?” “Yes!” Later, on deck, we note on his shoulders: scars, peculiar as wing-stubs.

We talk about it, as we always talk. You insist you called to me for help. “Not aloud,” I said. “But that’s why I glanced when I did.” After years of listening, silent and aloud are one.

You like to say I saved your life. I maintain no life is saved against its will, and if I heard you call me inwardly, I also heard you tell me not to worry.

After all, you had breath to speak.

Why did you book a swim trip? You can say it was for me, or hotsprings, but you dove into your argument with water, headlong into courage, fear, and rescue. Through emotion you are not afraid to swim. Where your broken father had his argument.

Where full fathom five, he lies.

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