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Free, Fly, Back, Breast
Kevin Arnold



The six-and-unders sit in numbered chairs,
then hold hands in a daisy-chain
to walk to the proper lane with their team’s coach
and stand nervously until the horn sounds,
when they get to splash in and make arm-windmills.
I, the false-start judge, see it all—
their legs that don’t contribute much,
and the way they brush the lane-markers
and breathe too often so it seems to take forever.
Still they all finish and how they beam as they climb out!
. . . as the seven-eights take their places at the start
and at the horn dive straighter out,
stroke with more authority.
My Scotty-boy, normally no star, cuts five seconds off his best time.
And they don’t breathe—coach says, after today
you’ll have all fall to breathe.
The nine-tens don’t hold hands but walk out knowing
this is the combined meet—all the teams are here.
Sure-footed Kate slips in her starting dive and never recovers,
trying to keep up with the eleven-twelves, who really clip along.
But it’s the thirteen-and-overs who take your breath away.
They seem to cover the pool in five strokes,
their parents who’ve shuttled them for years
beaming over this transition from summer to fall,
childhood to adulthood—
this communal concentration on a good start.

© by Kevin Arnold.
Used with the author’s permission.

Kevin Arnold holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Jose State University. His newest book is Do Not Think Badly of Me (Manzanita Writers Press). Kevin was named "Writer of the Year" by the California Writer's Club. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where he enjoys enjoys skiing, horses, competitive tennis, and duplicate bridge. Learn more about him at




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Mary Lou Taylor:
Kevin's poem covers the six-and-unders to the thirteen-and-overs with style and grace. We "beam" along with the poet in joy at the transition. Mary Lou Taylor
Posted 08/20/2011 01:14 PM
As a swim parent for many years, this poem said it all. How I can still remember the 6-U group and coaching them to "dive" NOW! Or the magic moments, when from the stands, a magnetic force would pull the audience to watch a miraculous finish. The most rewarding of all is when your children, though they might not win the race, finish with integrity and grace, taking in their whole competitive cohort.
Posted 08/19/2011 09:17 PM
My granddaughter who couldn't swim a lick at the start of the Y Camp this summer, went from a Red Guppy to Green Guppy in a few short weeks of lessons. I already can relate to this poem. Nice piece!
Posted 08/19/2011 08:49 AM

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