The Wall

by Liza Porter
Camp Pendleton, Winter 1967

The east end of the swimming pool is fifteen feet deep
where Sgt. Dave orders his Marines to heave themselves
off sky-high platforms in full war-time gear, while we,
the innocents, start swim practice at the far end, Sgt. D 
yelling at us from his corner.  Our small forms swim, shallow to deep
as darkness comes, fifty meters up and back the black-lined 
lanes of that heated pool, our limbs disappear into mist 
in the shallows, the pool lights illuminate us 
like ghosts floating in some murky turquoise lagoon,
our mothers shiver in blankets wrapped like shrouds.
Do they ever hold their breath like the mothers of boys going off to war 
hold theirs, like we in that safe pool hold ours between strokes,
do the mothers ever fear their children will disappear, they'll never
actually touch the far wall and come back, little robots with machine gun arms,
pumping hearts in training for the inevitable skirmish with the enemy 
at next weekend's swim meet.  Each time I swim past the point 
where shallow drops abruptly to deep, where Marines not much older than me 
are learning to survive that wet green vastness on the other side 
of the planet, I look down at the ominous drop and wonder if I have the guts to stop
and hold my breath, to dive down and grab that underwater wall—walk myself 
hand by hand down its rough cement, all the way to the bottom, lungs full to bursting,
fingers small suckers on that painted surface.  No gear on my back, nothing 
but my slick young body in its red white & blue striped suit, I keep going, staring 
into the abyss, and wonder if there's some halfway point out in the Pacific, 
perhaps the same spot they say the international date line is, where a wall like this, 
only thousands of feet deeper, divides the earth into two distinct pieces, I wonder if
anyone has ever tried to pull herself down to see if there's a doorway there,
somewhere, and I want to know if anyone has ever really gotten
to the bottom of anything in this world without dying.

© 2006 by Liza Porter. All rights reserved.

Liza Porter’s work has appeared in AGNI, Cimarron Review, Hotel Amerika, Pebble Lake Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Slipstream and others. She is director of the monthly Other Voices Women’s Reading Series in Tucson, Arizona. She can be contacted at