A year ago July, I discovered that my new home, Society Hill (named for Quakers of Old) has s saltwater pool.
A year later, I return, carrying Genet, a Biography of Janet Flanner, by Brenda Wineapple. I had evidently carried it on my first pool experience, finding notes about that day on the back page:
I’m not so sure about swimming – cannot remember last time I did so, nor where. I think Island Beach and Sandy Hook, and even Whitesbog, over and over, in the romantic summer of the year 2000.
It’s a perfect day, sun and high clouds in a periwinkle sky. Pretty windy – hard to keep my place in the book. Tall, lush evergreens seem to be singing above me. Singing and dancing, even waltzing.
Two vultures play the wind.
Beside this very American pool, which looks Hollywood from the shallow end, I am reading the best source on Paris in the 20’s, –what and who might be chic; what and who definitely is is not. Josephine Baker is a Flanner favorite, the infamous banana dance, and a rare person of color rising to fame in that challenging city.
But this shockingly blue sky, these high winds, these mountain-trees carry me right out to Montana, yes, to Big Sky Country. Where I stood, equally storm-tossed, at an outdoor telephone, as my husband in Princeton read me the acceptance letter from Princeton University. The Creative Writing Department had examined my poems, which no one had ever seen nor heard. Accepting, they put me into Advanced Poetry (as a 35 year-old), with all those brilliant children. My teacher would be the Founder and Editor of the Quarterly Review of Literature, Ted Weiss. My knees buckled, hearing this impossibility, on the windswept Montana mountaintop.
Here I lie back on a lush towel on a solid chaise, wondering whether the tiny, supersonic raptor overhead could be a peregrine. Word has it that they fly 200 mph. Not in this wind, but he’s making a valiant try.
I think about getting into that water. Hmmm… there are plantings in tubs around the pools, neglected marigolds, faltering, going to seed. I go around and deadhead every tub – once a gardener always a gardener. My fingers, turning Genet pages, smell of old marigolds.
I shall wash them. Walk straight into that water and set off, my lazy butterfly stroke that will never win me any medals, but does convey me to the other side. Water on my tongue proves our Society Hill rumor, that we have a salt-water pool. I’m grateful – not exactly the Salt Lake, but it does render a certain buoyancy.
Even though this is the pool of a development, I am absolutely alone, in what seems an endless reservoir of aquamarine, my favorite color. Back and forth, back and forth.
Back on the chaise to dry, a dragonfly comes to sip from my upraised knee.
Janet Flanner is being her usual anecdotal, acerbic self.
I glance up to discover a great blue heron arrowing directly over me, east to west.
I feel cleansed within and without by my time in the saltwater, enriched within and without by Genet’s rapier wit and refusal to be easily satisfied.
I decide to weave Flanner qualities increasingly into my too-compliant being.
I gather my towel and my book, and stroll back to 23 Juniper, more alive than I have been in years.