Saturday, 04 December 2021

American Life in Poetry: New Bathing Suit

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

In this typ­i­cal­ly plain-spo­ken poem by North Car­oli­na poet, Ter­ri Kir­by Erick­son, from her new col­lec­tion, “A Sun Inside my Chest,” there is, hum­ming below the still sur­face of lan­guage, a rich pulse of hope, of every­day sur­vival — a body’s defi­ance that she cap­tures in that final image.

New Bathing Suit
By Ter­ri Kir­by Erick­son

My friend is wearing her new black bathing suit.
It came with the proper cups, made to fill
with one breast and the memory
of another—which is not to say emptiness—
but the fullness that comes to us, with sacrifice.
There is no one more alive than she is now,
floating like a lotus or swimming, lap after lap,
parting the turquoise, chlorine-scented water,
her arms as sturdy as wooden paddles.
And when she pulls herself from the pool,
her new suit dripping—the pulse is so strong
in her wrists and throat, a little bird
outside the window will hear it, begin to flap
its wings to the beat of her heart.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Terri Kirby Erickson, “New Bathing Suit” from A Sun Inside my Chest, (Press 53, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Permissions Company, LLC and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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