Poem introduction

For a period when I was 12 or 13 I used to go swimming every morning before breakfast. As far as I remember, I only did this in summer time. There was an open-air swimming pool near where I lived. A group of elderly men would be swimming there every morning, four or five of them. They must have been in their seventies, though some of them may have been older. Somebody told me that they swam there every morning of the year and I remember it was once news in the local paper that on New Year’s Day they broke the ice on the pool. I have never forgotten them. I wonder why. I think it may have been that I had never previously seen an old person without clothes. I am 70 myself now and they often come to my mind. The poem is a sonnet.

The old men at the swimming pool

The old men at the swimming-pool were tanned
    Even in winter. They were fit and strong.
    Each morning early they would sprint along
The hundred yards of poolside, stretch and bend,
Do press-ups, then dive in at the deep end.
    Their skin was like cracked leather; it was slung
    Roughly across their bones, their muscles strung
In loose alliance, waiting to disband.
Or so it seems in retrospect. I’m told
    That one bleak New Year’s morning with no moon,
    When boys like me were sleeping, the old men
    Cracked a stiff film of ice across the bath,
    Then lined up at the edge to plunge beneath
Into the darkness and the silent cold.


first published here, © Clive Wilmer 2016, used by permission of the author

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