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“Adult Swim,” “Social Anxiety,” “Taking a Nap with You,” “How to Keep it Going,” and “Summer Storm”

By Robert Pfeiffer

Adult Swim

“Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears”

-William Wordsworth “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”

You emerge once more into the world,

lungs aching for air as you breathe deep,

let the water fall from your face.

A fog settles down; your eyes burn.

Your daughter cackles with joy, eyes clear

behind the tinted lenses of her goggles.

She always been at home in the water, exultant –

couldn’t even get her out of the bath as a baby –

she’d start shivering, lips veering to blue.

This is how you spend your summer,

while you still can. Soon enough,

she’ll be here with her friends, worried

more about the depth of her tan

than with perfecting her cannonballs.

Today, four Adult Swims have come and gone –

your limbs are spent, but she is still happy.

The chlorine has done its work –

you close your eyes tight like a fever.

When you open them again, a chemical halo

encircles everything you see. Your daughter

swims once more into your arms.

One hand behind her knees, the other

at the small of her back, you bend and launch

her as high as you possibly can.

With nothing left to give, you watch her

rise, eyes widen, scream in laughter,

until she comes down, “apparelled in celestial light.”

Social Anxiety

My wife cannot stop looking at her phone –

she sent a text hours ago, but no response.

Three dots waved like water then dissolved.

And now: the spiral. Unsure of so much,

she is certain she has done something wrong –

overstepped some social faux pas, wrong tone maybe,

certain somewhere people are talking about her.

She will hear no different despite what I say.

Next, her appetite disappears like confidence –

untouched kabab slipping toward inedible.

And now, all the wrong memories are swirling

through her as if caught on the wind. –

time loses meaning, and everything is now again.

A lifetime of misunderstandings, awkward silences,

imagined estrangements roil underneath her flesh.

Her eyes can’t focus, her speech stammers.

She shrugs my hand from her shoulder.

It will be three hours before she clicks off

the light, sets her book on the bedside table.

But I know her sleep will be fits and starts,

the nocturnal blending of memory and reality.

And she will wake up tomorrow, the same

regrets pulling her like a coal black tide.

And she will roll over and look at me, apologetic,

embarrassed, and still the best person I know.

Taking a Nap with You

“… which is why I’m telling you about it.”

– Frank O’Hara

There was a time

in what feels like a previous life

when we stayed in bed

all weekend if we wanted to –

before careers, parenthood.

We floated through our little universe

at our leisure, together.

Then, once our Layla came along

we’d lay her down

and slip again into the sheets

together, midday, exhausted

beyond anything we’d ever known.

But, as things do, the naps ended.

Years of domestic life, no stopping

along the trail we tread.

Even so, more than all the gold

sand beaches in the world,

more than steaming mugs of coffee

on snowy mornings,

more than the crisp air itself

swelling in my lungs,

I love those rare occasions

when the house is empty

during the day, and we lie down

on the couches to nap

a dog each nestled in the bend of our knees,

we set a movie to quiet

and we slip from consciousness

together, and return,

yes, return together once more

in the warm afternoon light.

The ceiling fan circles like the years –

one more trip around the sun.

How to Keep it Going

I think from time to time it’s probably best

to imagine your wife at the landing

on the stairs asking you for a divorce.

Severe, there, at the end of her silence,

hands on the bannister, a long exhale,

as beautiful as the day you met her.

Picture her there, with nothing left to give,

and you, on the couch, digging for the words

to make her believe you still have inside,

buried under all the years and heartache,

all that’s slipped away, that thing she once saw.

But all you have is words; if you somehow

could put the right ones in the right order,

you could make her believe in forever.

Summer Storm

It’s that time of year

when the heat drags you to the bone –

the flowers give up and wilt,

and the lawn fades to sepia.

A tornado of gnats greats you

when you step into the morning soup.

It’s been twenty years

since summer was all swimming pools

and catching lightning bugs,

and staying up late.

Later, pickup games at the park

and girls’ smooth tan legs.

There is no leisure now –

you work all week long,

avoid the heat and mosquitoes.

You pray for October

as June unfurls before you.

By August, you’re spent.

But this year, in the heart

of the sweltering hellscape,

it comes down like a summer storm –

heat lightning right to your core –

now, there are fewer summers to go

than there have been so far.

How much time have you wasted

worrying about the weather?

Your daughter is almost ten now.

Someday, if you are lucky,

she will say goodbye and tell

people the kind of man you were.

We are all dying at different speeds.

This much we know is true.

There is still time to make her proud.

Get off your ass –

we may never again be this close

to that fatal heat of the sun.

Robert Pfeiffer has published two collections of poetry, The Inexhaustible Before, and Bend, Break. Individual poems have appeared in journals internationally such as The Connecticut River Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Flint Hills Review, Mudfish, The Fourth River, and The Concho River Review.

He received my MFA and PhD in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. He is currently a Professor of English at Clayton State University, outside of Atlanta. He lives in Decatur, Georgia with my wife, ten-year-old daughter, and two dogs.

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