Why I Can’t Swim


If waves could wash away my sins in life—
all errors, indiscretions, and the blight
of caustic words, my bitter need to fight
and rail against myself, reluctant wife
and never-mother, selfish woman, writer rife
with insecurities about the white
and black of this world, the grades of dark in light,
then I would learn to swim, embrace that strife.
But waves will only sink me to the floor
of any ocean, river, lake, or pool
until I learn to hold my breath and dive
beneath the churning surfaces, demanding more
and better from myself, a woman who’ll
inhale, jump in, begin to thrash, then thrive.


Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she’s on the faculty at Southern Illinois University. She is an editor of Crab Orchard Review and the director of the Young Writers Workshop. Her latest book of poems is Worldly Pleasures (Word Press, 2004).

First published in Measure, Volume 2 (2007)