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Back and Forth on the Staten Island Ferry

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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You can go swimming alone. You can go swimming with one other person, and maybe that person will join you. You can go swimming with a group, and maybe those people will join you.

Swimming alone - vast intimacy between you and the body of water, just your disrobed body and this thing, larger than you and more powerful, accepting your advances. Your hollers and your splashing heard only by the birds as they echo off the rock. Delicious, private loneliness. The world of your dreams more or less realized and rendered. Clear thinking. An extremely real and palpable sense of danger - what if you slipped? And, the best part, getting back to civilization and having someone ask of you, “How was your day?” You smile, casually, and say, “Pretty good. I went swimming.” And no one else will ever know how perfect that afternoon was, how total your communion.

Swimming with one other person - teamwork and camaraderie, the heros of your own western, a turning point in how you get along with your companion, your friendship before going swimming and after going swimming. A sense of power, of capability, the two of you, against all odds, against the world, against the current. You and the person you’re sleeping with, sleek and deeply appealing in the way the water distorts the image of their body. They smell like the river when you go to kiss their neck. Two wet dogs, tails wagging.

Swimming with a group - gangliness, permanent teenagers, the amazing variety of bodies and modes of dress in the adult human, the backs of people’s knees. Always staying out in the sun too long with 3 or more. Contests: who is the bravest? who is the most chill? You all walk as slowly as the slowest person, who is feeling extra casual cause the sun is out. You all indulge in the impulses of the most impulsive person, who is feeling extra impulsive cause the sun is out. You want to have chili fries, eat ice cream, make sand castles? Okay! You want to invite strangers to hang out with us, call in sick to work, have a party that night? Great! Shared and combined snacks. Sharing everything - towels, shoes, water bottles. Alcohol is 1,000x more potent when carried to the waterline in a backpack and distributed among friends. Teasing, jokes. Ragtaginess.

When someone or a group just watches you, instead of hopping in - yes, perhaps you are committing an act of pure foolishness, and as a consequence you may need to hang your salty underwear out of the car window on the way back from the water. Not everyone will share your enthusiasm in this pursuit. Some people just aren’t strong swimmers, there’s little to no poetry in it for them. But this may be a good time to re-evaluate who these people are and why they have chosen a life of metered caution, exhibited here, in them just watching you and taking pictures. Those most vital to you in this life will exhibit wild abandon in your presence, of this I am sure.

-From "Swimming, vol. 1," an unfinished, unpublished book by Ben Seretan


from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018


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