Pastoral Lessons

The music blares from suspended speakers.
Some mornings, it is too cool to swim,
but not today—today the glare of heat
circulates the waiting mamas and papas
like halos of model parenthood.

When the instructors call time,
you see the children emerge
with their newfound pride,
shaking off the droplets
of their less-experienced selves.

Not one of them will remember
the exact sound of this place,
the way it lulls them without trying.
It is only the parents whose yearnings
will remain audible above
the splash and whoosh of it all.

Their love for their own offspring is apparent—
and upon first glance, they appear cordial
and encouraging in their common goal,
bent each of them on the molding—

But no amount of friendly exchanges
will drown the fact that they are
in the midst of racing—
racing toward that invisible tape, believing
fully in its existence, inching
their own just a little further ahead.

There are others out there,
beyond that six-foot privacy fence.
They think they have earned this station,
not that skin privilege gave them a different starting line.
They blame the others for their own lack of ambition,
and they have their own worries, the race for instance.
Weekends during summer, they pack up
and drive to their mountain condos,
singing alphabet and number songs.

When they come to the family
holding prayer pleas at the four-way cross,
they realize their lips are chapped,
and busy themselves on the bottom
of their bags, searching.

It makes for a perfect image.
They value salvation, but reject
the notion of earning it,
the gift they were born with,
a faith you hold
when you have the luxury of leisure.

I am sitting here too—
and I try to focus on the music.
I try pretending the fence
is there only for the children’s safety.
I alienate myself from the exchanges,
busy myself in this notebook.

When the coaches call time,
I reach down to the bottom of my own bag,
searching—

On the way out,
I deposit the loose change
into the waiting hands
of the other family at the corner,
implore them to pray
for my salvation.

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