Autism and Poetry (#2): The Gingerbread Boy meets Homer (#22)
Good Listening (#24)

The Kingfish (#23)

That would be Charlie's epithet: In the water (our town pool here), he's as natural as Nadia Comaneci was on the balance beam. After a full day of summer school and a verbal behavior session, Charlie announced "suit on" and we spent a couple of hours poolside. After his first diving board jump, he tried to do the Gingerbread Boy "chase me" game by going under the ropes and into the diving area; I swam really fast, grabbed hold of the rope, and pulled him out. He raced across the entire deep end to the middle of the pool, where two lanes are marked off for lap swimmers, and dove under. Again I got there and pulled him back. And then he went to swim in the deep end, flipping in circles underwater and swimming on the bottom.

I should say here that, just over a year ago, I was wearing a flotation device around my waist to keep up with Charlie. As a child I had an shakeable fear of the water and of the deep end in particular. Eight years of swimming lessons and several toys (bribes) later, I could not, would not, swim. I went without a swimsuit for years until I got into a college which required a swim test of all freshmen. I took lessons the summer before and my dread ran deep. The first week I was at college, I entered the old gym for my test: I got through the minute of treading water, then, within about six feet of starting a lap, needed to be rescued.

Charlie started to swim when he was six. Upside down He loved it so much, and seemed so calmed and invigorated by it, that I took him often to an indoor pool in wintertime. I then had the choice of clinging to the wall and calling out vain instructions when he went under the lane markers and was in danger of crashing into a lap swimmer, or the flotation device. The thing was bulky--like strapping on an airplane seat cushion--and, after a lot of splashing and thrashing in the pool to get to Charlie, I found it more of a bother to wear it than the occasional sensation of drowning. To keep up with him, I made myself do short stints in the deep end that became laps as I followed Charlie in a lane, careful to keep him from ducking into someone else's.

When Charie swims, it's as if he's saying "Whát I do is me: for that I came." That's from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’, in a sort of coda to yesterday's post, "Autism and Poetry (#2): The Gingerbread Boy meets Homer" (#21). The Kingfish, when he's in the right element, is on fire, and knows just what to do.


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