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To finish off my series on my job at a special needs school, I would like to share with you a poem that I wrote a few years ago about the therapeutic swimming sessions that I used to do with a girl called “Julia”…

O God, Trouble the Water

 

The wheelchair, tether for her

body’s balloon,

crouches by the pool.

Julia has been

unstrapped

with the click of plastic clips,

undressed

from the bunchy folds of fabric,

and unearthed,

the electric hoist humming her

up up and away.

 

Wade in the water.

 

As the hoist lowers her into the pool,

the clamping gravity of paralysis

slips away from her

like a snake-skin.

Her skin is new and smooth,

ballooning against the water.

Her hunched turtle head stretches up.

Floating, shell-less,

she smiles and drools,

her laugh echoing free and weightless.

She flies.

 

Wade in the water, children.

 

Thirty-eight years of days

he has watched the water.

Most days it is still,

mirroring back

the sweat and sores surrounding him.

Thirty-eight years of days

he has lain in the stink and

the dung and

the flies of the Sheep Gate,

passed and pitied by jostling crowds

with their lambs of atonement.

For his atonement he watches the water.

 

Of how much more value is a man than a sheep?

 

A ripple—wind or God’s finger?—

The herd rushes the pool.

Too late, again.

Most days he is blasé about it,

resigned to the bleats

and stares

and bitter taste of rejection.

But some days—

 

Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?

 

Crab-like legs twisted under him,

he slumps back

on his four-cornered cell,

shouldering his toughness

and thirty-eight years like a shell.

 

One Sabbath day

he will meet a lamb

with a voice like rushing water

who will crack and undress him.

 

Do you want to be healed?”

 

The question will prise out the pus and pain.

He will wade in the water, children—

straighten, and leave his

shell-cell behind.

 

God’s gonna trouble the water.

 

Swimming is finished.

The hoist straps around her and

lifts her out of the pool.

As the chlorinated water

drips off her skin,

her weight,

a heavy x-ray blanket,

settles over her.

Clothed again,

she swings in her sling

and slumps back into her shell,

shirt bunching, head hunching

between her shoulders—

earth-bound, still

tugging at

gravity.

 

O God, trouble the water.

 

– by Abigail McFarthing, March 2009

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