No Swimming Except with a Franciscan Friar
Sign in the lake at Mary Anderson Center for the Arts,
Mount St. Francis, Indiana
A water strider is too single-minded.
The dragonfly dips and departs.
What calls a Franciscan friar to the water?
Does he shed his garb
or let his black habit spread before you
as a watery pasture?
And what kind of companion in the lake
is a Franciscan friar?
Do you mirror his strokes?
Does he lead you to the other side
and back again?
Do you walk to the end of the brick-red dock,
talk of weathered boards, sage-old knotholes,
then dive in
or begin your journey one step at a time
down the dream ladder?
How deep do you go at first?
Does he lose himself in “Sister Water”?
Would he lead you toward heaven
on earth, the billowing
parachute of clouds on water, the diamond
slant of “Brother Sun”?
Would you emerge clear and reflective as water
and stand by the bones
of the dead catfish on the bank: spine and
bony whiskers; skin, parchment-thin;
soggy, white flesh, fine and delicate
as milkweed blossoms, and ask
where does the spirit of the catfish sail?
Would he stand dripping, opalescent, as rain holds
to the pokeberry, and preach the fish’s story: Could we all
curve back—our spines gracefully arranged;
our tail fins splayed for balance; our heads
laid low, humble, dead
on those mud-laden rocks at the water’s edge?
The ripples find this old carcass and accept this design
on the water sure as faith.
Then would we lift our eyes
to the three young swallows
darting a new maze over the water
and call it a day?
—Bonnie Maurer (Marion County)
This poem first appeared in Arts Indiana. Bonnie Maurer holds a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language and an MFA in Poetry from Indiana University. Her chapbooks include Reconfigured (Finishing Line Press) Ms. Lily Jane Babbitt Before the Ten O’clock Bus from Memphis Ran Over Her (Ink Press and Raintree Press), Old 37: The Mason Cows (Barnwood Press), and Bloodletting: A Ritual Poem for Women’s Voices (Ink Press). She is a two-time recipient of the Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship awarded by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and of several grants from the Indiana Arts Commission.