The Lesson

Matthew Gellman
| poetry


Snakes in the tall grass, sprinklers ticking

the first time he forced my head underwater.


I counted seconds in the blue, planetary

flecks on the concrete wall underwater.


He pulled me up, then the game repeated

itself. He held me down underwater.


I learned to play tough and not tell him

to stop when he pushed me back underwater.


Hornets bobbed like a crowd in a stadium

above the pool. I was held underwater,


the sun an off-white flare of gardenia

petals arrowing through the water.


I watched them darting, imagined patterns:

stem, flower, stem. Underwater


I could barely see him as the sky blurred

behind us. It got darker underwater.


More, he said as I pulled up my trunks

and squinted. I went back underwater.


My voice still shakes. As if part of me

had been made from all that water.

Matthew Gellman‘s poems are featured in Poetry Northwest, Narrative Magazine, Sugar House Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Columbia University and teaches at Hunter College.

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The Lesson