Swimming with the ol’ man

On a hot, August day the ol’ man took me swimming.
He put new boat cushions in the Thompson boat and we
got into some clear water, not more than six feet deep.

The ol’ man jumped in and lifted me off the boat into the water.
I, only ten, could only dog-paddle, so the ol’ man let me go
and I paddled toward him.

–C’mon, boy, swim to me.
–I can’t, I can’t stay up.
–You can do it. Swim.

So I paddled my heart out, trying to reach him, but he kept
moving backward, as I paddled and gasped for air.

–I can’t.
–You can. Swim, boy, swim to me.
–Don’t paddle, swim, arm over arm, kick your feet.

And I tried, and I went under,
the water came into my mouth as my arms and feet stopped
working, and I thought it was the end when

the ol’ man grabbed me and I caught the air,
my arms around his neck, and I choked
as if I swallowed the whole lake.

–Don’t listen to anybody, boy.
–Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.
–Be a man. Swim on your own.

When the ol’ man lifted me into the boat,
like a man I puked my guts out on the new boat cushions.

—Gary Busha, Sturtevant, WI