I used to sit, head down,
focus on my hands, hold my breath,
and try not to listen.
My father’s calm voice strained, my mother screaming,
She’s crying because she’s failing Spanish!
No, she’s crying because you’re yelling.
And I wished so badly that I was at practice,
where I would jump in feet first
and let myself sink,
hearing nothing but the muffled pumps
of my teammates’ strokes and turns.
Keeping my hands above my head I’d push
the air through my nostrils,
let my ears sting as I reached twelve feet,
let my lungs cramp
until my legs were numb, toes
touching the bottom, I’d crouch and endure
just a little longer,
until I almost didn’t believe
I had the strength to push back up.
Then I would break the surface,
the splashing of the slapped water
piercing my ears, my coach
threatening the stragglers: Jump or I’ll push.
Thea Engst received her MFA in Creative Writing with a focus in Poetry from Emerson College. Her poetry can be found in Poets Reading the News, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Gutter Eloquence, and Runaway Parade. She works as a bartender and her nonfiction book, Drink Like a Bartender, was published by Simon & Schuster in fall, 2017.