Poetry / December 2016 (Issue 34)

Dog Paddling

by Grace Chia

Some say if you throw an infant to water
he recalls the womb-like ocean;
though shipwrecked, he buoys afloat,
his body a mass of blubber pushing upwards
as fish with ingrown feet.

I have seen my child struggle like this,
taut in both our throats, I wait for
his courage to find him before fear does,
his old home under water once a nest, now
a frenzy, a chasm, quicksand of rapids.

Instinct is a skill a child learns to survive
the undulating folds of a watery veil closing
on his eyes, blinding him from seeing,
his hands grasping for the twigs of foam
squirrelling out of his reach.

Even a child who has not learnt to speak
the language that made his name, mute
in the sounds of syntax, spine of his
speech, smells the fear of expiration
when he drinks a cup of the pool choking

in his gob; his arms react with spasmodic
swiftness, his legs dog paddle, he arches his
neck up to meet nose with sky, he knows
even before he can count time he has only
seconds before all is lost if he doesn’t try

to crawl from one end of the line to the
next. This is how he knows if he has the guts
to swim away from the suction of slipstream
or drown by the crowd of an incoming
tide, each viscous cell an individual that

wants a piece of the child, to claim this
body as bounty for the other side.
This is how he learns his first lesson,
his fear of the unknowable succumbed
or overcome, to surface from innocence.

 Grace Chia is the author of two poetry collections, womango and Cordelia, a short story collection, Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food, a novel, The Wanderlusters, two nonfiction books and was the editor of the anthology, We R Family. Her work has been anthologised in Singapore and abroad, including the Anthology of English Writing in Southeast Asia, Singapore Literature in English, Mining for Meaning, Fish Eats Lion, A Luxury We Cannot Afford, From Walden To Woodlands, UnFree Verse, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Poetry.sg, HOW2, Blue Lyra Review, SingaporePoetry.com, Lyrikline, Stylus Poetry Journal, and has been translated for die horen (Germany), La Traductiere (France) and Knijzevne Novine (Serbia). The inaugural NAC-NTU Writer-in-Residence for 2011-2012, she has taught creative writing, mentored emerging writers and judged national poetry competitions.
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