Swim Bits: Time, at Eel Lake

Time, at Eel Lake
by Ralph Mohr
Central Oregon Masters Aquatics (COMA)

Expositio: The poem was written after cable swims at Foster Lake in 2015.  I had a discussion on the beach with a fellow swimmer who had a PhD in English Literature and whose thesis was on T.S.Eliot.  Having read Eliot’s “Four Quartets” in a seminar once, I was caught by the poet’s use of time, and I tried to apply the motif to swimming up and back the west arm of Eel Lake on the Oregon coast near Coos Bay.

Time for open water swimmers disappears.
Distance, duration and place measure time.
Sun above the Eel Lake hills measures time,
And the black mirror of the shadows shrinks
As we enter the placid water to reach
Out for the pilings at the furthest end
Of the west arm.  How long you ask?
Five thousand yards out and back, a short hour
And more when swims are measured by a clock.
We can see the sun higher above the hills.
Breathing on the right.  Breathing on the left,
We can see Bench Point where race leaders slipped
And slid, and see Red Cliff where earth slipped,
A smear of red.  A white snag sticking out
Above the water appears on the right,
Almost to the pilings where a short line
Train transported trees two or three cuts ago.
A flip on a dead tree stuck in the mud,
And we all turned round, halfway in the space
Of the swim, repeating the distance gone.
Fishermen gawk, kayakers pace, paddle
Boarders parallel.  We encounter no
Monsters, no Scylla, no Cyclops casting
Sinful stones.  Not even an eel, as the lake
Was named for its shape and grows only trout,
Bass, steelhead, waterweed and swimmers,
Who reach out, grasping the water, propelling,
Push in a spiral behind, hearing air
And the rush of the water in their ears,
Wrapped in the envelope of their passage
Through the green water.  Finally the sun
Clears the hills, shadows are gone, and distance
Is measured by stroke and heart beat.
We could have swum east, another white snag,
An honest thousand yards, measured by watch,
GPS and cadence, past the wasp log,
Hidden colony who will measure time
With their lives, season short or glyphosate.
In either arm halfway is when we turn
Around and swim for where we began.
We measure time in reverse, snag, cliff, bench,
Sun high, shadows gone.  We see cars glitter,
and out of the shallows, we leave footprints
In the sand of the beach.  The clock is complete.
Eel Lake

Eel Lake

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