When the Stars Explode (poem)
"... In the morning, the clouds part in the shapes of butterflies. Silver-lined wings glow above us through the floodlights. Breaststroking, the stars sparkle among our ripples ..." Published in Voiceworks 125 Spectre.
When the Stars Explode
There’s a boy I swim with whose father just died of cancer,
a girl I coach whose mother passed the same way,
as well as the mother of my only remaining swim friend,
and an Olympian whose dad died too young.
Each death flip turns me back to the friend we lost as little girls.
Ten years gone. Same length of time a piece of twine
was caught around the lane ropes they finally replaced
after we left. Only took them ten years.
Ten years is the age I turned our first year there. Ten years
employed and Dad almost got a plaque for it. They cut the twine
just ten days before I realised your prank: pulling thread loose,
like memory, from my tog straps. I guess it was then
I discovered my superpower. I should stop calling it that.
Should stop feeling proud of the dream I had of you
before seeing you the next day. Of Бабушка, before
she died the next day. Of the friend I somehow knew
was gone. Maybe that’s when I realised
the stars would soon extinguish. But
it was also the first time I looked up and saw a new star
threaded into the twine of our galaxy,
swimming Backstroke outside, catching the glint
of my goggles. In the morning, the clouds part
in the shapes of butterflies. Silver-lined wings
glow above us through the floodlights. Breaststroking,
the stars sparkle among our ripples. With every breath
in Freestyle I catch the glint of your eye. Even
through our goggles I can feel the twine
between us like a spiderweb, like the ripples
that meet halfway. Which is how far I am
to the age my mother is now. But at 22
I’m just beginning to feel like a teenager. Isn’t it odd
how celebrities seem young at 45? And how you were
always younger than me, until today,
the first time I cried watching The Office,
the one where they make an ad. Reminded me
of how we used to be, the video we made
for Dad’s birthday. That same day
he was informed of his redundancy. But I don’t think
about that so much anymore. Maybe you were right to move
away, unworried. Or maybe you’ve been underwater too long.
I hear they’ve converted you to a Freestyler. Remember
when you were a Backstroker, when you pointed out
all the shapes you saw in the clouds? Remember
my dreams about upside-down skies?
Wonder if I haunt your dreamscapes
when you wander into mine. Maybe
our spiderweb thread has tangled somewhere between us
but it’s wound too tight to melt. Not even the sun
can blind me, sparkling upon the ripples
we paint in the pool, little black holes
at the centre of each concentric circle.
Maybe we’re the ones who stroke the sky blue.
Maybe we look up and see our own reflection.
Maybe the shapes of our lost ones beyond
the opening clouds, as they fill our pool with their own
blue. Pockmarks of our lost lights glittering upon the surface.
About the author
Svetlana Sterlin is a prose, poetry, and screenwriter based in Brisbane, Australia. She's the founding editor of swim meet lit mag, a contributor at Our Culture Magazine, and a reader for Split Rock Review. https://linktr.ee/svetlanasterlin
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!