Back to Issue Forty

Swimming Lessons


My brown body dipped into the water.

The other children, foreheads of blonde silk,
whose thighs my thighs brushed

on accident—apology’s thrush
slicking my mouth.


A secret: we dreamt of this, my mother
and I, we dreamt

of coming to this country and being held

in a warm pool. We dreamt of water
that blushed wild as a sky, of bringing

our lips to it, a sea
sloshing in our hands.


Climbing onto the pool ledge, my chest,
shriveled in water

and wrecked

with asthma, swamped in sweat.


The teacher glided
through the pool, smooth as a gull,

her eyes like blue suns.
Tattooed along the flank of

her foot: keep moving.

I wanted to touch the tattoo, to feel

how it might pulse
in my hand like a heart. Instead I waited

for my lungs to swell like lungs.


I murmured ruh
even though I wanted to shout it.

Let this blessing
bring back my breath to me.


The teacher’s ankle

my belly.

What, some kind of terrorist ritual.


We, my mother and I, crossed
an ocean—so much water—for this.

We dreamt of lovely

things, the ease of muscle—keep moving
flooding the teacher gently

like an oily current, her body listening.
Tattoo gleaming, soft as an eye.



Sarah Fathima Mohammed, daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants, is a poet from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the 2021-22 National Student Poet of the West, America’s highest honor for youth poets. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Frontier Poetry, wildness, SOFTBLOW, PANK, and diode and has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation and Poetry Society of the UK. She was born in 2005.

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