Turquoise pool water with a yellow divider floating at the surface.

is what I tell my three-year-old
when she asks me to join her

in our neighborhood kiddie pool.
She twirls and her fingertips skid

turquoise water as if she’s a realtor
in a studio apartment, gliding,

promising room for a sectional couch.
I stay glued to a poolside recliner

until our neighbor Rita,
with her new cane, taps the iron gate

surrounding the pool. I lift
the latch while my other hand

cradles Rita’s arm. She shakes me off
and totters to my grinning daughter,

recipient of countless fluffy dresses
Rita finds at yard sales. Of course

she says when my daughter asks her
to get in the water and I apologize,

giving Rita the look I often give cashiers,
mail carriers and even babysitters—

tuck my chin and slyly shake my head,
meaning You don’t have to. But Rita

says I want to, gingerly leans her cane
against the kiddie pool’s handrail,

eases down two steps so slowly no water
ripples, and sinks beside my daughter,

Rita gripping the pool wall lip.
What have I let happen?

I can’t watch an elderly woman
slip or worse, be bowled over

by my bouncy, swervy child.
I drag a recliner to the pool’s rim

to sit between them, pop Goldfish
in my daughter’s mouth to steal

her attention from Rita. But no snack
compares to a ring big as an apricot,

gold, and better polished
than rings I own—my daughter caresses

the wedding ring on Rita’s hand.
My daughter’s fingers float

to Rita’s glinting diamond earrings.
What’s that? my daughter squeals

suddenly rubbing a pale square-inch
of Rita’s submerged knee. I’m ready

to end this sweet, stressful experiment,
to shut down further interrogations

of our neighbor’s body, jewelry, cane,
what’s next? Then as if talking

about a simple bleached spot on a towel
Rita says, That’s where I’ve fallen

so many times the skin won’t grow back.
They settle into a splashing game,

not too forceful nor careful, and it’s then
I leave them, the very young and old,

to play uninhibited, like pool water
finally meeting ocean.


Photo by Angie Linder, used and adapted under CC.