Winter Plunge – Eileen Malone

The volunteers and other athletes urge him to leave the pier, climb down the steps into the water, say it is shallow, look at the other kids way shorter than you standing in it, and he replies he can’t swim and they say you don’t have to, just walk toward us, be brave, follow your heart, be special

he eases himself down, relieved to feel his feet touch squish, turns away from the horizon and towards the land, lifts both arms in prayer position like they tell him to and falls forward in almost a standing dive, allowing the same body weight heavy on sand to hold him up on the water, as all his friends on the beach jump up and down and call his name and clap their hands

later, he’ll tell anyone who will listen how there were hundreds of his new friends, millions, how they cheered and how he felt his heart leave his chest, the same chest mean people laughed at saying it looked like women’s boobs, no matter, he walked on tiptoes, a step at a time as he swam, yes, he’ll tell anyone who will listen, he swam with his arms, he set his timid heart free enough to bravely float onward close enough for him to follow, his heart led the way and the rest of him followed

he’ll tell again and again how when he came out of the water, his new friends wrapped him in towels, patted his back, gave him a ribbon, said brave heart you have won, you followed your heart, and you won the Special Olympics, he’ll tell you, he’ll tell me, and we will listen and we will know how hollow pity is, how empty its architecture, and how enormous is the fullness of someone else’s joy.

Eileen Malone’s poetry has been published in over 500 journals, a significant amount of which have earned citations, i.e., three Pushcart nominations. Her award winning Letters with Taloned Claws was published by Poets Corner Press (Sacramento) and I Should Have Given Them Water was published by Ragged Sky Press (Princeton).