Soft and smooth and supple in my hands,
Smell of plastic against the chemically clean air,
My name in black felt tip,
It’s my hair to protect against the water,
But no protection against my fear.
It grips my forehead, presses my ears,
I feel the red mark forming round its rim,
I feel my eyes redden with tears,
Time to get in,
To feel cold water.
I fear the water in my nostrils,
The sting, the choke, the splutter.
I fear the lack of a base on which to steady myself,
The calming rail to grab.
I fear the ridicule and sharp voices.
I am not one of the athletes, the sportswomen,
Who collect glory in so many ways,
Who slide through the water, their second home,
Their limbs practiced and breathing easy,
Their self-assurance keeping them afloat.
I am awkward and clumsy like the hat,
Almost from another era,
Lacking style and fashion and elegance,
The useless barrier, giving little cause for hope,
Almost unnoticed and drifting further.