learning to swim


on my way to the water

there was no mud to trip over, no spelunking kids to follow through a maze of three feet tall

stones and captive teenagers sending silent messages with gazes

while stressed out adults watched over

there was no cenote     no limestone    no muddy footprints to the entrance of an open air bath spot

there were white youth overlooking the calm clear waters in red tshirts

there were organized lines to follow from one poolside to another


years ago i would have laughed at the suggestion of taking swim lessons

pointed to my hometown on the map and explained in storytelling detail the reasons why

peasants from town of 3000 do not swim

we are fisherman, we are fruit and flower pickers, we are workers, we inherited stories of the

water swallowing children of the women who betrayed their own
we inherited the social rules of colonization

that our bodies are to wrestle with the waves and fish above boats
that our bodies belong to the salt in the air not the salt in the sea
and that my peasant body was never to feel its waves caress me


beaches became for tourists and those who owned the land we worked

and i was no visitor to these parts, i belonged to people of the fish, the descendents of the land

truth is, i was born hours from the roaring waters

            and only heard in stories of the people who ventured into the blue

                        urban legend was that it ate alive those who didn’t read

                        urban legend was that it swallowed whole the pobres who weren’t smart enough to

                                    learn to swim

i only knew of cenotes wide enough to splash in when abuelas grew tired of warming water in

the stove top for baths 

there i grew a longing to understand how limestone surrendered to water, how harmonious their

union was

the instructor said to me that water takes over our senses, that we lose the sense of control that

we know on land

i nodded, i understood this


on my way to the water i became the limestone

i met with ancestors who knew the land before the Spanish came

i made a commitment to the ocean that i would learn to let go of control

truth is i have loved the ocean before but been afraid of her power

truth is i have felt it overtake my senses and been afraid to love it more

truth is i jumped in the water with an intention to surrender
truth is that to belong to the land is to belong to the sea


Mestiza/Purepécha poet-scholar fabian romero was born in Michoacán, Mexico and raised in the Pacific Northwest. They co-founded and participated in several writing and performance groups including Hijas de Su Madre, Las Mamalogues, and Mixed Messages: Stories by People of Color. Their scholarship, poetry and experimental films are rooted in personal two-spirit, queer and immigrant experiences.


Their written work can be found in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices and their self-published chapbook Mountains of Another Kind. romero earned a BA from The Evergreen State College with a focus in writing and social justice. They are currently a Doctoral student in the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies Department at the University of Washington.

Photo Credit: Angelica Macklin

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