[A response to Pamela Sneed’s poem, “Survivor 2014“]
I once admired Diana Nyad,
But you had it right the first time.
Did you know that Diana never swam in the Olympics
nor the Olympic Trials (though that’s not her story)?
Did you know that she never proved that she swam from Cuba to Florida?
Diana says, “you know, I was the first woman
to swim around Manhattan Island.”
But she knows she was not. She knows
Ida got there first, then Mille, Lottie, Lillian,
Anne, and Diane. Then Diana.
The fortune Diana’s mother’s family reaped
from Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup—
an opiate brew that silenced teething babies, sometimes forever—
funded Diana’s adventures.
During WWII, her step-father, Aristotle Nyad,
costumed in a hero’s uniform
conned Hollywood high rollers
while real fighters fell in the swamps of Guadalcanal.
Aris bestowed upon Diana his sociopathy and his surname, and
a merit badge in profiting from others’ pain.
Diana loves to feel anguish squish through her fingers,
loves inhaling the dank dirty dolorous discharge of it.
She hides a slip of paper labeled “Superman”
inside her trauma treasure box.
She clutches at your heart with briny fingers
while she stares into the camera.
“I met a Holocaust survivor,” she says,
“knew her by the numbers on her arm.
When she was three, the Nazis killed
her mother, father, sister. Having let her live,
the guards raped her many times
each day until the end. They did things I
sometimes can and sometimes cannot say.”
Grown now, skipping happy, the tattooed lady,
says Diana, no longer wears her trauma on her skin.
Diana does not label her invention.
To give the woman and the girl a name
would nudge the spotlight
away from D-I-A-N-A.
“I can feel shame,” she cries for us to know.
“I can empathize, I would never lie.
I could conjure tears for someone other than myself.
Trust me, trust me, trust me: I am good.”
Diana is good
at convincing others of her goodness,
at making people weep. But she long ago forgot—or never knew—
that the ways we choose to try to make our dreams come true