The Portrait of a Champion

We were young, they say.
We have died; remember us.
~ Archibald MacLeish

Sitting in the bleachers we used to count her laps
as she “wrote the Australian crawl” into record books.
Her elegant stroke modeled text-book form,
elbows bent high, outlining a mountain peak,
while determined hands paddled water towards her feet,
strong like the motor on a hydroplane in a protected harbor,
or when sailing wings caught the wind
on a sunny day in the Paradise Bay.
She was always swimming forward.

Blessed with a chiseled-goddess face, armed
with a mischievous smile that embraced you
like a full frontal kiss, cloudless skies promised
her a good life in smooth waters
with a gentle yet firm breeze at her back.
Tight coiled hair, thick like her talent, adorned her crown.
When she shaved her head for competition at 16,
we gasped. She was always full of surprises.

Diagnosed after her second child, ALS anchored her
with a dirty bounty, unhinged her attractive body,
made her choke for air through the water
she had once conquered, now flowing back into her lungs.
In her last years she communicated through a computer;
the blink of eyelids beat like delicate hummingbird wings
too fast for us to count. In the end a turtle in a wheelchair,
its shell swirling in a mist by a pool of water.
ALS was a race she could not win,
though she always refused to quit:

I was young, she says. I have died; remember me.

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About the Author

When Annie Newcomer lost her brother, John Klier, Jewish Scholar and Russian Historian who lived and taught in London to misdiagnosed cancer in 2007, she was bereft. Writing saved her. Now she teaches Poetry and Play Writing at Turning Point, a center for the chronically ill associated with the University of Kansas. She endeavors to share this joy of the written word with others.

Annie Klier Newcomer
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