Back to Issue Fourteen.

THE SUTRO BATHS

BY RYAN TEITMAN

 

These latticework arches of steel
            are Sutro’s Il Gesu—his mother church—
housing pristine baths behind glass
                         the color of rosemary.

1896: six saltwater pools, men and women clad
           in bathing caps and one-pieces.
One woman dallies on the stairs, grazing
                        the water with her toe.

Now, the baths are ruins.
            The shoreline listens
to the sea’s quiet,
                        the same way                           

children listen
             with cupped hands
to their parents arguing
                          in the next room.

A model being photographed
            in the ruins balances
on her toe’s knuckle,
                        posed like a dancer,

the wind catching her dress
             and spinning her slowly
like a weathervane.
                         These ruins,

gloved in moss,
            festooned with the red
of wildflowers,
                         are altars

in this small valley
             carved into the cliff side.
How the hawk,
                         in her hunt above us,

hovers on the updrafts,
            achieving the perfection
we only imagine—
                        to fall and be held up

without having to choose
             between the two,
is the kind of grace
                        we can live in here.

No better sea bathing
            in the world
, the program reads—
a quarter for the day
                          and children free on Sundays.

From the lip of the hillside,
           I take a picture of the model,
who’s stripping off her dress
                         to reveal a Victorian bathing suit

underneath, and tucking
             her long, black hair
into a bathing cap.
                         She runs her hands

down her legs
             like a boatwright testing the curve
of a keel.
                         The hawk folds her wings

and dives,
            but rises from the hillside
with nothing. In an hour,
                         they are both gone.

I walk through the ruins, past a sign
            that warns:
People have been swept
                        from the rocks and drowned
.

I stand on the shoreline wall.
             The sea wants nothing
but for me to fall
                         and keep falling;

the waves, like bulls, crash
            against the wall but their bellowing
becomes a mist of salt.
                      They won’t take me today.

In the distance, a container ship
            crests the horizon. It’s carrying
something for me, I know.
                         How I can tell—that’s another story.

 

 

Teitman 14

Ryan Teitman is the author of the poetry collection Litany for the City (BOA Editions, 2012). His poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, and The Yale Review. He lives in Philadelphia.

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