Work of the Week: Taylor Byas


My white friend says you can’t swim, can you—as if she’s known the answer to
this question all her life—then changes the subject. Did you really wear a one
piece instead of a bikini? Before they unleash us into the park, the counselors
tell us to follow the buddy system. But come on, the system is rigged. We know
which buddies will follow each other into the single-family restrooms, who
will emerge with their bikini straps loosened, the shoddy re-tie job. We place
bets on who will cement their centers together in the deep end of a pool, who
will steal a feel in the lazy river’s march. I buddy up with another black girl so
we can wet our hair in solidarity. We share a double tube on the park’s steepest
slide, emerge from its black mouth with both hands in the air, our tongues
primed for the smack of chlorine. In the wave pool, an older white boy carries
me out to the deep end on his shoulders to play a game. And it happens
without warning, my two-foot ejection into the air, my accidental cannonball
into too-deep water. I thought I would die only seeing the bottom half of
everyone, their legs working to keep them afloat as I drifted to the bottom.
The emergency whistle sounded like a siren-song from the pool floor, and the
white boy’s legs circled a few feet away. I knew he was watching the balloons
of my last breaths pop on the water’s surface and hoping that nothing else came
up at all.

Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is now a third year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She is the 1st place winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize, and a finalist for the 2020 Frontier OPEN Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency. 

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