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Night Swimming

February 2, 2015

by Kiri Piahana-Wong

I saw lights in the water
while I was swimming in the sea
one night.

They stuck onto my arms and legs.
Light streamed from the ends of my fingers and toes.
I flicked my feet like a fish
I drew circles with my hands
I shimmered like a star falling

in the deep dark water.

Ref: p.211 Ed. Paula Green (2014) A Treasury of NZ poems for children. Illustrated by Jenny Cooper. Random House: Auckland.

NB 1: The poem is also published elsewhere on the web:

NB 2: Kiri Piahana-Wong has published a book to which this poem gives its title (Night Swimming. Anahera Press: Auckland 2013). Sarah Dunn’s blog post (27/09/2013) “Ocean Verse: New Poetry by Kiri Piahana-Wong and Maria McMillan,” offers a brief but enticing review of this book. Dunn notes: “Piahana-Wong quotes an early reader as saying ”night swimming is well-named as in this collection the poet is swimming through the darkness attempting to illuminate it with language.””

Night Swimming

There is a special sensuousness to swimming at night that this poem recreates beautifully. It’s why I liked it on first reading. Of course, on a physical level, water does change your relationship with light; lights are brought closer and made strange by the drops that stick to your eyelashes; your body is redefined by the way light sits in the water that clings to the hairs on your skin. Darkness does something similar, enclosing you in single moments and altering the landscape in which you move. That is on the physical level of feeling, but I like how that physicality is connected to linguistic discovery by this early reader quoted above. I read this poem on its own and hadn’t made that leap. I shall have to track down Night Swimming to read more!!!

Such simple language to evoke such a magical feeling. Lovely.


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