• Jennifer Lighty

Blue Water Swimming

Blue Water Swimming

A waft of roasting coffee

through the open car window on Painted Church Road

reminds me of driving around post-swim with Renate.

Every morning I had to coax her into the bay.

“It’s cold!” she protested, standing on the rocks

as I ducked under a wave and shouted back enough times,

“No, it’s not!” until she dove in and we were out far enough

to join the dolphin pod, and then it didn’t matter.

I still expect her to be the one in the driver’s seat,

me the passenger, years after I got the call

she’d died weeks earlier.

“I have dreams I die in the snow,”

she confided more than once.

When she moved to New Mexico she told me,

“Now I have to face my fear of the cold.”

Renate, I’m glad you died in late spring

after snow had melted from the Sangre de Cristos.

I hope you left on the sound of water.

How would I have said goodbye if I’d known?

“Let’s finally stop and see the famous murals

on the Painted Church walls? Let’s swim so far out in the bay

we can’t see bottom and wait

for what monsters rise up?

In memory of Renate Schilling

Hear Jen Lighty read Blue Water Swimming


Sometimes a poem arrives fully formed and all you have to do is write it down.This happened to me yesterday as I was driving down Painted Church Rd, where I am living once again after a 12 year hiatus when I lived nearby with Renate.

Renate was an Aries, far more bold than I. We met with her up a tree brandishing a chainsaw, me looking up at her quite impressed from down below. She was German, drove fast, took up two parking spaces if she wanted, loved her chainsaw and was a bit of a seducer. She was extremely generous, had an impish twinkle in her eye, and left Germany at the age of 49, because the heaviness of Germany had become too much for her. She wanted to be an American. She loved our free spirits. She loved the wooden houses of Hawaii, although she was appalled at how much plastic Americans used. She was aghast we had to shop at Walmart sometimes. In Germany the houses were made of stone. She was ashamed of the Nazis. She'd been a punk in her youth. She was out walking her dog the night the Berlin Wall fell.

Leaving Painted Church Rd, I drove for a few miles until I found a safe space to pull over, the parking lot of the Keahou Shopping Center. I had a notebook on me, thank goodness, and my trusty Uniball. It took me five minutes. I started up the call and got back on the Mamalahoa Bypass with views of the sea for a hundred miles. Maybe more.

Renate's sister Dorothea sent me this card. It was her death announcement. I took the photo of Renate on her birthday. She really wanted a picture of her swimming with the dolphins, but although she did conquer her fear and become an adept snorkeler, she never was able to dive under the water. I dove under her and took this from below. Soon after a dolphin swam right up to her and paused alongside her, posing for that longed for photo. That same day we drove from sea level to the top of Mauna Kea where Renate ran to the summit while I was passed out from altitude in the convertible we'd rented because why drive a truck on your birthday when you can feel the open air on your face and shout at the sky in jubilation? Renate died very quickly from ovarian cancer. Most didn't know until she was gone. Her sister told me she was not surprised Renate went first. She was always ahead of us all.

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