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Step 1: Read the following poem carefully a few times. It is written by Kimiko Hahn, a poet and a professor of poetry writing and literature at Queens College.

         The Swimmer's Blood

We survive recalling crests just off the shore
beyond the children's bobbing games
but before the swimmer, the elderly woman
in a skirted aqua swimsuit and rubber bathing cap.
She dove over the waves and now swims
slowly in the post-storm, turbulence
hand-over-hand, feet splashing evenly,
her head turning in measures of breath.
The waves roll her up. She must be around 75, the age
of my mother-in-law before years of cigarettes
destroyed her internal organs.
I imagine seeing Anne with such a casual stroke
against undertow and current. It may not have mattered
after settling the girls into solid schools
that I don't play cribbage, that I don't
swim comfortably in such depth,
that my maternal grandparents were peasants from Hiroshima.
In those early immigrant years
grandfather was lucky to find a wife
among the farm families already on Maui
while his friends flipped through pictures and astrology charts.
From a single photo I know Mitsuye was delicate
with strong eyebrows that suggest a playfulness
that would save her as she labored first
to put her brothers and sisters through professional schools
then raise eight squabbling children (squabbling still);
she was lucky not to be misled by rumors and refinished photos
to find Katsunosuke, a man under 25 and handsome.
I wonder if he had the energy after plantation work
to be kind to her: not merely sexual but comforting.
And I am fortunate to watch this woman swim
what would equal laps in a pool and thank Anne
for the swimmer's blood in my daughters' skinny frames
darting in and out of the surf
competing with each other for who will swim out
with their father first
beyond the swathes of seaweed into the Atlantic.
— From The Unbearable Heart ©1996 by Kimiko Hahn


Asking questions, and answering them, is one of the best ways in to the experience of a poem. Below are some questions to get you started in explicating this poem. You can read the poem again at any time while you work by clicking on "see the poem".

Step 2: You might begin by asking some obvious questions about the situation in the poem: Where does the poem take place? What scene does it describe? What's happening in the scene?


Step 3: Who is speaking? How would you describe her? What sort of tone of voice might you use if you read the poem out loud? (see the poem)


Step 4: Why do you think the poem is called "The Swimmer's Blood"? How does the title relate to the overall meaning of the poem? (see the poem)


Here, we've looked at just a few questions you might ask yourself while writing an explication, but there are many other things to look for when explicating a work of literature.

Have you received an assignment that asks you to explicate something? Do Your Own is a section that can help you get started.


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