Body of Water
Chapbook, Alexis Wolf, 84 pgs, Two Plum Press, twoplumpress.com, $10
The loss of public swimming during COVID lockdown would have been a tolerable inconvenience for most, but for those who define themselves through their relationship with water and swimming — Alexis Wolf among them — it was undoubtedly a trying time.
The essays that make up Body of Water gather such hardships — and the good times as well — into an autobiography via swim journal. We follow Wolf as she moves across the ocean, finds a job, gets married, lives through lockdown, and fights a chronic illness, all told to a backdrop of lapping waves and sandaled feet sinking into river bottoms.
There are a number of layers to unpack here. As Wolf documents her outings to various man-made and wild bodies of water in the UK and US Pacific Northwest, she dives into detail about the experience of the swim, but also contemplates her body, her identity, and her connection to nature: “It’s hard to have a woman’s body. It’s beautiful to have a body, moving across a new city, just gliding through water.” It’s hard to avoid being swept away by these stories; Payne’s style is contemplative and easygoing. Anyone who has taken a dip in the wild will be able to see themselves right there with Wolf, wading into the waters of her hidden away swimming holes. In the end, we know her and the water equally well.