While swimming today, I watched a particular cloud gather and then disperse. At one point it resembled nothing so much as a fragment of papyrus and I thought of Sappho, how her poems turn up from time to time on pieces of cartonnage, the linen or papyrus used in ancient Egyptian funerary wrappings.
In John Berger’s essay, “On Vigilance” (the one I referred to yesterday), he recounts his own experiences swimming and contemplating the texts of trees and sky seen from the windows of a pool. He floats and gazes and realizes that he is also being read:
The curls of the white cirrus are observing a man afloat on his back with his hands behind his head. I’m no longer observing them; they are observing me.
I recognized that moment as I swam on my back, arms reaching up and over my head in my awkward back-stroke, watching, watching the clouds gather and fraying in a blue sky, and thinking for a moment of Sappho:
I would not think to touch the sky with two arms.