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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 9: August 2021
Poem: 348 words
By Robert L. Dean, Jr.

This Floating Life *


No resemblance to This Sporting Life 
or A Movable Feast. Neither Hemingway 
nor rugby make an appearance here. 

More like Shen Fu’s record of domestic life, his 
frowned upon devotion to his not-quite-beautiful 
wife Chen Yun, even Li Po’s questioning how much joy 

is possible. We speak here of the dream: dancing, 
prancing, glowing pathfinder stars on a clear night, 
the Quixotic journey that begins with our first breath, 

ends with our last, a cast of characters stepping 
in and out, some staying only for tea, some for 
the long haul, some sharing the hearth of our 

heart, some casting shadows across the threshold 
of terror. Are we, in fact, allotted unlimited happiness, 
or only a few grains of rice? Can we discern beauty in a 

Quasimodo, ugliness in a field of tulips? Is love 
a learned emotion? To be loved a birthright? Is it possible, 
like the Taoists of old, to refrain from naming this good, 

that bad? When I am ten and the swim instructor 
says “Back float,” my legs quickly sink, twin anchors 
pulling the rest of me under with them. Hemingway 

broods over both barrels of his favorite shotgun, pulls 
the trigger. Richard Harris’s rugby player punches 
a spider on the wall when the woman he should love, 

but probably doesn’t, dies. But then, perhaps this is not 
so very different after all from the gentle Chen Yun’s 
early death after her rejection by Shen Fu’s parents. Not so 

very different from Li Po’s declaration that this floating life 
is like a dream. And why not Hemingway and rugby? 
By the end of the summer my feet no longer sink, having learned 

to trust the water to carry my weight. Fear of fear is the worst kind 
of fear. We are born. We swim. And somewhere along the way, 
if we’re not keeping track of laps, not afraid of the journey, 

the medium, the Scylla and Charybdis of sorrows, we drift in 
pools of joy, as much of it as is needed, and, perhaps, 
a drop or two more. 



*Note: The title is from the first line of a poem by Charles Wright, Sinology, in Buffalo Yoga (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004).

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Issue 9, August 2021

is the author of two books: The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020), and a poetry collection, At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018). Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2019 and multiple times for Best of the Net, his work has appeared in Chiron Review; Flint Hills Review; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; I-70 Review; Illya’s Honey; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; October Hill Magazine; Red River Review; River City Poetry; Shot Glass; The Ekphrastic Review; and the Wichita Broadside Project.

Dean is event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music, held annually in Wichita, Kansas. He has been a professional musician, having played bass for, among others, Jesse Lopez, B. W. Stephenson, Bo Didley, The Dallas Jazz Orchestra, and the house band for the Fairmount Hotel Venetian Room. He grew up in Topeka and Wichita, Kansas before spending 30 years between Los Angeles and Dallas, where he worked at The Dallas Morning News. He now lives in a one-hundred-year-old stone building in Augusta, Kansas, along with a universe of books, CDs, LPs, an electric bass, and a couple dozen hats. In his spare time, he practices the time-honored art of hermitry.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Hopper and Dean: Interview and poems in River City Poetry (Fall 2017).

Metal Man, ekphrastic poem inspired by a 1955 photograph of Dean’s paternal grandfather in the Boeing machine shop; published in The Ekphrastic Review (28 July 2018) and nominated for Best of the Net.

Windmill, ekphrastic poem inspired by Dean’s maternal grandfather; published in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019) and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This poem is among half-a-dozen of Dean’s ekphrastic works published in KYSO Flash (Issues 11 and 12).

Llama, 1957, ekphrastic haibun inspired by Inge Morath’s photograph A Llama in Times Square; published in The Ekphrastic Review (13 January 2018).

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