Hotel Pool, or, Gay Subject Matter

Alone in the pool, surrounded by other people’s children, I think of a way to describe the garbled and bulbous sounds of their high pitched voices bouncing | heightened | distracting and I think: this must be what it sounds like inside a snow globe—the garbled nature of voice trapped beneath a glass dome. Here, the indoor hotel pool is rectangular. The ceiling, high. I enter at the low end, easing my feet into cool water, holding the metal rail in case a loud, raucous embodied voice bumps into me.


PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: A picture of naked man standing in a swimming pool with his back to the viewer. He looks to his right, There is a house in the background with a large window and two deck chairs at the pool side.[1]


I never like diving right in. I like the slow feel of water engulfment as I move down each step, the cool shiver that blossoms over skin as water levels one section of body at a time. I suppose there is something secret and hushed about such delicate immersion not unsimilar to laying in tub water and lifting your hips to the surface, the sensation of cool air gently wrestling with pubic hair as each strand quietly crinkles and re-curls, raising a sensual physicality.


Leaning against the edge of the pool, chin resting at the crest of my crossed arms, now immersed in chlorinated, murky water from the shoulders down, I stand on toes between the low and deep end. I look through a row of glass windows, hardly tinted; the outside reflecting inward: rustling green tree leaves sway in a puddle of pool water a few feet away from me on the ceramic tile floor. A girl, five or six years old, disrupts the image and runs through, slopping the puddled tile water. Copycats run past my arms and face breaking color, distorting the picture, spraying cold drips in passing.

Once the tile water settles the swaying tree leaves return and my thoughts jump to David Hockney’s pool paintings: male figures, seen or unseen, diving, or swimming across a deceivingly flat watered surface; the bright sunlit areas with no sun in view, brightens the blue-green pool as a slim figure swims from one end to another.

I let go, lay back on water, kick my feet. I don’t worry about splashing children or getting water in their eyes because I am not there; I reach the edge of the deep end. I am outside, north of Sunset Boulevard.[2]

My body is long, muscular, golden. Horizontal with water I begin a perfect front crawl, legs close together toes pointed; for once, I am perfect position and untouched in every manner. I breathe with ease, splash small, hear nothing but the movement of myself, a steady metronomic count in cut time with quick luftpause in between. I am not interested in the bigger splash, the fermata. I care less about the held and captured splash; I am focused on destination.


I don’t know if Peter stands at the low end or the deep end, so I place him myself, straddling the two as I do. My body remains in water, my black lycra bathing suit, a scoop-neck tank with mid-thigh skort, slimming me as much as it possibly can. Peter presses his hands into the light gray surface area surrounding the pool, arm muscles exuding strength to hold himself up, waist higher then pool’s edge. I follow the figure lines, how they move from his wide shoulders into a perfect V, creating an enviable waistline, something feminine or not masculine, but, just enviable. Lines that continue to form slight hips and buttocks and slightly open legs that disappear into shades of blue. The Walker Art Gallery website states that Peter is “climbing out of the pool,” but I disagree (and I don’t care that the painting is called Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool because getting out is coming out, and these are not the same things (or maybe they are)). He is perfectly bound by posture without strain, suspended in time not because he is figuratively present, but because he is strong and beautiful.

His head looks right with no sign of alertness, although he could be making eye contact with someone out of frame. If Peter were in the snow globe, I could hold him and his surroundings in the palm of my hand. Turn him this way or that, try to see what he sees. But maybe his attention is simply caught by rustling green leaves in a puddle of pool water.


In the Study for Portrait for an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), I watch Peter watching the male figure swimming in the pool. It does not matter that Hockney taped these very separate images together[3] because this is what I become: not a viewer, but a voyeur—something queer in my white slacks and brown loafers; in my periwinkle shirt and coral-colored jacket—these clothing items become these colors in the actual painting. Regardless, I stand awkwardly because I am. Awkwardly because I am collaged into frame, forced to give in to the “stirring emotional distance between onlooker and swimmer.”[4] Awkward because I acquiesce | bow | surrender and like never before, I don’t care to wear a black lycra bathing suit, but stand firm yet with ease in my nakedness.



Image at the top of the page: Square Dive, oil on board, ©Kat O’Connor,


[1]“Physical Description” as written and posted on the Walker Art Gallery website:

[2]According to the Walker Art Gallery, Hockney’s “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool” (1966) is the communal swimming pool at Nick Wilder’s apartment complex at “1145 Larrabee Street, Hollywood, just north of Sunset Boulevard.”

[3]See “Catalogue Note” Sotheby’s:



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Heather J. Macpherson
Heather J. Macpherson writes essays and poems from New England. Her work has appeared in Blueline, Gravel, Concourse, Pearl, Spillway, The Worcester Review, Parlour-a Journal of Literary Criticism and Analysis, and other fine places. She has work forthcoming in the Bennington Review. Heather is a Ph.D student at the University of Rhode Island.