Bonnie Kwong

Issue #
February 28, 2015

The Tale

I once lived in a landlocked town in a house on the edge of the woods,
    near a stagnant pond or two, grass up to my waist.

I would thirst for rain, oceans distilled; I would stand in the squall,
    and let rain blow in gusts like waves on my face;

raindrops trickled down my neck; I burst, skin wrinkled,
    cotyledon sprouting; I soaked in the rain like a wick;

repelled its beads like wax;
    allowed my skin to sing, staccato.

I dreamed of waves murderous, amniotic, disgorging aquatic fetuses
    ingesting children

of the land; I wandered in search of water, the femur of an
    ambulocetus to guide me.

Though rain courses through my hair, into my ears, like a lover’s fingers,
    I am no vessel for the rain.

I am fluent: the river in my father’s name,
    the flood in my mother’s.

I pour myself into the river, into
    the ocean I have crossed many times, each journey, a life.

My lives cross over, paths recombinant. I swim in any skin:
    the selkie’s pinniped pelt, the weaver maiden’s skein;

I will not be stolen by lovers. I walk by day and swim by night.
    I do not trade my voice

for the privilege of walking on land. Listen,
    hear me sing: Once, once, once upon a wave….

More than a lover, I’m a chambered nautilus from deep to shallow,
    shallow to deep.

I swim in waters of plasma, waters of dancing cilia,
    ionic waters.

I swim through the pores of sponges, through the baleen of whales.
    From the viscera of transparent fish,

I see vents teeming with edible sulphur-–I read what earth divulges.
    I ride the deep sea conveyor of salt.

Under glaciers and ice floes, salt flows unfrozen, a low cycle, a thousand
    years, a moving museum.

I harvest from the incessant salt mill of the sea: memory–-
    an orange jacket my friend remembers,

but nothing of a boat drifting for days without water.
    Treasure jettisoned, unmarked in low tide.

I swim to escape memories,
    like a child who doesn’t believe

rays of the sun can sear her flesh;
    like a brush on a snare drum,

like airy echoes in the empty palace
    of a conch,

to escape my lover, who mistook the ocean before him
    for a tract of land bounded by language

and treaties inscribed by war.
    I am rock turned into woman.

I am a woman who swims like water.
    I swim towards guyots of friendship,

constants in the constant drift. I feed rich
    upwelling with no intention but the warmth in my body,

light with nothing to light upon,
    love intransitive. I hide

my many selves in a shoal.
    I seem to swim within reach of the man I once loved.

He is blinded by the glint of ten thousand fins,
    and sets fire to the surface of the sea.

I hold my breath and dive under.
    There are gills on my jaws. I have almost forgotten

my tears do not alter the ocean.
    There is salt enough. Listen,

listen to the ocean’s lilting lullaby:
    stray this-a-way, sway, sway….

I return to land and bear the pain
    of splitting my tail in two:

I birth myself at the mouth of a cenote,
    among the roots of mangroves

among blind
    fish who do not see me,

though they taste the bleeding
    between my legs;

they live in a maze of tunnels:
    some dead ends, others entrances to the sea.

I rise towards land–-by land, I mean what is covered by air,
    not water. I pluck mangrove leaves

I suckle for salt, and set off
    on moonlit limestone paths.

Leaves quake in the wind like fish scales.
    My legs keep time in bold strides.

I splash in a lake with a new friend.
    In the rarefied mountain air, we race to a buoy.

I laugh as he sputters and spins in place.
    He gasps for help. I tow him

a few strokes, till I can stand again.
    In the man-made lake, calm, elevated,

in fresh water and transported sand,
    there are bottled fears of pirates.

I have walked enough to know
    there are some who do not translate

ferns to sea fans, waves to wide-eyed dreams;
    some who do not see

grass drifts in rivers as it does in wind;
    some who do not believe the prophecies

of the shape-shifting sea: all we pour in
    returns as wind, rain, and absence.

I say, only listen: the riffle of wind on water
    is the riffle of wind

on water is the riffle, the riffle….

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