She lost parts of herself loosened from her belly, the parts sharing her eyelashes and her soft black hair. How can I say she scooped up a not-yet-baby from toilet water? That her boyfriend put the baby she knew to be a girl into a ziploc bag? How can I say he held the bag in my face while he laughed? A seahorse of a baby. Today, holding her children she feels incomplete. She cries even now, nearly twenty years later. Put an ear to her cavernous bell—she sounds like an ocean, pulse or wind, implying emptiness. Or rage. Is it Isabel—the daughter always inside her mother's mouth? Both salt and shore. She will tell you the distance between your ear pressed against seashell waiting to hear the ocean is the same distance between muscle and rib cage waiting to hear the heart’s cracking a rolling tide inside her body. It murmurs against the shore’s ragged edges and she witnesses wet kelp—thick bulbs torn free from seafloor—bob and recede their bodies inevitably pulled to shore. This, she knows, is gravity, the sway of a pregnant moon but it is also something like absence, small shells starshot across shores, living quickly burrowing back to sand, minute trails the only sign of their presence, washed and tumbled. When the kelp is pulled back again she feels the tug against her cannon, the clapper held suspended. Someday she will ring, empty shell and empty cage, still in tidal motion.
I want to say the lake has drowned. And something about the way we dreamed of kelp. And something about the way you started to drown, and the way the lake cajoled stars and darkness into its water alongside you and into my eyes until I could no longer tell the difference between sky and water, while on the beach your mother, horrified, screamed something about how it should've been me but a narwhal of a man, a Poseidon of the lake, put me on his back, took me to air—asked me why would I love the body, the river-mouth that would not grieve for sadness. This is what it means to live—I say; if death is anything it is mercy. If I say death is anything it is the way we dreamed, drowned in the lake, our hair thin as marsh grass and soft as waves alongside the shore, our bodies floating back to water, a thin membrane separating skin from river-mouth. If we survive your mother will count constellations, name us for stars. I want to say something about how narwhals drown in ice entrapments, open air shrinking as ice encroaches, teeth a twist, a triton. I want to say, through milky water, a gargled mouth—mercy is all we have.
Stephanie Bryant Anderson earned her B.S. in English and Psychology from Austin Peay State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Passages North, Birmingham Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, and others. Her chapbook Monozygotic | Codependent (2015) is available from The Blue Hour Press. Currently Stephanie is completing an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling.
Andrea Spofford writes poems and essays, some of which can be found or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, The Account, inter|rupture, New South, The Portland Review, Sugar House Review, Revolver, Vela Magazine, Puerto del Sol, and more. Andrea is poetry editor at Zone 3 Press. Find her online at http://andreaspofford.com and on Twitter @andspoff.