by Annie Cao
The first time I drowned, I was a child —
my head a wreath of daylilies swallowing the saltwater,
as if it were a richness to be glorified.
Within my throat, the cherub of an appetite
splinters into existence.
I start running; the water unsheathes its tongue
& cries out.
(Cordelia, you know I only love you for
the gossamer of your hair,
the softness your lungs make
when the brine fragments flesh.
Don’t you remember how it felt to be untouchable,
seawater puckering the slivers in your palms &
bubbles cradling your face like a vessel,
prettier than forgotten lethargies?)
Three years ago I wore a coral garland & mercury
rings on my fingers, listened to the sound of the
undercurrent flinching blithe &
as I offered the tendons in my wrists.
I savored the heat off the sand & pretended it was
something unseen, the gulping of angelfish stealing
the storm from me,
the same sweetness the colorless foam breathes
when my bones thaw & disperse.
(Here lays a motherland for your obsessions,
the things you bleed over & worship unrevealed.
Cordelia, the voice of the coastline has
plagued you since the day you were
tell me you haven’t dreamt away your slumber
with oyster pearls & abyssal naiads, tell me
you’ll weep quietly when the tides butcher you
like a creature of their own.)
the greatest thing I’ve ever done
was scrub the salt from my jaws
& ask that it remain a magnetism
to be pacified.
This time, the ocean closes me into a quiet emptiness.
I let myself drift to the sea floor,
scales & skin surrounding me in a milky veil,
my hands a present uncovered.
Every version of prelude in resonance:
When I was a child, the infection unfurled
rampant, scarlet-bodied. Milked gardenia,
gouged alabaster, turgid hands combing
the swimming pool floor. From gossamer to
skin, compulsion worn soft pearl, my skull
bridled in concrete — the lessons all forgotten.
I never spoke of bloodless mornings
or copper-mouthed boys. I let tomorrow
hemorrhage itself to relic, electrifying in every iteration,
my mother’s tears silvering the backs of my hands.
In the epilogue, I’ll resurface prophetic:
blind and sunswept, molten to crimson,
the membrane of every undressed obsession
swaying corpse-like from my jaws.
The Saltwater Theory
Languid, the remnants
of paroxysmal obsession.
Here is what I remember: rusted
palms shoved through rivulets of
sand, the color pink — fingertips,
tender and weepy against foam,
knees scrubbed unripe. Saltwater,
the cruel sting of it. I drift further
into pomegranate currents, Neptune’s
mouth settling plaintively over my
Something rising. Fluttering, feverish
murmur. Saltwater, the cruel sting of
it. A single crack is all it takes, the
carnivore sinking to its knees before me.
Petrified — I am fertile with so much
ruination, my mind swaying against
every iteration of hysteria that mortality
has driven through this flesh.
rising. I have already walked too far into
the hurricane. I am girl turned acolyte
before terror. I surrender, too late: this
will be my worst undoing. I am scared.
I am begging now. Saltwater, the cruel
sting of it. I resurface, sobbing, my face
scathing and slicked.