I’m not sure if it’s my jealously of the sky
that has me afraid to touch it
or my fear of drowning that makes me hate
how does my body crave water?
grabbing the edge of a swimming pool
in a vice grip, I kick at the bottom,
desperate to find footing somewhere.
careful to avoid the deep end.
& I think this is fear.
struggling to lift a glass to my lips
without my fingers shaking.
my head hurts thinking about
hot showers &
don’t even tell me there’s a storm approaching.
I hide in my room under covers
when it rains. my heart beats as loud
as thunder. the darkest clouds always
look like claws to me.
is this what anxiety feels like?
being thirsty & everyone telling me
to drink water as if it isn’t poison?
if only I could breathe underwater
grow gills like a fish
but there’s a flood & I’m trying to make myself
into a boat & I’m sorry—
sinking is the one thing I’m great at doing.
my happiest is when I reach a shallow end.
when the tides take pity on me & stop attacking.
when I can put my toes into the water
& not have someone push me into it.
when they tell me this is how I’ll learn
even as I tire myself out flapping my arms
against the current.
when they tell me I need water to live
& I’m not sure If I want to
not if living means never being on land.
if only I saw this water a mirror.
its blue reflected of open sky
but the water, unlike a mirror, cannot break.
its surface only temporarily displaces when touched upon.
the ocean symbolic of me. I can lose myself
for a while, but will always keep coming back.
into this place
even if I don’t want to.
say my fear is generational.
passed down from ancestors I never knew,
or got the chance of knowing. when they were
stripped of their human
like their skin was old cloth. tattered
at the seams. stitched with bamboo
that was bonding them to their homeland.
now the threads have been cut.
replaced with chains.
anchored onto boats, taken into
a place I’ll soon call home
simply because I’ve only lived here
& I’m sorry
isn’t it sad how they were forced out
into water? had nowhere to escape but
under? I think I understand why now.
why they jumped overboard into the ocean,
birth blue their bodies. allowed the waves
to devour them whole.
escaping what they were to become
to avoid the memories of who they were before.
I discover no footprints within oceans
so when I say I want to go back
it’s only metaphorically.
I see the ocean as tears symbolic
of grief for what is lost. I can never find
what I’m losing—
ain’t no such thing as still water.
the tides are always moving
as if running away from themselves.
but ocean can only go where it’s allowed.
the strength of water means nothing
when something is blocking its way
so maybe the ocean is body symbolic
of what I want to sacrifice. I hope
to never find all that I want to lose.
as I hear the gnarling teeth of rushing tide,
this water at a distance at its most calm,
I think I was twelve when I discovered fear.
the news telling a story of a black boy–
still young but older than me– had leaped
into a creek & didn’t come back up.
a witness said he had disappeared somehow,
vanished, as if the water devoured him
& refused to spit him back out.
I didn’t follow the story long enough to know
if his body was found. on good days, I’d like
to imagine so. that the water found use for him.
that he was symbolic of Jesus
or Emmitt Till or some other dead black boy
we’ll never know because no one knows
is missing & I’m sorry—
I see the ocean as home symbolic
of being lost & I can never find
what I’m searching to find.
I want to ask the ocean
to swallow my body whole & spit me out
other than tsunami waves
as I want to be part of the sky,
touch the blue that hasn’t threatened to kill me,
without destroying everything I touch
when I fail to reach it.