I tried locating the epicenter of tenderness—its breath
caught between the bathroom sink & my ribcage. Peony
& Daisy acted like lean-tos, hard stems rubbed raw against
each other. They reached up insistently for my arms to cup
their head. In the tub, you floated like a child, patiently
waiting for baptism, your body resting on gentle currents from
jet streams & your amicable laughter—frenetic arms as radio
signals for enchantment. There, I was the earth that sits beneath
a lake, an expansive body providing backdrop for your play &
adoration. In the morning, there were mallards on the patio & you
admired the bottle-green plume of a single male who stared
back, beak filled with tubers. He was more watchful than us both.
The fury of your pursuit for freedom did not go
unnoticed. Fear had crawled into your lower back with hurried
excavations—you tried with no success to wrestle them back into
cashmered tunic & shawl. Your possessions smelled like your
father, holding you in comfort before agitated storms broke down
the door, with waves that followed us to the subway station—shoes
waterlogged with shells. You imagined your head punched against
coral sheets, brain becoming jellyfish tentacles floating back to the
cabin from your childhood. There you could find relief, there you
could find a home in displacement. You held me closer, but I was
not strong enough to prevent the riptide from dragging you back there.
I waited to hold the door open for when you returned, your arms full
of gifts from the pilgrimage—a diary your grandmother wrote in, a cold
cigarette your mother had smoked that morning, & a strand of hair
from your cousin, as a reminder of death’s purposeful relics.
Inside the station, rocks began tumbled from the walls, splashing into
the newborn river. On its surface, old newspapers & a singular black shoe
floated, uninterrupted. I aimed to collect these artifacts before they were
swallowed, casting nets that I threaded, hoping to show you the spoils
upon your return. The PA system told us the conductor had drowned, &
we mourned him in silence before crafting oars from the subway doors
—shifting our bodyweight into dinghies that brought us up to Copley Square.
Road rules no longer made sense when the street was beneath
ten-feet of water, so I flitted past red lights & passing lanes—
I was a freshwater eel who had not eaten or drank, eager to fit
my mouth into another pocked reef & find any source of sustenance.
While you were on your way to anywhere, I was trapped in a city
underwater—treading among church steeple & glass tower, wondering
how you could find me without the lighthouses. Worse yet, God
pressed greedy fingers into the eye sockets of the city, his thin fingers
bone-like, too cold, even when thick with saltwater & saliva. He tore
up trees roots, limp like seaweed, & feasted upon struggling bodies
that could not swim fast enough. When I asked him why he was doing
this, he replied: I find myself wrought with hunger too. But, there was
forever the pull of muscles to shorelines; when I finally brought my
boat to land, you stood there with wheat in your hair—a farmer watching
his cows come in from pasture, except the city had died & you were the
missing witness. You smiled & lodged inside your mouth was the head
of the mallard, green feathers indistinguishable from algae.
Moira J., or Gaagé Dat’éhe (Quiet Crow), is an Indigenous writer who explores being agender, queer, and biracial. Their writing examines relationships between sexuality, spirituality, trauma, displacement, and family in poetry, origin stories, and creative nonfiction. Moira J.’s work has been published in Girls Get Busy Zine, ENCLAVE, Naugatuck River Review, Bayou Magazine, and more. They have upcoming publications with Rising Phoenix River, Sea Foam Magazine, The Account, and The 3288 Review. You can keep updated on Moira J. by going to https://moiraj.wixsite.com/home, or find them on Twitter @moira__j.