Like all good things this is chewed on. That’s her tongue in my cheek, curled up with my family and me. That’s her voice, those are her teeth biting my caution and wrists. She says we know what we’re doing, says it down my throat. I believe her.
Ask the sisters and brothers I was never given what kind of man I am. They know it best.
I don’t want a house. No floors, sold my furniture. I have three lives left. I’m spending this one with my impossibility. I hold onto what’s mine and mine is this.
This is the wind, this is between the waves, this is her mouth and my ears. We need each other.
That stings, I tell her.
Are you worth your salt? my mother asked me. I quit growing when I was young but she never quit a thing. To the bluest holes in the sky, she grew. I don’t find her anymore.
I’ve spent all my lives trying to sleep beneath the loudest sound.
From my mother I learned to run from what’s safe. She used to put her hands on either side of my face before I left for school. I’d squeeze her fingers, trying to keep her there, to give her everything inside my head.
See these bones, see me open and fevering. Her hips flutter, her hair leaves sand on my chest. Can you feel the world on its knees? She shuts her eyes.
What matters is where I’ve been and I’ve been to the bottom of every shower. With the lights off, I can hear my father telling me to sing. I can see him pacing back and forth, moving through the world like steam.
It’s never my hair in the drain.
I’m thinking of wearing a watch again. It’s me and this other guy at the hippo exhibit in the zoo. He’s wearing a black hat, looks nice, he’s got the face for a hat, slacks on his legs, a silver watch around his wrist. I don’t remember when I got here. He glances at me.
I’m thinking of wearing a watch again, I say to him.
He smiles. There’s a light in him now. Why’d you ever stop? he asks.
It fell off when I saved the universe, I tell him.
What’d you save it from? he says. His voice is gentle and fuzzy-soft.
Itself, I say. What else?
I knew him and I know he knows me but I watched the world come undone. Time was melting, would have melted to nothing. I dug through the stars, saw ocean and lava swirling into the longest black. Minutes flew like tornado wings against my neck and eyes. You can’t go backwards after that, not for a second. You can’t live in the confines of knowing.
Lions are my little girl’s favorite. I took her to the zoo every weekend I could and she’d sit with her teensy hands against the fence, watching lions being lions for hours. I’d carry her home on my shoulders. Sleep tight Nora, I’d say. Roar, she’d say back.
I didn’t see it happen, the other guy says.
Of course not, I say. I saw it so no one else would. I got the call while I was asleep on the couch. The universe is splitting down the middle, they said. Move fast, move fast, before it’s over. Three two one.
My little girl, she’s dead or not born yet.
The hippos stomp around. I guess we owe you one, says the other guy.
What I know: In one year and forty seven days I’ll see a little girl and think she’s mine. I’m sorry, reaching out, I’m sorry. Her teensy fingers long and bony, her hair short. She’ll be looking at me like I’m dead. Three two one, something will burst and crackle in me so loud you’ll all hear it.
Mariya Poe has a BFA in Writing from the Pratt Institute. She was the winner of the Stony Brook Fiction Prize in 2015, and her work has been published in Hobart.