You couldn’t hear them move over the forest floor.  The snow was fresh and soft like powder. Each step left an imprint but no resounding echo. You could only hear their breathing. You could not hear their steps.

Algid and windless, the day smacked without breeze. It used its atmosphere like a cave of teeth biting you on the cheek, or on the wrist if your glove slipped down. Your neck if it had become exposed. They had no choice but to walk through. The tension combined with the dropping temperature and lack of water, snack or any sense of direction; how does one not go mad with fury? It was the middle of January, seventeen degrees and she felt it.

Hardly any birds circled so they were mostly trapped in the infinite stillness of the woods and the remnants of a harsh blizzard that slowed them.

 

“It’s the eye of the storm.”

“Okkkk….but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming back.”

“It’s not,” she texted.

She bet her friend didn’t check her weather app. She bet her friend didn’t question her. She bet her friend trusted her to lead.

“Watch, I bet we get the yellow car,” she said to her friend the day they stood in line at the amusement park.

 

It was hot then, shining, blissful. They had eaten nothing but sugar. They were waiting to go to the final water ride of the day, spent, thirsty, aging yet jubilant. The trams were in no particular order, randomized, and every time they waited, she guessed.

“ I guess with about a 98.4% accuracy.”

Leana laughed loudly next to a woman’s ear, so loudly she shot them a look only Cat saw.

“Yeah, ok.”

“What? I have been right every time.”

“That’s 100% though.”

Catarina tapped her thigh to keep the time as they stood.

“Well, you can’t be right every time.”

“True,” Leana said, sort of smirking, half engaged, half stuck in her own secret fixation.

Catarina kept her hands free of the straw most of that day, preferring to play with the strap of her bag or the cap of her aluminum water bottle. She tapped her thigh only in line sometimes. They were engaged off and on but paused when it happened.

“Did I tell you about the time I drove my car into the car dealership?” Leana suddenly said.

“What?! Tell me now.”

But the train was rolling in.  Both women’s eyes widened as the big yellow tram rolled up. Cat smiled the biggest and threw a look behind her exposing all of her teeth.

“Now, you trust my psychic ability?”

Everything was hiding.  The snow had ceased but every once in a while a tree shook when a bird perched and a big clump fell startling them. They would both look up, unspeaking and resentful and a growing worry between them. The cold was a barrier. The distance was a barrier. The unsettling feeling that this was not going to end was a barrier They heard a crow call a few hours ago; at least three or four hours ago. They hadn’t spoken since she looked up and said,

“It must be noon.”

Her friend didn’t question it or speak to her.  Cat turned slightly to check on her. Her breathing was labored. Her cheeks were bright pink and dotted with tiny drops of ice. Leana’s face was pallid, stinging, her endurance waning and their breath came out in synchronized huffs.Together, they marched but separate, each in their own quiet obsession.  Catarina was counting hours. Catarina was reviewing lists. Catarina had practiced this walk, had a deep resolve, a spine made of knife and her knees were going to buckle but she knew what adrenaline can do. She drew hearts on her hand with each passing hour. The only time she pulled down the glove. Pockets devoid of cell phones, only a sharpie and some protein bars, there was no cell service here. She had advised Leana to keep her cell phone in the car so she didn’t lose it. Pliant for show only, Cat reassured her.

“I have a metronomic heart, you know. I can always tell the time”

Leana trudged behind her, adjusting her parka and getting ready for the first small incline.

“Cat..”

This was hours ago, when they were friends. She turned, bright, dawning, her auspicious eight am self: well fed, hydrated, head covered but face still exposed. She smiled to show her teeth.

“You’re full of shit.”

All they saw were endless groves of bare trees dotted with sparse patches of evergreens; a brightening to the dense forest of trunks. An interminable white crystal blanket to cross kept them moving, reserved and privately poignant. All conversation had ceased between the two friends. You could only hear breathing. You could not hear their steps. 

Catarina guessed it was about three or four pm. They had gotten lost, separated from the trail and if they were not out when the sun finally went down, there was no way they were going to survive. She could see it in the distance: the veiled sun, the yellow halo obscured by boundless gray barely shining through the clouds. The sky heavy and pregnant with fresh blizzard. It was an unforgiving winter. It had been and remained unforgiving now. The sunset they faced would turn to black without portrait. We will survive, she had lied.  She knew that soon she would hear the twig snap and that she would run. She didn’t know what her friend do but she did know she would hear her scream. She would dart across the forest as fast as she could. She would sprint. She would sprint the whole way without looking back or without time to reflect on her reflex. She would have no time to wonder.

Forget the whole thing. It was agony to know and it didn’t seem fair. Wear the blindfold. None of this was fair. But she did see the wolf. She was reaching to pull the pen out to mark the four pm chime in scrawl on the veins of her left hand. A ritual of safety. That’s how they met. He was gray and white with yellow eyes. Low to the ground and keen, he held a silent snarl between his teeth. She couldn’t hear their steps. Her head lowered,  she did not reach past her hips any more. Heedful, without making a sound, she turned her head slightly to the left. From her periphery, she saw his friend skulking carefully and quietly on the other side of them, low and snaking through the branches. Walking this clearing for the past five or six miles exposed them. It will be faster, she said. She already knew.

At least one branch had fallen and the wolf wouldn’t see it. He would step on it just as he was getting ready to pounce and she would be afforded an extra second that would propel her. She kept her eyes and head down. She inhaled and felt her pulse begin to thrum and warm her body in anticipation. She began to lift the balls of her feet. She began to clench her palms into fists and from her right, she heard the snap. From the left, she felt the hesitation. She knew there were only those two. She began to run. You could not hear them breathing. You could only hear screech turn to scream and then only her own breath quickening in time with sprint; each quickening step. You could hear a flutter of wings above, one call and if you had time to look up, you’d see a flock of blackbirds pushed to movement from the violence below. But there was no time to look up.

 

“The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death” (or “The Woman Who Ran From Wolves”)

It was 91 degrees and rising. Sunny. Saturday. A bit windy but a bright blue sky and I had been looking forward to the weekend since Monday. Home for a brief stop and my favorite place since I was a kid– the beach. I had the day off. Well, I took the day off. Fourth of July, let freedom reign.  I got my best book and my old bikini and five seconds of space from my family, my colleagues, my friends.  I was ready this summer for love. Ready for whatever may be. My tarot cards had been flashing Two of Cups and I was keeping an eye out. If there’s anything I trust, it’s tarot.

My mother let me borrow her folding chair, a towel, her flip flops. I always needed something when I went home. I always needed something in general. It was a littler windier than I would have preferred, as I said, so that sand whipped my thighs as I was getting ready. Better to wait on the suntan lotion, I thought. It was already too messy. But bright: bright, hot and sunny, like a heat storm which is unusual actually. On windy days, I usually see darker clouds even in the distance but the storm was coming and hadn’t caught up. Skies were serene, blue, clouds looked placid but the wind. Because I was starving, and I knew it would be bad but had to eat, I reached into the red and green Christmas colored bag my mother let me borrow as well.I had only brought a suitcase with the essentials: my laptop, my book, two outfits, underwear, socks, my three year old bathing suit that didn’t fit my breasts right anymore but I kept wearing it. The cup of the inseam twisted so my naturally crooked breasts looked even more crooked.  Frugal and disheveled, I didn’t replace it. I also always brought my toothbrush even though my mother had one for me. I believed in packing light, and flight. I believed in moving.

The minute I opened my hummus container, the wind kicked up once more and blew all over the top so there was a nice grating as I bit into the first carrot stick.  Nevertheless, she persisted. Persist in ideology, robustness, routine. Establish a routine. My new inflammatory flares were forcing me to eat differently, choose differently and make sure I ate breakfast, less coffee, less walking, more veggies. I dipped the second stick in and another gust blew. I turned my face to the left and felt a nice big chunk of sand land on my tongue.  No more bread for me and all the better for it really. If I want to meet a mate, I’d have to shape up.

My friends say I’m lucky. That I’ve always been lucky. Yet, here I am, five years in a row alone and not always the better for it. Rough. I would say I’m getting rougher. I would say I’m getting scabrous, prickly to the touch. Like a cactus but drier inside. And empty. And void. I look at the stand to the right of me noting the yellow flag which means “Caution,” but not “Danger.” Not “Unallowed.”  I place the hummus back in the bag and pull out the container of blueberries pouring a handful into my palm and then beginning to count. On red days, you can only really go calf deep. On yellow days, you have to swim by the stands.  On green days, they didn’t blow the whistle that much.  I stand up to brace the water. I came here to swim.

The sand was scalding hot. The sole of my feet burned a little on the way down. No reprieve, and my cheeks were whipped the whole way down. Hesitant for a moment, I turned back to face the chair once more. Something in my stomach lurched as I looked at it there, alone, made for one. I could hear my family’s laughter in the distance.  Something in my chest hurt. I kept going. Dipping just my toes in at the shore line, the water was ice cold. Coriolis effect be damned, a storm was coming and had brought up the deep ocean currents. It was also July. August had more jellyfish but also warm water. When were there crabs? All the time.Growing up here, I knew everything about the beach.

I usually tried to avoid beaches with lifeguards because you can get away with more and my Everclear Slurpees were more hidden from sight on secluded spots or at night, but to be honest, that was a long time go. Today, it made me feel safe.  The waves weren’t particularly large but there had been some rip current warnings at the beginning of the walkway. A sign was posted; probably always there but today I stopped and read it. Swim parallel to shore.

“I know,” I said out loud, as I began to wade.

I’m a strong swimmer and my friends say I’m lucky. I once ran headfirst into a cement mixer with my car and came out unschathed. Well, I broke my sternum and concussed mildly but the police didn’t take me to the hospital. They took me to jail for drunk driving. My head leaned against a metal toilet as I threw up all night and couldn’t see straight but I lived. I got that charge reduced to a first offense. I got that jail time reduced to house arrest and an ankle bracelet. I got that first arrest completely stricken from the record.  I once also slid across the trolley tracks on my bike and flew headfirst into a car. Doctors said I was lucky I was wearing a helmet or else I would have concussed worse than I had, and probably worse than the cement mixer, and my glasses would have broken in my eyes. I fell through a treehouse and landed on a rusty nail that pierced only the rubber of my shoe, not even touching the foot. The glory of the ocean is current, tides, undertow. The glory of luck is timing. 

I was up to my knees and waiting. Before I went to the beach today, I promised my guides I would do the ritual. Throw the blueberries in the water and say the right name. Thirteen of them. As I waded further in, I began to let one drop from my hand little by little so there was a curling line of blue dots at the surface for a moment. A fish darted past me. An omen. 

“Whole body healing,” I said out loud.

And then dove in. Algid ripples cut through my skin like shards of ice were piercing me. Something pushed my torso backwards: an undulation, a phantom hand.  Arising covered in goosebumps, I let out a long breath. Slowly, I let my toes touch the sea floor doing a quick sweep for broken shells that could cut or crabs that could pinch. Planted, I looked behind me to see if I could still see the fish. My body was pushed backwards by the force of the wave. I swiveled my body to the right a bit to see if I could still see my stuff or had it blown away? Squinting, I could see the little blue chair in the distance. Smiling, turning back to face her, a larger wave was forming. Get smacked or go under. I chose to dive in again. An underwater sway took over and my body was pulled towards it slightly and then pushed towards the floor. It felt like something was dancing with me but viscous, moving and in control. The tips of my toes pressed into the sand as I held my arms upward so I could propel myself back up. It was only three seconds since my head went under and my mouth opened again  to salty air. It felt longer. Where I stood, I could feel the current pulling me backwards now. Had I not been firmly seeded in the ground, I may have floated further. I looked back to see if the lifeguard was still there. But I began to feel dragged.

I let my body take in what I was experiencing. Rip tide. Without any dawdling, I began to swim parallel towards the stand, a little further from my stuff.. I hit the trolely tracks the one time because I didn’t move perpendicular across them. It crossed my mind twice today, that accident. Once, driving here over the bridge and then again as I read the rip tide sign and hearing my friend says “you’re usually lucky anyway. Things have a way of falling in your lap>” She was referring to a job opportunity I was just offered to do private freelance consulting for less hours but more pay than my social work job.” This came shortly after I decided I wanted to quit social work and I hadn’t even applied for anything.  But i’ve been fortunate in accident too. And I did feel my luck changing.  I swam backs towards the beach perpendicularly for a moment, then parallel again. Then perpendicular, then parallel. What rip tides do is exhaust you. They pull you further and further out and because  they are fast, they pull you far. They don’t take up the expanse of the short; just one line, but that one line is a bad place to be.  You have to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current, but it’s not easy and by the time you’re out, you’re far out.  did about two more of these “T-movements:” to the left, then forward back to the beach. As I got my footing again, I looked to the lifeguard who seemed unconcerned by anything I was doing. She can see better than me.  I felt calmer.

“Perhaps that was just a strong current,” I say out loud and see a family standing near the shore. “There are children in this water.”

But you can have rip tides form without knowing anywhere there are breaking waves. My gut dropped. I also felt something inside of me, underneath the water, some terror. I felt the pull of fingertips upon me. My head began to spin a little. Shivering, I begin to wade back towards the mother with her black curly hair and pink one-piece gripping her young daughter’s hand with her shorter but just as black and curly hair in a pony tail. Their bathing suits match.. They all have a dreadful look. Probably adjusting to the temperature. Her husband was wearing blue swimming trunks and has that typical dad bod; beer gut, mustache, sparse hair on chest and the son looks like my dead brother. Something in my sternum creaks. Old broken bones. Suddenly, very taken by my thighs glistening with droplets as I emerge, I keep my head down as I walk past them. I give the boy a glance but nothing more. His whole body is pale where the rest of the family is olive. Something in my heart moves. I hope the girl finds my blueberry. Or the fish that found my blueberry.

My seat is still there and covered with sand and I’m surprised it didn’t blow away. All that is weighing on it is sand that I had pressed on top of the two metal bottom bars and a prayer. My red and green Christmas bag too. My hands are a little shaky for some reason as I reach for my pink towel. I feel dizzy again. Plopping down without drying, giving up on it, pebbles stick to the back of my thighs.

“Ugh.”

I look down. I can’t get my breath.

“Ugh.”

The water must have kicked up my mild vertigo.

“Deep breaths.”

It helps to speak out loud when these attacks happen, although sometimes it helps to do nothing at all. Sometimes I sit clenched and don’t speak and barely breathe and my legs just fall off. I felt like I couldn’t move again. Like I couldn’t stand. Breathe. The wind kicked u.  Sand got in my eye and I had to close it. Breathe. Then my face was hit. Ugh. Then I opened my eyes and there it was. The way you see things matters. The way you see them move. Right before something hits, your brain flashes: Oh. And it’s not like they say, I didn’t see my past. Well, I did but I didn’t see my past in this life so much as all the other lives coming together, coalescing into a nice tight and bitter coffin. The mordant taste of betrayal and several and today on my tongue: sandy and caustic. The knowing. The way I saw it first. The way under water I even thought, this isn’t it but it could have been. I’m a strong swimmer. The warning. The current, the warning. The dizziness, the warning. The way I read this article about something similar earlier. The way I rode over the bridge. The way I stopped in front of the sign. The way the umbrella flew towards me and some people think attracting luck means that the umbrella will blow past you but once the pointy end hit my chest, I knew it was something else.

 Once my throat let out that air, that final air, I saw the first life of the hooded black women.  Once my neck lobbed backwards and I now longer cared about the sand on my tongue,  I saw myself walking across a lake of ice.  As my tongue fell out, I could feel my body press into the bottom of the chair; once inexplicably sturdy, now tilting to the left. Once my lids closed and everything  stopped, I knew that luck meant you’re hit, and  you’re the legacy now. 

 

“The woman who went to the beach”

Jake had trepidation but allowed me to take the kayak out without him a couple weeks later. We were having what people say “an Indian Summer.” It was sixty nine degrees and he was busy with his new girlfriend and I desperately wanted the respite away from my parents house.  I come home to visit them every other month and some days I curl up inside myself in my dead brother’s room. But today, I was strong: rested, full (I had eaten a bowl of oatmeal and two cups of blueberries in the morning and snacked on Cliff bars throughout the trip) and rowing. I was also separated from everyone else, alone on the river. Also four hours in. Also not sure where I was.  Also left my phone in the car so it wouldn’t get wet. I marked the passing time with a pink Sharpie; drew a line on my forearm every time I thought an hour passed. Four pink lines. Petrified would be downplaying what I was feeling.  When something knocked the boat the first time, I ignored it. I brushed it off as anxiety. You make things up, Lion. Convincing myself it was a current, I paddled on. Keeping my eyes on the tops of trees for sunbathing snakes, I hadn’t looked down to see the depth of the lake or that I was in the middle of a lake or I was so far from everyone and in open water until. I wanted to get away from the snakes.
“You’re obsessed with this drama of a snake falling into your kayak and murdering you.”
“Snakes don’t murder, Jake,” I interrupted again. “They just kill. Don’t be dramatic.”
“Oh, I’m being dramatic, Cat? I’m being dramatic???” he laughed
I was remembering the first time we talked about my phobias near the shore.
“How do you convince someone their house isn’t haunted?”
I was talking to him about the fine line art of “reality testing.”
“Or that they are not haunted?”
I was explaining how to hold two things at once without favor.
“Or that people aren’t watching them?”
It was windy and chilly. We both had bathing suits but sweatpants over them.
“Reality testing is a common practice for people experiencing psychosis in which they talk to another person about the delusion and most people do it with a psychiatrist. BUT,” I suddenly project my voice, eager to keep the attention, “You can also try to test with the person you are having the delusion about but it only works with the person if you get an affirmative answer.”
He was gazing at the waves but engrossed.
“You mean you only believe them if they say yes?”
“YES.”
I dig my toe into the sand.
“Imagine deliberately asking someone if they were stalking you or watching you. You would only believe them if they say yes because otherwise you would always think they are protecting themselves.”
He nodded, looking at me, “That makes sense.”
“So  I had a ton of clients that believed their neighbors were spying on them. I could tell them they weren’t but only their neighbors could admit it. And no one would do that. And if they did, then what?  Probably exacerbate everything. And in our world, people are being stalked online. So people kind of spiral,” I make that perpetual motion with my hands, “And you don’t get any definitive answers because the truth is we are all being spied on.”
I watch a wave crash.
“It’s not just in our heads. Some people are just really sensitive.”
“Hmm,” he started. “So how would you ever reality test?”
“You don’t. I mean, you try. Bring statistics and probability into it. The likelihood of the TV being directed at you is high because of the way advertising works now, but it’s also not sentient so to break the pattern of thinking electronics are talking to you, you first have to accept they were programmed to cater to your desires, and then to ignore them. But the likelihood of your neighbors watching you is less. Your crush, maybe. An abusive ex, probably. The mailman, unlikely. And the internet is father: always watching.”
“The algorithm,” he said.
I was always talking about the algorithm.
“So anyway, you can’t actually tell me that I don’t owe these ghosts a favor because you can’t tell me that my house isn’t haunted, that I didn’t invite them, that I didn’t communicate with them and ask them for help. Only the ghosts can tell me I don’t owe them anything. Only years can tell me. Only no one can tell me because I would only believe the affirmative. You can’t say no.
“I can’t.”
“No, you can’t.”
We both watched my feet in the sand.
“But I can teach you how to kayak down Alligator River.”
“Yeah.”
We both watched the waves crash and I started guessing with a 98.3% accuracy rate.

We stopped at the pier on the way back to my room, saltwater taffy stuck to our lips and miles to go.
“Remember when we used to race,” he suddenly said.
“Don’t you fucking dare.”
But he was already running.

“I’m obsessed with snakes but not bitten by any snakes so there is that,” I said out loud.
I was in the middle of a lake, far from the  bank and I had just felt a bump against the bottom of my kayak. The boat rocked a little to the right but not much and Jake, was right, I am dramatic. It is probably the current. It was probably the current.
“But alligators are moving north through the intercoastal waterway and with climate change they could start settling. We are not far from North Carolina..”
“Ok where did you read that?”
“I Googled it.”
“You purposely Googled it!I told you not to Google anything…”
“Oh, I should just plug my ears and cover my eyes and trust you during alligator season.”
“WHAT? What did you Google?” “Are alligators moving north on…”
“No,” I splashed him with my oar. “I did google that, yes, but I Googled “are there alligators in Virginia?”
“And it said they are moving north.”
“Yep.”
“Lion cub,” he always called me lion cub. “The only thing you have to look out for are snakes falling from the trees.”
He pointed up to show me: a little black rat snake hanging from a cypress just to the right of us. I turned to him and smiled: big with all teeth.
“Cool.”
“Very cool,” he affirmed.

My arms are tired and I am not sure why I didn’t take his advice. He told me not to go out alone and definitely to stick to the route with people.
“I won’t.”
“You drift.”
“I don’t.”
He stared flatly.
“How will you get there? You don’t have a rack.”
“YOUR car. Trade. I just got it detailed and your car smells like dead fish.”
“True.”
He stared again.
“You drift.”
“What else is there to do but drift down No Alligator River?”
He relunctantly handed me his keys and took my freshly cleaned Honda into his driveway. But his intuition was right. I daydreamed, became so obsessed with finding rat snakes in the trees that I lost all sense of direction. I don’t even know what direction I came from. Whimsical. They call me whimsical. And I was whimsically carried downstream and now had to row back to the sides of the lake with the trees while both watching out for snakes and trying to find my path which I felt was behind me, but I’d been wrong before. As I rowed to turn around, I felt my biceps tearing and my calves had already cramped long ago.
“Fuck. I’m tired”
No, I was exhausted. Smiling through exhaustion. My arms were growing and so was my hunger, my impatience, my budding fit of panic trapped in miles of water surrounded by miles of swamp. I felt a push at the bottom of my canoe like a sudden strong current. It’s just the current. Looking to the sides, I tried to calculate if (and only if) I was literally too exhausted to row, could  climb up the bank and rest keeping my canoe (borrow, lion cub, I will let you borrow the kayak some days) safely secure at the bottom? It’s hard to tell with the swamp.  The bank could contain solid ground or dense thick marsh. I would have to abandon my kayak anyway to climb it and there was no telling what  I would fall into. I had nothing to tie it with. Truly, I had no choice but to paddle back, back to where I had seen the three couples earlier getting ready to venture out. I was concerned about my father. No, brush that from your mind.
“I will make it.”
I had eaten everything. It’s true. I have very little impulse control and when I am anxious, my stomach grips itself but when I am hungry, I am voracious and my salivation drives me. The bag next to me was empty and my canteen (I brought two) was down to a quarter of the bottle.
“It’s ok,” I let myself float.
I could not row anymore. I deserved and needed the rest. That’s what started this. It was only three pm. I had a few more hours before it got dark. It was hard for me to relax. In a state of constant hyper vigilance, I tensed every muscle in my body and constantly.
“So everything hurts,” I told him on that first trip.
“Yeah,” he rowed ahead a bit.
“I just want to be prepared.”
“How do you feel today?”
“Oh, fine,” I cheerily responded.
It was easier with him. He had packed extra; extra things that I may not have remembered or ever even thought of at all: peanuts and water and a sweatshirt. My arms hurt. I had goosebumps. I wore loose-fitting pants but a sleeveless top. The sun would go down. My knees were sore. My legs were shaking, the muscles clamping and unclamping slowly but Jake and I laughed a lot. That’s what I’ll remember.
“What will you remember?”
“What the alligator from the dream means.”
“Ah, the alligator dream again. Always the alligator dream.”
He turned around and smiled at me, leading me.
“What does it all mean?”
I let my mind wander.
“You always ask me about it.”
He rowed so he could face me and float backwards while I floated forward.
“And what does it all mean?”
“Sometimes an alligator is just an alligator.”

He caught me gazing up at the trees.
“A lot of times, they won’t even bother you. You may not even notice them.”
I’ll notice them.”
“Yeah, of course, Cat.”
Jake showed me four snakes that day and I showed him two.
“See?”
“See? I am beating you.”
“Whatever, when I look up I see them. I don’t always look up, sometimes I look down. You can’t always look up. You have to focus”
“True but. Maybe you should look up more.
When it dropped from the branch, I reacted as I always thought I would. With swiftness, I gracefully tumbled over the side leaving my bag but taking the oar. I tumbled. Mildly disoriented, I felt  young, the way I felt when I visited the beach with Leana or Alex.
“Look! Look!”
I would jump the small waves in the water to crash into the big waves. I had zero fear as a child, none. In fact, I played in the surf all summer long enjoying the pull; the way a wave will pull you back like the fletching of the arrow to the bow. I was being plucked, ready to launch. I was gliding forward like a seal. I was riding it, one long wave and then above water and thenI was suddenly in the river, wading, the water at my waist. My oar floating gently away and I peeked in the canoe to confirm it was a rat snake. My bag was next to it, placid, both my pack emptied of all food, only a quarter of a canteen of water and it was gray. It was not black like a rat snake but gray like a tree trunk lying lifeless, defenseless and not full of venom. Dead, or never alive, the branch that had scared me right out of the boat. Sometimes an alligator is just an alligator. Sometimes a branch is just a branch.
“What was the last thing you said?”
“When?”
Jake coughed, “In your dream. I remember you saying sometimes you were trying to figure out if it was a crocodile or an alligator but you said something too.”
I turned slowly to see it’s two eyes and briefly it’s wide open even-toothed smile before it ducked.
“In the dream?”
Before I was pulled.
“No, just now.”
“Oh.”
I was twisted over and over like the way a wave will catch you in the surf and tumble you, keep it’s watery fingers on you.
“I told you the alligators were moving North.”
My lungs were full of water and just freshly out of breath.
“No, what was the last thing you said, Cat. Before you saw its jaws?”
I was feeling perpetual motion. 
I said, “Oh, I said it would be either be a snake or an alligator.”
I was feeling my left hip disconnect from my waist. 

 

 “The Dream of Alligator River”

I believe in wormwood,
dried root,
my brother’s ashes
in a silver heart or
a ceramic urn
locked in vase
locked in mirrored chest;
a chant, a poem.
datura when the time
is right.

sometimes I do ceremony,
sometimes I just let things pass.
we do that for others,
carry our grief quietly,
bury things deep
within ourselves.
but sometimes in a fit,
I spill over.
tell you everything.

you said
I like to swim
so I am braised with razor;
become a carnation lake
at your feet and
you said rain–
I like gardens.
so I condensed and
waited to show off my new arms
lined in fresh alyssum.
my cycle     I always meet them in
winter
where my only
light is moon.
my flowers blossom
under the chilled night,
drip a dark nectar and
I am thirsty and
you already know–
I believe in
altar.

I believe in overflowing
chalice.  you believe in
holding space for growl,
holding me with
distance.
you watch me lay the
dill in bowl, line the bed
with tourmaline.
run the bath with
chamomile and yarrow.
I am full of tincture now.
I can move like a jaguar:
slow and black and
hungry.
I am hard to see that way.
you said
I am game.

you’ve been watching
jaguars move,
you’ve been memorizing motion,
I drape myself in constellation
so you can better see me,
storm so you can better feel
me and I traipse across the forest
floor waiting to be found.
my tonsils growing
chelicerae,
my rib cage growing legs,
my bottom becoming fat
with thread and
I know what you like
and I know that
you are game.

you are writhing
game in tiny, tiny
snowflake threads
hung far above the
ground.
 switch places
I become the woods
encircling your howl.
you become the kicking,
breaking patch,
the river marked
by footprints, then
lost, then drowned.

in winter
it is long and dark
and hard to contain
myself
gorged with nectar
hidden by
the wind.
sometimes we do that for
others: hide our
spines.
you watch me prey;
sip the drip of
the effulgent crescent
bulb I worship.
you become the shivering
deer, caught fly,
gutted bunny hooked in

jaw.

I become the
scorned red bath,
the woods,
the bottom.

 

“datura moon”

you are buried deep underground
like winter’s favorite
slaughter,
spring’s daughter
Persephone
in her tomb of
bone and gold.
you are the sudden
eruption of fruit on vine,
and fences lined with
a crust of
flowers.
you wraith like honeysuckle
and rage in thorns.

you are both
the rising,
and the metamorphosis:
the  lasting arrival.
you are the dark queen
in her final hours
returned to Earth
to wage a
war that will murder
lives.

you are Persephone’s
final futile hours
screaming at the flowers,
soaking everything in
massacre.

 

“the crusade”

(the red book: Persephone)

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