I ignored his question,
showed him the
callous on my palm,
referencing my need
to grip.
sometime I have rough sleep,
that’s all, I shrug the bruise
off.
he licks my hand  with his tongue
without questioning my need to
hold everything so tightly
I’ve succumb to carpal tunnel,
arthritis, delusions of
grandeur and infancy.

has anyone ever talked to you about splitting?”
the doctor asks.
I was twisting the straw
in my fingers, contorting my
face and confessing things,
sometimes i like to shoplift.
“Who is Catarina?”
the doctor asks.
sometimes I like to fuck men with wives.

“splitting is a phenomenon in which you sort of leave your body
to allow another persona
to take over.”
the doctor says.
sometimes I like to squeeze worms in my fingers
until they are dead.
“like possession?”

my posture is severe,
having been found hunched over I am
upright, hands crossed and
waiting.
sometimes I like to peek at Christmas presents.
“no, more like split personality.”
the doctor is taking notes and
eyeing me so intensely, I almost
laugh. don’t tell him my name
is Arachne. not
yet.

sometimes I watch the mirror dance in candlelight
            and wait for her to come in
              I break men
like the swell that rises over bridges
engulfing islands with her mouth,
we break men with turns of
tides.

“Sarah, have you ever felt like  you were standing outside
of yourself?”

we break men with
dulcet metronomy.

“Poltergeist”

dream I was being sent to hell. when I asked how to get to purgatory, someone said “pray.”

After work, I head out. Almost immediately. I pack thebowl. Smoke. Repack the bowl. Make a cup of tea. Head out. I get my papers done, generally. I get my paperwork in. I have a mounting to do list that keeps me functioning. Today it says:

–read syllabi
–look for lightbulbs in storage closet.
–sign up  outreach.
–read texts for class
–begin sw series

I love being packed to the brim with ideas to keep me occupied.  I devolve into an automatic writing session as I am distracted before my walk. I do this sometimes. Close my eyes pick up a pen, ask God to talk through me and I write it. Sometimes with my left hand. TOday it says:

God moves through me like water. I am everything. I feel everything. I am an angel. There is no time. 

I am wrapped in a blue cool light and my purple peacoat. I am on the street by 6:45 pm and moving away from the bridge. I am not prepared to cross the bridge today. I take the University side again. I am at Market and 32nd with a blink of an eye when someone asks me how to get to the train station. I have no earthly idea what’s going on and can say this firmly, as I keep walking. I sometimes pretend I don’t speak English in these situations. Shake my head and throw my hands up. I have no earthly idea what’s going on, I say and keep walking towards the train station. 

It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s that I have no idea where I am.  Better to pray they find a more unshakeable scout than me. Someone who may just lead them there, arm in arm, on their nightly walk around the town. I am at the train station and laughing uproariously in five minutes. I am pushing along, suddenly looking up at a sign that reads 22 and Walnut. I am wrapped in a blue cool light, breath condensing on a window near Chestnut St. saying out loud, there is no time.

 

1/9/2017

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”

We met up a few weeks later when I was back in town. Able to borrow his ex’s old kayak and oar we headed to the dismal swamp.
“ I released my alligator snapping turtle here,” I remind him.
“You never had an alligator snapping turtle.”
“We do this every time. Yes I did!”
“Ok, pay attention,” he said.
The name made it sounde desolate but it was lush, full of sycamores and bald cypress, my favorite, I loved watching the spanish moss hang. I had a hard time focusing once I got around a lot of plants. I couldn’t retain all I learned but was mezmerized by their foliage, the green, the light glinting through branches, the sun hitting water, a large stone, a magpie darting, the scurry of a chipmunk.
“Pay attention.”
“Ok. I did have an alligator snapping turtle though. His name was Michaelangelo.”
“Cute.”
We started slow. He led my boat to the shore and steadied it so I could hop in.
“Put your paddle behind you. When you are alone, you will do it this same way but get more in the water. Because I am here, I can push you off a little.
“What about cottonmouths?”
He just shook his head. Then he placed his paddle above his head.
“Take your paddle and find the center like this.” He made his thumb and index finger wrap around it. “You can change it as you go but see what feels comfortable and balanced. Even. Find a place that feels like the weight is balanced on one side.”
I bit my tongue a little so my tongue poked out and mimicked him, looking up at him through my sunglasses for approval. He nodded and twirled his paddle like a baton but dropped it on the ground.
“Yeah, “ I said. “You’ll get the cottonmouths.”
He pushed me a bit more in the water but I waited for him to get in his boat before doing anything. We only went out for about an  hour and Jacob showed me the basics of paddling, or forward stroke and told me to focus on my core not my arms. That was easy. Dip one blade forward and then the other falls back.  Then draw stroke and rudder stroke to move sideways and back to shore. He told to me swivel my body to face the blade when I wanted to turn. We had some speed  so he showed me that I could set the blade in the water, lean my body slightly one way when I want to turn but and rely on the momentum to keep it up.
“See.”
“No,” but I managed.
“You can also do this when you get a nice wind.”
He was a bit ahead of me and I was placing one paddle in the water and letting the other stand up like he was. I could feel it. I could feel it turn I mean.  It was quite easy. While I didn’t understand everything he explained, you can attune to the water fast. A rudder stroke was just a way to will water. If you asked me to explain the mechanism, I couldn’t but I did it several times. It reminded me of the perpetual motion game I played as a kid except without as much movement. My dad used would roll his fists one on top of the other and just repeat: it’s perpetual motion, lion, you can’t stop it. I would jump on top of him and put all of my weight on him and laugh. He was very strong. Perpetual motion, he would say over and over turning his fists and I couldn’t stop it. Grab them, claw them, sometimes bite them. I couldn’t stop him.  Until he needed a sip of wine. We let our kayaks float for a bit.
“You can look up and try to find snakes.”
I had been looking up but hadn’t seen anything.
“Or down to see cottonmouths. Or Michaelangelo.”
“I’ve been doing push ups,” I beamed and formed my left arm into a right angle to show him my bicep.
“No, you haven’t. But they look great.”
I laughed.
“My arms hurt,” I said. “Let’s go back.”
I looked up at the pines lining the shore; still green, some browning. Warm fall. I didn’t see any snakes but I saw a few ripples in the water as a school of fish swam by.
“You can see bats here sometimes,”  he said.
“Cool,” I was looking down again.
I saw more ripples around my boat.
“Pickerel you said, Jake?”
“Yeah, or catfish. Lots of catfish.”
Back on the bank, he extended his hand and helped me out. Jacob was right. It was easy, relaxing. My arms were toned and fit  and ready for this. I could see my right tricep bulging in the sun as I rowed back to shore.  Growing, pulsing, moving towards something bigger with each stroke of the oar, I smiled. Smiling while tired, that is the women’s armor. We surprise you being continually broken and rowing.
“I want to be prepared,” I told Jacob.
“You don’t have to go out that often. I’m telling you,” he rested his hand on my back as we I got out of the boat.  “The trip I want to take you on is easy.”
“I’m not strong enough, Jake. I want to get stronger.”
“It’s only going to be about three hours.”
“Jake.”
“Yeah.”
“I also heard that the alligators are moving north.”
He laughed.
“Stop googling things.”

 

Jake took me out the next day as well and we went a little further down Lake Drummond, staying out an extra hour so I can practice turns.
“There is a legend of the swamp, Jake. A bride died just before her wedding. She stays out here in her white canoe and holds a lamp looking for her husband.”
“Was she killed by an alligator?”
“Didn’t say. Will have to check when we get back.”
Jake was paddling backwards and facing me.
“Isn’t that hard?”
He shrugged.
“Next time, I am going to bring my camera,” I said. I squinted. The sun was bright and today I forgot my sunglasses. We were in the middle of the lake, far from the bank. I felt safe with him there. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen a single moccasin.”
“Or lamented bride.”
“Or bat.”
“Well maybe tonight.”
“Or Michaelangelo.”
I dipped my index finger in the water, smiling. It was the end of September, 71 degrees and sunny.

after each meeting,
I stood awkwardly and
made small talk.
I would give almost any
woman my number and barely
kept up with what I had told
anyone but I

 made efforts.
one day I got a fortune cookie
that said
“focus in on the color yellow
tomorrow for good luck.”
this meeting held
a lot of talk of God,
as it had a few catholics
and devoted disciples like
I, interested in the supernatural
themes of faith and
manifestation.
we spent many days
focusing on the third step
regardless of topic
and the passivity of that step,
being actually a willing action,
yet a passive stasis to uphold
is what kept me under spell.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God
as we understood him”


the carpet was blue
with yellow circles everywhere
and that’s probably why
I made it my home group
shortly after I got the fortune cookie.
after much reluctance to join
any of them, ironically,
I picked the only group
that was mixed but
mostly men.
just me and one or two others.
and these men were
not young, but old.
I slowly invited more women
and they showed.

what they always ask me
is what my motive is.
I cannot simply say
that I looked at the carpet
and saw it was yellow
as someone spoke about the
divination of action into form.
I did not intend
to build the group,
amass it,
celebrate it,
throw an anniversary picnic,
show up weekly and
listen, share, open
vulnerabilities but listen.
To wives and the ways advantageous
players play,
then let my serpent spine
sizzle in its case,
one day call them all sexist,
balk at the coming year’s celebration,
do nothing but exit
and get all of the women
to leave.

“God”

sometimes when I think back
to my fuck ups or falling down,
I come here and I see all these
women and I think,
whose answered prayer am I?
she said
and that struck me.
when women speak
I put my head down deferentially
but also out of my own
need to curl up
inside myself.
It’s winter, 2015,
just past the new year,
I’m broken hearted
and knee deep in
some fucking secrets
but whose answered prayer
am I? who called
the wounded shepard
here? It’s 2015 and I had
just been gifted three thousand
dollars from my grandmother
that my parents called and asked
for back.

I gave them two thousand and
used the  rest to move out of
the townhouse
into a one bedroom
in the heart of Kensington.
embraced by the “Auspicious
Coin Laundry” service next door.
no one would ever miss my house.
I didn’t have anything left o
over but I never did.
it’s worth mentioning that when I was
eighteen and just home for
the summer from college,
my mother told me they had
cleaned out my savings account.


“family”

I am surrounded by men
who are wolfish in detonation
but repenting for a lifetime
of substance abuse
so we nod when they say
things that are aptly
reflected instances in which
they felt a guilt greater
than themselves.
they usually begin with things
like
I took advantage of her
and I cross my legs.

I am wearing brown tights, brown
heeled boots and a cream turtleneck
sweater dress.  my hair is
short, uncombed and strange
and I am mostly plain.
I wear light blush, mascara and
chapstick but I don’t spend all
day about it.
it is important as a woman
to catalogue what you were wearing
and how you generally look.
also I had gained some weight
first, before I  discovered that
counting beans will gain you
phone bill money.
when you tell the audience the story
they can gauge reaction better.
were you homely, girl?

I was neither homely nor
exceptional,
merely watching the blue chips
of nail polish flake onto
the floor as I found
my hands to be urgent
suddenly.

“confessions #2”

 

the day I arrived in the hotel
in the financial district of New York
to meet a Russian photographer
who promised me a night in an expensive
suite and a binding contract
that has been violated over time
without my awareness,
my nails were painted
blue to match my
bruised knees.

spread more, all the
way.

I thought that was
cute. he gave me a fishnet
black onesie I ripped a hole
in but wear on dates
to remember us by.
 and even though
he took advantage of me
and you felt betrayed
by some unshaved labial
part of me,
I made my half of rent
for once.
in the car from the bus
stop on my smile
spread and the bickering
couldn’t dissaude against
the new confidence.
the way money feels
in an envelope.

ok, chill.
fuck, I got rent.

“doors (#4)”

you are only as sick as your
secrets the old man says
and I nod emphatically
like I found them and
am going to unabashedly
review my inventory
but a few things first,
well


I have just
applied a fire engine red
gloss to my lips and
sat down in the middle of five
men: black tights, black
skirt and black pleather jacket.
my hair is slicked
and I’d been hostile since arrival
to this town.
how I should have started my intro
to them
was confessing that Whole Foods
should hire better security but what
I choose to say is nothing
and sip the five
fingered
alcohol infused kombucha
like I earned this
deviancy and I start by
saying “I had no idea
this was a men’s meeting
but thank you so much for
allowing me to be here”
lean forward with humility
and brave a smile.
what I should have said
was every inch of clothing
from my velvet black push up
bra that has drawn some neighbors
nearer to my high heeled
mock suede boots
stretched out in the center
like I just need this space so
much is absolutely
unpaid for;
one way or another,
nothing I hold
has been paid for.

I swallow
every drop from
the bottle. pass
when it’s my turn.

“confession #1”

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