“She Swims Like a Fish,” “Penance and Reconciliation” and “On the Fritz”

“She Swims Like a Fish,” “Penance and Reconciliation” and “On the Fritz”

She Swims Like A Fish

A fish taught me to swim.

He wore a woven crown of kelp upon his head—

he was, he told me, the king of the sea.

He found me standing on the sandy shore

and invited me to join him in the waves.

This really happened.

I stepped into the ocean,

the water lapping at my ankles and then

my shins, knees, waist, neck.

When the fish king saw me hesitate there,

he promised that I had nothing to fear.

This was his kingdom, and I was his guest.

He took me atop his great scaled back,

and we descended below the surface,

sunlight dancing as it filtered through the water.

I swear this is true.

I held my breath until bubbles

burst from my lips and rose upward,

but when my lungs cried out,

his highness again reassured me.

He was not stealing me away to drown.

I inhaled, yet I did not choke.

Salt water filled my mouth and made me strong.

I am not making this up.

Weeks after I had been safely returned to the sand,

my father and I were walking along another shore

when I caught a glimpse of woven kelp in the water.

Breathless, the resplendent tale of coral castles

and starfish courtiers flowed from me as a tidal wave.

My father only shook his head.

He did not notice when a splendorous golden fin

broke the surface and waved goodbye.

You think this is a metaphor, but you are wrong.

Penance and Reconciliation

I find poetry in the parts of my psyche that ache

when I touch them: the memory of the serpent

of a man who, at this moment, is walking across a stage

to receive his diploma from the garden that was his

hunting ground. When the dean of students shakes

his hand, I wonder if she will feel the weight of those

three girls he left bleeding on dorm room floors.

My silence taught him there would be no punishment

for biting into the fruit that was forbidden to him.

How long must I look in the mirror and see the piece

missing from me shaped exactly like his teeth?

When I am buried, there will be no casket, just

a hole in the ground: rich soil waiting to reclaim

my body, return my tainted heart to the earth so that

trees may one day burst forth from my ribcage and reach,

yearning, toward the sun. When I am finally engulfed

by cleansing fire, I will spread my arms wide, shake

the dirt from my hair, and cast my gaze toward

the heavens. As the flames lick my skin and

the sparks fly upward, I close my eyes and pray

for forgiveness for the sins I did not commit, but still

failed to confess. When I drown, I will open my mouth

to welcome the flood, smoke and ash bubbling

from my lips to the water’s surface. The sea purifies me

from the inside out, and when my lungs fill

with salt water, it tastes like absolution.

On the Fritz

turns out my brain doesn’t work like it should. i process everything at once or not at all, i’m overflowing or i’m blank, and every morning is another flip of that coin. i don’t know what the solution is but i can tell you what it’s not—not celexa, not lexapro, not prozac, not effexor or paxil or wellbutrin, not abilify, seroquel, klonopin—i’ve been narrowing it down for six years now so i’m sure we’ll find it in a decade or two. late tuesday night i smoke a bowl and study for a psychology exam, linger too long on the chart on page 235: Partial Listing of Major 20th-Century American Poets With Documented Histories of Manic-Depressive Illness (Table 7.3), stare so intently at the names i spill ash on the page, lick my finger and extinguish a small ember smoldering atop the name Plath before it burns its way through to page 237. i flick the lighter and survey my future, think: how do i do this? how do i get my name in the someday table of 21st-century poets who fought this battle but still made something beautiful when the lines between functioning adult and useless lump and reckless blur are all as thin as a little dopamine, how do i expect to get a master’s degree in this thing that’s in my veins when every application requires an explanation, a promise of ‘i used to be sick but i’m better now’ even though i know there will never be any used to be, never any better, never any now, only a möbius strip of draining my bank accounts and staying in bed for a month and fucking two strangers in a day and calling my mother sobbing about how i’m sorry i never appreciated her. i’m at home in an orange prescription bottle. the steady hum of lurasidone-alprazolam-zolpidem lulls me to sleep like summer rain. my brain is a beloved old jalopy: it will move forward by the grace of god and the strength of duct tape, praying for smooth roads ahead.

About the Author

Marlee Abbott

Marlee Abbott is a writer and actor from South Florida. She received her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Miami.

Read more work by Marlee Abbott.