By: Ella Grim
Art by: Idil Sahin
Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back
~ Florence + The Machine, “Dog Days are Over”
i. Portrait of a Girl Under Ice
When the ice melts, in may,
she takes her first gulp,
shivers from the strength of sun.
Tell us, the radio station implores,
how do you do it?
Exist for so long on so little?
That is the conundrum,
gilled or magicked or teleportational,
gritty frozen inches of skin turned blue.
The sun paints an opera on her forehead,
caresses each frozen eyelash, droplets
mixing with tears pooling in shoes.
Tell us, they press, is it good to be back?
How you must miss it,
the sun when you are gone.
She scans the water,
spoons an ice shard, and
sucks it with dripping lips.
What they cannot know,
is the preexistence,
glow catching cracks and bubbles
spinning a kaleidoscope of amber, cerulean,
and with each crack wider
the promise of clawing out, of a sun side
evaporated numb fingers running,
not snapping off frozen bits
gathering hues on the shore
rosehips tansy ceder
she almosts tastes it, that world
it feeds selflessly,
small regard for vision & image.
She knows the sun well.
How did you manage
to find yourself down there?
The woman wraps her in a space blanket,
hands her a bowl of burning water.
I have always lived under the ice.
The woman bites her questions
and fashions an armchair of snow.
At night she dreams of a fish who eats through cracked ice with a terribly sharp maw and swallows her sister from the surface I have always and never been innocent
she whispers into the ear of a sturgeon meandering through the quiet numb cold she learns to call the monster mother she learns to hold her breath to cry without gasps or sighs in the deeps there are no lullabies. Terrible things sing of terrible things. Tears float through hair, lines of basalt up and down arms to fashion a knife, a lure, a hook.
I think I must deserve a terrible world this time to the ear of a stone eons old who is too cold to echo sentiments back or show up unannounced, in a dream.
v. after, they pull her out again
After demonstrating sufficient placidity, she bolts,
heals ripping crust snow,
shore, ice, hole
then screaming release
sweet familiar water sucking oxygen out of her
reverse-fish that she is
clasping her tight, wicked buoyancy
so cold it’s warm.
vi. The Questioning
She insists on a poet.
An old man is lured out of hibernation,
wire glasses dripping down his face. He peers.
Cold down there, no?
Only if you let yourself feel it.
And do you?
On the odd occasion.
How does one breathe under—
We agreed to suspend belief
for the purpose of puncturing truth.
She pats his hand.
He leans conspiratorially.
They feel the need to know
how you ended up down there.
Did you swim?
Were you…put there?
I have told myself
both versions of the story.
What do you feel the need to know?
Is it as beautiful as I imagine it would be?
Of course it is.
They call her nymph.
They call her creature.
They call her miracle
and pray to gods she does not see.
They call her girl.
They call her monster.
They search her body
for ugly answers.
They call her liar.
They say it should not be
and yet she laughs and breathes.
They call her impossible.
And no one asks for her name.
viii. she’s gone again
years later, deep in the bowels of some unnamed metropolis, sole occupant of the dim platform in the pool of grim water stagnant by the elevator she encounters the girl who is herself who is banging one palm on the ice and with the other stroking the hair of she who brought her here who had always been under the ice with her knowing escape is a lonesome occupation and sinking abandonment the worst of all sins
the train bolts in, hydraulics screaming, the clatter and bodies pressing around her but not touching on their way to supper or streetlamp leaners who become lovers later when the clock moves on and when she reaches out to grip the cold hand, her image slips under ripples and she’s gone again
we meet her eventually and her kisses are everything we imagined the sun to be
heavy words on the tongue but true and bittersweet she goes to the platform edge, takes the green line to uptown to call up the microfilm from shelf 361B of the public library archive to slide through the images of that foreign unearthly child, icicles still hanging off her hair the blanket around her like a coffin or an eyelash wish come true useless words smudged in the headlines miraculous girl survives deeps she spits them out like the hard sweet inventions they are