“Anything that can leave has, and anything that couldn’t leave has died.”
– Heather Barron quoted in National Geographic
Let’s say it begins in a family.
Let’s say a red tide chokes the water of oxygen
so that animals either leave the area or die. Let’s
say they can’t leave because the water is enclosed
in the area of a house and whoever is in charge
doesn’t open the windows, so a kind of death happens
to one of the children. Let’s say that child holds the death in her,
the red tide finds a way to cling to her skin.
Let’s say one brother stirred up this unwanted mass.
Let’s say red tides are seasonal and occur mainly when a sister
is in a bathing suit, showers more often, or has exposed skin.
Let’s say the first component to red tide is biology.
Let’s acknowledge that trauma can be biological.
A red tide slashes against the water like a sister’s first blood.
A red tide is more visible by its effect
on the surrounding ecosystem,
which is the people in the house.
Let’s imagine the house broke open when all the children grew,
and the red tide spilled through canals to the new houses,
the new families, and spread the poison.
Let’s imagine the toxic fumes of algae bloom flourish in the children.
Let’s say another brother raises red welts on his sister’s back.
Let’s say no one believes themselves a toxic spill
but they are all poisonous. The sister keeps calling the brother
to see if he is ready to accept her love.
This could be at either house, in either time period.
A red tide eventually passes, but this? This isn’t natural.
This is mental biology, this is behavioral biology,
this is one brother in a long line of brothers
breaking from the house far too late,
taking one last look at a sister belly up
before silently walking away.
Becca Rae Rose
CLOSING SHIFT, THE CHRYSALIS INN & SPA
The spritz of eucalyptus. A long-handled brush
to scrub the damp from small canyons. That humid
room. Clouds hummed into existence. The ceiling dripped recycled
liquids, each scalding bead on my neck the sweat of a guest
repurposed, made mine. Most of our clients claimed
California as home—that honeydream they had to escape
every summer, too laden with gold as they were.
On a timer, another puff of oil sung the air
fresh. Eucalyptus beckoned the body open, primed the exoskeleton
to be peeled back: removal youth’s best trick.
This, after all, was the special: a resurfacing facial, flute
of champagne, complimentary steam. The women rarely looked
at me—the one who whisked their dirty laundry
out of sight. Who was I but another machination,
some cool, metal wheel. I refilled the dried apricots, collected
their used cotton swabs, each disposable comb. I knew every
one of them: the color of their roots, how much
they tipped the masseuse. How they always emerged
glistening, having left their skins
behind for me to sweep up. Now, I have come
to California. Daily, I walk beneath the gossip
of eucalyptus trees. Their scent splits me in two: I am here
and I am also scrubbing down the steam room, splashing bleach
on each spot a woman sat in her own dew. I am gloved
and leaning over a porcelain toilet. I am covering my mouth
while I dust the room in disinfectant, from a bottle fashioned
for crops. I wonder when emergence begins. With what do I weave
my new body? To break forth a wet thing
requires a hard casing, strung up from the milkweed, a long sleep
in its fold. Instead, I am beneath the eucalyptus’ long-fingered
leaves, papered by wind, they drop their dead at my feet. I am used
to picking up what others discard. At my thumb, the scent
releases. In another place, I am spraying a room with toxic chemicals,
pretending the burn on my skin is from essential oils
and that I am just a lady in a towel, basking. Waiting
for a chilled drink. Turgid with a crystal sweat.
The month that most harassed the chopped-off fingers
of the butcher was: February.
A bird sings like a rusted hinge
as the dawn puts on its orange scarf.
The butcher shop thrusting up like an icicle.
Its butcher at the window with his palm
on the frosted glass. Waving goodbye to him I got into a car
with someone, have you ever
gotten in a car with someone? Desperation makes
it easy. He said, when we were finished: “Look
around. The City doesn’t care about us.”
Manhandling me he grabbed at the wind
“You’re getting older, so you’re getting to know
your body, you’re more confident in the things
you do, . . . ” Funny how mistaken humans can be.
The wind, grabbed by this husband,
so threatened. So shredded. And so shrieked the
imbecility of sunlight. The butcher
most likely must then have stumbled
dropping his cleaver onto all of his fingers.
Darkness blazed like a wizard in my hair:
Much as a red itch grips me walking
and in my brown boot names itself regent.
“The City doesn’t care about its limbs.
Its extremities. The City only cares about
the tourists. Because that’s who it thinks licks
its heart. And it likes their licks. The City doesn’t
notice: That’s not even its heart
they’re licking. The City doesn’t notice that
we are its real heart!”
I got out of the car. I read a sign.
The sun’s hot on my neck I have a cold.
Jagged over the battered death of fingers:
Red smeared across the frosted glass:
The month that drank the first
hand that ever tried to strangle
Oh in the bed, in his bed:
Let me speak to you of the glaciers invading his lair.
Under clear blue wind the winter
and us, itchy: We are always walking away
under the eyes of frisky dawns:
We left and then were
when we left were we then still here?