The Water

Based on Frida Kahlo’s “Lo que el agua me dio”

what-the-water-gave-me-1938

What I saw in the water and what the water gave to me lived on two sides of the same mirror.

I turned the tap with care and ritual, peeling off the visible layers:

Socks that had turned angry, damp with the weight of the last time I’d walk home from her house.

Jeans caked with mud that flaked off like tainted snow.

Sweater sleeves chewed to the point of surrender.

I returned to the water to lift her off my skin.

I returned to the water with dirty fingernails and open palms.

My cherry or blood-glossed toenails bobbed above the water like lacquered sailboats on a windless day.

Calm and glinting so that nobody would ever suspect that they were stranded.

Saltwater rolled down my cheek.

Saltwater bled into the knee-island sea I was lost at.

I remembered the knots.

I remembered the fingers raw from tying.

I remembered the way I bound our lives together with red thread– tried to seal our silhouettes in a locket embrace.

The water was a cracked mirror.

The drain stopper was a prisoner on its chain.

My sailboat toes hadn’t seen land in months.

Saltwater rolled down my cheek.

The sea tasted it, but couldn’t stomach it.

My big toe left me first (couldn’t stomach it).

It circled the drain without much trouble.

Next, the second and third toes packed their bags and slipped away like shy admirers.

There was no blood, only red thread.

It splayed out from my ankles like doll hair left neglected in the rain.

I wasted so much thread.

I tied poems and promises to the ends, but she never quite bit.

The fish bit.

The fish slithered up the drain with their hats and briefcases.

They painted street scenes on the porcelain walls.
My pinky toes left silently, without slamming a single door.

Buildings grew from the seafloor, casting shadows on the powder blue bathroom tiles.

My legs left me like cremated pets kept on top of the piano, their ashes circling the drain.

The water gave me what I asked of it.

The water gave me swift and final.

The water let me sell my internal organs one by one.

It let me stack them in a red and white cooler.

The water let me trade them for a bronze locket, hollow as an empty bed.

My stomach left like a rock thrown into a lake—one that didn’t quite skip.

My collarbones left like childhood friends who moved to New York.

My ears left last, floating like lifeboats inflated too late.

Lifeboats shifting after the shipwreck had sunken.

She came looking for me the next day, but all she could find was a goldfish.

He sat gasping on the tile floor, a hat on his head and a notebook in hand.

Red pen drawings of lockets filled every page.

He cleared his small throat and looked up at her to say:

“What she gave to you
and what she gave to the water

and what she gave to the water

weren’t so different.”

weren’t so different.”

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