survival float

With my arms clasped across my chest,
wrist atop wrist
bitten fingers emboss bloodied half-moons onto crisscrossed palms.

I try to achieve buoyancy,
name this practice
absolution, the
conquering over the

A man passes by, smile reaching all the way to his gentle eyes
and asks me if I know that I’m signing the word love,
did I know that?
And I will admit I didn’t.

When I was learning to swim my teacher
tried to teach me the dead man’s float was the only chance for whole survival
but I could not unclasp my arms
even when she told me that in the water,
the weight of my fists would drive into my sternum and sink me deeper.

How can I name everything holy but religion itself
These fists are sacred weapons,
the soothing balm of controlling yourself and yourself alone.
A stoic face can still smile wide.

Rachael Gay

RACHAEL GAY is a poet and artist from Fargo, North Dakota. Her work has appeared in journals such as Anti-Heroin Chic, The Laurel Review, Rogue Agent, Ghost City Review, Gramma Poetry, FreezeRay Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review and others as well as the anthology What Keeps Us Here (2019).

Contributions by Rachael Gay