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"Undine" by Madeline Chriest

Updated: May 1

Start a bath. Walk backwards. Out to the petroleum hall, past the propane and plumbing to polluted-body days. Days of dark and ocean home, remembered like the ethanol night before the blackout, when your tongue was unshackled by your teeth, weightless, body butting up against the inflammable ceiling. Days of black mold boiling out of rubber ducks like insoluble snow, pennies down your narrow throat, slid between your gills from when you mistook oxidized copper for seaweed, Red 40 nights that turned your eyes into owls, your webbed palms into blood folds.

The wastewater treatment center tests for arsenic, returns the water to you just so. You live on the wrong side of the tracks with your shoes on the wrong body, your hair heavy with desiccants and mercury, pulling your head down toward your feet till - like grandma - your neck becomes the neighbor of your shins; you, swimming with only your spine. You the vertebrate, you the undine - you the undying thing sleek from all that’s passed you by.

You aren’t in any position to demand they test for mercury, for fuels and fentanyl. Tub fills grey, silver, a rainbow, oily sheen on the surface that gasps and parts when you nudge your toe inside. Submerge. Corrode. Skin stinging at the undiluted, the acidic saltwater with traces of old ocean, before we tucked hydrogen bombs among nests of waves. The only soap your store sells is industrial – hydraulic fluid cleanser, paint stripper. Highrise apartment overlooking endless sea of colorless city, gills clogged with grey sludge and insoluble cinders, you watch golden-haired children play on a far-off beach. With all their legs and all their land, they still build their lives on top of yours. Beach houses stilted over seaside cliffs. Claimed by erosion within the year.

Start a bath. Walk backwards. Out the petroleum hall, past the propane and plumbing to ethanol nights’ erasure; them bombing you off the beach. Ash like insoluble snow. Starving; pennies down the throat. Longing for sea. Red 40 ocean. You aren’t in any position. You the undine. You onshore.

Now swim.

Madeline Chriest is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Washington, Seattle, studying oceanography and chemistry. Her background in STEM and research in marine pollution inspire her writing greatly. She is also the Poetry Editor for Issue 42 of Bricolage Literary and Visual Arts Journal.

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