To think when I was a child all of my adults walked into & out of doors like I now do, fearing death & taxes, tasting the bitter tongue of some ending I’ll be forced to kiss. When I was a child on beach vacations I counted the number of days we’d already been there & the number of days we had left & it scared me in the same way the sea scared me. All of that, unfathomable. An endlessness both empty & full. When I hold a shell to my ear it tells me its best rumors in a language inexplicable except to say it does not belong to me. What does belong to me. Can I try hard enough to believe I am living with this body like a very good pet, can I believe that if I care for it well this body will follow my will, quiet, quiet, will heel & heal & stay, stay, stay. As a child I kept a glass tank full of goldfish who swam & shat & worked their best at their job, which was dying. Later my mother explained the aquarium as the place where children gently learn about death. No matter how many or much we love. No matter the treasure chest no matter the castle no matter how neon the gravel no matter how many Saturdays my father cussed the glass & the hosepipe & the sun that pink-stained his skin to mark each hour he spent cleaning the tank. Sun translated as burn as bad mole, as cells making their own decisions. To die. To share their dying. Every moment we believe we are living without believing we are also dying is a very good lie like alchemy, like any theory regarding the beautiful preservation of gold. The first second third & every time I looked into the fish tank & saw death – bloated sacks of scaled skin, rot-gunned, reeking – I couldn’t get over. I couldn’t stop hearing what the shell told me, which was all that I would never understand. A life is always both empty & full.
Emma Bolden is the author of House Is An Enigma (SEMO Press), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press), Maleficae (GenPop Books), and four chapbooks. A 2017 NEA Fellow in Poetry, her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best Small Fictions, and Poetry Daily. She is Associate Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly.