Back to Issue Thirty-Three



        after Richard Siken’s “Little Beast”

The water sings the moss. The moss sings the water.
        He pulls me to him through blistered branches and echoes the
refrain. I watch the weave
                                                                           of his hands in the brown
and I echo the refrain. Midnight crickets
        sing their death as he trembles the water to its heart. I listen.

He holds my shoulder, all elbows between. I clump moss into the water and
        he laughs. The water is all moss and stars. Midnight waters its way down the branches and 
into my hair. He pushes it away, and I laugh and it echoes and I listen for his heart.

Once he told me to follow him into the pond. The water, comfortable
        to sit against my shoulder, drank of me no more than I drank of it.

I fall into the green. I trust leaves to mark
          the surface. I am all green fish scale and grasping hand. I cling
to his naked wrist twisted green and gold. The fish—
                                                                                       very at home—nibble
        at the scratchy surface. His feet muddy
as he scratches for a breath. I pull him up, but he lusts for green
                                                                                                                        and breathes it, too.

And I let him,
                    stupid me is no match for gash of gills—
    until he decides I am. I am painted with mud and pollen. I am balancing a spider
between my fingers. He is
                                                                                                                                       looking at me below
the pollenated water. I am warm. He spider-webs through the water in search of some
    undisturbed mud. His head below water, his feet incise
the pollen and make it sigh.
                    I look at him and I am warm.
                                              He looks at me and paints me gills.
        When he comes up for air,
pollen blooms into mud in his hair. His skin blooms red in the sun, and I
    realize I am naked
                                                  without the water-fog and he smiles
and knows and says, You are never naked if you don’t stop moving—and I would always believe
    him. He slicks me through the mud into more mud.
                                                                                                                             It is summer and I am warm
when he holds me against the pond-bed, when he pours his air into me.

He teaches me the best places to catch
    the snakes by surprise,
the best places to kiss the moon—the best places to kiss.
                                                                                                 He teaches me how
to ripple with the water and break it, too. How to slither
                        away from the purling snakes. This is where they come to
            cool down, he points. And this is where they warm up.
                                                                                   He is cool stone when I fall
into him. His feet kiss the mud and it stays
    embossed when he surprises the snakes—and me—with broken water.


And when autumn overfills the trees, he snakes his body against mine
                                                                                                                     as daylight shatters
into black. He is close as the water, close as autumn breeze—and I forget I am
        not autumn,
but that I am younger and nearer to the pond than ever under his leaf-light touch.
I leave my clothes forgotten on the trees
                                                    when he pulls me under the coolest black.
                                                                               He is close and closer—I tremble with the leaves.

I shiver. Though the pond has given
                 its body over to the chill, it still shivers with his slightest touch— he is
    still fluid, he is still liquid. This muscle memory is forever.
The only difference—
                                                                               now we rest together between sheets
of ice and count the stars and wonder why they shiver. Time
        is always short once blood tastes the chill,
                                                                                       blood too content as liquid. Let’s go, he says,
        the stars aren’t forever. I shiver, and he wishbones the chill, the bigger half content
in his closed palm. Still I wait like ice and remember

the green, the mud, his naked body and his twisted wrist; and wonder if a closed palm is forever.

Heath Joseph Wooten is a 2020 Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets fellow, and he holds a BA in English from the University of Mississippi. During his time at the University of Mississippi, Heath received the Ella Sommerville Award for Poetry in 2018 and the university’s highest undergraduate honor, the Taylor Medal, in 2019. This fall, he will begin his MFA at Northern Michigan University. This is his first publication, and he currently lives in Oxford and Corinth, MS.


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