Rusalka, to her therapist
BY ALEXA WINIK
When I left for the river, the townspeople called it
a bad death, a haunting. But they were always so
obsessed with names. If the heart could be desperately
wicked, if the cow’s dried teat or the disease
in the barley’s crown was a divine test,
then to be unnameable was the same as dying.
A hitch. Which is, in a way, what happened to me
when I felt my body shift towards its edges.
I told my mother, It feels like I’m looking
at a house with two lights on, but from underwater.
There was also pruned skin. A taste for gossamer,
smaller fish. Improbable glossolalia, even.
See, there was never this exact moment
of transformation. Certainly no one called it
She’s gone looking for a feeling she can’t describe!
or wanted to know what it meant to live
among cattails, where you might drape a limb
or two over a bed of smooth wet stones.
Now, far from the town, the sun feels oppressive
so I swim at dusk. Found the mouth that opens
into a wide lake just yesterday. It was amethyst
in the half-light and there was a roe deer swimming
the reef, gazing, perhaps, towards a soft landing
among the balsams. Sweeter milkweed.
And I thought of the town stirring ungently
in its sleep, how it was that I’d come to know
shame as a close river crossed both ways
in the night. That you might not drown.
Note: Rusalka is a mermaid-like entity of Slavic folklore. In nineteenth-century western Ukraine, rusalki were considered the ‘unclean spirits’ of women who died in rivers or waterways.