I Know You Are You, and Real

Now, what wouldn't I give to swim in my sister's dirt?

One year after my sister is dragged to the Farmhouse
I place an ad in the newspaper that says Let’s Go Swimming

The woman I later meet at the edge of the lake is perhaps
three times my age and so thin
I laugh as I imagine her scanty dinners
A bowl of brown rice
A single steamed green vegetable
The simmered stem of some ascetic flower

She is disgusted by my smoking
My matted hair
She snatches the cigarette out of my mouth and slaps me
across the face and my tears
Which have been so long absent
Are suddenly there and my vision is bright and clean

Beside us
The lake steams
Apple cores and beer cans float around its rim

She strips to boxers and then she takes off my clothes too
The trees are so thickly green
I don’t worry about my nudity—the Town is a mile away
And I know I’ll seem to be part of the greater landscape
As in a bad painting

When she kneels and starts working on my shoes
I close my eyes and place my hand upon her head

I want to test the water with a finger or foot but watching
her dive
Makes me ashamed of my hesitancy
So I climb an overhanging tree
And sit for a moment in the fragrant creaking alien arms

And then I drop into the lake from that height
Not knowing if there will be rocks below

In the moments before I hit the water
I love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone

The lake is so silty and fetid
It feels like when I was a child
And forced to use my sister’s old bathwater
After she had been lifted out and towelled dry

What wouldn’t I give to swim in my sister’s dirt?
There is nothing
There’s nothing I would not give

How could our parents have thought that water fit for
another person
After they had washed her thin oily hair in it
After they’d cleaned the dirt from her toes

This water is as warm as saliva and the bottom is covered in
strange lumps
My companion is miles ahead already
A muddy blur
I want to ingratiate myself to her

I want to receive the full measure of her attention
Without doing anything to provoke it
And certainly without revealing
That her attention matters to me in any way

In other words
I am ordinary

I want to tell her
I know how to suffer
With my swallowing and my injecting
With my snowbanks and my hangovers
With the terror that turns
My organs black and sour

She insists we follow the river that feeds the lake
We swim against a ruthless current until we can go no further
Until we are swept back cursing

Still she says nothing
Still I learn nothing
I await what I know will never arrive
I await what I wouldn’t recognize if it did
(My suffering acquires a mock-spiritual cast)


We reach the bank
I want to thank her then break her
Gently apart at the joints like a chicken
But there on the bank in front of my eyes
She dissolves like sugar whisked into water

I emerge from the lake less clean than when I entered
Our Town’s nightwatchman circles the water
Even though it is nowhere near evening
He wears huge black goggles and reinforced rubber boots In a very
short time, I
The way
forward is
hidden from
me, as is the
way back. And
I cannot
remain here,
of course.

He taps his way forward with the aid of a walking stick

I lie back in my round iridescent-pink sunglasses
I think pink is the most influential colour in the world

People motor by in a boat
They’re laughing and passing around a baby
I feel my usual revulsion at laughter and babies and groups

I look into the opal on my finger and if I unfocus my eyes
I can see my sister swimming inside the fiery lake at its core

Lately I cannot decide
What I believe

Do I believe in release
Do I deserve release
Will I be released


Listen to this piece from the audiobook edition:


From I Become a Delight to My Enemies by Sara Peters, a Strange Light book.