by Despy Boutris
Tonight, I go through an old box and find photos of the forest before it burned down.
I find a Ziploc bag of my wisdom teeth: in pieces, yellowing, like the love letters addressed to my mother.
I find an old journal, age seven: I am the San Andreas Fault. I am a big long crack.
It’s still true today, how my spine curves under the weight of what I am:
a gaping hole, maybe, or a faultline—
and it’s still the straightest part of me.
Long ago, I called myself girl, not oil slick, not burning barn, not avalanche of want.
Some days, sitting on the roof, I still feel the urge to jump.
At the creek the other day, the sound of children laughing, a mother telling her daughter to be careful.
I thought back: to cargo pants, tie-dye, swimming shirtless in the lake with no stranger’s eyes tracking me
Back then, my body was only a body,
and crickets chirped from anise and foxtails, the trees restless in the breeze.
The sound was the rhythm of breath coming fast, like the only time I ever heard my father cry.
When I got my teeth pulled, I refused sedation, wanted to hear the drill hit bone.
I keep unpacking and find a box of dried flowers, brief home to the hummingbird the cat caught in her craw.
I find a poem from years ago.
After cutting myself shaving, I wrote it out in blood because I liked the symbolism.
Age fourteen, my first kiss: sharing a set of earphones, letting one song morph into the next, hands twitching toward each other.
I learned the terror of being touched—
the terror of wanting it too much, of shattering.
The sky was bright with moonlight, and I remember desiring darkness, no way to discern bark from leaf, body from body.
How great would it be to dissolve?
I want to be nothing but alive.
Someday, someone will buy my childhood home and find all the dogs buried in the backyard.
I realize now I’m a ricochet of who I used to be, just a nest of hair working hard to make sense of my scars.
And I still don’t want to be a body, just a body of water—
to swallow everything that touches me, claim it all as my own.
And here is a photo of my grandfather before he fell off the roof and broke every bone in his body, which had to be some sort of omen for future suffering.
Tomorrow, I’ll brew tea and simmer oats for breakfast.
I’ll stumble down to the river, maybe, let tousled grass wet my back, tuck stones into my cheeks.
Someone once said I want to drown in your mouth.
I let them.
Someone once brushed back my hair and my body turned into a match the moment it ignites.
So much has gone undocumented—
no first-day-of-high-school photo, books pressed tight to my chest.
No evidence of me taking to the lake at midnight, thinking a baptism might scrape away my want, turn me back into someone clean.
No photo of my father digging a tick out of my thigh, of the friend always bruised from kneeling in prayer.
The scent of wild honeysuckle,
sight of scattered fleabane, loostrife.
Once, a boy made me watch as he sprinkled salt on snails to show how fast we all shrivel and die.
Once, a friend told me love’s a dried-up ravine—
parched rocks, nothing left to drink.
Long ago, lying in the grass with someone I could have loved, looking up at the stars: Nights like this just make me feel different.
The muted voice beside me: Softer. More human, maybe.
The slate-colored sky, the pockmarked river.
The afternoon the sun washed the world with honey.
The way the forest looked before it went up in flames.
The way the birds took to the sky at the first sign of smoke.
About the photographer: Emily Sorensen is an environmental educator and a Doctorate of Fine Arts (DFA) candidate researching ecological art and performance at the Yale School of Drama where she earned an MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism. She likes to go outside and take pictures of trees. On Instagram @emily.sorensen.