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they come with their whole selves blown open,
staggering from the sea on new-cut legs, skin

like a peeled grape, raw and weeping. hands
already outstretched, itching to touch: trash

cans and beach chairs, tire treads, the skillet
heat of black asphalt. everything wild,

everything new, miracle of air and yawning
horizon. in my ugliest heart i hate them,

their kelp hair and sharp little teeth, their love
for this sand and its every jumping flea.

poor frail fish-girls, in need of some kind stranger
to wrap towels around their nakedness, feed them

on fruit and freshwater and slice the webbing
between their fingers. it won’t be me. i learned

alone, coughed up on the shore to teach my own
self about rent and shoes and loading a bus pass,

about sales tax and gasoline, about keeping
my head down and guarding my smiles. like a child

i chose this world, its cities and their bird-shit
sidewalks, its concrete highways with unchanging

views. at night i dangle my feet from the fire escape
to watch streetlights flash against the jewels

of my toenails, my ten great victories,
hard fought, dearly won. i do not think about

the ocean. overhead the moon hangs in a thick
dark void, hauling a tide i can no longer feel.

Maria Zoccola is a queer Southern writer with deep roots in the Mississippi Delta. Read her in Fantasy Magazine, DreamForge, The Massachusetts Review, Colorado Review, Spillway, Fence, and elsewhere.
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23 Jan 2023

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