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I walk the side of the pier, feel it sighing
under my toes. My clothes hang
like clouds on my shoulders, my body two sizes
small. My father waves goodbye and says,
   Tighten your face, as if the screws were still


The lake lengthens into a bridal
veil, into a bridesmaid to carry it, into a groom.
   I protest at first—Why would I marry myself?

I wake.

On a tree hangs a noose
full of flowers, soft light filling each baubled
dewdrop. Underneath, a woman tries to sell
fabric. My mouth opens
as stubborn as a stolen lock refusing
   the key. Instead, I buy

the rain.

Nanay used to say each lake
is merely an evolution from the ocean. She said,
   It’s smaller, more contained, but stagnant.

I do not know what hides in the soft flesh
of my mouth: an ocean, or
a lake.

In a forest is a pond, its surface a grimy
window, and the water slippery when I
catch it. A boy next to it tells me
that it has been stagnant for decades. My tongue panics
   when I try to reply, so I wade a stick

into the glass.

I restrict my walks
to the backyard, resting under the pained
   back of a sampaguita vine as it shudders

into labor. The falling blooms brush
like wings, a remnant of their former
bodies. I ask them what it feels to fall
before their parents

In our house, the Lady Friend sits. She visits
daily. I yearn to say, Bulok, but I can’t speak
her language. She smiles at all the wrong silences, actress
of the only one in a stand-up club who finds the joke
at all. But she smells like the ocean, and our house stinks
of ponds and lakes. As she leaves, she glides the way
a sampaguita falls. I cannot speak to her as I can
—not speak to my father, the woman under
the tree, the boy by the pond. It is the language
   of the water breathers that I simply have

no gills to swim into.

Nanay used to smell like the ocean.
   Nanay used to move like the ocean:
      a body riding the water into mountains.
         Nanay, you used to sound like the ocean.
      Nanay, I cannot hear the ocean you loved
   in the shells you kept among wilting sampaguita
petals. Have I grown deaf—

When the phone rings, I don’t answer, and the house is shuttered
softly with veils. I know what they’ll all say
   anyway. My father knows

not to ask, or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he is too
busy staring at his empty finger

to notice.

I hide under
the sampaguita vine. The fallen petals bunch
together like the folds of a wedding
dress, and in the house I hear the Lady
Friend and my father, their laughter kissing
in the air. I stare at the basket cradled
in my arms. What was I looking for? I turn, shaking,
to the house, but the petals crush
   my feet
like chains.

Yvanna Vien Tica is a Filipina writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, Hobart, and Shenandoah, among others. A high school senior, she is the 2021 Hippocrates Young Poet and the 2021 1455 Teen Poetry Contest winner. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying nature and thanking God for another day.
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20 Mar 2023

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Strange Horizons will be open to fiction submissions on April 26th, 2023, at 9 a.m. UTC! To keep our response times manageable and submission windows more frequent, there will be a 1,000-story cap on submissions.
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