WATER ON CEMENT
He took a needle and threaded my fingers together, a makeshift webbing
to help keep me afloat on Mondays. “Aqua,” he called me, the girl
who drank the rain and bathed in salt. He measured
the water in my veins by twisting my limbs above an old bucket
and humming along with the metronome of drops on metal,
memories on rust, tears at the bottom. The winter shed
such cold air that I remained catatonic in my bed, cold-blooded,
ice between my teeth, and a message written in a child’s breath:
You must fight it, Aqua, you must fight it.
It started at my fingertips, a brittle decay that consumed my flesh,
and children screamed outside my bedroom window, yelled,
pleaded that February spare me of its last frost. His voice
shattered glass, pieces I tried to use to cut away at the snow
underneath my nails, but the water remained, melted
into a dirty puddle of dirt and saliva, sores and black.
The spring brought with it a flood of sorts, the last of my
voice, a final gift to those who remembered my name.
He sat on wet bedsheets when he visited, purposely unaware
that I now swam through parts of his denim and cotton.
“You did it,” he told me, a boy with fire for hair and coal for eyes,
but with dry palms and an empty stomach, how was I supposed to defeat it?
Salt filled me, escaped through my eyes, and it burned
when I touched him. He did not peel away, little boy of flame,
but he reminded me that I was water, I was water, and I dipped my hands
in damp bedsheets and absorbed the soak there.
Without asking, he stole my fingers and fixed the threading.
I could live another season.
Holler children in the creek, they used God’s name in vain
while disassembling the shell of a brick red crawdad, little pinchers
with which to tease out some sort of family secret, a verbal heirloom.
Exoskeletons of cicadas littered the sidewalk, nothing more than
loose blocks of cement and a few stones from the Ohio River.
A pair of butterfly wings baked in the sun, colorful snow-powder
drawing the moment the tennis shoe swiped from left to right.
The kid with the biggest voice tickled the writhing feet of a bumblebee,
a creature that choked on its own insides because just hours earlier
it flew a little too close to the sandbox. The boys counted
their day’s worth of bounty, frayed bodies and stripped shells,
before tossing the remains into a shallow hole under the trailer.
They knew some of the insects were still alive before cleaning up for bed.
Lightning bug glow lit their rooms. Those were the Dog Days.
Amber D. Tran graduated from West Virginia University in 2012, where she specialized in lyrical non-fiction and contemporary poetry. She is the Editor-in-Chief for the Cold Creek Review literary journal. Her work has been featured in Calliope, Sonic Boom Journal, Spry Literary Journal, Cheat River Review, and more. She has work forthcoming in The Stray Branch, Mandala Journal, and more. Her first novel, Moon River, was released in September. She currently lives in Alabama with her husband and two dogs, Ahri and Ziggs.