As A Fire Blazes in The Notre-Dame Cathedral
I don’t cry for years at a time. In one of the first home videos I find, we had just bought a new washing machine. I still don’t know how to swim, never learned properly. I try to cure the dry spell, watch countless sad movies, attend a few funerals, break some bones. I let my mother teach me how to surf anyways because I don’t want to risk looking afraid by declining the offer. I’m so worried a shark will confuse my arm for a fin and bite. My grandmother tells me when I give my infant cousin her first real bath in the tub, that its best to submerge babies all at once, that if I’m too slow she will know to be scared. We work together to get the water exactly room temperature, try to convince her she will just be slipping into thicker, more buoyant air. I dig my teeth into my lip until it bleeds, try to stand, manage to balance for a bit despite the shaking. We wash load after load, pick out the reds, separate everything into two piles, so excited by the way it spins. I cling so tightly to the board, my hair never gets wet. So many of my bones shatter, each wrapped in their own cast. Sometimes when we are both dry, I click my tongue to the roof of my mouth and she laughs. Giggles a little. Spit spraying everywhere. I am never injured in the water, fear only out of irrational cowardness. In another cassette I’m wearing only goggles and flip flops, sobbing so hard the lenses fill. Once I used a hiking pole as a crutch, pressed all of my weight onto what wasn’t broken. I grip her by the armpits and she giggles a little, toes grazing the surface. I move between two lakes, am instructed to never swim in either of them. I see two dead fish wash up on the same part of the bank exactly a year apart and try to convince myself that it means nothing. Plunge her, my grandmother instructs. The scent is the same both times, one missing a fin, the other its head. I never think to be worried about coral or falling, anything but being eaten. Ice and elevate, I am told again and again. My movement is too sudden and she screams, her toes smacking porcelain. When the lake is frozen over, it’s too cold to even contemplate a breaststroke. So I stick my head in the snow until it turns purple, scream into the slush, lose my breath. I watch a group of birds untangle its guts to chew on, fin still unaccounted for. In the final tape, my mother tries to convince me the sink is too shallow of a place for sea creatures to live and I don’t believe her. Jellyfish wouldn't want to eat your dirty compost, would they? She tries again and again.
OTTAVIA PALUCH is a disabled high school student who lives in Ontario, Canada. A Gigantic Sequins Teen Sequin in 2018, her work is published or forthcoming in Four Way Review, Kissing Dynamite, Room Magazine, Alexandria Quarterly, and Ghost City Review, among other places. Paluch has studied poetry under Jessica Lynn Suchon during the 2019 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, as well as under Matt Mitchell during Flypaper Lit’s 2020 workshop on poetic forms.