Natalie Eilbert

from THE LAKE

 

Ocean oxygen has been declining since before I was born—
I was born with eyes open to brine—A first photo snapped
as I crowned—Is it any wonder I crave how others see me
when I’m turned away—For reasons unbeknownst, I was
made from oxygen deprived of my older brother who died
before he had a chance to die—As an infant my eyes rolled
to the back of my head and I convulsed, suffocating—Doctors
believed my coma would render me damaged—I woke up—
Crowded by oxygen, the world keeps us—For now it spins
the way a story with no way out might—Lopsided arcs I
wake up within—Years ago a nurse predicted that I would
faint by noting the circles crowding my eyes—Hypoxia,
an example of presence as absence, my body as the cooling
wake of my body—At bus stops, poisons travel with ease
through my blood—A man also poisoned tells me I’m sexy,
do I know how beautiful I am—In years my face will interpolate
new grammar as scientists calculate what is missing in the
missing—There isn’t much to know—I stare for seven hours
straight at my new nephew—His name, like the ocean, is
Gray—Born alive—How easy language pretends utility, that
we become the isolation of meaning, meaning we are not—
How could we—Junk is all around us, scattering without
the confidence of metaphor—I stare for seven hours straight
at my newborn nephew—We grow beyond a road, always,
a neural pathway or a concrete, and it is no different, how we
come to loss, not when the ocean comas far away, the sea
a trembling memory of land—I do not mean to sound precious—
But what separates water and sea is economic function over
thirst—Theoretical newborns warm the future—Plastic elephants
and whales, creatures drawn into circles, black happy eyes—
It is easy to see a single animal stitched into linen—There is
joy in misrepresentation—A polar bear swims impossible miles
stitched into its end—When a great land mammal sinks from
land, it isn’t the past we care about—It is never present—I was
born with eyes open—The biomedical tools that delivered me
in nineteen-eighty-six make up an underwater landfill—Everything made
gets discarded—Seltzer requires cold for a reason, think
gas, think—My nephew’s eyes are gray—Each time he blinks, they darken—

My end isn’t true yet—I am perhaps between distances—My
brother has updated his belief on abortion—I do not fight him,
I hold this white kin—My grandparents lived so we could be
praise of lineage incarnate—Headlines have accepted post-
extinction as suitable mode—The seagrass persists in spite of—
Discussions of what the Great Dying looked like over millennia—
One can edit genes, the patent won—What makes women good
dancers?—Watch the hips—I am writing a novel about distraction
in the age of the Anthropocene—It is necessary, our casting the
world aside to focus on the self as firm and business—What is an
image versus what is an expression—Which is the door and which
is the door having already slammed shut—In a dream my sex is
sewn together with thread made from a type of crystal meant to calm—
In waking the gynecologist pushes down and asks if I feel pressure—
I do—What might have strained these muscles, how long have you
experienced pain—The window or the glass that continuously melts
downward—In the last passage I meant to discuss the Wisconsin stars
so crisp in winter they cut the cornea—The heat that cooks the pavement
gum or the unseasonable sun—I say yes to dinner I say yes to drinks—
It isn’t a choice that I live, not a conscious one—I explain to a man
that we have confused the direction of future innovation, that it never
amounted to sky rises or hovering cars—Instead we moved but toward
the social—We have the equivalent of a hovering car in our hand, I
explain—I am sexy when I say this—I ooze a sexuality that bends our
normal equator line—Everything is bleached—Calamity as we see it
occurs without us watching—It does not give us the dignity—Marine
life fails without an audience—It will be the disappearance of marine life
that will conclude this planet—We have confused the direction of
catastrophe—We fail the water—The technology of everyday selfhood
does not capture the gradual collapse—Illustration of nautilus with
shastasaurus or the pathogen-fighting seagrass they fear already gone—

See if I am thirsty I can get up and walk to the spigot—A man
pardons the expression before saying the word fag—My eggs
poached perfect in the hungover air—I let a video run on under-
appreciated marine organisms and am shocked by the crunch
of a fish biting into corral—NoDAPL until the memes end—
What have you even done but sneer—Over the sea-dark wine
I imagine your voice cracking when it is done—When what is
done has not yet begun—Isn’t that always the case—It is like the voice,
the speaker of a poem, when they figure out device midsentence—
The valence shifts—Earthen only in how it is stripped—I
meant to tell you I have left but the sun was always shining—
The way everyone looks gorgeous when they say sparkle—Three weeks
ago an environmental activist died and I vowed I would not make
new trash—One napkin—One toothpick—Discarded red onions—
Not to mention that soap required to clean the dishes I ordered
to stay—The dishes, the knives, the spoon, the fork, the cup, the
table, how can this not become trash too when even terracotta
bottles year four hundred (before common era) become junk—
See the future makes us prehistoric too, when words are talismanic
and removed from function—How to explain this yet—I was born—
To be born is the single most painful event of life, we shift in our
skull—One might say the pain ignites us into being, in the same
way boredom makes consciousness an indistinguishable bruise—
My nephew receives a cake decorated with gold curlicue letters
to say best day ever and the newborn receives it and he receives more—

When I said I was moving to Wisconsin, everyone
gave me a mouthful about winters—Just you wait,
they’d warn, excited—Language is an impostor of
history—It is the way the Cambodian lowlands were
denuded over time by logging and rice cultivation,
according to article—I sit by a bench by thawing
Menona in February—I too am part of denuding—
Soon they will be gone—denuded, to be stripped away,
that nudare shares no cognate the way flesh is spared
the proximity of neighboring organs—We are alone
this way—I am alone most when I grieve through
language, when I become the privilege of language—
The sun against blue, a woman exclaims to her dog,
how nice, how nice it is outside—Denuded as the boy
who runs on the solid part of the lake with his family—
Denuded as I sip my coffee from an undisclosed village
with undisclosed labor laws, as I sit in Lululemon and
Saucony and UNIQLO, the brands a denuding of
industry—Denuding the species to find its economic
use—Jane Jacobs describes the death of American cities
as such, but I haven’t quoted her in years—There was
a laminated memorial in the delta of the Yahara for a
woman who threw herself in in the summer I arrived,
but it appears gone, of course, and the gone do not care
if they are missing—On the phone, he said, I want to spend
my life with you—I feed myself a croissant and look up—
The family on the ice is no longer there—I search for a
hole—in need of forgetting—

We come back to each other bruised by the difference
in weather—I didn’t know our love would survive but
I believe in work the way I do not believe in the future,
as in livelihood, what will remain—I jogged through hot
pockets of air in February—Heat like the new breath of
my nephew—This is to say, failure is not the fault of air,
the atmosphere responds like flesh does to a torch—On a
bad site as a teen I watched a pig strapped to a gurney
tremendously alive get torched by a German in white coat—
I do not remember why my fascination was what it was
about this site in general—A site that boasted snuff films
and goliath penetrations and Mister Hands—I think it’s
that I was new, that I came into a life that was already
happening, that stole from me in such a way that trauma
was a video on loop and so it made no difference of whom
I spied in the midst of their torture—But the pig, it stuck,
its leg twitching with receipt of flame contact, not able
to run—And then I left the room wailing—My curiosity
a mistake—My father heard me screaming and came to me
and saw what I had done—In a way it was I who had burned
the pig, it was I who had made this torture economical, it
was I who led me into the room—And my father took a
look at the video and said, of course they were German,
the Germans have no empathy, no sense of the Other—
I saw in that moment the Germans torching my Jewish
flesh and understood—The year was Y2K and
Slobodan Milosevic and another timeline of ethnic
cleansing—The heat in the air today was like history
as a sum total weight on skin—I do not have faith in any
of it but I exercise anyway—I schedule dinners over Google
and hope for reconciliation—Did you know that ladybugs
secrete their own blood when they panic—Yellow streaks
I once thought were oil—What is blood but an issuing
of panic anyway—It is raining here and sunny on the pier—


NATALIE EILBERT is the author of the forthcoming Indictus (Noemi Press). She is also the author of the poetry collection Swan Feast (Bloof Books), as well as multiple chapbooks. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Granta, and The New Yorker.


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