viking ships

by rachel

I wind record tapes around my finger, the ones
we used to listen to as kids. The ones that built a lulling
soundtrack to days of swinging between cracked leather sofas,
the ones that now embrace patches of white fungus blooming
across their dusty blacks.

These days I lie along our sofa that has grown a new set of
arms. They no longer need to be trained to curve around toddling spines,
the cracked leather having disintegrated into the spaces, a growing
network running itself thin, the searching lines charting
the distance that has since grown between us.

The first line runs straight from the drowsy darkness on my
side of the earth to the breaking daylight on yours, stretching
vertically, pulling itself thin. A second line runs horizontally,
wrapping its arms around coast after coast of salt stained shorelines,
searching its way through miles and miles of endless sea.

Sister, I call you, a voice diving down into the shipwreck
you threw me under when I was 6 and you were 10.
“Sit at the ends! You feel the rocking less up there!”
You pulled me up into the Viking ship, gleaming, suspended by a huge
white crane – I was small and my legs were jittery. I screamed so hard
they had to stop the Viking mid-ride and let me off. The ship sat 18 people.
3 per row 3 rows on each side. A large ship for a small girl.

But this is my sister. She will throw me on a Viking ship with only
my hands to build an escape boat. She will throw me under the shipwreck,
leave me a life jacket, and then cast me off to fend for myself.
When my life jacket shoves me against planks of broken wood,
I will fight to breathe, gasping for air siphoned through grains of wood.
When my lips turn blue she will feed me an oxygen tube
that is also a ticking time bomb.

There will be no heroine hacking through the wood, there is only
enough air for me to fill my chest with hope, trembling
with the resonance of her voice, giving me the strength to
kick through the wreckage again. These days
the gasps of air are harder to come by.

We now find ourselves connected by oceans that our childhood
Viking ship would never have dared to cross. Their coasts and reefs
build us momentary homes across the Indian Ocean, the
North Atlantic Ocean, bodies of water over which our postcards
of reassuring breath find themselves flitting over.

On the last postcard she sent me lived a tiny floundering fish, picked up
along a reef in the Atlantic. Its gills are an adaptation I have not yet mastered.
Even thousands of kilometers away, my sister has found a way to remind me
I should never stop learning new ways to breathe.