At eleven, the burn left a dappled sea
across my legs. Picture body as terrain: swordfish threading
through reefs, divers rubbing their eyes in sleepless wonder.
Nurse told me to hold still. I couldn’t.
Mako sharks were circling their prey;
how they laced my thighs like silvered scabs.
There is coral under my fingernails
from kneading burn cream into the reefs.
These hands of mine raised tsunamis, banished
the anglerfish to its cave. Tell
the electric eel it is no longer safe. Tell
the skin-bubbles that Nurse’s needle
is baying for their blood.
(Like any good shark, it could taste fear.)
Five years later I pour green tea, unscathed.
A fly drowns in my cup. White hospital walls
dissolve with the tea leaves. Still I am afraid
of fish markets. Still it is not easy
to walk by rows of gutted eels and think:
Look at you, brother. They’ve got you now.
Every time I look at the sea, it muscles
into something colder. Seabirds are sent to pick apart my thighs, dark burn-spots
The pebbled waves wouldn’t know me now,
the way any good shark would call me alien
even though, I swear, I was animal once.
My skin wore bubbles like scales.
When I stole my body back from the tides,
I shook out the crabs from its pockets, listened to its pulse
the way fanged things fall in love with the night.
Nandita Naik is a junior at Proof School. She is published/forthcoming in the Rising Phoenix Review, Canvas Literary Journal, and Polyphony HS.