By the pool we drink from buckets.
You sneak in shots when I’m not looking.
Don’t be a wet blanket, you say. But
there are rules I’m still uncomfortable
breaking. In the gulf later, you spot
a stingray and swim up closer. Look!
you point with glee at his clouded body.
I stay closer to shore, imagining
what one must look like in the wild,
if its fins seem like wings the way
they do on TV, if from your vantage,
you can spot the end of its barb,
if you can tell from closer whether
its mouth opens slowly or quickly
to catch the minnows beneath it —
does it even eat fish? Years back
at some sad sea park, I tried to get
closer. I wore a snorkel suctioned
to my face, green fins on my feet.
I took a step into the shallow tank.
All around me, rays swam about,
their fins overlapping into one gray
mass. The instructor said, Go ahead.
She pointed forward to the deeper
water, to the rays and sharks making
a home out of captivity. I watched
from the edge as if held there
by invisible strings — you planted them
long ago — unable to jump out, my legs
liquid and jelly. I mustered all
my strength to reach a finger out
and touch a spongy wing. It felt cool
and slimy, the residue like a word
on the tip of my tongue.
Emily Lake Hansen is the author of the chapbook The Way Body Had to Travel (dancing girl press). Her work has appeared in Nightjar Review, The McNeese Review, Stirring, and Atticus Review, among others. She received an MFA from Georgia College & State University and currently writes, teaches, and plays too many children’s board games in Atlanta.