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"Three Poems About Water" by KJ Shepherd

not quite

It’s not snowing, but it’s not not snowing either. Up by the Georgia border, we’d call anything wet and white “snow,” but out here they have words for not-quite: graupel, sleet, wintry mix. Out here you can hear ice break a tree’s bones. My mother used to call any day the air got below freezing, like a boast, like nobody could believe Floridians had it in them. She’d drive all the way out here but who would watch the dogs for two weeks? When she texts now, there are not-quite words for love: stay warm, stay dry, stay safe.


But I don’t always want to be this

force of nature—

your Bay of Fundy high tide, night and day,

relentless until I’m rendered moot.

Let me creep along the shore as some

other creature—

your broken clamshell, piece of sea glass,

this jellyfish finding your bare foot.


we sit at the dining room table with a bucket of fresh names, scooped straight from the shore, still briny and wriggling. “how will i know which one is right,” you ask, plucking out all of the mythological swimmers, chucking diana. the pot rumbled behind us. “i think you just know,” i shrugged, “but if i had my way i’d be a victoria.” you sighed, squinting at a hundred half-chewed variations of kayleigh, eyes where their legs ought to be. “hold on: what about these,” i said, holding a few olden sturdy ones. “not mary—" “hold on, marrryy”—i chucked them in the boiling water until their shells turned vamp red. the decades and silent letters sloughed away in the stock. “sometimes it’s just there,” i said before squeezing a lemon wedge and sucking on the largest one’s head. i handed you the supple body, every letter where it ought to be, sudden pink flesh.

KJ Shepherd lives in Austin, Texas.

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