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"We don’t talk about the weakest ones" by Shareen K. Murayama

On the most prolonged day of the year, a line of five-year olds stand sea-facing. They used to call it jumping rock: a plume of ancient lava pierces the sea at the edge of the bay. Here the currents can rake an ill-timed jumper over customs, polishing limbs until one resembles a small roasted stone, a lump of oyster. Parents would suffer the most, yoked to the shore by tradition. The bravest child yells a warrior’s cry into the arms of the sky. He recalls the survivors’ advice from the older boys all year and last night. The bravest parents attempt conversations: today’s weather, the mid-tides. The bravest child bypasses the wet ledge of rocks below, now baptized, now smiling. White teeth and white wash. One by one, parents fall to their knees in disbelief or gratefulness. At least that’s what the elder twin, Caleb, had envisioned would happen today.

He would leave his sister to figure things out, but she, the smallest of the fives, stood farthest from the cliff. Caleb’s grandfather would have to wait. He didn’t like waiting. Caleb imagined the trajectories: running and clutching her before take off. Maybe an underhand toss? Maybe his grandfather might like him more? Caleb thought he had accepted the fact that he wasn’t his grandfather’s favorite. He demanded his sister’s arms and swung her around and around and around until his world became hers, and he is sitting in Grandfather’s lap, tracing his scar from forehead, over his paperthin eyelid, its path blocked at the border of his nose. It is his shoulders Grandfather covers at night with his own blanket. It is his plate Grandfather fills with berries and bananas from his morning walk and prayers at Grandmother’s grave. He whips Cora around and around, ready to be rid of her, of himself, this invisible war. His fury weaves between sea and sky, rocks and white caps, he doesn’t know what he’s aiming for. Gravity loses its name.

She lands, not so gracefully, in the sea. Half fish, half manta ray—Cora makes her way inland. One by one, the rest follow, trusting that mother sky and father ocean will love them, too. Caleb spins and spins. With each child, he releases his shame, his grandfather’s rejection, his quiet resentment toward his twin. He reminds them to release their hold on him, too. They resemble brown ants pinned against white clouds. They are wooden spears cast by their gods. They emerge as fungi and penicillin, satellite and synapses, things he will learn about so far in his future. One by one, they beeline and bob toward shore, vinyl green like coconuts.

He is the last one on the cliff of five years olds. He marks the spot farthest from the cliff, where his sister previously stood. Caleb allows himself a long runway toward acceptance and sprints with knees and elbows, even though the shores will be empty, all the parents closing their petals on their child, shuffling them home. No one wants to be next to the last parent waiting on shore.

Caleb will find his grandfather and Cora back home, Cora retelling her flight, how the sky rained five year olds and the lands will be fruitful for another year. Grandfather will be patient and listen to her story two or three times over, sitting at her height, tucked in, all elbows and knees.

Shareen K. Murayama is the author of two poetry books Housebreak (Bad Betty Press, 2022) and Hey Girl, Are You in the Experimental Group (Harbor Editions, 2022). She’s a Japanese American, Okinawan American poet and educator, a Pushcart Prize nominee, as well as Best Small Fictions & Best of the Net nominee. Recently featured in Poets & Writers Debut 5 Over 50 Authors, she lives in Honolulu and supports the #litcommunity @AmBusyPoeming.

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