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"We need the rest to scour the sea" by Leslie Cairns

I’m weird, I say into saltine-air: dry, and untasting. I forget what I used to like to do, when I’d envelop boys and come back for more, or find tulips in the residue of shifting


I can’t turn on the heat, I almost say to my therapist,

But I don’t. I shiver, instead. There was an almost-fire last year: the firemen came

And said “oh shit”, when the flame sparked and culled and beckoned to engulf

The overhangs, the portraits my dead grandfather made,

And the cuckoo clocks, with the tongues split open

On the hour.

But I lived through it. I still thought it uncanny

That a fireman would swear,

For they saw fire and flame

All the time.

But they did.

A flamingo has to eat with his head upside down, or he refuses. He’s weird, too. All pink and tilted like a clock at half past six–

And I wonder if I get vertigo, too. When I shuffle down grocery stores looking for exits,

When I quit jobs that don’t serve me, but often because I’m too afraid – anymore – to feel connected. I’m safer unmoored: paddling, wading, waiting for the next

Flurry of feeling to grab me. A lover at my throat, but gently,

A petal waiting to be picked.

A dolphin only turns off half its brain to sleep;

It needs the rest to scour the sea. When I curl up with a weighted

Blanket, as heavy as the moon waxing pretty, as light as the way we devour each other’s names as they are said in winter air that will not last forever–

I, too, keep half my nerves for safekeeping.

Wondering where you went–

If you, like me, scour the sea at wintertime,

Wondering if you can break the ice.

Cracked and fissured,

Alone and somewhat pretty,

Looking for me with your scarf wound tightly, the northern lights cooing quietly,

A lullaby in the way I wind myself up,

in the ways I cannot stand the way

I flee from all of this, from you,

From ice-fishing travels where you must leave land to feel anything but frost. From my spiraling thoughts, the way I even loathe myself into a froth – sometimes –


I’m safer at sea than with me,

I’m a constant plea, lost and unchanging.

I’m salt streaks & cascading winds. I’m

To remain upside down, stricken,

Wintery & opaque. My locks catching snowflakes like spiders: open,

Needing, awake.

Leslie Cairns (She/her): Leslie Cairns holds an MA degree in English Rhetoric. She lives in Denver, Colorado. She is a Pushcart Prize Nomination for 2022 in the Short Story category ('Owl, Lunar, Twig'). She was an honorable mention in Flash 405's call in Exposition Review (2022). Leslie has upcoming flash, short stories, and poetry in various magazines (Full Mood Magazine, Final Girl Zine, Londemere Lit, and others). Twitter: starbucksgirly

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