The squid that unfurls from my body now
is not the same squid as the one my uncle dried on
the kitchen porch all summer.
That squid was dead, bleached to
a pale ghost, a wizened ghoul of the sea,
rotting gently in the heat of long sleepy days,
brining the house with its
unctuous, undine proclamations.
June, July, August. That was the summer
I had a family. More than my parents and my brothers.
That was the summer I was my baby cousin’s favorite
because I sang him afternoon songs
and chased him around corners and through the
backyard grass, his legs plump and silken like
tiny carp and his liquid eyes as huge as
any cephalopod’s. That summer the kitchen smelled
musty with dying mollusk incense
and I left my little brother
crying in hot cars and bathrooms and shopping malls,
abandoned like an old snail shell. Yes, in the dead-squid days of
the summer I turned nine,
I was adored and like the world’s
shittiest older sibling, I left everything else to rot,
because I didn’t yet have the limbs to love everyone enough.
But I do now. Oh,
I do now. The squid unfolding from me
has the wet red arms of the living deep
and tentacles enough for all.
I smell like my brother’s sweaty sobs,
I smell like the breathing sea.
It’s been years and I am nobody’s favorite anymore,
but god if I don’t have arms, arms, arms.
—Natasha King (from Oyster River Pages)