The Summer of the Squid

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)