Geiger Key

by Jodie Hollander

Paddling through the mangroves,
my oar hits underwater branches,
deep roots, tangled plants, thick mud;
sea crabs emerge from the murky
waters and scurry along my kayak;
whatever else is living down there
is unknowable to me. I push through
narrow passages; low hanging branches
lash my face. I paddle faster, harder,
then stick my oar into deep sludge,
and I slide sideways, into a mudbank.
I do my best to fight my way out,
but the harder I try, the deeper I’m stuck.
For years I am here, unable to budge.
I sleep fitfully, dreaming of sea creatures
emerging by night to strangle me.
I weep and think of dying in my kayak.
One morning I try paddling backwards;
I picture myself as a girl, and I move.
I speak kindly to her, give her the oars,
and say we can go wherever she likes.
Slowly we row out of the overgrowth,
passing Cassiopeia feeding on the surface,
a white heron perched on a cliff’s edge.
When we reach open water, she pauses
and lets our boat linger in the sunlight,
then points to the clear, shallow water,
where a velvet red starfish is crawling along.
Follow this, she says, quickly vanishing.
I follow the red starfish to the mainland
where a nurse brings me to a hospital bed;
she tucks me in, and I sleep very deeply.
I awaken to find myself suddenly aging.
The girl is sitting beside me on the bed.
She says the beginning may feel like the end,
and the end—just one way of beginning.

Published on January 4, 2023