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or rather, they do not. not the words themselves. it is only the lake.

the conversation words are here, and so i make conversation. i even think, this is good, it is good practice. conversation, for me, is always listening, sometimes freezing for minutes or years until i hear the real thing being said, until i can find the right handful of words to say back. sometimes they are not words, only sounds, because i am so far across the lake all i can do is make a noise to say yes, i am here, yes love.

but the lake is dried up and now i babble.

it comes on fast, this drought. it is not the first time. somewhere, way back in the dark woods of my mind is a river, and into that river someone has put a plug. in my head it is not a dam. it is a big rubber bathtub plug, like a diaphragm that covers the world. this is because my head never sticks to just one metaphor, even when the lake is full.

so there is this plug and i cannot see it and all around it, all down the banks of the invisible river, trees are going a dangerous kindling yellow and any other time i would worry for them because trees are important, but not now. now, the lake is dried up.

the lake is dried up. the lakebed is cracked red clay. it is cracked yellow clay. it is flaking up in huge horrible peels of mud and it smells. there are fishes, still trying to live in the tiny pools left in hollows, under rocks. they roll their fishy eyes at me as i pass. they know it is my fault.

my words are not that lake. the lake is only how to get there. my words are not an island in the middle of the lake, or on the other side. i wish they were. if it were that easy, i could simply walk there. i could crawl.

but the lake is dry.

what happens in the lake, in the middle, when i pull up the pole and let my clunky old pirogue drift, drift. it is the wrong boat for a lake and the wrong boat for a metaphor and the paint is peeling like a dry lakebed and the wood is blistery hot and it leaves splinters in my feet. the pirogue hasn't got a name, or it does have one, but the name is secret. i have painted out the name in yellow paint. and my words, they are not the pirogue.

what happens, when there is not the bathtub plus over that river, when i have taken my pirogue out, poling among fishes and strange kelp that does not belong in a lake. poling past wrecked cars and wrecked boats and coral reefs, and into the mist that conceals the other side, what happens is i pull up that pole. the pirogue does not stop. even metaphorical boats do not just stop, which is an important lesson to know if you are ever pulling up to a metaphorical dock and think you maybe can stop paying attention because you've cut the outboard. someone could get hurt.

what happens is i lean my pole into the rusty iron ring that keeps it safe. i should clean that ring. i should paint it a good solid industrial grey. but in my metaphor i never get around to it, and there is something comforting in the way the rust smears over my hands like blood. there is something comforting in the smell. i wish i could smell it now, but the lake is dried up and all i smell is imaginary kelp, rotting. it is the kind of kelp that grows into forests and looks like it wants to wrap around your ankle and hold you down. it should not be shriveled. it should not be rotting.

what happens is i leave the pole, careful, in the ring, and i stand on my toes. this is not to balance, but because i like to stand on my toes. balance is not important, now, in the middle of the lake with the mist sending its tendrils out and around. it does not matter if i go in graceful. sometimes it is a dive. sometimes, it is a flop. always it stings.

what happens is i go in the lake and i forget to swim. that is all. the whole trick. i must go to the center of the lake, and i must forget to swim. later, i must forget to breathe. and when i go down, and down, and down, and the helpful kelp is holding me and the fishes are nibbling around my staring eyes and the last bubbles are long gone to wherever bubbles go, there are my words.

i can hear them now, calling like kelp, and the lake is dried up. this has happened before. i think of the ring, and the rust on my hands. i wonder what must be opened, to bring the lake back.

Kara Coryell, 2014