Home is a riverbed. It is the squelch of my toes burrowing into mud like clams, and the suction refusal of that mud to let my feet go. It is the wildflower laughter springing full-bellied from moist earth, and the maps I trace in the wrinkles of my fingertips. For me, river water can feel so smooth that it becomes a second skin and I can’t tell which parts of me are submerged. Once, I sliced my foot open on a rock while swimming and watched my blood cloud the water. When I lifted my foot, the crooked wound leaked clear and the river became a part of me.
Now home is invisible on my horizon. I feel not like I’m wading in the river but like I’m lost at sea. I fear the unknown planets and creatures miles beneath, afraid they’ll brush my suspended toes, afraid to discover them, afraid not to. This saltwater can’t quench my thirst for shore.
But before I learned to swim, I learned to float. It can save your life.
The trick is to lie on your back and let go of every tendon-clenching, muscle-tightened twist in your body. To unravel the knots in your own spine and allow the water to lap at your cheeks, run through your veins. In order to float, you have to let go of your fear of sinking.
From the river, I learned to make a lifeboat of myself. So maybe home isn’t a fixed destination slipping from my grasp like the rope of an anchor.
Maybe home is floating.
Lifeboat, by Emily Baird
produced in part as a handout during the second
Arc Poetry Walk, curated and hosted by rob mclennan,
walking around Glebe, May 25, 2018
above/ground press broadside #344
Emily Baird recently completed her third year at Carleton University in a Combined Honors English and Human Rights degree. Hailing from the small town of Deep River, Ontario, she has been thrilled with the many opportunities to write and share her poetry since moving to Ottawa. Emily is the winner of this year’s George Johnson Poetry Prize (for her poem “Lifeboat”) and has previously been published in Carleton’s In/Words magazine for her poem “Les Cloches D’Is.”