We came for a better life. We came for a life. We crossed, we came. The fish came before the fever. This was during the literal crossing: I drove.
Mountainsides, motels. LED tea-lights hung with mason jars and wire from the rearview, glittery bells on lime green straps: just married, already running. The bear had come, clawed, left. Not even the yellow road line constant: cracked, broken into bars. I imagined fish: Garra Rufa, reddish logsucker. Icthyotherapy: death by doctor fish.
I’d read of them before, the fish spas. With efficient razor lips, the surgeon fish suck-separate the dried husk of us from the raw layer beneath. For a considerable fee we slip appendages through the surface of their pools; they search for food between the scales of our skin. Symbiosis, illegal in the US and Canada.
Logsuckers: I imagined slipping naked into a dark lake of them. Their teeth on me, the dead of me, my flesh translucent and stiff as a chrysalis. I imagined the silver swarm of them, the sheet of shimmer, scales, sliver lips; the suck and slapping susurrations of their minute fins in all the hollows, undulations, and orifices of me: garra rufa lining my clavicles, reddish brown, finger-length flashes; their mouths on the wing of my shoulder blades, the red sweaty flesh beneath long-bound breasts, the wax and scars of my tympanum. Schools of them clustered to the creased fold of my belly button, swarming my anus, slipped within the butterfly folds of my labia, ringing the limp fingertip of my cock. I imagined them gentle-razor feeding on the raw stretch of my perineum, high thin pulls- minute, electric- on my armpit hair; a sharp soothing suck on the burning folds beneath my eyelids. I rolled and spread for them, fingers, elbows- submitted to the scissor-like separation of the dead from the new: my scalp, cuticles, hang nails; between hair follicles, toes-
I imagined my mouth, open, lips parted with currents of forceful fish, the suck of them in the rot of me, fins whipping the slender pockets where gums retract from teeth, fishheads slipped whole to feed in dark softened cavities.
Swarm, feed: as I drove dark highway nights through mountains, deserts, they wrapped me in silver sheets of them, light refractied on the flash of their fins, the shiver of their gills; we fed together, we drowned together.
When it was over- it was never over- I rolled to the surface like the moon, pale, pink in parts like a newborn rat, bleeding thin rivulets into the dark water. Air slapped cold blue cheeks, air sharp-slipped aching in raw lungs. Spliced, scoured: resurrection.
Then the fever. Tucumcari, New Mexico: the Blue Swallow. Sheets damp with sweat. A beautiful blue bird, land, landed. I dreamed of fish, my father. He slept in the earth at the foot of a tree. Three days we stayed; the wind picked up. The neons were off, hotels burned down. I couldn’t move. The winds slipped into the throat of my child.
Canyons, chasms, dams. Sick through it all: slot machines and Christmas cacti. We crossed, turned again through scrub brush, open space: Area 51, a whole state of nothing: abandoned tow trucks, UFIs, no U-turn, no aliens.
Later land, we landed, never arrived. Rats, shelters, donation boxes. I dreamed of ants eating my thigh, tadpoles leaping only partially-frogged from a sore in my thumb. My body the corpse of a horse, rolling in cold river currents.
In chill pockets of the night I wake alone in damp sheets. For bleak shiver-stretches of time I have no idea why I am. I cannot carry the dead with me; the living will not follow. Half-formed things leap hungry from my wounds.
We came for a better life. We came for a life. We crossed, we came. Scales and dreams and dead fathers littered across the country. My child yearns for the place he was born from. I am the place he was born from. The place he was born from is taken with tumor.
The fish are hungry. There is always something else to lose.