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You emerged out of the dark, glowing like a firebrand. And your eyes were twin flames, and your hands held two great, sweeping swords, and the air shimmered around you.
The dust particles surrounding you turned to ash, and the cloud cover became a rain that became a fog that turned to steam as you hissed, and walked closer and closer.
I didn’t touch you.
I watched you, with my face half-hidden in the water. I watched you with my fingers wrapped around my pen, a thin little dagger. I watched you, and I tried to draw you, but I could never make the strokes hold. And you changed too quickly, and I made too much noise.
So I wrote you into a story.
I traced my name around the curve of your skin, brought you forward and back again like a snake charmer. I made you a hero, and I made you kill me, plunging that fiery hand right through my chest, wrapping those flamed fingers around my throat.
And you looked at me.
You looked at me, and your eyes were firelight, too bright to look at directly. And your skin was spiderwebbed with cracks where the magma peeked out, and I didn’t see anything human behind your eyes, no recognition, no brightness of colour other than the flames, and the gold.
And I could feel you. Your fingers crawling across my skin, leaving tender welts in their wake. I could feel you missing me, like the sun in my eyes when I wake, trying to remember you from a dream, trying still to understand.
I fell in love when you leaned out over the still water, not close enough to touch, trying to test your own resolve, to see what you saw when there wasn’t a cloud of smoke.
You burned the reeds down around me. And all the other creatures slunk back into the swamp, slithering to their nests and dens, the venom still dripping from their fangs, waiting.
I looked at you, and I saw your death.
I saw you drowning.
I saw you at the bottom of the swamp, with an alligator gliding through the water.
I saw myself, devouring you.
I couldn’t stop looking at you, and I wanted you.
I took a step toward you, my feet nearly sinking beneath me in the squelching mud, your hands held out in defence, in warning.
I kept going, the wet squelching between my toes, the rain blasting itself to steam against your skin.
I held out my hand.
You shook your head. Your skin had begun flaking off, and the magma beneath your skin was cooling, a gray that would soon solidify to black.
You told me no again.
I told you yes.
I pulled you in, and you embraced me, your breath a pleasantly warm sigh against my shoulder, and I didn’t burn, and I thought that meant we would last forever.
When you curled around me and turned solid, I did the same. You surrounded me into a burnt-flash cage, volcanic rock crumbling, obsidian glinting in the moonlight.
How was I to know that this wasn’t happiness?
I spent too long there, and it still didn’t feel like enough.
I broke out by twisting your head off at the neck, and your body crumpled, your head bouncing on the bank before sinking, half your ear broken off.
I keep trying to speak your name, but I don’t know it.
I only know my own.
I just look for you at the edge of the swamp, right where the alligators find their prey.
The Spanish moss hangs down, and I call your name and wait.
When I see you again, I’ll touch you like a ghost, soft brushes against sensitive skin. Maybe you’ll feel the same pain, but I’ll absorb it. I’ll make it all right this time.
You’ll burn bright again, a slight shimmer in the air, a mirage, and it will all be okay.
I sit and watch and wait.
Jasmina Kuenzli (she/her/hers) is an author of poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction and has been published with Small Leaf Press, Pidgeonholes, Defunkt, and many others. She hopes to one day land a back flip and be a contributor on Drunk History. She would like to thank Brenna and Sarah, who hear all these stories first, and Harry Styles, who is sunshine distilled in a human being. Find her on Twitter @jasmina62442 and on Instagram @jasminawritespoetry.