Alisa Caira
Brown University, BA Anthropology, 2022

My closest relative is the mudskipper. They are half-hearted things, “walking” on earth by dragging their bodies along with their arms, “swimming” by flailing. We are half-hearted bodies, trudging through muds that are soft and untethering.

I am just as watery as the mudskipper, but not-so-belonging to the water. Why did the Earth say I must walk along it? Why was I granted a nose and a mouth with which to breathe? Solid ground was never something I wanted over fluid waters. I relate more to the half-creature which neither is or isn’t.

The mudskipper knows more of me than my Mother does. The mudskipper hears of what-in-betweenness I have. My Mother and I talk over breakfast, but the meal fades fast. We order quickly and talk only quickens as the plates are brought away. Condensation trails down the water glasses, and I write our lessons onto the wooden table.

I say some things, but not many. I speak of other people and other species, other times and other things. They are adjacent to my life, as is the water to the land, but the places they touch are more intra-­active than I allow her to believe. They are tender and scientific, a part of each other in sentiment and sediment.

She asks me, “But what of you?” And I evade the bill and walk out the door.

The mudskipper sees more of me than my Father. The fish is a meal to him, served with potatoes, a threatening beige. I am a daughter. He sings songs of me as his little girl and does not water the fishier parts. Still, I am consumed by all that he wants for me.

A grill ignites on the back porch, and I watch meat burn. The summer is hot, and my skin sweats the water I wish to keep. Everything smells of cut grass and smoke. Nothing else is close. I keep to the shade, the shoreline of light.

The mudskipper is closer than my lovers. It understands the state that I am in by being, by being muddy. I am a dirtier thing than those who have loved me would like to admit. Nails filled with dirt. Teeth too yellowed. Corners soft, not yet stuffed. Mud still wet, leaking.

The mudskipper is faraway. It doesn’t know I exist. And I know of the mudskippers through glass and far glances. We are not friends. I would like to be, but I don’t think I would be enough for them. I am not enough in-between for them.

They would ask me why I had feet and hands. Ask me how it was fair that I could swim and run. I wouldn’t answer, instead crawling away from the swampy parts of myself. Drowned in the waters. Lost in the forest.

Alisa Caira is holding their breath.