Between the Water and Me by Jesse Rice-Evans | CNF | #thesideshow

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At Joslyn Museum, I choose my own wheelchair. People stop to watch me: young, orchid lip color aglow, crepe robin’s-egg blazer, crystals dropping down my front. My finger and toenails gleam lavender, bright teal. I plan to stay this confident, the kind of woman that people watch with bafflement, my back aching under everyone’s skimming eye.

I roll to a stop in front of “Return of Spring”, the 1886 Bouguereau oil canvas depicting a lithe white woman ensconced in cherubs, small blooms at her feet. Everyone’s hair sparkles strawberry, early June breeze. This is less spring and more ancient, rounded bellies marking privilege, a lack of hunger or want. To drape oneself along the spine of gusts bustling pollen, the dim hum of bumblebees, how sound fills the gallery from parquet floor to marble wainscoting.

My own body demarcates how I can contain myself: just barely, a subtracted mania buzzes beneath my cropped hair. I remember being here without question: a version of myself freckled with sun, a curly mop of respectful maturity, a version of young I appreciate as the long room fills with chattering white children.

It is the third time I use a wheelchair at a museum. The way my pelvis slips after an hour looming flat-footed on the tile floor. People talk about me as if I cannot see them, as if my wheelchair grants me a superpower I’ve never craved: to disappear as if by magic, the trio of women in Monet’s “The Meadow at Vetheuil”, brushed seamless into chest-high reeds and blooms.

In the Midwest, I can shift language; code-switch for the gods. I become someone else; a mild version of myself, not unbecoming but unlike the Self that spits, snarls, critiques power structures in multisyllabic ornate language. I feel oddly comforted to know I have preserved this self through the deluge of intellectual rhetorics of my everyday. That I can pass as whatever Nebraskans need me to be, to fly beneath their radar for language like queer or crip or pseudo-fascistic, my preferred compound adjective to comment on the politic of the time. These I can tuck away as if I am as empty as a jar.

Part of me craves this silence, this slackened morality, how I can read as gentle instead of hackled. How tired I grow.

The broken glass of the world I am handed sparkles when I smash it, a catatonic sphere of bomb, how a bomb is nothing but a loosed confluence, a world without fences, stateless.

The writing that I like rings true to how my thoughts congeal and expel, seething spherical jumbles of heat and light, my messy Aries moon spilling like paint onto concrete. I am told: omit astrology from yr writing and I copy+paste my star chart into an essay, give myself space to be petty and unapologetic bc that’s what has won me friends and fans and laid a thick moat of disinterest in abusers and apologists for abusers. Yes, that includes you, punk girl who slut-shamed my friend; alt boy who slipped from bisexual multimedia art and parties to catcalling. I see all y’all and you hate that yr jealous of how much space I take up, that I steal it away from you and seal the circle with salt and lipstick. You wish.

If there is a way for me to demand more Leonine madness from this Leo season, let it be known that I am ready for it I am bristling with knives and burning Kelvin and I am still hungry.

I love the energy that trickles in with summer, when I can begin to take on anything and embrace the furtive reckless being that lives underneath my sternum like a parasite, waiting out the slush until the sun scorches my parchment-white skin and she wakes and after her hibernation she is desperate to shred abusers limb from limb and pick her scimitar molars with bone after bone. If anything is festering, save it for me. I like to pick the carcass of ruined men, to desecrate maleness by sheathing their weapons and burning offal as sacrifice to the full Aquarius moon dripping satisfaction and thirst.

I tune into the murmurs of the body. I write on my phone, and my phone now tries to autocorrect to Body, a proper noun, a proper body. Chronic illness, chronic pain, need to be witness and I will witness, I quiet the mind to hear the body, small twinges along my scapula demarcating the site of a future day-long spasm through the complex tree of muscles winding through my wings, I mean my shoulders.

In Omaha, in the middle of mourning everything else, I float in a friend’s sister’s pool after scaring off a flock of small bats dive-bombing the water’s surface. Under the film of the water, my palms cupped, the front quarter of my body the meniscus between the water and me. I vanish into the float, the gurgling silence, the disorientation of the body aloft.


Jesse Rice-Evans is a queer Southern poet and rhetoric scholar. She collects round stones, teaches writing at City College of New York and the Cooper Union, and loves skullcap. Read her work in tenderness yea, the Wanderer, Monstering, and in the chapbooks Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press) and The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press).

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