"I love who you are, Alice," she says. The ocean lies before her, and in the ocean is me. I curl inside the waves like a child curls inside a womb. Earth says this woman is my mother, but I will not know it until three years have passed. I'll be 25, opening my wrists underneath the sun, trying to get a monster out. Earth says that instead of a monster, geraniums and larkspur and snapdragon will tornado from my body, and I'll have grown into something bravely separate from this woman who sings. But I don't know that yet. I am still young, and salt water drips from my eyelids when I come up for a breath, her love stinging me like air stings a newborn.
I swim south to the bottommost tip of California, and she sings for me. She sings as I swim before her, swim toward her. I play the tambourine underwater, shaking it hard, reveling in the pulling, the pushing of all that weight. But I move too slowly. She has already gone across America in one of those big, fast cars. I launch my instrument East, across cities and cornfields, rivers and lakes, and catch it when I finally reach the other side. I am now sitting in a dry room one day before I board a plane, headed back West. She sits across from me, and Earth says, again, that she is my mother. I want to ask her how it feels to drive a big, fast car. I want to tell her I'm going to Santa Monica where I can sing at the Pier's edge, as she did, once. She liked to garden, then. Sleep in motels all over America.
But we don't talk about any of this, now. All I can do is tell this woman sitting across from me that I love her. I say, "I love you," and I say, "Just in case my plane crashes, know I love you."
I hug her and wish all the water I swallowed from swimming creates rivers in the driest desert.
Instead I get on the plane, and her real daughter scribbles blue ink across Mars. The woman hangs the drawing on the refrigerator, kisses her daughter on the forehead, and I realize that this daughter is not me, and she never will be, because my umbilical cord grew from the stars, and then the stars held me in their arms and threw me here, in the ocean before the edge of the world where a woman who is not my mother stands.
But she sings again, sings of the land I have fled. She sings of burnt air, burnt skin spread wide open, face up to the sun, roots latching and petals opening, reaching out.
BIO: Ashley Inguanta is a writer and photographer who is driven by landscape, place. She is the author of three collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For The Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (forthcoming with Ampersand Books in 2016). Her work has most recently appeared in Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, OCHO, Corium Magazine, and the Rough Magick anthology. Ashley is also the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly, and this year she received an Orlando Weekly "Best Of" award for her poetry. Four-wheeled and wingless, she sometimes lives in Florida—sometimes not—and finds blessings on even the longest of highways.