My cat startles & I tell her nothing
bad is happening, but
we both know that’s a lie
on a large enough scale.
She hears the neighbors’ doors
slam, the child in the ceiling crying
like an injured mouse. She knows footfalls
on the landing lead to the uninvited
lead to us coaxing her to accept
strangers in her home. She knows
the rush of sirens down Oak or shouts
from the narrow park must mean something
in the same way we all know
that one thing always leads
She turns a pale eye towards me as if to say
just because it’s not happening to me
doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
As we wade into the cold mountain
lake, my sister promises me
nothing’s going to touch your feet—maybe
some grass or a fish, but I’ve never seen anything bad
here. She shifts the baby to her other hip & walks
deeper. Her husband rows away from the widening rings
of sunscreen filming the top of the swampy water, oil slick
of caution. I know she loves me.
Later, I scramble onto the inflatable raft & hold
the baby & my breath. My sister stays rooted
in the water—extracting the implanted
leeches from between my toes—doesn’t
glance down at her own feet. Not even once.
Her husband saw the signposts on the shore & told
no one. He thought they didn’t apply anymore:
he’s never noticed anything in the waters.
My boss sends a message before an important meeting
to ask if I can still lead in light of the news. I reassure him
yes, I’m in California—I’m not affected for now.
In the crowded room,
the men make small talk,