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The Shore

by JoAnna Novak

I dive in and Dimitri holds me under. A breath is wrenched from lungs, separated from my systems, like with his mind my lover has made me heave and sputter. He would or he wouldn’t? I don’t mind the unknown attached to a body. The lake is cold, vodka, slippery, transfusing our bones, me and Dimitri, his palm on my crown. We are waiting for them to pass.

Who is them? I whisper. Wah-wah-wuhm is how it sounds underwater; it sounds like biscuits, brioche, bits of soggy bread. I’m naked, so is Dimitri; his dark pubic hair looks like rotten seaweed, my breasts pale pink jellyfish, as though, should a strong current overwhelm us, we are ready to perform decomposition in the aquatic key.

There aren’t currents in a lake, I think. Maybe my brain shutdowns in the summer, I counter. No currents? There aren’t? I like to argue with myself, to watch myself get into messes, borne beyond the dankest cellars of hope on the stale breath of my thoughts. I am a half-shredded encyclopedia, a pie with the lattice picked off, nothing but the novels I pick up when Dimitri puts me down. There aren’t currents in a lake? Wah wuhn wahwah wah wah wake.

Don’t waves lap the rocky beach? Don’t rock crabs crunch underfoot? Bottle caps, amulets, roe? Everything dies on the shore, trampled by:

Men jumping black ropes bestride stallions. Baleen carriages.
          Guards with clubs and grain-silo quads.

I come up and fat pearls profligating on the water’s surface. I don’t like what I see: the gray sky, the nothing of shore, Dimitri’s sewn-together eyebrows. A cloudlet of steam we pass back and forth like a crabapple. We’re our art school’s syllabus: three months, twelve weeks, eighty fucks. His lips and cheeks are stained red: from cordial, from cranberry juice, from cough syrup.

It’s so boring in Minnesota. No electricity. Dumb s’mores. Another lake.

Another family. Kids kicking up sparks on their hover boards.

Are you ready to swim in? he asks. If you’re tired, I could sprint over and grab the pontoon. You tell me.

You tell me, Dimitri Tzantos. Sometimes I confront the fact that I was only attracted to your Z.


JoAnna Novak is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her debut novel, I MUST HAVE YOU, will be published in 2017.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Shore”?

I rarely have the discipline to record dreams—or sentences—that occur to me in the middle of the night, but the central image in “The Shore” is an exception. I awoke thinking of drowning and I wrote most of “The Shore” in a notebook that happened to be on my bedside table. That was unusual, too: I only bring a notebook into the bedroom when I’m reading.

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