by Susan Nguyen
Behind the church lies a labyrinth of poplar and hickory, dirt paths cutting through ravine and the backs of suburban homes, their brick patios and striped furniture. Suzi loves getting lost, how she can step into woods and exit in a cul-de-sac eight blocks away, loves it best when the tadpoles form a halo around her toes.
In the green light of summer, poison ivy edges up sycamore and sweet gum, hangs between trees like red-velvet rope that Suzi has only seen in taped movie premieres and leading into Thea’s Adult Boutique.
Suzi wants to swing from these poison ivy ropes, contort her body like a circus performer, hang suspended above dog-walkers and deer.
Before he disappeared, Suzi’s father taught her how to catch tadpoles in her hand. The trick wasn’t just to stay still but to stop breathing. He caught dozens like this, knees bent and pant legs folded, his face inches above the creek.
He taught her that their first language was named after tadpoles, the way they moved through water: a knife dissecting the stratosphere, a voice cutting quiet.
Suzi’s third-favorite memory of her father is walking hand-in-hand on the side of two-lane roads, past the public swimming pool in someone else’s neighborhood while trying to identify Virginia trees.
In their plastic Kmart bag: leaves with rounded lobes, toothed margins. Needle clusters.
She can still identify red oaks and hornbeams. In one pocket rests a zodiac-sign lighter, a button from her mother’s favorite blouse. In the other: acorns for burying.
The tadpoles swim easily into the old peanut butter jar Suzi finds in the woods. They flow through her fingers like an egg yolk, and her impulse is to cradle one in her mouth: the tadpole swims circles and Suzi’s tongue follows, mapping its movement before spitting.
Susan Nguyen is an MFA candidate in poetry at Arizona State University where she serves as the poetry editor for Hayden's Ferry Review. She is the recipient of several fellowships from the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is from Virginia. Find her at www.girlpoet.co