Midwestern flower beds are almost as soft as seawater, but only if you ignore the fear of drying out. They are much softer still than the aquarium stares of frightened children behind cold, fingerprint-smudged walls. A tiger shark drags her clumsy fins between daffodils, daisies, and chrysanthemum stems, miles away from her former glass castle. Faint stripes caress yellow petals and waxy leaves as she wiggles and waddles through soft, damp, seed-speckled soil. Am I going in the right direction? Her milky stomach squishes ladybugs and larvae into fertilizer beneath a salmon sunset. Swords for teeth slice vegetation all along the way, like a worm eating tunnels below the garden. Should I just turn back? She breaches, her tiny scales nicking and cutting peonies and poppies on her way upward. Is the safety of home worth my suffocation? The zig and zag of her mouth opens to make room for a beehive hanging from a spindly sapling once held up by strings like tuna nets. Or will that only show everyone that I have failed on my journey? The tiger shark falls back to the flower bed. The pungent honeycombs sink into shards of splintering pearls and snow-capped Himalayas. What if I don’t find what I’m looking for? Yellow sugar, a slower molasses, drips down the predator’s pink gums as her sandpaper body flops back onto the mud and mulch of the garden. Do I even know what I’m looking for? The shark’s dorsal fin sinks into soil like a trowel. Suspended,upside-down, her tail swishes back and forth through the air. What if I die here? Breadwinning bees return to their sticky home stuck between jaws, spikes going unnoticed, new decor mounted on the walls of the queen’s quarters. Will it always feel this hard? Paths of drool and honey roll down the snout of the shark and pool on the ground where crushed buttercups soak up their last rays of sun and sweetener. The salmon sky turns from goldfish to royal gramma and fades into orca’s eye. Is this really where I’m meant to be? Daybreak yellow honey becomes gooey almond crust along the shark’s jowls. Is it like this for everyone?
—if she just keeps moving her tail, the sky looks every bit as wide as water—honey tastes every bit as rusty and salty as the blood of a reckless seagull—a forget-me-not feels every bit as fragile as a ripple interrupted by a wave.
Haley Byer is a lesbian poet from Ohio. She received her BFA in creative writing and sociology from Bowling Green State University. Her work has been published in Prairie Margins and Bandit Fiction.