Nightmares were spreading like oil on water, but there was a tape for that. As we lay on our rawhide cots, the woman’s voice asked us to imagine a scary situation we couldn’t escape from. We imagined quicksand. We imagined being handcuffed and pushed out of an airplane. We imagined being blinded and locked in a burning house. Now imagine, sang the loudspeaker, that you have grown a pair of wings. We imagined. You are flying up and up, away from the nightmare, away from the danger. We flew. We looked down on our fear. It feels wonderful to fly, soothed the voice. We closed our eyes and saw a man soaring ahead of us in the sky. His wings were fuchsia curtains on his back. His wings were fuchsia skin that flaked and feathered as he flew away from his burning house. We caught the ash on our tongues but we were completely safe now, we knew that nothing could reach us way up here. We breathed in lungfuls of cloud whose droplets felt nothing like sand grains in our mouths. The airplanes from which we were falling were nothing but our own bird-shapes hurtling over the ground.
We were asked to start with our eyes open. The loudspeaker asked us to imagine that we were made of jelly. It told us to let our bones be moss, to let them melt like salt into the mud. We looked skyward and the loudspeaker became a prayer. Let your lips uncouple, your jaws dissolve; let your mouth fall open. We did. We opened our mouths onto the dark, opened them toward the surrounding woods. And now imagine that your bones are leaves. I saw the melted trees, the acid-rained twigs. Through my open mouth I drew night air. And now imagine that your mouth is soil. I shut my eyes and imagined letting them sink from their sockets, letting them sink through my skull to leave two open eyes blacking the back of my head. I took what used to be my hand and let it rest on what used to be my stomach. Imagine you are nothing. I did not have to imagine. The membranes over my organs had melted. I was half buried in the soft mud. Let go, a voice said. I did. I opened earthward. Afterward, stories would imagine this melting as the emptying of us, but no emptiness could have left us so open.
Claire Wahmanholm’s poems have most recently appeared in Bennington Review, The Collapsar, Newfound, Bateau, DIAGRAM, Handsome, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Journal, The Kenyon Review Online, and BOAAT. Her chapbook, Night Vision, won the 2017 New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook contest and is forthcoming in November 2017. Her debut full-length collection is forthcoming from Tinderbox Editions in early 2019. She lives and teaches in the Twin Cities.