Daniel Neff



Phobia is an addiction to fear. Experts say if you swim down
hard enough, you won't drown. Probably. Physics/math/
earth, again: I am obsessed with soil and trees and
anchors. These are things that I can't stop being, can't stop using to beat out time.
The only place bodies be is in the dirt. And the bottom of the ocean.


Queen of corn stalks and steers, I leave underneath
skin nothing but bone, eventually dark muddied femurs,
rotted clavicle and coxa. It is easy.         Not to say it is right,
but the hornwort and the watercress are fearful,
              tonight, that it stings
                                                           to be flooded over.


Listen, my brother & I canoed out from Violet Cemetery
              where we always docked, & he shoved me
out the side, told me, fucking flailing there, how to swim:
              use muscles,
                             use legs, hips.
            Know your body well.

Safely, now, he said, as I was sinking. More appropriately:
sunking. Because I already had given in to the idea of being sunken.
                                    And we all see ourselves as if being seen.
                 I guess, I wouldn't ever have drowned, but tell me how that matters.
                        Earth is body/water as lost bone


                                    king, my
brother be—





Last year, I had the luxury of leading a roundtable discussion with Ocean Vuong, and I spent an hour before the session sitting in a coffee shop going over my notes. While waiting to meet Vuong, this poem sort of mystically spilled out as an acrostic spelling out: "Queer (feat. Loss)." I had been trying (and failing) to tell the story of nearly drowning as a kid, but it wasn't until this hour at the coffee shop that I found some language to talk about the story. While, in editing, the poem lost the acrostic, this poem still feels rooted in my connection with Vuong's work and with how (re)memory requires practice to find some fragrant articulation of where we've been and why it sits with us.