Here in the grotto, we whisper like sinners sipping on wine stolen from a stocked cabinet or an under-staffed supermarket with broken cameras—ours for the taking. Our secrets are coated in fermented, besotted grape juice, brains buzzing and swollen against our skulls, the rest of us just as desperate to be free.
Here in the grotto, I want to hold your hand while you tell me the story of the scars on your chest, the surgery that gave your body back to you, that gives your body now to me, but I am scared my touch will reveal the illusion that is this perfect night, that your beautiful fingers won’t squeeze mine back but will instead ripple like the surface of a reflecting pool and all I will be left with is a shallow body of lukewarm water and some mosquitos to kiss my elbows. Have I told you that I am allergic to their love, about the welts that form like massive bruises up and down my arms after one twilight without a roof?
Here in the grotto, there are no pests—the only ecosystem is you and me, the trees and the wild that we maintain, the river and the fish that sustain us. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t have to.
Here in the grotto, you ask me if I know how to swim, and the answer grows on my tongue like a mushroom, earthen and desperate for shadow, but I cannot pluck it from where its roots have taken hold in my mouth. Instead, I wade into the still water, let my legs slowly rise until I am buoyed by its cool embrace. Some days, this is all we do here—you, with your voice, and me, with my mouth full of fungi, one half of a conversation spoken and the other half grown in the quiet damp of another being. I think this is the closest I will come to understanding pregnancy, though I wonder what the analogue for birth is in this context—does it always feel like letting go of some magical part of yourself, the shiniest piece that you’ll never get back, never heal over?
Here in the grotto, I am wounded and festering and you don’t seem to mind.
Here in the grotto, I have unlearned how to apologize for existing, the old trick once beaten into me finally set loose from these older bones. We celebrate with a bonfire and bare skin, heat all over and around and inside each other; in the morning, our shoulders are flecked with soot but refuse to shrug.
Here in the grotto, we don’t have to dream because we are the dream, and the sometimes nightmare, and the sleep-spoken nonsense conversation retold over and over to remind ourselves of our intimacy. When I lay beside you, the grass does not swallow me into the grave I dug ten years ago—the wind does not sharpen my edges—the tides do not drag me out to sea.
Here in the grotto, we are. It is good. It is enough.
Alexandra Corinth is a queer disabled writer and Best of the Net finalist. Their chaplet Deus Ex Diagnosi (Damaged Goods Press) was published in 2019 and work has appeared in Yes, Poetry, 8 Poems, Bridge Eight, and Saint Katherine Review, among others. You can find them online at alexandracorinth.com.