Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 27
Winter, 2018

New Works

Cait Powell

A Manual for Surviving an Accidental Drowning


To the trained eye, an accidental drowning follows steps that can be observed and prevented. You are, of course, more likely to drown in certain places than others, and we recommend remaining alert to danger in the following locations:

Days when the morning starts too early, or not at all. When the sun
does not set or rise but leaves the world in a gray, deafening twilight.

Beds where sheets have begun to disintegrate into thread and slide
into the fibers of the mattress. Where skin is indistinguishable from cloth.

Rooms that overflow with the sounds of cellos, with a rhythm
that contracts and releases the heart. That takes the place of pulse.

Of course, everywhere is a hazard if you are already at risk.


If you cannot avoid these locations and find yourself with your face underwater, you will try to hold your breath as long as possible, although eventually the urge to breathe will become overwhelming. Please be aware that your first breath underwater will offer no relief. Fluid will enter your airways and the hollow places of your body will fill with water; you will be replaced by the sea in the way that a dead musician has no choice but to become their music. If you can, now would be the time to lift your head and scream for the shore, in the hope that someone is watching.

Should you find yourself in this situation, you may also consider positive thinking, as well as doing yoga under the surface of the water (especially if you are drowning at sunrise). A failure to help yourself may result in a lack of oxygen to your brain, which will stop your lungs, and your heart. Without rescue, this will become irreversible.


Keep in mind that when you have less than a minute left before drowning, you will be still, and quiet. You will float face-down, hunch-backed, and your arms will press on the surface of the water. You would not be able to speak if you wanted to, although you will not want to, and your eyes will go glassy, and smooth. The swimmers whose hands brush your skin through the water will not see you.

At this point, it may become necessary to write down your sentences in order to be understood. The simplest phrases may translate into the kind of silence that no one else can hear. Words will no longer be beautiful, currents no longer kind: what to do, in the face of such impenetrable loss.

Although unfortunate, this is expected. To the untrained eye, drowning doesn't look like drowning at all.


A small percentage of victims survive the submersion but do not escape the water, which is insidious. You may believe it to be gone and find, without warning, that it has washed away the lining of your lungs and left them bare and raw. You may wake in the night to discover that you are waist-deep in the nearest body of water, unsure of what road you took to get there. You may become tidal, coming and going from your body with the pull of the moon.

Although remedies exist for your stripped lungs and for the circuits in your brain rendered useless by the water, studies show that these treatments come with an increased risk of future drownings. But we advise you not to worry. This is not a common outcome.


And then, perhaps, you will be in remission from your accidental drowning, although you should be warned that your experience may be harder to leave behind than you imagine. How can the world be the same?

You walked down hallways and through doors like a lost thing, fell asleep
before the light faded and awoke before morning came. You forgot what it
was to be warm.

You learned that the whole world can shrink to a singular moment on a
singular bed, the singular feeling of sheets gone soft from too few washings.

You rocked back and forth to the rhythm of a cello until you lost the sound
of your heartbeat. Until the thud of your pulse became foreign.

Because the mind was never a thing that could not be taken away. You may always need to hold some of your organs in your hands from time to time: we recommend a firm grip on your right lung while going around tight corners and a palm resting on your liver, in case you wake up startled from a dream.

But try not to worry: this is a normal part of the process. We're sorry to say that there is, as yet, no cure for drowning.

Observations from the Museum of Warfare

One. I'm cross-legged on a folding
chair in the blazing summer heat.
The welts on my thighs are visible
and a man approaches to ask me
if I've fallen down some stairs.

One. I'm cross-legged on a folding
chair in the blazing summer heat.
The welts on my thighs are invisible
but a man approaches to ask me
if I've fallen down some stairs.

Two. The bruises on my shoulders
remind us of how much I'm willing to take.
I never meant for my bones to be an easel
but it's so simple, when I want
you to take me apart.

Two. The bruises on my shoulders
remind us of how much I'm able to take.
I surrender my body to clear my head
and it's never simple, when I need
you to hold me together.

Three. September arrives on the back
of a dizzy wind. You bought a whip last week
and I let you paint me with it, let you color over
the strokes of my spine. You marked the places of me
that were yours and it was such a relief, to give them
to you. I have no clothes that will hide
the evidence. I don't mind.

Three. September arrives like a threat,
as though it holds the same weapon as you.
I visit the museum of warfare and you've stolen
my bones for a whip, my hair to braid round its handle.
Nothing of mine remains my own and I relinquish my ribs
at the door. I have no clothes that will conceal
the absence. I don't think to mind.

Cait Powell holds an MA in Interdisciplinary Computer Science from Mills College, a BA in English from Scripps College, and currently works as a software engineer in San Francisco. Her first digital poetry collection appears in the Spring 2017 issue of The New River Journal and her individual poems appear or are forthcoming in b(OINK), Menacing Hedge and Anomaly Literary Journal.