THE SWANS WHO SAY MOM by Amanda Claire Buckley

The mother punches a mouth in the wall, and we climb through it. The mother punches a throat in the wall and the father puts a picture of daisies over it. We walk along the linings of the lungs and whisper we love our mother quietly to ourselves. We walk along the wall until it becomes the bottom of a lake. We walk along the bottom of the lake in the wall and we murmur to each other about our situation: our murmurs rise up like captions to cartoons. The bubbles fall out of the mouths of swans—we love our mother they say on the surface.

The mother bakes a soufflé with the father. The mother bakes a scuffle with the father. The soufflé sits on the windowsill until we love our mother too loud from within the walls and it breaks. The mother punches the pore of a sponge in the wall and we absorb the shock of it. The scum from the pan where the soufflé sat cooking in butter is caked on the edges of the holes in the sponge. We stare at the grime and ask innocent is what we’re supposed to suck on? The mother punches a fried egg in the wall and the father puts a hand over it, breaks it like the soufflé. He spackles we love our mother inside and we read it out loud as punishment. We suckle the sun yellow paste dry.

We crab walk with our noses scrapping against the inside of wallpaper towards the kitchen every morning. We crabs, with our translucent baby shells, move within the walls towards the kitchen as if from sand to water. We can’t make it to the table, to the sea, even though the father pulled out the chairs as far as he could—the mother’s lungs get in our way. Even from within the lungs we smell it: burnt toast, oh boy (eyes exploring the underside of our hairline) we love our mother. The house is the mother. We live inside her.

The timer goes off. The mother soufflés and we will be scalped. The wall’s lips purse and ours shut. We’ve learned how to choke from the asbestos. The mother soufflés and her throat runs like yolk and she tosses the sponge into her bag and puts her mouth to the ignition of the SUV don’t tell her, father we dropped her wallet and keys into the batter on accident we swear father and baked it at 375 degrees. She put it on the windowsill herself, though. That wasn’t us. It wasn’t our fault, but now we are hot boxed in the walls. 375 degrees. We are baked within her. We attempt to walk the circumference off. Around and around the bottom of the lake with the creamy water on top of us and the captions to the cartoons are written on the beaks of the swans following us.

We step on a packet of ketchup on the floor in the walls of the lake and it explodes we love our mother and the bubbles of red sugar float up to the top. The swans swim over the innards. Tomato blood trails their belly feathers and when other families visit the lake, they wonder what went wrong with the red belly beauties. The swans respond, mom. The swans honk, mom. Mom. Mom.

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