visual poetry by Courtney Felle

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the summer before seventh grade,

the seven a.m. swim team pool smelled





coursing & so coarse





nasal & nosy


the tiles along the walls

were always chipping

but no one ever seemed

to fix them


like cleaner

like bleach

like beach


but the opposite

of a shore where

my family would

soak in the sun,

the antagonist

of vacation or



i never knew

the difference

between chlorine

& chloroform


maybe this is why

i quit swimming

the summer after


or maybe this is why

i won an award as unsung

hero, exactly in my element




for the first 36 years

after someone found

chlorine, society thought

it was simply oxygen


see how easy for sub-

stance to become

something else, to

become nothing at all




i stayed friends with her because


when she smiled

i felt cleansed

of something

i didn’t know

i had done



& sometimes she was nice.

when i slept over she made

cake batter we stirred & ate

raw from the bowl, & isn’t

that friendship? the dough

stuck on the tip of her nose,

laughing & trying to lick it off

until i brushed it away like

a loose hair. so much laughing,

so many mouths open asking

for something.


on my thirteenth birthday,

she covered a white board

in my basement with quotes

from billy madison, & i kept

them there until i moved over

a year later, after she had

stopped talking to me. i told

myself she might change her

mind, & god, i wanted her

to change her mind.


all i could see

was our small

frames from

the year before,

changing to

swim in gym

class, plastic

caps covering

our hair & us

in the chlorine-

water splashing,

just splashing each

other without end.




i think about kissing

her & tell myself to

stop thinking. i sleep

on her floor when i

stay at her house,

afraid of accident-

ally touching if i roll

over into her. i don’t

look when we shower

after gym class, strip-

ping & i am fraying at

the seams. i already

know. i am all ready

but don’t yet know.

i am closing my eyes

& calling it friendship,

but don’t i know?




i told myself i should leave her because


she could act

so mean, &

even trying

to excuse

her, i knew

she was



we existed in combination

locks & i told myself i trusted

her, gave her the numbers

she needed to open everything

i owned. in may i came into

school to find papers strewn

& ripped inside all my books,

black & red marks drawn

on the walls. she said i de-

served everything she did

& isn’t that friendship? making

compromises & sacrifices

for someone else? sometimes

i wanted to ask for something

but if i couldn’t articulate it,

maybe it had never been there.


after she left, i sent

her so many texts

that all read, “come

back.” she wouldn’t

change her mind, &

so wanting her became

a game i gifted myself

to keep going.


all i could see

were her small

hands covering

my combination

lock in gym class,

keeping me from

the clothes behind,

the grated gates,

keeping me in only

underwear, begging

her to please let me

into what i knew

she could unlock.




& every memory


i have of her


smells like



from before

i knew






& i feel coated

in chlorine for all

of seventh grade


& marked other


is this what they

mean when they

say “wet”


Courtney Felle

Courtney Felle (she/her) is a sophomore at Kenyon College. More of her writing can be found or is forthcoming in Half Mystic Press, L'Éphémère Review, and Chautauqua Journal, among other publications. She is the editor-in-chief of Body Without Organs and reads for OUT/CAST and the Kenyon Review. Find her on Twitter @courtneyfalling.