On Reclaiming Space: “Incense”

SW 3

Content Warning: Assault

My childhood cabin was built on an island that was built into a peninsula. At the top of that peninsula is another island, connected by an inconstant sandbar. No matter how many times I have crossed that sandbar, I have never made it past the tip of the island. Sometimes, I like to imagine that this sequence of islands never ends, that on the other side of the island is just another sandbar, although a search on Google maps suggests I’m wrong.

Crossing the sandbar is the closest I can come to walking on water. Between islands, the lake stretches out of view. Like the ocean. Like how I used to imagine the ocean.

Sometimes it is too windy, or rainy, or icy, or deep, or cold, or hot to cross. On those days I sit across the lake from the island and write about what might be on the other side. Sand fills my shoes, my shorts, gets under my nails.

Sometimes there are animal tracks on the sandbar and I wonder, if I ever do make it past the peak, whether I might be devoured by a cougar. Sometimes I can imagine myself as a deer. Not Bambi, but wild and afraid, at constant risk of being hunted or running in front of a truck.

I have a photo of the lake cast in ice: frozen waves caught in motion. What makes the shot so beautiful is that I almost died taking it, almost froze myself into the landscape.

The shore is sinking into the lake now, but I still recognize this spot. This is where he held me to a rock and put his hand down my pants. I remember that all I could think about were the bugs, how the mosquito bites would keep me up that night. I remember that as the moment I realized the difference between romance and romanticizing.

A frog rustled the leaves next to us. That was the summer of frogs – they were everywhere. You couldn’t drive down the street without crushing them. That was the summer of death, the air sick with hundreds of tiny dead bodies, and none of them princes.

Under sheets of snow, it has been hard not to long for summer. But what I hope for is not always what I get. I used to imagine a lot of things. Now I mostly get them wrong. My wrongness sees the flaws in what is right.

It snowed again in the city and a stranger grabbed my arm in the station. I looked at his smile and didn’t know what to say.

I escaped to a bookstore. I noticed the shop smelled like my cabin and I told this to the cashier. “It’s the incense,” she told me, “to cover up the smell of rot.”


these words by Eileen Mary Holowka were inspired by the colour of Sarah Williams