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From “An Account of the Otter,” which was published in the Summer 2023 issue of BOMB Magazine.

Whereas some people have a passion for sex, my mentor has a passion for otters. He and I observe a single otter wallowing in the mud. Is it dead? Death might not be its final form, or anyone’s. My mentor picks up the otter and turns it on its side. “A female,” he says. “A female,” I say. The female hasn’t read autofiction yet. She doesn’t even know how to gossip about the people who read and write autofiction, or gossip about the ones who go to readings to see the other people who go to readings. She has not yet tasted the never-ending basket of breadsticks, or felt them heavy inside her, at Olive Garden. Maybe one day she will hold down a steady job and a man. Or pave a path alone all the way to the graveyard. The architecture of the otter’s nest is a bunch of twigs. My mentor suggests we publish our notes in a book-length study. “A highly scientific one.” “Research-filled,” I add solemnly. My mentor draws exquisitely detailed pictures of mud in his notebook. I fling a clam at the otter. I can’t stop looking at her face; only charismatic animals are allowed to have “faces.” Lizards do not. Turtles, never. I’m surprised by the otter’s mild temperament and how placidly she goes about her nesting, placidity adjacent to suicidal indifference, but I don’t know how to explain this to my mentor. After a week of steady observation, the otter’s behavior suggests: I want to die. I write it down as a poem, then I turn my poem into an essay, a confessional one with lyrical attributes. One morning my mentor and I sit up in the thickening grass. He points out a row of cold tombstones, possibly pissed on by disrespectful passersby. I want to die sooner rather than later, and possibly as soon as possible. The tombs strike him as sheer dumb luck. He is beside himself. “If the otter dies here,” he says, “she can go over there.” I take a good long look at a stretch of black mud. His windbreaker arms wrap around me. I feel uncomfortable both physically and mentally. “We should submit our study to Nell Zink and Robert Walser for a peer review,” he says. “Hélène Cixous,” I point out, “is still alive.” There are clams here, barrels of them, but no money. There is no money in otters, either. We’ll probably send it to some other people.

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October 2023

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