Natasha remembers standing on the guardrail, gazing out across the Cape Fear River glittering far below, the drone of traffic at her back, but everything after that is lost in blackout. She doesn’t remember whether she jumped or fell, & nothing of the impact, or the inky cold at the bottom of the river, or the undertow that kicked her back up to the surface. Later— three days after regaining consciousness in ICU—a nurse informed her how a tugboat crewman had spotted something strange: a dead girl floating facedown in the current. How he caught her with a long hook as she drifted past, & gently hauled her in. I’m listening, but at the same time I remember waking on a cell room floor in 1983—with cold sweats, wave on wave of tremors sweeping through me. She, on the other hand, is lithe & breathtaking & doesn’t look like she’s seen hell. And yet tonight, in this packed speaker’s meeting in the back of a Unitarian church, Natasha shares her history, including her lover’s suicide—by leaping from atop the city parking deck five days before her own failed effort—each fall leading to the next, like the episodic & uncanny fairy tales I used to read to my daughter in the aftermath of my divorce . . . Sophia would plop her sweet, pajama’d weight in my lap, & I’d begin—Beautiful soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen— & she would hold herself upright, & trace each line with her fingertip. That’s how I listen to Natasha now—the way my daughter listened to me then, once she had settled back into the current of my voice, as if remembering that love & love alone can carry us across the deep.

MICHAEL WHITE teaches at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he chairs the Creative Writing Department. His poetry collections are The Island, Palma Cathedral (winner of the Colorado Prize), Re-entry (winner of the Vassar Miller Prize), and Vermeer in Hell (winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Editors Prize). His memoir, Travels in Vermeer, was recently published by Persea Books. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He has received one fellowship from the NEA and two from the North Carolina Arts Council.