On the island, there is no such thing as dawn. Each morning on the equator, the sun shoots to the center of the sky like a gun. It is night, and then it is noon. I wake up with the sun dragging its fingers into my eyes. I haven’t used an alarm since I got here. I haven’t needed to. I couldn’t sleep through it if I tried.
Each morning, I sit at the table and drink hot coffee with my host mother. Each morning, with her hand curled through a cup, she points to the door with her ring finger and comments on the state of the sun. Hoy el sol es muy fuerte. Our upper lips bead sweat in a neat line. On the walk to school, I feel my skin begin to sear and boil. There is not a single cloud in the sky.
Each afternoon, my almuerzo comes with hot soup. According to legend, the sweat from the warmth cools you faster than ice. My grey tank top concurs. I am never not sweating.
I feel my own water rise from my skin before I even leave the shower. I am sweating the minute I wake until the time I go to bed. Someone somewhere suggests the benefits of sweating for health reasons. If there were any toxins in me, they are surely purged tenfold. I cannot imagine any liquid in my body has not escaped to my shirt.
Until now I have never been to a place where the sky could bite me. In Minnesota, the sun is meek and mild. In winter, you could go days without seeing her face. I have spent the majority of my life with an anxious attachment to the sun. Places like Minnesota, the sun is scarce. Nine months out of the year, the outdoors are uninhabitable by man. The cold sneaks into your shoes like desert sand. Back home, she is never antagonistic. She is the March savior, melting the ground back. In summer, I will sit outside even if it makes me sick. I will sleep on pavement just to catch the last whiffs of sunset. I am used to feeling guilty for staying inside, for wasting the temporary warmth. Here, there is no scarcity of light. The sun does not tiptoe out from the clouds mid-morning, blushing through a sheet of ice. Here, the UV index is consistently bordering 14. All the brick is bleached salmon. It is so dry, nothing grows with cover. It’s as if you took a chunk of New Mexico and chucked it into the ocean; it is paradoxically dry and open-wide. Back home the lakes are shrouded by trees like eyelashes, a brow ridge, a hat brim. Here, there is nowhere to hide. Even in the forest the trees are punch-holed, white-grey like burnt ash hanging off the end of a cigarette. At the beach, the ocean glints a mirror of the sun to taunt everything with skin. At each spot my fingers cannot reach, the red pokes through in reverse brushstrokes. I leave my leg out under a table and the sun streaks a sharp kiss along my shin; my sunburns like brandings. Here, every animal flees from the fire. Everyone wears cloth to the ankle. The geckos retreat in the inch-wide cracks of windowsills. Sea lions bask in any shade they can find: the front steps of the school, the shadow of a pickup truck.
For the first time in my life, the sun becomes a weapon. On the beach, shoulders and chest exposed, it is as if I have laid on a metal plate. I am strung on a line between the sun and its reflection radiating through me, directly through my heart. For days afterwards I dry-heave, my skin buzzing as if freshly microwaved. I learn sun sickness. I feel the ultraviolet fill me like a poison. The sun is a lover I am not used to rejecting. I take a nap in the daylight, blinds closed. I blink back tears.
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My name is Anna Šverclová. I'm a published poet and creative writing major at Macalester College. I love exploring the world around me. You can almost always find me digging in the mud by the river, journal in my back pocket. My writing focuses on my relationship with the world, childhood trauma, and my hometown. I write both for the page and for performance. You can find me at annasverclova.com