Practice

We practice everyday:
checking off boxes,
kissing loved ones goodnight,
and preparing our bodies for storage.
We wrap ourselves in amniotic blankets
and melt into the night
trusting that we’ll awaken—
and usually wanting to.
We’re born into each new day,
stretching joints and blinking at lights
as if for the first time,
so ignorant of what’s ahead
we’ll often look back on our morning naivety
and laugh or cry at what we see.

We know we cannot live there though,
in that nostalgia-tinted looking glass,
cannot snatch a single hurtful word
out of the air after we’ve sent it
buzzing like a mosquito into an ear.
Nor can we project our voices indefinitely
into the caverns of history.
Our words will echo until they fade
or until someone else picks them up
and shouts them ricocheting through time
just to hear how they sound,
and then they will be their words, not ours.

No, we can live only here
in this moment,
brief as a snowflake drifting through a flame;
we melt into night
so when the time comes for the eternal sleep
we’ll know just how it’s done,
only this time the womb is a coffin.
Suspended in lifeless fluids,
we are born into oblivion.

Breanna

     Recess started. Breanna walked to the shade of her tree and sat down.
     “It is my tree,” she thought. “No one else comes here.”
     She opened her backpack and pulled out her book. Mrs. Finley had given it to her as a going away present, and she had let a few of her friends sign the book before she left. She stared at their signatures until her eyes started to blur, then she punched herself in the leg and blinked until her vision cleared. She let the book fall open and began to scan the lines like a rock skipping over a pond. When she came to the end of a paragraph she imagined the rock skipping one final time before sinking down into the murky depths where weeds clutched at her ankles. Then she picked up another pebble, safe on the shore, and tossed it across the next paragraph. Breanna became so lost in this fantasy that she forgot to pay attention to the words her stones were skipping across. She became so lost in it that she barely noticed the droplets falling onto the page. She became so lost in it that she did not even hear the group of girls approaching until they were standing all around her.
     “Breanna, right?” a voice said.
     Breanna jolted and slammed her book shut.
     “Yeah, why?” she asked, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. The girl who had addressed her knelt beside her.
     “Are you okay?” she asked. Breanna felt a pit open up inside her, and the pit was black and empty save for the strands of memory waving in the darkness, the strands of memory that clutched at her ankles as she tried to free herself. She felt the pit open inside of her, and a sob rose to her lips like final breath of a drowning child.
     “What’s wrong?” the girl asked, putting a hand on her shoulder. The sob escaped, and Breanna began to cry. The other girls knelt down too and reached out to her with cautious hands.
     “Hey,” the girl said. “It’s alright. It’s alright. Everything’s gonna be okay.” She sat down next to her and draped her arm over Breanna’s shoulders like a warm towel, and Breanna cried and cried until she felt the memories release her, and she bobbed to the surface and could fill her lungs again.
     “I just…” she said. “I miss my friends.”
     And she cried again, but she wasn’t alone this time, and instead of weeds or memories there were hands. But they were kind hands, and they did not clutch or drag or suck her down. The memories waved in the depths and reached for her, but the hands anchored her in that moment by the tree, and the pit in her stomach was filled.

 

I was a river

I was a river when you found me, little bird.
You couldn’t bathe in the deeper parts of me
for fear of being swept away.
Instead you found some dissipated eddy
in which you could immerse yourself
and sing your titillating gratitude.
You marveled in my ebb and flow
and followed my tributaries as far as you dared.
Dark trees hung over me in which you could wait
for safety, to be fed,
or just to roost and hear my constant voice.
The change was nearly imperceptible at first.
A little softer
or a little lower down the mossy bank,
and you thought the winter runoff was ending early.
But it came and went, and still I changed,
twisting and turning on my own sandbars
until I covered twice the distance
with barely half the water—
then less.
From river to stream to brook,
and all of nature hedged me in
as banks retreated.
Many times you’ve flown to the source
to see what was the matter
only to find there’s nothing you can fix.
It may be that someday
I will find my course again,
and all my rivulets will become one
meandering no more, but raging,
crashing down and rising up
breaking the bars and blasting the trees,
retreading my old path.
Perhaps I’ll gurgle from the depths I’ve sunk
and pour over the sides again
with greater flow than ever
for the perspective I’ve gained,
and my branches will spread like fingers
over this place, clutching
and grabbing it up with abandon,
creating new tributaries to feed my appetite.
Perhaps, my friend, but I cannot tell.
I did not foresee this bend, and
almost everything has changed, little bird,
save one thing only:
I am still your stream.
Come perch above and sing to me.
Come bathe in my clear and gentle waters.

anxiety

put cotton balls in your mouth and chew
while hanging upside down
scraping your fingernails on a chalkboard
to the sound of feedback from a mic
as the fire alarm goes off
and you’re naked on a stage
giving a speech on quantum mechanics
to a group of Nobel Prize-winning physicists
who’ve prepared for your remarks
by digging through your grades
and social media posts
before interviewing your old boss
who fired you because he found out
you’d made a move on his wife
who was twice your age
and you forgot to put on deodorant
before they made you run that mile on hot concrete
and you want to shut your eyes and disappear
but you can’t even blink because of the metal clamps
holding your eyelids open to fans
that blast your face with freezing air
and you feel certain it’s a nightmare
only you never wake up

The Past

Our minds have grown around the past
like a tree that swells over a boulder
as its leaves push upward and outward.
The seasons pass,
the sap runs black,
the old trunk groans,
until the two are one—
though sometimes weaker for it.
Then, in some blissfully distant fall,
an evening wind may blow just right
stressing the tree along this fault
or ending the work the boulder began;
and were it to be removed by some
misguided arborist (or therapist),
the entire trunk would crack
and tumble to the grass.
No, we cannot ever escape the past.