Winnow

In the warm cocoon of a calm childhood, sleep descended, downy soft
Air inhaled-exhaled easily, soft skin on crisp cotton sheets
Bright, crayon-box dreams were standard production of cosy nights for years.

But frights found their way through unfamiliar movement, harsh words
Whisper hissed behind doors quickly-tightly shut
Secrets came-in-went-out through the kitchen door, heavy footsteps fading, leaving.

Cold shivers replaced blankets as your night cover
No rounded thoughts or multi-worded sentences were shared
The most important detail of your life story spoken casually, chosen carelessly, by another.

And no matter which way you turned your ear to the pillow, you couldn’t ever hear it.

**a poem I’ve written and re-written. I keep wanting to improve it because the subject matter is so personal. This is the April 2017 version. **

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Place

When the car turned off the smooth highway pavement, its tires met dry dirt and sun-heated gravel: a winding, country, almost-road with bumps, lumps and potholes. Necessarily, her uncle had to brake, gear down, and slow the station wagon’s speed. In the trunk, luggage and boxed groceries rattled in anticipation of tipping.

This was Jane’s favourite part of the annual journey to the lake. The smell of dusty red earth billowed up to her as she turned to face the view out the open side window. At this leisurely speed, Jane could see the surroundings crystal clearly. She saw every speckled rock, every brightly coloured flower tipping towards the sun, every tall, toasted grass in movement with the breeze caused by their wagon driving past.

What if they hadn’t ventured up to the cabin this late August, Jane wondered. What if those flowers and grasses had been given time and room to just be still? Would nature in all its forms have waited another summer for Jane and her family? Or would the dried and crumbly flora have wandered off, in search of water and adventure in the nearby mossy forest?

dirt road

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Particulate

It takes all my strength to close the bedroom window with a dignified, deliberate movement. I want to make noise. I want to slam the window shut, shatter the glass, scream through the fractured pane, shove my arm into the opening and watch as jagged edges slice into my skin and draw bright red blood.

“I’ve got to go now, babe. He’s expecting me to be home at five-thirty so we can take the kids to the movies.”

“Call me on Friday, Susan? I miss you when we go too long without …” I can’t finish my sentence. And anyway, she knows what I want. She knows far too well that her presence in my paper bag life has replaced the bumps of coke that used to push me through these endless nights.

She leaves me again, her shadow disappears down the hall and out the door. I’m left alone in bed to wonder why I wait for her return. What part of me cannot exist without wanting someone this much? Is it my heart, my brain, my DNA?

I light a cigarette. The first heady drag of biting smoke burns deep into my lungs but I continue to puff until my throat feels as ragged and itchy as the thoughts in my head.

smoke

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Passive

You run your index finger up along the smartphone’s screen, focused on finding tweets to which you should reply. Social media demands only short bursts of attention from you. Thirty seconds of passive interaction seem possible this Sunday.

Then a photo, the photo, rises on the news feed. You’re startled, yet it still takes you a moment to realize the pale skin and grim countenance form a familiar face.

His red-rimmed eyes stare deadened from the police camera’s harshly lit capture. Are his eyes red because he wept? Were his tears released by regret, or fear, or anger?

You turn the phone off – leave it turned upside down on the kitchen table.

Later, you won’t remember the words you now search for in the morning newspaper’s pages. The headline’s inky black, funereal print leaves gravity on your hands.  You clutch the paper. Tangible. Proof.

As you read, your stomach hollows except for the push pull of twisting knots. Your chest tightens until suddenly your body forces a gasp, a reminder to take in oxygen.

It will be many days before you don’t need those reminders to breathe.