Counting

Jason could feel his heart in his throat again, tight and hot and pounding. He remembered the things his therapist had told him he could do, when he got that feeling. Ground yourself, Dr. Moon had said, by counting the things in the real world around you. You can start with things you can see, or things you can touch, or things you can hear or smell. Pick five things and list them.

It worked whenever he was scared before a baseball game. It worked whenever his grandmother made something that was too slimy to eat. It worked when the noises and lights at the mall were too loud and he wanted to go home, but Aaron wasn’t ready to leave yet.

So… he counted.

He counted the things he could see from where he was: one, the trees right outside the window; two, the window itself; three, the seats and their five-point safety harnesses; four, the red vinyl duffle bags; five, his little brother’s fishing pole—

***

The warmth of the day was ebbing; after sunset, the impossible heat had bled away into impossible cold, and the wet from days and days of rain had rolled up from the coast, rolled down from the mountain, and settled heavy on the shoulders of the forest. The night’s fog had come in hours ago, crept in on little cat feet, licked into every corner, stolen the breath of every living thing, and left the world quieter than either Aaron or Jason had ever seen it.

The first night the fog came, Jason had teased his younger brother mercilessly, about how the dense rolling blanket of it could come down so fast, so thick, you might not even be able to see your own hand in front of you, and when Aaron had lifted his own hand up to check, Jason grabbed his little brother’s wrist, and made him slap himself in the face.

Aaron’s indignant howl of betrayal was easily drowned out by Jason’s roar of laughter, and they’d gone back and forth slapping at one another in sibling love and murderous intent until their father shoved them both in a canoe and said, “Come back when you’ve caught enough fish for dinner.”

That was four days ago.

Three?

***

Jason could feel his heart in his throat again, tight and hot and pounding. He remembered the things his therapist had told him he could do, when he got that feeling. Ground yourself, Dr. Moon had said, by counting the things in the real world around you. You can start with things you can see, or things you can touch, or things you can hear or smell. Pick five things and list them.

It worked whenever he was scared before a baseball game. It worked whenever his grandmother made something that was too slimy to eat. It worked when the noises and lights at the mall were too loud and he wanted to go home, but Aaron wasn’t ready to leave yet.

So… he counted.

He counted the things he could see from where he was: one, the trees right outside the window; two, the window itself; three, the seats and their five-point safety harnesses; four, the red vinyl duffle bags; five, his little brother’s fishing pole–

Wait.

No.

He was dreaming again.

Was he dreaming again?

The fishing pole was still in the canoe, and he was in the third row of the rescue helicopter. A Sikorsky S-92, by Lockheed Martin. An all-weather SAR craft. It said so right on the little metal plate riveted on the passenger-side of the cockpit wall.

Jason remembered reading it when the crew strapped he and his brother into their seats.

Don’t worry, he’d told Aaron. This kind of helicopter can get through the fog, no problem.

And Aaron had believed him.

That was four days ago.

Or was it three?

***

Jason could feel his heart in his throat again, tight and hot and pounding. He remembered the things his therapist had told him he could do, when he got that feeling. Ground yourself, Dr. Moon had said, by counting the things in the real world around you. You can start with things you can see, or things you can touch, or things you can hear or smell. Pick five things and list them.

It worked whenever he was scared before a baseball game. It worked whenever his grandmother made something that was too slimy to eat. It worked when the noises and lights at the mall were too loud and he wanted to go home, but Aaron wasn’t ready to leave yet.

So… he counted.

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Understanding

When realization comes,
it’s a flood,
the red tide that is
at once
both loss and renewal,
depending upon whose shores
the waves break.

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Some Other Girl

I am 5,
and a boy in my kindergarten class
pulls his pants down in front of me
in the shared classroom toilet.
“You should lick it,” he says,
demanding,
shaking himself in front of me.
“That’s what girls are for.”

I am 10,
away from home for a weekend, visiting,
when an older boy says we should play pretend,
“You are the girl,
and I am the landlord,
and you are late with rent,
so this is what you have to do.”
I am pushed into the cold leather couch,
face down,
my knees on the painted cement of the basement floor,
and he kneels behind me.
He rubs himself against the seat of my corduroys,
and I think to myself
that there is something hard
in his pocket,
and I wonder if it grinds against him too,
the way it grinds into me.

I am 12,
and at an end of summer party at the lake,
a counselor puts me up on his shoulders for a game of chicken,
and pulls me forward, rocking his head side to side,
and hooking his thumbs under the thighs seam of my suit.
Later, he sneaks up behind me to say,
“I can still smell how sweet you are.”

I am 14,
and during a summer game of sardines,
a boy pins me down in a dark, dusty attic,
behind a door he locked shut,
and puts his hand between my legs.
“I know what this is for.
I know what you want to do with it.”

I am 15,
and an older coworker follows me home.
He smells like cheap beer and old sweat
as he tells me how he looks inside my windows at night,
as he tells me “I know how much you want me,”
as he pushes me back against my door,
and puts his tongue in my mouth.

I am 16,
and I am pushed into a filing cabinet,
an older boy’s fingers digging into the seat of my jeans,
the rough knit of my sweater.
He looks angry
and not angry
that I am trying to get to class.
“If you don’t stop coming through here,
I’ll hold you down in the practice room.
No one will be able to hear what I do to you.”

I am 17,
and I am in a dark stairwell,
and a boy I met two days ago has both my wrists in one hand
and his other hand between my legs,
and he is hissing in my ear that he can tell I am wet,
and so I must be enjoying it.
When he realizes it is blood,
he smears it on my new dress
and pushes me away, saying
“You’re disgusting.”

I am 18,
and I feel the sharp tear; the sting I wondered about.
An older boy says
to be slow,
to be careful,
as though he is not the one holding me still,
as though he is not the one pushing inside me,
and when it is done,
he is angry.
“You ruined my sheets,
you dirty bitch.”

I am still 18,
and I am on my back
on another painted cement basement floor.
There are four of them.
They take turns, and order pizza, after.
When I leave, they tell me they had a great time,
and ask “Can you come back again tomorrow?”

I am 19,
and as I lean in to give directions to a lost tourist,
I am nearly pulled into his car.
When I get home, my boyfriend says,
“What did you expect, when you’re dressed like that?”

I am 20,
and the man interviewing me
asks me if this is my real name.
He is staring at me
in a way I have somehow not yet come to expect,
when he finally asks me
if I am ‘in the industry’.
I finally realize
he is asking me, during my interview to be an admin assistant,
if I am in porn.

I am 24,
and a man my best friend sometimes works for
drops by my apartment.
He talks his way inside my door,
inside my bedroom,
inside my clothes.
He ties me to my bed.
When he is done,
it is made plain to me
that if I tell his wife,
“She’s just going to get mad
at you, and your friend may lose her job.
I wouldn’t want that to happen.”

I am 45,
and I have never
said half of these things to myself

much less aloud.

But,

I am 45,
and right now,
some other girl is 5.

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Are we there yet?

dark things swim below the surface
dark fish under dark water
silverscale shining now and then
an idea
a memory
but they too stir up the murk
turn the water turbid
make what was clear
something else
something less
something more

leaving me with more questions
than answers
more ruin
than creation

what am I
if I cannot learn or define myself
what am I
if all I am is echoes of what came before
what am I if the sound of cats claws on hardwood floors
can bring the warmth of sleeping sunshine
of long ago misinterpreted naps
and the sudden worry
that there are no longer as many cherries in the bowl
as there are pits

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Anti/mimesis

I consume what I have created,
Saturn devouring his son,
and then cry at what I have wrought,
skrik.
Time and space pin me to the spot, above my head
the starry night.
And sometimes all I am is a glove for someone else’s hunger,
a soft self portrait, with grilled bacon.

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Posted in Poetry | 3 Comments