The water was cold when I fell into it. The shock the fall and the cold of the water caused my lungs to contract and my scream was soundless. I kicked to the surface until my mouth opened to the cold air and my scream became a sound that echoed like I was in an enclosed room. After I exhausted my lungs of oxygen, I began to trend water and peered into the blackness to find an outline, shape, something recognizable; there was nothing. I began to swim, kicking and paddling, hoping to reach something dry. Then I ran head-first into something solid. My head bumped, once, then twice, then I reached up to touch it with my hands; it was a wall. Solid, flat with no discernible markings to tell me where I was or what I was in. I moved along the wall, treading water, until I reached a joint, then I moved along that wall, then another, and finally another. I was in a box. I wanted to cry out for help, but was too exhausted to move. Suddenly, I heard the noise of a machine. A large wave overtook me, and then water began to fill the box until I hit my head again on the ceiling. I took one last gasp of air. Then I woke up. The covers curled around me, indicating that I had another nightmare. The wave machine, meant to help me sleep, was knocked to the floor, but the crashing wave sound echoed off the walls of the room. Outside, the garbage truck was backing up for its weekly pickup. Ah, Wednesday! Only two more days of going to work at Amazon, sitting in my box, starting at the computer screen. I suppose I could make it through if the boss would let me hang up a picture or two, but he says with hyphenated hands that it is against company policy. So I sit in my little box, answer the phone and waiting for the clock to strike 5:00 pm.
I was sitting at my computer typing when I looked up at the cat. Normally, he sat next to me as I typed with his small head on my leg. The reassurance of his small head, pressing against my crossed leg, provided a measure of comfort as I fought my own self-loathing to write. My fingers press against the keys on the keyboard with a reluctance I rarely find at work. It is the night. The darkness and the shadows that stay at bay in the light, drive themselves forward at night. Alone in my house, I wrap myself in blankets and the cat stays by my side while I type or read until I fall asleep. The daylight comes in waves and I wake up with my cat by my side and emerge to face the day again. So it was to my great surprise to see my cat, lying in a chair across the room asleep. If he is lying over there, then what is pressing against my leg?
at my unconsciousness
until it wiggles
to the surface.
The paper was worn,
almost delicate as
its lines and groves
are defined by an age
you never discussed.
The writing on the paper
with a right-handed slant.
The curves are bold, indicating
The paper says your team won,
1st place in their baseball division.
I balled up the paper, feeling
the weight of its memory, and
threw it in the corner.
I begged you to take me out
to the ball game, and you were
always too busy or tired. Now I
stare at the paper feeling lost.
I pick up the paper and smooth
out its rough edges. I will frame
this memory and remember that
at one time, you were happy.
the present becomes the past.
You cry as you remember
the day he drowned.
The sun was bright
and waves crashed against the beachhead
without thought to the moon. The smell of salt
permeated the air with a palpable thickness.
Your husband had been sick all winter
and the advent of spring brought hopes
of a cure. It did not happen.
You suggested a retreat to the sea.
He was standing at the edge of the pier
with your arms around his waist.
He was breathing in the salt air,
squinting at the sun with a smile on his face.
He suddenly fell in the water, as you told police.
A movement that starled you. You tried to grasp
his outreaching hands, but they were already cold
and you could not hang on.
All you could do was watch, as he drowned.
This is the story you told over and over to
anyone who would listen. Everyone believed
a distraught widow’s tears. Case closed.
We are standing at the pier where
He died. You stand there and
stare at the water and explain that a gentle
shove from behind ended his life.
You tell me, with tears in your eyes,
that doctors could cure his cancer
and his suffering was too much to bear.
Drowning, you cried, was the only way
to end his pain.
Or yours? You reveal the lie
the past becomes the present.
On the anniversary, you smile through the tears
and walk home triumphant to your new husband.
Author’s note: This poem was written after 9/11/2001 as I, like most, tried to make sense of that day. Remember 9/11.
Towers of Babel
Twin towers glistening
In the morning dew.
Abuzz with light—
speaking in tongues—
did not notice a black trail
of dust and jet fuel
headed for the grand prize
with a skull and crossbones
marked on the side.
Destruction and chaos
rained down below.
While burning bodies
in the cool of the day
on asphalt now painted red.
The towers fall
marked the rise of love.
As people remembered the lost
and rejoiced in the living.
The water roared to the left of Asha as she struggled to drag her pine log through the forest to the left of the riverbank. The first five logs had been difficult, but this log seemed to be heavier than the others, and Asha’s hands received little cuts that bled. It was no matter, she thought, moving toward the set of logs on the riverbank. It would all be over soon. Suicide, she thought as sweat poured down her white dress, was exhausting business. Asha finally reached the logs, and moved the last one into place. The pile of logs looked like a tee-pee, one that Asha had played in as a child, when pretending to be an Indian actually helped her get friends at her all white elementary school. Sadly, she thought, her classmates only seemed to enjoy killing her off since the cowboys always had to win, a pattern of humiliation that followed Asha her entire life. Her marriage was abusive; she failed at college, and the final humiliation was her inability to conceive, a failure that her husband taunted her with daily. Crawling into her wooden tee-pee, Asha breathed a sigh that relief was a single matchstick away. The match ignited immediately and Asha dropped it at her feet. She screamed as her toes burnt first, then experienced a deep euphoria as her clothes, skin, and then hair caught fire. As her lungs closed around the smoke, Asha could have sworn that she saw the face of God, burning brightly on his throne. Her remains were found six months later in a pile of white ash.