by Emily Alexander
Everyone I know is smoking outside
a downtown bar, and I am there
too, my lungs more of an afterthought
than something to keep track of.
When I was young, I wrung
my hands until the skin loosened, tangled
my feet in sheets, night hung
like a net, my floundering body
caught. These kneecaps and their clench.
This swollen throat. I folded
myself like a note, creased, counted
each second between breaths, they
stretched. For years, I wore dresses and feared
my mother's car spun off the road, feared every
road, feared the weeds in the ditch
and their potential unearthing, feared the fault
lines radiating, cracking the pavement's
spine. And even awake, even
now: myself a similar rootless thing.
I drink, flick a lighter in the cold with dumb
fingers. Somewhere my mother drives
and I don't flinch. Somewhere something is torn
from the ground and I am inhaling
smoke, standing close to a stranger
in a dark coat, and it is night, it is night,
and my chest is neither heavy, nor full.
And the darkness, and the stretch of it
is no longer something to fear, but to endure.