Aftershock

A few years ago, one of our neighbors
sent out a flare from their backyard.
With one furious breath, they sent up a soulless vase.
Our yard was mistaken for a soft grave.
The bottle shattered into waves,
washed over concrete, found pockets in the soil.
Today, I tend to this ill bed; this dry cake, splitting.
Its snaking lines tell secrets to anything that’s still alive.
On my hands and knees, I dig out insatiable leeches.
I’m a frustrated creature, searching for the end
of a tunnel that is terrified of me.
Then I see it.
I see the shine of another piece to the puzzle;
a glass splinter, staring up at me,
as if I was the one who put it there.
I remember giving myself permission to nod off in the left lane.
I struck a stopped car and a slingshot tried to throw me forward
but the seat belt became a slab of concrete that swung into my chest.
I thought I was still asleep when I got out of my car.
The front of it looked as betrayed as I felt, with its crumpled
accordion frown and one lousy, caved-in headlight.

I let go of the weeds and throw my fist into the ground.
I feel their gaze; their weary, bloodshot eyes, waiting to see
my first valid stride; a step that would give them permission to rest;
a step that would convince them that I can keep myself afloat;
that I won’t drown if they turn their backs.
It takes a few blows before my knuckles feel dazed.
I throw a few more before I let myself breathe.
I tell myself to keep hitting the ground. Stay with the rhythm.
Don’t fall behind. Commit to the impact; the shock that
keeps me flinching. Push past the swelling and the peeling skin,
until I arrive to the burning heat that makes no apologies.
I force these confused, little bones to come down with
the certainty of a claw hammer.

Maybe if I inflict the right amount of pain
I’d truly understand how far I’ve let this spread,
how much debris has landed on their shoulders, in their dreams;
how long the shadow of resentment has thrived on our silence.
Their suffering should suffice as motivation enough;
the straightforward lesson to live as they do; struggling,
but still surviving, knowing there’s no alternative.

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