Only You Know

Stuck on the shoulder

but it feels like the edge of a knife

Cut to the right and your ninety years older

Swerve to the left and feels like the end of your life

It’s just like they always say

You can’t take it with you when you die or drive away

What would it have been like 

if you were too dead to stay?

Only you know

Only you had the nerves of a feather

Waiting all night 

just to pull it all together

Howled at the shame

Watched purple turn to yellow

Cradled your namesakes

like a cellist holds a cello

It was all over by morning light

Took what you could carry

Brought a gun to gunfight

Off like a bullet, crossed the Colorado prairie

Lodged yourself deep in a cottonwood tree

Made out like a bandit 

And they coulda sworn you planned it

askin’ what it’s like just to be so free

Your cottonwood tree twists 

like a vein across the plains

You release your fists

where you strained against your chains

Now you’re asking what took you so

long to admit it

Sittin’ with your feet up on the gas firepit

Only you know


In Memory of a Daycare Lady 

Celery peanut butter raisin boats

floating on a round tray in the late spring morning sunlight.

A dozen hands anchored by just six words:

You touch it, you eat it.

What do you say?
You say ¡Gracias!

We slept 

in galley coat closets at naptime

after Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street aired on the wall-mounted box television set.

We threw 

crabapples over her fence 

and we got in trouble when 

we ate 

wild dandelion buds 

if she left us unsupervised for too long in the backyard playground.

Tia Carmen taught us everything we needed to know in life

before we turned five.

Fight fair, using only your words.

A big heart

that broke long before it stopped beating.

A water lung

that remembered Hawaii

the way no one should have to remember Hawaii.

After everything, everyone

misses the daycare lady 

in the North End corner casa,

whose casa was your casa


Pandemic Scorecard

Give yourself 20 points if you are in the habit of adopting a “Word of the Year” to live by, and the word for 2020 was Enoughness.

Give yourself 10 points for spending the first month sheltering-in-place frantically working thirteen-hour days on the twin bed in the guest room, only for someone high up, who is not your boss, to tell you that it isn’t enough. 

Deduct 3 points if you take responsibility for a friend’s actions based on a colossal misunderstanding, and then you find out the hard way that half of your friend group – people you cherished and expected to be in your life forever – was never your friends to begin with, and never will be. If you became so distraught you vomited on yourself, add 15 points. Tack on 1000 points for seeking grief counseling from a therapist online who lets you text her between virtual sessions. 

Add 8 points to your score if you try to stay six feet away from everyone at the grocery store while realizing that anyone who can scoop you up in all your despair lives entire states away or halfway around the world, and you might never see them again. Add 4 points for staring at the food in your cart and realizing you don’t want to live long enough to eat all of it, but you’ve already touched everything so you can’t put it back. Give yourself 12 points if you snivel your way through the checkout lane but the cashier doesn’t even register your tears, and she acts like you’re not even the first person to cry on her shift today.

Give yourself 5 points if you feel hopeless and consider calling a suicide hotline on your birthday, but you won’t tell your therapist about it for a whole month because you were doing so well, and you don’t want to disappoint her, too. 

Subtract 7 points if you lose your appetite so entirely that your doctor threatens you with a medical diet and she orders a bone density scan. You’re not even forty. 

Add 11 points if your low-life neighbor down in #202 starts dating an even lower-life and lets him move out of his car and into her condo. She runs outside fully naked to fight with him in the parking lot during a snowstorm. He threatens to slit your throat and bash your face in, and he tells you to “fuck off and buy a house” if you don’t like it, so you fuck all the way off and hire a realtor. Add 13 points if you are outbid on the perfect home, thrice. 

Include an additional 50 points if your husband’s company lays him off.

Deduct 100 points if you suffer a psychotic break stemming from a panic attack, and you bruise your brain with abusive thoughts, and hurt someone you really care about with your words. 

Did you watch your teenage stomping grounds in the Santa Cruz mountains burn from afar, and your mom and lifelong friends were evacuated, and then you tasted the delicate ash days later? 90 points. 

Give yourself 30 points when you watch your favorite hiking trails and parts of Rocky Mountain National Park blacken and belch toxic smoke.

Did you lose your religion along the way? Give yourself 85 points.

In the restructure, is your boss defending your role to his bosses, and no one’s role is safe? 110 points.

Add 35 points for taking a long, cold autumn hike and coming down the mountain to order your first hamburger in ten years at your local watering hole. You worry that you’ll disappoint people who abstain from red meat if they ever find out. You worry that you’ll disappoint anyone abstaining from indoor dining during a pandemic if they ever find out. Give yourself 70 points for saying, “Fuck that,” and eat the hamburger anyway. Subtract 4 points if you worry you’ll disappoint someone for using the F-word. 

Begin tallying up your points and realize that, if the highest score wins, maybe this isn’t a game you want to play after all. 

But that hamburger with ketchup, pickles, and no onions sure was satisfying. And, for now, that will have to be enough. 


*

Jody Rae earned her B.A. in Literature – Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz. Her creative nonfiction essays appear in The Avalon Literary Review, The Good Life Review, and From Whispers to Roars. Her short story, “Beautiful Mother” was a finalist in the Phoebe Journal 2021 Spring Fiction Contest. She was the first prize winner of the 2019 Winning Writers Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest for her poem, “Failure to Triangulate”. Her work can be found at www.criminysakesalive.com.

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