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!
in galley coat closets at naptime
after Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street aired on the wall-mounted box television set.
crabapples over her fence
and we got in trouble when
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.
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.