by Jessica Barksdale
In the center of the center
of the body is a tight burn of tamped heat,
our smoldering fury at being alive.
It’s hard to tromp the earth,
accept the daily grind, this up and down, and back again–
fail and pass and fail, fail some more–
without wanting to beat the shit
out of someone. Worse, while we work hard,
we are dying, rotting from the inside
and the out. Our flare sputters to a dim memory of fire.
Gutted and smashed out like trays of cigarette butts,
we lift plastic forks and spoons to wrinkled mouths
and vow to go on despite energy bills
and gingivitis, angry daughters and taxes.
War and pestilence and roaches.
Bones rattle. Teeth ache. Joints moan at night.
Stomachs freeways of upset.
Feet warpaths, eyes toast.
Alcohol helps. Network sitcoms. Amnesia best of all.
Death the only true solution.
But late in the game, at the edge of twilight,
a trigger to pull, our surrogate. No, our king.
He will find the way out of this mess.
He will make us great again,
we of little and less. Of nothing. He will yank
us into the glory of the light.
Oh! Look at our sparkling capes, our brilliant halos.
We are saved. Our children, too,
their children, and so on, forever and ever.
His ship sails to our broken door,
pushes the old dog off the porch, slams
the wooden swing
into a thousand splintered pieces.
We put down our salty, cheesy snacks, turn off the television
and walk onto the gangplank.
Yes, we’ve almost made it.
One more step. Never mind the waves. The sharks.
The salt and burning sky.
Never mind the sinking ship.
Jessica Barksdale’s fourteenth novel, The Burning Hour, was published by Urban Farmhouse Press in April 2016. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Little Patuxent Review, Carve Magazine, Palaver, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension. She holds an MA in English Literature from San Francisco State University and an MFA from the Rainier Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.