If Silence Had Its Say
It would draw a blank and let the wind fill it in
with the shadow of a face, gone by night,
boarded-up houses and long evicted voices
blown under bridges.
It would say remember when,
if I could do it all over again, end
over end, bite your lip, your tongue,
bullet and dust, hold your bones
and wait for the change of hands.
It would say here is history
swept under the rugs, in the gutter, smoke from the mouths
of men huddled around a fire, a small locket tossed
in the garbage, and the escape through a back alley.
It would say walk do not run,
lay low and do as told, remember to hold
your breath passing through tunnels, exhale only
when you see light, and sit still,
this is not the time.
It would say remember, the I is silent,
a disclaimer, the dead language of a stone
you cannot carry or pronounce correctly,
the line drawn between silence and keeping quiet,
between the have not’s, have been’s, what if’s,
It would say take it from me,
take the estuary in my ear, the blindfold of my body,
the road that goes anywhere but here, and take my hand.
It would say look to the hills, their jagged lime,
the past emerging from rock. Listen closely to the why
of this hungry earth, the epigram of the first unspoken word.
Find the O of its vortex, the point where the world slips
from the tip of your tongue, the point where you can touch
time’s cold blood. Then stop. Repeat. Revise.
and tell no one.
She is the scream scratched out by the earth,
the broken teeth, the muffled cover up of darkness.
She is the swabbed underbrush,
the shattered shaking of muscles failing,
the fractured bridge between the eyes.
She is the ripped skin splintered with dirt,
the barreled fist on bone,
the cracked rib of night.
Her blood is graffiti on a brick wall.
Her voice, a guttural stranglehold.
She is the torn hair knotted in a ditch,
behind a church, dragged for thirty yards.
She is a dead language.
She lives in the apartment next door.
She lives in the basement beneath you,
belongs to the silence between past lives,
to the dumpster on Adelphi Avenue,
to the gaudy florescent bulbs on Route One.
Her scent belongs to the dogs.
Her vision to reporters.
Her inadmissible ears to the attorney general.
Her fingernails to forensics.
Her face to detectives.
Her blood to needles and nurses,
For the next two years:
She is a recluse.
She is a cold case
but knows her body is still warm.
She knows she lives by virtue of a blindfold,
lives somewhere in a drawer with a number
too long to remember.
She takes three steps back to move forward,
where she hides, where she comes face to face,
the night she refused to die, and refused to pray.
She knows how to survive
by forgetting how to live,
knows the sun will burn out
and every other blurred star will hiss
itself to sleep.
She draws the blinds,
takes a gallon of bleach, douses
the beige carpet clean,
refuses to open the mail, cannot leave
the living room, pours wine on open
wounds, cuts her face out of pictures,
paces down the hours, worries that god
made a mistake and is out to find her,
so she does not eat, can barely breathe.
She sleeps like the dead who cannot sleep
through the night, but instead wander
without moving, haunting empty spaces.
She drinks enough to almost forget,
because it is all a dream anyway.
So for now, check the locks.
Bolt the doors, hide the night
where you will never find it.
Hide it in books you will never pick up.
Hide it in closets you will never clean,
where you keep the black knotted bag
with the hospital clothes and the blood-soaked
shirt, the shoe box of news articles
that cannot mention your name, just the girl
in a room without furniture, the windows
locked, the door bolted shut with a gallon of bleach,
a dose of downers, a bottle of wine
and a gun beside her.
Our heaven is a box of wet matches.
A stairwell of blue flames, the storage door beneath,
where we hid as kids counting footsteps.
It is a ruined country that rises from the sea
where the houses we grew up in with sunken roofs—
find crows perched on the eaves like small fugitives of silence.
The oracles come out to guide us with music in their eyes.
They show us their hands and tell us
that eternity is just the art of counting backwards.
-from Disquiet, Jacar Press (2015), selected by Spring POW Guest Editor, Luke Johnson
KELLY MICHAELS was born in Chicago and grew up in Virginia Beach, VA. She received her MA from George Mason University and her MFA from North Carolina State University.
She is currently pursuing a PhD from University College Dublin and lives in Dublin, Ireland.In addition to poetry, she has also written a screenplay entitled Devlin, which was a finalist in the Page International Screenwriting Awards and a quarterfinalist in the Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She also coedited a nonfiction book on the folklore of Clew Bay as documented by Ernie O'Malley and Helen Hooker. The book, Western Ways, is available on amazon. Before moving to Dublin, she taught for many years at multiple universities including North Carolina State University and Campbell University. She was also an editor at One, an online poetry journal.