this will bring you to your knees. A place where there is no language, because to pray is never to speak but to hold your palms open and hope for them to fill with what the world sees fit. And it is never a new tongue, however much you crave it, but sometimes it is the ridge of a collarbone. Slim, curving wrists. On your knees, you keep your eyes closed, and full is not the word you’re looking for, but flood comes close. You lean your head into the warm sway of another’s waist, bent-necked, and kiss the salt from their skin in solemn, methodic rows. They don’t speak, and neither do you, because your tongue is all you have and it has never been enough to explain that if god were a moment, it would be this moment. The one where you’re on your knees, hands flood-ing, heart shivering, head bowed to your lover’s stomach on the floor of their apartment while the oven timer goes off and off and off and neither of you moves to silence it because they’ve reached down, taken your face in their hands, gently pulled you up, deemed your tongue a not-useless thing.
Sometimes you destroy what you love. You sign your name on the world around you. You mark it until every flower, its every petal, is stained with your name. The icy pink orchid is patterned with your voice like grainy lines of Morse. The birds wear your colors. You’re the first dawn trembling with red-gold light, the first word spoken inside the first voice, the stars’ slow movement eclipsed by your skin, the moon’s slick pattern of slanted light smearing the earth beneath you. You’re everywhere, and the world is too small for you. You’re everywhere, and you’re grasping onto the one thing you can crawl inside of. You write it down. Everywhere the earth fills up with naming like the cold scent from underneath the cedar limbs. You know each separate color, each tiny part, now that you’ve classified it, given it a tiny heart to beat. Still the earth keeps leaving you behind; it keeps replacing you. You’re buried or eroded by time’s slow sickle. The pattern of cruelty is to give you a creation that also removes you, how memory always repairs. Your efforts to make a deep impression goes unrewarded. The future won’t look at you with the same eyes or won’t look at you at all.
Hannah Rodabaugh holds an MA from Miami University and an MFA from Naropa University. She is the author of three chapbooks, including We Don't Bury Our Dead When Our Dead Are Animals, a collection of ecological elegies. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Camas Magazine, Horse Less Review, K’in Literary Journal, and elsewhere. She’s been an Artist-in-Residence for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. She teaches English at Boise State University and writing at The Cabin Idaho, Idaho’s only literary center. Her website is: www.hannahrodabaugh.com
You straighten your tie. Tap your fingers on your leg, breathing in the scent of basketballs, sweat, and a mix of aerosol antiperspirants. When you step on stage, you still have to remind yourself to feel your feet, look at a point just above their heads, reach into your own chest to gather your voice. You still begin with this seasick belly, after so many years.
After all these years the kids are still rocking their chairs back, balancing on two legs. The kids are still chewing gum. The girls still wear their skirts too short and their shirts too low. You have given this talk so many times that, once begun, you only notice half the words. Responsibility. The Reputation of the School. Call their behaviour “appalling” because that word tastes so round and sour. List the recent breaches. It no longer matters if the breaches are recent or not, list them anyway, using your stare to tip those chairs down to four legs, to silence those whispers and to stop those insolent jaws, gum under their tongues.
Now you have their attention, turn to Consequences. Your eyes roam the room. There—those girls. The dark haired one with a dragon charm on a string tucked beneath her collar. She flicked her fingers, opened her hand. You have had her in your office three times this week already. Watch.
The golden haired girl beside her, feigning attention. Uniform correct, shirt buttoned all the way, skirt of appropriate length. The quiet one. The one called upon when a good influence is required to show a new student around the school. Your speech doesn’t pause as you watch her stealthily tear a page from her book. You allow her to fold it, using her nails to form sharp, precise creases.
You wait. You watch her hand reach across, into the dark-haired girl’s lap, linger just moments too long. That precise moment when hand on hand enfolds that paper—crack her name like a whip from your mouth.
She jumps, blushes, panic across her face. Name the dark-haired one, too, call both forward for public reprimand. One saunters, one creeps. One glares back defiant as you rant, the other stares at your shoes. See how close they stand. Sometimes as they fidget the backs of their hands touch.
Demand that crisply folded paper.
Unseal it. Two hands have written—you have your proof, your weapon. Return the note with a demand:
Read it aloud.
Before the whole school. Now. Read your confession of love, your intimate betrayal, your plans to crash the weekend party. Read. Golden-hair first.
You hand back the paper—too late, notice her hand grasp the other girl’s as they turn. Too late notice her chin rise and her feet turn roots. Too late notice they smile, the energy surging, not from one to the other but summoned by both--
A deep inhale. Parted lips and eyes that rest closed, then--
dust motes dance in sunlight, turn to fairies that war for gossamer thrones, chalk dust deserts quenched by teardrop rains flow rivers pigmented, pink, blue, yellow, acorns thrown in gutters sprout, root, crack open these halls and the crows that feast on lunch scraps gather to sing…
Your hand is at your tie, rocking it loose. You cannot breathe and swallow this magic, you cannot speak to stop them. Dark-hair takes the page, grips her charm, reads:
and the forest is filled with bears and fish that climb out of the stream and sing, mushrooms rise from the rich, dark loam bearing gifts for the butterfly king, a storm arises, raining stardust and snowflakes that catch in the canopy…
They pause, breathe. Only then do you notice the sobs of weeping schoolboys. You have melted to your knees, your tie discarded.
and the sea carves mermaids and kelpies from rock, and driftwood forms bones and seaweed makes flesh, these scarecrows make fire and dance with the tide--
You have kicked off your shoes, you notice now your mismatched socks, your sleeves rolled askew, you notice yourself swoon… still they go on:
silver gulls cry: your sadness, your sadness--
summon you inward, call your soul deep…
Your mismatched socks,
your abandoned tie.
Your jacket strangely scented with salt.
Your flesh surrendered to a faraway sea.
Kathryn Reese lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She works in medical science. Her writing explores themes of nature, spirituality, myth and the possibility of shape shift. Her poems are published in Neoperennial Press Heroines Anthology, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Yellow Arrow Journal.
FLASH GLASS: A MONTHLY PUBLICATION OF FLASH FICTION, PROSE POETRY, & MICRO ESSAYS