by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes
I climbed in there once, the sleeping mountain
warm from within and exhaling
through invisible fissures under my sandals.
And then the once-buried now-excavated city,
the blown-out houses and casts of screaming
women, their curled bodies, their mouths
full of ash—it was all just ancient history.
The sky a lemon-bathed blue.
Inside me, no fear, nor empathy,
perhaps a faint hunger
for the sea, a desire to dive
off the prow of a ferry or the lip of a cliff.
Get sand in my teeth.
Imagine the untethered
freedom of this. The privilege. Today, cloaked white
all around, distant spring and cold
wind bothering the blossoms. Routine
steady as daybreak. I will try
to feed a child and not hear
about how others were executed but first
tortured somewhere far away from here.
But not—oceans no longer
a distance. Continents Pangea-ed
by the miracle of flight and my knowledge
of mothers. A dark well, mothering. Terrible
positioning of love and disaster. Bad news lights up
the phone like a false lover, first thing awake, and then my son,
his tiptoe to my bedside, his small hand
on my pregnant body. The trees give in
to a tentative green. Won’t turn
course again, I realize:
this is what you’ve become
and that’s probably going to be that.
Luck would have it. At the end of a forgettable
day, I’ll watch the sun set beyond
rooftops and crisscross of power
lines. I’m walking home, my son running ahead,
and nothing to fear: cars all parked,
his hair a spark, a flame, and he’s going up the walk now,
to a house that’s gray, and settled, and waiting
for us all to return, bring our noise and need,
like homes everywhere are wont to do.
Mary Kovaleski Byrnes’s poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Guernica, Salamander, the Four Way Review, the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, the Best of Kore Press, Best of the Net, and elsewhere. She teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, and is the co-founder and curriculum coordinator for EmersonWRITES, a free creative writing program for Boston public high school students. She can be found at marykovaleskibyrnes.com.