glares through slatted blinds,
all chance of sleep frightened away.
I dream a well-aimed volley of rocks or sticks,
a shattering back into darkness—It doesn’t happen.
Instead, the night crackles with static, a thundercloud’s angry rumble.
I read his essay
about why it’s unnatural
for gays to marry, red pen poised. I am not
neutral, not objective. Speech is free, but so is judgment.
I will wear neither a muzzle nor a burkah as long as I live.
emerge stillborn, yet,
despite that, are not deemed failures.
No more than a dog leaping high and missing,
all urgency. The hunger to bring down brightness endures,
Prometheus counts his liver but a small price in comparison.
We’re all of us fleeing, fear metallic on our tongues,
bundling up what we can salvage and shouldering it
just steps ahead or behind catastrophe.
We know we’re forgetting something we’ll forever regret,
that there’s no returning to before abandonment.
We already feel the violation, the entry of strangers
who do not love these rooms, of enemies who’ll piss
on what we’ve left.
A child’s voice keeps whispering where are we going? It may be
inside us. We clutch hard and shush.
We fold and refold a smudged address, trusting foreignness
to shelter us, or follow others, pinpoints of pain leeching
larger, bled pale.
At fences, our fingers curl through the gaps, barbed wire
spooling like toothed lace.
Even our names may go. We’ll carry them as long as we can,
wringing memory from each syllable, then surrender
them along the way.
In the Event
Soon after our school moved to the mall, our boss paid
an ex-marine on staff to give a PowerPoint about how
to use structural elements like pillars and movable ones
like tables to protect soft targets in the event of an active
shooter. The jarhead told us he would be running towards
the gunman, but we should seek a place with no windows.
I pictured us stampeding, eyes widened to whites, away
from light. Which of my students would I let in front of me,
my back a shield? Would I suddenly forgive the lazy and
the insolent? Would I take a bullet for the ones who come
from countries where I can’t even drive, where my voice
in a court of law counts half? Or, more familiar with the
floor plan, would I push ahead, bolt the most secure door,
its scrawled sign wobbling on the knob: Occupied.
Lessons in Survival (Equivalencies 8=8)
The shouts reverberate like shots.
I sidle behind a girder
waiting for sirens that don’t come.
A distant wail points to trouble
too far away to sweep me up.
I breathe, keep walking, pretending
my body curves to shield my phone
and not my organs. I’m not brave.
The New World Order says expect
the bomb, the shooter. Our parents’
world is long gone, with firm borders
demarcating us and them, clear
to those who ducked and covered
under Formica desks in schools
loyal to God and to country.
Now old resentments burst through skin
marring the façade. Binaries
shade infinite. Gender, race, creed—
all fuel flames. Each of us withdraws
behind palisades, our triggers
cocked, alert to the smallest of
given. One learns to couch remarks
in irony. That way, one can
pretend that any offensive
remark was in jest. We become
shadows of shadows, selves so far
in retreat, we may not find them
again. I teach in a mall. Each
day, I work in the dark so my
silhouette is obscured from those
who might do me harm. I open
my door with my foot, back against
the wall. Laugh, but my grades could keep
a man from his scholarship. To
him, I am an obstacle. Why
not eliminate me? Murder
has happened for less. And so I
return to the beginning, to
me cowering against the wall
at any sudden noise. From this
udder of fear spurts poetry.
Devon Balwit is a poet and educator working in Portland, Oregon. Her recent poems have found many wonderful homes, among them: Five 2 One; The Journal of Applied Poetics; Red Paint Hill; Serving House Journal; Anti-Heroin Chic; Rat's Ass Review, and Vanilla Sex Magazine.