2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Skin As Thick As Walruses

We stopped panicking ages ago.
We take a deep breath.
One of us takes a turn
and we run the fire drill.
You want us in a crisis—
we get calmer—
we listen for the beats.
We can walk
on a turbulent plane
balancing plates and
babies on our hips.

We can direct you during disaster.
We can cover our heads,
protect our fragile necks,
and look you in the eye
while singing a peaceful song.
We know how to keep a steady hand
when cutting the wires.
We know this too shall pass.
We hum the song of the screaming siren.
We have skin as thick as walruses.

When it happens—
itallslowsdown
theearthquakes
theexplosions
thecarcrashes.
We do not cry—
we do not feel it—
those are luxuries
for a child born into chaos.

Those assigned to protect us
were those who sinned against us,
used us as shields, caught us
in friendly fire, or turned
and looked the other way.

We learn
hyper-vigilance,
a constant state
of preparation
for impact.
One foot ready to run
—smile at your teacher—
but keep one fist clenched
and over time it fuses
into our breath
so there are no
caught-off-guards.

No shock when your bags
are in the car before
you ever unpacked them—
no hesitation in the middle
of the night—it’s time to leave—
time to keep the clothes on your back.

And your mother crying means you
make your own dinner and your
sister screaming means you keep
your eyes down—stay out of the way—
but be ready to pick out
the shrapnel— put the chairs back
on their feet—hold your breath—

don’t wake the bear— don’t crack
the eggs—don’t make him mad— don’t
cross the line— don’t cry now—don’t
need—don’t look up— don’t be
a kid— don’t let your guard down—
don’t flinch—don’t blink—don’t

We will walk through fire.
We will save your babies
and you can thank us
for pulling the earth up
on wide shoulders
or else the orbit will fail.

First published in Disorder: Mental Illness and Its Affects.

2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

White Sandals

A ten year old girl
stood in the alleyway

in white buckled sandals
that made her feel too tall—

like someone twelve not ten
like someone more carefree,

sandals for a girl who could just
be a girl and not—

one begging her mother not
to walk away,

pleading her only parent to stop
going farther down

into the alleyway dark.
Heels slightly wobble and tilt

on bare red ankles
on ten year old legs

always ready to run.

4-20-13
(Originally published in Disorder: Mental Illness and Its Affects)