AFTER MY TEENAGER TRIES TO KILL HERSELF, I DREAM EVERYONE IS TURNING INTO ZOMBIES BUT ALL I CARE ABOUT IS FINDING WARM TORTILLAS
A ridiculous dream, really.
In the mall, hysteric masses rushing the exit and there I am,
stepping over half-eaten bodies, jumping Taco Bell’s counter,
rummaging for chips and salsa.
When I wake, I try to untangle the meaning.
Zombies = mindless hunger?
Or, appetite for the mundane?
Because how can anything return to normal
once you’ve held your daughter’s hair
back so she can stick her fingers down her throat
and vomit the pills she just confessed to swallowing?
In my dream, all these walking dead stupid with need
the way I am stupid with need
for my daughter to be okay,
so many years spent calling her name into shadows,
seeking her in dark spaces, hoping to find her
sheltering behind some closed door,
shaken but safe in this apocalypse
that is mental illness.
You’d think I’d have been better prepared,
my family history loud as that disheveled but earnest
scientist flailing their arms in every disaster movie:
it’s coming it’s coming it’s coming
but there I was, like the captain steering straight into the storm,
the amusement-park-goer insisting on another ride,
the stubborn mayor of a stubborn town grabbing his floatie
and wading straight into the mouth of the horror.
Now it’s eating us alive.
I just wanted one more day of pretending
that’s not an asteroid heading straight for us,
one more afternoon splitting a plate of nachos in a food court,
of our hands bumping as we reach for the last chip,
of both of us laughing, of the lie mothers tell:
“Go ahead. I’ve had enough. I’m full.”
from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose: “For years, whenever I had something hard to say to someone, I wrote it down first. In this way, I could control what terrified me. If I wrote the wrong thing, I could backspace over it. Parenting is terrifying. I want to say the right things. I write a lot of poems.” ( web)