“Breaking Point” by Emily Pickering

Emily Pickering


Our tree fell yesterday when no one was home. Just
took one last breath and keeled down, pine shuddering

and glass baubles dropping with a hollow sigh
of defeat. I was out shopping with my sister, and

we passed a masked Santa Claus in the mall, children
banished to a forlorn chair adjacent to the lap they

longed to sit on. At first, it was easy to describe how
disease infiltrates a body, creeps below the radar like a wild

dog tracing fence lines. Even then, we spoke only about our
strength, because grief on an unfamiliar person bares

teeth like a scarlet letter. I remembered when we were all
butterflies; a brush of knuckles could rip wings. Too fragile

to embrace alive. Now, we are all fountains buried in heaps
of coins, people tossing fists of flashy wishes at each other

with a concerted jonesing for relief. How gently our heed slips
out of our hands, how gently a girl’s vigilance can be worn

down to the bone. The two-dimensional faces of distant relatives
and college friends grace our Christmas cards, typical reunions

cancelled while we assess the proper amount of fear, using an
eye-dropper to parse out the quota of griping over these particular

griefs. We will later give way to a collective desquamation, unveiling
former emotional recessions; I could swear even this summer’s

sunflowers opened late. Yes, our tree fell yesterday and we
swept the fallen ornaments into the trash—aren’t they all

replaceable, at the end of the day—and brushed out the branches
until they unfurled from a fist to an open palm.

from Poets Respond
December 26, 2021


Emily Pickering: “For all those who have found their holidays affected—once again—by COVID-19.”

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