“Eleven” by Emily Portillo

Emily Portillo


Today was day eleven and I sketched a garden
in the margin of my notebook. I sat with my laptop
and avoided the screen. Avoided the news.
Avoided the emails and the people waiting
on their side of technology. At this rate,
they’ll be waiting forever. I set my children up
with a science lesson, led myself upstairs,
and masturbated before noon. Twice.
I made lunch, but did not eat it. I walked the dog.
Passed an old man with his face pressed, childlike,
to the fogging glass of his front door.
I waved. He waved. I smiled. He smiled,
and I imagine him now, imagining me,
and feel my face fall in on itself.
I watched my boys bounce their voices
off the wall of the abandoned high school and
didn’t cry at the realization that I cannot catch
or keep them. I tried countless times to pop my ears.
Failed repeatedly. I held my six-year-old on my lap
like an infant. Stroked his head until staccato breath
eased into whole notes. I wrote a poem
with the weight of him against me. I read a poem
in the weight of him against me. I read
an article about a disease, which has become
too much for my jaw to handle. Or, at least,
I tell myself that’s why it aches, but in reality
I may need to see a dentist. I googled “tight jaw”
and cried in the shower. That’s right,
I showered. Even washed my hair.
I ran circles in the basement until my legs became
quick sand, but that was before the shower, which was
before the cradling, but after the echoes.
Everything is a blur. Watercolor dropped in the sea.
How can I be sure it’s day eleven, anyway? I only have
ten fingers.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021


Emily Portillo: “I wrote this poem huddled beneath a heavy blanket on the kitchen floor. It was a Tuesday night in March, the eleventh day of isolation, and I was officially fraying at the edges. In an attempt to avoid spiraling further into anxiety, I ate an expired can of Del Monte peaches from the cupboard and sat down with my notebook. Only one of those decisions left me feeling any better. And in hindsight, I did need to see a dentist. Wisdom teeth suck.”

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