December 25, 2020

Michelle Lesniak

THE ONLY SIGN OF TRAUMA

I remember when my car wouldn’t start 
you said we should just stay home.

We ignored so many signs that day: warnings about speed bumps 
and bridges that freeze over, sharp turns, low visibility, 
hidden driveways, and the crossing of so many animals.

I don’t know what happened to the raccoon we passed, or why
it looked entirely whole, lying on its side the way you sleep. 

I remember noticing the fingerlength 
of dark liquid on the road by the creature’s mouth,
the only sign of trauma on an otherwise perfect body.

This didn’t bother you nearly as much as the trucks scraping by us on Route 80.
I remember you shaking for most of the trip:
because loud noises scare you like a child,
because night was crowding in around us,
because nothing ever seems real to you except the car you’re in, 
its color, the radio station, speed limit.

You tried to sleep on the way home, but echoes of the forest
rocked you awake like a mockery. Dirt clung 
to the white crescent of your fingernails:
a reminder of the days you spent growing to hate me.

There was nothing that could stir you to a smile that weekend,
not even the image of the lake covering the earth like a sheet of glass
for safekeeping. Nothing about canoes or bird calls. 
I remember you saying you’d rather die alone than marry me.

Coming home, everything was untouched, the way we had left it.
The raccoon, it wasn’t boy or girl, it was you as a child, 
and it was me watching you as a child, 
and it was our child, 
and it was a thousand other nameless things, 
and it was unborn, it was radio static, it was roadkill. 

The next time I looked at you I thought you seemed so small.
I asked you what you thought the liquid was—blood or spit, 
or motor oil, or a thousand other nameless things. 
I remember now that it had been your birthday.
I forget if I asked you out loud.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020

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Michelle Lesniak: “I write poetry primarily because I like to read poetry, and when I read poetry, there’s nothing better than getting the feeling that the poet has, in a sense, seen you—that they have felt the same pain and joy and trepidation and triumph that you’ve felt, and they’ve been able to put it into words and images and give these feelings life. I write because I’d like to be able to give weight to my own feelings and lend them some authority in their own environment.”

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