When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows, et al

 
 
When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.

When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows                                                                                                                          You cannot really decide which way is up, you’d really                                                                                                                rather not have to choose. You like to pretend that you                                                                                                                    are some sort of modern day Plato and the freezing white                                                                                                       blanket is only a reflection of the sun.

When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                   You write a rather lovely poem about
yourself                                                                                                                               all done up in your head and the last stanza bears the                                                                                                                heavy weight of winter’s anguish and ends with a growl                                                                                                          from the predator fox that is actually your stomach.


When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                    The water does not stop to check your breath, it could not                                                                                                           care it does not. It wraps around itself and tumbles about                                                                                                              the bed. You are close to the mountains the water is fresh                                                                                                                it has no time for pleasantries.


When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                     All your subconscious mind can think about is that                                                                                                            wonderful night two Januarys ago with that charming                                                                                                                  old friend in the motor inn with the bright red sign.                                                                                                                   You were never cold once that winter.


When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                   You recall that bears go into hibernation. You think                                                                                                                        it would be most beneficial if you could too but you know                                                                                                         you are asleep and must save all requests for morning when                                                                                                         the temperature begins to fluctuate.


When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                   You dream of when you were small and parents that                                                                                                                 loved you would wrap you in synthetics and goose down                                                                                                           and force you to sled with the twins next door                                                                                                                           who preferred wrestling to snow ball fights.


When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                           You think that your body is playing tricks on you and                                                                                                                     it is just because you are on that new prescription and all                                                                                                            this will pass in four-to-six-hours and you will wake up and                                                                                                     realize that the sun is indeed shining.


When you’ve fallen asleep by the river and it snows.                                                                                                                     You do not realize that your heart has slowed to a jog, that                                                                                                           the fire you built was long ago extinguished and                                                                                                                          that when you wake up from this mental error of a reality                                                                                                            you will not be where you thought you were.


Fire Out of Anything

When it got cold out Dad taught us how to build a fire                                                                                                                     he sent us out for kindling and made sure we wouldn’t                                                                                                             shrink away from the flame. He put his hands (nothing like those hands)                                                                               around ours and told us when to flick our wrists, so the match would light.                       


The January it didn’t snow we lay down the biggest logs we could find                                                                                          at the bottom of our in-ground swimming pool. The reflection of the                                                                                      flames sprayed orange water across the blue concrete. It was frigid in that orange water.                                                     Nothing makes you cold like fire where water calls home.           


Dad ordered a wood-stove, from the Sears catalogue. It came                                                                                                        the twenty-seventh but he still put a bow on it and pushed the box                                                                                       towards the tree (barren). He said we would build fires inside and for                                                                                         two months our living room smelled of cedar wood he got special from California.


We went to Florida, once, right after I turned ten.                                                                                                                           On the beach he’d peel his navel oranges, and the juice would glisten on his chin                                                                      with a citrus sweat as he bit into them, dropping the bright orange skin down between his                                                     knees where it collected on the sand.


He used to say you could build a fire out of anything,                                                                                                              they’d told him that, back in the day, when he was an Eagle Scout.                                                                                             The summer I went away to college he burned our names in a cedar plank.                                                                                  He burned our two names and said, that nothing leaves a mark like                                                            

fire.



What Comes Next

When it comes, it comes, and we all know its coming.                                                                                                              We’ve been waiting, it’s cookies and milk are out on the table                                                                                                    and we’re asleep in our beds, we’ve said our goodbyes.


I was the bubble wrap to your vase,                                                                                                                                               my darling child and when I produced you,                                                                                                                                fresh and yelling I promised that when I went you would be safely                                                                                           tucked away, already enamored with life.


Straight out of college I stared you down.                                                                                                                                   “Fuck you.” I said and extinguished my match                                                                                                                              on the obit section of the paper.                                                                                   


When I was sixteen we would sit on the graves                                                                                                                               in the parish yard. We’d stand up on the stone and laugh at                                                                                                   Frances [loving wife and mother] for not getting her flu shot.


The year I got my ears pierced we went racing you and I.                                                                                                             My bike flipped over next to the guardrail, the guardrail                                                                                                              and the river [and the grass] so I only broke my thumb.                                                                                                                  I won.


At one you did not exist. When I opened the door                                                                                                                         and was handed my good time I could only think of What Came                                                                                                Next as I was cradled. When I slept they thought you’d caught me,                                                                                              but I had years to go, and soon awoke.

 



July-August

They all said it was hot that summer                                                                                                                                               but we denied it even when our faces                                                                                                                                            started to melt off and before we knew                                                                                                                                                it we were dripping into our own hands.                                                                                                                                   “Pass me a bowl,” you’d say, “and a towel                                                                                                                                   my thighs are starting to melt to the chair and                                                                                                                                     they are quite nice thighs, could you help me                                                                                                                               save them please?”


When Nana chopped onions you’d cringe                                                                                                                                    with your nose turned away at the stinging,                                                                                                                                you would wipe at your eyes                                                                                                                                                        but crying was for the youngest and you had not                                                                                                                         been the youngest since you’d kissed that boy                                                                                                                            with the glasses, next to the stairs the day school got out                                                                                                              so you stood on your head and left the crying up to me.


For one whole week we forgot what the elephants                                                                                                                              at the zoo looked like until you piled us into the car                                                                                                                      got us those purple dripping ice cubes we sucked on                                                                                                                 while we stared at the elephants, but not for too long                                                                                                                because we never told you that we forgot what elephants smelled like.


The first time I took a shower I forgot to close                                                                                                                               my eyes and my hair got stuck in the drain but                                                                                                                             you said I was clean now, didn’t float around in                                                                                                                          my own dirt anymore and after you clipped my toenails                                                                                                              you combed out the knots from my hair.


They took away the hot-dog stand around the corner                                                                                                                    from the church when I was eleven you said we’d eat broccoli                                                                                                         now for the rest of the summer and laughed “We’ll be thin,”                                                                                                        but I think I heard you crying later out beside the tree house.

                                             

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Julia Tompkins
Age 16, Grade 10,
Saint Ann’s School
Gold Key Silver Medal

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