Backwards

by Sarah Donkin (Univ. of Mount Union)

Honorable Mention

You sit in your lawn chair

like a gray-haired frog who managed to get through life

without ever being told that he wasn’t a king.

Your hand raises, half in a fist,

index finger pointed at the skull in question

and circling slowly, as if you can’t quite decide

whether to stop on your bread-and-circuses way of thinking

or the other side of sanity that you’ve so cleverly assigned to me.

 

you say my hands must be ticking in the opposite direction

from the clock on the wall

and that old thing has never been known to go backwards;

no, that’s always been me,

with my lips sewn shut by the conviction

that my words would only bounce off of eardrums and back into my head

my arms wrapped tight around my ribcage

like coils of thread holding a cracked spool together

or a plaster cast keeping a broken bone still -

I wonder what side I would stand on

if I could find the hairline fracture that separates broken

from just a little cracked.

 

You would tell me that it’s in between my brain and skull

leaving just enough space for hurricane,

or maybe a thick cloud of smoke

from my neurons,

sparking with each connection and on the verge of bursting into flames -

if only you were metaphorically inclined.

 

So you fill the gap with caution tape

just so you can step around the thinnest patches in my icy voice

and get me to cover my ears long enough

that you can shake your head and smile at other people who think clockwise

with crooked teeth and lips that never press together long enough for needles of doubt

and threads of conviction to slither through your skin

and tie knots that the rest of the world wasn’t supposed to know about.

 

I remember that one time at the dinner table

when I couldn’t manage to hand my mom a pitcher of water as smoothly as I should have

we nearly spilled the whole thing

and my dad rolled his eyes and snorted out one word:

“Retards.”

 

He didn’t understand why I slammed the pitcher down and dared him to call me that again

with bloody lips tearing apart the threads.

 

They say that we’ve all got a few splintering floorboards and loose strings

so how can he, and how can you

call anyone an unraveled mess;

the rope of an inept conjurer

who hasn’t yet mastered

the ruses of his trade?

 

my voice will crack

but I will hold it together between boards of silence

tied tight by steady words.

My neurons will smoke and spark

because they know what it is to fight for connections

that don’t sit as close together as the lawn chairs you spend your life in.

 

So you can continue trying to find delicate ways of saying

that I spend my days counting down from 12 to 1

but my hands have abandoned the face of the clock

to try to find something beyond one direction or the other

of circle after circle

of endless ticking.