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Why do you disappear
for days at a time?
My texts go unanswered,
my computer refuses
to speak your name.
You surface later,
ask how I’ve been.
I’ve been waiting
for you to answer
my texts and emails,
but I don’t tell you this:
instead we talk like nothing
is out of the ordinary,
like betrayal doesn’t
lie ahead like an off-ramp
to a ghost town, long since
deleted from the map.
We’re on the highway
for a while longer,
provided I keep
my foot on the gas.
You stare at the center line,
memorize your story
for the third time that day.
The plot is close to perfect
but sometimes you
forget the words.
You vanish, and my calls
and texts go unanswered,
my computer laughs
whenever I check my email.
No one is ever
ready for betrayal,
neither the betrayer
nor the betrayed.
That sucker punch to the gut,
smash and grab of the heart.
Our exit appeared
much sooner than expected.
The objects in my mirror
are already far away,
though you pretended
they were closer.
Why do you disappear
for months at a time?
Weeks stretch ahead
like miles of freeway.
I’ll need to turn around
and find the exit ramp
I forgot to take years ago.
Next time when you appear
at the side of the road,
I’ll remember to keep
both eyes on the center line.
The terror lies inside my own body:
sneak attack of illness,
pain’s strike inconvenient, springing
like a monster from the depths.
Upright, I make plans. For vacations.
For dinner. For the rest of the day.
Suddenly the wave: age and neglect
rise together to engulf everything,
render my desires useless.
Ribcage holds fast, clutches anger
like a blanket. I never learned
how to walk away from explosions,
when to catch and release.
The face of rage seems kind,
benign as it jabs, then comforts.
My body only its vessel:
growing steadily slower,
weaker in the face of oxidation.
I’ll lose the battle eventually.
Until then, I assemble
my flimsy arsenal of weapons:
spring water, the pills I can’t
afford without insurance, my bottle
of apple cider vinegar. The mother
lives at the bottom, promises
to be my ally. Not like my mother,
who still lives in my left kidney.
Not like the sting of my bladder
as it releases streams of urine.
This mother’s bitterness brings healing,
not more of the same. This mother
breaks the rage into smaller stones.
My passage of release is narrow,
too miniscule for its contents.
I will make it wider.
I have always known that
water heals everything,
yet I deny myself hydration.
That will need to change.
Outside my living room window,
groups of children play softball,
jog around the bases without effort.
They can never imagine
how it will feel to turn sixty.
I listen to their swell of voices
and remain inside, waiting
patiently for the kidney stone
to grant me a second chance,
at least for another few decades.
DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE
One summer, I painted
the Desiderata on the walls
of a deserted Civil War mansion.
My best friend was visiting
from California. We swam in the pool
and played tennis at the edge of town.
At night I stole furtive glimpses
of her long body, dark hair
piled on top of her head
and carefully secured with bobby pins.
She slept in a folding cot
at the edge of my mattress,
rolling and tossing in the Illinois heat.
We talked feverishly about our virginity--
how we might lose it, and to whom.
She was convinced I’d surrender mine first.
We nabbed containers of powdered paints
from my mother’s kitchen cupboard,
carried warm water in jugs for blocks,
laughing at our cleverness.
The building’s crumbling walls
were defaced with coy obscenities:
“Meet me here at 10 PM.
Wear cut-offs and nothing else.
Blow me.” Carefully, I painted
red and green and brilliant blue
over scrawled pictures of erect penises,
copied words from the sacred text
about disenchanted love, perennial as grass,
and decorated the gaping edges of holes
with flowering vines and sunrises.
My best friend’s artwork
was always more fluid than mine,
her hands steady while she dabbed
a tiny paintbrush on dirty plaster.
As vivid color stretched across the walls,
more girls paraded to the mansion,
carrying brushes, markers and glitter.
Each of us either copied a line
from the text or devised our own quotes.
I branched out to TS Eliot verses,
since I had painstakingly memorized
“The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”
several weeks beforehand.
The aged building overflowed with words.
A reporter from the small-town paper
photographed our artwork,
somehow capturing its brightness,
even in black and white.
She took pictures of my friend and me
standing in front of our paintings,
both of us looking solemn and deep.
She asked why we decided
to decorate a decaying house
that had stood abandoned for years.
We wanted to transform ugliness
into beauty, bring dignity back
to the majestic structure.
She nodded at us sagely,
though she didn’t really understand,
and wrote a nice puff piece
that ran two weeks later.
By then, my friend had returned to California.
Two days after the story broke,
I eagerly climbed the broken stairs
to the mansion’s second floor,
but our paintings had been destroyed.
Someone had smashed holes
in the flowers and sunrises,
and written obscenities next to the quotes.
It took great determination
to destroy the work
we had spent so many days creating.
That person needed to bring
a combination of rocks and hammers
to the top of a collapsing staircase
and attack a wall repeatedly.
The colors and words made him furious.
My friend sighed when I told her,
and said, “Well, that’s just how
people are, I guess.” It was easy
for her to be philosophical, since
she was two thousand miles away
and couldn’t see the destruction.
She was always more lucky than I.
LETTING GO OF LIGHT
I don’t know why people
have so much trouble sleeping.
I could fall asleep
this instant if I wanted.
Instead I am compelled to sit
upright, moving my hands
on cheap plastic keys.
The Sun has emerged
after six months of rain,
but I should still be listening
to soothing roof music. Instead,
Sky shoves hard against my eyes,
I savor my last minutes in bed,
resent the intrusion of light,
fight the war against inertia.
Blood pressure is always
highest in the morning,
fear piled high like stacks of bills.
Sleep brings respite,
of second chances. My body
knows it must lie quietly,
allow the darkness to come in:
that dress rehearsal
for letting go of everything.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” (Crisis Chronicles Press) and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and three books, “Allergic to Everything”, (Writing Knights Press) “Beach Dweller Manifesto” (Writing Knights) and “The Underside of the Snake” (Red Ferret Press). Her work appears or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, Summerset Review, Outlook Springs, Crack the Spine, Pure Slush, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, Sugared Water, and other publications. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest.