dead girl walks through the park alone at night with flowers
dead girl keeps her hand in her coat like she might have a gun
dead girl carries herself like a cop and keeps her keys facing out
dead girl took self-defense classes and always drinks responsibly
dead girl never takes the subway alone at night
dead girl never rides in cabs because she'd be alone with a stranger
dead girl never closes the door when she meets with male colleagues
dead girl never displays her electronic devices
dead girl hides her crystal bracelet after dark
dead girl removes her headphones and stays alert
dead girl stays home forever
REPORT FROM NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 19
Everyone on the subway gets the same message.
We vibrate. We look up from our phones,
examine each other's faces. Who looks
like a criminal. We have been dispatched.
Did you know that we all have the power
to arrest? Each one of us, doing the work
of professionals as we sit beneath ads:
"If you see something, say something."
"It could be nothing. Or it could be something."
But meanwhile, we have to go to work.
Someone says, "Something I've always kept in my office since 9/11:
a 'go' bag. Sneakers. Change of clothes. Glasses. Contact case."
How do we survive when we can kill each other at any time.
We can look up how to make a bomb in the same place we look up how to bake a potato.
Our bodies are souvenirs.
Who is a terrorist and what makes them one.
I am writing this on the train and my white skin is all that protects me from the fear
of others seeing me write the words "terrorist" and "bomb" in a notebook. Before we knew
who they were, the newscasters avoided calling the bombs an act of terrorism.
Instead, they deployed that word for knives, for shouting about Allah.
As though we could define terrorism based on religion rather than violence.
They say not to use the elevators in an emergency, but what if you're someone
who can't make it down the stairs. Some of us need to be carried.
In a few weeks, you and I move to the ground floor.
I want you to take a CPR class in case you need to save my life someday.
We keep chewable aspirin in the medicine cabinet in case of heart failure.
I look at books on how to plant a garden to sustain you.
We sleep when we can.
We go home to be counted.
Our eyelids, heavy.
Child, I won't bury this bird.
This bird is a hawk kill.
See, you can tell by the way it's been left with its insides
hanging out, wayward. The hawk will return tomorrow,
when we leave this land quiet for hunting. They're hungry
this time of year. If someone asks, you can tell them that.
I can't recognize human faces
but I can recognize cat faces,
eight of them peering out at me
from behind the couch. I took them
from the street where they called to me,
nervous and brambly. Like me,
they are invasive weeds. I see land
and I tend it. It's not mine, but it becomes mine.
WE ALL DIE ALONE, BUT IN THE MEANTIME
You will greatly benefit from achieving tenderness,
says a Barbara Kruger piece that I can't find,
or maybe I'm misremembering the quote or who said it.
Maybe I remember only the sentiment. I remember
scrolling through images of underwater clothing,
photos of bathtubs and the women are sometimes naked
and I wonder how it feels to release your own
image and set it free, as though a word were something
different that you could retract, as though you could call
a note back into a piano. The poet said that his mother
could sweet-talk a bullet back into a gun. Is that tenderness?
The feeling of laundry folded on the table by someone else.
It will be of great benefit to you to access tenderness. Was that it?
To remember, I look at fabric. I watch what the women wear
in the bathtub, and wonder what it costs. I want to assign a value,
as though money makes desire easier to understand. I want to package
myself but instead I look at everyone else and hit capture.
Abigail Welhouse is the author of Bad Baby (dancing girl press), Too Many Humans of New York (Bottlecap Press), and Memento Mori (a poem/comic collaboration with Evan Johnston). Her writing has been published in The Toast, The Billfold, Ghost Ocean Magazine, the Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. Subscribe to her Secret Poems at tinyletter.com/welhouse