Household Mirages In an alternate universe, we painted this wall yellow— goldenrod like a kitchen should be. I see our shadows cross entryways and hover over the wall by the stove. Your hands were the setting sun, bringing down the hanging plants for thirst. In another universe, the two-bedroom is a three-bedroom, or only a one-bedroom. It is sunny outside, or rainy. Here sirens are going by again. I hear two discrete wails moving in different directions. In that other life, our life continues. I see the doors of that apartment opening and closing. Shoes by the door, shuffling back and forth from the shoe rack to the mat as we carelessly move about in space. For the fifth night, the death toll in New York has been hovering at 800. Those two sirens have faded, but a third now comes closer and grows louder. I focus hard on the other timelines. Here we are four instead of three; here we are packing for vacation; here our toddler surprises herself with the cold splash of a playground fountain. In this world, this now, this city, the roads are quiet. A roar has become a hush. Another siren, so remote it should be inaudible. I look away from the window and the howling EMS vehicles, I look away from those alternate families. They are not me or mine. We put the volume on high. We hold hands and jump. Curls freeze around my daughter’s face. They bounce and bounce. The walls are lavender, and the sunset turns them pink as cheeks. Last Breath I think of my own breath and what would happen if I exhaled in space. It is not romantic, but I can’t help feeling drawn to it. The inky dark, the utter quiet, objects moving— and me one of them. Out in the Kuiper Belt, planetoids school like fish. They glitter— frozen ornaments moving in a loose, massive donut. Here at home, my orbit is getting tighter, smaller, less important. Sixty-three days of isolation, and I am hardening to ice. My atmosphere is thinning, it is harder and harder to draw breath. I am cold. My daughter places hot hands on my cheeks. She says, I’m not sad. Every time she asks if the germs are still out, if the playgrounds are closed, I lose more heat. I don’t know how to keep spinning. I’m losing sight of what I should be orbiting. Which way is the Sun? In the Pine Grove I could almost forget that this is not the world I was promised. The floor is springy; an owl hoots above in the upper limbs of a white pine. I didn’t know pines could grow this tall. What is missing is the dull roar of traffic on the Jackie Robinson, the ice cream truck melody, the dinging of helado vendors, chatter from the blacktop and playground below the park, an easy breath, mindfulness, any number of ingredients to keep my sanity. My daughter remains resilient. She flings herself between the new, small pines, planted to replenish the unique habitat here in the middle of Queens. Her fingers reach without worry. I try to locate the tree we planted three short years ago, my body already encumbered with pregnancy. It is now one tree among many, and who knows— it may be one of those that has now died. I didn’t think about the ease in my life. This is what I know we have been doing wrong. And really: nothing was promised after all.
Emily Hockaday’s first full-length collection, Naming the Ghost, will be out with Cornerstone Press in November 2022, and her fifth chapbook is releasing on March 31st, 2022, with Red Bird Chaps. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals, as well as with the Poets of Queens and Parks & Points’ Wayfinding anthologies. You can find Emily on the web at www.emilyhockaday.com or @E_Hockaday.
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