It’s rough writing tonight. These small poems feel like betrayals – my longing heart stirring up trouble, wanting to see smoke, to seek fire. She wants to want. She is so good at it, so hooked on longing — the cheap drug, the quick high. One hit and then we’ve lost years and books and babies. Yes, babies. And books. And years. How much have I lost in service of longing?
“Nice little passion play ya got going,” he says. “That’s a lot of work just to ignore me.”
“Has nothing to do with you,” I say and jut out my chin.
“That’s where you’re wrong, sister,” he says. “It’s got everything to do with me. You are so into me, you don’t even know it. I haunt your dreams at night. Every obsession is a way to avoid me. It’s all me, baby. All me.”
My heart sinks at something I can’t explain.
“You’re hooked on me, doll. Admit it.”
Admit it? How can I admit to what has never occurred to me? But the thought won’t be dismissed. It shines like a candle in a dark corner. The flame flickers, and the shadows that climb the wall all look like me.
In love with fear. Hung up on fear. The words are wrong, but the hook is there. Light bounces off of it – shiny and silver – lodged in my gut. Hooked on fear. Swimming madly upstream to deny it.
Grief wells up from the floor as if a tub somewhere has overflown. It pools at the base, creeping down the stairs, bleeding into the room below.
“Just another distraction, sugar,” says Fear, and winks at me. “I know all your tricks. The whole dog and pony show. This is our moment. You gotta look at me.”
It’s hard to breathe with him staring so hard. He hasn’t moved, but the air between us is intimate, thick with something. Truth. He’s telling a big truth, and I still can’t see it. He stretches out his arms, cracks his knuckles, tips his hat as if to snooze.
Hooked on fear. Distracting myself from fear. I can’t focus on it, but there is that ka-ching of truth, all the cherries lining up in the slot machine.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” I say and cross my own arms. “How do you know I’m into you?”
“Because you work so goddamn hard to ignore me, baby. Every obsession is an ode to my influence. Longing is so much easier than facing me. Worry – the garden variety – is easier. Both are old habits with you. But you’re just avoiding me. I drive all your choices.”
“Not all!” I protest.
“No, not all,” he concedes. “You have Love and Wisdom in your corner. But you’re not as into them, and you know it.”
He’s still talking, but I’m not listening. I’m feeling the pounding in my chest. The hard swell of something wanting to burst. I can’t read past the shaking, though, so I stand there, trembling, ready to find out. And Fear suddenly has nothing to say about it. Silent, we hold our breath and wait.
© Deborah Edler Brown
Many thanks to Khemi H for the wonderful photos!