The summer you spent with your fingers braced against a grimy rest stop sink, eyes sunken & bloodshot under the fluorescent lights; the summer when you spent forty (mid)nights dreaming of your teeth falling out of your head & onto the tile. So it’s the wreckage of an empire. So you don’t call your mother anymore or go home for the holidays or look in the rearview mirror. So you’re still imagining you’re something you’re not & pretending to be proud of it. Another day. Another nightmare. Another morning spent choked & half-drowning at the bottom of the pool. Another million years in which you kept running because pain makes a sound too loud to drown out & so you did everything you could to escape to a room where all the walls said was you’re alone now & you’ll be alone always & no one can hear you screaming. But nobody’s following you anyways, so what does it matter if your mic’s been cut? Your hands that forget they are yours braced against another sink. The tea kettle whistling in the background. Tomorrow you’ll wear someone else’s face. Tomorrow the billboards will say are you awake yet? Are you awake yet? Are you awake yet? It’s a lovely, predictable routine in which you hang all your jackets in the motel closet & take them down three days later. (You have a thousand footraces with time but it always leaves you in the dust.) The California sky. The endless miles of terrible sandwiches & almost-deserted highways. (How long before you run out of gas?) Fear turns you to ash from the inside out & hope knits you back together. You keep running, suffocating under too-heavy memories & trapped in a reality you can’t outlast. A new town, new story, new pair of fuzzy dice sitting on the dashboard. The earth writhes beneath your sneakers. The world tells you again & again & again kid, you’re going to fall off this tightrope, just wait & see. You put the coffee on to boil & remind yourself not to look down.
Leela Raj-Sankar is a teenage poet from Phoenix, Arizona. You can find more of her work in Burning Jade Arts & Lit as well as in upcoming issues of Ex/Post Magazine and Analogies & Allegories Literary Magazine.