Janna Ireland, Untitled, 2019 (Artist Website, Instagram)
Altered chromogenic print
6 x 9”

You ask what spreads itself from mouth to mouth
like a yawn in the classroom?
How seventeen teenage girls and one boy
about to turn man can feel all
that you don’t understand?
So you say we’re faking it. We want attention.
It’s something in the water. It’s something
in the soul signifying its terrible estrangement.
We only know our prone body curls
like a match on fire, spreading an invisible smoke
that chokes one then another
and another.
This kingdom of flies,
swarm of black ants
devouring, is the world
behind our eyes, the asphyxiating blackness
the world can’t see—

No, you can’t see past the spectacle of our suffering
to ask my student
why she fears locks, the unreliable safety
of a latch on her bedroom door.
Or listen for the girl retching
every day in the same stall.
You can’t see the Lucky Charms and PB&J’s
she feeds her little sister for dinner.
Or hear the boy’s father yell
Who’s a tough guy?
And the one with only one pair of clothes,
you don’t ask if he smells like shit or B.O, stale cigarettes
or the trashcan fire ash of rotten leaves, fast food grease.
No. You can’t hear the teacher cry every unknown name
of her stillborn child
beneath a wan, unmoving sky.

Understand that we are all bent
down to our need—to what consumes us
in an unmerciful smoke—Understand that we crawl,
blindly on our bellies, toward whatever
whole and unbroken light we can see—
that we know only as love.

Erica Lee Braverman