"Who by fire? ... Who by barbiturate?"
I’m keeping a list of all the bad things that can happen to the people I love.
There are, for example, 67 ways my children might die in a house fire,
even though we play stop, drop, and roll each night before bed. Remember
the Arizona twins who drowned in the canal when their mom lost control
of the stroller while swatting a bee? See what I mean? It’s like a tragedy
cornucopia, each fruit its own sweet horror. Pick dismemberment. Pick
poison. Pick sexual assault. And we haven’t even begun to explore
the medical options. Leukemia is a big one. That Jewish disease
that makes your pee like maple syrup. Don’t forget measles, though I, too
had forgotten that one, until I learned our neighbors are anti-vaxxers.
And then there’s the gun-owners on the corner, and I don’t even need
to write that one down, since the entire world is a list of ways to die
by bullet. I’m a teacher. I keep umbrellas in my classroom to use as weapons,
sit the rugby players by the door just in case, and every so often I wonder
which doorway the shooter (shooters?) will enter from and will it be
while we are talking about metaphors? Will I have the guts to do
what the police officer advised at the training—(Pull his motherfucking arm off)—
which didn’t make me feel empowered or in control of my destiny at all?
In Lexington, I heard their police shoot blanks during active shooter drills
at the high school. Teachers must decide to shelter in place with their class
or run based on how close they think they are to death. If you make the wrong
choice, a cop will leap from the hallway corner and say bang. You didn’t make it.
This is the stuff I’m talking about. When Jamie Closs was found
after being kidnapped and held captive by the man who murdered her parents,
my first thought was, this is quaint. He had a single weapon: one lonely,
innocent rifle. It was a comfortable, old-school crime. A back-of-the-milk-carton
crime. When we were mugged and the baby was 2 months old,
my body and mind detached and everything happened in slow motion,
like they say it does. The pockmarked man drew his knife, hours later
held it above my head, and it was an eternity or two before that blade
swept the air above the stroller. I remember it glimmered
in the early morning sun like a jewel. Perhaps I was thinking,
You don’t have a gun? Remember when the JCC’s had all those bomb threats,
and the preschoolers, who were swimming, had to carry the babies outside?
They didn’t have time to get their towels. I picture my daughter
in her pink flamingo one-piece, frog goggles, wrinkled toes, those drops
of chlorinated water that gather on her upper lip. Then her thin, shivering arms
wrapped around someone’s baby, four feet dragging across the snow-dusted ground.
My Bubbie believes terrorists are building underground tunnels leading
into elementary schools. She honestly believes this is happening as we speak.
What terrorists? I ask. You know who I mean, she says. In my mind,
my daughter blows a bubble and someone bursts it with the tip
of an AK-47. I feel a little better writing this all down. My kids are asleep.
I just checked, and they are still breathing. The default, I know, is to live.
ABOUT THE POET
Jennifer Garfield’s work has been published or is forthcoming in journals including Salamander, Frontier, and Threepenny Review. She is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Literary Grant and Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing Parent-Writer Fellowship. She is a high school English teacher near Boston.
ABOUT SUGAR HOUSE REVIEW
We’ve loved reading the work that we’ve published (clearly), so now we want an opportunity to better hear our contributors. We will feature an audio recording of a poem from one of our issues, read by the poet and updated every couple of weeks. This an open invitation to all contributors from any of our issues, we were delighted to print your work, now we’re eager to hear it.