University of Southern Indiana

"Gather"

by Jess Smith

Shouldn’t a probation officer know? Your probation officer calls, asks if I still live
with you. I’m afraid of your cop friends. Nightmares. Therapy. A new boyfriend.
Good dreams where I don’t want to wake up because I like being with you again.
I move to Texas. You plead guilty. They deem you dangerous. Something called
a dangerousness hearing, which seems too obvious a title for a legal proceeding.
I go home to my mother’s. The arraignment. X-rays. The officer taking pictures
of my thigh, torso, left hand, neck, face. Sirens. The hard hotel carpet. You
chasing me down the dark street. The fight at the bar. Things will be okay. In our
backyard, rabbits; I say hi rabbits. We make sorry love for hours. I stay. I pack my
bags. You seem to be losing touch with reality or maybe it’s me. Weeks in the
brutal snow and sorrow at your childhood home. The funeral. Christmas. Your
mother dies. This is what I want you to say. You tell me I have to live with you
again. My 30th birthday you throw me against a brick wall. New York. Sex in
damp motel rooms. A summer spent driving across the country. A broken tooth.
California. Up all night reading to each other. Larry Levis. My skin pink from
your rough beard. I make you lentils; you’ve never had them before. You say come
see me. You call on your layover. We spend all week in bed. We say this might be
something, this is something. I tell you yes but maybe not the way you think. You
ask if I believe in God. I crawl on top of you. In the dark woods, you kiss me. You
say wanna get out of here. We meet eyes on a foggy summer porch. I have a gin
and tonic. I put on a red dress.


This poem started in response to a prompt to write a love story in exactly 300 words. I began to craft a chronological narrative of a relationship gone terribly wrong, but then realized that we don’t really remember lost love chronologically. We obsess over the glimpses, the moments we think maybe we could have saved it. We revisit scenes as if they can represent the entire relationship. Particularly after an abusive relationship, we can fester in trying to pinpoint the “moment” it all went wrong, when in reality it was always barreling toward the same outcome. So I decided to turn the love story around, hoping to capture that sensation of propelling one’s self backwards through love, as if one could rewind and start again. As if one could somehow recapture the hope and spark of that first encounter with the beloved, rather than having to live in the reality of how badly it ended. 


Originally from Georgia, Jess Smith is currently pursuing a PhD in English and creative writing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, where she co-founded and curates the LHUCA Literary Series. Her work can be found in Prairie Schooner, Waxwing, 32 Poems, The Rumpus, and other journals. Smith received her MFA in poetry from The New School and is the recipient of scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center.

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