Poetry by Leah Browning, Photo by Mitch Miller

Time Stops at 1981

I’ve killed myself a thousand times

in my mind, slicing through the delicate

layers of flesh at my wrists and neck,

watching blood seep onto the floor.   


Over the years, that urge has faded,

as you have, reduced to a man

in photographs and faint memories:

the feel of your face as you kissed me,


the pale scrabble of five-o’clock shadow

rough against my cheek. We were old

so long I can scarcely remember the firm

lines of your jaw, the dark hair smoothed back


with oil. I see you this way only in dreams,

when my mind spools out every nuance

I stored over forty years of marriage: your

gestures, your speech, the scent of your skin. 


I cling to sleep, to these images that vanish

when I open my eyes. Then, when I’m sure

they’re gone, I force myself to get out of bed. 

Every day is the same struggle, my arms flailing


under the weight of all this water. I am saving

our daughter, poor girl, who in the beginning

tried to pull me out with doctors and prescription

drugs, who called me every day and wept


with her own child weeping in the background. 

She didn’t understand that I only had breath

because you breathed. So, I pulled myself up. 

I made breakfast, taught classes, balanced


the checkbook. Yet even now, after all the years

that have passed, I still can’t sit in your chair. 

I catch myself turning to ask what you think. 

And at night I fall asleep with the phone book,


a slim yellow volume from 1981, the last year

that everything in life made sense,

and that your name was still listed

in perfect alphabetical order.   

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