Reach up high, the teacher says. Keep your chest up, torso strong. Hearts stay open. Don’t forget to breathe. The TV is on in the background. Nurses and doctors masked and gowned speak the unspeakable, offer their grief for all to see, unlike the black bags with bodies hidden, piled in trucks or stacked in spare rooms. Lengthen that spine, our teacher says. Our eyes are open. Stand tall, arms wide. Look up as high as you can. We’re still breathing. The numbers in black keep ticking up. The map is covered with red. Graphs fill the screen. The grief pours out onto empty streets. The TV blares sirens and cheers at shift change. Wild animals roam silent asphalt. Central Park teems with hospital tents. Take a deep breath, teacher says. Lift your rib cage. Reach up high. Make a fist. Give yourself a little hug. Good job.
Maril Crabtree’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently Thorny Locust, Adanna, and Literary Mama. Her book Fireflies in the Gathering Dark received the 2018 Kansas Notable Books award and was a finalist for the AAUW Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award.
Previously printed in The Orchards Poetry Journal (Winter 2021 issue)
Guest Editor Morgan O.H. McCune currently works at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. She is a native Kansan, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from Washington University in St. Louis (1991) and an M.L.S. from Emporia State University (2002). Her poems have been published previously in River Styx.