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“What If Pain No Longer Ordered the Narrative.”

At dinner my daughter pushes triangles of French toast back and forth on her plate, forming amber currents of syrup, lifts a piece dripping to her mouth. I watch her jaw work as the restaurant clatters around us, an ordinary vortex of sound, and once again I fix not on the object I love but on losing her to standard-issue workaday shit. Such toxicity electrifies all of our meals. One of us will die first, and we are only two, no spare people. The only constant is that I birthed her, with a thirty-eight-year-old body. Today she sips her milk from styrofoam, her skull painted with white-blond hairs, the blue beat of her pulse visible at her temple, a three-year-old with adult-size ears. She’ll replace me with another beloved one day, as children do, and if I don’t let her, I’ll have failed, a different failure than those nights she brings me books to read when I’m too tired, or the years of my tone poisoned by the inevitable fiascoes at work, my entitlement pooling in our home like carbon monoxide. I’ve operated as a vassal in service to a terrible king for so long. Tonight I wrap her uneaten bacon to take with us and guide her arms to their jacket sleeves. I buckle her in. I don’t groan at the train crossing. I allow another car to lurch into the lane ahead of us, stay calm when the driver flips me the bird. In the rearview mirror I watch my daughter’s eyes, and I don’t even curse the titans of industry who set America on fire. I pull into the long coast of our driveway, the home I pray she’ll think of fondly once I’m gone. Except I will never be gone. I carry her body inside, limp with sleep and curved against my shoulder, and I put her to bed.

This poem first appeared on our website, thesunmagazine.org. It is part of the author’s new collection No Spare People, published by Black Lawrence Press.