When asked what I remember about my childhood, I will answer “smoke;”
There’s a lingering, hovering cloud in all my most recallable memories.
At church as a child, I remember the scratch of polyester suits whose dull colors all elide into a smoke grey.
I remember the buzzing, clashing armies of perfumes dogfighting in the air.
Everything was a stirred pot, the swirl of adult bodies crashing unknowingly into me like waves-
Scratchy, stuffy, dehydrating masses of cloth and scent.
And at the center of the room, in the middle of all the pews,
A grey tower loomed,
Cold and unrevealing, its walls made of things I don’t understand.
And painted at the very base, where the walls and ground diverge,
Are bible stories, children’s songs
And these are the only things I can see because anything higher than six feet or farther away
Is mist to me.
And this body is only a veil,
A thin cloth of brown skin and bright smile to hide away
The whole planet of grey gas further down,
The swirls of smoke crashing soundlessly together like waves.
And at the very core: unsureness and obsequious stagnation,
A whole vast planet of gas and smoke, a hot heavy mass that could crush
Anything in in its path, if it so desired,
but is instead
Tossed about by the gravity of distant scars.
Anxiety is a wrathful, vengeful bitch;
A street whore who blows smoke in the face of all who touch her,
A smoke more thick and green and dizzying than marijuana,
An acrid acidic smoke that corrodes the mettle of a living soul
Into nothingness and confusion,
Causes tears to flow from nowhere
As though sprouted from an invisible stream,
Causes its victim to scream as loud as humanly possible
Only to realize his voice was only imagined
And the cry was never heard at all.
If a soul breaks in half in the middle of a crowd,
Struck by frightening bolts of realization about the real world
Its wood splintered in every direction and its core disintegrated
Will it be heard? Will it be seen?
The answer it seems: one word
That expresses the negative being intimated.
“No, the story of your pain will never unfurl
To anyone watching from outside your personal cloud
Of smoke,” she said to me.
“And the grey tower of your youth will only get taller with the years;
You’ll never reach the top.”
“You’ll never find your way out of the smoke and you’ll always be lost.”
“The world will only spin faster, the smoke will reach dizzying heights;
It’ll block out all hope and all light.”
“Just breathe,” I tell myself through growing tears.
“Just breathe,” I’ve told myself all these years,
As I feel the smoke surrounding me,
A demon that’s been haunting me,
As it penetrates my lungs,
Enters my bloodstream,
Swallows me whole
And envelops me.
But I am determined to breathe again.
And sometimes I’ve asked myself in all truth,
“To breathe or not to breathe?”
But it’s not a question anymore.
I will not suffocate.
I am looking for air.