How I made friends with fear

How I made friends with fear

The four of us dress in stiff coats
to visit our father at his office, travel
by train to Chicago, the seventeenth floor
of a skyscraper wedged between
reachless towers of darkened metal.

A hushed ride in a mirrored elevator,
plush carpet, we gather near his desk.
Before a glass wall
I stand apart from the other three,
eleven years old, the eldest
and by birthright the chieftain of our tribe.

My sisters watch for signs–how to act?
But my breath catches at the top
of my lungs as larger people
shuffle papers in the outer office–

I wish I were alone to practice
at being afraid, to carry out my solo
rituals in the basement of my house,
a place that draws me with an unseen cord

downwards. In the dark I walk
backwards in a circle, round and round
three times to conjure up the Devil,
who I hope will rise from the black
smudge on my soul to fill up the pitch air.

I know all about God the Father
and the Blessed Virgin from weekend
migrations to Our Lady of the Wayside.

I want to understand that thorn in God’s side,
not the thorns in his crown.
I seek the one who gave Jesus hell in the desert.
If I am to be an implacable
ice goddess in this City of Restraint,
I’ll need to test my courage
against a hailstorm of fear.

These thoughts hover on the edge
of my mind as I look out the thick glass
to the specks of people below,
watch toy cars inch along the asphalt,
wonder what it would feel like to jump, or fly.

***

23 thoughts on “How I made friends with fear

  1. Julie says:

    Wow…this is great, Christine. It also scared me a little bit, so big applause for moving the reader! I can see the eleven-year-old girl with all of those thoughts, and it really gripped me.

    The last stanza is very strong, too. That’s the part where I felt the girl wasn’t “the bad seed,” but just a sad, scared little girl. I might be misinterpreting that, but it’s the impression I receive from either “jump or fly.” It is left open for interpretation, though, so I like that.

    Another thing this poem makes me think of is that odd feeling I get when on an edge, a cliff, or looking through glass from high above a city. For just a second, I get that urge to jump. Do you know what I mean, or am I just crazy? Anyway, this poem also made me think of that feeling.

    Very strong, Christine! The title is also great.

    Like

  2. christine says:

    Julie, no you’re not crazy! Didn’t Poe call that feeling “the imp of perversity”? Thanks for your close reading, and for the comments.

    I think that’s what I was trying to do, Philip, go back to that place of irrational fear, which still sometimes affects me, and I think, many adults.

    Like

  3. deb says:

    Oh, this is tremendous. It’s tight. Distilled, like the fear of heights, the wo/ander at F/fathers. The awareness of isolation in a family. Amazing, truly. (I felt no fear at reading of early rituals; I tried them, too, as a pre/early teen.)

    Like

  4. Michelle says:

    Unsettling and edgy, Christine. Like Julie, I experienced vertigo – and feel exposed and uneasy.

    These are my two favourite stanzas:

    “I want to understand that thorn in God’s side,
    not the thorns in his crown.
    I seek the one who gave Jesus hell in the desert.
    If I am to be an implacable
    ice goddess in this City of Restraint,
    I’ll need to test my courage
    against a hailstorm of fear.

    These thoughts hover on the edge
    of my mind as I look out the thick glass
    to the specks of people below,
    watch toy cars inch along the asphalt,
    wonder what it would feel like to jump, or fly.”

    And I love this:

    “the eldest
    and by birthright the chieftain of our tribe.”

    Like

  5. odessa says:

    christine, this brings me back to all my childhood anxieties and the feeling that everything and everyone around you is a thousand times bigger than they really are. love, love, love, the last stanza! i can see the girl, i can see the glass, the specks of people and the toy cars. beautiful!

    Like

  6. dale says:

    This is wonderful. I love the way the diction moves between the adult narrator and the child narrator.

    I know all about God the Father
    and the Blessed Virgin from weekend
    migrations to Our Lady of the Wayside.

    Love the child’s voice in “I know all about God the Father,” embedded in the adult’s remembrance of “migrations.”

    Like

  7. rob kistner says:

    Christine – That’s one helluva coming to grips with fear, whoa!

    Wouldn’t we all be lucky to have a place to practice our being afraid, facing our trepidations. Unfortunately, they come at us real-time, in the company of others — often without warning.

    I like the boldness that rises in this piece as one reads deeper into it.

    Really kick-ass — and I understand that jump or fly quandary… 😉

    …rob

    Like

  8. Jo says:

    Yes, this is disturbing but very believable. You’ve harnessed fear here all right and passed it on to the reader. Very well done. I love the ending.

    Like

  9. Annamari says:

    I like it
    “thoughts on the edge of my mind” suggesting the edge of the abis.
    “a place that draws me with an unseen cord

    downwards. In the dark I walk
    backwards in a circle, round and round
    three times to conjure up”
    and this does point to much more than hiding from fear of heights…it is a powerful image.

    Like

  10. carolee says:

    no worries: you can join the crazy kid club. 🙂

    i like how the narrator tries to figure out what might have prepared her for this moment and i like how the she exaggerates things in her mind, very childlike.

    Like

  11. paisley says:

    only the aftermath of fear can allow for such unbridled indestructibility,, and if i am correct,, that is what i hear ringing out in the final line……. excellent piece christine… i miss you speaking them to me tho’…..

    Like

  12. Holly D says:

    This is something that moved me so much I’d like to respond:

    A Larger Size

    The buttons on my sweater
    strain at the thread.

    This is partly because I am
    growing, but also

    because I am scared of moving on
    to a larger size.

    That big-girl world
    runs rampant with responsibility.

    To hang from the side of a
    skyscraper, cleaning mirror glass,

    to stare at myself
    rub splotches made by birds

    breathe the cold clouds
    from my lips.

    This is a balancing act
    I’d rather skip out on-

    shimmy down the tower and
    crawl underground,

    allow the buttons to burst
    from their holes.

    Like

  13. christine says:

    Holly, I feel so honored that you have shared this searing poem in the comments section. I need to post it to my blog, it’s so good! What amazing metaphors, and raw, honest emotions.

    Like

  14. Holly D says:

    It was completely inspired by yours. I love yours. I should have said that. “I wish I were alone to practice/ at being afraid” wow. powerful really. I was thinking maybe we could do some response poems like Dana and Nathan are doing. I like that idea. Do you care if we’re “copy cats”? It’d really be a good way to keep me writing through this last part of the semester when I will be so busy with school stuff. Not that I’m using you. I like your work. I thought maybe we could share and collaborate too, and get together to work since we live so close. We still gotta get together, seriously.

    Like

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