Poetry by Catherine Seitz Nichols

Running

  by Catherine Seitz Nichols


I carry a picture of the two of us
about to walk to our first day of school
I clutch the sleeve of your blood-clot paisley shirt
that’s untucked itself from your brown corduroys
long hair and longer collar, defiant,
the shadow of our mother falls behind us,
my braids tight, I wear a green checked dress
my thin arms cling, wrapped tightly around yours
head leaned on your shoulder, gaze serious
I am trying to keep you with me—

You taught me to run on the balls of my feet
panting air quickly through our mouths like deer
extra oxygen pumping makes us fast
we fly over the dusty cracked concrete
past thirsty palm trees, drinking in moonlight,
leaping off curbs, through the weedy mud lot
bare feet floating over broken glass and pop tops,
I keep pace with the wind, you outrun me
fearing I’ll never catch up, I find you,
a laughing silhouette on the stairs.

That was before the door slammed
before the glass was broken—
before a needle ever went in
before they told you that you were stupid,
before you believed them.
I knew one day, you would just keep running,
but I didn’t know it would come on such
an ordinary day, a nothing day,
when I knocked on your door
and you just weren’t there.

For five years I scattered whispered prayers on
the Santa Ana winds, to blow through every
city park, jail cell, trash-can lined alley,
street corner, freeway bridge, and smoky bar
hoping they would find you.
I hiked alone on the Carrizo Plain,
stole a rock from the heart of the
San Andreas fault, where spirits dance
without heed or consequence,
so I could bring it to you.

You dug yourself out, like Lazarus
came back a prodigal son
they gave you a crown of sweet redemption
bathed in praise and washed in hallelujahs,
you tried to shake off your past, ran
over the Rockies, across the Great Divide
blew past the prairie’s wild horses, but
I could see a bloodless crooked finger
was still pointing
at your altar boy heart.

You made a bargain down there,
you knew a clock was ticking—
and some slithering thing
would come seeping
through the melting asphalt
to take you back,
and now it sitting in the corner
of this stark white room, where I am holding
onto your arm for the last time, your body is
the color of wrong, eyes yellow, like a cheetah

At dawn, a nurse wheeled in a tray
with coffee, and a plate
overflowing with pastries
before he quietly said,
it’s time.
I wanted to tell your stories,
I wanted to sing, or pray
your soul smooth, but I just
watched as you ran,
fast as deer, not looking back.

 

Catherine Seitz Nichols lives in Seattle.  Her writing reflects her love of the rational, scientific, and experimental as well as the mythic, mystical, and traditional.  Her poetry has been published in the anthologies, Illuminations: Expressions of the Personal Spiritual Experience, and Radical Dislocations: Best New Underground Poets, as well as in the literary journals, Floating Bridge Review, The Lake, and Between the Lines.  She was one of seventy-five poets selected to participate in the Found Poetry Review’s “Pulitzer Remix Project,” where she wrote thirty found poems in thirty days for National Poetry Month, using MacKinlay Kantor’s novel Andersonville as the source text.