Dawn Cunningham

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Before My Prom
viewing this photo

The images are in my eyes
There are no words to use
i’m happy—I think I am
i’m weary—now       and then i had to hide the fun i wanted
i’m afraid it will fall apart
as i hold it in my hands
as it really fell apart
had started to fall apart
as he stands next to me before the prom          WITH
the mocking smile i thought meant “i care”

She stands facing me
She is looking at me
not turning her head
not avoiding my curiosity    she really wants me TO look
This is a photograph i need                    TO
remind me of who i was
of who i wish never to be   TO
return to the time of a child
to do it over                       TO
find the way back    where happiness didn’t seem to elude me

The light brown corduroy skirt with the slit
up the back i loved—he didn’t       he wanted me more plain
The blouse of the same color—sheen               see through          camisole beneath    and
long sleeve with netted loose fibers
my breast defined by a waist i still had
—him quiet while my mother primped me
where did the clothing go   i remember it for one season

His hidden scowl at having TO do—
having TO buy a formal suit
not able TO argue with my grandmother
that this is an indulgence i need
that it is a rite of passage for me
that i earned it by completing my schooling with a child on my hip
with his child on my hip

entry #1093   :         Not Our Own

I.        Dark is here. It has come to the 3rd floor. Street lights are visible between the slats of the blind imbedded into the window. A red light lingers over the orthopedic offices: not one, but two. Fog begins to linger among the construction equipment. The window mirrors the items in the hospital room. It mirrors me. It mirrors Vincent in his bed. It mirrors the items aligned on the window seal. It mirrors the tiny lights of machines. Slats make for shelves in this mirror. The mirroring blends with office lights scattered on the Lutheran campus. There are no shelves in this room to place our absurd pieces. I keep peering through the blind, staring at the two red lights and some white object glowing below and across the lot between my eyes staring back at me, and, just below that long drawn-out-white-triangle, the letters naming exactly what the building is mixes with my pupils. I wish something to name me. To name us. I wish a place to keep us. I wish something to tell me who Vincent is. I look at his mirrored body and then directly at him. His body is too thin. I could slide him through the slats to place him on this invisible shelf. My eyes see the ghost I am in this window. My eyes sitting on this invisible shelf looking for a future. Vincent is becoming a ghost. The bed is too heavy for him.
Mirroring is an enemy and a friend.
In this room, I’m as helpless as him.
Shadows trick my mind.

II.       The full of night is here, now. I try to stare beyond the blind. My face stares back, and it mixes with the construction equipment floating among a stirring white. Those are shadows of hope not answered. These are shadows of our missing pieces not finding a shelf, which do not know where to go—just lost and wandering, being picked off nightly by rain and wind and the oncoming dawn.
Tonight, I am afraid of the dark.

III.      I’m as reliant on others as Vincent because I’m not even sure how to help myself. There is no one to rely on. I stare at the lights staring at me; the mirroring is insanity; the mirroring is our sanity. I stare at the lights dancing in the mist. A raindrop lands on the window. The drop smears down my cheek—the reflection is the real me inside. (You can’t hide from the dark.) The sliding drop wiggles into an image of Vincent before the tumor. Don’t cry. I don’t know who we are; or is it, I’m not sure who we are becoming. We don’t own us.

IV.      The slats divide us, slice us; fake shelves, they are; they don’t keep our pieces to put  them back together; it’s a trick; they want us to believe safety is in them; my pupil divides, each division reflecting upon the other; Vincent is sliced into thin, long, horizontal pieces, like a fish being fileted; he is bone jumping out of flesh; my flesh is his flesh is my flesh and he is dying as I live; his flesh, Chloe, will only have a shelf for a memory.

V.       For Chloe, there are shelves with pictures and pieces of memorabilia to have a father, and the ashes to be placed into a heart pendant—when the time comes. Slices of life left behind, which isn’t life, which aren’t the words Chloe will need as she grows. I want to change this and cannot.

VI.      Shelves keep nothing of the heart being swallowed by death.


I’m a young woman at heart going through a severe life change since 2010: divorce, adult child’s cancer, engagement, and moving away from my hometown for the first time—the creation is the real me, Dawn Cunningham, finally in the raw, the real, knowing that I exist.