Caroline Kessler

In the dry northern air, one nostril bleeds and I discern the difference between burning plastic and charred wood. The specter of danger hovers. In a place I used to live, the response to the near-unbearable tension was to drink whatever is greenest, to choreograph the most riveting dance. Pivot toward pleasure, no matter what the cost.

In the place I live now, I assemble the emergency kit while taking a tincture to open the heart. Very little joy comes through, just an amazement that the patterns of clouds shift, so noticeable, while my arm’s freckles are subperceptual.

Can you see my screen? is the daily chorus. I tune out the background noise by going to the redwoods, where I’m pretty busy cultivating my third eye. A book told me to picture the essence of sitting without imagining a particular chair, so I did. Other impossibilities began to take a known shape after that.

The market nose-dives and you insist that now is the time to buy a place. For years, I’ve been looking for some space to unspool myself into, except none of this land is mine. Even if I could afford a sliver, I couldn’t claim it. A chime signals the difference between can and will. Sun pending on the horizon, I return to the forest, anything to shift the stuckness.

Upon breaking a large branch, I leave the two halves, an attempt to release any attachments, your hold on me, and mine on you.

But back in bed, the light moves across your chest, fabric of c-shaped hairs. The pleasure of two bodies suspended in time, alongside the pit of dread in my singular stomach. How to reconcile that, plus the orange sky, the shrinking lakes, the lack of power—I hate myself (by degrees) while loving you.

An attempt to un-blend: I drive for three long days to reach the desert, huddling in the dehydrated biome of myself. Calling out for something other than sadness to move through me, but I see that might be a lot to ask for. Thank spirit the mountain is here, expressing time in its own way. Do I have permission to rest here? The air is so dry, I’m ready to swim back to the place I was too desperate to leave. One desert-lake reveals itself, another body to dip into for a ritual cleanse.

Back in the city, we gaze out at your million-dollar view, no longer an abstraction. The wooden deck wobbles, better to drink in the sparkling sunset. I’m here, balancing, sunburned, and you want the truth of what happened. The feelings change like the weather, and even the best predictions are a mere guess. Outlining the gap between the ideal and the real, I feel the edge and peel off splinters, sending them hurtling over the edge.

Caroline Kessler is a poet, editor, and author of Ritual in Blue (Sutra Press). She is the co-creator of The 18 Somethings Project, a writing adventure. Work and more at carokess.com.