Just Say No

By Kelly Michels

Featured art by Feliphe Schiarolli

We didn’t say a word when the officer visited our classroom.
We didn’t pass a note or mumble, didn’t blink when the TV
flickered on, when the stats, wrapped in white, settled
on the screen. We didn’t dare color outside the lines
of the worry-eyed cartoon character buying weed from a teenage
bully or the gang of stick figures shouting in the margins.

We pretended not to see each other,
not to know the smell of bong smoke, late at night,
how it would drift through the air vents with their
laughter, how it would rise in a fog as we slept.

We pretended not to flinch when the egg hit the pan,
the yolk thundering against the cladded aluminum,
or when the officer pointed to the display of syringes
on the screen, the scenes of cherubic teens
snorting a line for the first time, the background darkening,
their eyes, lifeless, because the result is death,
the officer said, while pointing to a photo of a casket.

We pretended not to know how the dead could rise,
how they rose each morning to put away our cereal boxes
and make our beds, how they were waiting for us now
in their long white robes smeared with peanut butter
and hair dye, their tired bodies floating across the pearly
linoleum floors, the bones in their fingers thrumming
the edge of the kitchen sink to the sound of Clarence Clemons
in their heads, “The Promised Land” rising like a dark cloud 
from the desert floor, their eyes lost in the throbbing
autumnal light, the snaking of branches across
the kitchen window, the tick-tock of the wind against
the leaves, how it feels like eternity, as they watch
for the bus, the broken ice maker buzzing,
the dishwasher rumbling, milk parting their burned coffee,
waiting for their children to return to them
to wipe their small skulls clean.


Kelly Michels is currently pursuing a PhD at University College Dublin. Her poetry has received the Rachel Wetzsteon Poetry Prize from 92nd Street Y, the Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize, the Robert Watson Literary Prize from Greensboro Review, and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Poet Lore, Third Coast, Green Mountains Review, Poetry Ireland Review, among others. She is also the author of two chapbooks.

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