Compassion Fatigue

By: Mary Ardery

Driving the group back after a wet July week in the woods,
a week with a bulimia watch for a woman who’d trained herself

to purge so quickly, so quietly, she did it between numbers
when she counted aloud as she peed, we came across

a raccoon in the center of our lane. Run over, still alive.
I stopped the van. I knew the worst injuries are internal.

The raccoon’s eyes were moving toward glassy. Slow blinks.
Someone said, Mary, you have to put it out of its misery.

I considered the tires, my hands, the knife in my backpack,
then I gripped the wheel and guided us, slowly,

onto the shoulder instead. A wide, weak berth.
No one said a word. I glanced at the fading raccoon

in the rearview mirror. My worn-out body—
its overripe smell seemed suddenly sharper.

That night I dreamt a flood. A torrent of water, the street
a river. A child’s empty car seat rushed by on its side

while I stood at my window just watching. Countless times,
women asked me simple enough questions, but I was winding

through mountain roads. I was treading water. I was barely
afloat. I told them not now and I turned up the music,

spinning the volume knob like a planet about to break orbit.

Mary Ardery is originally from Bloomington, IN. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Missouri Review’s “Poem of the Week,” Fairy Tale Review, Prairie Schooner, Best New Poets 2021, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she won an Academy of American Poets Prize. You can visit her at

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