Cancelled

She tells me I am
Cancelled
Forever gone from her life
And those of her friends
Who think they are special
Better than the rest
Way better than me
In my frumpy gymsuit
And zero brand collars
No penny in my loafers
Much less fancy tags
From places I can’t pronounce

She tells me I am
Cancelled
Not among the invited few
With privileges to enter
No member number by my name
To celebrate a marriage
Play a volley of tennis
Swing a new driver on wet grass
Race against time in a private lane
On routine morning laps
That anesthetize life
For the next generation

She tells me I am
Cancelled
My child not smart enough
For lavish play circles
Skilled in violin or dance
Ivy League study trips
To Kathmandu or Tokyo
Shopping sprees in big cities
Filled with faces of a different kind
On shores not of our making
Horses race to the finish line
Await the golden prize

She tells me I am
Cancelled
Undeserving of her anointed
Self-importance as though
My gymsuit remains baggy
Shoes tattered and socks worn
Running on empty streets
Curbs with no master
To slow me at red lights or stop signs
Before dawn cracks open her window
Enough to see the hospital walls
Ahead in the darkened alley

She tells me I am
Cancelled
Uncertain who resides behind
The mask of protection from
A March madness that seeps
Into Earth’s seams
Slows its rotation
Halts splashes in the waves
Stops shiny rings on young fingers
Hopeful of a future that may disappear
She remains unaware
Lost in old reruns to mark time in place

She tells me I am
Cancelled
Waves her black pastic in my face
To let me know she pays for the best
Most famous doctor on his way
To save her skin from everyone else
Who sneezes with aching brains
Scarred lungs and seared hearts
Like hers left from years of ugliness
Too selfish to consider the value
Of what friendship might be
If she chooses to look

She tells me I am
Cancelled
As I wipe droplets from her sweaty brow
Insert fluids into her bulging veins
Ignore her delirium as nonsense
Spews from her crusty lips partnered
With the venom of her kind
Gasping for air and life all at once
Retreat from the past
Act in the now
Save the woman from herself
Save myself, too

I tell her she is
Cancelled
God knows we tried our best
Gave all we could
Against all odds
Isolation, ventilator and
Life-saving drugs aside
The same outcome
Her daughter cries
I discard my gloves in a red bag
And move to the next room
Another life cancelled

–Victoria Emmons, copyright, 2020

Freeze Frame

Stuck in the age of Covid-19, racing to nowhere except a way out of this box to which the world has been condemned, a prison cell of prevention, or not, for those unlucky thousands who carry coronavirus with them to their graves, leaving the rest of us to worry about droplets lingering for days on Amazon delivery boxes, empty grocery store shelves, dirty gas pump handles, or our own Fido’s nose, even a child’s hand fresh from a playground jungle gym when the real jungle is Mother Earth spinning in all her infected glory, laughing as she twirls leaving that voice message that cries, “I told you so.”

—Victoria Emmons, copyright 2020

Unfair

Unfair that I should
lay back
on a comfortable chaise
next to a clear, blue
pool of running water,
a sound to calm my nerves,
steady my heart,
settle my head,
reconcile what is left
of a rather long life.

Unfair that a mother
should grieve
her young son,
a father should
bring his daughter
home to Pakistan
in a coffin,
a birthday party
should be cancelled
in favor of a funeral,
the boy turned 17
still hugs his
creation laying silent
on an art room floor.

Unfair that death
to others is the answer
to self loathing,
revenge the choice
for an unkind word,
no matter the tool —
fist to the nose,
trigger to the head,
stab to the heart —
killing the answer.

Unfair that funerals
beget more funerals,
a killing ground for
the lonely, desperate,
duped, a-political
turned fanatic,
the baby born
with no mother,
no love, no compassion,
no enthusiasm for life.

Unfair that life
is over when
it is over.
No second thoughts.
No second chance to rewind,
reconsider the action,
hate, killing,
the tragedy
about to unfold.
Always one,
that one sad person
ready to pull the trigger.

—Victoria Emmons, 5/20/18

A Prayer for Cold Feet

Do not set foot
into a black limousine.
A ride through empty streets
makes the dream real.

No pretend toe tag,
coroner’s signature required.
Son rescues a wedding ring
from a burial far too deep.

Well-placed calls to
sisters, brothers and daughters.
Search for an American flag
to drape across a wooden coffin.

Images of sixty-some years
pasted to a display board
filled with silly grins
at milestone occasions.

Give me a handkerchief,
please. Be there for me,
you, a witness to
love, family, legacy.

Write your name in a book
to remember celebrants
for a friend, father, grandpa,
brother, husband, lover.

Shoe pinches my toe
with each step toward
sympathetic arms outstretched,
pinches my heart.

If the shoe hurts
I don’t have to wear it.
Allow me, dear Lord,
to live with cold feet.

—Victoria Emmons, © 2017
For Karen

Couples

Cup without a saucer
First name without a last
Activist without a handmade sign
Monkey without a banana to eat
Home without a state
State without a name
Hand without a finger
Nowhere is home
No place is mine
Where a heart resides in peace
Accepted by rulers
who prey upon strangers
and do not tolerate salt
without pepper.

—Victoria Emmons, © 2018

Praha Notes

Stumble on stones
that speak to my feet
seven centuries past
Too long ago to recall
A love gone by.

Sky aided by clouds
darkened in an instant
to cool a steamy day,
raindrops and thunder
fluffed into marshmallow
dreams by midday.

Your gifts linger, a
72-hour metro ticket
takes me on a red train
to green line, then
yellow line to find Zlicin
through the park to Zitna.

A hot day adorns
your head, along with
a baseball cap to keep
the sun away, a
thousand-koruna note,
gift for a weary traveler.

Franz Kafka, Adolf Born,
blond Chrystina in an Alfa Romeo
points out the world’s largest
castle, streets below
teeming with selfies and
a car that attracts attention.

Czech list of things to do,
dancing house beckons
as bridge traffic lessens on
way-finding maps to
a jazz club of singers,
drums, and saxophone tunes.

A kiss on the hand, a wave
goodbye from one train to another
as I dine alone next to
Charles Bridge, me and
my glass of red Bourguignon
from France, no Czech beer.

Laughter of child’s play
on monkey bars at a nearby park
makes music for my single dinner,
void of smiling Irish eyes,
no direction to
my last evening in Prague.

Lost in colors, I search
for the yellow ice cream cone
to lead me out of the
Namesti maze toward the Vystad
where I will drift
back to normalcy, if I can.

–Victoria Emmons
copyright 2017, Prague, CZ

Passing

The invisible line is cast across the river,
across the canyon, or the ages, obstacles
that find us as we travel dusty roads, always
searching, forever unsure. Pleasure in
windblown branches hobbled against the slant
of a craggy mountain, predicted to lose,
yet they blossom, somehow gaining strength
from light and the occasional storm.

Rain is approaching current location
and is expected within thirty minutes.

The line reaches out, centuries compelled
to forge a lineage unbroken. The invisible line.
Our heritage. We cannot see them, nor they us.
Mere black and white images painted by the
hand of a craftsman or a Brownie Instamatic.
They smile or laugh, more often
furrow brows within the frames of their lives.
History recorded in a frown, perhaps too serious
the thought of the invisible line.

Rain is falling now.

The burden remains. Casting the line is all
too frightening, creates a link in a chain that
cannot be undone. Populate. Procreate. Pass.
The cycle begs for renewal. And so we perform.
In our innocence and duty, the people perform,
create the invisible line that stretches from
one generation to another. The line sends all
our oneness to the next and the next,
on down the line.

The wind blows harder.

Never an end of the line, just a passing
of the wonderment of life, love, creation,
knowledge, laughter, responsibility, inspiration,
thoughtfulness, caring, tolerance, joy, simplicity.
Never an end. Always a new beginning.
The invisible line is not broken, merely
reflected in the crystal blue eyes of a child,
the exploration of a scientific discovery,
the digital painting of a sorrowful face.

Black clouds ahead.

Cast your line. An ocean awaits. Sandy shores
reside amongst the clouds, no matter their color
or shape. The line must be cast. Too late for
indecision. Stretch out your heart to the next
in line. Leave your trace of glory to be retold
in story after story. The blessed line.
Follow it and find the softest space in Heaven,
find those who climbed in before you.

Rain clearing by tomorrow morning.

–Victoria Emmons, May 2017


for Uncle Jim

Three-Quarters of a Breath

Soft sounds count each breath with
clarity, mindfulness and motion.
Every swell erupts into hope, rises and falls
in fullness, leaving joy as a postscript.

Breathe in to fill three-quarters,
that which is left of a lung, a section
disappeared one sunny morning, a favorite
corner rendered useless by a scalpel.

Pushing air out even harder,
pain shoots down the spine,
suffocates the rib cage and the heart.
But the heart still loves, still smiles.

Life breathes in three-quarter beats,
arouses a heart to sing, a soul to pray,
a mind to dream. Invites love to play
under a delicious full moon.

Count the breaths. One. One-half.
How many birthdays, he asks.
Grandma, that’s a lot of birthdays.
A lot more to come, you say.

Smell a future filled with fresh air,
even in three-quarter beat. Hear the
sound of laughter, the voice of strength
residing in a cage meant to be opened.

Make songs with every breath when
air and music wed as one. Sing for
respite. Sing for hope. Sing for life,
notes attaching to the summer wind.

–Victoria Emmons, May 2017

For Jill.