On this night, the canister
landed between our feet,
sprouting a bulbous, billowing white heaven,
empty of harps & mercy,
void of any God & uninterested
in finding one.
There is a flash of light,
a sudden moment when
the whole world is swallowed
in a bright clap & bang,
& then—is remade piece
by piece in the moonlight.
I’m running & the ground
appears again, the bits of grass
sprouting like small, fractured
Edens between the pavement,
the handful of cars my waist swivels past—
& the night is not over.
The whole world,
yes, the whole
world is here.
The fourth time it happened, I discovered
the body cowers involuntarily, will give up
its senses in exchange for relief
& despite the blinding burn,
will wholly survive.
It is a horribly bearable ruin—
the tinny sour of tear gas,
both hand-less & choking,
dares your body to escape itself
& empty the skeleton of all its parts
& rid your flesh of mist, this smoke
that brandishes nothing but stinging cloud
& still lacerates your chest,
spasms your lungs into hard fury
til the cough & the cough & cough
& the cough breath the cough & breath
cough cough turns to gag & gag.
Even your kidney shudders with force.
You think your whole gut has uprooted
& will leave you tonight.
& all of this while blinded. All of this
in a noisy darkness that is clamor
& crying & a chorus of throats
all sucking acid until they
find clean air.
You forgot your burning sockets
while your chest ruptured open;
you forgot your chest with all the desperate
gagging; you forgot the gagging while
your eyes drowned themselves
until the acid drowned, too—streamed
down your cheeks & softened, cooled your lungs,
metronomed your breathing & released
your eyelids, your fists, the whole night sky,
so big & finally visible again.
Jacqui Germain is a St. Louis-based poet and freelance writer who believes deeply in denim and pointy fingernails. She currently serves as 2019 Artist Fellow with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, and poetry editor and contributing writer for several St. Louis publications. Germain is author of When the Ghosts Come Ashore (2016), and has received additional fellowships from Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Poetry Foundation’s Emerging Poet’s Incubator, and Jack Jones Literary Arts.