At night, when you are staring at the ceiling,
doomsday-rehearsing for the imminent death
of your dog, who you reach for in the dark
to remind yourself she is just a year old, still
here and breathing, please relax your jaw.
Ask yourself, is your tongue touching the roof
of your mouth? I really need you to unclench
the tight fist of your body that has warped
your core, your abs, that thing called the pelvic
floor, whose location so few of your friends
seem to know. You have the emotional equivalent
of a cracked tooth, worn-away enamel. Every
person who told you that you just need to relax,
just cool it, just take a joke—well, I’m not saying
they were right, but. It’s time to acknowledge
your high-functioning life is a windshield
struck by a pebble, the crack spreading
and spidering over the years. I’m going to need
you to ask yourself every twenty minutes if the dread
sits somewhere below your diaphragm. You
have carried all this around like a mother with
her laptop bag, her diaper bag, and a car seat
that makes her walk with a limp. Only you actually
have a limp. Imagine your pelvic floor relaxing
like a flower blooming. Just not the beautiful part.
You keep dreaming about a person who hurt you.
You can’t seem to part with this careworn sadness.
In your sleep they will lean in close. You won’t
hear what they say, but you’ll carry the feeling.
Paige Sullivan is a poet, writer, and communications professional living in Atlanta. A graduate of the creative writing programs at Agnes Scott College and Georgia State University, her work has appeared or will soon appear in Harpur Palate, Puerto del Sol, Cherry Tree, and other journals.