Clare Flanagan

Self-Portrait as Sisyphus with Atmospheric River and New Love

I’d been crawling up Portola for as long

as I could remember – heat-bleached median,

trash strewn in the fescue, smoke like kohl

on the sky’s hooded eyelids. Sometimes, the Pacific

visible, black rock extruding from the blue; always

the mountain, limned with eucalyptus, concealing

jagged chert, famished coyotes. Like an idiot,

I’d prayed for rain – for something to hush

the culverts, blonde and shrieking, or perhaps

a cool hand on my own burning forehead – but

I’d forgotten how water flows downhill, hauling

the whole world with it, or how my hands unlatch

from the boulder, its familiar ridges made sleek

by wish fulfillment. So I screwed my eyes shut

and kept pushing. I bit my tongue and tasted liver,

bile, the runny eggs I’d been eating at that diner

where Merope said she didn’t love me anymore.

In my mind’s theater, I saw an empty booth

submerged in turbid water, then her figure tall

on a stolen surfboard, paddling away, trailed

by someone with a smooth, woundless abdomen,

their laughter a shattered windshield, Perspex glinting

in the flood’s murk. In reality, I saw something else,

because the wind had blown my eyes open – a man

standing on the overpass, waving his arms, shouting

a name I had stopped using, in a voice like a birdcall

from my other life. On that old planet, we did not

have a word for gravity, and on this aging one,

I briefly forgot its meaning, pausing to stare

through a curtain of rain, at the pool of light seeping

from beneath it. I saw the boulder lurch backwards.

I wondered what would come from my mouth

if I let it crush me. If I’d say something beautiful.

Clare Flanagan is a Brooklyn-based poet, music writer, and night owl. Raised in Minnesota, she recently relocated from San Francisco to New York City, where she is a Wiley Birkhofer fellow at NYU. Her poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in Pidgeonholes, Poetry Online, Alien Magazine, The McNeese Review, and Treble Zine. In her free time she enjoys running, eating chopped cheeses, and listening to Charli XCX.