Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2019  Vol. 18 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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On Lockdown
Littleton, Colorado, 1999

I’m supposed to talk about black holes.
How time bends back, everything swallowed whole.

Instead, we cluster in the corner
where Mrs. Brown sits in Dustin’s desk,
blocking the entrance to the classroom.

We huddle beneath cutouts of paper planets.
Mrs. Brown tells us to get down on the floor
and we form a severed line, crossing our legs

as she rummages through the desk for anything
to read. Whatever it is, the book shakes in her hands.

She misses a few words, grips the bottom
of the chair as if to steady herself. No one mocks her.
We’re too confused. Within us something pulls

and unstrings but we listen, eager for the pages
to flip and fall. Our parents arrive, cars at all angles.
Chalk flowers smudge on concrete.

They press their palms to the windows
and I can see how the bones of their hands
glow beneath their skin.

More hurry from open cars, running
with younger siblings struggling to keep up.

Amanda’s mother mouths words,
points to her ears, signaling she can’t hear.
We see the color gather in her cheeks.

John’s father keeps his hands cupped to the sides
of his eyes, shoulders hunched as he presses his face
against the glass, eyes flitting back and forth

until they lock with his son. When he shouts John’s name,
breath detonates glass. We gasp. Our parents
are forging footpaths in the hive-haunted

gardens that weave between the ferns surrounding
the main building. They gather around our rooms.

It looks like a game. Michael makes faces
at his mother. Sarah buries her face in a doll.
I worry about my older sister down the hall
stuck to a floor with the fifth graders.

Then Mrs. Brown tells us to stay down,
finish a clap game against the lime-colored walls
stacked with puzzles and our artwork.

We slap our hands together as Mrs. Brown
lowers the blinds, the sun clicking out
window by window, casting the room in shadow.

Our parents’ arms tremble against the glass like webs.  

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