At dinner with friends for the first time after my father

by Chelsea Risley

I think I’m doing fine until
this song comes on with a sad,
scruffy boy’s voice asking his girl
how did we get here and the question
is so familiar I start to panic. I don’t
even know what this song is about,
know only that my brain is playing
Code Blue, North Tower, Unit 1
on infinite loop in that old nurse’s
deceivingly unhurried voice.
Before he abandoned us, I felt his heart
beating just beneath the skin, nudged
out of the way by his split sternum.
Its erratic rhythm is still imprinted on my
fingertips. I want to think about brighter
things: the way my dresser glows at dawn,
how blue morning glories on my mailbox
welcome each day, or the way my cat curls
at my feet every night precisely at three—
or maybe that’s morning too. Maybe
all I want to celebrate is morning,
to bury the one I spent at his bedside
wearing my favorite blue shirt I will
never be able to wear again listening
to my brother choke out his goodbye,
asking myself how we got here. I finally
look up to see my friends exchanging
glances and I know I’ve missed more
than a few minutes of conversation
but they simply pass me the bread,
say nothing about the way my hands shake.

Chelsea Risley is a writer and floral designer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is the editor-in-chief of the Southern Review of Books and has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her work has appeared in Juked, Barrelhouse Magazine, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, Lunch Ticket, and the Phi Kappa Phi Forum.


Photography by: OC Gonzalez