the 5 stages of grief


The states fall away.
One by one
A red veil falls across
The middle of the country.

I pray to New England.
I beg at the feet of Florida.
I build a shrine to California
To Oregon
To Washington.

I lay myself across Pennsylvania
My home
I gather the farms in my hands
I place the skyscrapers of Philadelphia
And Pittsburgh
On top of my head.
I hold out my hands
I balance across a tightrope.
It isn’t enough.
The red veil lays itself down.
Was it you?


I place my hands against the countertop
And lift my face to the mirror.
I look myself in the eye.
Rage screams in my gaze.

Tears fall into the sink.
I wash my hands.
They slide down the drain
With the grime of the day,
The guilt of Pennsylvania,
The anger of Florida,
The disgust of Texas.

My country is pried from my hands.
My heart breaks in two.
My brain spins on its head,
A top on the counter,
And I stare —
How will it fall?


I took a road trip
Under the July sun
And in the August heat.

I looked at the Grand Canyon
I drove through the Rockies
I hiked in Yosemite
Skipped rocks in the Pacific
Drank beer in the Outer Banks
Waded under the Florida sun.

This isn’t the country I met.
This is a false picture,
Paint splattered across
A land of beauty and color.
A land of rocks
And mountains
And water.

Of amber waves of grain,
Of purple mountain’s majesty.


I wear a mask.
I smile and say, “I’m good, you?”

I go to class.
I eat.

I run a mile on the treadmill,
Then another.

I watch TV.
I read.

I write.
I write.
I write.
I do not write enough.

I try to understand.
I fail.

I shake.
I cry.
I cry again.
And I do not cry enough.


We must never get here.
We must never accept this.
We must not allow our bodies
To near the threshold

We must not stop.
We must scream ourselves hoarse.
We must donate our time
Our money.

We must hand our microphones
To the voiceless.
We must listen to what they need.

We must lay ourselves down
Like a mountain of truth
A river of love
A sea of broken hearts
And ugly promises.

We must never get here.
We must never accept this.

-Helen Armstrong, November 2016


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