Thea Matthews was born and raised on Ohlone land, San Francisco. She holds an MFA in poetry from New York University, and her poetry has appeared in Southern Indiana Review, Interim, Tahoma Literary Review, the New Republic, and other publications. Currently, Matthews lives on the land of the Lenape, Brooklyn, New York.
This poem appears in Issue 23 of Alta Journal.
I’m on McAllister and Fillmore on another Tuesday.
It’s 8:30 p.m. and clocks have not fallen back yet
when a tote bag full of produce collapses. Apples,
pears, onions, and mangoes rush like a surge of flood
water to the curb. The bike is badly mangled
as a crumpled newspaper tossed to the back of a bus seat.
I stand motionless. “What happened?” a woman asks.
To my left, a concerned cluster of berries jaywalks
to the site of a supernova. I have never seen one
this close before. I walk closer to see her myself.
As the sidewalk begins to pant, wet asphalt spits
blood. The blood streams from the woman’s mouth.
Shock travels through my eyes down to my feet.
An old fuchsia with silver curls has fallen.
I get on one knee, then caress her cheek
with my bare hand as if my soothing could extinguish
the fire below her skin as if I could dim
the vivid lights. I bow in reverence. I am powerless.
The final count of her breath is seen light-years away.
With each exhale, I whisper,
I watch her lips gasp for whatever’s left,
for whatever stardust is left that makes us sentient.
Fish feel pain too. Her jacket is a crimson pond.
With my voice crackling in the fire, I breathe into her,
You’re gonna be alright.
I heard somewhere
death is painless compared to birth.•