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Poetry

Ava Balis

ava-balis.jpgI am a 21-year-old emerging Canadian writer, and although I am just beginning to muster the courage to send my work out into the world, I have big plans for a life as a writer. I write poetry that intends to explore our complex emotional experiences that can so often be buried beneath the surface of everyday life; and while their importance might often be devalued in the grand context of our busy world, my passion is in turning to art to give voice to these emotions – to reiterate their importance as the sole thing that drives us forward, keeps us going.

The Judge’s Hammer

There are dumbbells on my eyelids as I lift them up to the framed edges of gold:
dumbbells from a night I’ve never entirely woken up from,
the same night that spreads a thick blanket over the corners of my mind, leaves it hazy.
They call it anxiety, but I guess they have a thousand names for it.
The name doesn’t mean much to me: I don’t know what to compare it to.
I don’t know what it is, or if I’d want to lose it. Not if it gives me an edge.
It’s supposed to give you clarity, isn’t it? This adrenaline?
But maybe I’m outrunning myself – doing laps around myself –
running so fast that I just end up running back into the same knotted circles.
I have so many thoughts, they trip over themselves…
the drone of their bagpipe is so loud – so insufferable –
that I can hardly hear the hymns through its cacophony.

I hear them, but through mud – through letters that retrace, refract,
again and again in a manic ink: questions. I’m thinking about now and about ten years from now,
such a discordant thought up against the stained glass that it makes both streams feel out of tune.
The majesty of the windows doesn’t really hit me: I’m the same terrified girl, just painted in red.
I’m the same terrified girl as ten years ago, the last time I came here, but older,
and time has shut itself together like two folds of a blanket.
I don’t remember the shadowed, crinkled dip in between. What have I been doing with my time?
I imagine it slipping through my fingers, all those hours and minutes falling
into empty shells of what they could have been if I’d just held on tighter, worked harder…

I am ashamed to be here, in the light, when I see so many unprepared dark patches inside of me.
I want to be cleaner: to sort them out into piles –
to dust the cobwebs, to sweep my scribbling thoughts up and toss them out –
and the chandelier isn’t peaceful. It isn’t beautiful. I can’t bring myself in front of it.
It mocks me with its contrast: how clear and radiant it is
beside how muddy and grey I know my own crystal would be if you held it up to the light.
It would be full of clouds.
And I hate how they’re blowing the candles out, or sticking them into the sand; my heart speeds.
I hate that everything has its life cycle – and I hate that I am to be comforted by it.
I’m not. I want to run: I want to outrun myself – everyone else – for good;
I don’t want to fall into a cycle, I want to jut out.
I want to outrun the clocks; I want to outrun the burgeoning sadness I feel on my own face
like an echo of everyone else’s around me. I want to be different…

and I’m treading water so desperately to stay afloat. I need to. I can’t fall off this train:
I can’t let myself
be discarded and wasted like so many of my hours.
I look up at the oil faces of those who are remembered—
those who have done so much more than I ever will.
They should be comforting, they should be role models,
but they edge my nerves with competition.
My mind seeps its poison into everything, pulls the worst thoughts out of any surface –
pulls one carefully selected thread out of thousands. Pitch-black.

And I thought there might be a peaceful place still tucked in somewhere, waiting for me –
some untapped place that would outrun me – that would transcend my earthly thoughts –
yet here I am turning hymns into background noise, spinning candles into faces,
turning cathedrals into ordinary stone…
I can’t escape it: I can’t escape myself.
My mind follows into every magical crevice this world could possibly be hiding.
Perhaps that’s why it isn’t working. I wonder if everyone here has their vision fastened
to some future day at the pearly gates, awaited by strangers they’ve known inside and out
through books, through prayer…
I don’t know any of them: I don’t know anything, truly, beyond its me-coloured-coating.
I just know myself. I know myself at every angle: at every what-if.

Because the person at the end of my life, beside those gates,
does not have a halo – although I’ve since given her one. Blood-red.
The person at the end of my life holds a judge’s hammer, waiting for me,
waiting to weigh my good with my bad, my wastes against my accomplishments,
waiting to condemn me to remembrance or to oblivion. That is my hell.
And she waits for me: I know she waits for me;
and everything I do, I do for her.
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