Poetry: Selections from Bethany Jarmul

Self Driving

Turning the key of consciousness, starting the rattling self, accelerating doubt. Turning right at the corner of shame and salvation, turning left at yesterday’s yearning, tomorrow’s avenue. Beeping the trauma horn twice, thrice until mama duck and dozen ducklings waddle by. Dreaming about the other side, the greener side, where the watermelons grow. Entering the on-ramp to possibilities, to performative places within. Weaving in and out of tragedy close to the skin. Passing purple pleasures in minivans and motorhomes. Watching motorcycles wind-up memories, just to let them go. Exiting the known, the needy, the neurotic off ramps. Getting lost in the wandering wastelands of: Who am I?

How My Mind Works
Awareness of the vastness of the universe while brushing my teeth—the bristles prickling planets, spraying stars. Feeling the weight of others’ hypocrisy, a blue whale strapped to each shoulder. Seeing streams of possibilities, creating force but only in dreams. Swearing in my sleep, salt and honey dissolved before I could taste them. Concocting possible futures in my mental kitchen, mixing in cups of car accidents, leprosy, termites, a dash of lightning strikes, lice, hurricanes, a spoonful of loneliness. In the stillness, cuddling with loss.

Wanted: Earplugs for the Imaginary
I always hear babies crying—a tingly sensation on the back of my neck, a leftover relic of birthing and nursing. Perhaps I create these imaginary babies. Perhaps they share the DNA of my children—including my husband’s stubbornness and prickly beard. Or are they clones of me, tiny selves, in both female and male varieties. Or perhaps the babies are the perfect ones I created in my mind’s eye before I ever changed a sagging diaper or wished away a wail. But no—those ones never cried.
Perhaps the crying babies are the personification of my dread—shouting you’ll never be good enough, fast enough, smart enough. You’ll never be able to rest, to silence the ever-calling, ever-crying need to be serving something, solving something, suffering in some way.
Haven’t I changed the diapers on my dread? Haven’t I laid it to bed, tucking it in with a blanket weighted with truth? And yet, in the middle of the night or while I’m shampooing my hair, while I’m sipping a chai, the babies cry.
Where can I purchase ear plugs for my imagination? What brand of ear hole-shaped certainty will drown out all my dread?

Bethany Jarmul’s work has appeared in more than 50 literary magazines and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Spiritual Literature. Her chapbook This Strange and Wonderful Existence is forthcoming from Bottlecap Press. Her chapbook Take Me Home is forthcoming from Belle Point Press. She earned first place in Women on Writing’s Q2 2022 & Q2 2023 essay contests. She lives near Pittsburgh.


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