Jessica Lawson

lung volume

OPEN       as a window of a message      as a door to a daughter       as a line of
communication punctures     as mama can i tell you      something    as yes
looking up     from the window of the message       as yes you can tell me as
mama i need you to look at me   do this move     as don’t stop     looking as
one-hundred and six days and   counting             at home where the rule is OPEN
the door so i know you are safe in there       as OPEN         mama keeps the glass
coffin of each    message      window         ajar for her    daughter     to crawl 
inside with her         this fairy tale of life      outside this story of a woman 
who lived      with small men in the woods and stood    too close to a stranger 
so now she no longer breathes         OPEN as a vein to each question.               retract 
a little blood first and then       push through

CLOSE as a store we do not go to anymore as a lock the bolt
as nightmares set wrinkles in my unwashed face as a safety
measure as a minimum safe the word safe means secure the
word safe is a box that you can CLOSE to render something
you love distant from air & its many eager fingers. CLOSE
which is proximity and CLOSE which is proximity’s defeat
a clipped reel stop baby mama needs a moment yes mama’s
cheeks are wet you are okay we are okay come CLOSE to
me CLOSE to me as an anti-social distance.    CLOSE to me
       as a no               that never            names my face           

the morning OPENS with a monitor hemmed to my gut              this string of need.
i walk to the room where my children hit me.             she had a nightmare again.
this one about a deep fat fryer built into her stomach.             i cut apples and hide
the knife after.            our home is glass and breathing and this          is too much for
the children.           we OPEN our devices.               learning is a removal of thread
remote stitching back the broken skin            of another room.          i tell my girl
yes this is so hard and you are doing great               at being in this impossible. 
we are OPEN to the possibility of full in person learning this fall. full is a word
for drawing complete breaths. person is a word for the smallest coffin. learning is 
a removal of needle from glowing stone. fall is this, is what we do. an OPEN future
of obedience to gravity.

the evening CLOSES with this gut sunk
knuckle deep in worn claws to the sound of
constant urgency. whimper in the monitor i
walk a quiet hallway to the room where my
children hit upon notions of everything
somehow ending.              none of us sleep
we only CLOSE our crying for the day
that this changes. sometimes the whimper
never stops and i lie      alongside my son
until my breathing lets him sleep again
CLOSE to a candle for his fifth birthday
there’s an eclipse on           the fourth of july 
i don’t blame the sky for not looking not
even now, just to check on his sleep make
sure he’s still breathing.                                  

the function of a lung is to constantly undo its own work. 
closing to open. opening to close.

the function of a state is to constantly undo its own. 
too close to opening. barely open to closing.

a lung can OPEN 
the top hatch of the bar graph that has more death to name

a lung can CLOSE 
to a needle line of conversation, a heartbeat’s second wave

a lung can OPEN 
like a home for someone else when rent gets missed

a lung can CLOSE 
like a bank account when there’s nowhere left to bleed

a simile can mimic the work of a machine that breathes for the penultimate line
a word is not a ventilator because there can always be more of these

Jessica Lawson (she/her/hers) is Denver-based writer, teacher, and queer single parent. Her debut book of poetry, Gash Atlas (forthcoming 2022), was selected by judge Erica Hunt for the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, and her chapbook Rot Contracts was published summer 2020 (Trouble Department). A Pushcart-nominated poet, her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Entropy, Dreginald, Yes, Poetry, The Wanderer, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere.