Gertrude Claytor Poetry Prize, 2017

The Tragedy of Light 

by Brooke McKinney
 
I did not live long in sleep. 
 
A dog’s breath died around my ankles, the swallowing warmth staying there longer than it should. The bedroom walls joined a kind of weakness, the way light survives the riot of curtains, burrowing a wrinkle into my palm. 
 
Isn’t that how skin works? 
 
The ashtray smells of old years and mistakes and the cracked fingers that held them. If only I had one more cigarette, I could light it, saving it from tomorrow, then the next. 
 
Mostly, I am useless. I tuck a leaf behind my ear, I point to birds in the yard, I dig the earth for one worm, I trip over a rock that is you and say excuse me for remembering. 
 
But it’s always the way light ruins me, landing on my skin like a boneless, desperate bug. The way a day can bend itself into a perfect moon, erasing, what I know. 
 
 
 
This poem previously appeared in Columbia Poetry Review.