How I made friends with fear

How I made friends with fear

The four of us dress in stiff coats
to visit our father at his office, travel
by train to Chicago, the seventeenth floor
of a skyscraper wedged between
reachless towers of darkened metal.

A hushed ride in a mirrored elevator,
plush carpet, we gather near his desk.
Before a glass wall
I stand apart from the other three,
eleven years old, the eldest
and by birthright the chieftain of our tribe.

My sisters watch for signs–how to act?
But my breath catches at the top
of my lungs as larger people
shuffle papers in the outer office–

I wish I were alone to practice
at being afraid, to carry out my solo
rituals in the basement of my house,
a place that draws me with an unseen cord

downwards. In the dark I walk
backwards in a circle, round and round
three times to conjure up the Devil,
who I hope will rise from the black
smudge on my soul to fill up the pitch air.

I know all about God the Father
and the Blessed Virgin from weekend
migrations to Our Lady of the Wayside.

I want to understand that thorn in God’s side,
not the thorns in his crown.
I seek the one who gave Jesus hell in the desert.
If I am to be an implacable
ice goddess in this City of Restraint,
I’ll need to test my courage
against a hailstorm of fear.

These thoughts hover on the edge
of my mind as I look out the thick glass
to the specks of people below,
watch toy cars inch along the asphalt,
wonder what it would feel like to jump, or fly.

***