Refuge

It is unspeakable. It is the lump caught behind my tongue – lodged like a dry granite rock in the back of my throat. It is in my father’s song. Arms circling me as we dance in the living room. The safety of his farmer’s smell, warm animals and dried sweat, the rough outline of his jaw. His touch. Leathery hands, blunt fingernails. Choking. Tears forming a damp pool on the sheets. My cheeks, crusting with the drying salt.

The slight smell of vomit still lingering even though I scrubbed and scrubbed.

The holes in my memory. The black of the sky around the stars. Cold streets and swaying lights.

Walking in the dry grass. The burning in my throat as I surrender my brain cells to blurring the emotions. The tragedy of a broken mind over a broken heart.

Later, it’s the touch of another. Big hands. Dry lips. Wrong.

Trying and trying but nothing coming out. The humidity and frustration of the weeks leading to the rain. Long stems of grass splitting in the heat. The doleful eyes of hungry sheep. A cow’s ribs jutting.

The nothing that is something.

 I tell myself that I am okay. But my mind quicksilvers like a shining fish through water and I am not.

I tell myself that I am in control. But my mind runs away from me, impossibly fast and a million thoughts attached to a million emotions descend into chaotic screaming demons.

“You are content on the outside. Sad on the inside”.

I try to hide it. But some nights, when the alcohol scents my skin like perfume, I cry, and cry and they know.

“Why can’t you just be happy? Honestly, just smile.”

Hurt, like a razor blade slashes – shame follows hot and hard.

Relief in feeling.

Running from the void of no emotion.

The hole in your stomach hidden beneath cheap laughs and desperate bravery.

A slipping mask, a tiny chink in the armour.

A trained eye would see, but no one is looking.

In moments I draw comfort from my own instability.

My mind is my home. The curtains torn from the windows. A cracked vase spilling dead roses across the floor.

“Think about the good things, your family is safe and happy.”

Running, screaming and crying. the grass reaches my waist and the paddock is a hazardous minefield filled with trip wires. When I fall, the dogs descend, licking my tears. Their warm bodies hide my pain, drag me away from the abyss that my stomach has become.

Sometimes my mind becomes volatile and dangerous and I am scared for myself, of myself. But it’s only when the dust has rasped my throat dry and blood has caked hard in the heat of the day. Only when my bones ache and I throw fleeces in my dreams.

Other times, the rain pours, and I feel invincible beneath the size of the sky. My back prickles against the drying grass as I sneak out my window to look at the stars. I find happiness in the gas cloud below Orion, where the new stars are born. In the heat of a granite rock in the early hours of the morning. The frost forming shards of glitter, collecting in the delicate lace of spider’s webs.

Later it’s the tight burning itch, a flame licking my throat.

My mind running. A panicked twisting and turning. Falling.

Stillness. Long thoughts lost in transit.

Dry retching. The cool ceramic of a toilet bowl. Red knuckles.

The poisonous smell. Nostrils flaring, widening in welcome.

The rush of blood. Head tightens, grows hot. Smile through pain.

Angry veins snake across sandy eyes.

Disgust and shame lost in the relief of tears.

Tongue furry, sticking. Lips cracking. Warm breasts. Hurt hidden behind my heart.

They’ll tell me about it. The tears falling across my naked body, salt calcifying between my breasts. They’ll say I called out for my family. Screaming and straining against their touch. My hair a damp tangled mess clinging to my face and back.

I cannot always hide. The fragmented pieces of my mind, my sanity. But what is my jail is also my refuge.

Cover by Nonki Azariah