Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘Checking in’ and other poems

By: Cat Dixon

Checking in

Cornered by walls that need to be repainted and words uttered that can never be unsaid,
you arrive daring to stay adrift—no compass, no map, no direction.
Life’s a hotel hallway with dozens of locked doors. Your key’s been demagnetized.
No door will open. March down to the lobby, ring the bell, hold out the card,
and request another. The clerk takes you back upstairs to make sure you find success.
Now you have a captain and a guarantee that keeps you afloat.
When the door to 215 opens, you tip the employee, tuck your suitcase into the closet,
and sit to read that Choose Your Own Adventure book with 40 endings—
submarines searching for Atlantis surrounded by sharks.

Letter from an Infant

My first cry is one of outrage.
The departure from warmth
and the heart’s metronome
shocks. Imagine gravity disappearing
and oxygen levels rapidly depleting
as you float into space.

The swaddling is a soft casket,
a tight cocoon that soothes.
The rocking to sleep a return
to the calmness of Lethe.
The breast milk’s embalming fluid
filling the empty place
that aches with new hunger.

Sleep, the only escape,
is disrupted by cramps
resulting in diaper changes,
acid reflux, and more feeding
and repositioning. The mobile
is a blurry crown of skulls that circle
like vultures ready to tear me apart.

The stroller’s a hearse that
carries me to a cold office
to be pricked and examined.
Clutching a bottle to find
solace, I flash to the adult
who must get drunk to sleep.

Sucking a pacifier, I taste
the cigarette I’ll puff each morning.
I see the commute, the timeclock,
the carousel of chores, meals, people
I pretend to like, and back home
to do it again for another 30 years.

The stuffed bear shoved into my face
is the teacher, the police officer,
the supervisor, the jealous partner
who will watch me all my hours.
The label you gave me on day one
I carry. The DNA I cannot shed,
the habits I learned from you write
the tale—there’s little I can do.

You’ve demanded respect, labor, and good
performance as if I’m a reflection
on you and those who brought
you here, but do you ever ask why
they brought you here? The cancer,
heart attack, accidents, arthritis,
rejections all stalk our years.

You wonder when I’ll also procreate
as if I’m running late
for an appointment, as if this is
something one must do like breathing
and death. Does this epic ever end?

My little hands are clenched.
I scream, waking you up for
the fourth time tonight. I wail
for the future I’m to live
that was given without my request.

I cry for the misery that jets
towards me like the sperm
swims desperately for the egg.
Once they’re joined, the multiplication
starts and another life begins
even though we all know how it ends.

Ignore the Traumas: Focus on the Day to Day

You wash and dry your hair.
Straighten or curl it. Schedule
cuts and dye jobs to cover the gray.
You style it every morning.
Add gel and shampoo to the shopping list.

You floss and brush your teeth
every morning and night. You call
the dentist office to set up the next
six-month check-up, you pay
for yearly x-rays, whitening,
the expensive toothpaste,
and newest electronic toothbrush.
As a teenager, you visited
the orthodontist monthly
for four years and wore
a retainer for two more
to guarantee the teeth were straight.

You keep your contacts safe
in contact solution on the counter
and your glasses clean with the eye
glass cleaner and little red cloth
the office gave you. You keep
annual appointments to order
a new pair of frames and more
contact lenses. When the dog
gets a hold of your glasses,
you must order another pair.

You shower daily along
with shaving and lotion-ing and toweling off.
A couple times a month you trim your nails.
You must dress and undress, wash clothes,
dry clothes, fold clothes, and put away clothes.
You shop—in person and online—for new clothes.
You stare at your clothed self in the mirror
to see how the clothes look. Your closet
requires monthly reorganization
for the new items don’t fit
and you’ve run out of hangers and space.

You look up recipes, create a grocery list,
drive to the store, push the cart,
purchase the goods, and bring them home.
Daily you prep, cook, boil the water,
eat, and then clean up—loading
the dishwasher, emptying
the dishwasher, wiping off
the counters, and putting away
all the dishes— take the trash out,
pack up the leftovers for the next
day’s lunch, and then with your
stomach filled you must shit.

You shit, piss, and you have hauled all
this toilet paper into your home
so this holder can be filled.
The toilet requires cleaning.
The toilet sometimes gets clogged.
You must call the plumber
when it’s leaking or the tank
keeps running like an engine
that will never give up.

You work, which means you must
drive, which means you must pump
the gas, pay the expensive insurance
carrier, the tax, the lien, the wash,
the maintenance. Every few years
you must divvy up for a newer
model or repair the old—either way
you’re shackled to the debt that allows
you to work which provides for the care
and feeding of you.

You survive even though the wheel
of misfortune continues to spin—
every few months a new disaster

nail in tire
sprained wrist
holiday season
hole in roof
broken garage door

lands on you. The counselor,
covered by the insurance provided
by the passion-sucking job, says to focus
on the moment, so you pay attention
to the tangles as you brush your hair,
you count the stains on the duvet,
you eat slowly while staring at the wall.

Better to Never

Profess acceptance
Dunk the head under water
As applause silences 
The crack of thunder

Better to never

Craft the rocking chair 
Lecture to the elders
Disappear in a cloud of stares
Receive scorn from mother

Better to never

Attend the vows
Turn water into wine
Sip from the six stone jars 
Save the best for last 

Better to never

Take the bread and give thanks
Fill the baskets with fish
Step onto the lake
Call them to the water

Better to never

Let the trader sit at the table
Bleed tears in the garden
Tolerate the labels 
Stay silent in court

Better to never

Carry the heavy cross
As blood rivers from wounds
Permit the crown, nails, spear
Hang unto the last breath

Better to never

Count what is lost
Rise again to speak with men
Allow the doubting touch
Promise spirit until the end


Cat Dixon is the author of What Happens in Nebraska (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2022) along with six other poetry chapbooks and collections. She is a poetry editor with The Good Life Review. Recent poems published in The Book of Matches, North of Oxford, hex, and The Southern Quill.

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