Precarious Living by Hannah Ellsworth

Precarious was the way she tilted her lips
when she let reasons for refusing slip between her fingers;
water droplets. Who wanted to remember,
in the face of something so coveted as
palaces of clandestine starlight
and warm arms to hold you through
the foggy restlessness of sleep?

Promises of youth were abandoned to the sidewalk then…
she signed her death that afternoon.
She felt indelible, even as her handprint on the windowpane
all frost, evaporated in strangled apologies of steam.
She was tangled and mossy; a mess of time clocks
and shouldn’ts and last chance leaps.

That was the twisted mosaic out of which
her arms sprang for you,
entangling you in this web of uncertain things
that would sooner or later
be doomed to sleet and to hellfire.

Precarious was the shuddering ribs of her
burrow of an apartment, its walls heaving
and leaning in on the treasury of popsicle sticks
and bobby pins
she had made for herself out of perspective.
Improvisation is the key
that unlocks a hidden wealth of joys, she told you.

You were the kind of man who tucked
what little was necessary for stoic livelihood under
folds in your lapel, and got rid of the rest.
But she bottled faces in mason jars, scribbling
already-fading names for masking tape labels
and forgetting them; some as detailed as
“first kiss in the rain,”
some as trivial as a number:
“4.”

Precarious was the way she balanced teacups
and coffee mugs in your cupboards, because everything
was always unbalanced with her. She hated symmetry,
despised the hypocrisy of orderliness.
If the world was Humpty Dumpty
on top of the wall, then she was the one
who put him there.

Because she taught you how to live
precariously. She taught you how to stand it.
And when you stood on one foot,
the world rattled the ground and
tore down the sky and battered you
into ashes of the man you had been, and you thought: hey,
this isn’t so bad. Because you had been living with a Kandinsky and hey, had only a few bruises to show for that rapture
named perilous.

She was wondering that night if God watched
unscrupled, as she knitted this impending disaster for herself
and for you. And if her perceived silence of his was
permissive for her to edge toward death
at her leisure, a silent witness as she neared
the plunging over precipice of jagged sins

or a failure of her hearing;
an impediment.

And precarious was the prospect of brimstone.
She’d murmur, “Better to be a pillar
of salt, than to never have looked back.”
Trembling hands, elusive eyes scramble to match her
desired surety (and fail).