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Teen in Recovery from Dystopian Books that Were Portals

By G.E. Woods in Issue Twelve, December 2023

Teach yourself joy,
the therapist sings to you, white strands splitting her black hair.
One paper heavier, you leave her office,
contemplating the self-care list she gifted you. Cursed you with.
‘Eat flowers. Be music. Make friends with beating hearts.
Feel yourself m
                                             with patience.’

Your classmates read rom coms. You pick out all the exits
in the lunch room, and sleep to your favorite lullaby—

(Don’t get caught again. You will get caught again.
Don’t get caught again. You might get caught again)

The violence is not coming home,
the therapist prophesizes over your head.

It is enough that you know the real world is back there,
through the books,

where the wind weeps pitch,
where trees gather secrets and trawl

charred streets, groaning out cement,
seeking the new blood they scent on you—

Hyperventilate from peace, sitting in the office chair,
when the therapist guides you visually, meditatively, through your mind

like it is not just a place to plan survival, or plot sieges
beneath The Shaken Moon, or give yourself to a lover—

but          for          rest.
(Rest, child, this is home. You are home.

          You have never come home,
          have you?)

The quickened jelly of your mind trembles in the guided pause.
You have forgotten THE PAUSE.

How          could          you
Your heartbeat an accusation beneath silent heating vents.

The therapist chants in her melodic voice, Trust, child. Trust the mind’s pause.
But the books taught you better.

Deep beneath your feet, as your caravan slept on the Bivarious Plains,
THE PAUSE emptied the sky.

It gathered the stars—ten million shards of fire
shooting through the ground, piercing your beloved, endlessly.

More sieve than flesh your grasping fingers sank into their body.
You were a pitied attempt holding together the melt of a life, splatter dripping from your cheek.

Every week, hands 10 and 2, you drive a rusted car to group.
Participants play musical chairs. Sometimes, they go back to what they’re good at.

When she wraps you in welcome, a feeling you are not yet acclimated to,
you breathe in the therapist’s perfume, the pomegranate one promising safety.

It is far removed from the tang of lonely blood on battlefields.
You soften, a moment. Let her enchant you, soothing music in the background.

But when you pause, you listen for empty skies.
And you wait.

© 2023 G.E. Woods

G.E. Woods

G.E. Woods (they/she) first ran into the arms of horror as a 5-year-old working in haunted houses. Queer, nonbinary, and invisibly disabled, they are a poet, dancer, and writes SFF/H and memoir. She is a 2023 Rhysling Finalist and has work published in STRANGE HORIZONS, YOUR BODY IS NOT YOUR BODY, and MOONFLOWERS & NIGHTSHADE. She enjoys talking to the trees near their home. Find her at gewoods.com.

Poetry by G.E. Woods
  • Teen in Recovery from Dystopian Books that Were Portals