You should never rip off your shirt at a picnic, exposing your breasts
to your second cousin’s children, unless, of course, this is your only
recourse for twenty-seven years of raw-turkey Thanksgivings and rejection.
But if you do, ignore the cloud in your head, clouds everywhere,
in the basket with the mustard and plastic forks. Ignore the sounds around
the cloud, the yells and shouts, the sudden blanket on your shoulders.
You are holding a jar of cornichons, the ones that were supposed to remind
you of France, Paris, the house in the suburbs where the mother-in-law
sent jars and jars to the family whose house you lived in. You ate them all.
You’ve carried each day since then, a beacon beating home, home, home.
But Paris isn’t home. Home isn’t home. You shrug off the blanket,
grab your shirt, struggle to make sense of sleeves and buttons.
What is the point? There’s nothing in your pocket but regret, sorrow
that has stolen your nights. People you thought were part of your heart
threw every last moon at you, leaving only stars to navigate back to yourself,
which you are not now, not at this picnic with all this past and history.
You wish you weren’t waiting for someone to call out as you walk down the hill,
to the lake, out on the path, buoyed, pushed to who knows where. You don’t
know, but you are going, listening to the gulls, holding the cloud, the cornichons,
the blanket, letting go of the past, the old beacon, finding the right direction
that is light, dazzling, seamless, at least for now. You skimmer, go.
Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, is forthcoming from TouchPoint Press in 2021. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Review, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University.