By Micah Chatterton

Go back.

Go back one moment, to the first line of this poem.

Go back two moments, past the first line of this poem.

Five moments, sucking Marlboro smoke
through your nose, your finger holding the page
in the book, air turning in your ear like a voice,
about to read this poem
or write it.

Go back one hour.
You had your head in your hands,
or someone else's head was in your hands, a child's,
tears wet in the center of your palm,
a handful of salt. Or else your were happy,
smiling at scraps of overheard conversation, a bar joke,
a horse and a Rabbi, anything.

Go back one day. 
It was raining, grey all around you,
or it was hot, harsh white, the sun bearing
down into your bones as you walked,
sweat in your shoes,
or it was different.

Go back one year. 
You were walking through cracked leaves
in a gutter, listening to their knucklebone rattle,
or you were standing behind a girl
in the supermarket, watching the crane
of her neck slip smooth like water
as she thumbed a magazine,
or you were other places.

Go back five.  You were sitting
on a rough stone step, wrapping a strand
of hair back around two fingers as you always do
when you write, trying to remember the first time
you saw crows, and knew their names,
or you were standing behind a door, watching
your wife pour water on a baby
in a white bathroom sink,
or you were other things.

Go back to the first time you saw crows,
and knew them by their burnt metal colors.

Go back to the first dream of falling,
jerking awake, the truth so clear
in your mind for a cold long second. 

Go back to the first dream
in which you saw yourself,  first
dream of music where it shouldn't be,
in the street, in your body, slapped
skin and singing joints, first dream
of wolves, first dream of fire, first
dream screaming, first dream
in which you realized anyone could fit
into anyone else's body.

Go back to the first time you heard crows,
and knew them by their scratched glass voices.

Go back to the first girl you ever loved,
first boy you ever loved.

Go back to the first time you felt naked,
first cigarette, the dirty half-breath
of it, first car crash and house-burning,
first bad haircut, first good haircut,
first cuss, fuck or shit and how great
it was to say those words, first black eye
or broken bone, first time you tasted your own
blood, first time you saw your own blood,
the first time you knew that all animals die.

Go back until you find
the first thing, the first thought, the bright blur
and flash that becomes a picture.

First thing:
You're chasing grasshoppers
through tall brown grass, black on all
sides of you.  They wait for you to touch
them, the dry paper of their wings,
before they fly.

First thing:
You're held against the light
moon-shape of a breast, black
beyond the curves.  A huge finger
dots the tip of your nose
with a poke.

Go back to the edge of the first thing.

Go back to the brief comforting light,
and step right to the darkness
before, after, all around the first thing,
and know that this is an edge to step
over, slowly, hand and foot.

Go back until one side of your body is white,
and one side of your body is dark.

Go back until all of you is dark.

Stay there.


Do not speak.


Micah Chatterton's poetry and prose has appeared in Mosaic, Naranjas y Nopales, and Main Channel Voices. Micah earned his M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently, happily, tilting at windmills as an elementary school librarian in Southern California. (

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