Fear of

Public speaking. Clowns.
Absentmindedly flipping the wrong switch
and slicing off my fingers in the garbage disposal,
the sensation of watching bone
ricochet off the mosaic backsplash
before feeling a thing. Snakes. Spiders. Black goldfish,
ever since the nightmare in third grade,
when a fish as big as my teacher
sat in my bedroom chair reading a book
with eyes that bulged like tumors, waiting
gape-mouthed for me to wake up. Commitment.
Rejection. Feeling defective
into my twenties because Nick broke up with me
in ninth grade, citing my addiction
to General Hospital and my inability to kiss (I’d let
our interwoven mouths fill with saliva as if
they were clasped hands under a rain cloud in August).
Failure. Intimacy. Bumping into my mom’s psychiatrist
in the cereal aisle and seeing her judgment
when she recognizes me. Worrying fifteen years
after my father’s death
that maybe he died because
I didn’t call the ambulance in time. Heights.
Little dogs. Sirens. Closed-in spaces with no way out.

This is a reprint of work originally published in While the Kettle’s On.

Melissa Fite Johnson’s poetry has appeared in such publications as I-70 Review, The New Verse News, The Invisible Bear, and Inscape. Her first collection, While the Kettle’s On (Little Balkans Press, 2015), won the Nelson Poetry Book Award. Melissa and her husband live in Kansas, where she teaches English. Her website: http://melissafitejohnson.com.

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