Going Outside by Christina Xiong

 

My father once raged that I was becoming
like my mother’s middle sister, poet—shut-in—
who tried drinking herself to death but failed.

A ward of the state these past fifteen years,
her brain bloated, like a book of poems left
in the bathtub, her vodka-mind unable to form a line.

She once kept a perfect home, a well-stocked bar.
In family mythology, she places tinfoil
over the windows of her Manhattan apartment.

My youngest aunt was similarly afflicted,
her house crowded with possessions of the dead,
angel figurines inherited from my grandmother

who never had a driver’s license.
Framed drawings from their jailbird little brother,
accidental agoraphobic. Her house was a diorama

for the living, a place where our dead gathered
behind curtains, foreheads pressed into windowpane.
That aunt died of cardiomyopathy,

broken-heart syndrome. Compounded
loss anchored her to an oxygen tank,
untethered her from her body.

When I kept track, my record was eleven days
without checking the mail or starting my car.
I closed the drapes despite having no visible neighbors.

Some people are literal about agoraphobia,
dubbing it a fear of open spaces;
it is a fear of losing yourself in the crowd.

A stranger’s unwanted look is like the abrasion
necessary for healing burn victims,
stripping away protective layers.

I attempt this debridement without anesthesia.
Though I kneel at noon, bowing for prayer,
I wonder what to do if the need strikes

in the grocery store among arrays of lettuces,
when someone stares for a beat too long,
or in a restaurant when the wrong order comes.

I wonder what to do outside of familiar walls,
how to live in the shrunken square footage
of a house not fully inhabited.

Christina Xiong

Christina Xiong

Christina Xiong’s debut chapbook, The Gathering Song, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.
Christina holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University and a BA in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She is a Certified Story Medicine facilitator and a Certified North Carolina Peer Support Specialist. She lives in the foothills of Western North Carolina with her family.
Christina Xiong

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