Dignified Descent And now I descend into the depths of myself from the surface of my life, like a goddess diving headfirst into the underworld. I take a deep breath and brace for a smooth bumpy landing. More deep breaths because it’s not enough to just come down, I have to settle in and look around. Dig in. I’ve tried to bring my dignity along but I wonder if I really know what it even is or just what I pretend it to be. I don’t know how I got it. Was it bestowed upon me or did I create it? Am I in charge of my dignity or can it be taken from me against my will? For now it is my shovel. Dig on. Within these first layers I come up only with things to chew on and nothing to swallow. Nothing certain to hold or that I know where to put. I find only sharded shrouds to try on, only possibilities of multi colored jagged edges. Too sharp and cutting. Too hard to digest. Dig deeper. The surface light disappears and all that remains is what I can see with any light I can muster from within me to illuminate this cavern of endless longing. I can only see what only I can see, within me with the ray of my own pale glow and in my own way. No one and nothing else can show me. I am reaching the crux of my pain. Keep digging. By the third layer, I begin to wonder if I will ever make it back up to the surface, if I even want to go back up. The thought of it burns like the taste of cold old office coffee in my throat. I’m in it now, the ugly that fits, soaking in it and shoveling it all around instead of poking at it from above like rearranging campfire logs. I shift the blame from myself to the war and back again. Settled alone in the depths of my truth seems easier now than trying to live in the light with lies. Dig down. When the silence ceases to deafen and the nausea turns to numb, I begin to feel a freeing sense of understanding reaching out from under the thick lacquered layers of shame, guilt and fear. I feel it enough to fish it out of the fire and face it. Their pain was not, is not, my fault. I can’t fix it or take it away. I can only show up for it. The layers melt away into a permeating peace. Reassurance is the oxygen to fuel it. It will be okay. It’s time to go back. Dig up. Is that a light? An arising? With my head held high, I balance the weight of the layers of it all on my shoulders where it somehow feels lighter than hidden inside. The light is getting brighter and it is coming from me. It shines all the way up to the surface illuminating my way. It is dignity at last. Glow up. On the Edge of Now she sits on the edge of the bed legs twisted up like a warped hot pretzel her socks don’t match each other or the outfit her body is too thin in some parts large blue veins and tiny bones protrude from her hands long thick dark hair hangs over her shoulders her eyes are half closed in utter exhaustion her face and arms pallid, like an ill child if you ask her about dreams, she will tell you about nightmares she wants to live again but i think she’s afraid of dying again she wants to give again but i think she’s afraid of losing again she wants to love again but i know she is afraid that it will destroy her finally this time because forever is a promise no one ever keeps never is a promise kept all too often always doesn’t necessarily mean obviously or actually or really so her survival hinges on faith enough in now and passion and passion now Looking Back You crane your neck to find a way out of your third grade classroom because you can’t be there with nausea sitting in your gut and that acidic bile choking you. You think everyone sees your mortification on you like you walk around with your insides out so you practice an impassive expression until something that looks like stoicism forms. Stings appear to bounce off you like you have poise No outward wince, not even a blink, but their laughter stings anway, searing through your shivering cold bones stored underneath your skin for a later sob session alone when you can close your bedroom door flop on your bed finally home not bothering to remove the heavy tweed uniform skirt with it’s thick pleats and the itchy wool gray cardigan sweater that can’t keep you from shivering even in the august sun. It smells of old broken crayons and chalk and sweaty children, the heaviness of heated air in a tight space with windows that don’t open. Tomorrow you have to go back and crane your neck over the endless hair of the girl on whom you threw up just last week. You think maybe this week You’ll pick at the broken blood vessel on your nose just enough until it bleeds a little so you’ll have to leave but be careful, it could spurt all over and that is mortification you won’t be able to hide. So just stick to stomach aches or try headaches for a while. You’ll miss things about jesus and the times tables but it doesn’t really matter. No one will remember. No one will care. What matters today, doesn’t matter tomorrow You’ll still get cold in the sun but you’ll learn how to be just where you are. Bio: Beth Mulcahy (she/her) is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and writer whose work has appeared in various journals, including Full House Literary and Roi Faineant Press. Her writing bridges the gaps between generations and self, hurt and healing. Beth lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and works for a company that provides technology to people without natural speech. Her latest publications can be found here: https://linktr.ee/mulcahea.