The Sacrifice

By Kristal Peace

An ambulance driving through a city at dusk.

(This poem contains domestic abuse.)

My mother holds
My hand as we navigate
The city’s streets during rush hour,
The song of sirens escorting us home.
She holds the grocery bag
That yanks her toward dinner. She holds
The sharp words my father
Flings at her when she thinks
The day is going well. She holds
My baby brother to a breast full of
Potential. And she holds
The scars of condemnation
My father can’t seem to keep
At his end of the table. She holds

The bruises that were meant
For my unripe flesh when
My father’s failure was searching
For a victim. She holds
The memory of eyes
Punched closed, lips
Slapped open: evidence
Her husband is just a male.
And my mother holds
The recipe for dissolving
A child’s fear during
A storm, and she holds
The memory of miscarriages
That her body
Could have carried, if only
Drunk rage hadn’t returned
Home earlier than expected. Years later,

My mother will hold my father
At bay while I pack, pretending
I don’t hear him
Forbidding me to go, hitting
Her repeatedly when she grows
Roots in the doorway of my room,
Denying him further entry into
The nightmare I will exit. And she will hold
Him down as I climb
Over their panting figures,
Hugging and rolling on the floor
Like two lovers shamelessly enjoying
A midday assignation, blood
Smearing their faces like rouge.

And when I cross the threshold and step out
Into a dream, my mother will hold
The fullness of uncertainty
As my father rises from where
He fell. And then she will hold
Her breath and steel herself
For the certainty she reads
On his body. Afterward, she will hold

The hand of the paramedic
Who will whisper ‘hold
On’ into her ear like a refrain
As the ambulance
Navigates the city’s streets,
During rush hour. And she will
Almost let go. But she will hold
On long enough to learn
That I arrived safely
At my dorm and my little brother escaped
Into the arms of an aunt and then

She will let go. Leaving me
The rest of my life
To wonder if
I should have stayed.

Category: Featured, Poetry