Then the day comes when you return.
The dog leaps at you
shrieking with such abandon you almost cry.
As if you’ve just been to the mailbox and back,
your dear ones barely look up.
How is it the same dishes are piled in the sink,
same library books in a stack by the door?
The fines must be in the thousands by now.
You peel off your shoes and nudge them
into the space on the rack.
The road has worn through the soles
and deep between the bones
of your right foot,
like the hunger
that became so much a part of you,
you stopped noticing
(or tried to)
You had bigger problems out there.
the one who knocked you sideways
and sent you walking
all the way around the world,
wasn’t going without a fight.
She poisoned your food
when you dared take a rest,
cut holes in your pack
and dumped your maps
in the gutter.
She bared her teeth and called it a smile,
offering you the mercy
of freedom. She’d take the pain
when you surrendered the story.
Small price, she said. Stay gone.
A formidable opponent.
She even dreamed your dreams of drowning.
Your dear ones, they didn’t know
how far away,
how hard you were trying
to get back.
It stings a bit that she had them fooled,
that flat simulacrum. But she was clever
enough to make them say thanks over dinner
and to whine just a little when she lost at cards.
Oscar-worthy, that performance,
but she could never tune to the pulse
coming from deep in the earth
that calls you always
back to you.
That was what did her in.
You were not strong or brave.
You just stopped finding comfort
in her promise of release.
Pain, it turns out, isn’t the worst thing.
You kept walking.
That is all.
Then the day comes
when you return
as if from the mailbox.
Your dear ones don’t hear the scuffle
just outside the door,
the snarl of the imposter
as her disguise blisters away,
as you banish her from this place.
Only the dog
hurtling across the room
to herald your arrival.
Image: Jamie R. Morheim, The Vigil