We crouched beneath the second-grade desks during
earthquake drills. Remember when the thing
to do was hunker under all that splintered
wood, while we imagined the fitful shake
of chalkboard, wall-hung construction paper, asbestos
filled roof? I followed the rules like meticulously placed
bread crumbs, tiptoed across playgrounds, crawled
into myself, wore the classroom’s shhhhh
like a dull, gray shawl. I see these tendencies
toward safety in my daughters, the eight-year-old
drives her pieced-together super-safe car:
seat belt, helmet, car seat, parks it in the super-safe
lot on the super-safe moon, It’s super safe she says, looking both ways while walking
into the eggshell hallway; at ten, the other
studies ballet, a form ripe with rules, one-two-three,
tight pirouette, legs pinned by position, tights,
by Pas de bourrée, inward suck of discipline,
leotard, sugar plum fairy, tendu, bar, bun.
But hasn’t the earth shifted? Hasn’t it changed?
It’s no longer you and the desk, but a triangle
of space to stay in while the world volleys
to the ground, and learning is done without a trace
of chalk. The universe is stretchy—these girls
rocket into expanding space, legs exploding stars,
bones learning the unnatural into the natural. All this
exploration condensed—ignition, ignition, ignition,
ignited. Let the earth quake. We know what to do,
or if we don’t, we’ll likely go on living anyway.
We throw the old rules into the air like confetti.
A surprise party for chance. I’ll scatter the bread—
while one begins the cislunar galaxy drive—
and another, extending her body, begins to dance—
Alexandra Umlas is a recent graduate of the MFA Poetry program at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Rattle, The Rise Up Review, and Shrew Literary Magazine, among others. You can find her work at alexandraumlas.com