Accidentals

By Clare Flanagan

 

From age twelve & onward I was warned

about them – notelong departures

from the prevailing key, hanging stealthy

between staff lines, barely heralded

by some arcane mark. Accidentals

stretched my knuckles to gristle

over stiff-sprung valves, derailed

whole melodies, hammered breath from me

til the true sound came into being. It’s been years

since I last read music, but today

on the commuter trail behind the Knollwood

Super Target with its wayward shopping carts

like loose cattle & empty apartments

metastasizing by the highway, those were the kind

of notes tearing through me –

teasing unready fingers

on the left handbrake, a rough reflex

half a beat behind. I’d seen the car

too late, but I was wheeling, coming in

sun-blind and hot, and in a single slow moment

I spiraled forward, a body-nautilus, back wheel rising

over wordless mouth. Curled before the hatchback

that stopped feet short of me, too-long shoelaces tangled

in the stilled pedals, I saw open skin hash-marking

my elbows and knees, road-carved sharps

across a measure of skin –

bloody blue-notes like the ones

I used to pencil in, meaning

don’t make that same mistake

you keep making. Even as I took

the hand of a stranger, who helped lift me back

to the world, the only word I could say

was sorry. But now, my legs being

less pavement-shaken, I want to examine

these bruises, let water sting the gravel

from the wounds. I want an ablution, a blessing

for white knuckles grasping

the wrong brake. I want to hear

the wrong note in the right place, a divine slip

from the key of speed, my still face feet

from the short-stopped vehicle, the voiceless

two-ton warning that all this momentum

is temporary. What I want most now

is to learn the best and most difficult song —

the chord that sets the wheels spinning again,

rate regardless, the one sung in gratitude

for being given one more mile

to fly forward, another day

to fall.

Accidentals

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