Poetry by Raina León

poet anxiety disorder

i know he loves me when i panic
we are trying to leave an outkast
concert & so is everyone else
throngs from five different stages
bottlerock      bottleneck
one exit for thousands

i see a baby while i count
like i have practiced
first spanish portuguese french
i always get stuck in the 80s then
remember up and down
zero to 100                                                                                                                                                     back

how many men
how many cell phones
how many beer bottles
how many light bulbs

how many black people
i don’t go too far up

i ask him to teach me italian
count zero to 200
up down twice    i make jokes
it’s a defense mechanism
to keep breathing
not feel
jab throb encroachment

i come from a place where every elbow means fight

white people do not consider the war of space
too used to having so much
not having to fight for so little

i sometimes deal in generalities

i am naming it
i am panicking be
cause we are not free
no escape
no exit

i can’t see a way

flap my arms like a blackbird
i want out i just want a way out    just let me out out out out!
almost hit another woman
hold arms close
tears burn & track

he holds his arms out
protects my space
begins to rage at the white woman volunteer
who calls into a useless walkie-talkie
we have a medical emergency
she wants me to go back to the stands
to breathe in capture            display a body alone
dark sky standing on a barren field
i’m ok we are almost there i just need to see a way

i know he loves me when i panic

|        ~        |

in an email
all lives matter
in an email
I asked my seven black grandchildren and they told me I’m right: postracial
in an email
when you criticize an administrator by name, it’s scary

whose discourse is preserved in plaintive civility
i can’t be racist, i have a black friend
a black grandchild
& then
some have called me racist

i count the emails
english spanish portuguese french italian
get stuck in numbers
like when i was black (invisible) child
stuck counting tiles in a diner while adults chatted after church
or later the checks in a man’s tie
when he said             you’re not as beautiful as you think you are
& later still when i drive to work
i feel panic rise again
surrounded by trees
count the trees
knot in

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