The Best You Can Do

Artist: Josh Hayward

by Lauren Bender

Her sweater takes your hand without bite,
her head lifts to watch you dispense your charity.

Her eye peels your skin away, and your insides
scrunch up and then fold in on themselves

like many palms covering faces as they buckle
to weepiness. Things flutter in your chest,

you start to understand that it’s not about fear,
it’s about despair. What do you have to offer

someone without hope? She has been awake at night,
and she registers your comfort as that of

the well-rested. She drops her head down again.
Now you have two crimes: being happy,

thinking you could make someone else happy.
It hurts to fail. It hurts to hear the strain

in her voice when she demands to be alone.
Her house swells with noise, and she trances

through it, inhuman, surrounded by wood,
learning to be angry, teaching herself haughty

witch-like defiance so that when you look
long at her, sick with concern, she has that left,

that self to grasp. Deadness curls on her lips
as you hover, unhinged by heroic compulsions.

___

Lauren Bender lives in Burlington, VT. Her work has appeared in IDK Magazine, The Collapsar, Gyroscope Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Yes Poetry, and others.