C.W. Emerson

The Impossible Time

by C.W. Emerson

I was falling in love with the world, and everything in the world was dying.


There was no end to what threatened us. I sheltered under leaves, in the dark humus. I waited for it to be over, but it was never over. There would be no future, so we made no plans. Still, the air had a sweetness and tang; we were young, the lines of our bodies light and lithe, the night air filled with valley jasmine, with smoke from deep in the Tenderloin, with traces of champagne wafting over Brooklyn’s snow-clad streets.

That winter, our breath misted the windows of my old Chevy, your new coupe with one, then two perfect sets of angel wings. I was in love with the thought of you. But you were already gone.


The leaves and the bodies kept falling around me. I tracked the snow-pack as it melted, focused my gaze on the ground below—or did it happen in another way entirely?—in a time of such impossibilities, what exactly is the truth? A narrator soaked in hardscrabble gin, a bulletproof screen that kicks our bullets back at us . . . it happened in broken nights littered with fevers and sweat-soaked sheets that signaled our imminent demise. There was no escaping death’s widening presence.  But even so, we would not die.


For years I floated above the carnage, then finally rejoined the herd of the living—cleaned out closets, made arrangements, moved through the necessary days; the faces and place-names bent and merged into something that felt like safety. I shadowed the plague from seaboard to seaboard, marched up Fifth Avenue flanked by stars and suffragettes, slunk down Sunset Boulevard with wreckage like me from the street and alley.


One morning I woke to a clear sky flocked with white, a dusting of feathers over the Hudson Valley. I prayed that something of our kind would find its way into time’s pleats and waves—our grace and beauty, our fierce humanity—the way we defied expectations of weakness—that despite our decimation, we would endure.

This was how life came back to me, afterward—the way light filters through bamboo shades, insinuates itself, then disperses the night: the planets in their new configurations, a subtle shifting of the elements; time, its horizontal planes like sheets of glass, sharp, translucent, slicing the air.

C.W. Emerson lives and works in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California as a clinical psychologist and supervisor, teacher, and poet. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Assisi, Atlanta Review, Comstock Review,G.W. Review, Harpur Palate, Mantis, Poetry East, Quiddity, Saint Ann’s Review, The Cape RockThe MacGuffinThe Pedestal, and others. Emerson is a 2016 Knightville Poetry Contest Semi-Finalist (judged by Stephen Dunn), and received an Honorable Mention in the 2016 Muriel Craft Bailey Poetry Contest. Emerson studies with acclaimed poet and teacher Cecilia Woloch.