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survivor’s guilt

CAS for Database

Kate Rowberry

Granite Bay, CA, USA

Granite Bay High School


survivor’s guilt

the amber bottle       was in your easy hand

and   the liquid was stinging the back of your callow throat.

open the door, chauffeur, and introduce

the passengers to the leather   upholstery and the  gas pedal.

cramped companions. claustrophobia on the emptiest              night.

your seatbelt            hangs from the silver crook  of the waning moon

because sunshine beams from         your     headlights. the world

revolves       around you.         chases your sinuous tire tracks.

arrives at the   fuddled scene. surround-sound screams.

a lurid collision and rollercoaster lurches. this        is not a         theme park?

you sag        out the driver’s-side    door. mind fissured.

blanching face.         wind tugs at your unbuttoned blue flannel.

atom by atom, you materialize in a slanted reality.

you condense into         a timorous entity, a violin voice on the phone.

nine. one. one. what’s your              emergency?

your grisly             words  shudder at themselves as they

exit the comfort       of your mouth and crawl

into the dispatcher’s conscience. prod         at the backseat bodies.

invent a        pulse and smudge off the                 red

and inhale                the adrenaline. inebriated   trance. toes throbbing

from kicking   the electricity pole that decelerated the vehicle.

barely upright. it tilts to the left but      still      points to heaven.

the gilded badges spill         out of a whining       patrol car.

they have you remote-controlled and they gouge

their notebooks with   sobriety        as they

pluck            a story from your tangled answers.

follow the     white line. yes, the one in the center.

a       dissociation  between the painted white

curving down the street       and the sharp angles of

the    glass             polygons that burst from     your window.

you wobble along the road marking      until you

hit the courtroom wall wearing       orange and handcuffs.

someone else chauffeured your   friends   to the morgue.

This piece was previously published in Paper Crane Journal.


Even after reading this piece multiple times, that final line is still consistently a sharp punch to the gut. It depicts a single moment in time in such a stunning—and terrifying—way. You can almost experience the subject’s shock and daze firsthand through the poem’s mosaic of sentence fragments and jagged imagery, roiling snippets of a picture too overwhelming to put together. Tangible and disturbing, “survivor’s guilt” will leave you grateful for any less tragic reality, yet mournfully guilty over a crime that was never your own.


Kate Rowberry is a Californian writer whose work has appeared in The Louisville Review, Ice Lolly Review, and elsewhere. Her writing has also been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and Bow Seat. She is somewhat guilty of tsundoku.

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