E.V. Noechel

After Dinner, When You Ask What I Fear Most


I keep a growing encyclopedia catalogued

alphabetically by name, color, and caliber.

Always at the ready. Like reverse bodyguards they

are coiled to jump in front of me, ready to burst into flames

at the mere suggestion of their names, a hint of their scent,

a side-eyed shadow of their form, the flicker of a sound as their wings click

against each other in the dark. Sometimes

all it takes to conjure one is a friend of a friend of an inkling

as the conversation takes a sudden, arm over

arm steering turn in the direction of the things I can’t talk

about. Or the ones I can’t seem to stop talking about, they fall

out of my mouth and onto the floor with a wet thud


and I can see on everyone’s faces that I have made

a horrible mistake. There’s no putting back that dark

animalian thing sitting between us, black

as a nudibranch, slick

as a slime eel, dead

as a manta ray pulled into our world

and hanged by her face in an unfamiliar vertical stance, top heavy

as if balanced on the tip of her vestigial defense system,

anachronistic, long deemed unnecessary by evolution, nature,

and the blank fact that she’s the biggest of

all in the neighborhood. There’s no ignoring it

anymore and I can see by your face that you’re not

acclimated to such things although I am steeped in them,


the things that keep me up all night, afraid to sleep

because that’s when they rise to the surface

ratchet my jaw open wide and step out my mouth

in night terror screams and sleepwalking punches.


Although I’m fully aware I can’t possibly

absorb the blast I jump like it’s a grenade and you’re my

admiral, and I’m slipping in its slimy resistance, spreading it all

around and over myself and in my eyes all I can do is

apologize for the mess I’ve made, and so


these are the things I fear most. The question I


ask you now is will you be able to describe them to the sketch

artist and can you recognize them in the lineup? Can you


remember their faces as well as your own, and can you begin to

understand how it is to be the one always always


always at the ready? Because after

all this embarrassment, there’s still

all of the things I’ve held back yet.


This is just the flash that blinds you,


a bullet-hole-laced edge of the slip I let show, because even

after I rise to my knees, cough the last

arsenical cloud free from my lungs while the

artillery blasts fade to the sound of Taps in the distance,

at long last, we haven’t even gone past the letter A.

 

E.V. Noechel (she/her) lives with OCD, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, severe chronic pain, and an assortment of delightful animals. She is devoted to animal rescue and advocacy and through this work has learned what an honor it is to be trusted by another species. Her work has been repeatedly nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has received generous support from North Carolina Arts Council, the Vermont Studio Center, Headlands Center for the Arts, United Arts Council, The Culture and Animals Foundation, and I-Park.