Risk

 

“I left her, she who I was, in the snow, and walked away”—Carolyn Forche

 

Once, I wrote a poem titled “Cannibals Usually Dine Alone.” It was about love, of course, for the title, stolen from a National Geographic article, demanded nothing less. The first line of it read “By now, the answer to each question is always survival,” and I have begun to think that I have operated so long under this mentality, in relationships, in life beyond friendships, beyond love, operated under the mentality of proceed with caution, that one of the most difficult things of the last year and a half for me has been that everything has felt like a risk—choosing not just a new job but an entirely new profession, choosing to be alone, even choosing to be open to the idea of not being alone—everything has felt fraught with danger.

And yet, after all this time, after all the things I have chosen and done in the last year and a half, it has not become any easier for me to take risks, like a bird that trusts its wings only after it has been shoved from the nest. There are still things I would like to say, if I could work up the courage to do so, and when I try to examine what is holding me back from moving forward, from speaking those truths, the truths about what I want, I’m not sure that I have a good answer anymore.

In the animal kingdom, there are inherent benefits for those animals who are more extroverted and more willing to take risks. An article discusses how “an 18-year long study on primates showed that outgoing orangutans tended to live as much as 11 years longer” than the introverts did; in addition, risk taking animals appeared more attractive to others across a variety of animal species. And yet, there is a trade off. The exploratory guppies, swallowed by other fish. The maimed or dead sea otters, pursued by sharks. It was there my brain caught and couldn’t move past.

It is true it isn’t death I’d be risking if I were to say what I wanted to say. And it is equally true that sometimes, I am so good with words. But perhaps only here, on the page, where they feel safer, as if they carry no risk of harming anyone, though I know all too well that just isn’t true. I have felt something inside me ache when reading the words of other poets, been moved to frustration, anger, even tears by news articles. But my own words, here, on this page, seem innocuous.

In my mouth, they shape themselves as knives, even if the only one they will wound is me. Sometimes I feel as if some kind of small, predatory animal has taken up residence inside me. I can feel its teeth sunk into the meat of me, worrying at the edges of things, can feel its body pacing back and forth, the swift impatient swaying as it waits for me to choose. As it waits for me to speak. But I am still silent. Still choosing survival over intentional flight.

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