'Night Shifts'

Paola Valentina







before I turn around

at the sound of fingers crinkling cigarette papers




and I hesitate,

contemplate turning back into the building this instant

or eliminating my existence

in the name of survival

night shifts leave me with nowhere to retreat,

street corners become guillotines,

lamp posts illuminate machines and maybe monsters

if it weren’t for the moon and stars and these far faint lampposts

i would set myself on fire before passing the ghostly allies

at last to be light, to be assured they won’t get to me,

i know what happens once their teeth sink in

my mother used to sing to me about white doves

to bring me to sleep

(palomita blanca, copetico azul

llevame en tus alas a ver a jesús)

sweet lullabies to say goodbye to me until the morning

not a second should be wasted wondering

she knew melodies would not make the creatures disappear

hymns won’t stop hands, claws

i’ve heard they can smell fear

in a crowd, their wretched salivating mouths

like they know they’re allowed

to clip wings and click tongues

i tell you, the moon brings wolves’ howls

and i remember songs superimposed over their growls

do nothing

i hear my mother sing and i think this:

she recognised the boogeyman was not under my bed,

he wanted me on his

hisses, kisses

forty-six steps before i wish this skull of mine

had sprouted eyes

and I decide to take the bus,


the reflection on the window is mocking

don’t call me paranoid!

translate it from our mother’s hums

our stories’ heartbeat drums

once is too much it is enough

burn away the stranger’s touch

and it will suffice

we are not lambs to be sacrificed

to fraud wolves camouflaged,

hollow and waiting

and although i shiver and quake tonight

it is solely because i’ve forgotten, that

when you know who they are

know the punchline beforehand

pierce through the smoke, thick

veiling their tricks

no longer quick, charming, slick

we rip their costumes at their seams

we are mountains they can’t conquer

even in the night

we can see it

in the reflections embedded in glass

In the imperceptible glance

in the way we get by, no apologies

serenading ourselves in our bodies

breathing in our skin, fighting

let the light in

she did not muffle whimpers, my mother

or shield me from a sinister storm

when she sang

she did not keep me hidden from the lurking

there was a fort behind her eyes: it was a battle cry

and I'm home

*Illustration by Juliet Richards*

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