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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2009 - Vol. 6, Issue 1

"Radioactive", "Rivers of Steel", and "As If They Were Real"

written by

Steven Michael Graham


for Jessica, with my apologies



It was just a friendly hug

and yet...

her arms, around me, were warm as a sunbeam

and nearly as soft.

It was the sort of hug that you can still feel

even after it's gone

for half an hour;

a tingling tickling across your back,

seeping into those old wounds

where you once had wings.

Her smile, stepping away, was knowing.

Tight lips held back the words

but they glittered behind her eyes,

striving to be known if never heard:

"I could have you now, if I wanted to.

That's all it takes.

Just one soft touch."

I try to forget, to be how I was

but something inside me

refuses to concede.

It's not her fault.

When she talks just so,

smiles just right, so brightly,

just the touch of her voice

runs a hand down my back;

a tickling, tingling, stripe

on my spine.

It's not her fault that she shines;

that she's radioactive,

casting her light

in a color too fast to see,

only feel, a fire beneath my skin.

You want to believe

that love is an energy

that passes between you and her,

something given and received.

You want to believe

that love will transform you,

mutate you into something

you never could have been;

but love is a fire

she never meant to send,

that burns you up

from deep within,

planting seeds of envy and hate,

little pieces of you,

corrupted into poison.

Love is an allergy,

nothing from her at all,

just a reaction to stimulus,

a rash beneath the skin.

It's not her fault

I didn't know better.

Pale from long darkness,

unaccustomed to light,

I embraced too quickly

when she embraced me.

She just tried to be friendly,

to share some small warmth.

The Sun's not to blame

if we let ourselves burn.



"Rivers of Steel"


I know I could do it,

if I wasn't afraid.

Feet on the pedals,

hands on the wheel,

eyes on the road,

praying and swearing and talking to myself,

I've driven it home before.

Hard things are easy

but easy things are hard.

I look at the street

and the cars rush by, a river of steel,

and I'm afraid.

Everyone just wants to get where they're going,

meaning no harm, but...

accidents happen, people get hurt,

and I can't even walk straight.

Misstep upon misstep, struggling to correct,

I push my fear down until I trip on it.

I know it is fear that makes the car stutter and stall,

that curdles my stomach and tightens my chest.

Press down, move forward, get where you're going.

Control comes with practice but practice has risk.

Accidents happen, people get hurt,

running together in rivers of steel.


"As if They were Real"


You crouch and you run

switch your gun for grenade

blow away men and women

made out of pixels.

They scream and they bleed

as if they were real.

We all play the game, for a wage,

every day.

What we don't know

is that our pay

comes from a front

for a shell for a dummy


wholly owned subsidiary of

the Military-Industrial Complex.

We don't care, 'cause we're unaware,

at the end of an orbital satellite link

eyes made of glass that never blink

send back real time video feeds

from robot men who never bleed

who kill flesh and blood, leaving guts in the mud

who crouch and who run, with grenades and with gun

who move just like humans

as if they were real.

Steven Michael Graham is a Maine poet and writer with Asperger's whose work has appeared in such diverse sources as the literary journal, Chalkdust, the gaming website, Pyramid, and the upcoming horror anthology, Cthulhu Unbound from Permuted Press. He's always been this weird.

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