23

by Misha Brandon Speck

you will wake up on your 23rd birthday
humming that middle school pop-punk song 
remembering the autumn leaves crackling 
underneath your skateboard wheels.

you will insist the world will be yours someday,
the gravity of youth sending
the CD skipping in rhythm 
with the bouncing backseat of the bus,
the rhythm and chorus 
catching you in its brake.

you will be shaken something unkind and fierce
when you learn about the islands of plastic,
the shots fired into crowds,
the people who died for weekends.

you will mouth “revolution” in the mirror,
but you’ll let your friends down. 
you will learn justice first within yourself,
circling the A’s in your apologies.

you will realize this is the longest you’ve been away
from the place your skinned autumn knees called home,
far from the days you’d drop nickels into payphones or
from moments convincing friends with cell phones you’d be in deep shit.
these days the missed calls weigh like stones in your pocket.

you will eat supermarket sandwiches on your lunch break
wondering if it really does get better. 
it will ache like buyer’s remorse on the future.

you will finish your sandwich. 
optimism will be nothing more
than a losing scratcher left bookmarked
in pages you never finished.

you thought things would be different 
now that you finally did what everyone
expected of you. now you’re older and know
what makes beasts of burden is a broken spirit.

you will wake up on your 23rd birthday
humming “What’s My Age Again?”
maybe the shimmer in your eyes faded
but you’re learning love in ways 
your parents never understood.

you’re living like cackling revenge,
the fate lines in your palms tucked tight
giving a middle finger to the future.

you’re shuffling out the store 
with pieces of the world they promised you
quietly stuffed inside your jacket
as the rest steadily melts into the arctic.

you will be 23
staring in the mirror
finding happiness
in the last place they told you to look.

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