No Panic

1 Justin Holliday

Justin Holliday

No Panic

I imitate the other copies on the street:

get up, go to the Dollar General for a soft drink, repeat.

They pass by like strangers though I want to say

I know them; their instruments of self-erasure

are the same as mine: a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

with a white eraser that will show every smudge, every moment

that reminds us of the dirt smeared inside our bodies.

Occasionally, I write back in little pieces, my toes

struggling to stay on the ground. I haven’t gone farther.


I see them start at the feet, expecting to feel each minute

grated away. The steps are so simple: moving back and forth

until you are nothing but a pair of eyes, the rest of you gone.

It is not torture; they say they are cleansing,

exposing flaws like the fight with their friend,

the hasty makeup with their nemesis, the time they accidentally

tripped on their lab partner so they could land in his lap.


I’ve heard that some start at the top instead.

First they have tonsures like monks and

then the tip rubs against bone so gently

that it kneads the dough of their brains, breaking down

the hippocampus. The molecules are displaced,

and you don’t care that you have no memory

of molecules, friends, or your Harley Davidson boots.


Even if we have not begun changing,

we are outside ourselves, viewing copies

slowing down in the streets,

their limbs filled with cherry-flavored Jell-O

tainted with bad plasma.


As the bodies wobble along,

they bypass the greasy stains on sidewalks

where others ate pencils as they got rid of their minds;

no one ever remembers where to find Alice Walker’s house.

As the news van passes by,

the reporter from Atlanta looks

out the tinted window, doesn’t see anything

out of place, and says

Nothing ever happens in this town,

chewing the tip of her plastic pen.


Justin Holliday teaches English. His poetry has appeared in Glitterwolf, Sanitarium, Phantom Kangaroo and elsewhere. His reviews have been featured in New Orleans Review, Lehigh Valley Vanguard and The Adroit Journal.



Editor’s Notes: Though a well illustrated/de-illustrated No. 2 pencil was a tempting image to complement this poem, the “disappearing hands” picture from Pinterest helps capture the erasure of self much better.


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