Survival Mechanisms by Kelly Thomas

Survival Mechanisms

Kelly Thomas


My sister broke her arm.

I would like to say that she hit ice from great heights—her snowboard, one broad wing—but I think she skidded, tipping downhill from a standstill. Apparently we don’t need much momentum to twist ourselves into bone-snapping human shapes.

When they sawed off the cast, her forearm was skinny. It was purple with blistered skin and coated in long hairs. When the body lacks oxygen, the doctor said, it shoots out hairs darker and thicker to protect dying flesh.


In climax, I expect my hair that you knead into rough nests to detangle itself:
to flay out and wrap around your wrists in shiny straps,
to grow in one flick past my elbows and tie our biceps together.

I expect your feet to point out like a ballerina’s and extend:
slippery eels twining around my ankles,
running the length of my body, up along my back bone to snake around my neck.

I wish my own feet could point harder:
breaking through their own skin to wrap
and wrap again around your back,
my heels digging into your ribs.

Instead, less accurate things occur:
My toe catches in the sheet to tear a long sliver.


Spring comes, and no one expects it to happen. The inevitable: every ounce of good oxygen and carbon dioxide has just about left us. Every little puncture in our ozone layer—thanks to sheep farts in New Zealand and spray tan canisters in Ireland—has dilated, and the newscasters have no hope.

We near death, but on that Three Two One, we hover:
trembling like grass beneath a sheet of paper.

In this moment, every little potted plant on every patio and windowsill of this concrete city begins to leaf out and thicken:
Flat blue eucalyptus leaves become as large as canoes.
Masses of inky sea trees growing deep in the Bay scramble up to coat the piers.
Tight vines darken barges and knock shipping boxes of sneakers into the port.

The wind blows, caught confused between the hills. The air currents have sped up, traveling as far as they can while they still can. They pick up waxy leaves to ride along with sand and ten-foot curls of stripped eucalyptus bark.

The leaves and two-toned swirls race down the slopes of the Headlands, fluttering through the spires of the Golden Gate.

Though you may wish to walk in the streets and feel the wind in your hair, take care that these leaves do not collide with the flatness of your body. Like a cotton dress in a windy downpour, they will push to become a part of you, sharing limited space with disaster.

© Kelly Thomas

Kelly ThomasKelly Thomas is an Oregon writer living in Los Angeles. Her stories have been included in Metazen, San Francisco’s Bang Out Reading Series, Be About It, and Our Portland Story, Volume 2.