3:37 a.m. I listen for helicopters, for some staccato pop, if not, then something banal I can count to get back to sleep, perhaps the seconds between what the clock says, what the newsman says, what my mother would say: “Pray.” 3:39 a.m. Horrible as it sounds, I’m thankful she did not live to see all that died this day. Her anxiety would have multiplied, packed itself tightly against her chest, pressed the crucifix closer to her skin. Would she have added more icons to that thin silver chain? I try to count my blessings. 3:42 a.m. I find myself listening for shouting, some unusual sound, other than profound replays of chaos, democracy gone wrong: the steel barricade widening, well-oiled gunmen sliding through police, the breach of the Capitol walls, climbing the sides of law and order. I count up slowly, inhale, cry, start to ask my mother why. 3:44 a.m. I divide the seconds, breaking down statements of what we know: hot mob, conspiracy spread like incense, tatted man in horns, no shirt, fur pelt, Confederate flag claiming the mosaic floor. Not your average person inciting insurrection. “A nutty,” she’d have called him. Certainly not someone counting on sleeping that night. 3:49 a.m. I ask myself if anxiety is inherited, if a weighted blanket would help. Not that it matters when a whole praying world leans in, heads tilted, listening as I am, for the sound of everything ending. Some are counting on it. 3:52 a.m. I decide it’s time I get up, calculate how to cope, ask my mother to find the solution, don my best jewelry and wristwatch. Let’s set an alarm, shall we? Do something a little different, this time, count down until dawn. Keep eyes out the living room window, watch sunrise stretch its arms. Watch for horizon again. -Katherine Gotthardt
Thank you to the Poetry Society of Virginia for recognizing this poem. Written in memory of my beloved mother, my entry “Aftermath” won second place in the nationwide Anne Spencer Memorial competition. The theme was “overcoming adversity.” I wrote this piece the day after the attack on the Capitol. May we always overcome, and may we never forget the fragility of peace.