3 a.m.

 By Katherine Gotthardt
 Often now,
 I think about death,
 usually at 3 a.m.
 when I wake to the thin skin
 of all that separates us.
 They say that’s when
 the dead speak,
 spirits and the living
 reside in one world,
 and anyone you miss
 is a but a pinpoint’s
 distance to your fingertips.
 That’s when the sweating begins,
 the panic as I touch your chest,
 make sure you’re still breathing,
 like I did when the kids were infants.
 What would I do without you?
 Would I want to go on?
 What if…Stop that,
 I snap at myself.
 But instead, I hop to our daughter,
 freak about her health,
 or the dog who is older than us all.
 When I was young and angsty,
 death was a commodity,
 indeed I wished for it,
 deep in the veins of my own existence,
 unable to flex the power
 a beating heart lends.
 But now,
 age clinging damply to my pajamas, 
 I hear irony giggle.
 It sounds a little like my mother
 who like her father,
 died too young,
 who like her brothers,
 passed before their children’s prime.
 And yes, I am afraid,
 not because of what throbs 
 on the other side of 3 a.m.
 but because I’ve so much to do,
 and my plans teeter on the bet
 I won’t leave too soon,
 you will still be here,
 and anything else, I’ll just handle. 
 But boy, how this night’s middle
 bothers me, the heartrace
 of neither here nor there,
 Schrödinger’s cat every morning,
 the voice of my mother-in-law,
 pragmatic from the spirit side:

 Go back to sleep, Katherine.
 Or at least get up and write poetry.
 Leave something lasting
 if you’re going to die,
 something to commemorate
 the mortal years. 
 It’s actually time you fear. 

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine is current president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. She has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Her children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William County Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 she earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest and a regional Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence from the Prince William County Arts Council. While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is a full-time marketing writer for a government contracting company and is published in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has authored nine books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, Get Happy, Dammit and D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith.
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