By Anna Leigh Knowles
Years after the shooting, the local high schools
decided to merge our theaters together for a musical.
Columbine wanted to rebuild its reputation.
I stayed in the background, sang in the choir.
After a late rehearsal, one of the Columbine boys
gave a small group of the cast a tour of the school.
The whole place gutted. Fresh paint. New floor tiles.
Still in our stage makeup, we climbed the stairs
to the second floor in a single file. Our blemishes
cracked beneath cheap concealer. Foundation split
at the hairline and temples. But I knew the stories—
students tripped through ruts to safety.
Palms clung to hunches of shoulders for stability,
made fistfuls of each other’s clothes. Shoes wet
and smeared in ditch-mud. I had a babysitter
who married the person she escaped with, a co-worker
now dependent on opiates, days of searching
for pills after surviving shots to the chest and head.
A girl in our group grasped a brass doorknob
to the utility closet where her brother packed
in with others, hid for hours and refused to open
the door, even for SWAT. Past the cafeteria,
where hard marble stairs began to the second floor,
I recognized the angled views from the security cameras
that played on the news, and I knew where I was.
At the top, I gripped the metal railing, palm filling
with blood. On the other side of the cafeteria; a high wall
of windows. Late sun pierced down into the back lake,
rearranged to stiff shallow waves, spread faint light
over wind-ripped trees. Faded stars throbbed in and out.
I was right there, with the teenagers in their world
shucked of its life, curled beneath the tables
and I tell you; I could feel it, the stroke of the gone.
About the Author
Anna Leigh Knowles received an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and a BA from University of Colorado-Denver. Her work can be seen in Tin House online, Indiana Review, The Missouri Review online, Memorious, storySouth, Poetry Northwest, Sou’wester, and Thrush Poetry Journal. She has received scholarships from the Bear River Writer’s Conference, the New Harmony Writers’ Workshop, and the San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Conference, as well as a Female Leadership Residency at Omega Institution. She worked as an assistant editor for the journals Copper Nickel and Crab Orchard Review. For contact or general inquries her website is annalknowles.com.