Short History of the Accident

Each morning the same skull fracture, an indented line I trace with my fingers in the shower while washing my hair.

The drunk leaning over, telling me it would be OK as I screamed my son’s name.

His flannel shirt and his breath to which I return decades later.

This intention, reader, to procrastinate against pain—we share that—knowing all that must be gotten through in the palimpsests of age.

No rain, clear night, 7 pm, a two-year-old’s Lego motorcycle lands upside down beside a drain in the five-lane street.

Rushed to settlement, told it was my fault on account of the boot.

Told jay walking.

For the sake of amnesia I bend again to pick up the boot one size too large caring only whether or not this little story about my son remains alive.


Click here to read Judith Skillman on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Is this a foreshadow?” by Victor Gregory, licensed under CC 2.0.

Judith Skillman:
The motivation that led me to write this poem is an accident that occurred 38 years ago, which is described briefly—the part I remember—in the second stanza. There are other things I remember: being in an ambulance and asking the medic whether I was paralyzed, as I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, and his answer “I don’t know”.

The “I don’t know,” which is not in the poem, describes my experience. How can an accident turn one’s life upside down? Why do we find out the ramifications of a traumatic event long after we think things have returned to normal? Our bodies remember everything that happens to them, even if our minds forget.

Here, the forgetting of the impact, as well as its subsequent results, remains a form of amnesia necessary to survival. The phrase at the end of the last stanza: “…caring only whether or not this little story about my son remains alive” is true in a metaphorical sense. It’s important to tell the story of what happened even if only by pulling in fragments—details in non-chronological order, tidbits related later by others. That the story survives becomes more important than whether the characters live or die.

Judith Skillman
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