Five Milliseconds | Poetry Breakdown

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re doing well! Fair warning, this upcoming poem has notes of suicide in it. If you are sensitive to this issue, then I suggest that you don’t read it.

Five Milliseconds

I want to look death in its eyes,
the headlines boring into my chest.
My knees quake, but I stay standing
just so I could meet my fate.

I see this girl in the road, unmoving and unafraid
my headlines illuminate her and I come so close
so close, so near.
I stop and anger rushes and replaces the
bizarre wonder I carried for a millisecond.

I had already planned out who would have my
signed book I received last year, not my sister
because she would toss it aside like any other book.
I had already had in mind who would have my writings,
not my professor because they would wring it dry
and leave behind no substance.
I had already predicted who would cry the hardest
or who wouldn’t budge a muscle but be aching inside.
All in the moment I stared death in its eyes.

“What did you think you’re doing?”
I shouted. I wanted all of my rage to be evident.
I wanted her to realize how much trouble this would have cost me.
I wanted her to remember the fear and anger in my face,
as I stomped on the brakes, saving her life.
Yet she was smart.
She realized that I was only a stranger and
to her, a substance of her death.
In the milliseconds,
I became the substance of her life, no longer stranger
but as someone you could never look at the same again.

As I looked death in the eyes,
I noticed how afraid he looked
and how human he was
and how human I am.
In the milliseconds of processing,
I’m glad what he settled on
was to stop.

If you’re trying to guess how I got the idea for this poem, you’re most likely correct. I was crossing the street and a car was pulling up to the red light. If there wasn’t a red light, then I wouldn’t be crossing, but at that moment, I briefly envisioned what it would be like to have a car rushing towards you. Don’t worry, I don’t use my spontaneity when it comes to crossing streets. You probably wondered, “Alice, how did you construct an intricate poem from when you crossed the street? That’s really random.” I would shrug and say, “I like to be dramatic, not in real life, but with words. I’m a writer after all.” Sorry if that sounded really pretentious. I’m just really random. Trust me. 🙂 

Enough about me, time to break down this poem.

On a glimpse, this poem is an interaction between a driver and a girl. The girl crossed the road, like I did, but she didn’t wait for the red light. She just went for it. The driver freaked out and managed to stop in time and he called her out for it. The girl had many motives, one of which was definitely killing herself with the oncoming traffic, but at the end, she has a changed mindset.

I decided to write this poem with alternating voices from the girl to the driver, ending on the girl. If the voices get a little confusing in the beginning, it’s meant to be. Everything’s happening so fast, their emotions mirror each other’s even though it’s not evident to the other person. When everything stops, that’s when it starts becoming clearer.

While I was writing this poem, I wanted to play with strong emotions surrounding a small moment hence why it’s called five milliseconds. There’s a lot of things that can happen in a day and if you’re not careful, your life can change in a matter of seconds. What if the driver was malicious and didn’t stop? What if the girl had a stronger motive and decided to run towards the car? What if the driver couldn’t stop in time? What if the girl’s motives didn’t change and she tried to meet her motives again? There are a lot of chances that could occur, partly up to you, partly uncontrollable.

Imagine yourself in the girl’s shoes. She must’ve been going through something that made her want to do this and she was obviously scared to do so as stated in the first stanza. Yet, from what the driver sees, she looks unafraid. Her life is flashing before her eyes and she starts to accept everything that could happen until the driver stops and she notices kind of a reflection of his fear/anger with her own and her motives change.

Imagine yourself in the driver’s shoes. He wasn’t expecting any of this and suddenly, someone’s life was on the line and he could either be the cause of her life or death. I made sure to depict his emotions are very raw, but still reasonable and relatable. He sort of recognized what she was trying to do and he further goes on to reminisce that they aren’t quite strangers anymore even though they never exchanged a word. Maybe he has a deeper past.

If you’re struggling with anything from a test to financial issues to personal struggles, then know that your struggles aren’t definitive. They don’t make you any lesser than who you are. Hang in there, hold onto the brighter parts of life and fight whatever’s pulling you down. You deserve a lot better. If it helps you, approach your struggles head on or sit in your struggles and truly feel them rather than run away. Everything may not always be alright, but don’t give up.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed!



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