Several Truths and a Lie
I lost my name.
I lost my name in the mouths
of children. I lost
my name in the briars
with wolves, their teeth
like mower blades. I lost my name
in the traditions of men. I lost
my name over land & sea. Sometimes,
I looked happy. The world,
a moth’s wing. I came home
to rain. I came home as the river
that doesn’t know its name.
I cut through land to find its heart. I urged
the wound to name itself
human. I forgot there was a name
for what had happened to me.
The hands at my throat.
The basement light. The men
who don’t heal. The children who drowned
inside me, milk-
white water leaking from stone
without reason. I wished for the will
to live, while the earth held me
blameless. Held me,
wild. Held me here.
After a Suicide
The difference between who lives & who dies
is the gauze of a moth’s wing
as the tulips surrender themselves to the garden
& the sky fails to lighten this morning.
A father doesn’t return home, his eyes
following small footsteps across the cold tile.
Tell me who you love the most & what you’d do
to keep them alive, a poet wrote to a student
in a poem. The world is always half-dark.
It is always winter somewhere.
Explain disease, my young son says, how someone lives with pain.
I never got to tell my father: I miss you.
He’d already been gone for months when he died.
To live, I need to make meaning of the dark,
What I mean is: I want to love the world
as though it’s something I’ll survive.
When I Say I Have a Massacre
I mean masses bloom in my chest like death colonies my heart hanged from a clothesline
in acres of birch eyes and snowlight
where I am healthy but already harmed by time where the hours are deer no one has a right to rein where freight trains have the power to move the sky
by memory instead of fire and all those I’ve worshipped
are safe in unwindowed nights with the woodland
creatures nowhere for miles where I need to be reminded that others live
honest lives where the snow arrives as skyfall as a sentence
I might never finish as the rumour of another life
where an act of faith each day is opening my eyes
but I can’t see the road from the windows
tonight I can’t go to mass though it taught me to lie
I can’t say I might leave when I mean love this life
Author’s Note: In the poem, “After a Suicide”, the phrase, “Tell me who you love the most and what you’d do to keep them alive” is referencing a line from Allison Benis White’s please bury me in this. “After a Suicide” is, in fact, a conversation with A.B. White’s work.
Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Her second poetry collection, Through a Small Ghost, won The Georgia Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (February, 2020). She is also the author of the chapbook, What Bodies Have I Moved (Madhouse Press, 2018). Her work is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, and The American Poetry Review, among others. She tweets at @ChelsDingman. Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.