Litany of When
When the rain ruts the tile roofs,
when the palm trees say surrender instead of sorry,
when the winter here isn’t winter anywhere,
when we can’t absolve the sun,
when a fire burns blue burns low,
when the ditches are burned, then drowned,
when disaster is a red light,
when disappearance is a shoreline,
when we call god by someone else’s name,
when the dark is easier to earn,
when the only honest maps are made of skin,
when we’re told enough times a woman is a curse
word, a catastrophe, a mourning ritual
as we endure the chrysanthemums
furiously in bloom
here, the egoless red
ants, the rain that takes & takes
like rich men at a five-star hotel
bar, the world a thin waif
of a woman in the dim light,
a spell for loss—& what becomes of beauty
in ordinary light I don’t know,—
don’t we look happy, though, in the windows
of passing cars & rearview mirrors,
under the undulating sky,
the palm trees spread like canopies, & alone
we are, or aren’t, or we will be
with the names of our dead in our mouths—: we speak
when we should listen, listen
when nothing speaks,
when we love the world a little less,
when this world is a lit wick,
when a flicker is all & all & all.
I Remember, I Remember
after Mary Ruefle
hallucinating the stars, like signal fires, as someone
convinced me to breathe in.
the mornings that I was low: the ugly
duplex, the cold basement, food stamps & clinic waiting
rooms where I went to get warm.
the way a mother’s body is
softer afterward; a lived-in chaise.
the wind telling me don’t be afraid as I let it break
inside me like a man.
the first poem I spoke was The Lord’s Prayer;
the first poem was the snow.
the loneliness of waking, the houses
still, & not ever my own,—nor the hours, nor the years.
the mosquito in my ear canal at the lake:
I had to wait for it to die inside me to be rid of it.
the first time I realized woman might be a male
construct—: the suggestion
of happiness: a pretty blouse, tight pants;
a short skirt, tits out.
the first cigarette, smoke like electric sand
-paper at the back of my throat.
the child that made my body stranger than the moon
in my fingers.
the child I was; she lives in the child I have, like a river
that seeks its beginning, but finds where it will end.
the dust in the dark sills
that means I am diminished.
the day I let go of god, standing calf-deep in a lake,
my father was the dust, trembling against my fingers.
the three minutes I was dead in that hospital
room, the charcoal in my throat, my hair,
my teeth; I thought the nurse was the ghost
of my father, come to take me home.
the dead who don’t remember; they won’t stop
talking about where they’ve been, about heaven—.
I remember everything.
I remember living. I remember dying.
I remember dying to live.
Chelsea Dingman is author of, Thaw, chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). She has work forthcoming in The Sycamore Review (Winner of the Wabash Prize), The Southeast Review (Winner of the Gearhart Poetry Contest), Water~Stone Review (Winner of the Jane Kenyon Prize), Colorado Review, Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast, among others.