Poetry: Three Poems by Chelsea Dingman
We don’t often publish three poems at once, but once you’ve read and experienced these, you’ll understand. Chelsea Dingman has created a trilogy of poems that develop and interrogate each other, probing her marriage, her body, her memory—all to experience the beauty of knowing too much and too little at once.
(I Refuse to Pray)
That’s a lie. But Jesus, I don’t know
you or your father.
My father & daughter are dead
& I am not equal to this
anger. I am the south Florida summer
rains that know no mercy. I am the knife
-edge of night. The edge of the pond
where someone once drowned.
Where have you been hiding?
Green blades of grass are ghosts
now. It’s winter. Forty degrees.
Frost has set in. The alligators
have disappeared from water holes.
Only the crows sit on tile roofs, waiting
for what we’ll throw away.
Charm me. Harm me. It’s all the same.
In the distance: a pink sky. Sirens.
A stoplight, changing on a timer.
See my stomach? Look: it sags
like a six-month-old balloon. The skin,
stretched into a makeshift shrine.
Can you hear me? I want
less sky. Less sun. Less
weather. Listen: the wind
is blessing every door. In the hush of night
-fall, I almost hear snow,
even here. I am almost
home, in this body. Almost
Instructions for Resurrection [of our marriage, if nothing else]
Don’t tell me about the dead
leaves littering the gutters, your fists
& jaw clenched at the impossibility
of order. Don’t tell me a name
can be buried in the skin
when someone is suffering
again. Don’t tell me about our child—
how heaven is a holding cell
for the incorruptible. How she’ll always be
young. Don’t tell me about
impossible love. I invoked your god,
but it isn’t love he’s interested in
selling. Don’t tell me you’re sorry
as you try to touch me. Don’t touch me
like I’m wind, instead of the trash
bag bullied by wind in the gas station
parking lot. Tell me, instead, you hold
my emptiness like a window
holds the sky. Tell me god
-less clocks will kneel for us.
Tell me rain is the sky’s apology.
Tell me forgiveness belongs to the trees
trundled into split-rail fences. Tell me
talk of trees is the real crime
when I can’t talk of the missing
child. That blame is the sparrow
that thrusts itself against my ribs
until it crushes its own skull.
You stand in a vanished airfield.
The wind, wild. Your daughter who is dead now
traffics the sound of old jet engines
to teach you how to sing. The sun tattering
your lips, you open your mouth wide & exhale
exhaust. You cradle the hurt
of her until you are a mother
again. You are alive. You praise
the daughter in you who is still hiding
in the dark crawlspace of your childhood
closet. You want to tell her everything
will be okay. That she is the house
& the house on fire. As the earth rotates
for no other reason. As you are missing
on every map. You want someone
to say wake up. That when you get home,
the nursery will be thick with the sweat
of a sleeping infant, the crackle of a monitor.
That shelter has always been the body.
Your made body. Hers. You can love
what hurts you until hurt is an airfield,
long a ghost. Until a song is as impossible as love.
But even if there was someone to make you
leave here, walk back the long miles
to that house, to the fires, to the flame
that adores you, would you know how
to be someone other than a mother
now? To be still & still breathing?
Chelsea Dingman is a Canadian citizen and Visiting Instructor at the University of South Florida. Her first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). In 2016-17, she also won The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and Water-stone Review’s Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.