The Most Beautiful Suicide
-after the photo of Evelyn McHale, the Empire State Building, 1947 Life Magazine
Maybe the body was the note
when you leapt. Maybe. The body.
The note. I’ll be at your altar.
To shatter is to break violently
into pieces. To damage or ruin.
To cause the disruption or annihilation of.
How am I assembled? I am no less
you. Lonely like the beads of a rosary
longing a wrist. In my fists
a coffee mug shatters. But annihilation is reserved
for the body that breathes. My will
is weak. I talk to god in the night
sky, empty as a cannon. Relax—this won’t hurt.
No one answers & he is another man,
acting with humanity, who won’t listen.
Listen: the sward greens with rain. The trees
keep all of their leaves. Could you destroy my body
with cremation? No one leaves unless
the place they leave is the definition
of absence. God forgive me: unless
absence is what shatters.
Note: italicized lines are from the suicide notes of Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Hunter. S. Thompson, Evelyn McHale, and Elliott Smith.
Dear La Florida
How we want to love your tile roofs
as a hurricane does. When we are the rope
& the tree. When time has changed very little.
How we board ourselves behind walls
when stalked by summer skies. Some summers,
more often than others. How we break ourselves
against the wind, the waves, the bloated sun
until winter. How we want to love
the sun when it breaks through months of rain
to strangle us in a wet, hot storm of insects
& air. How the fields quiet. Sunstruck. Drowned.
Frost-dimmed. How we paradise here,
but time has changed very little. Pirates are now
costumes at a Gasparilla parade, but the trees’ limbs
bear the marks of so many bodies made less
by history. How we want less history. On both sides
of history, the dead keep dying. In the spring,
our wings cut through water, as water holds us warm
& borderless. Immigrants, all. We pretend we are loved
by farmland and fields. Where segregation is a problem
that time didn’t solve. Where money is a new cardinal
point on new maps. We are north. Or west. When we sleep,
hurricanes are the maps. How we want to stay.
How we want to be loved. We’ll accept almost any
-thing. The weather. Bodies on the news.
How often you teach us how you will treat us.
Look closer: the drowned sky will unmake us.
You will not be spared.
February in West Florida
Is it the condition of every woman to be starved
& unsaved? There: the dry bed of the pond.
There: my mother sat in a lawn chair, the sun
hot on her skin. She told me
my grandfather had a hard life after emigrating
from Ukraine. He nearly starved. I can’t remember
not starving. Not being hollowed by the hours
like the Tupelo, the rot in its heart
that starts at the ground. After my first miscarriage,
I wanted only to be pregnant again—not the grievances of rain,
the overcast sky pressing itself against every window.
I was starving. Unsaved. But now, the sun
touches me sane. You can’t fathom this,
I want to say to people. The body:
how it stretches, bones like prayers
I don’t have words for. How I am never full
without another body to fill me.
Is that a woman’s penance? O momma,
forgive me. I wanted to be anyone but you.
I trained myself to starve. It’s all that I have.
Originstory (with a line by Brigit Pegeen Kelly)
I am in the trouble of a sleep
I did not dream of. I don’t dream,
unless I dream of the compass
& the map that I threw in the fire
-pit outside Revelstoke. My stepfather’s hands
around a pale throat. The birds
dragging their shadows through the dark
forest behind our house. The hands
that pawed me featherless. In the still-
dark of the morning, I count the ways
I am not my mother. The shadows I drag
behind me. The treasonous trees.
Once, I dreamed my body was a casket.
I didn’t tell my mother. I held a funeral
for the snow. The glaciers ran into the sea.
The trees stood, stock-still. Mute. Their shadows
like broken sails, gored by the wind.
Imperatives for Living in Spite of the World
Don’t allow yourself to be measured. Refuse
the scale. The contexts of the loaded
sentence. Restore the religion
of the body. The self. The heron
as its wings span the width of your grief.
A reliquary. A country you can’t run
from. You don’t belong here,
but you must. The doe in the yard
could be the same doe you met
in British Columbia. But you have to rename her,
the Florida wilds in your ears. The cattle,
swaying in sweaty fields. You have long been
the animal that buries all things living
in the shadow of a shadow
you drag behind you, as heavy as lake
-effect snow. Look closer. Where are you
when everyone else is gone?
If you could stop moving, you would
be worshipped. If you were more
determined, you would be the sky. Blameless.
The earth, not yours to worry over
as a tornado stalks each tin roof. Each
tiny bit of rubble. Forgive yourself the belief
that a door is meant to open. A woman
is meant to wander. Between countries,
that you deserve light & tragedy,
life’s little violences: being born
to someone you’ll bury. The sound of
your birth in steady snowfalls. The wind,
faithful in a windpipe it will fail.
Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017). In 2016, she also won The Southeast Review’s GearhartPoetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and was a finalist for the Auburn Witness Prize, Arcadia’s Dead Bison Editor’s Prize, Phoebe’s Greg Grummer Poetry Award, & Crab Orchard Review’s Student Awards. Her forthcoming work can be found in Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website: chelseadingman.com
Image courtesy of Cory Denton