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  • Chelsea Dingman

Five Poems

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:

Image courtesy of Cory Denton

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