In the Afterlife of a Text, Textuality is Not Fixed at a Single Moment in Time

Chelsea Dingman

Still, you walk through the negative

     degree weather. When you get to the frozen

lake, you walk across the surface

         not to fall through the sky

but to reappear inside it. A polar vortex leaps

     from behind black trees

to blacken the yards

         between houses. The world is quieter

every year you live,

               the people you knew

bereft of language. You can’t see their voice

     vibrating the icy branches. Can anyone see

beyond their own voice

     sifting the dark between trees? December,

so calm, so cold,

     the snow does not fall

in real time. A child wakes every day & says, I

         missed you.You realize

as soon as she can speak, she is preparing

     to leave. The us of memory, crouched

inside the injustice of all the rooms

         you can never clean

enough. The palm-smeared windows

     reveal no wisdom, no cruelty

that hasn’t already been yours. You

         listen to the gaps in language

so you might understand why

     your child likes to cry in mirrors

when you have taken such care

         to avoid water,

the bloat of the body

     that floated on that river for days

before being discovered

         by hikers. Whose father is that


     Whose mother is the night after that


     No companionable surface exists

when all is blue. All is night. You

     whom the text will

outlive: you want desire

         to mean you are halfway

to Florida, halfway to standing

     on the moon. You looked for the dark inside

the rain last fall but found only

               the sound of freight

trains passing through rural towns

         in the pitch,

the white shadows of the mothers

               there, their silences muted

by field after field. Maybe one is nowhere

     whole. Like dating profiles,

maybe the construct of self is meant to explode

         after finding love. Or maybe

annihilation is collapsible: the diligence of snow

     clinging to all

that it touches. You want to be touched

         as though temporary

warmth is enough. The well of your throat, an animal

               shelter. In the damp

damp dawn, repeating someone’s name

     when, so briefly, one belongs

to a name. You stand beside that lake

         day after day,

though the people have gone. On sled, on foot,

               you get closer

to forgiveness, but find it is your own voice

         that calls you back

to the world. Each mirrored thing, grieving

     the image held too tightly to

while snow fills the trees as though it is absence

               that listens

to the heart blackened by cold. The past,

     impossible as heaven

here. If this is the only afterlife, the frozen lake

               beneath memory is the ledge

you belong to. Illegible sun

         at the edges of snow.

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