With Intersection, her monthly column, celebrated poet Chelsea Dingman enters a place of questions left hanging—of lyric understanding, of addiction, and womanhood, and politics, and death.
On a plane, above the weather, the sun shows itself. It might be winter, but I am unaware of what lies behind, beside, beneath.
It occurs to me that every poem I’ve ever written has addressed a version of my father, or myself: the lost daughter. The daughter I would’ve been had he lived. The before and after of trauma: present and past lives starkly positioned against each other like shadow and light.
I read an article about childhood trauma. The author states that every subsequent encounter with death creates an “upsurge” in memories of that first loss. Is it the loss of the self that is so grievous, then, or the loss of the beloved?
My paternal grandfather drank himself to death. His first son was stillborn. His youngest daughter, killed by a drunk driver at three years old. When is anyone taught to cope with trauma?
My brother drank until he almost died last summer. I don’t know how to reconcile what I know with this sadness that follows us like fog. I don’t know how to offer anyone anything meaningful. I don’t know why—
Why: echo of childhood. A loon’s call. The bit of bone on the lake-bottom. What good comes from asking, from answering?
It’s possible that I make frequent addresses to god in my work because I’m always trying to invoke the father. The deities we make of the dead. But it’s rarely in praise that I raise him. It’s more often in contempt. A callout. An accusation. In a poem, I compared a woman’s body to god when pregnant because I have never felt more powerful or powerless, all at the same time. Who deserves this enmity, though?
Dear empathy, dear clarity: how do we live with the knowledge of our own deaths?
I visited my brother in the hospital, where he stayed for almost a month last summer. He was so frail. He looked like a child, unable to understand what was happening to him, wearing his pain as a salve. So comfortable, he cannot lay it down.
Threads: (addiction)(family history)(pathophysiology)(childhood trauma)(blue)(blue)(blue)
What colour describes the moon? The skin in memory? The life one might’ve had?
Mourning is the river that rushes past the yard. We seldom learn to navigate that cold, cold water when our lives demand it of us. (dear brother: you were only a child. Forgive yourself.)
We assign names to things and words matter.
Some of my father’s family emigrated to western Canada from Ukraine almost a century ago, fleeing Polish rule after a war. My grandfather was called an “enemy alien” by the Canadian government at twelve years old. I am told that though he never felt accepted or treated well in his life in Canada, he had never been a drinker until he lost his children.
How many losses can one survive? Country. Family. Self. If our only home is in this body we are born to, what does the body provide that cannot be taken away?
Addiction: ( ).
My father left us outside a bar once. I was eight years old. I sat with my brothers in his truck alongside a river beneath a rusted-out bridge at the outskirts of a tiny mountain town. He had a waitress come outside every so often to see if we wanted a drink. At close, he came out, drunk, and drove us home. I will never forget how tightly I held onto the seat and door handle while he drove. How we learn what we can control.
He died a year later in a car accident. He was not driving.
Control, a fallacy. The falling snow.
The dream is back: I search the BC wilds for my father, bargaining with that impenetrable landscape, our god, to let me find him alive. Tonight, I am lost in a blizzard and I have to choose to forego looking for him in order to live. I have to choose to live.