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.
Lyric v. Linear Time
At this time last year:
My body held twice the blood volume.
My body held another body.
My body held symptoms of pre-eclampsia: sightlessness, blur of self, numb limbs, headaches
My body held the medical history
:of my father and his flirtation with addiction and high blood pressure
:of my Ukrainian grandfather who suffered lung cancer and alcoholism
:of my Ukrainian grandmother who suffered infertility and arthritis
:of my Scandinavian grandfather who suffered strokes
:of my British grandmother who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease
and strokes and dementia:of my mother and her incidences of cancer and miscarriage
I have three children. All were born with their own personalities and traits. I may shape how they feel about their bodies, how they speak and eat and love, but I cannot control biology.
My sons are 11 and 13. They both cried this past week, which is unusual. My oldest son wants his life back. A global pandemic has rendered him impotent in a very real way: he wants to play hockey and go to school and ride bikes with his friends. There’s no reason to get up now, he told me the other morning when I found out he had not turned in his science homework from the week before. He is in the honours program. He is a wonderful student. He is on the cusp of losing hope for the future. What point is there in carrying on as usual if the world he loves cannot be recovered?
Recovery (n): a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength; the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost; the process of removing or extracting an energy source or industrial chemical for use, reuse, or waste treatment (Oxford)
—things stolen or lost:
nothing mattered in that way that it doesn’t when someone dies
my mother moved an alcoholic in with us / the world was dark
addiction and rage grew like doors / in my brothers
in my sons: this moment / the next / time like a woundwhen my father died, I too was an A student / and then I wasn’t
mother, heavy with past, asking time to let go of us][and still, I stand on the shadows of my brothers & my
My youngest son cries this morning because he thinks he is overweight after two months of sitting at home. My husband is 6’4”, 280lbs. He is big because his dad is big. They both struggle with the same body issues, the same inability to eat whatever they want. They are both good athletes despite this. My son will grow and stretch and grow and stretch. This is a moment. Time is not fluid. He doesn’t believe in himself. He says he has no friends. Shadows grow taller beneath him, despite him. This is [self] love. And still, what matters?
My body held a body last year.
My body held me upright.
My arms row toward peace.
My legs carry me everywhere.
My lungs fill with night and sentences and storms.
My anger fills the spaces between vertebrae.
grieves its center.My sadness sits in the cradle of my hips like the mirror that
that I never knew and a mother who has been the river I’ve
swum and swum away from when there is no sound.My history flares in the eyes that I’ve inherited from a father
[self-isolation is punctuated by screaming]: if I’m honest, I was isolating before all of this started. The last few years have rendered me soundless, even while making sounds. My brother buries his rage in me. My mother makes excuses for him. My other brother shrinks from us to save his own life while he tries to stay sober. I’m trying to remember that love is held inside my body. That, even in times of despair, it will hold. That I am held.
There is a weird parallel I’ve found between adulthood and childhood since I had my own children. It is like living in the past and future simultaneously. I have flashbacks some days, as though time travel is possible. Difficult histories gather in me. I don’t know the ways I am like my father, like others before him, but I bring them into the future with me.
My daughter is 6 months old.
I am counting her sounds and bones and histories.
I am counting on her to bring me into the future.
I am counting because I count.