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.
Sirens, Always, in the Distance
Today doesn’t know what it wants to be, on the cusp of fall and all human seasons. The fog hasn’t yet burned off. It is cool and damp.
I’ve long been ruled by seasons. By the natural world. This year, in the absence of true leadership, it seems the only ruler. Wildfires. Hurricanes. The body. The cosmos. This language that I keep insisting has weight, has heft, has matter. It matters what we call a thing. I’ve said this so often to friends and family lately that I’m sure I lack language. The ability to make a convincing argument. And nostalgia is so thick right now, but nostalgia for what world? What season? What year or decade or month was not a threat to someone somewhere?
My daughter is almost 11 months old. My brother measures his sobriety by her birth.
In the collision of these two things: hope.
Childcare remains a widespread crisis due to the pandemic. I could not find a care facility for my daughter that would allow me to work. My work is done in an office. My son has the option of online school or in-person school. He will stay home because I can’t.
I rationalize: many of his friends are doing online school. It is teacher-led. He will likely be safer and healthier, as will the teacher.
I rationalize: I took care of my brothers after my father died. It made me independent, though a woman who has trouble asking for help, as a mentor in grad school pointed out to me. I had never seen the correlation before. I’ve been largely on my own since sixteen. It makes sense. As do my control issues, when I think about it.
Isn’t this act of writing just another attempt at control where I have none?
In 5th grade, the year after my father died, my mother pulled my brothers and I out of school for three months. We drove from Kelowna, British Columbia to the tip of the Baja and camped on the beach.
What I remember: the Pacific, clear-bodied scorpions, walking into San José del Cabo to buy gum & milk with my mother, hiking in the desert near La Paz, congregating around a shark that had washed ashore on the beach during siesta. What I don’t: enjoying school that year when the stress of losing my father made me sad & terrified as to who would be next.
[who else is waiting for the other metaphorical shoe to drop]
The fog, as though burning. My sons, taking care of their sister since the world stopped when she was four months old. They are 11 and 13. The pandemic has taught them to care for someone other than themselves. It has taught them to care for themselves. It has taught them. What will school offer? Why are we pressuring forward?
Exhaustion: from 17th century exhaurire, meaning “drain out.”—Oxford Languages
On August 19, 2016 Nina Strochlic published an article in National Geographic called, “History of Exhaustion Reveals We Could All Use Some Sleep.” In it, she surmises that each generation purports to feel that the current day “must be the most exhausting day to be alive.” She states that in 2016, “we blame[d] technology for our weariness. In the 19th century, the culprit was capitalism. In the middle ages, it was sin.”
Ergo, the raspberries never bloomed this year.
Ergo, this lack of light.
Neurasthenia: an ill-defined medical condition characterized by fatigue and associated with emotional disturbance. I have often wondered what shape my fatigue is taking. Where it will take me. To what end. Where.
I found another 3cm lump on my left side. I must go for another ultrasound. Possibly a biopsy. The years fill with flashing lights. There are sirens, always, in the distance. With the rain, the snow, the violence of the body.
I’ve been thinking about all that we weaponize: language, love, family, trust, deceit, lies, health care, hope.
I’ve been rivering in the tension between these things for so long. Is this survival? Is this all that can be hoped for? Is this hope, in itself?
Or is this just another example of exhaustion? The tension in the water against the rock, the bank, the body that breaks it.