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.
The Morning: Bright, & Wrong
I write this under treasonous skies, a Levis-gunmetal grey. I write this under pandemic conditions. I write this under conditions of insurrection, impeachment, social isolation. I write this as someone dies, & someone lives. I write this to say: I’m sorry for your loss, as I have said so many times. As people have said to me. As these words fail to mean anything.
What are we inured to? Violence? Death? Keeping someone alive if there is a personal cost? Certainly not social isolation, as many have proved. Brutality, as palpable as sadness.
What is the cost of living?
I’ve been trying to write this poem for years. I’ve been trying to write.
Treason: the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government. (Oxford)
The grass, plotting, after the snow has swept away the horizon. The only
dark object, the heart. Morning, bright & wrong.
Sedition: conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.
Aslant, the world through snow as it blows & blows. Whose authority is
preserved when a world has fallen? What good is power=/what power
Coup: a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.
See: Napoleon. Franco. Muammar al-Quaddafi. Idi Amin. The few beams
of the body intact after a blackout. Unstable. Unable to resurrect.
Fascism: a political ideology that privileges nation and often race over the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
The sun: ruling from the sky even when we can’t see it for days. It is,
after all, a star. And appearances are everything. Flame with no
shadow. Offering light.
Impeachment: a charge of misconduct made against the holder of a public office.
The tulips, unable to hold office under these conditions. The hares,
rebelling against snow by hiding under the deck. Evergreens at
attention, nevertheless. How I admire them. Each morning, standing.
Staid. Beyond them, a flag wavers, nearly bent to touch the ground.
The enemy of breath: breath.
My son calls me at work. It’s January 6th. He saw on Instagram that a coup is being staged against the Capitol in Washington. He asks me what a coup is. That’s what people are calling it. An insurrection. He is reading media reports in between Google meets. He is afraid. He wants to know if people are safe. He wants to know what a Nazi is. He wants to know what fascism is. In sixth grade, he has not learned these concepts yet. He is afraid of these words that sound complicated. He is afraid of the unknown.
I am not surprised by the news, though I feel like I should be. In the aftermath of the election in 2016, a backlash started that has not been fully realized yet, I fear. As Reagan first used the MAGA slogan, to be great again is simply a reduction of any progress made before this moment. An entitlement to inequalities that threaten so many.
Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.-Anne Carson (translator) from Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides
I am told that Antifa is the problem. That fascists at the Capitol are Antifa. I have to explain that Antifa means anti-fascist. I am asked what fascism is. By adults. I am threatened by a woman over text. Over the phone. I am threatened over Christmas because we required her to follow lockdown bylaws. She tells me that I need help. To get a life. In this, we might be in agreement.
But, if you are supporting or condemning something, should you not know exactly what it is and why?
I dream of my father lately. In the blizzard of my childhood. In the Rockies. I search for him, night after night. A rescue effort. The creek where his body was found: empty of all but small fish. Rocks. The sky. In the dream, I am not afraid, but worse than that. Numb as the gunmetal sky. The snow. The ice.
I don’t know why my mind is seeking a return to a time so painful except that the old pain is a comfort because it is already known. Perhaps, I am simply seeking comfort where there is none. Or no one. In someone my mind has perfected. In someone whose own father was forced to flee a war in order to survive. Or perhaps, fleeing is in our DNA & I simply need to ask: why.
In the early mornings, I read: tulip, resin, temporary—
I try to write. In the poem, I hide from my own temporariness. Even as I face it.
There is no world other than the poem.
The snow, still aslant in the streets. The gunmetal of evening. The world, so bare.
I write this as a second impeachment is confirmed. I write this as my baby daughter spends her 300th day in quarantine. I write this as a child I used to see every summer dies. His parents, bereft. His body unable to withstand new complications of a disease he has lived with his whole life. I write this as people learn to live without each other. I write this as a person who has much to learn. I write this as my husband gets off the phone and cries.
I write this to say: I remember you. I write this to say: until everyone we love / is safe. I write this to say: it’s been dark for so long today.
I write this to say: can you see the snow? Irrevocable, now. Like the fact of you. How we are undone by some facts. Our whole lives. Our whole goddamn lives.