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. This is the final essay of the series.
As They Fell Inside the Soft Throat / of our Farewell
It snows. Valentine’s Day. I am trying to write toward what I want in my life & away
from what I can’t hold. Where to put it down. Where?
Our city reopened last week after being locked down since the beginning of November.
A semblance of normalcy falls over us now like snow.
It has been below zero for weeks.
I can’t help looking forward by looking back. Still, a door I can’t open breaks my heart.
The sun, so bright the snow is on fire.
Where to begin again after any ending?
This past year has felt like a death. Something to mourn along with those who have been lost. To the people I love, I have never been closer. To others, I’ve become strange. A stranger. Estrangements: the lake under ice. Family as I once knew it to be. As I now redefine it for myself. Faith in the world at large, held anywhere else.
Spring: joy / joy /joy.
My second book is having its first birthday. My daughter is fifteen months old. My husband delights in watching me play with her. My sons are almost taller than I am at 12 and 14, but it is the way they are so present that makes me feel alive. How they care for their sister. How she came to us as though thread, & wove us out of want.
Fifteen months later, my hair has an inch of new growth that is curly. The rest is straight from over a year of pregnancy hormones surging through me. Each time I’ve been pregnant, my hair has grown in straight from the root. My curls, a byproduct of teenage hormones. My curl pattern changing over time to prove I am powerless over my own body.
Endings as though small deaths. A poet-thing, I guess.
Today, I am trying to pause & mourn not having another child. Not because I want another child, but because I am so changed by this landscape. Because not having another child means I will die someday & I have been hiding from my own death.
And “the clock ticking inside me” is not fertility. It never was. It’s the hour that already exists somewhere to erase me.
How do we live with our own mortality?
I think I’ve been living two lives: who I would’ve been had my father lived & who I am instead. Perpetually striving to be whole when there is no remedy for fragmentation. Of the need to rewrite my childhood in others, I am guilty. I didn’t know it before, but I do now.
Not only can one not revisit childhood, one cannot stop revisiting it. Revising it.
I’m learning not to be defined by what arrives, what leaves. Snowsquall. Tulips. Fear—
Last year at this time I was in Arizona. I reconnected with old friends. Saw my son do something he loves. Spent time alone with my husband. I went back to work two weeks after my daughter was born. I wonder now if it was worth the time I gave up with her. With myself.
The disconnection I feel: body & country & field. Where I come from. Where I’ve been. What a life amounts to. What I am working toward. Not why. But what next—.
The trope that balance is difficult for women has been worsened by the pandemic. Women with small children are expected to earn & raise & write & do. I have been told this enough to know. I tell myself I have been enough.
February light sashays through the blinds. Above, the dandelion sun in a puzzle of cloud.
Here, I write this to escape disappointment. Not in myself, but in others.
I write this thinking about how much it will matter at the end of my life what I’ve written & how it was misinterpreted & how much of myself I gave up worrying about who I was hurting & how I belonged to poetry because I could divorce honesty from journalistic truth & how to reconcile my lives.
I write this because all I have of my father is a ski sweater: burgundy with beige stripes across the chest. He was smaller than I am. It hasn’t fit me since middle school.
I write this because I am afraid not to.
I write this to give thanks. Or love. For words & people & this planet & this life.
I write this to feel immortal for a minute. To touch anything that will live forever.
Because light. Because sky. Here & here & here & here.