It’s not the pines’
limbs that sink, sullen
not the saw’s whirr
not the graves under my
not the veins of ice
rivering the cracks in the pavement
not Devil’s Mountain
resting on a wall
of red sky
not the red sky
not empty fields full
of men, spent rounds,
hunger—hunger like the birches’
paper skin peeled back
to reveal pulp, the lime
trees’ golden nets
not the yellow grasses spread
not the steeples, the folded
not the weeds gathering
like children between
not children gathering
but the slivers of ink-
black mold sluicing down
-backed roofs bent
in reverence before
the low sun, the wind
darting, the fingers
on every trigger, my mother
bent by cold in a root
garden, the field’s murder
-ous rows, white
in a hiss, the sky’s
bare throat hanging
below the tree-line
before it slows
& swallows, before
there is no hope
Hnyla Lypa River Testimony
Water drags past my boots
& whispers of soldiers lying
in thick grasses, of rifles firing. But
what can water testify to
other than which way it runs? I listen
harder, wanting to hear what water
makes of a body, of men,
of silver weapons. Walking,
I long an oak’s shade, black
soil’s progeny: potatoes, beets,
barley. Cattle low like children,
inventing names for ghosts. The river
whispers past, unpacking itself
into the Dneister: bones & eyes,
hollow shells of silver
skin & lungs. Water leads to land
that leads nowhere. But the river’s slow
gurgle cuts through ruined air, refusing
to unsew itself from the earth. Refusing
to look behind. Refusing everything green
water palms & calls home.
Aubade in Which I Speak to My Estranged Mother
My eyes follow silver light
on branches and snow-laden tracks.
Is riding a train across a continent
how it feels to be invisible,
haunting places I can’t run through? O mother,
why did you tell me the ground holds us
here? Afraid, I pulled my feet from
the earth. West, through the Alps,
away from the Black Sea, I lose days
& months. But I told you I wouldn’t leave
you, a woman alone
on those fields with the dead
we don’t mention. Even with a scythe & a shot
-gun, you are the bird I found
in the snow once. I cried
as I tucked its body in a shoe box, waited
for spring thaws. I tunnel into night,
further from your skin, lilac-
scented hair. But I wanted
to tell you: I know, now,
you called the morning home
to birth me into the chill wind
a second time. That, maybe,
what’s left of us after the night’s
quiet is all that matters.
Dearest God of Exiles
Black-lunged am I, dear
enemy. If you want the truth. Torn-tongued
beast blasting away. Strings & scotch
tape holding up my skin. I’m sick with
the silver moon, it’s chill
emptying my throat. I moved
away from myself
by winding along your miles. Finding
terror wherever I look
for it. Praying to hear less
of you, I pray for less
weather. In what bodies have I
moved? Whatever hurts
more, I seek. Stick the slim silver
blade in its sheath. I have
no need for a reminder: irrational
sky. Your stupid voice. Define me.
I dare you. Dump me in the river
slithering past. That cold, cold water.
I have no choices, when everywhere I look is
new. And you are everywhere.
You hear your mother died
as snow greys. As the sun
comes & goes during
nighttime hours, north
of Mica Creek. Mold
in the grass. Everywhere,
the beginning of water.
A postcard on the table
spells your name
wrong. This regret,
larger than the months
it took to find you. Pines sit,
unscathed, in clearings. Clouds
drip dirty breaths
into eaves. You know
everything must fall. Still,
you cup your hands for
what snow leaves
on your skin when
warmed. For what
Narrow Gauge Railyard: In Reverse
Before mangled iron.
Before railway ties, riven by German
devices. Before rust-
rended engines, holocaust
trains. Before ropes noosed men’s necks
above Krakow’s tracks. Their fingers,
purpling like foxgloves.
Before the untamed bell
of the rail’s spine sang through pines.
Before earth wasn’t enough
to share with so many tongues.
Before the Berezhany-Lviv highway
stretched northwest beneath
me, antlers of its wild
heart pressed to flesh, to feet.
Unburden these bones. Unearth
iron. Unwidow the spark between wheels
and pipes, between cities
haunting a map. Before all names
are doubled and tripled like cells
dividing in a womb.
Give us another way to climb
out of our skin.
Unempty the houses.
Resurrect my mother in her dressing gown,
iron stove warm with rice cereal.
Before I left her to grow
old. Before I walked ugly roads.
Before men were forced to leave
these hills and plains, the forests’
deep wounds, and my eyes filled
with mountains somewhere else.
When men hunted rabbits instead
of men. Instead of baby-
brown hairs on a collar.
Unhinge arms from my arms,
that the only touch I know is branches
slagging my skin as I pass
forests ruined like houses
after a flood. After new life
slithers in and slinks away
leaving its stench of mold
like fingerprints, like sweat.
Unbury the train, the dock’s waiting
passengers, steam rising like breaths.
Unrust the engines. Unshatter glass.
Give me refuge: rattling tracks, familiar
voices, food in my fists, vodka
undrunk. Back our bodies into caverns
where we were once unbare.
Where we once knew darkness,
what mercies it brings.
CHELSEA DINGMAN’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series, published by the University of Georgia Press (2017). In 2016-17, she also won The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and Water-stone Review’s Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.