My siblings and I archive the blanks in my mother’s memory, 
diagnose her in text messages. And so it begins, I write although 

her disease had no true beginning, only a gradual peeling away 
until she was left a live wire of disquiet. We frame her illness 

as a conceptual resistance—She thinks, yet she is an other—
to make sense of the transformation. She forgot my brother’s cancer, 

for example, and her shock, which registered as surprise, 
was the reaction to any story we told her, an apogee of sublimity 

over and over. Once on a walk she told us she thought 
she was getting better, and exhausted, we told her she was incurable, 

a child’s revenge. The flash of sorrow was tempered only 
by her forgetting and new talk of a remedy, 

and we continued with the fiction because darker dwindling 
awaits us like rage, suspicion, delusion, estrangement. 

I had once told myself a different story about us. 
In it she was a living marble goddess in my house 

watching over my children and me. So what a bitter fruit 
for us to share, our hands sinking into its fetid bruise, 

the harsh flavor stretched over all our days, coloring them grey, 
infesting them with the beasts that disappeared her,

the beasts that hid her mail in shoeboxes under her bed, 
bills unpaid for months, boxes to their brims. The lesson: 

memory, which once seemed impermeable, had always been  
a muslin, spilling the self out like water, so that one became 

a new species of naïf and martyr. And us, we’re made a cabal 
of medieval scholars speculating how many splinters of light 

make up her diminishing core, how much we might harvest before 
she disappears. This is the new love: her children making an inventory 

of her failing body to then divide into pieces we can manage— 
her shame our reward, and I’ll speak for the three of us: 

we would have liked her to relish in any of the boons that never came, 
our own failures amplified by her ephemeral and fading quality.

More by Carmen Giménez Smith

Redaction

We make dogma out of letter writing: the apocryphal story 
of Lincoln who wrote angry letters he never sent. We wait for letters 
for days and days. Someone tells me I'll write you a letter
and I feel he's saying you're different than anyone else.
Distance's buzz gets louder and louder. It gets to be a blackest hole.
I want the letter about the time we cross the avenue, and you reach 
for my hand without looking—I am afraid I'm not what you want. 
We float down the street as if in the curve of a pod 
and the starry black is like the inside of a secret. We're drunk. 
The streetlight exposes us which becomes the deepest 
horror. Yes. End the letter like that, so it becomes authorless. 
Then the letter might give off secrets: acid imbalances that detonate.

Default Message

I have thirty seconds to convince you
that when I’m not home, my verve is still,
online or if I’m sleeping when you call,
sheep are grazing on yesterday’s melodrama.
Does anybody know what the burning umbrella
really meant? Forget it. Tell me what you need.
Leave me a map. Leave me your net worth
for reference. Leave me more than you ever planned.
Frankly, I’m anxious your message will be a series
of blurs, that you’ll leave the endearing part out,
garble your confession: A misstep here, a domain there.
A ventriloquism. The phone is in the kitchen,
but I’ve lost my way. It must be hunting season.
I retract every last gesture for your same retraction.

from “Post-Identity”

I was light from the mouth from every part of me
I was of the earth or a scar in the earth rent through
the ruins of late civilization and bubbled from it and
became a saint’s reptilian spirit and I could taste
the wheat and coal and gold like a trinity of bounty
and I was vapor like a smog that becomes a wraith
over the city then back to its animal form decompressed
and atomized into its past life as star and I was that animal
truth the spirit I had dreamt about being more cloud
and star then given I was just the density of water
a reciprocity in and out the fade of my fugitive
substance going south and the yearn for decadence
disappears in the annals yet leaves a taste in the mouth
metallic and lime the sense of dissolution and I was speed
and insistence to reset the orb of gravity I was risen from foam
necessitated by colony sired in violence exported as luxury