Epistemology

Chelsea Dingman

What does it mean to say we know the properties
of ice, of snow? The wheat berries piled in metal bins

in the silos. The house on a corner lot, properly
broken down, the septic tank leaking

into the closets for years, rats in the attic, box
upon box upon box of belongings that belong

to the long dead. Sex toys and pornography.
Money stashed in old socks. In ties. In tobacco

tins. The house was once lovely. Flower boxes at the sills.
Large picture windows that held up the prairie

sky, faces of the parents we knew little, if at all.
How easily people end up like this, perhaps. We stand

at the tree line, and I can’t decide if Mother’s Ruin
is an appropriate name for gin, or screech,

or every century where someone died bleary-
eyed, a bottle within reach. How do we love

what is damaged? Ahead, the valley rivers through
the city. Ahead, the frozen prairie, the lone cross-

country skier. No one will find us here, I fear.
Here, the world is desperately bare. What now

is the prairie sky, if not another relic, burning?

More by Chelsea Dingman

Reconstructing the Saints

	Church of the Holy Spirit, Rohatyn 1924

You enter to escape
the cold & find a canvas of St. John,
                  his hands unsealed

to write. Other icons,
painted in vibrant reds, mounted
                  on wooden walls’ slick gloss. All white

men, suffering and suffered. Christ,
stripped. His chest: ribbons
                  of bone. Archangel Michael, Abraham—

young boys again. You ask them about
hunger. How to outrun changing
                  flags like a child outrunning its name. A war,

past, yet still humming. Your mother
thinks God must be dead, but you ask
                  the sky to show its hands. For manna

to frost the cemetery’s leaning statues,
forlorn rows. To frost wood, overrun by lifelines
                  like an old man’s palms. For red

water to spill forth from the Hnyla Lypa
cursing below, its name already lost
                  on new maps. You search the saints’ eyes

before turning, light ivying
their faces. You think a house can keep
                  you safe. The bodies, buried. Doors

that won’t spit you out. You search
their hands, empty as spoons. They can’t take away
                  what you pray. This weight: fist & bone

& wail. In their silence, you hear blood,
as it spins like air through a windmill’s vanes.
                  As it coppers the chambers, makes them flame.

Notes on Inheritance

                 “This is the only kingdom.
                 The kingdom of touching:
                 the touches of the disappearing, things.”
                                            —Aracelis Girmay

                                                           

When I see wax, I think of submission.

I think of afterlife. I think of the sky
& what it leaves behind. I used to think

myself a doe, then a hurricane. The muscle
inside the tongue. The prayer-sore. Again

& again, something foreign. Fugitive. So briefly

I was a girl. A young woman. A mule, mother, arm-
rest—the sky resting on a bridge overlooking

the river. That cold, cold water. I waded in,
three seconds to numb. & nothing. I can’t give in

to love. What will become of us

when it’s the child that is imagined?
Our gods: the fields under a haze

of mosquitoes. And lo, the stars’ white
fire. And lo, the splintered spines of spruce

trees. And lo, the disappearing hours.

I stretch my neck into the next life.
I breathe in the cherry blossoms & bomb-

scent of aftermath. I don’t care why
I didn’t want this. I lean into myself.

I take what is offered until I forget

I am what is offered. With the orchard
& the apple I didn’t name. There is

an hour that bears my grave already.
It’s late. I can’t help but wish I wasn’t

lonely. That I wasn’t made to disappear.

Here, the Sparrows Were, All Along

Every minute or so, a hallelujah
dies in someone’s mouth. Every minute or so, a gunshot.
            A ceasefire. A tire shreds

                        on the highway, & pieces flit like sparrows
across the sky. Silly me. I thought
                                                we were here to live.

            The garden’s hallelujahs: tulips & rhododendrons, alive
in the ground. We expect so much
                                    of life. Once, I was a child. Then, a child

                        was locked inside me. Now, a different
country claims us. Tie my hands
            to the wind. Strip my mouth of any country

                                                that doesn’t fit. Sorrow the sparrow’s
steel cord & textile torso. Its irrational wings.
                                    The problem with flying is most people

                        settle for land, no matter how often
we are unloved by land.
                                    Rewind the centuries:

                        before planes, the accidents of a gun,
or mouth, or gentle morning, how many people
                                    believed they could fly? Breaking gravity,

            what names did they cry when they took that first step
away? Listen to me. I’m telling you
                                                 what only the wind knows—

here, the sparrows were, all along. Nailed
to their species. Alive, or not
alive. Sometimes, not alive at all.