Issue 138 |
Winter 2018-19

Elegy for My Mother’s Sister (Emerging Writer's Contest Winner: POETRY)

Where this body is a map

and blood, great-blood, great-great-blood

is the destination,


where the tragedy is not knowing a name

until it is a burial, and even then,


only after it is hallowed from its journey,

crossing a sea, wrung on the muscles

of grief.


At your grave, it must be evening, and here

the sun slots through each question—


          what was the sound of your yearning,

          how alike was your shape to my mother’s,


          what oils spilled over your hair, how far

          did you drift in your dreams,


          what was the closest distance between us,

          how many countries?


You are my absent nation

whose name I could only utter afterward,


after knowing the ancillary loss

that feeds this wavering present tense,


and the history that spools into

the crests of my blood.


Like Tanzania, I learn that if I trace

every thought of wilderness and face and water,

I will find your name


ribbed with another language,

planted near alpine stems of wheat as if



from dream to prairie—I learn

the shape of your name within context,

petals of cabbage leaved


on my western tongue, each syllable

lapsing into the gaps of the country

that separated us.