C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Afterlife; Proof of Loss; Warmer

By: Julie Benesh



Afterlife








I want to be everything you miss most:

your mother's red lipstick; the maid

with the soft hands and warm tongue,

your first love before she dropped her bag


and covered her eyes at the sight of your betrayal.

You say all our mistakes are behind us, born

again or aging out of misadventure, redeemed,

and it's true my dead cats come back new


and improved; and while the silver scar

on my collarbone is tender, my chopped meatball

heart beats slow and strong as a modernist’s:

hardwired for progress.


I'm sure they ask it of all the agnostics:

if I'm so kind, how can I not be Christian?

But we are cannibals, not missionaries,

although if cannibals ever ate missionaries,


they surely became what they ate: missionaries

feasted on by cannibals feasting on themselves;

missionaries feasting on cannibals, projecting

savagery and sin.


The Buddhists remind us we lose/lose/lose, everything,

suddenly, or gradually and suddenly, and sometimes

it really is all your fault, but it might be the times you

least suspected: virtue signaled versus wisdom earned.


We are getting near the end, though maybe not,

and I want to die a morphine fiend like my M-browed

tabby, Mandy, my strategy shifting toward short-term rewards,

like a capitalist or hedonist, with characteristic lack of regret,


regret which, when excessive, in presence or lack,

becomes a parody of itself. We need to mourn

a bit for the future and the past to best love the here

and now, yet not so much we miss the point, the point


that having experienced heaven and hell

in this life, on earth, we should consider

that adequate preparation for whatever

happens next.










Proof of Loss








Princess Diana Was Alive For Hours...

the headline read... just before she died.

They had CCTV tapes: proof of life,

as if her passing hadn't come to pass.


We, that night, wedding guests at Tree of Life,

future scene of a hate crime two decades later:

eleven worshippers’ loss of life.

That tabloid meant to say Diana's Last Day

Caught on Tape; still dramatic, but less haunting

than Schrödinger’s Diana-cat, dead but alive

on the same godforsaken day, mere weeks


before our break up: me among the least

photographed women in the world,

in that snapshot wearing that black formal


that doesn't fit me anymore, my hand

on your arm, as if the very act of recording,

so contrary to its intention to preserve,

causes losses: foreshadowed, guaranteed,

of every possible size.










Warmer








All over my neighborhood, marching epaulets like bruises

branded as geese: turkeys, more like; flightless flocks;

uncoordinated armies of wannabe celebrities

justifying understated indulgence with a dramatic shiver.


A toasty torso is pointless when wind taps teeth like a mallet,

freezes hands, ice picks away at toes. My thrifty Chinese coat

with fleece and down and a dozen pockets

trapped my sweat so I gave it away. And that guy


with the Pomeranian wears just a sweatshirt

and Birkenstocks with wool socks; his dog

dressed warmer than him in boots and red sweater.


He's worried Pom will see a coat, goosedown-stuffed,

with coyote collar; sustainably sourced, trapped-not-farmed

and whimper:


Hey, that's my cousin.

Or: I used to date her.

Or: Hey, there, on that guy’s collar?

That's my Canadian cousin

with whom I used to play-mate.

That sweet girl: oh, she was so wild!


The most sustainable sources of warmth

can't be bought, trapped, or worn,

even if coats last longer than dogs

or most other relationships.




 

Julie Benesh has published stories, poems, and essays in Tin House, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Hobart, JMWW, Cleaver, Maudlin House, and many other places. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. She lives in Chicago. Read more at juliebenesh.com.

Behind the scenes:


I wrote these three poems in the early part of 2022 while taking two different poetry workshops. The prompt for "Proof of Loss" was to incorporate a news headline. I used a tabloid headline that was the first one that caught my eye on Google Images, and the story about the unfortunately timed wedding, doomed synagogue, and photo is all factual. (There are many other synchronicities outside the scope of the poem that I hope somehow are conveyed by their literal absence.) The prompt for "Warmer" was simply to write about an article of clothing. "Afterlife"'s prompt was to write about an emotion (without being so crass as to label it). Despite their surface differences, these poems all deal with loss and attempts at preservation, and the question of where, exactly, can anything, anyone, so saturated with feeling, possibly go? All three are elegies with multiple subjects and objects.