Afterlife; Proof of Loss; Warmer
By: Julie Benesh
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
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.
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
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.