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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Don’t Break Now; After the Funeral; Narcissa Rejects the Prompt

By: Signe Land

Don’t Break Now

(variation on a villanelle)

The brain kicks to high gear as the heart dies.

Research says the brain asks the heart to live.

Don’t break now; there is much more yet to do.

My father’s heart broke unexpectedly.

My father the genius, mensa member.

The brain kicks to high gear as the heart dies.

What did his brain say to his heart? A cry

entreating it to beat, to live, to try:

Don’t break now; there is much more yet to do.

He was alone, in an airport no less.

I imagine a woman held his head.

The brain kicks to high gear as the heart dies.

And while his brain fought for dear life, she knew,

she whispered, “shhhh, be still, it’s alright now.”

(Don’t break now; there is much more yet to do.)

My heart shattered that day, the day of death.

My blood exploded across the cosmos.

The brain kicks to high gear as the heart dies.

Left me bloodless, loveless, alone, adrift.

My brain (dad, is that you?) begging my heart:

Don’t break now; there is much more yet to do.

Leaves turn brilliant, blazing, breezing, Alight, Alight!

They startle the skies with their song. The brain

kicks to high gear as the heart dies. She sings,

don’t break now; you have much more yet to do.

After the Funeral

Dogs grieve honestly, rolling in a dead thing, pawing at it,

picking up its scent, rubbing their own scents into the corpse,

tasting, mouthing, memorizing. 

I could not stop touching my father after he died.

I smelled him, held his hand, laid my head on his chest, fingered his cheek,

ran my fingers along the autopsy scars, blood-empty death bruises. 

I put my scent on him. 

After the funeral, he had warmed

was not so foreign

as earlier when my searching hand

felt only the stiff wrong frozen unyielding meat of him.

After the funeral, we explored together

this new impossible reality,

of daughter and the dead thing.

It’s unconscious now,

I place my hand flat on every surface

to see if it feels at all like his frozen chest

beginning to thaw

after the funeral. 

Narcissa Rejects the Prompt

You asked me when I first felt cold. 

How annoying.

The things I don’t remember could fill an ocean, or

no, not an ocean.

Even with its scaly leviathan monsters and indigo unknowns

an ocean isn’t deep enough.

Or dark enough. Or strange enough.

My memories live in an inky black-hole,

its inescapable gravity mesmorizing, hiding

spiked, crystal minerals, slippery,

sneaky, stalagmites, stalactites,

slick, tricky sulphur, and no living things

except those you do not want to meet…

My body must have been cold,

lying in the snow while the PCP overtook my senses,

paralyzing muscles and bones while my mind’s eyes

exploded in tidal terrors, death wishes, epic and grand.

But I don’t remember the cold. I remember other things…

Like wondering why I had been left there to die. 

I do not like your question about this.

Your question is intrusive and when you asked,

anger came hot and fast as the fat rat fleeing the brush fire.

No good can come from questions like this.

Maybe I remember.

Images intrude in flashes while I’m trying to sleep.

It was an accidental ingestion: A repeating theme for me,

and as I lay on the soiled mattress

the roof split open and there, somehow, were the sky and the stars all vast and cosmic. 

It was not beautiful. 

I threw up somewhere and then we were in the snow.

My friend and I,

we had smoked a bowl with death mixed in.

How long were we in the snow? Who brought us home?

Did we die that night? Could be…could be.

I could not say.

Cold stories are the most dangerous to tell,

Even for me, and I grew up on the freezing flat prairie.

You must understand:

Cold wasn’t something to remember. It just was. 

Being cold is not something you remember,

for the cold will never leave your bones.

I know.

Which is why

No good can come from questions like this.


Signe E. Land earned a BA in writing from St. Olaf College in 1993, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota in 1996, and a JD from William Mitchell College of Law in 2006, graduating first in her class as class valedictorian. She has taught creative writing at St. Olaf College and at the University of Minnesota and is a retired commercial real estate and finance attorney living in Minnesota and in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Her work has appeared in the William Mitchell Law Review Journal and in Aldebaran. She writes poetry and is working on a memoir about the challenges she faced in life and her careers as an undiagnosed autistic woman. She can often be found at the family lake cabin in Hot Springs, Arkansas with her three dogs, her journals, and her large collection of Ticonderoga #2 pencils.


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