By: Victoria Santamorena
My memories have been poisoned by the broth of summertime
funerals: a girl in a casket I knew only half so well —
I see her face when I try to sleep, bloated and white and purple in the cheeks —
and a man whose body is hidden away, mourners flanking the mahogany coffin,
weepy-eyed and silent, but their wrung hands say are you, where are you?
I hear the echo in my dreams, and I look over the edge of a cliff,
wondering if the fall happened at all.
I want to talk about death, and life, and death some more.
It eats away at me like the worms that eat away at her, that eat away at him.
We line up at her coffin, and I am distant, outside myself.
Some of the now-grown schoolgirls cry into each other’s hair, remembering
their uniform days and spring afternoons when they would double dutch
and make up songs to torment each other, but forgetting that they stole lunches
and spit cake at the girls outside their clique, one of whom they once teased
because her hands were too small; with those hands, they said, she pushed
her sister out of a window. Did you really hate her that much?
I hear the cries of the living who kneel over her body, such beautiful hair …
… the only one who really knew her… when we were kids…
We did not know her at all.
A queue like an endless river ebbs and flows towards his coffin, the lid
of which has been sealed shut, like a ward to truth, and we cannot see
his body inside to confirm or deny the rumors or questions
that everyone thinks and fears, but no one asks. We accept his death
as a fact, despite the lack of proof, despite the fact that no one has
a single version of the cause. Each mourner asks how we knew him,
and each says it was terrible to die in such an accident, but no one agrees
on the kind. The river of people washes away the secrets
he left behind, papers on his desk and unsaid words. Days before,
he said he was going to China, so when all the plans unraveled,
and he ceased to exist, it was like a magic trick. Once a man, once a woman,
now a body —
My trusting past has been murdered by white-sweatered women,
solemn-faced men, and shut office doors.
I traverse the night-dark space, cramped and cluttered and full of boxes,
full of papers to shred and documents to destroy,
and names that mean nothing.
Only, my past means nothing.
I travel those spaces and I do not hear the cries
of her mother, or sister. I hear the mournful wail of her father packing
away memory after memory. I keep those memories, too —
tucked away on scraps of paper that will never get much use.
I try to find some clue as I look through the old books and lesson plans
of the now dead man. His replacement needs some kind of answer
as to why he left us all behind, and we struggle to find a circled word,
or a place on a map, a link that connects us to what we want to admit,
but cannot say.
Victoria Santamorena is in the process of receiving her MA in English Literature from New York University. Her poetry (and her scholarship) is interested in memory, ghosts, identity, and quiet rebellions. Her poetry has appeared in Impossible Archetype and New York's Best Emerging Poets, an anthology by Z Publishing. She teaches writing at Concordia College New York and lives in New York with her dogs.