‘Fugue’ and other poems by Chelsea Dingman

British Columbia Pastoral

September: almost snow.
White sheets across
the sky, the fields. How strange
the frost, feral over desert
hills. Sage brush
caught in the cattle’s
teeth. The river cuts
a swath where I am
trying to tell you about grass
that presses up through
the ground without urging.
About merciless suns
taking our eyes. You shield
your mouth as I speak.
The wars I won’t admit
like dying daisies, their corpses
linting the grass. In summer,
we swam in the Thompson
River. In feral heat. Baptized
new again. The kites
of our bodies cutting
a swath through green
water. But as water rises
in spring, it will take you
with it. With thawed glaciers
& snow. With bones
we can’t make smaller
once grown. Dead trees
claw at rocks on the river-
bottom, swollen belly
of a child rising up
like a balloon
in the April sun.
(Originally published in Sugar House Review)

Accident Report: After the Baby Dies at Birth

First, I asked for
mercy, when mercy
was a small sliver
of light. My bones
softened by the body
leaving them. You asked
questions, green
tea in hand. Some
lemon. A cleanse
of sorts, as I refused
your prayers. The sky,
faithless, darkening
again. You wanted
to know what’s next,
when we would try
again, what every doctor
had to say. I was
an empty stall
in a gas station
bathroom. I said, never.
But now I say
now, let’s try now,
before I lose
my nerve. But you
don’t want to touch me
yet. You eye my body
like a broken trough
looking for any sign
of seepage. I drink
from the mug. You move
away, the way the wounded
animal moves before
it tucks tail & runs. Every
good-bye is unnecessary
after holding something
as it dies. I want to feel full
again, I say. The door, open
as a mouth. You raise
your hand over my body
& ask, where does it
hurt? But I can’t say,
everywhere. I can’t
say, it hurts everywhere
I’m touched. I can’t
say, touch me every
-where. Please.
(Originally published in Bennington Review)


“When Plath’s journals, with their claims of abuse, began to be published, many critics pointed out these claims as not only false but also proof that Plath was paranoid, crazy.”
-Emily Van Duyne
There is a river, & in its mouth, the Holocaust
night I gave birth to a broken mirror,
the shard that stuck in a man’s neck.
He pulled it out & that was the beginning
of blood. The nightmares. Being chased
through a small ghost
town, windows shut & boarded, only shadows
to command: break or break me.
I had a god, once. Somewhere, I think
I’ll know how to be full & limber
& not the husk that held the crowning
dark. Not the woman, unbelieved.
He hit me. The night the baby died,
I was tired of the blank stars dying quietly
years from here. I should’ve braced myself—
his fists like arrowheads. The glass
river, leaking bodies. I’ll fucking kill you.
Even now, I close my eyes & hear water.
There is no baby. There never was.
forthcoming in Pleiades

Travelling Through Tennessee in January

Again, I drive through dead forests
longing to flower. I think of nothing.
Not you. Not our children with their mouths
hanging half-open like shutters
over the windows, the summer
Rita followed Katrina into the Gulf
& taught us what women are capable of.
Frost on the ground, the morning after
Rita left, when it had been ninety degrees
a day before. The remains of the poor
creatures that couldn’t withstand the cold,
curled on white-tipped grasses. Fields
& hills pass outside the car’s windows, late
afternoon. Houses riven from each other
by land. Not water. Not here, north
of where I left you. The fields, lit from inside
as the sun slides behind hills. I try to remember
your voice. Low, like dusk. It didn’t mean anything,
you said. But I know that you can’t feel
anything & I can’t feel anything
less. At the interchange of I-75 North
& I-24, I drive further into the night
from where I left you. From
where you were standing
when a voice on the radio cautioned us
against a new woman blazing
in from the east, a bloody heart
tucked between her teeth.
Originally published in Arcadia

Hunger [or the last of the daughter-hymns] 

(n) a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, 
coupled with the desire to eat—

as I talk to wind winnowing my ribs into wind
   chimes. I swallow small coins from the counters,
wanting change my body can keep. I stand

   on the street corner in the rain & coax water
into my mouth like a woman who doesn’t know
   the fullness of the sea. My mother worked

three jobs to feed our family. Now, I horde
   toilet paper & paper towels in spare closets
with cans of soup & creamed corn. The wind

   hollows the oaks. Their bones don’t know
what it is to break, but I am a hollow
  instrument, a sacred text. Daughter [less].

(v) have a strong desire or craving for

a body inside my body—
a child, a man. 

Fields, full. The sun,
aflame. Fear like a shot

-gun, an aborted flight
plan, people jumping

from buildings. But 
my daughter, I draw back

down. The one I lost. 
The ones I have left

to lose. Like snow—
the bodies that are ours

for a season. For less.

(v) to feel or suffer through lack of food

        the weak sunrise

in my daughter’s new

      silence. My skin, a loose 

sheet. Her clavicle, hip

        -bone, head. My cervix, 

thinned. Her body, an offering. A prayer

I whisper as I tear

			new maps in a lucid dream

where I live alone

	& she folds herself into a crane

			to hang from the ceiling

of someone else’s womb. 

Originally published in Sycamore Review

Near Narajiv Selo 

-Hunger, cold, and ethnic oppression forced Ukrainian and Jewish 
people to look for refuge in faraway lands
(1919-1939, when Eastern Galicia belonged to Poland)- Roman Zakhariy

A dark road. Stars like paper 
    lanterns. Long grasses unthread in thousands 

           of flickering fingers. Poppies’ 

mouths buttoned black, as wind 
      shrifts crimson 

petals from stems, from fields torn by tractor tires, from a barn 
       below the hill. My stomach, where I left things 
                 pierced by little more than night 

       air. Like shackled light, the moon is
       outlawed in the pines. I unholster 
the sky: 
        at dawn, cattle cry in the clearing 

as I dig up 
      rutabaga, cabbage to wrap the rice. Water claws through 
      dirt. Claw hammers

for hands, I carve our breaths
into trees. Our breaths, like silver buildings. As I slowly empty
            the earth, sky

          buries night. Night 
  that smells of gunpowder and grease. Night 
         that leaves nothing 
         than a handful of stars, twined 
    in the pines’ 
rime. Nothing more
			than a river
		where no one has drowned.
Originally published in Southern Humanities Review

Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). In 2016-17, she also won The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and Water-stone Review’s Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website.