Mudlark Flash No. 101 (2016)

Samn Stockwell


When I was on the playground 
with a mute child, coaxing,
a staff member ran
across the brown lawn shouting
New York is bombed,
the towers are falling.

I thought drama queen
but the radios were blurting
through the barns & general store
and the upper grades couldn’t imagine
a building taller than 
the 4 story Coke-Cola plant.
The total dead in New York
would mean this village
and the next two hamlets 
would empty:
the story of mismatched socks, strewn lunch bags
and the unraveling sleeve of the worst girl vanish.

Scale matters in a tragedy,
the size of absence and 
smaller tragedies invisible. 

What happens in late winter,
a student tells me, is a car
goes off the road.
He’s an EMT with a shiny forehead.
The car slides into a ditch
filling with icy snowmelt
and the driver, an older woman,
is trapped, the driver’s door
held closed by the bank
and the car is filling with icy water
the woman is saying help me
and touches the blood on her face
he doesn’t know how
to break the window
a fire truck arrives
with a hammer punch and he says
watch out and taps
and the window breaks.

The woman is cold and her leg is caught.
She is baffled by the blood.
Help me, she says, help me.
He’s holding her head out of the water
and he’s saying stay with me, stay with me
the water is cold his hands ache terribly
as the water rises
but she’s just sleepy now.

People really say stay with me
because our stories are so lonely. 

The EMT and I go on
telling stories until someone
promises to stay through the night,
though we know they can’t.

A war veteran in my class
had been driving in a convoy
when the guy in the back 
tapped him on the shoulder
and said look out.
He was turning his head
as the shell glided through
his shoulder, but it took the center
of the guy in the back
I loved his scarred head
and the stories of his childhood
and the careful voice in which he gave up
and disappeared.

That’s what it means to be lost: silence,
your story muffled by 
the transit of bodies
shuffled from the battlefields. 

On a husk of stained carpet
in a rented room in a warren
of rented rooms,
I was watching a baby stretch.
I traced this baby
several times; the father in jail,
the mother on the run
but I keep calling
and now I could see 
he looked like his grandfather.

The way people rattle
against each other
in a small town: 
20 years ago his grandfather
worked for me 
before he raped a client 
and went home 
to his wife 
reading the newspaper
and shot her. 

His two daughters
endure the state’s care
until one of them dies
at 16 — I can’t tell you her story,
I don’t know if anyone was listening.

But the daughter that runs 
and keeps on running –
I want to tell her,
as though he was reaching out from prison
to strangle her,
don’t let him win,
but a cliché
won’t release her 
from the terror
blanketing her.

I keep waiting for her
but she’s not here today,
just the young daddy newly on parole.
Is this how you hold him, is this, he asks,
her child born strung out
and wandering himself.

Help me, I say, 
the EMT and I pacing by the side of the road.

The EMT is watching a woman
speeding around a blind curve, 
and the woman on a side road here 
somewhere being shot by her drug dealer
and so on
always just behind me.
The EMT is kind enough to share my haunting
and hold my head
but will there be a memorial,
a black wall, a reflecting pool?

I mean, we should hear their voices, 
it’s the least we can do. 

The EMT and I bring our
tools and push through
the detritus of lives
that never really began,
then return to our good dinners 
and walks afterward across the park;
the enjoyment possible from a shared
meal and a walk, the way love and hope
are sustained by ritual 
and utterly beyond transmission.

What I would really say 
to the mother of this baby waving
at his shadow is I don’t want my hands
frozen in a cradle for the dead. 

I’m not really sure where we are 
but help me look for another exit.

Maybe I would match her
footfall for footfall, kicking 
at the substrate.

Public tragedies offer 
some mutual island.

When Kennedy was shot, I ran back 
to my house, but it was the year of no affect
and voluminous depression for my mother,
so, no one was home.

And when the Challenger blew up 
and blew up on the wide TV
of the group home
I was working in, no resident
had an I.Q above 20,
the voyager covered in miles
of space and recalculating,
puzzled and adorned
in scraps of burning cloth, 
orbiting an empty planet —

Adornment is the ear
of culture, an echolocation 
of place so we don’t forget
where we belong.

I hurry to keep in front of the ambulance
or the convoy, not knowing
what station I’m headed for.

I imagine the sound of the sirens
is always around me.

Up the road from me
an apartment burned 
containing a young acquaintance
and her boyfriend.

I mean the ambulance went past my door
and the smell of smoke drifted down.

I had seen her a few days before,
admired her second baby, and imagined
the future contained her, if not me.

The neighbors could hear them
yelling for help, pounding on the walls.

When will I stop hearing 
the ambulance go by my door?

You’re probably wondering  
about the trajectory of the orphans
of the burning parents
and the grandparents, themselves the anarchy
of loss, and then keening forward
over the years —

not everyone reunites with the living
but remains orbiting.

When my mother died, she wasn’t more lost 
to me than she had been before. Schizophrenic, 
she was unappeasable. 
I never said stay with me
though she has.

I suppose she was trapped
in her own burning
building when she wasn’t racing
in a car filling with icy water
saying help me, help me,
take me home.

Samn Stockwell has been widely and well published. Her two books, Theater of Animals and Recital, won the National Poetry Series and the Editor’s Prize at Elixir, respectively. Recent work of hers has appeared in Salamander and Poetry Daily. She has an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, has taught at the New England Young Writer’s Conference (Breadloaf) and the Community College of Vermont, and works at the Family Center of Washington County.

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