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It's the pilot light in the stove,
                                    the fireplace.  It’s the
night light in the bathroom,
                        the living room.  The
reflection in the mirror,
                  in the glass of my windshield.  The
      hum of electricity,
the sigh of the furnace.  

What do you mean I’m supposed to go looking for something that is constant?

The conjoined twin does not go looking for its sibling.
                 The brain does not search for the heart.  
The shadow always finds the body.  Gravity invariably
                                                    pulls the moon into orbit.  

The smoldering ache of loss
                  —hot like bubbling magma, bright like a solar flare—
                                                   is always there.  
Lurking beneath the skin.  The face behind the mask.  
                 Gnarled roots beneath the forest.

What do you mean I’m supposed to look for something that is a part of me?
Assimilated to my sense of normalcy.  Integrated into my DNA.
I can only do so much introspection before I go insane.
write your grief prompt #10: What would it take to seek out the smoldering ache of loss?
I’m in the dream again:                not the one I had while awake in
the catacombs of St. Callixtus in Rome.  Where the darkness was
so impenetrable that it began to echo.  To look like the mixture of colors
that burst when you rub your eyes too hard for too long.  Like the
neuron rupture before death.  To shape and morph and become liquid.
Where the darkness cobbled itself into a physical form.

Not the dream where                    I kept seeing
flits of my mother out of the corner of my eye.  Behind
                                                                ­                               every street corner.
                                                                ­                   Every turn.  Every tunnel.  
      Reflected in the casts of the bodies in Pompeii.
Mirrored in the waves of the Trevi Fountain.

I’m in the dream where          the soil churned from the bottom to the top.  
                               where          the hand outstretched from the grave.  
                               where          my grandfather clawed his way out and returned to my grandmother﹘sopping wet, covered in thick mud, socks torn, skin sallow and jaundiced, spitting out the wire the embalmers put in his mouth, melting makeup, and ravenously hungry.  And it’s been so
                                                                ­                   long since he was hungry.  

“He came back to me, Taylor,” my grandmother tells me. 
“He came back to me.”
                                        I don’t have the heart to tell her that he’s undead.  
                                        I’m physically unable to spit out those words.
And it’s a dream and it’s a dream and it’s a dream,                   but
it just fits so perfectly.  That he would come back to her.  
That death would not be a barrier.  I can’t explain it.                It just is.  
My grandmother is a shell without him.  
The body that’s missing the limb.  
The body that keeps score.
write your grief prompt 10: amorphous prompt
The color of death is not black, is not white.  
                                                        ­                        Not red, not gold.  
Think: ashen skin.  
                               Think: where did the blood go?  
                                                          ­                       Think: pale, so ******* pale.
Bruise again.  He’s going to bruise again.  
     Mottled red   and      purple   and      blue   and      green   and      yellow.
That’s what the body does after death.  Blood runs down
to the lowest bend of the body and bruises the skin.  

The rust of cerebrospinal fluid as it sloshes
                      back and forth
       in the bag hanging above the bed.  
                                                      My mother’s hands:
white knuckled and gripping down on washcloths
to prevent her from breaking the skin of her palms.
The constant hum of telemetry,
                                the soft whoosh of the ventilator.

The human body has roughly 7% of its weight in blood.
The human body has no ******* idea what to do when
there is too much or too little of really anything.
Think: blood vessel bursting.
                            Think: cells mutating.
                                                  Think: proned patient coding after intubation.

Bruised.  His hands were bruised from all the needle-sticks,
from his lack of platelets.  And a single transfusion only goes so long.
                                                           ­   Goes three weeks long.  
The hands on the belly, laid so gently, so carefully are
covered in makeup.  The hair is parted wrong with a cowlick.
I know how they created that soft smile on his closed mouth.
                                                                         I’ve read the books.
                                            I’ve heard the talks from morticians.  
They’ve made my grandfather tan, but
I know what’s underneath the foundation:
writing your grief prompt nine: choose any color. let your mind follow that color to a memory, or a scene, or a story of any kind
the asteroid hit the earth so long ago that
                                                             i do not remember a time before.  
(the bones of dinosaurs do not remember a time before they were
petrified into brittle and fragile memories; the moon does not recall
who she was before she got stuck in the earth’s orbit; uranus knows
nothing of how he came to spin on his side.)

you could stick your hand through
any of the gas giants and find
                                                          your whole body
                                                           slidi­ng through.  
this same theory can be applied to my skin.  i have very little gravity,
or at least it feels that way most days.

maybe it depends on how you look at it:
one way is perfect, and the other all wrong.  the woman in the casket could either be sleeping or dead.  she could either be a stranger or my mother.  the head or the tail.  the light or the dark.  the two sides of the moon.  the comet striking through the night sky.  the interdimensional toll could refuse to let you through.  the cult could accept or deny your entry request.  there is one and there is the other.  the upside down.  the rightside up.  the parallel universe.  the evil twin.  it’s fresh and then it’s rotten.  this could either hurt a lot or a little.  it depends on how much you let in: how willing you are to bend to the emotional blow.

science says that the human body tends to
                                                            forget physical pain as a survival tactic.
but science says jack **** about emotional pain.

so am i living?  or am i just existing?
     the difference is six feet deep.
writing your grief prompt three: how do you live in a landscape so vastly changed?
I’m thinking of the faded checkered pattern that has been
smoothed away by time on the dark cloth seats of a Nissan Pathfinder
                                          driving down Ryan Road on a hot day in June.
My mother, in the front seat, singing along to a Spice Girls cassette.  

I’m thinking: red, plastic, crab-shaped sandbox and
                                      McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.  
I’m thinking: light princess pink, seafoam green, and robin’s egg blue.  
I’m thinking of a framed cheetah cross stitch, hanging on the wall of what
                                      used to be our bedroom at my grandparent’s house.
I’m thinking: Barbie doll houses and Hot Wheels and a cul-de-sac at
                                                                ­                     the end of the street.  

The sweet smell of cigar smoke.  The ice cold splash of the garden hose.  The pop of a bubble.  The sting of soap in the eye.  Dreams by The Cranberries.  As Long as You Love Me by The Backstreet Boys.  A HelloKitty boombox slowly spitting out vapor when the deck builders hit a power line while digging.  The deer in the backyard looking for corn.  The faded wood of a playset that was never really played on.

My father: sitting alone on a splintered bench by the firepit at the edge of the woods, empty beer cans at his feet, chain smoking cigarettes, and humming along to a song that is stuck—forever stuck—on the tip of my tongue.
I do not know if this happened.  I cannot ask him.  
(I’m not sure if I would want to ask him.)  
But I can make an educated inference that that line of
fiction is really nonfiction.  
A memory that feels like a phantom limb.  
                            Sounds like the sharp crinkle of static.  
                                                     Co­vered in a gossamer, dreamlike haze.  

There is a distinct otherness to this memory, to who
                                     I think I was before the trauma.  
We are two different people.  A yin and a yang.  A day and a night.  
The hermit crab is soft beneath its hard shell.
The asbestos is not apparent within the insulation.  
You cannot see the lead in the paint.
The mold inside the fruit.
prompt one for write your grief: who was the person you used to be?
Taylor St Onge Nov 2020
I’m thinking about the doctor's hands shaking as she
                                               struggles to intubate a cat.  
I’m thinking about the technician's hands squeezing the cat’s rib cage,
pulsing life with a delicate force; she is much more gentle than
                                                      practition­ers are with humans—
hard and quick down with the palms; the ribs snapping,
                                                                ­     the sternum sore.  

Some time ago an 80-year-old woman on my unit was
opened up bedside for a cardiac procedure during a code.  
After a week in ICU, she came back to us on the unit, was up and
walking and talking, and was discharged home within another week.

Meanwhile, the 60-year-old man was dead in the morgue
       after a 45-minute code failed to resuscitate him.  

The flip of the coin.  The thin line.  The blessing or the curse.  
The absolute darkness of a body bag.  The cold chill of absolute zero.  
The fresco painted on the catacomb walls could either depict the
light of the sun or the multicolored lights that the
brain shoots off minutes before death.  
                                                        ­               The eleventh hour,
                                                                ­  isn’t that what it’s called?  

We don’t want to talk about body care, death care.  
We have to, but it won’t register.  
                                                     ­       After a loss, after a trauma,
                                                                ­   we are on autopilot.  
I think of my mother,
                                        six feet beneath frozen soil in
                                      a pink padded casket and think:
                                                                ­                             I don’t want that.
I think of the prearranged plots my grandparents picked out
next to her in an above ground crypt and think:
                                                          ­                                   I don’t want that.
Bacteria still causes decay after the embalming process.  
Putrefied flesh.  Bones visible.  Muscles eaten.  Tissues disintegrated.  
We don’t talk about it.  

We try to think the opposite.  The positive vs the negative.  
(But that’s not always possible or healthy.)

I’m thinking about hands inserting IVs, hands taking
blood pressures, hands documenting the code notes
on a clipboard in the back of the room.  
I couldn’t do these things.
                                                 My hands tend to break what they touch.  
The glass bowl in the pet store.  
                               The clay project in art class.  
                                                        ­    The succulents, the basil, the orchid.
I’m good at things I don’t have to think about:
good at the autopilot, good at the autonomic,
                                                                                    good at trauma.
notice that the fawn response isn't titled here
Taylor St Onge Nov 2020
It’s not what it looks like.  It’s never what it looks like. 
                                               It’s all wrong
                                                                ­          somewhere.  

Out in the Ukrainian backwoods, Chernobyl looks
like a ghost town some thirty years later.  Intact but
abandoned, vacant—hemorrhaged of humanity.  Like in mass
everyone left the city to buy some milk and never returned.  
Life in the standstill.  Lights left on now burnt out.  Meat
thawing on the counter now mold on the counter.  Laundry
half folded on the bed.  The bath water
ran and ran and ran until the well dried up.  

You wouldn’t know that the soil and
                                                                    the cats and
                                                  the dogs  
                were radioactive
unless you held a meter against it to measure the roentgen.

The hermit crab soft underneath its hard shell.
The mold growing around the core of the shining red apple.  
The asbestos hiding in the insulation.  
The lead in the paint on the crib.  

Sometimes, the things that look the most fine can **** you.
title alluding to Voices from Chernobyl
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