Back to Issue Forty-Three

Memento Mori



Trace the color of blood across the ceiling.
It is not crystals. Not a row of corn.

Not not. It was over, then not. I pulled
down my mask. I used to hide in them,

the rows of corn, when I was a child
wild on my grandmother’s farm.

It was always my grandmother’s farm.
Never my grandfather’s, who’d killed

himself in a shed my grandmother later
burned down. I pulled my mask down

just a little, then slid it back up
in the store, at the doctor’s. I ran

through the corn rows and hid
with my cousins who I was always

in charge of. We ran in the shape
of a rosary. As in mass, all of us unbaptized

and my grandmother going up to get
communion on her own while we colored

in the pews and she paid us a dollar
each to sit still. Her shame that we couldn’t

walk with her and take the wafer.
What do you do with time? The blood

that collects in the toilet of a country bathroom?
All the blood that has collected? The periods

and miscarriages, and also the blood retched
up by my grandfather, I assume, after a night

of drinking? We made crosses out of corn
sheafs and left them in the dirt,

symbols whose meaning was lost on us.
There, I was running, and I ran and I ran

to the bay, and when I reached it I put my
unchristened hands in the cold water

and washed away the dirt. That was not symbolic.
It was just water. Just hands. As in time

it would all be gone. I smeared the light
like blood across the ceiling. As in now,

time has passed, and the pandemic persists.
I steer my children among the unmasked,

try not to dwell on the dead,
on those who have yet to die,

those walking among us. And when
the resurrection comes, snow will

fill their mouths like wafers. In the morning,
I smear two blood colored swipes of paint

across my children’s faces. My children,
who when I start crying on the stairs

rush to my side, hug me and ask,
Is this the end, Mommy? Mommy,

is it? Is it finally over?


Rebecca Lehmann is the author of the poetry collections Ringer, which won the 2018 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry through AWP and was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in 2019, and Between the Crackups (Salt, 2011). Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, The Boston Review, and other journals, and been featured on The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith, the New York Public Library’s Poem in Your Pocket program and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day project. Her creative nonfiction has been published in Copper Nickel and Pembroke Magazine, reprinted on Longreads, and nominated for The Best American Nature and Science Writing 2021. She lives in South Bend, Indiana, where she is an Assistant Professor of English at Saint Mary’s College, and the founder and Editor in Chief of the online literary journal Couplet Poetry.

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