Meghan Sterling’s work is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Rhino Poetry, Nelle, Colorado Review, Poetry South, and many others, and was nominated for four Pushcart Prizes in 2021. Her debut poetry collection, These Few Seeds (Terrapin Books), came out in 2021 and was a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize in Poetry. Her chapbook, Self-Portrait with Ghosts of the Diaspora (Harbor Editions), her collection, Comfort the Mourners (Everybody Press) and her collection, View from a Borrowed Field, which won Lily Poetry Review’s Paul Nemser Book Prize, are forthcoming in 2023. Read her work at meghansterling.com
Death is only a little bit of something. The shadow of the cat
on the blanket, the sliver of light between the curtains as the sun rises.
Life is only a little bit of something. The sky also. My daughter asks
if the sky will end, and I say yes it does, it becomes space. She asks
if she fell in space how long would she fall. Only a little bit, only
until ever, until always. We are always falling a little bit, maybe a lot.
I start to tell her and stop myself. Yesterday evening too tired
I fell sideways into the cabinet, her milk catching my wrist in three white drops.
The night before, my water sloshed my pajamas sopping wet, more than
a little. I am too tired at night, my hands begin to fumble and weaken.
It is a little death, to feel my body give way like this, the bottle in my hand
until it isn’t, the milk for her bedtime snack now dousing my wrist as if
anointing me in the little bit of her she still is, still my daughter not a little
but a lot, how she still fits in my arms like a wrapped package under the tree
and still wants her milk in a sippy cup before bed though my wrists
weaken and drop it at night when I am tired of holding myself upright
in this life with its little bit of death mixed in, this life where if I fell
I would just keep falling through sky like a sliver of light between
the curtains, like three drops of milk on my wrist, how in this life
my daughter’s voice comes like a crack of light shining across the floor
in a dark room and its morning and there’s sky.
WHAT THE MEMORY OF SNOW
dreams when the bed is a brute that refuses to cough me up.
When I wrench myself out to watch the sun shiver out
of its casing— it too is born silver, it too has to pull
itself away. I remember when my life was opening into ruin,
the lover I took because I forgot what no felt like in my mouth,
the ripe o of it, the finality of its beginning, the tongue
to the soft palate. I skated out to woods and opened
my arms for winter to take me down and instead the trees
blossomed with snow and ice and crowned me queen
of the shattering. All hail. It didn’t matter who I let
touch me then—all was the scratching of the black bear,
all was a mixed tape playing backwards. I know now
this was complicated grief, a term I found years later
in my therapist’s waiting room. Where’s the book
that could have shown me how to mourn the black hole
that had swallowed my throat? The snow only gave me
a canvas to bleed on, its heavy walls swallowing all sound,
There was no evidence that I existed beyond my body,
numb to even the jostling of the black bear. There was
no sound that could rouse me from walking out
onto the knife’s edge. All the hate I’d felt erupting
into a two-year spree—the ice encasing my better judgment
in its moody amber. The ice a perfect place to bury a body
if you want it found. But I wasn’t destined to be a criminal.
If only the knife
could have cut the coward out, leaving the queen intact.
If only I could remember where I left it, its dark blade blazing.
SELF PORTRAIT WITH GHOSTS OF THE DIASPORA
The discomfort is my guide. It takes me down into
the theatre of my past, into my dreams of Western cities,
my dreams of at tiled Italian nunnery, large wooden
doorways, mosaics on the floor, my guarded sex.
It keeps me dabbing ink at a tongue that rolls off
the wrong phrase— how I jabber on, out of nerves, out
of a longing to connect my dot to your dot when our dots
only make a static screen. The discomfort leads me
into myself, into my body, where the bones of my family
are lodged like toothpicks in my teeth after a big meal,
where the circles under my family’s eyes roll like hoops
down a Brooklyn street, where the songs my family sang
rise up like dots to the thought cloud I carry over my head
repeating belong, belong, belong.
My daughter calls from her room
in a howl, the dogs next door have barked
the neighbors awake. One blue light
is flashing in the purple air and I pull
the dehumidifier drawer open, dump
the slurry down the sink so she can sleep.
The house is a bruise, a tidal pool just beginning
to fill. My daughter moans in the low light
like a ghost in her antique bed. I am haunted
by her commands and I obey. The seagulls
laugh with the crows. The cat snores soft
in a shadowed heap in the sheets. I have lost
the line where I end and morning begins.
My skin is loose and gray as a stone.
WHEN THE WATER
When the grey. When the white.
When the clouds dip into the surface
like silver ladles. Chalice of the moon’s
mouth. Water a stone to wear away.
Weather the rock. Weather the wood.
Morning quiet as a knob. Feet pointed north,
always north. When the rain like a pulse.
When the empty car. When the shuttering
house. Water the wood that splits. When
the plane carves the rain clouds in a
straight line. When the moon sips the
stone like a hidden flask. Silver water
black with glutted leaves. Weather the moon.
Weather the storm that shakes the day awake.
This stillness like a box with lilac sides, and I’m still
halfway in a dream, a rainy walk in London with the company
of my childhood loves and their radiant skin. That longing for touch
that pierced the lungs, desire that ran its teeth along the walls.
I’ll never want that way again. All day I swam underwater,
I wrapped mixed tapes in notebook paper, I was famous for crying
in every color. Childish crying has transmuted to throbbing
as I hover at the edge of dawn with the light as it chooses sides.
I have to pull myself out of dreams that wish me sorry for what I’ve done,
that remind me of whom I thought I was when light was a ceiling
traced with the fingers of an angry mother, before I believed in heredity.
The morning blooms above my head in a reminder of light. I fight the urge
to call my mother. The cat presses her body deeper into my chest, refusing
to wake, refusing to yield to beginning all over again.