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Sonia Greenfield is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Letdown (White Pine Press, 2020) and Boy With a Halo at the Farmer's Market, which won the 2014 Codhill Poetry Prize and was published in 2015. Her chapbook, American Parable, won the 2017 Autumn House Press chapbook prize. Her work has appeared in a variety of places, including in the 2018 and 2010 Best American Poetry. She lives with her husband, son, and Shiloh Shepherd in Minneapolis where she teaches at Normandale College and edits the Rise Up Review.

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This weird telegraph in hand,
these open letters to the world
announcing another loss — a beloved wife, 
a child’s suicide, even a poet performing 
her own death with the best medium 
she knows. We say “I’m gutted” or

“So sorry” — all the wishes for peace, all

the love flying from cell tower to cell tower

until we are pinged with enough heart emojis
that maybe we could use them as fuel
for the fire of our tenderest feelings,
that they may live through this. Still, even 
with every word at my disposal, this endless 
lexicon of empathy, what do I offer? May her 
memory be a blessing?
Said ten times already, 
does it lose its potency? Could I say we each 
in the dark of our bedrooms, lit only 
by our devices, want to believe wishes 
conjure heaven, and it shines with 
the superlative of "so"? That as we weep in
the blue light for near strangers, 
the strength of that flames the pilot 
of their existence in an after-life, and we can 
now see them aglow on the other side 
of the membrane? Sometimes it feels like
everything is on fire. Sometimes I write 
nothing and just think them so hard 
into existence there, away finally 
from harm and how language 
ultimately failed them.


I could be embittered, could scoff

that you’re gentling girls who look

a little too much like you did

in elementary school, and like that

I’m pinned again to the ground, knees

on my shoulders, hands smacking

my face, or I’m being called fleabag, dirtbag,

klepto — a disgrace. I knew that sharp

mouths spat laughter my way like

razorblades zinging toward my throat,

so glitteringly vicious in the schoolyard

sunlight. My discount sneakers

and department store jeans just neon signs

flashing fuck with her. All those

kitten-faced cliques licking their fur

for the boys slicking down their own

cowlicks, then priming their claws

in the soft flesh of my back, or so it

seemed I was stabbed. Or so it seemed

that daughters might simper for fathers

and nod at the wise words of mothers,

then push me into traffic on a lark

or lure me to the park for a beating.

I remember how braces cut my fist

when I fought back. How I tried on

cruelty just once and still rue it; the boy

I bullied bringing out his dog to menace me.

I could say you can't mellow with lessons

what bile bubbles up under unicorn

shirts and scapulae like switchblades,

but try as you may. Let your girls

learn what you didn’t embody, let them

keep on a short leash what mean spirits

might drag them to hell, eyes only

lit by that flickering kind of malice.

Might you strip off every callous

and replace it with grace.


In sixth grade physics, my son

learns that energy can’t be created


or destroyed, that it merely changes

form and moves around, and I can’t


help but think about grief in the same

way — how it is a force that slips


from person to person, how some

harbor it for years, how it resides inside


them like so much dark matter, how it

moves on to fill the next vessel


completely. I think, too, of all those

apologies we blow around like snow


crystals that never melt here on

the tundra of this human condition.


Last week my old dog died, and I

collected so many that I ran out


of space for them, every drawer

stuffed full of so sorry, so sorry


building up in drifts in all the corners,

so sorry like dust bunnies under


each radiator, so sorry soft as

rabbit fur, too — enough to absorb


the sound of the wail of grief’s

loneliness. A week isn’t very long,


so I’m still keeping a few for myself

and sending the rest back into


the world. One perfect crystal

of apology blown from my palm


for the friend whose own dog died,

another sent to the poet whose


daughter took her own life, one more

for the cousin whose son ODed —


energy arriving to move us

before moving on.


On Facebook: the jewel of

crushed opal and bone


fragments, band in

silver and copper — I could


do it: carry a dog on each

index finger and on my pinkies


my grandparents’ resinous

portholes spinning


as the gemstone of dead

weight twists toward my palm


the way solitaire rings

always do. I’d be tempted


to hold my hands up

like a mime at her wall, all


so they could peer out

to see what this world


has become; me like

a ringmaster trying to give


my dead a good show. I'm

an animist at heart, so


no. I couldn’t do it — thumb

around in a slow fidget


flashes of opaline

and crumbs of who I lost,


obsessed as I’d be

with every naked digit’s


waiting for its bling

and burden, for who’s


next and what’s

to come.


The girl is like a painting

that parodies girl, eyes outsized

and amber, skinny arms poking

from sleeves of teal velour.

In the mirror she bumps into

herself, self the fence set against

some idea of a future, that she could

rub potential from the soft folds of her

skirt, the dry static of winter leaping

in sparks from her fingers. Hard to

not think all the road signs point

to Paradise in that. If only she

could get out of her way

to get there.

             Still, some spin,

arms out and dizzy at the crossroads,

and they let rhyme dictate direction —

songs tripping from their tongues,

sun lighting the ends of their hair

like fuses, and A-lines rippling out

as if they could lift off. You know

no matter which road they ease

down, gold flows forward

from their very feet.

                      You've gotten

used to it by now. You visit

the girl in velour as she stands

at the mirror, and you brush her hair

that falls fluid like a muddy river

all the way to the small of her back.

What are you going to do? Unstitch

every embellishment? Untack

the lace? Leave her staring at

a simple shift? You let her

have every pearl button

that runs from neck

to gathered waist.

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