Vija Celmins, “T.V.” (1964), oil on canvas, currently on view in Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)

DURING THE OCCUPATION we all eat fruit

of the poisoned dirt

What is history if not the breath

of the damned rising up?

In this blurred photograph my mother

so limp-limbed and worn          My father raises his hand

against the blazing sun as if he could take it —

I no longer sleep at night           I no longer speak

my own name aloud

Every night a howling wind

shears the bark from trees        dismembers branches

Outside a stray cat caught in a steel trap

cries for hours

how long this dying takes



“If I could speak you might understand,”

to which his killers replied:

“Dialogue is useless.”

They took a taxicab

to turn themselves in. Eleven naval officers

all barely twenty years old

and the people love these men so dearly

that eleven severed fingers

arrive at the courthouse with a petition

to spare their young lives.

Youth favors action. The old

wish only to speak.

In my younger days

I threw my soft-limbed body around

as if redemption were possible.

Now time is a robe stitched through with ash

I keep trying to shake off.

Looking back the path to war is clear

as an arrow whistling through still air

but now at the courthouse

men smoking and taking photographs

as if their living eyes could see

what the dead already know

The old judge scratches

his bald head as he approaches —

white straw hat

is carried off by the wind.

*    *    *

Mary-Kim Arnold is the author of Litany for the Long Moment (Essay Press, 2018), the chapbook Between Night & Night (Artifact Press, 2018) and the forthcoming The Fish & The Dove (Noemi Press, 2020)She teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program at Brown University.

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