Poetry Spring 2017, Honorable Mention: “How to Talk to the Dying” by Jessica Mehta

We received an extraordinary number of wonderful submissions for our 2017 Poetry content, and have a number of honorable mentions to name thanks to the diligent work of our poetry staff. We’re proud to announce “How to Talk to the Dying” by Jessica Mehta as an honorable mention!

How to Talk to the Dying

I looked up What to say
to the dying because words
get stuck in my hands. There’s no good
answers. You died the same

way our father did, yellow skin
and lion eyes. What do you say

to your sister out

on the reservation? I love you,
that’s it. Your husband told me

you smiled and poured
your own Love
you back into me

all the way down
through the wires. The voice

deep, dark and foreign
like a strangers’ always is.

 

Jessica Mehta: “I’m a Cherokee poet, novelist, and author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as one novel and a non-fiction book. Over 100 of my pieces have appeared in magazines and journals around the world. I was awarded five poet-in-residency posts for 2017 in the UK, France and US.”

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Why You Write

Written by: Loan Le – Fiction Section Editor

So, here you are. You have turned down invitations to parties and happy hours, because you cannot socialize when you have a character in your mind, her voice echoing like a message over a PA system in an empty hallway. You have endured strangers’ tilted heads, the sardonic curl of their lips, the upspeak “Oh, really?” when you explain that you are a writer. Your worth has been challenged and measured against already established writers. Your work is “not the right fit” for this journal or that magazine. All of this has left you despairing, wondering why you have chosen this particular way of being, which lately brings much more pain than reward.

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Credit: John Liu

Step back. Somewhere, find a pocket of peace where your thoughts are your own, where you hear only yourself. Recognize, first, that by writing, you have created a record of metamorphosis. As a child, you started out with the alphabet, tracing lines and curves of letters with a No. 2 pencil and combining them to make things called words. And then you strung them together like beads on thread to form a necklace, and another, and another, until you found it: your voice. You. My name is . . .  I am . . .  My mother and father are . . . You came to know yourself through writing. 

But who are you in this world? You are not alone. You have spent so many years pressing yourself against the wall, content to be unseen. Writing constructs the bridge between you and them. Through writing, you see that the world is much more—ever-shifting kaleidoscopic colors everywhere you look. What you see is what you get? No, you are greedy. You want to find that gesture that dispels what you think you know. Maybe, that businessman with bags under his eyes hasn’t been working out of selfishness, but for his wife who’s dying of cancer; working makes money to buy the meds, and working keeps time away, and that is salvation for him. Maybe, that girl wearing Beats headphones is not drowning out the world, but is building a new one that brims with harmonies, melodies, and delicious rhythms. You imagine all the potential of strangers in your coffee shop, at the gym, and on the subway. You play out their life stories, their hopes and fears, their triumphs and demise. You walk among them, but do not merely pass them. You understand—or at least try to.

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Credit: Liz West

Writing is proof. You are a keeper of time and existence. You recognize something precious, distill it, and make it sempiternal. Your words ring on. In the future, you will read your writing to remember what once was.

You write to lift others, penning sentences that begin with a mourning cry, offering teardrops of ink, which eventually dry. Soon enough, your writing bellows. You wield your pen, like many masters before you, to protect and unite. Your writing is a burden, but you cannot deny the light it brings.

So, here you are. Your pen hovers over your notepad as you let glimpses and sounds trickle through your mind. Outside it is morning, the blurry haze of things beginning—or night, the darkness soliciting you, beckoning you to indulge. The world moves but you choose to be still. You are present. You are here. And you are writing.