Six Poems

Leaving Rohatyn

It’s not the pines’ 
  limbs that sink, sullen
under snow
not the saw’s whirr
not the graves under my
  swollen feet
not the veins of ice
  rivering the cracks in the pavement
not Devil’s Mountain 
  resting on a wall
  of red sky 
not the red sky
not empty fields full
  of men, spent rounds,
  hunger—hunger like the birches’ 
  paper skin peeled back 
  to reveal pulp, the lime
  trees’ golden nets
not the yellow grasses spread
  before me
not the steeples, the folded
  hands, monuments
not the weeds gathering
  like children between 
  cement houses
not children gathering
  between cement 
but the slivers of ink-
  black mold sluicing down
  -backed roofs bent
  in reverence before
  the low sun, the wind
  darting, the fingers 
  on every trigger, my mother 
  bent by cold in a root
  garden, the field’s murder
  -ous rows, white
  breaths unhinged 
  in a hiss, the sky’s
  bare throat hanging
  below the tree-line
  before it slows
  & swallows, before
  there is no hope
  of sun.

Hnyla Lypa River Testimony

  Water drags past my boots
& whispers of soldiers lying 
  in thick grasses, of rifles firing. But

what can water testify to 
  other than which way it runs? I listen
harder, wanting to hear what water

  makes of a body, of men,
of silver weapons. Walking,
  I long an oak’s shade, black 

soil’s progeny: potatoes, beets, 
  barley. Cattle low like children, 
inventing names for ghosts. The river 

  whispers past, unpacking itself
into the Dneister: bones & eyes,
  hollow shells of silver 

skin & lungs. Water leads to land 
  that leads nowhere. But the river’s slow
gurgle cuts through ruined air, refusing

  to unsew itself from the earth. Refusing
to look behind. Refusing everything green
  water palms & calls home.  

Aubade in Which I Speak to My Estranged Mother

My eyes follow silver light
on branches and snow-laden tracks.
Is riding a train across a continent
how it feels to be invisible,
haunting places I can’t run through? O mother, 
why did you tell me the ground holds us 
here? Afraid, I pulled my feet from 
the earth. West, through the Alps, 
away from the Black Sea, I lose days
& months. But I told you I wouldn’t leave
you, a woman alone
on those fields with the dead 
we don’t mention. Even with a scythe & a shot
-gun, you are the bird I found
in the snow once. I cried
as I tucked its body in a shoe box, waited
for spring thaws. I tunnel into night, 
further from your skin, lilac-
scented hair. But I wanted 
to tell you: I know, now, 
you called the morning home 
to birth me into the chill wind 
a second time. That, maybe,
what’s left of us after the night’s  
quiet is all that matters.

Dearest God of Exiles

Black-lunged am I, dear
enemy. If you want the truth. Torn-tongued

beast blasting away. Strings & scotch
tape holding up my skin. I’m sick with

the silver moon, it’s chill
emptying my throat. I moved 

away from myself
by winding along your miles. Finding 

terror wherever I look
for it. Praying to hear less

of you, I pray for less
weather. In what bodies have I

moved? Whatever hurts
more, I seek. Stick the slim silver

blade in its sheath. I have 
no need for a reminder: irrational 

sky. Your stupid voice. Define me. 
I dare you. Dump me in the river

slithering past. That cold, cold water. 
I have no choices, when everywhere I look is

new. And you are everywhere. 


You hear your mother died 
as snow greys. As the sun 
comes & goes during
nighttime hours, north
of Mica Creek. Mold 
in the grass. Everywhere, 
the beginning of water. 
A postcard on the table
spells your name 
wrong. This regret,
larger than the months
it took to find you. Pines sit,
unscathed, in clearings. Clouds 
drip dirty breaths 
into eaves. You know
everything must fall. Still, 
you cup your hands for
what snow leaves
on your skin when 
warmed. For what 
still falls. 

Narrow Gauge Railyard: In Reverse

Before mangled iron. 
Before railway ties, riven by German
devices. Before rust-
rended engines, holocaust 
trains. Before ropes noosed men’s necks
above Krakow’s tracks. Their fingers,
purpling like foxgloves.  
Before the untamed bell 
of the rail’s spine sang through pines.
Before earth wasn’t enough
to share with so many tongues. 
Before the Berezhany-Lviv highway 
stretched northwest beneath 
me, antlers of its wild
heart pressed to flesh, to feet. 
Unburden these bones. Unearth 
iron. Unwidow the spark between wheels
and pipes, between cities
haunting a map. Before all names
are doubled and tripled like cells
dividing in a womb. 
Give us another way to climb
out of our skin. 
Unempty the houses.
Resurrect my mother in her dressing gown,
iron stove warm with rice cereal.
Before I left her to grow
old. Before I walked ugly roads.
Before men were forced to leave
these hills and plains, the forests’
deep wounds, and my eyes filled
with mountains somewhere else.
When men hunted rabbits instead
of men. Instead of baby-
brown hairs on a collar.
Unhinge arms from my arms,
that the only touch I know is branches
slagging my skin as I pass
forests ruined like houses
after a flood. After new life
slithers in and slinks away
leaving its stench of mold
like fingerprints, like sweat.
Unbury the train, the dock’s waiting
passengers, steam rising like breaths.
Unrust the engines. Unshatter glass.
Give me refuge: rattling tracks, familiar 
voices, food in my fists, vodka 
undrunk. Back our bodies into caverns 
where we were once unbare.
Where we once knew darkness,
what mercies it brings.

​CHELSEA DINGMAN’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series, published by the University of Georgia Press (2017). In 2016-17, she also won The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and Water-stone Review’s Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website:

The Adirondack Review