Like an Interruption
Or an echo on the line,
someone else’s conversation.
Except there is no line anymore,
at least not those iconic poles and wires
looping over the black-and-white prairie.
A man holds up his cell phone
to video the bodies in the back of a van.
Too many, he says. And disappears.
Warning bell, lights flash, the gate descends.
Nothing to do but wait.
One train, maybe two.
The Congress Hotel’s lighted sign
has been nibbled at
by some electricity-eating creature.
Edited. Now it calls us to CONFESS
as we check in at the desk.
What have we done,
what have we neglected to do?
Like a Jot or a Tittle
tittle: a small mark in writing or printing, used as a diacritic, punctuation, etc.
Like a note written in the middle of the night
or a pen stroke marking the absent letter.
Like a letter not delivered, or
a missing letter-writer.
Like a language spoken in five mountain villages
on the other side of the world, never written down,
seven hundred voices reciting the same words
so they remember.
What else is disappearing,
and how do we mark so many absences?
Here is a nest built last spring by a bird that will not return,
did we ever know its name?
Here is a stump, the ash tree cut down
after the ash borer devoured it.
Here the façade of a building hollowed by fire.
Where are the people who lived in these walls,
did we ever know their names?
Here there should be a gravestone
but in a time of plague we cannot hold funerals.
Will we remember where the dead lie?
Here is a mark, in their memory.
Here is another and another and another
in memory of all that has been lost.
A jot, a tittle, part of a word, a fragment of verse
in a language we are all beginning to forget.
Like the Letter Z
The back-and-forth line of tracks through another snowfall heavy on the daffodils, trace of some small creature whose footprints I haven’t seen before
The road that stopped unexpectedly at someone’s barn—we’d lost our way driving home after the eclipse
A cemetery no longer in use at the end of the dirt road where I lived as a girl
The zigzag line climbing up the graph when up is the wrong direction
The line of masked faces crisscrossing the parking lot outside a grocery store
The final scene of a French movie from the ’80s, a green ray appearing over the water at sunset
The last letter in the name of the stone that glitters in the creek bed, beneath a bridge where jasmine grows over the railing
The last letter in the alphabet that holds all the words we know, all those we’ve forgotten, and those we’ve never learned
Your father’s last breath, alone in his bed at night
The card you tuck away in a drawer, the last one your father signed
The last day of a fever, the last day we will be required to remain in our homes, alone in our grief
We are in the middle now
but there will be an end
or many endings
Susanna Lang’s most recent collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in 2017 by Terrapin Books. Her chapbook, Self-Portraits, is forthcoming in August 2020 from Blue Lyra Press. Other collections include Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (The Backwaters Press, 2008). A two-time Hambidge fellow and a recipient of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, her poems and translations from the French have appeared in such publications as The Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, december, Mantis, American Life in Poetry and The Slowdown. Her translations of poetry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, and she is currently working with Nohad Salameh and Souad Labbize on new translations.