Beyond Which

my seatbelt is fastened and
I no longer smoke and I want
to tell you everything since
we have history that predates
(precedes preexists) predawn

first I met an irish photographer
who did portraiture—the female
form: all women with exposed
breasts, a small camera tucked
under his arm, unferocious

second, it’s been more than
twenty years since I stumbled
to your door at night where I was
always welcome with my current
state of nostalgia for what?
leaving in the morning, a city
sidewalk by itself is nothing—
an abstraction; it means something
only in conjunction with your
body folded into mine or mine
folded into yours or or or

third: from the window the edges
of a state (unidentifiable)—its
mottled blue waters, its shoreline
and archipelagoes, its small lines
of boats—this is not the state
the plane is meant to hover above
so there’s a landing (unscheduled)
in Baltimore to refuel

fourth, I was breathtaking
(or maybe you said beautiful)

fifth—what may happen decades
from now—beyond the imagined
event horizon—is not only un-
known but unknowable

sixth, the memory of our origin
has been lost and this is perhaps
true of everyone:

a hunk of lead pipe on a
gold chain or your hipbones
pulled toward me; seven
shudders and damages; your

eight: “in this painting you can
read a love letter to a headless
body whose lips are lovingly
described as a coral reef in the surf”
—the theme: unbridled passion—
materials & technique: oil, chicken-
wire, rope, textile on hardboard

nine happened so slowly and
to such an extent that I wasn’t
even aware of change until one
day I decided to walk around
the block and found that we had
no block and then I decided to
walk around the neighborhood
and found that we had no
neighborhood—only the
entropy of bodies over time:
by accumulation; by infinite
profusion; by wear and tear

ten is we embrace
the hard and sweet dumbness
of the physical world—its
mute wreckage, the things that
vanish and vanish and vanish—


is a place we all pass through (of violence, of revelation) with grand opening flags strung above fenced-in lots & railroad crossings.

Holy is the ___________ _______________ almighty.

And we inscribe the darkest days of history on our own bodies, sometimes invisibly—the way skateboarders carve asphalt & metal—& sometimes we open our shirts and say look

at this door caught in a hail of bullets, pockmarked; my heart

beats a tattoo in my chest: a knocking rat-tat-tat; the body is impenetrable, save through desire or violence. So it came to pass

that over the decades, some survivors played their faded numbers in the lottery or used them as passwords. & this

is our encrypted language of suffering, of protection. We are surrounded by an emptiness filled with signs.

I ask my son what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun.

I would take my friends and hide, he says. I would be very quiet.

My son, whom I carried that long summer, through the chalked & blood-soaked streets of Southeast tucked into my body.

My body: burnt-edged chipboard construction, tyvek paper torn & flapping in the wind against a plywood frame stamped with a manufacturer’s imprint.

The security guards ask us to remove everything from our pockets—even lint.

& here is the officer who says, “God creates the forgetfulness so we can forget.”

Holy is ______________’s name.

& here is the Secret Annex, the moveable bookcase that served as the door & entrance to the family’s hiding place. My innards:

tufted insulating foam cut into shapes of billboards, highway overpasses, fast food marquees—a dense pink thicket held together with roofer’s nails & highway pylons.

& here are the sounds of the shooting range up the road: a series of echoes that sweep the dust, tilt the evergreens slightly

into silence-blank-silence-blank, then air—for a moment before the crack of the board’s wheels hitting pavement again. Another body

in motion, a vulnerable flesh. Our ubiquitous yet easily overlooked emblems of transient existence are heaped one on top of the other, as in a landfill, giving the place an air of neglect.

Holy is the _______________ of _________________.


For more information about this piece, see this issue's legend.

Erika Meitner is the author of four books of poems, including Ideal Cities (HarperCollins, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry series winner, and Copia (BOA Editions, 2014). She is currently an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she directs the MFA program in Creative Writing. You can find out more about her at

The Food Lion parking lot in the Patrick Henry Centre Shopping Center at 1413 North Main Street, Blacksburg, VA 24060

I live in a college town in rural Southwest Virginia where I spend a lot of time in my car. Since I have kids, I’m also at the supermarket nearly every evening for juice or ketchup or more bread. The Food Lion on North Main is the closest grocery store to my house, and some nights I’m not the only one sitting in my car for a minute or five looking at the glow of my phone in the dark, having a minute by myself in the quiet of the sodium lights, or writing in a notebook.