SHORT PROSE CONTEST 2019 Finalist:
BY mark wagenaar
Because there’s nothing else to be done about a beached fifty-ton body.
Because our imagination failed us, as our language does.
Because the mayor asked you with a grin what do you charge for a charge?
Because he then asked what do you imagine when you set the charges, and you answered grasshopper leaving the window of a blueprint.
You wanted to say name erased from the bottom of a painting.
You wanted to say, if every building has a soul, how then should we treat a body, especially
a body that could house each body of your family, and you remember Christ once said my Father’s house has many rooms,
I go to prepare a place for you.
Because other than a sky burial, how else would you hallow her, this mother who cared for each of her calves for more than a decade, who makes ambergris out of undigestible squid beaks
like God the ribs of us from dust and breath,
and what have you been making of this life since your kids grew up and moved out and your father moved in, who still dreams of being an astronaut, beneath the ashes of his cigarettes, his EZ chair auraed by the confetti of scratcher tickets.
Because the largest brain on earth surely dreams. Loves, speaks, worries, knows the stars by name.
Because maybe her mother’s mother saw the Spirit moving upon the waters before the earth was raised up, and doesn’t God ask Job if he will pull her in with a fishhook, or tie down her tongue, doesn’t He ask him if she will beg for mercy, doesn’t He praise her, her strength and graceful form, her eyes like the rays of dawn, and the wake she left, one would think the deep had white hair
like your father, even God turning to the figurative when His language is inadequate to describe her,
because her ribcage collapses under pressure, like the rafters of the buildings you’ve taken down, the diameter of her aortic arch increasing as it leaves her heart like the universe itself, windkessel, miracle.
Because she has sounded every inch of the ocean floor with her call, and her echolocation creates the ocean, as the rain forms your features.
Because she dove for an hour at a time, a half mile down, almost down to the depths of our dreams.
Because when you pressed the button you said your own name instead of hers—her body blown into uncountable pieces, to kingdom come if the kingdom is falling all around us, body become soft shrapnel, body become fleshrain crashing down into windshields and car roofs, splattering asphalt, body falling from the sky and into the story we would tell for years, in our town of Not Much, our town of Just Getting By,
because who would ever think we would be touched by a god?
Because you could not leave her to rot. You could not call her anything except beloved.
Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning “Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining,” just released from Red Hen Press. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including in the New Yorker, Tin House, the Southern Review, Gulf Coast, the Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, and River Styx, among many others. He is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University, a father of two, and the husband of poet Chelsea Wagenaar.