Three Nights

My poem, “Three Nights,” is part of a greater collection of poetry that deals with memory in its many forms. When I was writing this poem in particular, I was thinking about historical and familial memory, and how these types of memory shape the inter and outer world on a cultural and personal level. There are memories that hold the feelings, losses, silence, and heartbeat of entire countries, and there are memories that hold us longer than we can hold them. There are memories inside us that are part of the fabric of our bodies as much as blood. It was my aim to let historical trauma speak through my family, through me.

along the Danube River, 1987

Three nights pass before he wakes. Again
in his own body he oozes, flickers. His tongue is thick—
a black slug lodged in this throat. His head, a cracked
bowl. Next to his face, a pile of broken teeth
and morsels of his own gums,
dirty and shriveled. Three nights he spends
mind outside of body. Three nights. Gone—
where? Three nights pass and his mother unravels, shakes
blood into her bare house. How the son wishes
to have been devoured by vultures bold enough
to eat around the warm tunnel,
around the hot bullet. Three nights pass and his palm
breaks open. For mother, the son’s hands move
to a letter. A scrawled language pointed towards a strange,
heavy hope. His hands find nothing
but the glue of blood and bile. His lungs
inflate into a cry. Torn sacks. A sound
like the crushing of a sparrow’s bluest egg. Where
has the vapor of language disappeared? A grey fog. In the distance,
gunfire’s ghost rings. A bell dies. The son sees
through the jaundiced veil of one swollen eye. He sees the brightest white—
a rib though purple and black. Or a dove. A feather. Then,
ants. Flayed flesh. Pieces of gone muscle ferried into holes. Food.
Another face. The flesh not his own. A forest tall
and full of beasts. A mound. A bear. Black.
He begs. The son begs the black bear’s claws to tear
his soul from its bone prison. He begs
but no words escape his mouth. Wordless, he prays
god’s tongue cracks open his mother’s skull
before she receives the news. Of silence. Of absence. Or worse,
his return. Three nights pass and the son mourns—
even the beasts displaced and starving in comrade-lined trenches
would not pity him enough to eat his body. Three nights pass and the son dies.
He dies a familiar death. How eagerly his mind—the devil
who endures all terror and misery—runs
from the empty corridor of his body.

Tamara Panici’s works have appeared in places like POETRY, Muzzle Magazine, Fugue, Waxwing, Poetry Online, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship, and has been awarded the Margaret Reid Poetry Prize, the Black Warrior Review Poetry Prize, and the River Styx Microfiction Prize. She lives in DC with her partner and their child, and their child-to-be.