Empire Falls
Mary-Kim Arnold

I must admit that none of this thrills me.

When at times, haunted by shadowy memory, I grow tired of trees, I am reminded that there is no hierarchy of grief, or at least: Grief cannot love you back.

Despite its having lodged in my body; despite it having peppered the marrow of my bones.

The encyclopedia does not help: Volume after cloth-bound volume spilling out its ordered chronicles.

Here is a story: A man makes a broken glass whole again.

Here is a story: He lights a fire from a pile of ice.


I hear rain rattling on the metal roof. I hear disembodied voices, the chanting of children.

I see, for a moment, the world in full color.

I feel the calloused skin of your hand on my cheek.

Before he dies, the philosopher says: "It is too much. All this. Too much."


Are you sure that you cannot love me back? Are you sure that none of this helps?

In the evenings, we would retire to the back room to play pool or to deal cards on the green felted table.

Or he would read to me aloud from the encyclopedia. We did well to make the most of it, those hours.

Page after page, his voice reverberating in my bones. In reverie, he might call my name, call it softly like the burbling of a mountain stream. Or call it out sharply, like the clap of a hand on a wooden table.

Look here, typhoon season in South Korea. Look here, the monsoon trough spawns a tropical depression.

Or at least, that is how the story goes.

Why doesn't any of this help?


We go back to O. Or specifically, to Ottoman Empire.

Page after page: We are trying to escape by ox-cart in the heat of the summer. Or we are shuffling along dusty country roads, exhausted and fevered. Or we are barefoot through drifting snow.

Or we are rounded up and hanged in rows like magpies.

Here is a story: We are so hungry we have eaten the cardboard identity tags that we wear around our necks. In our desperation, we have swallowed our own names.


None of this helps. You are not coming back.

I wake from a dream in which I turn my car around a sharp curve on a precipice and abruptly find ocean. I wake from a dream in which I am gazing at my own severed head, my lips still hanging open.

Here is a story: Empire falls.

Here is a story: They line us up. We hear the sound of our hearts beating and the drops of our hot blood on the frozen ground.

Here is a story: You are not coming back.

I must admit none of this thrills me. 

Mary-Kim Arnold has writing in or coming from Tin House, HTML Giant, The Rumpus and others. Italicized lines are drawn from W.G. Sebald's THE RINGS OF SATURN.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Neil Sanche.

Read MKA's postcard.

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