Melanie Figg


After She Returns


I used to think I earned my keep by deceit: waiting for crocuses to crack this world open and take me back. I used to believe I deserved that bed like a sanctified vice and me just a child. I wanted to be dead.

But I had a lot of time to think in those winters without snow. I know I was there for more than the endless kegs of pomegranate wine I nursed in my sadness those first few years, more than the stitching I lost myself in, weaving the same pattern over and over and over. So easy to remember there—at first I thought the memories were dreams, bats swooping at my hair, but memory saved me. History washes the dead.

It was easy to make him think what he wanted to believe, that his belt across my back could break me or make me his. I volunteered nothing. Once he was asleep I passed his shoes lined up like law and went to rub the dead with warm, scented oils: the last odors of home were released and we sat quietly together in lamplight.


One Way Loneliness Falls

Descent from the Cross, 1435, Roger van der Weyden


It was the blood that broke her—the blood

clotting his hollowed hands, his head—

but this is not the story, a mother new to grief,

it is St. John & Mary Magdalene who frame

this telling within their curving bodies

turned parenthetical against the broken body of the Word.

St. John lowers the Virgin to the floor but it is Magdalene

bent more than Christ

who holds my gaze—her hands locked in prayer

as if she prayed well enough

he would be returned to them—& yet her body knows

this is impossible, a bargain the mind

makes too readily, & so her arms

open & pull against the locks

of her own fingers—a wrestle to focus truth

& admit how what is said cuts, cuts & hollows,

becomes the air around an event:

when love leaves, the body folds in half & that broken

promise descends & breathes softly in the corner, blinking—


Regardless of what is there to be seen


I woke up screaming
months after the accident
sure my arm was being crushed,
sure my bones were splintering,
soaking the sheets. Even when my mother
in her habit of comfort
said, “No darling, it’s gone, stop crying,
it’s gone,” I still believed.

Sometimes I make up horror
stories that aren’t mine. I get tired
of my own history—its lack of shine
and startle. You told me once
your theory: emotions
go extinct, Renaissance Italians had more
at their disposal. Still—
what longing resides in us?

Each morning I wake thinking
I am whole. Each day I remember
that I have forgotten. A city street washed clean
as I stall in front of the glass and stare—
if I raised two hands
to touch your face—
wouldn’t that be love? be grace?






Melanie Figg is the author of the award-winning poetry collection, Trace, which was named one of the seven best Indie poetry books of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews. Melanie is a recent NEA Fellowship winner and her poems and essays are published widely. As a certified professional coach, she offers writing retreats and works remotely with writers.