by Christien Gholson



Who owns the note to the house? CitiMortgage owns the note. No, it’s Freddie Mac. Trace the note through the ether and you’ll find it’s probably in a cloud on the net called MERS, an electronic registry – designed to track servicing rights and ownership of mortgages. No physical note exists. The “note” floats out there above the earth, bouncing between satellites: the transubstantiation of flesh into spirit.


Francisco Vasquez de Coronado attempted to conquer new lands for King and God. He had a huge retinue of soldiers, following him into the unknown. For gold. Coronado gave the Indians he encountered the opportunity to submit to his King and God before he lit them on fire, transubstantiating darkness into light.


The lawyer for CitiMortgage uses the “you’re a deadbeat” line on the woman in the dock because her mortgage payments are in arrears. The woman loses the case, her house. Later that night, she goes out into the backyard. Mars is close, a red dot in the blackness, burning. Her two children are asleep in their beds behind her. She vomits in the grass. This is the transubstantiation of wood into fear.


I’m stretched out on the linoleum below the open kitchen window. Blue-lit insect wings flap into and out of the apartment. There’s been another execution tonight. Thousands of volts. Everything burned away: guilt, innocence, love, hatred, memory. All memory gone. And now we can sleep. The insect wings beat softly against the heat, the streetlight. This is the transubstantiation of lips, eyes and hands into smoke. The soft whisper: forget, forget. Somewhere, at the edge of sleep, the cities of gold…


A sea turtle emerges from the waves. The ghost of Coronado sits on the shore, waiting. He has no idea what the turtle is. A living boulder thrown up by the sea? A hideous angel come to take him back into the womb? He follows the turtle to the foot of a dune, watches it dig until it reaches wet sand, then excretes tiny white globes into the hole. Eggs! As the turtle crawls back to the water, Coronado crawls onto the turtle’s shell. He will chance it, try to ride the turtle back into the sea, back into his childhood, start again, newborn. Turtle and ghost sink beneath the surface. This is transubstantiation of spirit into salt.

My Father’s Body

He’s on the floor again, passed out, naked. And I am the only one still willing to take him to his bed. Headlights sweep across the curtains. Out beyond the curtains, the war continues.

I talk him up from the floor. I repeat the words, calmly, clearly, so he can surface, pick himself up off the floor. I talk him through the steps up to his bedroom, to his wife, passed out, too, a half-finished mug of wine on the bed stand. Her nightmare shouts are what wake me to bring him to his bed. When we reach the bed, I see she is clawing the air again for no reason (Because there can never be actual reasons. What reasons can there be for jets flying into buildings? For a hellfire missile fired at a funeral for victims of a hellfire missile?)

There is a sycamore on the next street over. I sometimes slip out of the house after I put my father to bed, peel the white and grey bark with stiff fingers, pulling skin from skin, trying to get down to the bone.

A couple blocks over, cars move through the brittle air. My breath steams orange in the streetlight. No one remembers what the war is about anymore. I insert my fingers into the sycamore’s shadow, searching for my own body.

Night: A Vision

We drove for ten hours straight down 95, from Saugerties, New York, heading to Orlando. Mother believed Orlando was going to be a holy land of work: Disneyworld, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Wet n’ Wild – and all those restaurants. I am telling you this from inside a dream.

Right before nightfall, in the middle of Georgia, we followed signs to a state campground off the highway, set up camp in the middle of a thick pine forest. No one else was there. Was there something wrong with the place? It made my sister, Linnie, nervous. She’d been obsessed with death ever since my father took off. Mother told her to stop being such a baby. Remember, I am telling you this from inside a dream.

When the sun set it was so dark we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We had no flashlight. Mother and Linnie crawled into the tent. I was mad at Mother for scolding Linnie, so I continued to sit in the dark. Do you know the dark? Darkness out there was a creature that swallowed me whole. Crickets and cicadas boomed inside its stiflingly hot belly, a fierce wall of sound, louder than my rising panic. This is the dream. There was nothing else.

When you can’t see your own body, is it really there? Shapes came and went: men with ant heads and alligator skin; whispering bats with luminescent butterfly wings; the orange ash from my dead grandfather’s cigarette. I reached out with an arm that did not exist. Did I touch something? “Is someone there?” I said. I said it inside the dream.

The next morning, we woke, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, headed back to the highway. The car broke down in Jacksonville, so Jacksonville is where we ended up. Now, when I can’t sleep, I find myself at that campground, turning back as we pulled away, seeing my own body standing next to the picnic table. Some part of me was taken that night, enfolded into a vast body; fluid, amorphous, a black ocean with no shoreline…

My Father’s Body, Take 2


Those last weeks, we both watched TV, my body near his. His death sat on top of the screen; a pale, tiny homunculus. Both of us could see it, but neither of us mentioned it. When it first appeared, it could have been anybody’s death crouching there; the face still indistinct, without definition: a child buried in rubble in Tokhar, a man who suffered a heart attack in a Home Depot in Gary, a woman murdered in a US airstrike in Mosul.

A hand moved every so often, tried to get our attention…I’m here


I answered the phone, knowing it was him. I always answered the phone and listened to the same slurred words. Angry, confused. If it was raining or snowing, I’d open a nearby window, stand in front of it, let the rain or snow fall onto my skin. “You kids…taking everything from me…you have no idea what it’s like…” What were those drunk words hunting? They pounced here and there, came up with nothing.


After the last breath, his face went immediately white; wrist and fingers instantly cold. Mine, too. There was no blood left in the room. The air-conditioner rattled on. A hand waved somewhere – please, I’m down here, hurry

Patterns, Take 2


My grandmother gave me a tin full of love letters that she and my grandfather had written to each other before they were married, asked me to burn them after she died. The letters were written at the height of the Great Depression, in the early thirties.

 “Why me?” I hadn’t grown up around her, knew her only as stern and remote; a woman of few words. “I know if I ask you to burn them without reading them, you will…don’t be afraid.”


There is an energy pattern that hums through everything in the world: rocks, the wings of a fly, toy dump trucks, vases, books, turtle shells, even letters. A pattern made from the way the atoms of a thing jiggle in space, making a kind of song (beyond the range of human hearing).

I made a fire in my wood stove, crouched next to the stove door with the tin of letters. I could feel the pattern-energy of those letters coming through the tin; so many strange songs moving through my hands. And I thought: why am I doing this?

“Don’t be afraid.”


I burned the letters, stared into the fire through the glass. Were my grandparents hungry, angry, seeing only a bleak future stretch ahead of them forever when they first met? Had that made them fiercely alive? Did they mistake that survival struggle for love?

In the middle of the night, the letters were glowing embers, ash. Words that birthed my father, me, were ash. Words that now never were…

Don’t be afraid.

About the Author:

I’m the author of two books of poetry: On the Side of the Crow (Hanging Loose Press) and All the Beautiful Dead (Bitter Oleander Press; finalist for the NM book award); along with a novel, A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind (Parthian Books). A long eco-poem, Tidal Flats, was published last year by Mudlark (online) as a chapbook (issue 63). I live in New Mexico.