Susanna Childress

Retroactive Empathy: A Haunting

Retroactive Empathy: A Haunting

Last January, in the middle of a polar vortex, you gave birth to a baby. The snowstorm stacked itself four feet high and iced everyone in and did not quit, not truly, till April. This child would have been your third son, Jericho, a boy you cradled against you just once, already gone. 

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All Our Windows

by Susanna Childress

           That year when all we did was fight
and fuck, fuck and fight, I felt awful—we both did,
                        I know—for the guy who lived with us, who came home
            from the seminary to our shouts, one set sounding
astoundingly like the other. I never heard him

             arrive but always I heard him leave, which is when you
would turn, your neck strained as a horse’s
                        in parade, beautiful and frightened, listening for a mount
             on the stairs while I caught the pedals of his ancient bike
scraping toward a library of bibles, kids

              on the street playing Not-It and all our windows
flung up. Admit it: you didn’t know the difference—the sound of a door
                        opening, the sound it makes
            when shut. I kept thinking that year would end
with a quiet conference, that we’d sit him down

             in the breakfast nook, night’s clamped-shut-stink
still on his breath and begin, Look, Corey, we’re sorry. It’s just that
                        we’re having a baby. And then,
            everyone’s face blooming a stupid rose red, yours
the same as when you jog, low, a fiery swipe of color

            straddling your lips, he would forgive us
our ruckus, his eyes shining a little with what doesn’t spill, New
                        life, he’d say. And who knows. We each
            could’ve found a place inside to make sense of the snow
that started too early and would not, for anything, let up.

Originally published by New South,

Mistakes I Have Made

By Susanna Childress

I used to sing to the windows
of my father’s
failing truck alongside
the peat-bog-voice of Van Morrison
a sweet philosophic jumble
I never have parsed out. My father,
steady as a flume, touched my arm
once and corrected me: the question
isn’t “What’s the sound
of one man clapping?” but one hand,
and even then I sang, bright
with defiance, didn’t (want to) get it, how
could I, hounded by this one man
clapping—so grand,
really, astounding—some guy
in a hooded Celtics sweatshirt standing
out in the street, in the aisles
of an empty chapel, ten acres of tobacco,
a grocery mart, a fire escape, clapping,
clapping, clapping, clapping.

Originally published by Every Day Poems.

Under This Roof

By Susanna Childress

My brother
has come to live with us
and how could we know
how deliberate
his hands
would be: at the sink,
thawing beans
stringy from too hot a June,
smoothing hairs
that whisper about
my sons’ ears, locking the door
against the snow. His hands
move slow as a dream, the kind
where no one watches out
for you as you slip over
the edge and sprawl
wordlessly down mountains
of air or time or floors
of people doing ordinary things
like switching on a lamp
or thumbing coins
in a pocket or typing out
a dissertation on the circus
which is the only thing my brother
feels proud about doing
in his whole holy life
—and here he is, living
in our basement
and looking at me
over waffles
as though I have given him
to be grateful for.

Originally published by fugue. See more at 

When At Night Zane Says His Prayers

By Susanna Childress

The neighbor boy has cancer, has a fifty-fifty

chance, has taught my son how to play Wii, has spoken

of heaven, has planted four beans, has relapsed,

has used the word aspirate correctly in a sentence, has fallen

in love with our dogs which he is timid to admit

since his own dogs are nearly as lovable, has grown

his hair back, has mentioned Jésus, too, has cancer

and gave him a Hello Kitty sticker yesterday

at hemoc—hematology/oncology, has transformed

legos into a pixilated basket of fruit, has blown up

a balloon and tied it to himself with a string, has beaten

the highest score in Rubble Trouble, has relapsed,

has built a fort with my son featuring moat,

back door, and windows, all out of snow, has prayed

for Jésus and also Ben and also Tara and also Cameron

and also for my son, who does not have cancer

but a stomach virus which kept him from playing

Sidewalk Chalk and for which this kid remembers to lift

the syllables of my son’s name from his tongue to God,

like Pop Rocks, blueberry-blue, crackling, loud,

my son’s name in that boy’s open, irreducible mouth.


This appeared on Antler,

Follow the link to read a previous interview with Susanna Childress.