Beforelight by Matthew Gellman
Associate poetry editor Hannah Cajandig-Taylor on today’s bonus poem: When I first read this poem, my mind drifted towards Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”: cutting hair, a loss of innocence. Like the infamous song, this Matthew Gellman’s “Beforelight” demands the reader experience pain through images of trauma and longing and color.
I am thinking of the sister I wish I had,
red hair spilling over the sedan’s back seat
as a boy speeds her through the blue vein
of suburb and out toward the cedar forest.
Her finger hooked in the hole burned into the seat
by someone’s boyfriend’s ash, her head
tilted back, lulled by the driver’s junky radio:
Nothing’s gonna hurt you, baby, as long as you’re with me.
Even now, after years of trying to see her
striding into dusk, all beforelight, all promise,
her dress a galloping of small yellow wings,
my mind still delivers me only this:
that group of boys killing their engine
and doing to her under the cedars’ nimbus
things I will not say in this poem.
Not unlike the boy who held me underwater
in his swimming pool, July, his parents
not home, his whole body locked around me
as he pulled off my trunks, how even now
I can feel a small finger twisting my throat
when I try to tell it, if I were to tell it
completely, if I had a sister to tell.
When I find her along that highway
all her hair will be cut off. She will not speak
all summer and no kite will flutter
in her hands. But in winter, her hair
regrown, she will ask me to drive her
to that forest again, and clutching my arm
in hers, she will look out at the field
that broke her, not trying to say anything,
just rocking back and forth for a little while,
silent as the tundra glittering before us.
Matthew Gellman's poems are featured or forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Narrative Magazine, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Salmagundi, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Brooklyn Poets fellowship, an Academy of American Poets prize and a scholarship from the New York State Summer Writers Institute, and was included in Narrative Magazine's 30 below 30 list in 2018. Matthew holds an MFA from Columbia University and lives in New York City, where he teaches at Hunter College.