The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Wider than the Sky by Nancy Chen Long


“Your Brain Doesn’t Contain Memories—It is Memories”

—after Emily Dickinson

Monarch butterflies may take up to five generations to migrate, the
needless veer across Lake Superior etched eons ago into their shared mind.
Had a mountain once been there? Origin is unimportant—avoidance is

the thing recorded. My ancestor’s mountains are mine as well. The deeper
the memory, the less sure its source. A mind can be more like sponge than
machine. I once heard that avoidance flows from father, not mother—the
mouse trained to fear cherry blossoms will mark that fear in his sea

of sperm. Modified DNA, a matter of survival. His offspring for
generations will run in terror of that scent. We humans hold
fast to words. Into a Rolodex of symbols, we accumulate them.
Mother. Father. Yours. Mine. A matter of identity. Language is the blue

chalk of childhood. To remember, we need to be able to name. To name is to
word, & to word is to grant meaning. As a child, words came out of the blue—
those I made up with my sister, then later, with my own children. The

urge to language, any language will do. We are wired to babble—one
person’s syllable is another’s sound. Still, each spring, hummingbirds return to the
missing feeder. In a room in my brain, Mother sings. Father, in another,


says It pays to increase your word power. A new word, confabulation. He & I will
chant it together. I’ll draw a line from it to the room of fabulous fable. We absorb
our parent’s fire the way a sunflower soaks up the sun. Our heads follow light, as

all livings things do. To keep her memory-rooms blameless, a daughter sponges
off the family’s stains, collects & recycles buckets
of water. She scrubs every room clean, the way she’s been taught to do—

This selection comes from Wider than the Sky, available from Diode Editions. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Nancy Chen Long is the author of Light into Bodies (University of Tampa Press, 2017), winner of the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry, as well as the chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). She is the recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. Her work was selected as the winner of the 2019 Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award and featured in Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Indiana Humanities. She works at Indiana University in the Research Technologies division. nancychenlong.com Follow at @NancyChenLong

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about gender and diversity issues. She’s also the Managing Editor of The Wardrobe and the Non-Fiction Editor of Doubleback Review. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens Literary Journal, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Selkie Literary Magazine, and Writing Class Radio. She’s currently an MFA Nonfiction candidate at Vermont College of Fine Art and lives in Riverview, Florida.

 

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