Have you ever heard a story so forgotten
you can see the speaker knitting
tattered fragments back together, over and under
like Grandma in her rocking chair,
while Grandpa spins his tales about the war?
He didn’t serve himself,
but sure, he heard
the boom that made Hiroshima a buzzword
and sent echoes ‘round the world
and in the wombs of mothers
birth defects and tumors
all the blood and tears and bones
we made of each other.
Like a dropped thread,
the narrative’s picked up,
pulled into textbooks and memorials—
attempts to make sense
to salvage something of this larger work—
to question, What is the human?
or, What are we capable of?
Break these bodies like plastic,
tear these limbs from their sockets;
we are little more than parts.
See? all things not made to last,
we split so easily,
divided against ourselves
merely things to be discarded.
Women and children,
symbols of outrage,
ways to articulate the horror and disgrace
that we somehow cannot assign
to the ungendered loss of life,
these creatures are fragile!
And that’s how you make them feel.
See, infants and high heels will show you
something even mirrors can’t reveal.
So make sure they see their families in them.
There is our humanity blown to bits.
Catchy tunes will glamorize disaster
but that is not art.
Death is a pain that you feel for years after,
hereafter is all that we hear.
God, let that be enough
if we are vestibules, then fill us
with a purpose we can live on.
No more conspirators of death
when this mad world is surely grim enough.
Let’s lighten life a bit
while we remember those
whose bodies broke
This original poem by University of Chicago student Rachel Covil was inspired by George Cohen's 1962 work Vestibule (Phenomenology of Mirrors III) on display in the Smart Museum of Art's special exhibition Monster Roster: Existentialist Art in Postwar Chicago (February 11–June 12, 2016).
Produced in collaboration with Memento, the performance ensemble of the UChicago literary magazine Memoryhouse. Filmed and edited by Erik L. Peterson.