Michelle Kingdom © 2018

Michelle Kingdom © 2018

by Lisa Dordal

Survival guide for a depressive


Draw a map, out of scale,
to the house where you grew up.
Draw snow, then rain.
Draw your mother
riding a horse in a state
she never mentioned.
Nebraska, perhaps.


Pretend you are the silhouette
of a woman you do not know.
Or a girl who smells faintly of lime.


Learn to hunt beetles and worms.
Declare yourself part shaman,
part musical bow.


Lie down beside the remains
of an old fire and pray
to the god you believe in. Pray
to the one that you don’t. 


Think of buried things:
teeth tucked into fissures;
craniums and seven small vases;
a sandal engraved with birds
and the words
Wear in good health.


Raise your voice
to the Milky Way—
call it winter road
or backbone of night.


Watch a flock of birds—
so many brains
all at once—in the sky. 
Notice how the sky
begins at your feet.


Draw three doors
on a sheet of paper. Look back
before you enter.




There will be days when the word mother
will burst out of you

like the black smoke of a squid, a fire
deep inside water. Anyone can become

animal or a flicker of light.
Remember infinity

means unfinished,
and time doesn’t move

at the same speed for everyone.
Remember mother

contains not just the sea
but the darkness of the sea.

And there is no such thing
as a half-life for grief.

Even oceans contain waterfalls
and your mother is inside

everything that you write—
sometimes as melody,

sometimes as mountain
or bone. Every time

you hear the word, you become
something else.


Lisa Dordal, author of Mosaic of the Dark from Black Lawrence Press, teaches poetry at Vanderbilt University. A Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets University Prize, her poetry has appeared in Best New Poets, Ninth Letter, CALYX, Vinyl Poetry, and the Greensboro Review. lisadordal.com