Numbering the Dead, A Simple How to Guide

[015] remarkable

we left paper monsters under children's pillows. 

we feathered their mothers in flames. 

we followed their ghosts to the lake, showed them shallow waters. 

we brought back candle wax, red sheets. 

we paraded our wreaths of wings, and wept stories. 


[016] dark daniels 

horseflies over the moon. 
we drive our cars over ghosts of bridges:  
it is now or nothing. 

mattress, floorboards, children: 
all ephemera, 
disguises of shadows. 

blind drunk on stones, 
cutting a mess of arms in the backyard. 
(we wanted warm hands.) 

my only lament: 
burying skulls, 
i left my knife in a holiday home. 


[021] damned champion

black blades. the meadowlark
falls a lonely shadow,
a stone. 

hits like illness, like inhaling fire. 

councils of assassins 
search the valley apart

for a ghost heart to drag 
and drown. 

for a stake to drive through 
blood wings. 

i slept. i slept through it. 


[074] how the dragon happened

grief: a one-winged rabbit, 
sleeve caught in flight, blood sun. 
arm drawn to fire, to avenge, 
head a done dove: on. off. 

(the strength to tell you this.) 


[076] a disguise of light, cast. 

make the most of the moon
before hospital skies. 

every cloth burns, 
telling little. 

every body is a fiction. 

our beds a haloed cry, 
we supply fireflies.


[079] we wanted shoes. 

we come empty, 
come ghost outline of horizons 
now changed, 

pressed into light. 

a landscape traced and used, 
revelation of points, shadows: 

we saw you walk, 

and wanted you to see while we – 


[082] to forgive a friend

suppose, somewhere, a silhouette:

a swift passes silent windows,
sings a long lost nothing. 

suppose a forest, a chimney, a room. 

an apparition strikes: 

red wind on the table. 
five willows, keepers of dead ends. 

the spirit’s silence proves nothing. 


[090] meat cuts

they parked their death machines in our community.

they pointed at our names – i remember singing. 

they wanted our water, our cigarettes, the rest.

they pulled a few names by the sleeve and dropped them drunk.

their sprinkler struck, i swam and hid behind – i forget who. 

my name’s a mess. i can’t speak it without remembering the song 

they taught.           a shirt in the water is evidence enough. 

Lorelei Bacht

3 Questions for Lorelei

What was your process for creating this work?

a star-strewn mud-pile: Instead of translating the text myself, I decided to run it through a series of Google translations, to introduce some distance between the original and my new material, and hopefully to create some accidental beauty in the process. I reworked that first draft rather ruthlessly, taking out as much as possible. Although skeletal, this work is faithful to the spirit of the original song, which I know and appreciate for its delicate melancholy. 

numbering the dead: This series of poems was composed using lyrics from ‘Carrie & Lowell’, a studio album by Sufjan Stevens (2015). Each section uses words from one song exclusively. Minor adjustments were made, mostly for grammatical reasons. Some subtitles were added a posteriori and contain additional vocabulary. The numbers included in each subtitle are based on birthdates of victims of war known to the poet.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose?

a star-strewn mud-pile: I enjoyed abandoning all hope of translating this song properly (as a multilingual writer, I am all too aware of the difficulties associated with translating) and instead: reinventing it, appropriating it, speaking it in my own voice. My goal was to pare it down to its most essential features: its main ideas, the merest hint of a chorus, etc. By modernizing the text, I sought to extract its universal, intemporal meaning — how terrible a thing war is.

numbering the dead: These very short, fragmentary poems mirror how the traumatised mind works: it stops and starts, struggles to tell the full story, seeks images, separates emotions and facts, does not clearly say who did what.  

What is the significance of the work to you?

a star-strewn mud-pile: I recently found a photograph of my great-grand-father taken upon his return from the trenches in 1918. The look in his eyes struck me beyond words. Apparently, he came back as a completely different person — "half-mad", they said — and did not speak for a year. The sadness, the loss of meaning, the terror of a little child burnt in his face inspired me to revisit that period, and to look specifically for songs from that era, which all contain a gut-wrenching combination of naivety and disillusionment.

numbering the dead: This poetic series is part of my ongoing work on war and intergenerational trauma. To put it bluntly: I feel haunted by the dead, as if it were my mission to speak of their plight and give them back the voice they so tragically lost.

Lorelei Bacht enjoys tinkering with words. Sometimes, beauty happens. Some recent / upcoming work in Menacing Hedge, Barrelhouse, streetcake, The Rialto, Beir Bua, Backslash Lit, Sinking City, Mercurius, The Selkie, Abridged and elsewhere. Also on Twitter: @bachtlorelei and on Instagram: @lorelei.bacht.writer 

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