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Katherine Riegel

In Which I Consider Depression and the Fall of Humanity in the Context

of My Dog’s Misbehavior

The chemical make-up of my brain is part lemon, part lost

child, part maple seed spinning to earth. Did hunter-gatherers

suffer depression? I read somewhere our Neanderthal genes

predispose us to it, but I also read trauma is handed down

like family china you never use but cannot bring yourself

to give away. Who doesn’t have trauma in their family tree?

Violence regular as seasons, hurt we learned early

never to talk about. I want to believe agriculture ruined

paradise—the labor that stooped our backs, the overseers

feeling power take root in their stomachs with its parasitic

poison, and money money money my god money—but maybe

we killed off the mammoths and giant sloths millennia earlier

like some toxic human spill. When I put down

the goodness in myself and can’t find it again,

I travel back through time

searching for the source of evil. What does it feel like

to know you deserve to be alive? Even when the slow boat

of my brain is making good headway, the spray cool

and sparkling, all I can do is fail

to think about it. And yet my love

flailing down the path as our dog dragged him

and his half-invented word that made me laugh

so hard I could not move my feet:

I almost went flugeling he said

and even remembering

my stomach contracts, my mouth

stretches in that weird miracle of biology and culture

that must prove some kind of divinity

still lives in us, no matter how far we keep falling.

Getting Older with Cruelty

Even in dreams I am lonely, given permission

for that word by the dead poet

I loved at nineteen and still do

though a friend told me something awful

he had supposedly done and it broke loose

a boulder that turned the river

to a trickle that sometimes goes almost dry.

Aging is not accrual but loss,

branches pulled off and the scars

healing more imperfectly every year

so it’s just a matter of time until the heartwood

rots. Meanwhile humans fail

to live up to the promise of their carbon,

little pieces of the universe come together

just so to make each of us.

So I woke to a world aflame, beaten, shot

and swept by disease. Should I take comfort

that the insects the poet loved

spin and sing and shine

still? Though they do not belong to us,

their lives are ours to take. I want to live

with those who cup such travelers

in their hands and carry them outside again—

a tenderness it is too easy

to forget to do. My father

forgot the anger he wielded during my childhood

like forgetting a bag by the side of the road.

He became the man whose eyes watered

in church, moved to memory by the hymns,

transported to the hills and clear streams

of a Pennsylvania probably gone now.

I’m not saying I forgave him

before he died, but the hurt

gained an expiration date. Like this world:

knowing it can’t last, we may still choose

to love it while we can.


My dog is at the vet to be spayed.

A document entitled “symptoms” is open

on my screen, though it also lists

medications and side effects and possible

diagnoses. Two friends live with MS

and two with autoimmune diseases carrying

complicated names. My brother

must have his throat stretched from the inside

every year. All my siblings remember

ailments our parents and grandparents had

better than I do, though now

my sister with her family knowledge

is gone: cancer, echoing down the generations

from our grandmother to her daughter to hers,

all three women with the same first

names. How delicate these bodies are,

thrown this way and that with every tide.

Imperfection built in, so easy to harm,

like the poor dogwood sapling I planted

in too much sun, its leaves burned and curling

around the edges. I want to line up

my loved ones and touch each of them

with a wand: you will be well, and you,

and you, and you. An epidemic of wellness.

See? I would be a benevolent god. My love

would not require suffering. But didn’t I drop off

my sweet dog at the vet, knowing

what would happen to her there?

We’re All Standing in Line for That

Someone in Florida (always Florida) was caught selling

tickets to heaven for a hundred bucks. Drugs, Jesus,

outer space—the details don’t matter, only the certainty

that nearly anyone would pay a hundred dollars

to get to heaven, and the surest way to get there

is to be dead. People don’t like to talk about it,

but many of us think about being dead,

and how it just might be better than being alive.

In heaven surely the news doesn’t slash you

with the screams of children pulled from parents

seeking asylum in one of the richest countries

in the world. In heaven surely we’ve all found

our purpose, and yes maybe that purpose is to take

the very best drugs anyone has ever imagined

and sit around chatting with Jesus, who must be

one hell of a guy if he said even a little

of that stuff about loving your neighbor and helping

the poor and heaven being a rich-asshole-free place

because no kind of camel is getting through the eye

of any kind of needle. Of course what do I know

about being dead? On my resume under Experience

it’s all just living: watching my parents die

and my sister die and my brothers and me getting older

and none of us flying to outer space with the billionaires,

just trying to remember the old songs

so we have something to do while we’re waiting.


Katherine Riegel is the author of Love Songs from the End of the World, the chapbook Letters to Colin Firth, and two more books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Offing,, and elsewhere. She is managing editor of Sweet Lit. Find her at


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