Brenda Shaughnessy
No Traveler Returns


I was like you once, a sealed plastic bag of water filters floating on the sea.


I thought my numbers proved my time and space on earth.


I thought having children was a way of creating more love.


I thought thoughts I was ashamed to speak in case they were what everyone already thought or in case they were unthinkable thoughts nobody would dare think much less say which would blow up the world everyone else had to live in if I said them.


I muddled that distinction to extinction—pure silence not a piece of peace and a breathlessness not of wonder but blackthroat, choking on backwash.


Once a wild tentacled screaming creature every inch a kissed lip of a beloved place, a true and relentless mind, all heart if heart is a dumb hope of reusable pump.


What was it you said that made me think I was like you once?





Remember the last terrifying moments? You clenched up and wanted me to be completely open.


We’d broken up (remember such terms? Such luxury? We thought breaking up a kind of preservation.) and to cut off circulation decided to sever at the place where our hair had grown together.

An axe, a pair of kitchen scissors. That rusty axe fully-fatigued and scissors which cut raw chicken bacteria into everything it touched.


Nothing did the trick. To come apart we’d have to come, together; and so I tried to make you come; you said it was our last time so you’d remember it.


You cried out, then cried and I cried and I hardened against you, then softened, then wished we could go back, wanted to love you like before, twisted myself like nobody’s pile of wires.


Did you try to make me come, and I couldn’t, wouldn’t? Or did I give you that and let you let me go?





And there will be no other way to be, once this way’s gone.  The last song on earth, the last jellybean. Last because nobody wanted it, or everybody sang it, till the end.


Once this day in November’s over never another.  Each day nothing like the last except that it’s the last and that’s new too.


Each moment broken glasses, a covered mirror, foxed. The waste stays in place. The rest disappears. The unrest, too.


There’s no way to follow my own mind. My own mind is not leading. I’m unleaded. I’m gasoline.


I’m everything in between this flame and that attracted wind.  I forgot my glasses—how will we drink?


Seeing isn’t believing if I believe I see better with something I can so easily forget.


And what if I can’t forget?  I forgot the heft and squirm of my own baby in my arms, in my own womb. 


I’ll forget anything and call it an accident, match to fuel and breathing it all in as if I’m living normally from day to re-registered day.


Why is it, if I can only remember what I myself experienced, that I can also forget what I experienced?  Who records the records and collects the recollections?


I had that baby in my womb for 39 weeks, for three quarters of a year, a full calendar minus summer. An unforgettable summer, each day fucking endless.


Oh I know all the numbers; everything adds up. I’ve never seen my womb but my doctor has.  I never saw that doctor again.







Found In Volume 48, No. 02
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Brenda Shaughnessy
About the Author


Brenda Shaughnessy’s forthcoming book of poems is The Octopus Museum (Knopf, 2019.)  Her other collections include So Much Synth and Our Andromeda, which was a New York Times’ 100 Notable Book, a finalist for the Griffin International Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Prize. She received a 2018 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a 2013 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. She is currently working on an opera libretto for the composer Paola Prestini, commissioned by The Atlanta Opera for production in the 2020 season. She is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark and lives in Verona, New Jersey.