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Hesse Phillips
Poetry

How We Became Gods By Disappearing

One day, we disappeared: some of us

in a flash of light, some in a puff of smoke.

Some faded-out, as in a cheap mirror-trick.

Some glimmered as we slipped from view,

fairy-lights in our hair and fingertips,

the curves of our shoulders, the slant of our hips,

constellations coruscating into space.

Some of us, no one saw leave. We stepped

out of the room, and never came back.

 

The others debated how and why we’d gone.

The self-assured and venomous, who had never

wanted us in the first place, rejoiced at our going.

But were we damned? Were we saved?

No one could agree. Some suggested

there was meaning in the way we left.

Those of us who had turned to stars, or who

went out in colours, like a sun-exposed photograph,

or who fell to the floor as flower-petals –

those of us who went beautifully, as opposed

to those of us who’d burst, unscreaming, into flames,

or crumbled to dust before their eyes –

surely, some of us were in a better place,

and some of us were not.

The debate fell upon familiar lines:

our grieving advocates on one side

and on the other, the ones who only wished

that our obliteration had come sooner,

who defiled our images in the forum

and called it sin to speak our names.

For these, our collective going

proved some kind of point.

 

Still, they wondered: had we

chosen this, or had we been chosen?

Had we expected it? Had we

worked it out amongst ourselves,

agreed upon the date and time?

Had some of us been left behind, or chosen

to remain secretly amongst them?

Had some of us been spared?

They splintered into schools of thought:

the ones who resented not having been chosen;

the ones who delighted in our good riddance;

the ones who sued for peace between factions

but kept private their relief that we

were no longer their problem;

the ones who mourned us, who built

museums to house our artefacts,

who founded charities in our names.

 

And they prayed. They prayed we would never come back.

 

And they fought. Fought to form themselves

into blocs as vast and strong as ours had been,

to force open with brute strength whatever door

we had stepped through as one.

 

And they waited. They waited to be chosen. They waited

for a sign from whatever took us, or allowed us in.

They waited for just one of us to return:

an Ambassador, with a cordial invite

and an exotic air, to lift

a corner of the curtain

and wave them through,

         the chosen ones.

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Hesse Phillips (she/ they) is a graduate of GrubStreet Boston's Novel Incubator program and holds a PhD in Drama from Tufts University. They were longlisted for the Bridport Prize in short fiction in 2019, and have been published in Embark: A Literary Journal for Novelists and The Bridport Review. In 2022, Hesse was an Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair finalist. Originally from rural Pennsylvania, Hesse currently lives in Madrid.

 

About the poem, Hesse says:

 

‘How We Became Gods By Disappearing, is about the many forms that withdrawal can take in response to oppression and violence, and the fine line between evanescence and escape.’