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.
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.’