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How We Mourn

Winter Contest Runner-Up

CAS for Database

Natasha Bredle

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Turpin High School


How We Mourn


When I was ten the ants came and ended our world. I pointed

and screeched because I was unsafe. Now they return every summer,

black bodies chugging from the cracks in our porch screen door,

an unwelcome but expected parade. A fantastical troop, believing

time goes by but nothing changes. I bend down next to my mother

with a borax-soaked paper towel and wonder if they are really so wrong.

For months I follow the same routine. Each night I lay awake until

the gunshots at my temples stop ringing. I murmur ‘love’ over and over

like a fresh cut flower that needs preservation. But over and over again

it wilts, so in the morning, I search the sky and the rivers and the fields.

In the morning the pastor opens his mouth and, for the first time at the pulpit,

tells us he doesn’t know what to do. Eleven hundred miles away,

a fourth-grader’s cold body is cradled by the classroom floor.

Wasn't he was just breathing yesterday. Not spoken like a question. Wasn't he

just breathing. The Samaritan stands across the ravine, stock still.

The front line is alone. Like them, I am armorless.

I consume the cement. It consumes me. We become an ouroboros.

We become a stranger and lose our face.


Every few weeks I must relearn how to live

by going over what I know:

the bellow of a frog when winter keels;

snow used to fall like a coffin;

God does not want me to be his Elijah;

my mother once spilled her painkillers on the floor and cried;

I cry until I don’t believe myself;


the wind only blows two ways;

three years ago the scissors hurt less

than tracing the scars does now;

plagues come in plagues;


gunshots and silence;

not Moses either, but Lazarus before and after;

on the day I die it will all make sense;


blood stains are never lonely;

scratches mark the walls—

there is an animal in my room


My mother told me my brother had depression.

He played solitaire for hours on end, my mother

told me. ‘On end’ could mean vertical

or infinite. My father told me the difference between

feeling nothing and feeling everything is

you have everything to lose and everything to gain or

you have everything to lose and everything to gain.

My brother paints. I can let go of a breath when I see

a canvas on the easel. Today there is a figure.

The figure becomes a creature. Becomes a tortoise

gazing up, a glimmer in its eye. I love it, I say.

He doesn’t look up, but he knows. I love you, I told him.


The flag at half-mast droops like a gutted swan. Is this how we mourn?

The cement is still a part of me; I am still a part of the cement.

My singed mouth emits smoke. If I squint hard enough,

the brick building turns to ash. The ants realize they are marching toward

their slaughter and start to flee. I tap my mother’s shoulder. She embraces me.

For a moment the dust clears. For a brief second we find a way.


I’d like to commend how [Bredle] tackles the topic of gun violence and loss: the language itself was obscure, but [the] meaning was not, and I think that’s exactly what this piece needed.


Natasha Bredle is a scholar and writer based in Cincinnati. Her work has been featured in publications such as Words and Whispers, The Lumiere Review, and Basilisk Tree. She has received accolades from the Bennington College Young Writers Awards as well the Adroit Prizes. In addition to poetry and short fiction, she has a passion for longer works and is currently drafting a young adult novel.

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