Tell me: do the living still outnumber the dead?

Every day I reach blind into a well full of covenant.

My morning is grasping at beached eels. How many as there have ever been, and all at once.

My stillbirth is always aging in portraits, black and white — gradient an un-respected skill. Film was never enough.

Blame it on weather balloons, but every house can’t help but haunt itself. It’s in the grain of the wood, the exuberance of foretold patterns of that we are made to accept. Heredity unsought but with us all the time. EKG a topography, crests and troughs between wavelengths of conspiracy. Lintel pretending to hold up a door, a span of closing in. Beams of someone’s light.

We put lithium in the water supply because it’s only polite.


  1. Len Kuntz


    Wow, this is a stunner. There are so many intricate and florid lines to gawk and fawn over, to parse and explore again and again. This felt like it was bleeding. So tender yet raw. Honest but rough.
    It may be my favorite thing you’ve ever written, especially with that killer gavel-slam ending.


  2. Trent


    I’m not sure what’s being avoided, or eluded here, since
    as Len says, there are some striking lines.

    I’m partial to “Blame it on weather balloons” for some reason –

    As though there’s some kind of black hole like pull, toward something, with houses
    that “can’t help” the haunting.

  3. Emily Bertholf

    Whew Sarah! Every word is heavy lifting here and every line is wailing, building a crescendo of haunting loss and resignation. I have read this ten times and just keep going back in, unable to be swayed or lulled by the lithium. I love all of it, the reversal and implosion of Dorian Gray vibes with the stillborn portraits, the EKG a topography. Oh yes, Sara! This is from the gut. Thank you for sharing it, I feel it. I feel it. The weight of all of it, the spirits pressed in, so much for light as a feather… big love.

  4. Kathryn Kulpa

    I was going to pull some specific lines out to admire, but each line is so quotable! “Every house can’t help but haunt itself” and “We put lithium in the water supply because it’s only polite”–they feel like tiny, tiny micros in themselves. I feel as though the narrator, who may or may not be a ghost, is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of all the dead, who surely outnumber the living.

  5. Meg Tuite

    Hi Sara,
    LOVE that you start with a question. “Blame it on weather balloons, but every house can’t help but haunt itself. It’s in the grain of the wood,”
    And ‘it’s only polite’ had me laughing. This is a packed beauty moving from ‘beached eels’ to ‘stillbirths’ and then the hauntings. YES! LOVE THIS!

  6. AJ Miller

    Sara, oh man that image of the beached eels wiggled its way into my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. I love the idea of the stillbirth aging in portraits. That line is so good and really puts meaning to the rest of the piece. There’s sadness, and grief, and avoidance and litium to add to the water to make everything okay. I don’t think there’s anything I could recommend to improve here because it seems just right as it is. Really great job.

  7. Aimee Parkison


    Wow, this is apocalyptically poetic! “We put lithium in the water supply because it’s only polite.” Funny, memorable, witty, yet ominous, like a commentary on our times when everyone is medicated or needing to be to get through the hell of what we deal with every day. Medication is healing but also mind-altering avoidance of the physical reality.

    “Every house can’t help but haunt itself.” Incredible! I love it!

    This could be a poem about the end of the world or a poem about a private horror like a lost baby.

    I’m captivated by the pregnancy mystery, the stillbirth that haunts the piece and how that works with the title of “Avoidance.” I wonder if one might read this as a narrative about postpartum depression after the loss of a baby and how strange the world might seem to a woman who suffers the symptoms of giving birth, though the birth was stillbirth.

    Perhaps it is entirely figurative, an extended metaphor.

    I love this writing so much! There is so much for the reader to ponder and explore.

    If you want to keep developing it, my sense would be to decide to go further in one main direction—either literal or symbolic. If literal, give a few more clues about the situation, including backstory and present stakes. If figurative, go allegory. What does the metaphor symbolize, and how it is connected to the context of the title, which is so fascinating in light of these bewitching images?

    I suggest you might send this to a journal as a poem or hybrid form. Some journals that come to mind are The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and Okay Donkey.

    Best, Aimee

  8. David O'Connor

    Sarah, what a string of mad, bad images that rock! I wouldn’t change a thing, I might think about this line a bit–How many as there have ever been–see if it’s pulling its weight, maybe a reiterate the subject inside it–other than that, love it like cactus juice and whiskey–that last line has a bite, a real mule kick, I felt it. More!

  9. Lucy Logsdon

    This reads so like a poem, and probably is–but no matter what we call it, I love it, The jaded tone of voice of the narrator, of one who had seen much, but is still willing to see more, is wonderful. I love your closing line in particular-/it explores the irrationality behind so many of humanity’s choices/decisions yet sounds so rational. Something I think your entire piece is about–i.e. the irrationality of the seemingly rational. Nicely executed. Thank you.

  10. Gloria Garfunkel

    This reads to me like the confused aftermath of the devastation of experiencing a stillbirth, where nothing seems stable, the house caving in, life feeling outmatched by the overwhelming recent death, the remnants of the birth feeling like beached eels, the only remnants an EKG topography, an aging ultrasound photo perhaps. The Lithium at the end as polite only emphasizing the distance she is trying to put the crashing in feelings of grief. It’s beautifully written.

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