History is Knowing by Collier Nogues

This poem is built in Twine, the online storytelling tool. Depending on which highlighted words you choose, in which order, the poem’s sections unfold differently. To read the poem in Twine, or rather to play it, please click here or follow the QR code at left, and then click “run poem.”

“History is knowing that one receives not only what happens, but what could have happened, what we wish could have happened, what did not happen.”


–Lawrence Lacambra Ypil

What happens

my mother says yes to my father
my father is too old for the war
the war comes for him anyway
its way is to fill him with lack
like a house alone in the cedars
see, there she is in the kitchen
catching feathers from a butchered hen
our own hen for dinner again
and again a slaughter her hands
handing off the duty of killing
killing a chicken is easy for him
for a man who has yearned for
trained for but missed all the wars

What could have happened

my mother said yes to my father
my father was four years younger
young as the other soldiers
so dear to God and to their mothers
math in no one’s favor
fever as likely to kill as a bullet
built to flee its chamber
anger is red and so is danger
faint or ringing on and on
and on his future full of bells
belying any calm he had before
or after they were married
marry me marry this noise forever

What I wish could have happened

my mother said yes to my father
my father was not a drinker
drinking lightly in the morning
morning was instead the realm
reliably of work they could be proud of
often hard but full of pleasure
surely they’d have loved each other
over decades what’s the over/
under on a marriage left alone by war

What did not happen

my mother said no to my father
my father said no to the war
the war said no to its welcome
we came to the world without it
without it we came to each other
another war might come, we thought
we thought we could say no to it
it came one afternoon to meet us
useless as we were to rage
it raged and raged all by itself
a self-immolated pile of cinders
rendered soft as fur
our fear burned with it

Collier Nogues is assistant professor of Creative Writing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She writes at the intersection of digital and documentary poetics, with an emphasis on making connections across decolonization and demilitarisation movements in the U.S. and in the Pacific. Her poetry collections include the hybrid print/interactive volume The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground (2015) and On the Other Side, Blue (2011). Her creative and scholarly work has been supported by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, and her writing has appeared in Jacket2, ASAP/J, The Volta, At Length, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day Project, and elsewhere. She is a core collaborator in the Yale-NUS project DOCUMENT, which gathers artists, writers, and historians to explore transdisciplinary approaches to archives. She also edits poetry for Juked.