What We Cannot Ask, Lynn Hotes
What We Cannot Ask

First-year English major,
intimidated by Shakespeare,
I finally raised my hand
to ask why no one waded in
after Ophelia. 

Surely, if the Queen
could catalog crow-flowers,
nettles, daisies, and long purples
even recounting how the girl’s skirts
became saturated and sunk her--
then there was time. 

The Professor, a patient man,
told me, “That is not a question
we can ask of this piece.”

They trained me to parse words,
become intimate with the unknowable,
infinite mirrors reflecting back upon me.
Floating on the tide of post-modern feminism
I allowed those drowned women their symbols,
Ophelia, Edna, even Virginia
as they ordained.

Then a sacred text came to my unlikely hand,
written at the moment of extinction,
in an envelope sealed at every seam
by blood red tape that will never fade to brown
or be scrubbed away.

Insomnia is the worst part of grief
I wanted to drown—
forcing my face under
only to break the surface
worrying the words
I disappoint you.
It hurts too much to care.
another conclusion.
All I have done is brought pain.

Full of questions I cannot ask.

Shawna Mayer

(Italicized text from lines 7 and 8 taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 4, Scene 7, Line 140)