On Nostalgia
Emily Arnason Casey


In her hands, a small bird like an organ stitched outside the body, delicate and feathered. The bird has died and she carries the carcass, which to her is still the bird. Its liquid-black eyes are pupiless and from its mouth a drop of blood spills. It had flown into the window.




My brother is a boy, and there is my sister, also a child, with her white-blond hair, the day she killed a rabbit. It was an accident. She dropped the tiny creature. It curled its spine as it fell, stretched its body as though reaching for her. I could see what was about to happen. The neck of the rabbit snapped at the spine upon landing. She bent and cupped the limp rabbit in her hands.
“Oh,” I said, “it’s OK.” I wanted to comfort her. “It’s not your fault,” I whispered. My hands came up to cover my mouth.

“I know!” she cried.

And now I don’t remember what she did. All I see is her frail child’s body in a pink bathing suit, her voice like one who knew no darkness, as though darkness existed only beyond her.

“I know!” she said again, let us pretend, and then the rabbit was gone and so was she.




And what if the organ, dead, worked its way to the outside of the body, worked its way through the skin to surface like a sliver of wood? If the body can generate life, why not regenerate? Plucked like an apple—torn away—leaving the skin paler and pink-hued, a scar to mark its deliverance. Here is my old heart; I’ve grown one anew. We would stretch out our hands and give thanks; we would let it dry and hang it from a string above the baby’s cradle. Let the dog play fetch with it. We would leave it in a shoebox in the closet and find it years later, only to wish we had given it away already.




It is autumn and we are all grown up, my siblings and I. In the yard out back I sit with my son, nearly two-years-old. He picks the burdock I have told him not to pick, one stuck already in his downy red hair. I watch him, my love unrestrained, fiercely protective of this one life, and yet weary in the way one who has learned to distrust her instincts grows weary.




The sky is blue and the clouds catch there. They are smoky and bone white. Their edges light up like neon signs. I close my eyes and listen. I hear the geese honking in the distance, a screeching like children in the schoolyard. But when I open my eyes I can’t see them—not yet. This strange honking comes to me like something from another time, like nothing of this time, time-out-of-time, in the space of this era where we touch each other not with hands, hold each other not with voice, where we kill each other not with gun but—a body shucked, limp on a screen. A body breathless and alone in the dark of a bedroom, the gun turned the wrong way.


Nothing remains of what I held true as a child.

First used as a term for soldiers, nostalgia meant homesickness.

It is a longing for home,

the home of memory,

a place to which one can never return.




The geese are afloat now in the sky; beautiful, black bodied, dark bodies fly there in pitched arch. I hold my son in my arms. He points with small hands. I don’t know what he sees, as he cries out. But he is pleased. Later we will roll in the grass and he will jump on me again and again, screaming with bodily pleasure, wild with exhaustion.




I am always trying to get at something that exists, rests, lives, just around the bend. Trying to unearth the secret pain so that I might examine it, give name to its spiny features, and sing it back to sleep. There were years when I lost everything. But they passed.

We believe in our immunity, that our privilege vaccinates us from caring about the dead, lost, imprisoned, stolen, or enslaved. Not those somewhere else, those over there, but right here—the invisible ones. And our children—God, our children—they cannot be here in this paragraph too. How many times I have prayed over mine, Please, don’t take him from me. I beg of you. Who suffers in exchange for our freedom? Whose children if not ours? Let us forget that I have said this.

Dead organs make their way to the skin, memory of what has been. There is the golden field where you walked with your sister under the balled up sun—can you hear the wheat swish in the prairie wind? And there are the days you lay among the statues with your lovers, promising never again. You will pluck them like strange fruit or let them fall upon the loamy earth and become fertilizer.

Let us pretend that the body regenerates anew. We will covet what is rightfully ours—our memory, our longing, our home, our money, our children, our freedom. We will return from war to the world we imagined while we sat safely in rooms making robots do our killing, all of our wounds tucked away like secret lovers. We bleed from the inside out.




In her hands, a dead bird, cupped there as she flees. Its feathers catch fire in the light. Nothing really is as it seems to be here, in the quiet of the world. Beneath a sky of gunmetal gray, the baby sighs in your arms, and sleeps and dreams.