SPOTLIGHT: What I Meant to Ask: a chapbook by Meghan Kemp-Gee


is were you afraid I wouldn’t recognize you with this new face? Did you really bring one of those Hello My Name Is nametags? Are you the one who left me flowers, signed the card with smudged off-handed exes, open yawns of ohs?

And what was your name again? And what is your name now, now you are unexpansive as this mapped-out slab of land, now you have been pressed jewel-like and returned past-due into the closeness of my hand, and is this embarrassing you, what I’m asking, or do you just scare easily?

What have you been doing? Where have you been? Are you hungry, thirsty? Did you worry that I wouldn’t love you anymore, showing up like this? That you wouldn’t be safe among us wearing something else’s skin?


was we regret to inform you, you have not been selected, we are unable at this time.

This year we had an unexpected surplus of overqualified candidates. We had billionaires who almost saw the errors of their ways, we had dogs who answer to dead children’s names, we had angels and islands walking among us, we had glimpses of their faces behind their carelessly constructed floodwalls. We had old stories, we forgot the things we had to tell you, but we’ll certainly pass your name on if we hear of opportunities. We have you on file, we’re keeping you in mind, we’re shuffling your fragments like faces, like names.


is that once upon a time there was a girl walking home through a green and yellow forest, and on her way the path cut through a shaded meadow, and in that clearing she came upon an angel.

“What is your name?” the angel asked.

The girl said her name and then responded politely: “And what are you called?”

Angels’ names can’t be said in human words, but it said its name was something roughly like “The Feeling of Writing Something but Not Really Understanding What It Means Until You Hear It Read Out Loud by Someone Else.” Being a courteous and respectful child, the girl invited the angel back to her cottage. Having nothing else to do that afternoon, the angel followed her home.

As soon as it stooped through her low doorway, twitching its very numerous eyes and fingers, the girl offered her visitor food and drink. Taking note of her good hospitality by nodding at her with its many-jointed fingers, the angel said nothing. Instead, it hurried to her cupboard and returned with three cups, which it placed before her on the humble little table. Filling them with liquid, the angel asked the girl to choose which cup contained sweet, clean water and which was filled with deadly poison.

The girl passed the test, choosing correctly both times and thanking the angel for its thoughtful gift. After drinking deeply, it occurred to the girl to ask what was in the third cup, the one that was neither water nor poison. The angel said, “That’s not going to be part of this story,” and then, like all good houseguests, began to do the dishes without being asked.

The greater part of the girl’s life after that day has been lost to history, but I can summarize it briefly in case you’re wondering. She lived a happy life and reached a comfortable old age. At some point, she went on to found a new religion, something to do mostly with shady hillside meadows and yellow sunlight through green leaves. Her local following became quite popular for a few decades — that is, until a couple of borders shifted, some trade routes redirected, and (as happens in every place from time to time) something else came along. It may also interest you to know that the girl is still remembered by the older people in certain small villages, not as a prophet of bright green spaces and alien encounters, but as a model for well-behaved children and generous country hosts. Although linguists have been unable to concretely prove the origin of the phrase, she is colloquially understood to have invented an idiomatic expression denoting “a tall stranger,” loosely translatable as “one of those who wander far from home.”


is I don’t know how we saw you but we saw you, climbed down off the trail while my friends skied for help, kneeled down by you by the tree you hit, touched you, said the name on your lift pass, listened to you when you tried to speak, watched you drifting out and back and tried and tried to get you to say the alphabet, said it for you when you couldn’t, stopped and started it a dozen times, dug my fingers underneath your coat to find your pulse, found that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is nothing like I learned in first aid classes, found that breathing itself is nothing at all like what I thought, found in between our breathing, I found nothing, found there is no breathing, nothing at all until we pull the next one in, and found and found and found this name:

the color of your hat, your bright red right eyeball, your slow and milky vomit, the small splinters of your blood on your front teeth, your name, your heart that didn’t stop before the paramedics came, I don’t know if you died or didn’t die but I made you a poem, your blood got in my mouth.


is to leave one last word out in the dark. To find the unknown a name, something familiar.


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