All posts by BLR Staff

Sharla R. Yates

sharlaSharla R. Yates lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her flash and poetry have been published or forthcoming in Albatross, Lynx Eye, The Boiler Journal, Hartskill Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Poetry City, USA, Shadowgraph Quarterly, and Pretty Owl Poetry among others. Her poetry manuscript What I Would Say If We Were To Drown Tonight was a finalist for the 2015 Villa Paper Nautilus contest.
 

Two Truths and a LIE

1.

I’m attracted to men who are Taken. Claimed. Off-The-Market.

I slept with Harmony’s boyfriend. Harmony, who ate with her mouth open, eyeing everyone like she wanted to punch them in the throat, who scavenged for attention like a dog chained for too long, held too little. Harmony, who drove forty-five minutes to check out some boys from Job Corps fishing on the South Umpqua even though I asked to go home. Harmony, who blared Steve Miller’s Band through broken speakers, and who wore her jeans so tight that her belly hung over them like rising dough in a bread pan, who would glance at me during arguments with her parents and smile because trouble was the only thing we had in common. Harmony, who slammed the sliding glass door and stomped back to the car because Nate had turned off the porno when it made me uncomfortable.

Harmony had left me behind alone with Nate.

 

So that’s how it began.

 

I liked that Nate apologized to me when he wouldn’t to Harmony. I made him apologize a lot. For being late. For kissing too hard. For calling me from County.

“Call her,” I said. “She’s pregnant.”

I hung up the phone before he could finish saying sorry.

 

2.

If I knew your husband was cheating, I wouldn’t tell you.

I’ve made that mistake before. I told my sister, Sharon, that Dan had pressed himself down on me, squeezing my breasts while moaning, and I had to force him off. Dan had said with brewery breath, to keep it our secret. When I called Sharon, told her what had happened, she listened in a hushed stillness. I heard distant ambulance sirens on her end of the line and imagined her standing outside Whole Foods; empty cloth bags wadded under her arm, cellphone pressed to her ear, her nostrils flaring like an angry kid. For two years, she never returned my calls.

I understand why she chose Dan over me. Husbands are hard to come by, especially third husbands.

I wouldn’t tell you if your husband was cheating because once he squeezes my inner thighs, and his thick tongue enters my mouth, I’ll wish it was over.

 

3.

My husband was married before.

Sometimes I need him to remember. I ask him questions about what she was like. I make comments about how strange it is that he once was with someone else. I reminisce aloud about how much time has passed since I went to church that Sunday. Remember that Sunday?

 

Someone hands me a bulletin and asks me how I know the deceased.

I say, “I thought there was church service today.”

From the back of the room, a home video plays on a white projector screen. I wonder why I’m still here, but figure I have to wait to catch the bus anyway, so I might as well stay. In the home video, the twenty-something woman, whose picture is in the bulletin, uses a handheld camera. She turns it on her friends and herself, making faces. She knows already that she has terminal cancer. She’s talking about the Chemo, what to do with her expensive bra collection.

She takes a drag on a cigarette and says, “My mom’s going to be so mad at me.”

Then someone behind the camera chuckles.

After the video goes black and the music clicks off, it is possible to hear chair legs scraping the floor and every sniffle and cough. Her husband stands and addresses the crowd.

“I’m here to remind you how much she loved you,” he says. “That’s what she would want. She would want you to remember how special you were to her.”

I think I want to be loved that much.

 

Months later, I would learn her dying wishes. He was only twenty-eight. Finish school, she said. Travel the world. Get out there and date somebody.

We were engaged a year later.

We keep her ashes in an urn at his mother’s house until the time we can spread them in the Thames. Another demand— go to London.

 

There are still times I ask him to say something to conjure her ghost into the room. I want him to say that she was the best person he had ever known, the smartest, the funniest. She shimmers in those moments. Translucent glory: red hair, a white mink coat, gold fingernails. She laughs as if she just heard the most delicious joke.

            Have you heard the one about my widower and his new wife?

            No?

I was just dying to introduce them.

Marilyn Kallet

Marilyn Kallet has published 17 books, including The Love That Moves Me, poetry from Black Widow Press. She has translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems, Péret’s The Big Game, and co-edited and co-translated Chantal Bizzini’s Disenchanted City (with J. Bradford Anderson and Darren Jackson.) Dr. Kallet is Nancy Moore Goslee Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Each spring she leads poetry workshops for VCCA-France in Auvillar. She has performed her poems on campuses and in theaters across the United States as well as in France and Poland, as a guest of the U.S. Embassy’s “America Presents” program; recently she performed with Ivy Writers Paris bilingual poets series, and with Plume at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris.

 

Paris Elegy

On Rue Bichat
on the shattered street
you want a poem

for Friday.
I have only
words

that hang heavy
in the air
like church bells.

129.
129.
129.

Notre Dame
stays locked
until Thursday.

A precaution,
you understand.
Words?

I have Sunday
blue sky above
the Seine,

police boats
and foot patrols,
grumpy tourists

who “came all this way”
and can’t enter
la Chapelle.

I have one family
at home
in Tennessee,

another here,
in Paris,
smaller now,

reduced to long echoes,
130
low sounds.

 

 

Ode to a Lost Poet

You abandoned me
during the worst violence
Paris has known

since World War II.
You are no
friend,

no human.
True, humans
do this.

And worse.
Worse.
You are no longer

a poet.
Poets must have heart.
True, some

manage words
without love
or courage.

The moment you
were not center
stage, you backed

out.
No word.
I sat alone in

Hotel Quartier Latin
watching the loop
of butchery on TV.

You created
a black hood of
silence for yourself.

“You can read
if you want to,” you emailed, at last.
“But my poetry must wait

for a more tranquil time.”
I was strapped into the plane
at LaGuardia on

9/11, waiting
to take off.
Sorry, the pilot said.

Now I’m here,
in our beloved Paris.
Writers and friends do not wait.

Delaville Café
stays well-lit, open for poetry, camaraderie.
The amps have been plugged in.

The audience wants words: comfort, rage,
anything. Attendre? They attend.
“We need to laugh!” someone says.

Down the road, Place de la République
is packed, despite warnings.
Almost midnight: friends and strangers

raise candles, compose notes.
Wait for peace?
Yours will be long, Madame.

Your poems can
rest, tranquil as dust,
as a drug.

You lost me
in the dark night
of treachery

and self-love.

Nancy Chen Long

nancychenlongNancy Chen Long is the author of Light into Bodies, winner of the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry (forthcoming, University of Tampa Press, 2017) and the chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). You’ll find her recent and forthcoming work in Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Bat City Review, the Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, and elsewhere. Nancy received a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology and an MBA, worked as an electrical engineer, software consultant, and project manager, and more recently earned an MFA. She lives in south-central Indiana and works at Indiana University. www.nancychenlong.com

 

nancy-chen-long-poem

Barbara Sabol

barbara-sabolBarbara Sabol is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Original Ruse (Accents Publishing) and The Distance between Blues (Finishing Line Press). Her work has most recently appeared in The Examined Life, San Pedro River Review, Ekphrasis, Common Ground Review, Pentimento, Chrysanthemum, Modern Haiku, and Pudding Magazine, as well as in a handful of anthologies. Barbara holds an MFA from Spalding University. She won the Jean Irion Prize in poetry in 2014. Barbara reviews poetry books for the blog, Poetry Matters. She is a speech therapist who lives and works in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio with her husband and wonder dogs.

 

Echolocation

Sound prevails under the ice small light in the depths—where
the beluga travels, north to Cook Inlet. Apart from mating, breath
her strongest instinct; Eskimo, spear, an afterthought. The burden of ice
is relieved by the echoes of her twitter-clicks, telling her here is a sliver
of open water, here is your breathing. The ice-bound ocean her intimate
aquaria, the white whale navigates the margins of air and water.

Above the ice the polar bear waits, waits for the streak of white to pass
beneath his paws, for the first pulse of water between the floes. He is learning
to decipher her song, learning exactly where to stop, when to scoop his great
foreleg against her heft. But this one, ah, she has tuned her voice not only
to the air above, but to what it shapes itself around, and with that knowledge
she swims backwards, holding her breath.

Triin Paja

Triin Paja is an Estonian, living in a small village in rural Estonia. Her poetry has appeared in The Moth, BOAAT, Otis Nebula, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Gloom Cupboard, The Missing Slate, and elsewhere.

 

Murmuration

you say its kindness, the way dusk gathers 
its skirt-hems, walks to the wheat field, 
leaves. how a cat leaves an old woman’s lap,
ribbons of light fluttering in the wind.
kindness, you say, as the sun disappears in
your throat, leaving me beneath the grey belly
of the whale-sky. I hear spring shatter its
perfume bottle, the clouds clinging to tin roofs
with soft hands. I have kissed your hands.
when we cannot speak, we press our bare skin
against silence’s bare skin—I want to say
when you die they will not find blood but birds 
in the body. how kindness is always forgiveness,
the thrushes covering us with the insect netting
of their song. how somewhere we pearl into
a bone-white memory, rising, collapsing,
like a lover’s breathing after a vodka-darkened
night, after the ghost of the orgasm leaves us.
how somewhere the stones are writing us,
the dandelions flickering in a kind of light.

 

Thanatos

we hear the conversation between the wind,
the reeds. we hear the church bells where
there is no church. we’ve come here to be
forgotten, here, where the deer touches
the mildewed stones. the linen of fog
dresses the river—the river Lethe
running through our bodies
when we touch. this light of bodies,
flickering, climbing into the night
of another’s limbs, the moss of skin.
you say the world has become Lethe.
you say, and the bird of your voice grows old,
the wings spread slowly. you enter me
as one enters a river, your warmth on my skin
like paint. you say the speed of forgetting is a river,
your wheat-bruised hands in a mustard field of light.
when I touch you in the river, I do not know
if it is you I touch or the water.
are you a river? are you a dream?
your pulse in the river

like a blue stone, like a song.

 

Senescence

the wine begins to glow like a gas lamp inside us
because in this city no one has hands. we saw the boy
with the purple scarf. his silhouette was a monolithic statue. 
the vegetables begin to rot. we forget the nightmares
of the oiled seagulls. how our mothers waited for hours
for the sugar, the flour, beneath the moth-flickering factory light.
there are nights when the lilium becomes the moon.
the hair of the wheat swells in the snow and we become
what the crows didn’t take with them. someone cries
in the tractor shed but here I am washing your back.
I gather up the yarn, the mandarin peels. moon-soaked, desperate,
our memories begin to disappear like elephants from ancient china.
to be this feral with emptiness. to come to you as to a body
tied to an oak tree. the paint of your name peeling from the walls.
the moon clinging to a branch like a luminous owl. the river
where I gave names to your bones. a polaroid of Rome.
a boy, a man. a hand, trembling, and trembling.

Sarah Nix

sarah-nixSarah Nix is a writer and artist living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received a BFA in 2006 from Herron School of Art and Design. Her poetry has appeared in CALYX Journal, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and Sugared Water. Her blog is sarahonpaper.blogspot.com.

 

 

The Easel

Where paint
dripped
where his brush
missed the canvas
or color
rubbed off the edges
where each
of his pictures
left its mark

 

 

Museum Pieces

Cup, Sasanian Period

When he brought its lip
to his lips, he closed his eyes.

He could not see
thousands would come to look

into the void of its mouth.

 

Egyptian Cuff

For how many years
did it clasp
her wrist like a hand?
Come here.

Don’t leave us with this
emptiness.

 

Dutch Timepiece, 17th Century

pinned open like a specimen.

 

Bowl, Song Dynasty

White pedestal,
glass case.

The way we imagine
it held by hands.

The way
it will never be again.

 

 

Seascape

This is the dark butterfly of the mountain,
its image rippled in the water.

The rocky coastline softened
by fog.

The instance we knew iridescence:
close-up of the beach, fragments of shells.

And this—taken just before
my hat flew into the wind

and was lost to the ocean.
Let it go. Forget

the rust-bitten signs,
tangles of power lines.
How we framed out the crowds,
the traffic and trash, our quarreling.

This is the mountain. Fog.
My dress in full bloom. Our wind-

posed hair. These are clouds,
trees. This is the sea.

Amanda Boyle

Amanda Boyle is a short story writer from New York. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. Her stories have also appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Sweet Tree Review, Critical Quarterly, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.

 

Following

About half a year after I died, I saw Greer at the supermarket.  Greer and I went to high school together.  I’d always had a bit of a crush on her.

Grocery shopping, after my death, was a calming force to my mom: here were concrete things to collect from a list, and a sense of completion at the end of it.  She could even do it alone.  At first, my parents wouldn’t go into town without the other.  A teenage son, and so sudden.  I heard—sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken—the comparison to Greer’s death.  Her parents had had warning, time to come to terms with their daughter’s fate.

I walked behind my mom; she rattled her cart sharply around corners.

“Richie, hi!” I turned around, half jumping because no one called out to me anymore.  Greer was walking towards me, smiling and waving, wearing a light blue bathrobe over a t-shirt and sweatpants.

Greer had been unpopular and while we were friendly because our mothers were friends, I never felt comfortable enough to ask her out.  She was a “weird” girl, whatever that meant.  Then she was diagnosed with leukemia before senior year, and it was like that was just another weird thing about her in the eyes of our classmates, like her mother’s heavily accented English, or that she was the only girl that did crew for the school shows.  After the diagnosis I distanced myself from Greer even further, but I pretended it was for the same reasons as before.  She was half homeschooled that year and the teachers were very understanding and people were kind of jealous about that.  She graduated, and went off to college, but had to leave before first semester finals, and she died after New Year’s.  Some of the people that’d made fun of her in high school made Facebook statuses about her, using these words that who even used, like that she had a “vibrant personality” or that she “gushed with life” even when she was sick.

“Let me see it,” Greer said, pointing to my chest.  I let her open my flannel shirt to see the bullet wound, the blood all over my t-shirt.

“Did it hurt?”

“Yeah.  But it was quick.”

“Jealous,” she said, letting go of my clothes.

“Anyway…”

“I heard my mom talking about the accident, and I went to your funeral.”

“No way, I was at my funeral too.  I didn’t see you.”

“I sat in the back,” she said.

“Yeah, I sat up front, by my parents.  I didn’t stay for the whole thing.”
“I saw your parents walking out and your girlfriend.  She’s really pretty.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I didn’t know yet how to refer to Emily.  Calling her my girlfriend didn’t seem exactly right as we weren’t still dating, but we hadn’t exactly broken up either, so she wasn’t my ex.

I realized I’d lost track of my mom, she might have left the store.  I started walking towards the cashiers, Greer followed.  “It was like your parents didn’t notice that your girlfriend was there, I noticed.  And she was standing right next to them.”

“Uh, well, they had a lot on their minds,” I said.

“I wasn’t judging them, I just noticed and you said you left early, so I thought I’d let you know.”

I spotted my mom at the cash register, and stopped to wait by her.  “Okay, thanks, I guess.”

“You seem to want to hang out with your mom, but let’s hang out later.”

“Yeah, definitely,” I said, although she hadn’t said it as a suggestion.

Greer was the first person I knew that died while I was alive. I had dead relatives, but they’d died before I was born. Greer was the only person I knew who’d died, until I did.

*****

My roommate Blake was the one who shot me.  “Come visit and we’ll go hunting,” he always said.

I watched, in the dark early morning, blood leaking out of my body onto the ground.  He crashed off through the trees, and I waited, sat down next to myself.  I tried to hold my hand.

It was still dark while I waited.  It’d be a few hours before the sun rose.  We’d gone to sleep at ten and woke at three to get ready.  I knew that this was the procedure for hunting so I hadn’t complained.  It took me awhile to fall asleep; it always did in an unfamiliar house.  Blake sprayed this deer piss scent on us; it’s what you do so the animals don’t notice your foreign human smell.  We were walking together through the woods and he was whispering stories about chasing down deer and boars.  “And then you just,” he turned towards me, to mime shooting.

Blake came running back I don’t know how much later with two policemen and his father.

I tried hanging around Emily after I died, splitting my time between her and my parents.  But she was always crying, and I couldn’t do anything, and she starting failing her classes.  I needed some time away; I kept saying I’d go back to school to keep her company.  Just things I said to myself.  Not that I could say them to other people. Then leaves were back on trees, then it was summer and my dad tried to suggest a weekend beach trip to my mom.  Emily would be back home and I didn’t want to intrude there, I said to myself.  So I stayed away from her some more, following my parents on their well-trod paths through the days.

*****

We sat on the grassy area outside the fence of the town pool.  Greer pulled at the grass, none came up.  “When I was alive, I would get really bad allergies sitting on the grass.”

“I remember that,” I said, startled at myself.  “Some gym classes we’d go outside and have to sit on the grass while Mr. Case talked about like, the history of ultimate Frisbee, and you’d be sniffling a lot.”

“Yeah, it’s nice I don’t have to deal with that anymore.” She paused.  “I wish I could show you my last New Year’s.”

“Yeah?”

“My dad went and bought a ton of tinsel, and he and my mom and Tara decorated my room.  It was all silver and gold and glittering.  I was able to help a little, too.  They brought the iPod speakers into my room with all the holiday songs that I liked playing.  Then they all sat on my bed with me, and we played trivia games and charades and card games.  My mom even allowed snacks.  We did that for hours.  Tara fell asleep there with me.”

“That sounds nice.”

She stared at the kids jumping and splashing in the pool, long enough that I laid down to watch clouds shifting, long enough that I considered she might want to be alone.  “The next morning I woke up, and all the tinsel disgusted me.  I was angry that this was it for me and I tore it all down.  I was so tired afterwards I couldn’t even walk to my bed, so I had to lay down on the floor for like half an hour before my mom came up and found me there.  She cried at all the tinsel.”

I sat back up.  “It’s more than other people get.”

“What?”

“You said, that that was it for you, a New Year’s Eve celebration.  You got last good byes.”

“No,” she said, “There was so much I didn’t get to have.  I never even had sex.”

“Oh, I—I didn’t understand that’s what you meant.”

“You know what Richie? Don’t compare your death to mine,” she said.

She stood up and stormed away.

*****

I crossed lawns to get to Greer’s house a street over.  I didn’t have a lot of options for company.  A handful of old people hanging around their kids and grandkids, Don who’d been the one homeless guy in our town until he died from hypothermia one winter, and now Greer.  Don actually wasn’t so bad, but sometimes he went on rants about the town, including my parents.  Greer hadn’t done anything like that yet, and besides, she was kind of my friend.

Inside in the living room were her parents, her older sister Tara and a guy about Tara’s age that I realized, as I circled around the group, was her fiancé.  “Huh, congratulations,” I mumbled.  I didn’t know where Greer was, or if she was still annoyed with me.  I wasn’t sure if I was annoyed with her, or why I was.

I tried to remember how much older Tara was than us.  Five years? Six? I never knew her well.  She looked similar to Greer, or Greer looked similar to her, but her features were more petite, and I noticed she had hazel eyes instead of Greer’s brown.  She stood at the mantle and held Greer’s framed senior portrait up next to her own face.  Greer’s smiling looking off camera, wearing a navy sweater and pearl necklace.  “This is one of my favorite pictures of Greer,” Tara said, “She’s beautiful.”

Greer did look beautiful in the photograph, because, even though she was pissing me off in the moment, Greer was always beautiful.  But it made me sad that the photo was Tara’s favorite.  It was a blank canvas, not even the way Greer normally dressed.  Tara had plucked the photo from a collection of framed Greer photographs.  I liked one of her by the ocean, standing on large rocks, laughing, hugging a sweater closed while the wind blew her hair—long hair like she’d had most her life.  Or another one of her dressed in all black standing outside our school auditorium, holding a bouquet of pink and white lilies, from one of the school shows.  I went to them all, watched for her in the dark when they rushed out to change sets, tried to choose her from the darkness.  I always considered that I could pick her out, that I knew the way she moved.

Tara brought the senior portrait, and another photo of Greer as a child at an arts and crafts table, over to the couch to show the fiancé.

“Yeah,” he chuckled, “So cute, look at her just diving into that finger painting.  My brothers and I used to love that.”

“It’s such a special bond between siblings,” Greer’s mother, who was sitting in an armchair with a cup of tea, said, “Tara and Greer were so close.  I’m sure she’s smiling down on us right now, so happy for you two.”

She probably knew about this engagement, but I couldn’t get a hold on the fiancé and how Greer may feel about him.

He was in the middle of agreeing about the surely angelic Greer looking down in benevolent tranquility when his cell phone started to ring.  “Ah, sorry, I gotta get this.  I’ll just be a second.”

Greer’s family smiled, of course, of course, and I followed the fiancé as he walked onto the front porch.  He sat on the front step, answered the phone.  He kept his voice lowered.

“Hey man.  No, it’s okay, they’re talking about the sister again.  I just never know what to say, so hopefully they’ll be on another subject when I go back in.  What’s up?”

He mostly listened, putting in a few “mhmms,” a chuckle.  I went to the hanging flowerpot beside him, grabbed a fistful of dirt to throw in his well-groomed hair.  No dirt moved, I hadn’t expected it to but it felt better to try to do something.  I had to be satisfied with snapping my fingers near his ears for the remainder of his call.

*****

I didn’t see Greer again before I left.  I figured that she’d left town, and then I decided to do so, also.  It was the end of August, I saw with a jolt on my mother’s kitchen calendars, and junior year would be starting for Emily and everyone else.  I took a train down to Maryland.  That was new.  A free Acela ride, and plenty of seats in business class for the dead.

I sat next to an attractive woman in her thirties because why not.  It took me awhile to realize that she didn’t have any bags or that the conductor wasn’t asking for her ticket; it took her awhile for her to notice the blood on the top of my t-shirt.  She crossed her arms, “Get away from me.”

“I—I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, I just wanted some company.”

“Fuck off, I don’t care.”

I stumbled away.  She wasn’t marked, how was I to know.

*****

Back on campus, I wandered through crowds.  With certain people I knew, it was some crazy revelation to see them again.  Like, “Oh right, you’re a person!” Then I followed them.  It was kind of similar to Facebook.  Say a memory from high school pops up of playing beer pong a couple of weekends with some guy who was in my math class for one year.  Then I’d think of how long it’d been since I thought of him, and I’d log onto Facebook and look through his profile. He’d gained weight (all that beer and no exercise) and had new friends with interchangeable faces.  There was a girl in a few pictures but it was unclear if she was a girlfriend or not.  He looked happy, but you can’t really tell with pictures because you’re supposed to smile and people only take pictures of people looking happy.

This was so much better than Facebook.  I followed these old acquaintances—people who lived on my floor freshmen year, guys I used to drink with—to their classes, to lunch with their friends, back to their dorm rooms where they played video games or smoked pot.  They all had these full lives that had had little to do with me when I was alive, and nothing to do with me now that I was dead.  Girls they liked, tests they were worried about, pressure from their parents.  It was like realizing there was a missing subplot in a novel I’d read.  Or like I’d been writing a novel that I thought was wholly original but all the while about ten other guys were writing novels on the same subject.

One time I followed this girl I knew through Emily.  They’d been friends and then grew apart the way people do, but remained friendly.  Back in her dorm room she took a pair of scissors from the desk and cut herself high up on her arm, two cuts.  I didn’t know what to do.  I just left.

*****

Emily was all around.  Well, I walked around looking for her.  But there was also this guy, someone I didn’t know.  I kept seeing them walking together and he kept making her laugh.

I went to Morris Street, where everyone hung out and did shopping.  The pizza place and Chinese restaurant Emily and I used to like.  The dry cleaners, the small grocery store.  And the dive bar that never carded.

As I walked by the bar, Blake walked out, and right into me.  There was no sort of impact.  He swung his backpack onto one shoulder.  I followed him.

Nearing campus, he crossed paths with Tyler, a friend of his I’d never been close to.  “Hey dude, what’s up?” Tyler said, putting out his hand, Blake shook it.  “You been drinking?”

“Ha, yeah,” Blake said.

Tyler laughed, “Now that’s the way to start a school year.  You off to class?”

“Yeah, I’ll catch you later. Wanna hang tonight?”

“I don’t think I can man, but this weekend, definitely.”

On campus, people stared pretty openly at Blake, and I noticed a few of our friends start suddenly in the other direction when they saw him.  I’d had enough of him myself.

*****

I was surprised when Greer arrived on the main quad one day.  I was sitting under the big tree on the corner near the library.  A steady trickle of students walked the pathways in one direction or another.  “I missed you,” she said.

“You’re not still mad at me?” I said as she sat down.

“I was mad at you?”

“Yeah,” I tried to figure out how long had passed, “like two weeks ago.  Maybe a month.”

She was blank.

“It was about, uh, death.”

She still looked at me blankly. “No I’m not mad with you.  Have you been here since then?” I nodded. “Why?”

“Why? Why not? Emily’s here, my friends are here.”

“You have fun hanging out with them?”

I shot her a dirty look.

I told her about Emily’s friend cutting herself, but didn’t tell her about seeing Blake.  Greer frowned and patted me on the arm.  “It happens,” she said.

“That’s all?”

“What? She’ll either grow past it or she won’t.  People get sad, some people are sad a lot.  There’s nothing we can do about it. We probably couldn’t do something about it if we were still alive.”

“Did you ever do that?” I asked.

“Cut? No.”  Then she said, “Let’s go somewhere else, seriously Richie.”

“Being here means something to me.”

“You can come back. You can come back for the rest of time, here or to wherever Emily is.”

“I think she likes this guy.  At least this guy, he likes her.”

“I’m sorry.” Greer watched the students walking.  “Emily is very pretty.”

“Shut up, you don’t care.”

“No, I don’t. Eventually you won’t either.”

She hung around, and I didn’t mind it, she was company.

*****

I walked behind Emily down a brick pathway to class.  She was alone.  Greer walked a little behind me.

“I came here about two months after I died.  It’s a nice campus,” Greer said, “I thought I’d just stay for a day or two, but I got sort of wrapped up in your world.  It wasn’t just you and being happy at the familiar face.  The last few months of my life, and those months afterwards our house was a bleak place.  It was refreshing to come here and see you being normal, and seeing you get this normal college experience I’d tried to have.  I’d go to the gym with you, read books over your shoulder.  I went with you for some of your and Emily’s dates.”

“What!”

“Just a few!”

Emily entered a building, and we continued walking.  “What did you do next?”

“I started taking rides around the country.  If I went to New York City, I just walked into a Broadway show like who’s gonna stop me! Then I’d go up to Niagara Falls.  And then from there, wherever.  I only go to visit my parents, or Tara, occasionally.”

“What? Why?”

Greer shrugged.  “There’s a lot of things to do.  I’ve met people—people like us, had some fun with them.  I even met Marilyn Monroe, I really liked her.  And she says she doesn’t hang out with JFK at all.”

“I guess that’s pretty cool,” I said, “when did you meet her?”

Greer thought about it.  “I don’t know.  It wouldn’t have been right after I died but…I don’t know.”

We walked in silence for a bit.

“I guess our parents will be with us again sometime down the road.”

“Right? It isn’t always easy.  Tara’ll have kids, and they’ll never meet me until they’re dead.”

I didn’t say anything about the fiancé.  I’d thought about it, and when my parents used to bring up Greer’s death, or just Greer in general, I’d always change the subject.  Maybe he was like how I used to be, someone whose family hadn’t been touched by death, really, and didn’t want to dwell on other peoples’ dead parents, aunts, uncles, or siblings.  Didn’t know what to say.

Greer stopped walking and faced me.  “You used to feel bad for me in high school, I always knew that.  Then you felt bad for me after I died.  And yeah, if I could have some option to go back and it was my choice to live or die, I’d want to keep living, but I can’t change it.  You can’t change what happened to you, either.  Stop feeling bad for yourself.  Let’s get out of here.”

“Wow, sorry I’m not as enlightened by death as you are yet, Greer, you can leave if you want, but I still want to be here.”

She stared at me.  “Show me Blake.”

*****

Blake, like many other guys I shadowed, was playing video games.  A girl was leaving as we entered his room.  Blake played video games with Tyler.  They were playing Call of Duty, a game Blake and I used to play, a multi-player game full of shooting and grenades.  Life imitating video game.

Tyler said, without looking away from the screen, “So what’s that all about?”

“Huh? Oh, her?” Blake asked. “We’re in this class together.”

“Yeah, and she totally wants your dick.”

Blake snorted.

“What? She’s got a nice body, you’re not into it?”

“Nah.”

They continued to play, without much comment.  Greer turned to me and made her voice deep, “She totally wants your dick, bro.”  I laughed quietly, I still wasn’t totally used to the fact that people couldn’t hear us.  She started walking around the room, peering at books and discarded food packages.

“I think I’m going to ask Emily out,” Blake said.

I froze and for a second I felt like I had bodily feelings again: a tightened throat, pounding in my head, sweaty palms.

Tyler let his controller drop, and his player was killed.  He sort of laughed, but it was choked.  “Dude.”

“What? I’ve always felt that there’s something between us.”

Tyler turned around in the chair and looked at us.  He scanned the room.  Sometimes people did that when we were around and I was starting to believe some people felt presences, although I wouldn’t say Tyler was the type of person to ever think that, even if he did feel us there.  Greer moved to my side, and put her hand on my shoulder.  “Do you want to go?” she asked.

“I want to stay, I fucking, I fucking want to—”

I lunged at Blake, punching with one hand and clawing with the other, kicking even, like a Riverdancer with bad rhythm, unsure of what would be my best attack method.  Greer circled around us, perched next to the TV.  When I tried jumping up to body slam him, like a wrestler, she laughed.  I paused, stalled not knowing what to do, and Greer swooped in.  She led me away by the arm.  “It isn’t our world anymore, Richie.”

As we were leaving, Tyler said, “I kinda feel like that’s a bad idea.”

Greer decided that we should go to the beach.  It didn’t matter what beach.  We walked across the quad.  I stopped. “Do you think she’ll say yes?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Why can’t you just say no?”

“Because I don’t know! I don’t even know Emily, how would I know what she would do.”

A lie would have been kindness.

***** 

We walked to a nearby diner and found a car leaving town. We sat in the back, each staring out the windows.  Three long chapters of an Audiobook in I said, “Why aren’t we talking?”

“I was listening to the book, weren’t you?”

“Sort of but, that’s not what I meant.”

“Richie, we have eternity, it just feels less important to talk all the time.  Or, time not talking seems less.  You’ll see, or you probably won’t notice it, I don’t really.”

“What is the it I won’t notice?” I asked.

“The way…time takes up a certain amount of space, in our perception of it, and the longer you’re here, this afterlife, the more that space lessens.” She looked back out the window.  I guessed, with an Audiobook in and all, our driver was going some distance, but he seemed to prefer back roads through small towns.  She watched trees pass, leaves blurred.  “Do you think, for a tree, a year seems to them like a second or a minute might to a human?”

“And what about us? A tree’s entire life, it’ll be like, what, a yawn to us?”

She smiled at me.  “Personally, I’ve never yawned in my death.”

“And so what? We could pick up this conversation again in five living years and think there was only a pause.”

“Just one of us checking out the window,” Greer said, and she turned back to do just that.

*****

We got out when our driver stopped at his friends’ house.  A man and a woman his age ran out the front door, all smiles, hugged him and laughed.

Greer and I stood at the end of the driveway.  The couple barely let the driver get in a word.  They rattled anecdote after anecdote.

“They must lead very boring lives,” Greer said.

“Well hey now, let’s never be like them,” I joked.  Not a very good joke.  Or maybe the best joke ever.

I stepped closer to the people.  I could hear their conversation.  The woman from the house had freckles across her nose and cheeks.  The man had a large gold ring and a habit of running his other thumb over it while he listened.
When I turned around, Greer was gone.
How long had I been watching the three people?

I started jogging towards where I thought the main road was.  “Greer?” I called out.  I followed signs to the beach area.  She wasn’t there, either.  What the hell, Greer, I thought.

I didn’t know what to do.  Where to go.  Finally, I returned to the main road, and found a gas station.  I picked a parked car, driven by two middle aged women.  They pulled out of the gas station.  When they started talking about the rest of the trip—“What do you think we’ll need, one more refill, or two?” the driver asked—I realized they were heading further south.  There wasn’t anyone in that direction for me.  But then I thought, why not the change of scenery? Maybe Greer had had that same thought, when she’d either forgotten about me or decided to ditch me.  I decided to ride with the women to their destination.

*****

I don’t remember much of what I did in that time away from Greer.  I don’t know how long we were apart, either.  Something would jolt me, occasionally, remind me of Greer and I’d set myself north.  I knew that she could easily be in California or Alaska instead of the Northeast.  But there wasn’t an anxiety.  I had the time.  Just one of us checking out the window.  And then I’d get sidetracked, willingly, or my mind would be taken off Greer, and I’d forget about her for a bit.

I got to New York City.  I went there because I had a faint memory of Greer saying she’d go to Broadway shows.  I’d been to New York a few times as a kid.  I just walked around.  It was nice when I stumbled upon the NYU area, being around people my age.  But were they my age? Or: were people my age, still my age? I was stuck at an age, but I remembered Greer had said she’d spent months following me at my college without realizing it, and I couldn’t really say how long I’d been travelling.  How old was Emily now? And Blake? I remembered Blake saying he wanted to ask Emily out on a date.  I wasn’t struck as hard by the recollection.  I didn’t want to find Blake and somehow try and attack him.  Hadn’t I tried to do that?

I thought: there has to be someone dead around here who can give me directions.  I was around some university buildings and most people were carrying bags, something that marked them as alive students.  There was a park, and that seemed like a perfect place to find the dead.  I started walking up to people sitting on benches, lying on the grass.  People that didn’t seem to have anything with them.  “Hi,” I said, over and over.  On the grass I saw a hippie guy with long hair lying by himself.  I walked over, “Hi.” He pushed himself onto his elbows. “Hi.”

“Great, you’re dead,” I said, and sat down next to him.

“You’re so young, little dude,” he said, “that always bums me out.”

“Sure,” I said.  “But could you tell me where Broadway shows would be?”

“Broadway,” he said.

“I meant, how can I get there?”

“An arts lover, right on.  It’s Times Square area, like forty blocks north of here.  You walk that way,” he said, and pointed.

“Thanks,” I said, and walked in that direction.  I considered for a moment that the guy didn’t look like he’d been that old when he died.  How long, in alive time, had he been lying in that exact spot in the park?

Times Square was bright, and crowded.  I tried to overhear families’ conversations and see if they were going to some play or musical.  I finally found one, and followed them.  They were going to a Chekhov revival, but I didn’t think that’d be what Greer would seek out in her death.  I started walking into theaters advertising musicals.

Maybe it was a sign that it hadn’t been that long, that I hadn’t been travelling for years, that I knew I could call out Greer’s name and not disturb anyone, but when I did it I kept it as whispered as I could.  “Greer?” I said walking down the aisles, “Greer?”

I didn’t see her that day, or the next when I came back.  I went back to the park.  The hippie was still there, and I asked him if I could join him.  I laid there, maybe a week.  I liked watching the students.  Then I sat up.  It seemed to be afternoon.  “I think I’ll try to find her again.”

The hippie looked over to me.  “Good luck, buddy.”

Back on Broadway, I stepped into more theaters, searching the audience and whispering her name.  Finally I saw her.  On stage was a big musical number, with the whole cast dancing, and Greer was dancing with them,or more weaving through them, trying to turn when they did.  She wasn’t good at dancing, and she clearly wasn’t familiar with the steps, but she was laughing up there, twirling in her blue bathrobe.  “Greer!” I shouted out.

She heard me over the music and the dancing, and squinted out into the audience.  I ran towards the stage, waving my arms, and finally she started waving.  She hopped into the area where all the musicians were, then made her way out of there.  “Richie!” She hugged me.  When she pulled away she tilted her head back towards the stage, “I always wanted to act in high school.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked crew, but I wanted everyone to watch me sometimes.”

“Where have you been?” I asked.  “I didn’t know where to look for you after you left.”

“When I left?”

“Yeah, I can’t remember when it was, but we were supposed to go to the beach, and you left.” The musical number ended, and the audience applauded.  “Let’s get out of here,” I said.

We walked into the lobby, and sat on a bench there.

“It was after we left my school,” I continued.

“Okay.”

“Do you remember why you left?”

“No, I don’t remember leaving, or planning a beach trip at all.  I’m sorry.”  I knew she meant it.

“I missed you.”

“Are you upset?”

“No.  I’m really glad to have found you.”

“Me too,” she said, “what’s next?”

“Do you want to go to the beach?”

*****

We took several trains pushing us further out onto Long Island.  At the announcement of one stop, Greer looked at me and shrugged, “Why not this one?”

We walked to the beach.  There were a few people there, three groups scattered.  Mothers or nannies, with very young children.  The people were dressed in long sleeves and wore floppy hats, the brims moved slightly in a wind I couldn’t feel.

I walked in.  I looked into the water and saw the bottom half of my body, my jeans, the bottom of my shirt.  Greer walked in, too.  “Did you know you can walk on top of it?”

“Yeah, I’m not going to do that,” I laughed.  I pulled her toward me, wrapping my arms around her body and hugging her.  She climbed into the hug, nestling her face into my shoulder.  She kept her arms folded to herself, though, pressed against my chest.  I could feel her, just slightly; she felt like what a shadow must feel like, a whisper.  Would I ever forget the feeling of pressing skin to skin. “How long could we stand here for?” I asked.

“Years,” she said.

Sherry Chandler

Sherry Chandler has published four collections of poetry, most recently The Woodcarver’s Wife. Her work has received three nominations for a Pushcart Prize. Individual poems have been published in the Louisville Review, the Cortland Review, The William and Mary Review, and other periodicals and anthologies. Her website is http://www.sherrychandler.com.

 

 

 

Guest Poetry Editor: Karen George

karen-georgeKaren George, author of Into the Heartland (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Inner Passage (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014), Swim Your Way Back (Dos Madres Press, 2014), and The Seed of Me (Finishing Line Press, 2015), has received grants from Kentucky Foundation for Women and Kentucky Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Louisville Review, Permafrost, Naugatuck River Review, Still, Wind, and Blue Lyra Review. She holds an MFA from Spalding University, reviews poetry at http://readwritepoetry.blogspot.com/, and is fiction editor of the journal Waypoints at http://www.waypointsmag.com/. Visit her website at http://karenlgeorge.snack.ws/.

 

Broadstone Books

Spotlight on Broadstone Books

Broadstone Media Logo

“Tell us something interesting, or tell it in an interesting way – or better yet, do both.”

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

Broadstone Books was founded by Larry W. Moore and Stephen L. Taylor in 2003 with the publication of Home Place and Other Poems, by Sheila Bucy Potter.  The press is  an imprint of Broadstone Media LLC, a company whose mission is to “promote cultural activities generally.” In addition to publishing books, the company curates the Jane Chancellor Moore Gallery, located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The Gallery (named in honor of its former curator, who died in 2012) exhibits work by contemporary visual artists.  The name Broadstone is a portmanteau of Broadway and Limestone, the streets of the two men’s colleges: Transylvania and the University of Kentucky. Naming is a significant act at Broadstone, where the use of language is highly regarded. Submission guidelines ask for poetry that uses “fresh and compelling language,” and fiction that “uses language in an original and compelling fashion.”  In an interview with Nin Andrews, Moore reveals that, in a manuscript, he looks for “interesting theme, interesting language. With the emphasis on language.” In sum, the press is “far more interested in how you write than what you write about.”

Annually publishing about four full-length books per year, Broadstone Books requires no manuscript fees, and promises that each submission will be read by a minimum of two readers. In addition to Moore and Taylor, staff now includes Sheila Bucy Potter as a principle reader and Christopher Taylor as an Associate Editor. Jeremy Dae Paden, author of  ruina montium, reports that “working with Broadstone has been a very good experience.” Paden describes Larry Moore, who suggested his full-length manuscript be whittled down to a chapbook,  as being “quite honest.”  Moore himself confesses that experience in publishing has taught him to be realistic about the slim market for poetry, and suggests that “the most effective way of selling poetry is through the one-on-one connection that poets make with an audience through readings.”

ruina montiumruina montium (Broadstone Books, 2016), by Jeremy Dae Paden, is a chapbook of twenty-seven poems that pay homage to the  2010 Copiapó mining collapse. Thirty-three minors were trapped for sixty-nine days in the San José copper and gold mine (located in the Atacama desert region of Chile) before rescue. The collection’s title, ruina montium, is Latin for “the wrecking of mountains,” an ancient Roman mining technique using hydraulics, and is documented in the historical record by Pliny the Elder. The second poem in this collection, “ruina montium i,” ends with a quotation by Pliny: “how dangerous we have made this earth.” This poem, and also the first poem of the collection, “the harrowing,” (with their use of corporal images) compares the mine, the bowels of the earth, to the human body. So, in effect, what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

Paden is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Transylvania University (located in Lexington, KY) where he also serves as Program Director for Foreign Languages.  He has recently published his translation from the Spanish of the chapbook Delicate Matters, by  Juan Carlos Mestre and Alexandra Dominguez (Winged City Chapbooks, 2016). In addition to his time spent in Italy, the Caribbean, and the United States, he has also spent time in Latin America, so this place of the earth is no stranger to him.

The sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases in this collection is like the sprinkling of holy water, and Biblical references are numerous. “the taken & the left,” for example, (fluently) references the fall from the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, the Wedding at Canaan, and the Rapture after the Apocalypse in just twelve lines. Other poems provide images of baptism, burial, resurrection. Eight of these poems are dedicated to specific miners involved in the tragedy. Most of these address the miner directly through the use of second person. These are the most heart wrenching poems of the collection. Reading these particular poems, I was reminded of Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It may be the closest I’ve come to feeling my heart pierced by the arrow of a poem.

“holding cell,” dedicated to Mario Gómez Herrera, demonstrates the sense of movement that permeates the collection. The poem begins at this miner’s introduction to the mine as a child:

twelve when you first descended
holding father’s hand.

The skillful use of nouns and spacing suggests the movement of both time and distance:

holding-cell

The poem ends with the tragic accident, when the miner is sixty-four, and the use of a periodic sentence intensifies its closure: “but there, above & below you, like a dead / & dying star, bright, the collapse.”

“icarus” grounds the collection in myth and ancient history, and, perhaps, introduces the sin of pride.  It flows out of the image of burial. The poem begins:

there is a moment when the revelation darkness
brings, being buried seven hundred meters below, shines

brighter than any molten ball of metal in crucible[.]

The poem then contrasts the loved ones grieving above ground—

icarus

A major strength of this collection is its rich multiple contexts, a series of widening concentric circles, like a set of nesting Matryoshka dolls: trapped minor(s). . . loved ones . . . mining industry . . . Presidents of countries.  “matters of state” narrates the rescue of the only Bolivian minor, Carlos Mamani, who arrives above ground to greet, not only wife and children, but cameras and diplomats at odds with one another:

& you will be brought up from the depths,

from volcanic warmth to frozen night,
from the darkness of the earth to lights

blinding & you will be whisked away
to triage & before cameras, before

wife & children wanting to smell you,

to climb on your lap to kiss you, to lie
against your chest & try to match

their breathing to yours, to certify
through touch that it is you; presidents

will come, stand over you, each choosing
a side[.]

As indicated by its epigraph from the Book of Job, ruina montium is a collection about suffering, but is not without hope, for it is also graced with images of birds, glints from copper and gold, and a series of resurrections.

aleph-brokenAleph, broken: poems from my diaspora (2016), by Judith Kerman, traces the search of a secular Jewish woman for heritage through ancestry, history, and culture. The title of this full-length collection of poems refers to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; and, from the mystical Kabbalah tradition, origin. The title poem, one of the saddest poems in the collection, begins:

Aleph, broken

slides from her
warm soup into bitter air;
breathes but does not cry,
the start
of a life without promises[.]

Invoking the image of alphabet soup, this is one of several poems associated with food. “Cholent,” the opening poem of the collection, depicts a break in Jewish tradition:

Fridays, women in other houses
rush about, cleaning and cooking,
heating the oven to keep the cholent hot—
meat and fruit, a stewing sweetness
I’ve never tasted.

“Pumpernickel” reminisces:

It came home with Daddy
on the train from New York,
round and heavy
with a hard mahogany crust,
knobbly as stone.

The crux of Aleph, broken focuses on the dead. The frontspiece poem, “Liminal: After the Funeral” begins:

A book tells secrets
it’s dying to share
once the mourning ends.

The poem ends: “I don’t need anyone’s permission to tell the story.” “White Light” subtlety suggests the lingering presence of the dead among us by describing “an empty recliner” stained with body oils. Similarly, “White Light Again” reflects on the absent voice of a departed mother.  “Conundrum” calls forth a similar, though more emphatic, absence:

Someone is required to identify
the body before burial,
the golem without the sacred Name.
In the open coffin, red lipstick my mother
might have worn, white hair sprayed stiff
as she would never do,
only the bones of her face
perhaps familiar.

“Conundrum” is one of several poems using the structure of a definition. These poems begin by identifying the title as a noun, then provide a numbered list, which not so much defines the word, but describes it, using association. For example, “Israel” is aligned with “2. Dreaming” and “3 Jacob after he dreamed.” “Diaspora,” the concluding poem, begins with the following image: “1. A woman with a kerchief over her hair sits on a suitcase. Somewhere, going somewhere else.

A glossary of  Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and Spanish terms appears at the end of the book. Following “Diaspora,” and within the context of the collection as a whole, this glossary nearly appears as a poem itself. Developing its own alphabet and language of diaspora,  Aleph, broken is, ironically, very cohesive in terms of absence, fragility, and brokenness.

brain-in-a-jarAs indicated by its title, Brain in a Jar: A Daughter’s Journey Through Her Father’s Memory (2013), by Nancy Sterns Bercaw, is a memoir. Like the various published memoirs of both Susanna Sonnenberg and Mary Karr, the autobiographical material of this book is intelligently pruned toward a keen sense of focus: the Alzheimer’s of Bercaw’s father, Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw. The book is divided into three chronological sections titled “The Beginning,” “The Middle,” and “The Ending.” Each section consists of individual chapters titled for names of places.

“The Beginning” spans the decade of the 1970’s. The opening chapter is titled, “The Public Pool.” Nancy Bercaw, who will become a national championship swimmer, is five-years-old, and her father is teaching her to swim. Bercaw narrates this book in present tense, providing a sense of immediacy. The voice of young Nancy Bercaw sounds remarkably similar to the voice of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She, in fact, references Lee’s classic novel in chapter seven. At the age of fourteen, Nancy strikes a deal with her father. Instead of getting a summer job, she will voraciously read, earning a penny from Dr. Bercaw for each page read. Having read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness previously, she forms a conclusion after reading To Kill a Mockingbird: “The book makes me think that Beau is more like Atticus Finch than Colonel Kurtz. However, the relationship between Dr. Beauregard Bercaw and Nancy is not the relationship between Atticus Finch and Scout. This is a relationship fraught with conflict.

I wished my biology teacher were my dad.
I wished my swim coach were my dad.
I wished Ernest Hemingway were my dad.
Anyone but the silent man who had the job of raising me and who worried more about locked-in disease than his own daughter’s suffering. I had an acute case of locked-out disease.

A neurologist, Dr. Bercaw is a man obsessed with his work. His specific obsession: finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. He keeps the brain of his own father, who succumbed to this disease, in a jar of formaldehyde on his desk. He knows that he will likely succumb himself, and he is determined to prevent it. Unfortunately, his obsession absents him from his daughter. The Middle section of the book spans the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. The word journey in book’s title is not just a metaphor, for Nancy Bercaw travels the world in search of the man who is her father: the Serengeti, the 38th Parallel in South Korea, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia. What she discovers is herself.

Despite its tight focus, Brain in a Jar is not just about Alzheimer’s. Peppered with letters. as well as other forms of written text (the engraving on a tombstone, for example), it’s a story about familial relationships, world history, communication, love, and suffering. It’s a story about the power of the written (and spoken) word. And a beautiful story it is.

the-bounteous-worldThe Bounteous World (2013), by Frederick Smock, is a collection of poems that works as a series of still lifes. However, the best of these poems point us toward a scene outside of the poem. As Jane Gentry remarks on the book’s back cover: “Like the ophthalmologist’s just-right lens, Smock’s poems bring the blurry world into focus so that sight and insight become Vision . . . helping us see, doing the real work of poetry.” The world of these poems is, like the nature of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world mediated by the mind, more specifically, the mind of the poet. “A Short Film” sets the scene for many of these poems. It presents “the poet sitting by a window.” The work of the poet seems rather a quiet meditative act:

The action would really get going
when the poet looks
out the window and then
looks down again,
pen in hand.

A similar act occurs in “The Archer:” “The archer sits in meditation.” She is seated in lotus position. Her straight spine is compared to an arrow. However, the result of this action is not a poem, but something more cerebral:

Across the way,
the target
is being reached.

Windows abound. In “Morning,” (vaguely reminiscent of Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” with its oranges) there occurs a window beside a table:

The window looks down
into a courtyard,
and sometimes up
into blue sky.

Another window appears in “Malmö.” This one presents us with an optical transformation. After visiting Malmö and having returned home, the speaker of this poem sees not what is outside the window, but an imagined scene:

And today, back home,
at my writing table,

it is Sweden that I see
out my window,

the sun a small flat kronor
in the sky.

The title of the collection comes from its opening poem, “The Gift”: “The less you want / the more bounteous the world becomes.” The collection as a whole plays upon a similar irony: that of largeness contained within the small. “Tranströmer,” a poem about the Swedish Noble Prize winning poet, ends with a description of a film “about a small Chinaman / who sets up a small tent / on the edge of town, / but step inside that tent / and it’s a three-ring circus.” The minimalist aesthetic of these clean, largely regularly-lined lyrics serves as a fitting vehicle for these ironies. As the poem “Meditative,” a mediation on a chair, suggests: “In its emptiness, it seems the seat of all wisdom.”

the-porcupine-of-the-mindThe Porcupine of the Mind (2012), by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, is a meditation on language and love, on the language of love. The short poem, “My name is Ov” from the middle section of the book entitled “The Ending of Slavic Names,” serves as a representative snapshot:

My name is Ov,
like the ending
of Slavic names.
I used to be called Love,
but as it turned out,
L was silent.

The word love appears repeatedly throughout these poems. Again, in the same section, it appears as a word: “You’ll Never Pronounce the Word / love the same / after you’ve kissed / a foreigner.” The beginning of the collection is inundated with kisses, as seen by a few titles: Kissing the Shell of an Egg,” “When You Kiss a Grape,” “Kissing the Tide, As It Pulls Back,” The Kiss of the Stone,” Kissing the Lips of Really Bad News.” Of course, all these kisses are not joyful: “One Should Exercise Caution / when kissing a daffodil. / Somebody could get hurt.” Similarly, “Kissing a Snowman” opens: “He loves you not,” and ends: “He loves you not. / Under his tin-pot hat / lives only ice.”

The poems in this collection playfully juxtapose the ordinary with the extraordinary. The opening poem, “O & I,” recounts the love story of a one cell organism (O), who befriends the speaker of the poem. After being rescued and placed in a glass of water, he spends the night on the speaker’s nightstand:

He pressed his tummy flat
against the glass and didn’t take

his eye off me until next morning
when I opened mine and saw him

smiling.

The story ends happily: “You mean the world to me, I told him.” “Mermaid in the Cornfield” narrates a similar rescue: “We found / a mermaid in the cornfield.” The mermaid is in need of care: “She had bite marks of animals, / fat lips and scabs.” The poem’s speaker takes her home, places her in the bathtub, “and drop[s] in a yellow rubber duck.” A similar sense of magical realism pervades “The Superhero Is Moving Out,” which recounts loss rather than rescue. The poem opens with the superhero packing “a toothbrush” and “a change of tights.” “His children stare at him” “with boogers and tears smeared / across their cheeks.” As he eats his last meal with his family “in silence,” “The dishwasher hurls / water from side to side.” When his wife asks if he needs a ride, he replies, “I’ll fly.”

The third, and final, section of the book, entitled “The Downside of Lucidity,” concerns prayers: Moth Woman, / turn off the light and pray. In the dark / you can ask for / just about anything.” “The Way I Used to Pray to St. Catherine” is one of the most beautiful poems in the collection. The poem opens with the lighting of a candle. The speaker of the poem, perhaps recalling a scenario from childhood, stands staring into the eyes of a statue of St. Catherine: “I’d look at her, / she’d look at me, / and we would stay this way / until she knew everything.” The final poem, “Food,” spreads the intimacy of the earlier poems outward, for “Corn is a generous mother”:

You cannot love thy neighbor
without eating your vegetables.

You can stop world wars
with the kindness of a single fruit cup.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer has a gift for metaphor, for personification, for making the abstract noun concrete and particular. And she is blessed with compassion. It would be difficult to read these wise and delightful poems without feeling loved.
Although the “primary mission” of Broadstone Books “is the promotion of poetry,” the press also considers manuscripts of fiction and non-fiction. Nancy Sterns Bercaw, author of the memoir Brain in a Jar, offers that she heard about Broadstone through word of mouth, and that she thought her story might appeal to the publishers, despite the percentage of poetry books in the catalog. Manuscripts are accepted in hard copy only, though queries, which include sample work, are accepted electronically. Published authors are under no financial obligation, but are encouraged to promote their books. According to Bercaw, production of her book was “a true labor of love by both sides—publisher and author. We are a family now, brought together by story.” In the words of Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, “What Broadstone books does is rare and beautiful.”

––––––––

Nettie Farris is the current reviews editor. She is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the mini-chapbook Story (Origami Poetry Project, 2016). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has received the Kudzu Poetry Prize and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences University of Louisville. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. She can be reached at nettiefarrisreviews@gmail.com.

Annie Hinkle

annie-hinkleAnnie Hinkle‘s poetry is published in Ascent, Mid-American Review, Best of Ohio 2014, Express Cincinnati, and Southern Poetry Review. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Miami University and a PhD from University of Kent, Canterbury, England. When she is not writing poetry or fiction, she is teaching high school language arts and directing The Writing Center at Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her poetry chapbook, Composition Studies, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

 

annie-hinkle-poem

Bruce Black

Bruce Black lives in Sarasota, FL. He is the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press), as well as personal essays and articles that have appeared in Tiferet Journal, OmYoga Magazine, MindBodyGreen, Yoga Times, The Jewish Week, The Jewish Exponent, and Reform Judaism Magazine. His most recent story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses.

 

The End of Shloshim

Thirty days have passed since we buried Dad. It’s the end of Shloshim, the start of a new stage of mourning. Whether I go to shul (Yiddish for synagogue) to say Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, in the traditional way or say it alone on my early morning walks, Dad’s death remains the same. Kaddish doesn’t change the truth or eliminate the pain of his absence. He’s gone, thirty days away from life, from breathing and smiling and enjoying poached eggs and toast and his cup of coffee for breakfast, from kisses and hugs and Father’s Day cards that were never sent because he died before I could put them in the mail, having bought them only days before news came of his death. I’d planned to mail the cards in time for them to reach him on Father’s Day. Instead, I got on a plane to bid him goodbye and left the cards on the dining room table, unsigned, without addresses, for where could I send my Father’s Day cards now that he was gone?

I haven’t yet shaved. When I look in the mirror, I see an old man with a gray beard. No longer am I the boy in my dreams but fifty-five years old, the same age as my father was when I stood next to him in the waves off Montauk Point or walked beside him on our way to shul for Rosh Hashanah. I still remember wondering what it would feel like to carry a tallit bag like his under my arm and to wrap myself inside a prayer shawl the way he wrapped himself in his. He was so young then, but I didn’t know it. I thought he was old. How our perspective changes as we grow old and death comes for us.

*****

The end of Shloshim marks the end of something but I’m not sure what. It’s different than the end of Shivah, the seven days of mourning that we sat at my brother’s house in Highland Park, New Jersey. During those initial days of grief we were still numb, not quite able to grasp what had happened. Maybe that’s why tradition recommends that mourners stay inside and not go out, not as a punishment or torture, but rather as a safeguard to protect a mourner from his own lack of focus, an inability to concentrate on the simple tasks of life like crossing a street or driving, because his thoughts are pre-occupied with loss.

For seven days I inhabited a cocoon of grief, visited by friends and members of my brother’s temple and community. I was taken care of by family, allowed to melt into my own state of sorrow. And then at the end of the seventh day I emerged from that cocoon, ready to return to the world, but not quite whole again, not quite able to find my balance.

Hence Shloshim, the next stage of mourning after sitting Shiva, was a way of acknowledging that, while a mourner can go back to work and resume the daily rituals of his life, a major shift in life has occurred, and it may require another thirty days—not just seven—to regain one’s equilibrium, to focus on the world again and not find oneself distracted by grief.

So for thirty more days I lived in a kind of middle-world—neither numb with grief and shock but not yet fully present, not yet able to be fully attentive to the world again. Still forbidden from cutting my hair or seeing plays or listening to music or attending parties, I continued to mourn. The shock of death hadn’t fully worn off yet, and the tradition forgave me my grief, even as it raised expectations that I return to the world. No longer would the minyan, the ten-person prayer group, come to our house so I could say Kaddish. Now I had to go to shul to say Kaddish. I was encouraged to leave the house, to begin living again.

But thirty days didn’t diminish my grief. Once the initial shock wore off and the truth of Dad’s death began to settle into consciousness; I noticed how grief deepened with each day that passed. It wasn’t just deeper but more profound. In the early days of mourning I could protest, pretend death might not be true, imagine someone spreading false rumors. I could believe that I’d be able to see Dad the moment I entered his house. But now that those days have passed, I can no longer deceive or delude myself. Dad is gone. I’ll never enter his house and see him there again. After thirty days, this is the new reality, my new reality.

And yet, after thirty days, I still listen for his voice. On some days I believe – or convince myself – that I can hear it. It’s as if he’s walking beside me or sitting next to me, his arm over my shoulder, the way he used to comfort me when I struggled as a boy to learn Hebrew. The same patient, wise, and encouraging tone. The same concern and love in his voice that I heard in those days long ago. I don’t want to lose the ability to hear his voice, to imagine him nearby.

But I’m afraid after thirty days my memory of him will begin to fade, the same way my memory of Mom faded after her death, and I’ll lose him a second time. That’s why the end of Shloshim is so hard to bear. It marks a full thirty days since we laid him to rest. And the days keep moving forward. And memories keep receding into the past. And I can’t stand still, trying to hold onto the past, without moving forward into the future. I can’t stay in this place the way I tried to stay in one place holding onto memories of Mom. That strategy didn’t work. No matter how hard I tried to cling to her and to our days together, she slipped away, and my memories of her slipped away, too. Maybe it’s just inevitable, the way life works. You can’t cling to the past or avoid the future any more than you can halt time. Perhaps the end of Shloshim is an acknowledgment that you have to move on.

So perhaps I’ll shave off my beard later today or, at the least, trim it. And maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll go for a haircut. At some point I’ll listen to the radio again, to talk shows, to music. I’ll watch TV and go to the movies. In other words, I’ll continue living. I’ll return to life.

But I’ll keep saying Kaddish too, for the next eleven months, on my own and with my congregation on Friday nights. I’m still not sure why I need to say Kaddish, except that it’s a prayer that Jewish tradition says a mourner should recite after the loss of a loved one to honor his or her memory.

I don’t see how saying words that I don’t understand, in a language that Dad didn’t understand either, makes any difference. How does such a prayer help Dad? How does it help me? And yet, even with these questions, I still find myself needing to say it each morning.

Saying Kaddish is as much about the sound of the words as it is about their meaning. It’s about the repetitive quality of the syllables, the way chanting the prayer on my morning walk as a kind of personal mantra lends my steps a certain cadence, as if I’m in step with the energy of the universe, as if the divine is surrounding me and pulsing through me as I walk and chant the ancient words. There’s something comforting, too, about saying (or sometimes singing) the words while gazing at the sunrise or the clouds or the blue sky. It’s uplifting to feel the morning breeze on my skin as I say words of praise to God. And it’s comforting, too, to feel as if Dad is in the breeze touching my skin or in the songs of the birds or in the cries of the seagulls overhead or in the gentle rustle of palm trees.

*****

This morning on my walk I listened for Dad’s voice, trying to hear if he needed me to say Kaddish more often or in the presence of a minyan. Did he still need me? Did I still need to feel needed? I strained to listen but didn’t hear him make any request. He seemed content. He seemed happy. He seemed fulfilled. His life had been a good one, filled with blessings, and he’d managed in the end to overcome his fear of death, a fear, he once confided to me, that he’d been aware of ever since he’d watched Mom suffer before her death from liver cancer. He said he didn’t know if he’d be able to be brave like her or if he could withstand that kind of pain.

He was given a different ending than Mom. Thirteen years on dialysis, heart and breathing issues, poor circulation in his legs that required the amputation of two of his toes. These were his challenges, and they were not without pain.  But they were nothing like the pain Mom had to endure. Yet even though he had his own pain, his own fears, he overcame them. He displayed the kind of courage and optimism in life that inspired everyone who came in contact with him. He seemed to radiate life, and every day he expressed joy and gladness in simply being alive to anyone who he met—nurses, doctors, drivers, waitresses, sales clerks, whoever they might be—and they responded with appreciation for his spirit and determination.

It’s funny how these thoughts swirl through my head. Memories. Recollections. Snippets of conversations. Pictures frozen in time, then gone, replaced by others, as if memory is made from a huge album of pictures, with hundreds of pages that you can turn forever and never finish turning.

How do I honor Dad’s memory now? What can I do to keep his name alive in the world? Maybe that’s partly the function of Kaddish. It extends his place in the community another year so he isn’t gone completely. But does it really? Is saying Kaddish really about remembering Dad and honoring his memory? Or is it more about my need for some kind of comfort, and, ultimately, closure?

Each life is like a bubble on the sea. I came across this idea in a book on Tibetan meditation. We are all bubbles, our existence fragile and temporary, and when we burst, we rejoin the sea to form new bubbles. If Dad’s life was a bubble, it lasted 94 years. In that span of years he had loved apples and pies and golf and America and being Jewish and Israel. He had loved Mom and my brother, Rick, and me. He had loved his second wife and her children, too, and all of his grandchildren. He had grown and changed over the course of his life, yet deep down he had remained true to himself. There had been something mysterious that had made him who he was. Call it soul or spirit, identity or DNA, or simply a bubble. Whatever you want to call it, that’s the part of him that survives.

I wish I could feel his arms wrapping around me again, embracing me just once more. All I feel, though, is stillness, a hollowness in my chest, an emptiness in my heart.

And yet, there are some days on my morning walks, after I finish saying Kaddish, when I would swear that I hear his voice.

It sounds practical and wise and oh-so-near.

It sounds like he’s whispering in my ear.

Thirty days are over, son, I hear him say.

 It’s time to let go.

It’s time to move on.

Ashley Kunsa

Ashley Kunsa creative work has appeared in or is forthcoming from more than a dozen journals, including Bayou Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. She has been awarded the Orlando prize for flash fiction from the A Room of Her Own foundation and tied for first prize for the Eastern Iowa Review’s Experimental Essay award. Currently she is finishing a PhD in English literature at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her husband and son.

 

Marine Life

There are maybe times when you could be anybody, but it’s important to recognize this isn’t one of them. A good neighbor, a long-distance runner, the vice president even, or, better, the vice president’s wife. What was it all the gifted girls carried on about in middle school—marine biology? Saving sad, fleshy creatures from the doom wrought upon them by other sad, fleshy creatures? Manatees and walruses etched in purple pen across the fronts of spiral-bound notebooks, purple hearts on lassos leaping out of the waves, looping their wide, fat necks. 

As if chaining a thing with love could save it. 

Those girls thought they were so smart, with their essay prizes and A’s in algebra. How smart would they be now in this too-warm waiting room, with all the choices whittled down to two? Someone will drown here: you decide who.  

And of course I say you to distance myself from all this. To prove I had nothing to do with it. Which is untrue. I said stay. I cried and whispered and purred it—Stay. But it was like talking to myself. Please, I tried, and Don’t leave me. My words were water balloons slapping the pavement. It had never been a matter of words between us anyway. It was biology. His and mine. Selves opening into each other, a thing that needs, a thing that feeds.  

So, too, at the end. Knowing words had finally failed us, I sought our salvation in something deeper, its roots spun together, our humanity inextricably linked. Ticking the days off the calendar, I stared at the tiny pills, secure in their foil packets. Stay, that night just inside his apartment door, stay, my tongue begging his to speak our language again, stay, our bodies cleaved to one another until long afterwards, stay, when six weeks later I stood outside his building in the angry November wind, the test stick in my hand. Stay stay stay

And of course the gifted girls, budding saviors, would never find themselves in a rumpled cotton gown, waiting to spread their legs before a stranger. They were born to soar. Only a fool believes she can bind biology with biology.

Of course he didn’t stay.  

When the door opens and the woman with the tired eyes shuffles in, you will tell her. You will say the words that feel like screaming beneath the water’s surface while the whole ocean fills you up inside.  

Bruce Bond

bruce-bondBruce Bond is the author of sixteen books including, most recently, For the Lost Cathedral (LSU Press, 2015), The Other Sky (Etruscan Press, 2015), Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press, 2015), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, University of Tampa Press, 2016), and Gold Bee (Crab Orchard Open Competition Award, Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), Three of his books are forthcoming:  Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997-2015 (E. Phillabaum Award, LSU Press), Sacrum (Four Way Books), and Dear Reader (Free Verse Editions, Parlor Press).  Presently he is Regents Professor at University of North Texas.

 

New Moon

Then my teacher told me to close my eyes
and observe the observer of the observer

and so on, down the long path of seeing,
the chiaroscuro of thought in the distance

like a field of starlight when the power goes.
See the seer, she said, and as I breathed

in waves against the dark, I saw my teacher.
I saw her porch lit with prayer flags

from Tibet: a light wind in the word flag,
a lighter word in the wind departing.

How it all fit in there, I will never know:
the flags, the words, the black canvas starred

in needles.  And her, or my idea of her,
descending the stairs on her mechanical

chair devised for those who suffer daily
steps and thresholds beyond my understanding.

She told me once, you hear a note a suffering
in the higher resonance of laughter.

I confess.  I do not hear the better half
of what I hear, though I feel the pull there

of missing things, of earth and its burden
beneath the pale lamentation of waves.

She is gone now.  And shows up every time
I see a chair like this.  I hear her curse

her feet of stone, not knowing I am there.
God, she says softly to herself.

They say the new moon can be traced in
the faint deflected sunrays of the planet.

That the sky we see is always bigger
than how we see it.  Stars and mirrors.

Stars and dead stars.  Tell me, teacher
in your field on fire.  What else is there.

Anastasia Afanasieva

Translators’ Note:

Context is helpful in reading the poem. This poem refer to the war currently taking place in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Thousands of people have been killed, displaced and otherwise traumatized by the armed conflict, as Russia prefers to call it, between pro-Russian separatists, who are backed by Russian troops and the Ukrainian armed forces. Russia denies its involvement in the war.

 

Born in 1982, Anastasia Afanasieva (author) lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and writes poetry and prose in Russian. She is the author of six books and the winner of numerous major literary awards and prizes, including the Debut Prize and the Russian Award. Her poetry has been translated into English, German, Italian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. In the US, her poems in translation have appeared in Cimarron Review, Jacket Magazine and Blue Lyra Review. She is the translator of Ilya Kaminsky’s book Music of the Wind (Ayluros, 2012). Afanasieva’s poem “Untitled,” in English translation by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky, won First Place in the 2014 Joseph Brodsky / Stephen Spender Prize Competition.

 

Olga Livshin (co-translator) holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literature and taught Russian at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Boston University. Her poetry and translations are published in Mad Hatters’ Review, Jacket Magazine and Breakwater Review, among other journals. They are included in Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, The Anthology of Chicago and the Persian World Anthology of Poetry (in Persian translation). She lives in Philadelphia.

 

Andrew Janco (co-translator) is a Digital Scholarship Librarian at Haverford College. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Chicago. With Olga Livshin, he has translated a number of Russian poets. His translations are published in Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology and several journals.

 

She Speaks

1.

I’m fed up with my own fear
Tired of living in a pigsty
Garbage trucks don’t come anymore
They fear gunfire
So much trash
It’s just not right
Rusty cans
Brown rusty cans on white
Snow

Who will take them away if not us?
Are we supposed to live in a landfill?
We walk across the field like living targets
Picking up cans,
Putting them in trash bags,
Rusty cans
Wedding bands
Vests
Boxes
The crows’ black bodies
These bodies our own
Scattered remains

Fed up with my own fear
Fear also reaches some kind of limit
After which something begins
It’s something else
Dances with rusty cans in a white field
Housecleaning
Laundry
Snuggling in our sleep
Up to a certain moment
When time flares up like paper
Then crumbles into bits of ash
But there’s no more fear
Never again will there be
Fear

 

2.

She speaks, lit by winter sunshine,
The picture smears, disappears
Now only static remains,
Her words peck me like crows,
Peck at my heart, fed up with my own fear
Fed up with my own fear
Fed up with my own fear,

In a field
Half-eaten
By shell craters
As if by smallpox

She stands
With a shovel
And a bag
Full of trash

An interview
A blue microphone

Fed up with my own fear

Life beyond fear
Fearlessness on the verge of death

 

 

“I Used to Like…”

I used to like
the way time holds a note,
the way leaves play adagio,
the tired way a man unbuttons his shirt,
his hands seem to plod through the sluggish air.

I used to like
imaginary camel caravans trekking sleepily,
yellow like sand, endless,
like the desert.

I used to like
how gradually morning develops,
how new light, seemingly a new chance,
rises above the horizon,
I used to think,

next time
I’ll be adagio too
I’ll be holding a note

next time I, too,
will be without error
like the perfect mechanisms
of sand and leaves
and everything else

next time,
next
new
chance

Margot Anne Kelley

Living While Large

I’m about to give a reading at the local library when a stranger comes up to shake my hand, an older woman who says she lives just a few streets away.  “You look nothing like I expected!” she blurts.

“No?” I am surprised she’s spent time imagining what I look like.   

“I pictured you as tall,” the woman says, “and slender, and dressed in a sophisticated way, kind of, oh I don’t know, sporty.”

She seems oblivious to the fact that she’s telling me I’m short and heavy.  And, despite my best efforts, not sporty.  I bite back the absurd impulse to correct her on that last count, to tell her I am so.  But I don’t bother; I’ve grown adept at pretending to ignore such slights.   

They’re surprisingly common.  From the time my husband and I got engaged through the early years of our marriage, my father-in-law used to say, pretty much every time we shared a meal, “you sure don’t eat much for a fat girl!”  My father-in-law found his words hilarious, repeated them each time as if the thought were just occurring to him in that moment.

Some jabs take longer to land.  At meetings for a non-profit whose board I am on, Stacey—one of the staff members—invariably calls me Laura.  When folks correct her, she laughs, saying, “I keep doing that, don’t I?”  It took almost a year before I figured out why:  the actual Laura, who had been away on a leave of absence, came to a board meeting.  She is Latina whereas I am white; she’s several inches taller than I am; and she dresses in a flouncy, frilly way, with layers of scarves and an armful of bracelets.  Visually, the only things we have in common are our gender—and our heft. 

Mentally running through the list of people that Stacey and I have in common, I’m forced to consider that maybe Laura and I really are the only fat women she knows.  None of the staff are remotely close to overweight.  Neither are any of the other women on the Board.  In fact, I have not met anyone with whom the organization works who is heavy.  Still, this is America, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight, so you’d think she’d encounter other fat women somewhere. 

But it’s possible she doesn’t.  Despite these statistics, I am very often the only fat woman where I am.  Recently, my husband and I went to the Galapagos Islands.  I was the only person on the cruise boat who could not find a wetsuit that fit.  Even the 6’6” tall park ranger from Texas found one.  At home post-trip, in a pique of indignation and shame, I looked up the most recent U.S. census data about height and weight.  The ranger is in the 99.5th percentile for height for men in the US.  I am in the 69.5th percentile for weight for women in the US.  And yes, that’s heavy—but it also means a lot of women are my size, or bigger.  I was angry that the ship was prepared to accommodate a guy who was a total statistical outlier while ignoring the needs of, potentially, 30 percent of the women on board.  But in actuality, almost no large women were on board, leaving me to wonder whether the cruise line was usually right in not expecting us.  Could it really be that women my size are as seldom seen as the Galapagos albatross?  And if we are that rare, then why? 

Lack of a wetsuit notwithstanding, I snorkeled with the sharks and sea lions every day.  I love swimming.  In both high school and college, I swam on the men’s swim teams.  Even now, decades and pounds past my athletic prime, people at the pool where I swim still sometimes ask if I’m training for something, so unabashedly inquisitive about someone who looks like me doggedly doing laps that they break the protocol of locker rooms, that tacit agreement we all make to pretend we don’t see one another.         

I want to be clear about my motives in mentioning what a good swimmer I am. For it could be a way of saying “despite all my earnest exercising, I’m fat because I got an especially raw deal in the gene lottery.”  Or, more insidiously, it could be a form of distancing, a way of saying “I am not like those fat people who don’t work out and so are somehow more deserving of being fat than poor me.”  What I do want to point out is the curious fact that an active fat body, like a pregnant body, is something many, many people feel free to comment on. (And, full disclosure, to acknowledge the deep joy that comes with moving unfettered). 

 I’m mostly over my wetsuit pique, in no small part because I’ve gone online searching for a suit, and now know that the dearth in the Galapagos wasn’t entirely the cruise line’s fault.  They could have had wetsuits for large women, yes, but even if they had, none of them would have fit me because I am fat in the wrong way.  Apparently, if you are large and desirous of a wetsuit, you need to be uniformly large—which I’m not.  I suppose I could transfer my huffiness from the cruise line to the wetsuit industry, but they’d just be at the end of a long queue since most apparel makers ignore the existence of a large and growing market.   

Those apparel makers really confound me.  Stepping back from the unpleasantness of going clothing shopping as a large woman and simply considering the situation from the standpoint of economics, I marvel that the marketplace offers such limited options.  Within forty miles of my home, for instance, only one store consistently carries workplace appropriate clothing that both fits and appeals to me.  To be sure, this dearth is partly because I live in rural Maine.  But percentage-wise, there are as many large ladies here as anywhere else in America, and most of us need work clothes.  So while I realize the number of big women who want a wetsuit might not constitute a economically viable niche, the 30 percent of the U.S.’s female population my size and up does need to dress every day.  Do apparel makers not see this?  Not see us?

*****

I want to understand this strange mix of visibility and invisibility, to figure out how a surfeit of visibility can result in erasure.  Partly, I want to parse this oddity—the strange fact that “extra” presence is transformed into absence.  But also, I want to understand it literally, want to know where the other ladies are.  Why don’t I see my form reflected more often in the workplace, in the boardroom, at the pool?  Why doesn’t Stacey know anyone besides me and Laura who are plus-sized?   

Some of it, I suspect, is due to prejudice that starts taking a toll early—to the stereotyping of overweight children in schools that leads teachers to assume these students are less intelligent and to grade them accordingly.  In studies of both middle school students and college students, researchers found that non-overweight students get higher grades than overweight students who are equivalently intelligent, conscientious, and hardworking.  After eliminating all the other alternatives, the researchers concluded that teachers discriminate against these students through “direct or indirect pathways” that lead to lower grades.[1]  If teachers are unwittingly giving overweight students the message that they aren’t as smart as their peers, surely that effects the aspirations of some and their pleasure in school itself.  And even if it doesn’t effect the aspirations of a given student, it has an effect on her ability to get into selective colleges since her grades are lower than those of her classmates.

How great it would be if parental support countered whatever pernicious treatment heavy girls experience at school.  Alas, that’s not always the case.  Researcher Christian Crandall found that parents are less likely to support overweight daughters in their desire to attend college than average-weight daughters.  Perhaps I don’t see a lot of like-weight peers because heavy girls are so often discouraged, both directly and indirectly, from pursuing higher education and thus from entering careers that depend on advanced degrees. 

Luckily, I had incredibly supportive parents who encouraged me to excel in school.  But even we who manage to surmount school challenges eventually discover the workplace is no easier going.  Overweight people earn less than their non-overweight co-workers and frequently experience weight-related bias by employers and stigmatizing by peers, which can makes it hard to enjoy a job.  But switching jobs is also difficult, as considerable weight-related bias occurs in the hiring process.[2]      

I’ve worked in English departments and Art departments at small colleges and large universities and others in between.  I’ve served on the boards of many non-profits, ranging from environmental organizations to a fishermen’s alliance to a doctoral program in aesthetics.  Surely none of those interests are de facto off-limits for heavy folks.  If statistics bore out, one out of seven of the women I have had as colleagues on boards or in the workforce during the last decade or so should have been big.  To the contrary, I can count on one hand the number of women my size with whom I’ve worked.        

*****

Since we’re such anomalies, you’d think we’d be impossible to miss.  But that’s not the case.  And I’ve been struggling to understand why.  A psychology experiment offers a key; although it’s been around for a while, I just learned about it recently at a conference.  One of the speakers showed a video clip of six young women passing around a basketball.  He instructed us to count the passes made by the team in white shirts.  After, he asked how many passes, and the proud audience members answered nearly in unison.  Then he asked us how many had noticed a gorilla walking across the court.  Some folks laughed, raising their hands.  Nearly as many looked flummoxed.  He re-ran the video.  Sure enough, a gorilla walked on court, stared at the camera, waved, and walked off. 

The video illustrates a phenomenon called “inattentional blindness.”  The core feature of inattentional blindness is an inability to see something in the visual field, something completely un-obscured, because we do not expect to see it.  Inattentional blindness is the opposite of “we see what we want to see;” it’s that we don’t see what we find implausible.          

Stacey’s conflation of me with Laura and my neighbor’s assumption that a writer must be tall and slender (and that those traits are prerequisites for being sophisticated) are but a step away from inattentional blindness.  Let’s call their malady “inattentional near-sightedness.”  Having been culturally schooled to assume a woman with my kind of body must be lazy, smelly, self-loathing, disgusting, unhealthy, gluttonous, stupid, (shall I go on?), they cannot make sense of my being, and so, rather than revise their mental category, they just don’t quite see me.   

Many of my friends, in contrast, just don’t quite see that I am fat, a different version of “inattentional near-sightedness.”  And while that’s kind of sweet, the disconnect is revelatory.  My friend Mary says she never thinks of me as fat because she knows all the things I do in the world.  Lois insists I’m not fat because I am confident and happy.  Corinne points out that I eat healthy food I’ve grown myself, says I am “curvy” not “fat.” 

And they’re largely right.  Right that I am busy, and mostly happy and mostly confident and a fine grower of food.  Right that I have not come by my extra pounds by using food to fill empty time or an empty heart.  But here’s the thing:  their love prompts them to shift me out of the category, not to consciously challenge the stereotypes associated with the category.  Which I get:  these women have also come up in an America where it’s hard to escape the nasty extras that go with the notion of fat.    

*****

Years ago, I worked at a small college where one of the older women in the department took it upon herself to assure/warn us younger women that “you will never lose a pound after 50.”  

“And how is that different than now?”  I asked. 

“You’ll see” was all she said. 

Back then, I wasn’t able to lose any significant amount of weight, but I managed to stave off gaining it rapidly.  Five years ago, all that changed.  Shortly before I hit the magical 50, the strategies that had worked to keep my weight from sky-rocketing abruptly ceased functioning.  My colleague had never mentioned menopause, but now I know what the “you’ll see” was.  Pound begat pound.  The slide from curvy to unambiguously fat began.

Here is a thing that you don’t know unless you know:  it is terrifying.  Terrifying when you realize you have long since given up snacks, sweets, seconds, that the only thing left to give up is nutrition itself.  Terrifying when you submit to that obviously unsound tactic and find that fasting no longer budges the needle on the scale. Terrifying when you have to give up certain activities because they are too hard on your joints, or abrade your chubby thighs, or leave you gasping for air.  Terrifying when you realize you have almost no effective exercise options with which to replace the ones that hurt too much.  Terrifying because you know all those individual terrors add up to a trajectory that only serious illness is likely to change.

And serious illness is likely.  Being overweight is regularly associated with increased risk of significant chronic illnesses.  But here’s another thing you probably don’t know if you aren’t overweight:  it can change your relationship to illness in some really foolish ways.  In my mid-thirties, I got very sick and lost thirty pounds in just under eight weeks.  Although I knew the bad things that were happening to my body, I was ecstatic. 

When I returned to my teaching post, I got lots of compliments on the “new me.”  One of my students, though, visibly bristled when she heard the professor across the hall congratulating me. 

“Doesn’t she know you were sick?”  She asked.

“Yeah,” I answered, “but she also knows how hard it is for me to lose weight.”

She sat silently for a while, clearly working up the courage to say something more. 

“When my mom had cancer,” she began, “the ladies at her church would tell her how great she looked.  It was crazy.  Here she was dying, and all they could talk about was how good she looked because she’d lost weight.  I couldn’t stand it.  My mother would say ‘thank you,’ but I could see her wincing, so I’d whisper ‘fuck you,’ just loud enough for my mom to hear, ‘cause I knew she’d never say it for herself.”

*****

I am sensible enough now not to hope for illness, but that doesn’t mean I am always wise.  This year, for the first time, I cancelled my annual physical (twice, to be completely honest) because I just couldn’t bear the contempt my doctor doesn’t hide about my weight. 

As I cancelled the second time, I recalled a moment a few years ago, riding in the back of the ambulance on which I volunteered as an EMT.  We had reported to a home for a patient who turned out to be bedridden and so large that three firefighters had to come help us move him.  After we dropped off the patient at the hospital, the other EMT on the call wondered aloud, flabbergasted and obviously disgusted, how someone could let himself get so big.  Lots of uncouth things get said in the back of an ambulance, especially on the ride home, but a cardinal rule is to never blame the patient for their condition—not the guys who OD, not the drunks who flip their cars, not the octogenarians who fall on black ice.  No one, period. 

That moment is so sharp in my memory both because I realized how deep his prejudice must go, that he must feel some version of it about me, and also because barely a week later, at an annual conference for EMTs, I attended a workshop on “Lifting Safety.”  The instructor explained that an ever-increasing proportion of our patients would be heavy—partly because the population is getting heavier, but more importantly because emergency medicine has become the health access point for people who prefer not to engage the healthcare system directly as a result of the prejudice so many physicians express toward overweight patients. 

Significant percentages of medical doctors report that they believe overweight patients are lazy, dishonest, indulgent, and unlikely to be medically compliant, as well as that we lack willpower, lack adequate hygiene, and have family problems.  In one survey of more than 400 physicians, respondents were asked to indicate “patient characteristics that aroused feelings of discomfort, reluctance, or dislike.”  Obesity came in #4, after drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness.  These same physicians describe overweight patients as often “hostile.”

*****

I’m on the hunt for a new doctor, ideally one who isn’t prejudiced, though I’d settle for one who can hide it.  And I’m very lucky I can do this.  I have very good health insurance, and it does not bind me to a certain medical network.  I know how to do the research to find out how other patients have felt about prospective physicians.  I can drive a long way for care if I need to.  These pieces of luck are just a few on the very long list that separates me from someone like the housebound patient we transported. 

Which is part of what I should have told my ambulance colleague.  I wish I’d had the gumption then to speak, to tell him no one wants to be dangerously fat, you jerk.  It begins slowly, with some bad luck, maybe a whole cluster of bad lucks.  Over time, the bad luck can get compounded, leavened with accumulating reluctances:  a disinclination to be commented upon, or an unwillingness to have folks judge the contents of your cart at the grocery store.  Being seen and found wanting begins to slide into not being seen, as clerks in clothing stores walk the other way, as work associates call you by another’s name.  And just as weight begets weight, each pound makes it more difficult to find clothing in which to exercise, let alone to do the exercise, so too does having been rendered invisible beget invisibility.  It gets exhausting, this not being seen.  And so, tired of being invisible in plain sight, one may choose to be invisible on one’s own terms instead. 

That’s what happened to our patient.  The second or third time we came for him, his caretaker told me that a few years earlier he simply stopped leaving the house, finding it too painful to be out in the world.  As he grew more sedentary he also grew heavier.  Eventually, he’d become entirely bedridden.  I hold that lesson close, like an amulet.  For unlike my ambulance colleague, I know that man is not some hapless other who let this happen; he is me—he is so many of us—if we’d had his myriad bad lucks instead of mostly good ones.

 

[1] C. MacCann and R. D. Roberts, “Just as smart but not as successful: obese students obtain lower school grades but equivalent test scores to nonobese students,” International Journal of Obesity (2013) 37, 40–46; doi:10.1038/ijo.2012.47; published online 24 April 2012

[2] http://www.westsoundworkforce.com/obesity-discrimination-in-the-workplace/

Issue 5.3 Fall 2016

Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read.

"Waiting" by Brett Amory
“Waiting” by Brett Amory 

"Folly" by Brett Amory
“Folly” by Brett Amory

"Block Drugs Waiting" by Brett Amory
“Block Drugs Waiting” by Brett Amory

Nonfiction:

Bruce Black | The End of Shloshim
Chauna Craig | A Glittering of Hummingbirds, a Charm
Heather Durham | Earth to Earth
Margot Anne Kelley | Living While Large
Jen Soriano | Making the Tongue Dry
Clinton Peters | Sailing the Iowa Sea 

Translations:

Anastasia Afanasieva | She Speaks | “I Used to Like…” | **Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco
Marat Baskin | The Mad Trumpet Player’s Wife | **Nina Kossman
Eduardo Milán | Undress Your Language | **John Oliver Simon
Elhanan Nir | This Winter | **Ross Weissman

Book Review:

Raymond Wong | I’m Not Chinese | Review by Charse Yun

Spotlight on a Press:

Broadstone Books | Review by Nettie Farris

 

**Indicates Translators 

Heather Durham

heather-durhamHeather Durham is a naturalist and nature writer who holds an MS in Environmental Biology from Antioch New England University and an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. She lives and writes in a feral river valley in the foothills northeast of Seattle. Learn more at heatherdurhamauthor.com.

 

Earth to Earth

When bigleaf maple leaves larger than your face turn yellow with bronze fungal spots, it is time. When the quiet, lackadaisical songbirds of late summer join in fervent, chittering mixed-species flocks, trembling the cedars, it is time. When the rains return for real and the forests won’t dry until next summer, when licorice ferns green and unfurl and mushrooms of muted reds and purples appear out of dead wood overnight, it is time.

They are coming home, to die.

I come to the river to watch. A silver streak in the pebbled shallows. A crimson flash that seems a trick of the eye, or the water. But no – a fin there. A whitewater tail swish, just there. Chinook, also called King, salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean to spawn.

One September morning I stood not on a riverbank, but next to a rectangular holding tank containing a writhing swarm of Clackamas River Chinook. I pulled oversized rain gear and galoshes over my polyester park ranger uniform and awaited instructions from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery technicians I’d volunteered to assist.

You want me to do what??

I reached in to the steel box of river water and slid a hand along a smooth, spotted coppery-red body longer than my arm, then squinted as his tail lashed water at my face. A deep white gash adorned his side like a medal, reminding me that he was one of only two or three of his parents’ three thousand or more eggs that had survived to adulthood, and survived the journey a thousand miles and six years in the open ocean, then back up three rivers home again. Oh the places you’ve been.

I grabbed tight, with both hands. One around his thrashing tail, the other straining to grip the thick slippery belly just behind the pectoral fins. Pulled the gasping King from the water and struggled to hold him still as he writhed. He whipped his head and tail into a rigid bow and just as quickly snapped back the other direction. Fearing I would drop him, I kneeled and bear-hugged that fifty-pound sea creature to my chest.

When I’d gained control I stood and held the fish out away from me, placed his nose in a notched pedestal, and held on. One of the technicians raised a metal baseball bat and brought it down, thunk, on his head. The salmon went limp.

They come home to die.

Not this death, I knew, but the still rapid and no less violent death that comes from a journey so arduous it literally takes the life out of a body no longer acclimatized to fresh water, a body physically beaten, starving, and which, if it hasn’t already become prey, always dies within days after spawning. Because that is the natural cycle. Life begets life. These lives began in the hatchery, in human hands. They end there too. There’s no spawning habitat in a cement pool.

I told myself this as I smiled and joked with the hatchery technicians and tried to ignore my hands shaking. At the end of the day after I’d showered but still stank, when I still shook, I realized they weren’t the tremors of discomfort with helping kill fish.

I was giddy.

I was electrified by my intimacy with the mighty Chinook in that moment when life becomes death, an intimacy that no books, experts, or naturalist training could teach me. An intimacy that my acute observation skills could not show me. The intimacy of death, like sex, means to know an other in the deepest, most visceral sense. Hunters know this. Murderers too, I imagine.

*****

Many of the fish I helped kill that day at the hatchery had their eggs or sperm harvested to make more hatchery salmon; then they went on to feed people. Others were trucked back to the open river and left to rot, to feed everything else. Though we may be greedy animals who take more than our share, we are learning, or maybe, remembering. Remembering that no lives are lived in isolation. That some lives reach farther than others, and continue to ripple outward even in death.

Salmon who fight their way home do more than just pass on their DNA. Salmon carcasses, whether digested by other animals or decomposed into rivers bring ocean nutrients like nitrogen, carbon, sulfur and phosphorous that fertilize riverside plants and feed insect larvae. They in turn support entire river ecosystems, including juvenile salmon. All of which nourish forests far from rivers, down to mushrooms on cedars thick with insectivorous songbirds. Death begets life.

Mary Oliver asks us, in “The Summer Day”: What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? I ask, on a fall day, what might we do after that?

If I could, I would not seal myself in a box, nor burn my body to ashes and dust. If I could, I would give myself to the river, to be torn apart by eagles and bears, to be nibbled by fingerlings. Soaked up by cedars or washed out to sea. To discover a new slant on intimacy.

I am not alone in this. “Green” or natural burials are becoming more common in the west, and for more than just environmental reasons. Instead of chemical embalming and hermetically sealed steel boxes, shrouds and cardboard. Instead of urns interred in marble mausoleums, ashes thrown to the wind or waves. Or planted with seeds to grow into trees. I would prefer to feed a cougar or a murder of crows, but barring such luck, planted with a cedar sapling in an Oregon riverside forest would do.

But I’m not just talking about my body. We all more or less accept the idea that our physical bodies stick around here, dust to dust. Whether we attempt to seal ourselves from the earth or not, the earth will eventually take us back. But what about the invisible parts, our life forces, our vital energy, or yes, our souls that might too pass on?

No matter how secular your beliefs, you naturally wonder more about this as you grow older, as you watch loved ones die. Old age, accidents, cancer. Suicides. When someone wants more than anything else to be gone from here, where do they go?

What if an afterlife exists, but as multiple religions seem to suggest, somewhere else, up in the proverbial sky or in some other dimension? Maybe somewhere with other human souls but without the warmth of our sun, the ocean breeze or rain-soaked earth, somewhere without trees, rivers, birds, bugs, or salmon?

No matter how pleasant it might be, no matter how blissfully serene, I don’t want to go there. Earth is the place I want to stay. Whether that means I come back as another awkward and struggling human or a battered and struggling Chinook is no matter. As long as I come back. When I die, I don’t want to leave. I want to come home.

*****

It’s fall again; time to return to the river. I came in hopes of spying that silver flash I can still feel in my hands, against my body. I’m looking for life, but finding none, I follow a familiar smell to the source. There, in the shade of a yellowing cottonwood on river-smoothed stones. Eyes already pecked out, dulled white teeth in a broken jaw, battle scars on a sleek body longer than my arm. A raven watches, nearby.

Will Wells

Will Well‘s most recent book of poetry, Unsettled Accounts won the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and was published by Ohio University/Swallow Press in 2010. He continues to publish widely, often on Jewish themes and was pleased to discover Blue Lyra Review at session of AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs). He recently has been a Fellow at Sewanee Writers’ Conference and West Chester Poetry Conference and won a 2016 Individual Artist Excellence award in poetry from the Ohio Arts Council.  

                                   

Beneath the Seal, Ferrara

Plaster tablets in Ferrara’s Jewish
Archive once served as seals for Jewish tombs.
If medical students scavenged for fresh
corpses to dissect, families would assume
no remedy from the Catholic courts,
but could haggle with doctors for the scraps.
A broken seal meant go, collect the parts.
For any absent bits, God must mend the lapse

at the end of days, or so the second seal
implores.  Still missing, unabated grief,
suspended by the haste to strike a deal.
These exchanges compounded as beliefs –
to spurn the lesser offer; to hold fast
to whatever they could; to make things last.

 

 

Under an Amulet, Venice Ghetto

for Dr. Leonard Rothman

The midwife’s assistant stood across the room
and raised a Torah scroll.  It gave devout
focus through labor, a hedge against doom.
The air was suffused with scents of stewed fruit
from the pan beneath the bed, bait set to
distract demon Lilith from causing harm.
Adam’s first wife, she haunted the Ghetto,
seeking vengeance, though subject to the charm,

like her sister, Eve, of forbidden fruit.
On the mounded belly, the midwife placed
a scrap from a worn-out scroll, believing it
would leach good luck into the womb.  She faced
the wall for modesty, but used frank hands
to part the waters to a promised land.

Marat Baskin

Translator’s Note:

Although this is the first time his work has been translated into English, Marat Baskin is well known and much loved by his readers. His work has been compared to that of Isaak Babel, a great Russian-Jewish short story writer, who was killed during the Great Terror (Stalinism).

 

Born in Belarus in 1946, Marat Baskin (author) writes short stories about people he knew in his home town, one of the few remaining Jewish shtetls in the former Soviet (now Belarusian) territory. In 1992 he emigrated to the US. His short stories have been published in numerous Russian and Belarusian-language periodicals in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, etc.

 

Moscow-born, Nina Kossman (translator) is an artist, writer, poet, and playwright. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture and Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, she is the author of two books of poems in Russian and English as well as the translator of two volumes of Marina Tsvetaevas’s poetry. Her other publications include Behind the Border (HarperCollins,1994) and Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001). Her work has been translated into several languages, including Japanese, Dutch, Greek, and Spanish. She lives in New York.

 

The Mad Trumpet Player’s Wife

In memory of my mother

Every self-respecting Jewish town had a violinist. Some even had two. Krasnopol was no  exception to the rule. But now in addition to the violinist Honi, who played at all Jewish weddings in the county, Krasnopol suddenly got itself a trumpeter. Monya, son of Itzik, the town blacksmith, ran away from home with a Red Army detachment passing through Krasnopol. For three years no one heard anything from him, and Krasnopol folks lost hope that he would ever come back.  Shadhen*  Shloyme started talking with Chaim, the father of Hanochka, Monya’s bride, hinting that Monya might never come back, and even if he did, then he would come back with a shiksa*, while he, Shloyme, had some nice grooms lined up for her. And while Hanochka was still tsymus*, it was necessary to find a good hosun* for her. Hanochka did not want to hear this kind of talk; at the sight of Shloyme she would run to the other side of the street. She had forbidden her dad to talk to her about suitors — she was waiting for Monya. And finally she got what she was waiting for.

Monia appeared in Krasnopol right before the Jewish New Year.  He wore a  budyonovka and a long ankle-length coat. In addition, he had a saber scar on his head and a hiking bag with a trumpet, half a loaf of stale bread, and earrings with blue stones for Hanochka:  this was a trade he made in Berdichev for half a loaf of bread.

“Was that enough war for you, Zunale*?”  Itzik greeted him.

“Yes, enough for me, Tatunyu*. I got tired of waving my sword around, so now I’ll stay home and help you in your smithy.”

Monya didn’t say anything else about his time in the army, not on that first evening, nor later. Only once did Monya say to his bride Hanochka:

“I thought I was  fighting so my tate* would live like Moishe Bragin, but it turned out that I fought so Moishe Bragin would live like my tate.  And was it something worth fighting for?”

Itzik  did not ask his son about anything, and Monya fielded neighbors’ curious questions with quick replies, like hammer blows on his anvil:

“I don’t remember anything… I’m shell-shocked …”

And as though in confirmation of these words Monya started a strange habit of playing the trumpet in the morning. The first morning, after returning home, Monia woke up early, before the first roosters, took the trumpet out of his bag and went into the yard to play reveille. In the frosty autumn morning air the loud sound of the trumpet  rang through Krasnopol, waking up the  sleeping shtetl. Hope, faith and love of neighbor were in those sounds. Haim Belitser, Itzik’s  neighbor and Monya’s future father-in-law, who always sat with his book at that time, said that one should always start the day with a clever thought and where do you find it if not in books.  So Haim, woken up by Monya’s trumpet, looked out into the yard and, seeing his future son-in-law playing the trumpet, said,

“Ale Shlofun, du shpilst*! Everyone is asleep, and you play? So finally  we the Krasnopol folks got us our own troubadour ?! But I want to tell you that Hanochka can’t hear your music, she is still asleep. It looks like she sold her hemp at the market, because yesterday she stayed up till midnight cooking something tasty.  And I’ll tell you why she cooked it. Because today she wants to invite you to a pretty good mincemeat! But this is between you and me. I did not say anything, and you did not hear anything!”

It’s hard to say who could have heard Chaim’s words, but by the end of the day everyone in Krasnopol knew that Monya was a troubadour.  Nonik the shoemaker explained it to everyone:

“What is there to understand ?! Haim is a learned man, he took two words, truba and  dur(ak) (fool), and put them together! And there, we got a troubadour!”

Hanochka, who was as smart as her dad, heard that they were calling her fiancé a fool, so she tried to explain to them that a troubadour was a poet and musician in the Middle Ages, not a fool, but no one believed her,  just as they didn’t believe her that there were Ages that were called Middle.

“Tate,” she asked Chaim, “tell them that Monya is no fool. They’ll listen to you!”

“But what for?” Haim  said philosophically to his daughter. “Maybe in our time it is better to be a fool?” Then he added, “Leiba Trotsky also wanted to be the smartest one, and what came out of that? You want that kind of thing?”

Hanochka  didn’t want that kind of thing, so she resigned herself to the fact that  Krasnopol folks thought of Monya as a bit crazy. And after they got married, the Krasnopol folks gave her a nickname to match his: Troubadurochka.

Out of respect for Chaim they didn’t  mention it face to face with her, but behind her back this was the only name they had for her.  Hana started working as an accountant in the nearby collective farm, named after Kaganovich, while Monya worked in the smithy with his father.  Life went on as usual – they had their fill of joys and sorrows; first Itzik went to the other world, then Chaim, then Monya was awarded a two-year old farm cow for good work, then they repaired the house, then they expected  a baby son.

“And what if it’s a daughter,” Hana said.

“It’s a son,” said Monya confidently.  “I know.”

After the awarding of the cow, the local authorities tried to draw  the former Red Army man into their ideas of doing great deeds to transform the world. They requested that he come to meetings, they asked him to speak to students, but Monya firmly refused to take part in their great deeds, citing, as always, a bad memory,  so they  let it go – what can you do with a fool, let him sit in his smithy.

But Monya didn’t manage to stay in his smithy – his love for playing the trumpet every morning got him into trouble.  Although the folks of Krasnopol were already used to waking up at dawn to the sound of his trumpet like to the chiming of the clock on the Spassky Tower, the new Commissioner of the NKVD*,  Jacob Pritzer, son of a Krasnopol water carrier Nohema, who had been transferred  either to a lower or a higher position from Krichev to Krasnopol, did not quite fall in love with the sound of Monya’s trumpet.

“Who plays at dawn?” he asked, as though he had never before been in Krasnopol.

“A former Red Army guy,” they explained to him. “He was shell-shocked at the front.”

“And does he have any documents,  your Red Army guy? – The commissioner chuckled, and with that chuckle he changed him from Monya the Red Army man into Monya the White Army man.

They arrived for Monya at night.  A special team was sent for him from the center,  like for a dangerous enemy of the people, a former White Army man and a spy.

“Good bye, Hana,” Monya said and added, “I leave you my trumpet. You must play reveille every morning. I will hear it and know that you’re waiting for me. Wherever I am…”

That same night, Hana gave birth at seven months, to Itzik-Haim, and the next night, she got up from her bed, lifted the trumpet with her trembling hands, and went out into the yard.

The NKVD Commisioner flew into a rage at the sound of the trumpet.

“Who’s playing  this time?”  he asked.

“It’s Trubadurochka, the shell-shocked man’s wife,” was the explanation he got. “Maybe  she went crazy too.”

“We will cure her,” said the NKVD Commissioner, grinding his teeth. “Our professionals are very good at curing such diseases.”

And maybe Hana would have been taken the following evening too, but it so happened that the war broke out in the morning. And the NKVD Commissioner  was too busy to be bothered with Hana and her trumpet.

Most  Jews were leaving Krasnopol, but Hana stayed.

“Where can Itzik and I flee?” she said. “Monya will come here to look for us.”

And the trumpet continued to wake the people of Krasnopol.

The Germans entered Krasnopol on the tenth day of war.  All the Jews were moved from the center to the outskirts. They were not allowed to take anything with them. Yet Hana took the trumpet, and she continued to play. Someone explained this to the Germans: Let the crazy girl play her trumpet, it’ll be easier to keep the calm this way, the people of Krasnopol were used to these sounds, Jews as well as Belarusians .

There were only three Germans stationed at Krasnopol,  so the killing of Jews was given to the local police – the polizei. To strengthen the polizei they gathered them in Krasnopol from all over. In the evening, before the execution, the Jews were herded into collective farm stables.  At some point  in the morning, another Jew was dragged in.

“Havausya, Yid*,” said the policeman and kicked the bloody body.

Hana started: for a second it seemed to her that it was Monya. But it was Yasha Pritzer, beaten, bloodied, half-dead. He was moaning and asking deliriously  for water. But no one had water. And then Hana, unable to bear his groans, came up to him, leaned over him,  pulled out her breast, swollen with milk, and squeezed some milk onto Yashka’s dried lips. Feeling moisture on his lips, he opened his eyes and saw Hana.

“Forgive me,” he whispered.

Hana asked, “Where is Monya?”

“There was an order to destroy all the arrested enemies of the people”,  he whispered. “I myself read the order. So they wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Germans.”

After dark the Jews were brought out from the stable and led to a pit behind the village, near the drying plant.  Hana was lagging behind, dragging her feet at the end of the crowd, with Itzik in her arms, and police hurried her with constant  shouts. But she did not pay attention to these shouts, she did not hear them. Dawn was coming, the time when she had to play the trumpet.

When the first ray appears, Monya will hear the trumpet, she thought.  And he will  know that I am waiting for him.

The sun flew out from behind the clouds, and for a moment it blinded Hana. She closed her eyes. And she began playing.

Everyone turned at the sound of her trumpet, the Jews and the polizei.

At the same moment they saw a rider rushing towards the crowd. He held in his hand a huge hammer from his smithy and brandished it like David’s sling. It was Monya. He raced straight to the polizei, and they, in fear and surprise, scattered, taking rifles off their shoulders and aiming at him as they ran. Monya, like a fabulous hero swinging his hammer, swept past them all, picked up Hana and Itzik and put them into his saddle and, raising a cloud of dust, sped toward Vydrenka. The polizei caught on and started firing at random, but the rider was already far away.

“And then what happened?” I asked my mother.

“I don’t know,” she said. “We were told this story when we returned from the evacuation. Monya and Hana did not return to Krasnopol after the war.  And why would they –  Monya would have been arrested again.  Monya’s trumpet no longer resounded through Krasnopol in the mornings, but many in Krasnopol would wake up at night from its sound. The sound of Hope, Faith and Love …”

I did not understand my mother’s last words. I was still too young to understand them. But now,  in New York, far from Krasnopol, I wake up in the middle of the night from a long and lingering sound of the trumpet playing reveille. I hope, I believe, I love …

___________________________

Glossary:

shadhen – matchmaker (Yiddish)
shiksa – a woman who is not Jewish (Yiddish)
tsymus – a treat, something sweet
hosun – bridegroom (Yiddish)
Zunale  – son (Yiddish)

Tate, Tatunyu – father, dad (Yiddish)
Ale Shlofun, du shpilst – Everyone is asleep, and you play (Yiddish)
NKVD – a precursor of the KGB, the dreaded Soviet secret police
Havausya, Yid – You were hiding, Yid (Belarussian).  “Yid” is a slur for “Jew” in Eastern Europe.

Andrea Uptmor

Andrea Uptmor is a writer living in Minneapolis.

 

When K Gets Home

The cat has been dead
for hours, coiled tidily
on the tufted rug
where he spent his slow
and deliberate afternoons.
Oh, dampness. His golden
fur, his pulpy toes.

You wonder: Has K seen?
No. Not yet. She is aflush
with carnal magic, grating
with one toenail an itch
on the meaty center of her calf.
The hallway mirror paints a portrait
of heronesque grace, thick
pleasure: tongue
resting upon its lower
lip like a slug.

How beautiful, she mouths
and rakes, to have
this kind of accidental
pleasure in life.
Such as last summer
when the garden opened
itself to my feet
like the sinking back
of a lover. That reddest tomato.
Wind that smelled of lake. Me
chewing like a child, seeds blessing
my chin in their phlegmy juice.
Eating as if I had not just crashed
the car into the garage. As if
I had not panicked at the sound
of peeling metal, nor
braked mid-scrape, nor held
the seatbelt between my teeth and cried
at the damage of reversing;
the cost of moving forward. Grief
loomed either way, and yet.
That red tomato still awaits, that
spongy earth beneath.

How curious, she
murmurs, the moments
that press upon you
with such urgency
that you wear them
from then on like a cape. May
we all be wrapped
in them forever.

Tim Mayo

Tim Mayo Tim Mayo’s poems and reviews have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Poetry International, Poet Lore, River Styx, Salamander, San Pedro River Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Web Del Sol Review of Books, and The Writer’s Almanac. His first full-length collection, The Kingdom of Possibilities, was published by Mayapple Press in 2009. His second volume of poems, Thesaurus of Separation, is forthcoming from Phoenicia Publishing in July 2016. A five-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, and a top finalist for the Paumanok Award, Mayo lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

 

The Mussel Pickers

Out of the belch and foam of whales,
the slap and splash of the big fin,
out of the ambergris depths
of the great leviathans, comes the moment
they have waited for.

Out of the pop and dip of harbor seals,
their bobbing heads’ glistening black sheen,
out of the chop and lurch of the big waves,
they see the sea’s slow, slate-colored ebb,
its weakening recession at dusk or dawn,
and the impoverished bounty of brown
appear.

Out of the feather-green of the bayside grasses,
out of the spiked bastions of fir and spruce,
they come descending the granite-gray cliffs
down to the jagged depths of rock and water,
and there . . . amid the foam-lathered and steepled stone,

they cut free the salt-raw tangles of filaments,
their thongy, ragged lengths from the bastioned boulders,
and tugging the barnacled-white and steel-blue shells
by the rough tendrils of their anchors, they raise
the dangling clusters: skyward, blue-ward and to the clouds,
then, from the salt-grit and slick of this unearthing,
they, once again, trumpet and proclaim:

Blessed are the animals of the sea
the fast fin and leap of those that swim,
the slime and squeeze of the slow ones,
and the calcified castles of the immovable.

Blessed are the pluck and harvest,
the brine-becoming-beauty and taste of them.
Blessed, blessed, are we, the mollusk-eaters,
our slurp and drool––even the lip-smackers among us,
for they, too, have touched the beards of mussels.

Jen Soriano

mamateomlkJen Soriano is a Filipina-American essayist and social justice strategist originally from Chicago.  Her literary work has appeared in STIR, aaduna and Waxwing, with an additional essay forthcoming in the 2017 issue of TAYO Literary Magazine. Jen holds a BA in History of Science from Harvard, and is currently an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.

 

Making the Tongue Dry

1.

I’ve blown a bubble, and rather than chase it with the wand, I catch it on my tongue where it stays – plump, seductive, shining – till it bursts.

My infant son shrieks with delight, claps for more.  Is this a natural human impulse, to desire bubbles even though they burst?

The residue has left an acrid dryness on my tongue.  I run the kitchen faucet, cock my head to catch sips of the stream.

Rinse. Spit. Repeat. A dozen washes, but the bitterness remains.

Faucet shut, I walk with baby on hip to our balcony.  In the harsh afternoon light, we quietly watch the surface of Puget Sound recede.

 

2.

Nearby, a monumental face reflects on the same waters.  Four stories high, she looms like a sentinel over the Sound. She is sculptor Jaume Plensa’s version of tragedy: Echo, the disembodied Greek mountain nymph who loved Narcissus, protected Zeus, and was condemned by Hera to forever repeat others’ words.

Echo’s eyes are mathematically angled toward Mt. Olympus.  They are full of longing and calculation.

From our balcony, beyond the silos of a rusted grain elevator, I can see Olympus’ bald twin peaks.  They are jagged breasts jutting frontward from a bony spine.  I imagine what Echo might say, if she could:

“I want to speak about bodies, bodies austere and plundered, then changed into new forms.”

Instead, lips melted, she echoes only the hum of cargo ships cutting ponderously toward sea. 

 

3.

Bubbles have burst and bodies have withered, from Athens to the Pacific Northwest. Clear-cut spruce and pulped hemlock, amputated pensions and popped securities. Now mercury rises in direct variation.

The product of this equation is my infant son’s hair matted with sweat, seagull droppings steaming on Echo’s head, my father’s ankle bursting with gout.  And bald eagles — or is it plucked chickens? — coming home to roost.

Bulging deficits.  Damaged climates.  Seismic shifts.
Backs of workers.  Spine of earth.
Subtraction.  Extraction.  Contraction.
The end of this long division is not a natural number.

How can I explain this to my baby?  Better to just blow bubbles that burst?

 

4.

Let’s begin here: with the origins of the word.  Austerity: from the Greek austeros, meaning “bitter”, “harsh” and especially, “making the tongue dry.”

Bitter like creeks run with dust.
Bitter like once-tree ash flying wild now unrooted flame.
Bitter like blood from biting tongue to bear cuts, like hungry backwash on sand.

Harsh like nets cut beneath the failing trapeze.
Harsh like once-run water crippled now spigots drip rust.
Harsh like skin from bare backs mending holes in silk pockets, like a starved Narcissus and a nymph turned to bone.

Dry.  Like.

Dry like Echo’s tongue, thick with longing for her Olympus home — even the baldness of it, the austerity of it — where just last summer she could lap its ice peaks like popsicles. Now she licks gravel and dirt.

Dry like tongues unleashing stories of bootstraps and chains.  Like mouths demanding first a tightened belt and now the belt itself.  Dry like those who — from Greece to Puerto Rico to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest — go thirsty to grow the nest egg of Narcissus.

 

5.

Eco, I mean Echo, the four-story nymph, reflects soberly across the receding Sound. She hums the cutting of cargo ships pondering toward sea.

She wants to part her lips and blow seeds of the unimaginable, not to reap-eat what has passed.  She is weary of plunder and its brother austerity, bored of all the counterfeit bubbles that burst.

Echo longs for transformation from tragedy.  She calculates the balance of myth.  In myth there are dreams: flexible bubbles, stable waters, dandelions.

 

0.

How can I explain this to my baby?  Will he grow to blow bubbles that burst?

The silent Sound continues to recede, like water draining reluctantly from a bathtub.

“Let’s begin here,” I say. “With the origins of our world.  And the ancient lesson that all things old must give way to the new.”

My infant son giggles again.  From our balcony, the afternoon light recedes to purple dusk.  I dab his forehead, but fail to stop the sweat from salting his right eye.  He stops laughing, rubs a tiny fist across his lids, opens his eyes once more.

“Are you my little Narcissus, admiring your reflection in the Sound?”

I trace his gaze across the water, beyond to the horizon, where the bald twin peaks of Olympus are dragon’s teeth on fire.

Lori Desrosiers

Lori Desrosiers’ poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, (Salmon Poetry, 2013), a chapbook, Inner Sky (Glass Lyre Press), and a new full-length book of poems, Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak (Salmon Poetry, 2016). Her poems have appeared in New Millenium Review, Contemporary American Voices, Best Indie Lit New England, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene’s Fountain, The Mom Egg, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish-American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry. She teaches Literature and Composition at Westfield State University and Holyoke Community College, and Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University MFA graduate program.

 

Salt

Nobody puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land

Warsan Shire

We have forgotten how
our mothers left their fathers’ lands
crossed uneven planking
onto vessels of doubt.

Suffered salt water, heat
and loneliness
in bruised pursuit
of promises

stored like seeds beneath
sore, weathered feet
calloused on that long walk
from shore to shore.

They believed the sea
would heal them
from ravages of war
or deluge of hunger.

We their children
ignore the documents
forged in congresses
argued in assemblies

call new immigrants
criminals and job-stealers
make them flee to other lands
despite their families waiting

like our mothers’ mothers
waited to take their daughters
in their arms
to hold them again.

Instead, children’s bodies
wash up on a Turkish beach
a family rejected
by mounds of Canadian red tape.

Patrick Venturella

(Patrick Venturella needs bio)

The Geologist

watches fog
slide across the lake
phantom tectonic

plates congeal into continents
then dissipate     mountains
thrust skyward then evaporate

a gust of wind
a species of ghost
goes extinct

he feels orogenies     erosions
decay laced November
air lithifies his bones

and time peels
back layers of skin

 

 

The Lake Is Ink

spilled on ice
and Tom tells funny
stories with his hands

the camp fire
throws his shadow
against the limestone

cliff and his silhouette
hunts mammoths
and builds pyramids

his silhouette illuminates
scripture and starts
its own blog

and I’m not sure
if the heat
is coming from the fire

or your body
but our laughter

entwines     moves
through the blackness

Kate Fadick

14045884_10207144681075297_5929168136342785178_nKate Fadick began working seriously as a poet in 2009.  Prior to then, she worked with rural and urban Appalachian communities on issues of environmental and economic justice. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Still: The Journal, Indianola Review, Kudzu, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Wind ’97, Blue Lyra Review and other journals. Slipstream, her first chapbook, was released by Finishing Line Press in March, 2013.  She lives in Cincinnati, OH with her partner of 25 years.

 

When Hildegard cannot sleep

she stays up
all night       hidden in the branches
only she can see

and when
she tires of darkness

color spills from her eyes
into the wind

the sky fills
with blue flame

gentle as breath

her words
once empty shells
begin to sing

and the sweet ache
rises in my throat

 

 

In my dream of Hildegard

we turn to face the worst
our kind can do

our bodies the spinning
death of stars

woven with all that lives

a fragile weft of green
runs dull through her fingers

the yes of her eyes
enough of  a prayer

 

 

When Hildegard drops
a blue sapphire into her wine…

strobes and circles
fill her mind’s eye

she sings her unresolved
modes        breathless

sketches visions on wax
as she sits

on the slash
between either / or

Elhanan Nir

elhanan-nirElhanan Nir (author) has published three books of poetry: Begging for Intimacy (2008), The Ordinary Fire (2011) and He Who is under the Rubble (2014). He has been awarded a number of international and Israeli literary honors including: the Wertheim Prize (2008), the Ramat Gan Poetry Prize (2010), the Prime Minister’s Prize (2011), Isaac Leib and Rachel Goldberg Prize from the Jewish National Fund (2014), the Posen Prize (2014), and the Haim Kugel Prize (2016). He is a Rabbi and teacher at Yeshivat Yitzhak Siach and Machanaim, and editor at M’kor Rishon. Elhanan lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.

 

ross-weissmanRoss Weissman (translator) recently completed a master’s degree from Harvard University, where he now works as a Teaching Fellow. His poetry and its translation are published and forthcoming in the Caliban Magazine, Ezra, and Lunch Ticket. Ross was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA.

 

This Winter

This winter I need a mom

and there are many reasons why,

I only understand a few.

This winter I shiver like every winter

and I really must have a mom on days

the whole orphan in me shakes

and I have no prayer-walls

to shield me from the downpour of loneliness

 

 

 

elhanan-nir-poem

P. V. Beck

p-v-beckP. V. Beck has published poetry, essays, articles, translations, young-adult novel, and works of non-fiction.

 

 

 

In the Deep Midwinter

The earth stalled on the longest night of the year creaking at its old poles,
a ball of ice too tired to roll over.
Deep below zero Fox exhales ice, her fur is thick as snow.
She hears no fibrillating heart beats, no scurls or scurry, only a
silent frozen scape waiting for a pulse of heat.
Bear in their caves, mice in their tunnels. Deep and hushed and ancient the
heart slows to the pace of creation.
Fox pushes through the snow to the emptiness where the pond used to
be—a cat-tailed moonscape, a tangle of elk hairs locked in ice.
Her aching breath and hunger pull at her.
A winter that escapes itself in sleep and then awakens, that’s what we
cherish. That moment something moves in the corner of the eye, a
flurry or flight, the folding over of cusp and quarry
on that longest night.

Lorcán Black

lorcan-blackLorcán Black is a poet from the Republic of Ireland, now living in London. He has previously had poetry published in Harbinger Review (forthcoming), The Chiron Review (forthcoming), The Great British Write-Off Anthology 2015, Eunoia Review, Octavious Magazine, Boyne Berries: Issue 17 & 14, Wordlegs and Eratio among various others. He is Editor in Chief of Anomaly Literary Journal.

 

Fields

Ships resembling coffins float ceremoniously
across the open bowl of the Atlantic-

ignorant of the cargo digesting itself
in the belly of its own vast hunger.

The sea accepts what it is given:
swallowing its gifts of shroud-less dead.

In the homeland,
fields like open wounds peel back
to reveal a nest of bones to the elements.

The bones are nameless.

They are a puzzle,
grotesque in their fragments.

The pieces are nothing unordinary-
merely remnants of various villages:

countless brothers or wives,
a hoard of infant ribcages,
fibulas, finger bones
or a fistful of various teeth
from some tenant farmer’s
four starved daughters.

Survivors laden with rickets
reach new land, wrap their tongues
around foreign sounds.

I imagine them
learning how not to consume
every morsel that passes into their hands,
or to picture the earth in which it grew,

even in the New World, i Meiriceá,
still grasping a hesitancy
deep as roots

as the unthinking eye
strays into the far corners of fields,

and comes the memory of wind
over a cradle of nettles-

the visions of unmarked pits,
the cold menagerie of bones.

 

 

Tapestry

I.

At night I dream of a window
through which there stands a bald tree,
the many aching limbs scratch the sky.

The heavens hear no prayers.
And as I walk, I drag a blackness in my wake.

The night birds know no lullabies.
How the bald head of the moon laughs cruelly at this.

The roads know no secrets or lies.

They know nothing but truths
which unfurl out ahead, great cobbled
tongues

rolling off to a destination
uncertain and unknown,

intimating nothing.

 

II.

From where I am laid down
I have two views:

One is the cold metallic eye of a square mirror,
busying itself with memorising the opposite wall;
and a window, swallowing and releasing a single moth.

The moth is trying to bring the light with it,
crossing and re-crossing
between a light bulb and the window
and soon gives up.

This is how they shall find me, finally:
The blood-jet flooding the hot waters,
having swallowed too many pills for my penances.

All this water cleanses like a mini-Jordan.
Soon I will be whitened and pure as Christ.

 

III.

My ceiling now is white
with one grey smear surrounding
my naked light bulb.

I lie quite still, laid out as if for burial
as if I were King Tut.

Endless streams of gaggling heads
appear in my view with their doctoring squints.

This is a ritual.
Bind together the feathers, gather the blood in a bowl.
Smoke sage over a pyre
and burn the lanterns down low.

Watch how the silence,
like distance, enlarges itself up on me:

a shadow on a wall, relentless.

 

IV.

Outside the moon tears
open like a bright hole in black cloth.

Pale stars wink jealousies at my feet and I walk godly.
The doctors chatter and glitter me with smiles.

Now I lie quite still,
clear and sharp as a pane of glass

while from the window unobtainable
stars glimmer viciously.

 
The statues of saints
I have adorned have all turned black.

The papers are finalised,
by morning the doctors shall set me free.

Starlight runs down my walls with the hours;
the painstaking fall into dawn.