Category Archives: Issue 3.2 Spring 2014

Issue 3.2 Spring 2014

Issue 3.2 Spring 2014

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.

"The Thirsty Cup" Art by Lara Zankoul
“The Thirsty Cup” Art by Lara Zankoul

"Midnight" Art by Rose Blouin
“Midnight” Art by Rose Blouin

"The Thirsty Cup 2" Art by Lara Zankoul
“The Thirsty Cup 2” Art by Lara Zankoul

 

Poetry:

Lucille Lang Day | Rituals | I Am Afraid
Julie R. Enszer | Imperfect
Natalie Fisher | Watering the Roses
Kayla Haas | Another Tamarind Night
Cheryl Anne Latuner | What Rests in the Earth
Hart L’Ecuyer | Carnival in Neosho, Missouri | A Subway in New York with Hart Crane
Zvi A. Sesling | Excerpt from the Inquisition
Adrienne Su | Procrastination
Wally Swist | Dinner with Camus
Donna Vorreyer | Finding A Way | Instructions for Stones

 

Fiction:

Sara Henning  | Cutting It Down
R A Santos  | Body in Hands
Sarah Seltzer  | Disorder

 

Book Reviews:

Rutu Modan | The Property | review by Maya Klein
Elaine Starkman | Hearing Beyond Sound | review by Zara Raab

Nonfiction:

Balvinder Banga | Bare Footed Dreams of my Father
Ellen Brooks | Dayenu
Susan Knox | Autumn Life
Tom Leskiw | Family Matters

 

Translations:

Edna Aphek | My Father
Moshe Dor | Old People Talking | **Barbara Goldberg
Inna Kabysh | Triptych | **Katherine E Young
Kim Myung Won | 49th Day | On the Road | **EJ Koh

 

Spotlight on an Artist:

Vanessa Marsh

 

 

**Indicates translators


Elaine M. Starkman

Hearing Beyond Sound Elaine Starkman coverHearing Beyond Sound: New and Collected Poems
by Elaine M. Starkman

San Ramon, CA: DVS Publishing, 2013
Paper, 72 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9883006-2-0
Reviewed by Zara Raab 

 

 

Light Travel, Sound Travel 

Fog is universal, but nowhere does it have quite the presence that it has in the San Francisco Bay area, where Elaine Starkman has lived most of her adult life. Starkman’s new book opens with the characteristically unpretentious language of “Alive, Winter, 2008,” in which imagery of pear juice, goblets, and fog establishes a tone and mood that pervades many of her poems: 

My view
illumined by

fog-drenched
phantom orchards.

“Sandy’s Gone, January 2011” captures in title alone her simple, understated language, evoking the temperament of a diarist who keeps a journal, or a faithful correspondent, each letter dated, sent from ports in her travels through life. Reflections on death and solitude intermingle in “Sooner or Later, 2000”: All this will end//[. . .] Loving and not loving knowing/sooner than later we’ll part//Then what we think/ will not matter//Then we’ll wonder/what silences we’ll take//with us/ to our graves.” This poem reads like a letter to a spouse of many years. Many of Starkman’s poems have much of the simplicity and intimacy of personal correspondence. This isn’t to say Starkman’s descriptions aren’t lovely. In “June, 1999,” the line breaks have the purposeful presence of suggesting a necklace of the pearls featured as an image in the poem: 

Night—
chips of pearl
fading toward
dawn

 “Stillness, February, 2006,” set in Green Gulch at Muir Beach, epitomizes this poet’s reflective cast of mind:

I didn’t think
this calmness
could happen,

this sweet
immeasurable stillness

By following the contours and normative turns of her syntax, and breaking predictably, Starkman’s lines mirror her zen approach to life, one of whose tenets might be paraphrased as “the way is easy for those who do not pick and choose.” Starkman rarely offers rhythmic surprise, or breaks the poetic line to amplify or qualify meaning – to strive for more than is natural. Although Starkman has chosen to keep her poems free from the strictures of meter and rhyme, she has not then taken on the difficulties inherent in rhythmic surprise, enjambment or complex meaning. Starkman is never overly ambitious in her use of the freedom of free verse. This has a calming effect, slowing down the progress of the poem and perhaps facilitating connection with the reader. It is rather like some of William Carlos Williams’ early poems, before he mastered his brilliant rhythmic patterns in what James Longenbach has called the “annotating line.”

One of my favorite poems, in the section of “History Lessons” drawn from Jewish and her own history, is “Peaches, Netanya, Near the Sea,” an homage to Avram, an “old immigrant/from Eastern Europe” who sells peaches from a cart with his helper, young Yosef, “the singing Yemenite;/ his dark sandaled feet” dangling “over the cart pulled by a donkey,” while their dog Cush runs alongside. The poet recalls Yosef teaching her how to say the Hebrew word for peach, “Ahfarsek,” and giving her a taste. She concludes:

Oh, fruit of the land
Oh, milk and honey.
Where are you now,
Singing Yosef,
Silent Avram,
Lost Cush

“Every Single Day, a Ray of Light” evokes the Jewish Kabbalah, and “Kaddish for the Columbia” discusses “the sketch/ by a boy in Auschwitz” carried into outer space by the space shuttle Columbia, without echoing any of the rich, wrought cadences of the Hebrew bible. Ancient Jewish traditions pervade these poems, while the sparse style remains firmly planted in the twenty-first century. “In the Kibbutz Laundry, 1969,” one of a series of poems set in Israel, is dedicated to Rivka Cooper, whose arm is tattooed with a concentration camp number:

 In the kibbutz laundry
 Her hands move in an act of love.

“[E]ngraved on her arm/ Lives a page of history/ That all the soap/ And all the rubbing/Can never wash away.”

Family bonds are a rich source of reflection. In “Apricots for Isaac,” the poet savors an afternoon of walking with her grandson in an abandoned orchard; he climbs an apricot tree whose fruit is beginning to ripen. In “Patterns,” she reflects on the links between the generations, the patterns tying her to her mother, and from her mother through her, to her children:

How is it that I’ve become my mother
Stand at the sink   wash her hair

The way she once washed mine
How is it that I carry everything

Unnamed between us
Onto my own children

And call it love

“Re-reading Poems of Anne Sexton, 1984” makes evident Sexton’s influence: “The fearless courage of your writing/ nourished my own.” Preoccupation with childhood motivates poems like “Three A.M., November 2011,” recording a dream of a “blue eyed/dark haired brother and sister//I knew long ago,” or the poem “Chicago: Garfield Park Conservatory, September, 2004,” conjuring a neighborhood where the poet “trudged with [her] father through winter snow, spring rains, and summer swelter more than /half a century ago.”

Although Starkman begins her poems with a personal perspective, she is by no means a Confessional poet, and she writes of male literary influences, capturing in brief stanzas the essences of Hemingway, Einstein, and Gandhi, each of whom “lets me know that my life/ is in my own hands” (“Traveling Among Men, June, 2012”).

Never inflated, didactic, or politically correct, Starkman isn’t generally interested in news headlines but in the slow news of family life, as in the charming “In Praise of Old Man’s Pee,” dedicated to her father, whom she visits in the hospital near the end of his life. Starkman celebrates the “men we don’t hear or/read about who give/us their manly gifts//who love us gently/with compassion.” An overarching theme of Hearing Beyond Sound is the need for an inner voice.

No, I don’t want
To know who’s
Making money
Losing it
Who’s having affairs
Who’s winning
[. . .]
More news  more websites
More blogs  more spam
More more more—

There’s lively detail in Starkman’s portrait of the well-dressed man in a wheelchair selling soap on the street corner in “Lost Words, 2009,” and humor in the poet’s recognition that, caught up in the petty trials of her own life, she does not really see him. Starkman is most exuberant in her friendships with women. “Cabana Carioca, New York City,” dedicated to the poet Florence Miller, describes a New York City outing:

We abandon ourselves
To every pan-handler
[. . .]
We swoon at the stocky waiters
In Cabana Carioca on 45th Street.
[. . .]
we samba up the line in step
to the last of the Portuguese buffets
where we pay the counter price
for paella and flan at this lunch of love.

At times, Hearing Beyond Words reads like a travel letter from Israel, Europe, and Asia, and occasionally the line between poetry and good prose is sustained only by the thin thread of the line break. Yet without straining for heightened literary effect, the poet connects with both the people in her stories and her readers beyond the page. Even in sleep, she is traveling, with the notion of some ultimate journey beyond life hovering like a shadow. In “Traveling Toward Dawn, September, 2005,” she writes, “Soon I’ll lie down to sleep/wrap myself in night/ fold its coverlet above me.” Travel is evoked even by this tender collection’s elusive title, referring to the “celestial sound” of the highway, the “angelic humming//from the car tires/ as we pass sandy dunes,” on their way somewhere. As reader, I welcome these missives from other lands. I travel with her.

––––––––

Zara Raab’s latest book is Fracas & Asylum. Earlier books are Swimming the Eel and The Book of Gretel, narrative poems of the remote Lost Coast of California in 19th  and early 20th Century. Her poems appear in River Styx, West Branch, Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, and The Dark Horse. She is a contributing editor to Poetry Flash and The Redwood Coast Review. Rumpelstiltskin, or What’s in a Name? was a finalist for the Dana Award. She lives near the San Francisco Bay.

Vanessa Marsh

TwoCarsandaLamppost

Spotlight on an Artist: Vanessa Marsh

 

Vanessa Marsh is a visual artist from Seattle Washington now living and working in Oakland, CA. Although the end result of most of her work is photography, she engages with drawing, painting and sculpture to create her images. She has received fellowships from Headlands Center for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony and Kala Art Institute. Her work can be seen at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, CA, Kala Gallery in Berkeley, CA and Julie Nester Gallery in Park City, UT.

Artist Statement:

Always Close But Never Touching 

WomanWalkingTo make the images, I construct miniature scenes out of models and natural elements such as moss and grass and photograph them against real backgrounds. Inspiration for the scenes is drawn from memories of human interactions and the experiences of the landscapes of Northern California and Western Washington.

The specific details of the memories have been transformed over time in my mind—influenced by subsequent observations, events, and occurrences. As memory is a combination of both real and imagined elements so too are the photographs. Alluding to different locations and experiences simultaneously, the images are of unknown, imagined places yet are also evocative of something familiar. Ultimately, the images reference a shared experience of isolation. 

I create dreamlike spaces that are at once anonymous and entirely personal. Rooted in imagination and memory the images represent locations that are suspended in both time and place, with no before or after. 

San Francisco 2008

Everywhere All at Once 

Sometimes there is a hazy, almost tropical light that falls over the Bay Area. The moisture in the air falls on the landscape and makes it appear as a series of two-dimensional planes intricately layered together. When I see this light, I imagine these individual planes of landscape each moving freely along independent trajectories. In my imagination, the landscape becomes one of dislocated landmarks, geography and infrastructure, constantly changing. Within the series Everywhere All at Once I bring to form these imagined landscapes and combine them with intensely starlit skies, highlighting both a personal as well as a collective experience of the world. My goal is to make images that are familiar and dreamlike, evocative of an almost unreachable memory. 

Looking out over the landscape the night sky provides a reminder of the smallness of our existence and also the vast possibilities inherent to our experience. It provides a connection between distant individuals, a jumping off point for belief systems, and an interstellar reference that helps us to navigate our world. For me, more than anything, the night sky provides a sense of space and infinity that is at once the essence of openness and possibility and also terrifyingly complex and unfathomable. 

I remember as a child the first time I looked intently out into a starry sky. I was away at summer camp up in the San Juan Islands and we were sleeping outside in a field by our cabin. It was dark enough to see the Milky Way; so dense it looked like a large smudge of light across the sky. Our counselor explained to us that the light we were seeing took so much time and crossed so much space that the stars it was coming from may not even exist anymore. I don’t remember when I fell asleep that night, but I know it was awhile that I lay there staring up, my heart pounding, realizing the vastness. 

-Vanessa Marsh, Oakland, 2014


Bikers

 

Landscape#12

 

Image Info:

Vanessa Marsh, Two Cars and a Lamp Post, from the series Always Close But Never Touching
Vanessa Marsh, Woman Walking, from the series Always Close But Never Touching
Vanessa Marsh, Bikers, from the series Always Close But Never Touching
Vanessa Marsh, Landscape #8, from the series Everywhere All at Once
Vanessa Marsh, Landscape #12 from the series Everywhere All at Once

Rutu Modan

Rutu Modan. The Property book coverThe Property
by Rutu Modan
Hardcover: 232 pages

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (May 14, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1770461159
ISBN-13: 978-1770461154
Reviewed by Maya Klein 

 

Appropriating Memory

“To find something, you have to know what you are looking for,” says a character in The Property, the second full-length graphic novel by acclaimed artist and writer, Rutu Modan. The novel makes this assumption, along with numerous others, and subjects it to a form of scrutiny that is original to Modan – playful, while at the same time, remarkably telling.

The story follows Mica, a young Israeli woman, and her elderly grandmother Regina as they take a week-long trip to Warsaw to reclaim property owned by Regina’s family before World War II. Regina is the quintessential “Polish Lady”: prickly, mercurial, and oftentimes impossible; she is also an intelligent, loving grandparent and has an irresistibly dark sense of humor. Her granddaughter, Mica, possesses the same quick temper and sharp wit, and she is as gutsy, sarcastic and smart as she ought to be, even demonstrating her expertise in “Krav Maga,” a self-defense system.

Modan’s use of the medium is virtuoso; her talent in depicting visual detail – a slipped bra strap, a messenger-bag, or just the right pantsuit – is coupled with the manner in which she writes dialogue, expertly navigating the voices through three languages – Hebrew, English and Polish, which are denoted by changes in font. Each language is given its own particular, authentic inflection. For example, when Regina is stopped by Israeli airport security on account of her water bottle, she attacks the guard and says, “Rules – were they handed down to Moses at Mount Sinai?”

At their best, graphic novels delve deep into weighty issues, almost sneaking up on the reader with their significance, and The Property proves no exception. Like Spiegelman in his seminal MAUS (despite his reluctance to being cast in the role, Spiegelman is largely considered the father of the modern graphic novel), and like Satrapi in Persepolis, Modan makes full use of the freedom that the genre entails. In this deceptively quick read, potentially explosive issues relating to individual and national identity, history, and politics are all depicted in simple and convincing frames.

First, the novel raises the ethical dilemma regarding the legitimacy of using personal stories – taking real people’s pain – and turning it into art. This question is exacerbated when dealing with trauma that is both personal and collective, such as the Holocaust. The love affair that Mica has with Tomasz, a Polish artist whom she meets in Warsaw, brings the matter to light. Tomasz is working on a graphic novel, a rendering of the events of World War II from the Polish perspective. When Mica discovers that he has in fact been sketching her grandmother’s story, she becomes infuriated and suspicious, fearing Tomasz is merely using her to realize his artistic ambitions. He apologizes, but Mica, flinging his flowers in the trash, mutters, “I forgive but I don’t forget.”

Worldly and intelligent, Mica chooses words that are steeped in Holocaust discourse. The staying power of the narrative, the collective trauma and also, arguably, the sense of victimhood, persist in Israeli culture; they are closely tied to notions of personal identity and infiltrate the most intimate relationships. Through the character of Tomasz, the novel also seems to be asking ethical questions: Who is authorized to tell a story? And from which point of view? Does it really belong to anyone?

Indeed, the “property” that this graphic novel is concerned with undergoes a complete and comprehensive reconfiguration. As in English, the Hebrew word for property, “neches,” is also frequently used in its verb form, “lenaches” – to appropriate – and the journey that Regina and Mica take towards rightful ownership or re-appropriation is complex precisely because it does not merely pertain to tangible property.

An opening scene depicts the women’s flight to Warsaw. The plane is packed with rowdy high-school students on an educational tour of the concentration camps. When asked as to the purpose of their own trip, Regina and Mica adamantly deny that they are on any kind of “roots journey”: they say that their trip is purely business. The women are careful to set themselves apart from the sort of “concentration camp tourism” that is subject to scathing irony from Modan. The teenagers are going wild on the plane, one of them wearing a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” t-shirt, while another has “The March of Life, 2008” emblazoned on her back. Their schoolteacher nonchalantly ticks off the itinerary while munching on his breakfast roll. “Let’s see. . . Monday – Treblinka, Tuesday – Madjanek, gas chambers, etc. Personally, I prefer Madjanek to Auschwitz. It’s much scarier.”

Modan illustrates how the real horrors of war are subjected to the mechanisms of memorialization that are unable to do them justice. Memory and tragedy are appropriated, not by the artist figure (like Tomasz or perhaps Modan herself) but by a system, such as the Israeli educational system which has been entrusted to maintaining them. The result is a warped, flattened representation, with educators looking to frighten their disinterested young audiences into submission. Furthermore, as indicated by the re-enactment scene in the Jewish ghetto, the need to constantly up the ante, to titillate audiences so that they can experience “the real thing” is not limited to Israeli culture, or to desensitized youth thrice removed from the events. The desire to have an authentic experience of trauma results in grotesque farce. Hence, sighs the overzealous director of the society for Jewish memorialization, “I miss the ghetto.”

Though not stated explicitly, this issue is particularly relevant to politics and the Israeli political milieu, where Holocaust narratives and notions of victimhood have often been employed and are reintroduced on a regular basis. Examining the appropriation of memory is also an implicit form of critiquing the political forces that work to sustain them, and which perhaps, also benefit from their proliferation. The graphic novel, as a seemingly innocent form, provides a perfect vehicle for such a controversial message within the context of Jewish, and particularly, Israeli culture. In this sense, the book continues in the tradition of subversive graphic novels and uses its medium wisely, with striking imagery and heavy doses of irony.

The Property is undoubtedly a good book. It is included on more than ten best-of- the-year lists, including those of The Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, Salon, Amazon, and The Washington Post. It is well-deserving of the praise it has received. However, it is also an important book, illuminating the culture and the politics of appropriation that are at play within it.

In the end, in a final twist of irony, the protagonists reconnect with their pasts and uncover deep family secrets, but in the process, they relinquish the property that they came to claim, proving that sometimes, in order to find something, you have to give up what you were looking for.

 ––––––––
Maya Klein is a writer and translator based in Tel Aviv. Her fiction has appeared in The Ilanot Review and The Literarian.

 

 

Sarah Seltzer

Sarah Seltzer is a winner of the 2013 Lilith Fiction Prize, and has had fiction published in Joyland, S-Tick, Extract(s), LABA Journal and elsewhere. She received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a journalist in New York City with nonfiction bylines in The Forward, The Rumpus, LA Review of Books, Vulture, The Hairpin, Ms. Magazine and The Nation, among many other places. Her novel-in-progress, “Joy, Somewhere in the City,” was awarded a grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.

 

Disorder

Kat was born into famine; her sister Rina into plenty. Kat was black and adopted; Rina – white and “biological.” Kat pursued science, and Rina, drama. Kat was mellow to the point of being taciturn, while Rina had been a babbling fountain of foolishness and song.

Had been.

Kat was alive and Rina was dead.

There were similarities, too. Rina and Kat had both been known as tall, broad-shouldered, standouts. Rina – everyone said in the days after the accident – had been kind.  So had her sister. Such sweet girls, everyone said.

Yet as her grief bit into her, tore into her, melted her bones, the usually mild-mannered Kat, who as an adult had engineered her life to not offend the white people who made up her community, could feel herself turning mean.

Case 1: After the news of Rina’s gruesome and tragic death in front of a subway train plastered the tabloids, Kat’s phone began to ring with regular insistence. Most often, the flashing screen bore the number of her childhood “best” friend Joy. Kat pressed “reject” on her cellphone for two days in a row.

Joy began to try the house phone. Some people could not take a hint. Kat heard her mom, Ellen, sobbing over the receiver in some far, but too near room; imagined her mother and Joy cradling each other’s voices in apartments half a mile apart. Evidently, Ellen did not share her surviving daughter’s aversion to Joy’s partaking of the family tsuris, their loss that was now the entire city’s.

Kat sat at the kitchen table, which smelled of tobacco and sour wine, listening to her mother’s choked voice. She heard her mom say, “Oh, Joy,” and start crying afresh. Her heart hardened even as it broke. She moved to the floor of the hallway, leaned against the wall and listened to her stomach growl, a relentless tiger. She lit another cigarette and erased Joy’s number from her phone.

Case 2: During shiva, she had been given pills by Cameron, her sister’s best gay friend. They loosened her tongue, thus, when she was regaled with Rina stories – some debauched – by Maya, her sister’s best female friend, she replied caustically, “Why should I care?” (But she cared, she cared.)

Case 3: While the cold meats were being put away, she rolled around on her bed with her pseudo-ex Ezra – if endless sexual experimentation in high school and occasionally in college qualifies one as an ex. Ezra was her sister’s best straight male friend, a too-sensitive socialist who was always cause-hopping, being holier than thou, and getting into trouble. As he zipped his pants back up, she told him he needed to “get his shit together.” By which she meant, I want you, but fuck you for not being my sister.

Case 4: There would be no case four. Look at the way things stood. Her sister had had a best friend in every demographic, it seemed. Kat had only her sister, and Joy.

She had to be better, to make Rina proud. So she asked her mom for Joy’s number and arranged to meet her old friend on a stoop on One-Hundredth between Broadway and Amsterdam, a place their childhood selves had determined with mathematical precision was halfway between their homes. Lounging, soda cans in their hands, they’d once regularly discussed Rina’s doings as part of the confabulation. Now Kat relented. They would discuss Rina’s lack of doings and she’d behave.

Rina had died on a stifling August night weeks away from her first marquee role on Broadway; these were stifling August days. Rina had fainted from the summer heat, stumbled, floated through the air onto the tracks as the train pulled in. Or so the cops told them. Perfect drama. Quintessential Rina. These “incidents” with girls fainting, they happened all the time, the cops said. The left side of her had taken the blow; when they asked her family to identify her, they covered that side with a sheet. The rest of her body, tall and broad-shouldered, was recognizable only as the shell that had housed an unstoppable – no, a stoppable – a stopped life force.

“Broadway Beauty Mowed Down by L,” the headlines read. New Yorkers, ravenous for horror, turned the pages on their morning commutes, sweaty fingers staining the paper. Kat lost four pounds. She smoked twenty cigarettes. She had zero sisters.

Rina meant “joyful” in Hebrew because that’s what her parents had been at her birth. Kat had arrived in their arms curled up like a kitten; her older sister had named her on the plane home from Ethiopia. The namer, the knower, Kat’s guardian ever since. Rina had swatted hands away when they tried to touch Kat’s hair; she had snapped “she’s my sister,” when people puzzled out their relationship, and “the Upper West Side,” when they asked where Kat was from. When Kat interrogated her family about her origins, as she had inevitably done at age 15, Rina had supported her: “Yeah, where? Why?” She had approved of the black feminist novels, the African art on Kat’s wall, the radical treatises on her desk, her demands at the dinner table, to her family. “Admit that your white privilege is a problem.”

“We admit it, Kat.”

Of course, Joy had wanted Rina to look out for her, too. Who would not want a protector unafraid to snap unwanted attention from you towards herself? 

Kat and Joy stood in front of their stoop, their empty stoop, unable to make small talk because of the momentousness of Rina’s absence. Kat tried to dismiss the ironic echo, the similarity in meaning between the names of her sister and her former best friend.

“How are you coping?” Joy asked.

“How do you think?”

Kat raised both her hands, gesturing at her face, hoping the deep circles under her eyes might steer the conversation.

“Did it turn out that Rina had been drinking that night?” asked Joy. “I know I shouldn’t ask. But my mom and I were just wondering, you know, if there was anything else to explain…”

“Some wine. Nothing she couldn’t handle,” said Kat. “You knew her.”

“Why wasn’t anyone with her?” Joy asked, her tone quieter yet.

“She wanted to study her lines,” Kat said, feeling the stoop scrape against her bare thighs.

“I just – I’m just trying to understand how it happened. I’ve even gone to that platform myself, you know, to see where – ”

“Okay, so have I. I’m a scientist. I’ve tried to piece it together, but. . . enough, Joy,” said Kat. Enough Joy, to her ears. Her sister had been happy, hadn’t she? Kat’s voice came out cold, but her insides cycloned and roiled. She would never release all of her tears; she would remain a nasty piece of work even as a grandmother, snapping at her grandchildren, unable to forgive their ignorance of Rina.

“How do you think she fell, I mean, did they catch it on camera?” Joy’s voice barely above a whisper. 

Kat didn’t answer. She recognized what Joy was doing, as her own family had done for days, would probably do for years: turning the big question mark about why it happened into little ones about how.

“Was she – was she depressed? Or on any new drugs or anything like that? Sometimes they can make people do things, you know. . . feel things.”

“I don’t know,” said Kat honestly. “Can we take a break from this line of questioning?”

“You know, the last time I emailed your sister, she never wrote me back.” Joy’s voice was plaintive now. “You guys are tough to pin down. We all used to be so close.”

Kat could have told Joy that Rina, busy with rehearsal, always needed to be bugged to respond to emails. She could have told her about her theory – about the heat and Rina’s even more vegan, even more restricted diet for the new role, and about Rina’s history of fainting. She could have told Joy that the idea, this hovering idea that some clandestine fear, depression, agony, misery had gnawed at Rina, and that Rina hid it away from Kat – that this above all threatened to utterly unman her, leave her crawling on the sidewalk, an insane thing, an insect whose wings had been plucked by a cruel child.

So Kat clung to what she couldn’t un-know: intense heat, screeching, thuds, pain, a body broken – all in an instant.

The conductor of the train, his flashlight ducking between the cars, had tried to reassure Rina that help was on the way. She seemed, he told the press, “so lovely, so beautiful.” (Classic Rina – to look beautiful in death – the half of her not mangled, at least.) But no help or comfort arrived.

“I spoke with her that night,” said Kat, amazed that her voice sounded like a voice and not a wail.  “She seemed normal.”

Omitted – the call had been a wheedling request that Kat take care of their parents’ anniversary present. Had she been settling her affairs, or just dumping the task on her sister?

For the life of her, Kat couldn’t remember whether the call had ended with “Love ya” or not. But she had felt it, right? Sisters and best friends, that’s what everyone said at the funeral. “My sister, my shield, my partner,” Kat had said in her eulogy, even then recalling the lines that Rina had needed to rehearse, full of dudes and mans and groovys.

She didn’t tell Joy that after the police had called, had come to pick them up, she had been sure it was a mistake and called her sister, and called her again, and again, and again, hearing the click of the voicemail so many times that she finally had to lean out the window of the police cruiser and throw up.

And then she’d kept calling until, at the precinct, she saw the phone she was trying to reach in a small plastic bag with red smears on its insides.

Now with Joy, Kat let her first barb slip out.

 “I don’t know why we’re here, to be honest. I appreciate your concern, but I feel like we had kind of slipped into an occasional coffee friendship, you know? This heart-to-heart thing is weird.”

Of course, their meeting didn’t feel weird at all, because of the physical memories embedded in this ugly stoop. If things had gone on as they should have, they would just have continued their yearly faux-delighted get-togethers, feet tapping with impatience, or fingers smoothing the velour couches of some coffee shop, bookended by disingenuous assurances of “we should do this more often.”

Joy turned bright red. “Well, we were best friends,” she said defensively. Then her mouth turned into a trapezoid; she whimpered.

Kat sighed, irked by the surge of pity she felt. A wide-openness about the girl reminded her of Rina the way a copy of a painting on a postcard tried too hard to duplicate the original.

But here was the difference – when Rina rushed up to friends’ parents or new acquaintances, and threw her arms around them, when she pulled Kat to her side and said “my sister,” she became addictive. But no one craved Joy beside her, no one.

Joy’s thumbs wiggled inside the tight pockets of her jeans, causing a vibrating anxiety in Kat’s gut. The twitching inched Joy’s shirt up, showing a soft white belly, a previously well-hidden heft protruding over her skinny legs. Kat knew Joy’s body intimately.

They had been best friends.

“Remember playing star fairies?” asked Kat, thinking of their bare legs flashing through the grass in Central Park. “Remember Rina instructing us on how to cast a spell – as if she knew!” Her sister, Kat had come to see in high school, had really not been cool in the traditional sense. She had just been so defiantly herself.

“She seemed to know everything,” said Joy. Joy had never figured out the secret to Rina’s poise.

Joy had despaired when they stood side by side in front of the mirror, as though Rina’s coltish beauty lay hidden on its other side. Kat hadn’t cared, perfectly content with her own practical build. But then, of course, she’d had a sister to call her beautiful.

 “Shall we eat, maybe?” Kat asked.

Kat in these weeks had felt a filmy curtain, a shimmer in the air between herself and the physical world. She reached a hand forward, tried to push through. She struggled mounting and descending the curb, having lost her ability to fathom where her feet should go. She came down too hard or wavered mid-step. She felt like she might pitch forward or back if a gust of wind or an impatient pedestrian hit her, just like her sister had. She groped at door handles and gripped railings like she was old, frail, her bones brittle.

In that trance-like state, Kat led them into a pasta place with an aroma of starch and sweet tomato paste that leaked onto the sidewalk. Only after the bread basket came and Joy eyed it vindictively did Kat learn that her friend was on the South Beach diet.

“Well, why didn’t you tell me you were off carbs before we went for pasta?” she asked. Joy had been afraid to displease the sisterless one, she guessed.

Joy looked hungrily at the bread. “I need to lose ten pounds by my birthday,” she said.

“October,” said Kat instinctively. “A week after Rina’s. You were birthday buddies.”

They smiled at each other, tentative. Maybe it would be tolerable between them.

Joy ordered a salad that arrived with pale green lettuce and a scattering of purple and orange. She scraped her fork across her small plate while Kat twirled long, dripping pieces of thick spaghetti into her mouth. She ate out of spite and in hunger. The life force asserting itself despite all the cigarettes, the nausea.

“Do you remember how in the children’s choir, Rina always got to do a solo at shul, for Oseh Shalom?” Kat asked, marveling that the joyful words her sister had trilled as a young girl were the same words that closed the mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer they’d now say over and over again for her.

Oseh shalom bimromov, hu ya’aseh shalom alaynu, v’al kol yisroel; vimru Amen.

“Yes. Her voice was so. . . I don’t know. Angelic? But goofy; do you remember the trip to Rockland County?” Joy asked.

“She had you singing the ‘Comet’ song.”

Joy chortled and they sang a few bars together, under their breaths. “Comet, it makes your mouth turn green!”

“I thought it was so funny,” said Joy. “Your sister was a budding director, even then. And I was her ingénue.”

Kat detected an emphasis on the “I.”

Kat had gone searching for newts and tadpoles, had held their slimy bodies in her cupped hands, presenting them to the adults, hoping to elicit a shriek. But Rina and Joy, unaffected by nature, put on song and dance routines. It was true: Rina loved to use Joy as a prop, a chorus. Joy would stare at Rina with those round eyes and do whatever she was told.

Kat had been the odd one out, with her science and her stubborn avoidance of show biz.

“Truly epic. How about the summer we got obsessed with judging each other’s dives at the pool?”

“The Barbie soap operas we devised?”

The stories accumulated, exquisite and excruciating.

“Do you remember how you’d always bug Rina when she tried to do her homework?” Kat asked. “You would pad down the hallway and peek into the maid’s room, then Rina’s room.”  The two of them had watched the older girl bent over her homework, or a script, in the light of her lava lamp.

“Leave her alone,” Kat would say. “She’s got to learn her lines.” Rina’s legs would splay out on the bed, spectacularly. Her hand with a pen in it would prop up her chin for so long that her arm fell asleep.

“Yes! And her arm, the thing she’d do? Whipping her arm around and around to get the feeling back?”

When Joy wasn’t around, Rina would let Kat perch on the edge of the bed and braid her older sister’s hair, or massage her shoulders or listen to her run her lines. But Joy was around too often.

Kat waited, pinned down by dread.

“Do you remember how everyone used to think we were sisters?” People always did – always had. They pegged Kat as the friend, the third wheel.

Why had Kat shared so many of her life’s now-finite Rina moments with such a parasite?

At least there was the comfort of the times she’d mocked Joy with her sister, who of course hadn’t always been kind, or generous, or even thoughtful. “Deviated septum my ass,” Rina once said to Kat in a moment of candor, sitting on an island between two lanes of Broadway’s zooming traffic with frozen yogurt cups on their laps.  “Joy’s nose,” they’d squawked. Once aquiline, it lost its bump. Kat had been delirious that day on the street with her sister, arms linked against the world, buoyed by Rina’s vivid energy.

“What are you smiling at?” asked Joy. They stood to leave.

“Oh, just a private joke. Well, not so private, I guess. It was about your nose. My sister found its transformation very amusing.”

Joy’s mouth dropped open.

“Oh,” said Joy. “I didn’t realize you knew.”

You moron, thought Kat. Everyone knew.

“Okay, well, so. . . I guess I just wanted to ask – can we be friends again? Real friends?”

 Kat recited her lines stiffly: “Sure. I’ll call you when I’m ready.”

And then the last blow surfaced from deep within her, from a place thick with bile and envy. “Oh, and let me know how the no-carbs thing goes,” she said. “If you do drop those ten pounds, or fifteen maybe, you could fit into Rina’s clothes. Well, her shirts, anyway.”

She didn’t look to see the expression her words left on Joy’s face. She turned around and walked back to the house of mourning, forward on a long black ribbon of time that would take her from this curtained-off half-life to a life that was diminished, but a life nonetheless.

She supposed they would run into each other at some point, and sure enough, about three years after they parted that day at the stoop, Kat arrived at an engagement party on Park Avenue, a twinge in her memory’s muscle asking if she’d see her old friend there. Kat didn’t cry as often now, but she popped antacids like candy.

Sporadic Facebook binges and gossip had told her enough. Maya had had a nervous breakdown; Ezra had become an Orthodox Zealot in Israel; Cameron was gentrifying Brooklyn. And Joy?

“I’m delighted that Joy is doing well again,” said the bride-to-be, Zoë, with a sigh as she ushered Kat through the room. Sporting a big diamond ring, a smile, and a willingness to gossip, she led them to the balcony. To Zoë, this was mere idle gossip.

Kat felt the familiar gauzy curtain fall, partitioning her from her surroundings. Her free hand gripped the brick wall behind her until it hurt. She stopped sipping her champagne, its taste suddenly acrid. “What do you mean? What happened?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear? Have you guys lost touch? Her eating disorder got really bad. She had to be hospitalized and fed through a tube. Poor thing. She’d been dieting obsessively and then it just tipped right over that line.”

Her eating disorder? Was that the South Beach diet? Hospitalized? Kat remembered of course that she’d said a cruel, cruel, thing to her old friend – the words sparkled, knife-sharp, piercing through the humid shroud of that unspeakable summer.

Zoë clucked and hushed her voice.  “You guys growing up together and so on, the thing with your sister hitting her so hard. I thought maybe you’d heard, somehow. Parents or something.”

“Oh,” Kat said, putting on her too-sad-to-talk-about-it face, feeling the brick scrape her palm. Rina would know exactly how to weasel out of this.

“I guess I wasn’t in good touch with anyone for a while.”

“Understandable,” said Zoë. “La vie, eh? So tough. I wonder if she’ll come tonight. I invited her. She’s doing so much better, you know.”

A year before, Kat would have rolled her eyes, unable to shoulder the concept of anyone else’s suffering, even if she’d precipitated the slide into hunger, anguish, feeding tubes. Even now, a sliver of her judgment found something contemptible in Joy’s succumbing to such an illness, an illness that, despite all the medical truths she’d learned about genetics and brain chemistry, she found, well, somewhat narcissistic.

Still, Joy’s round eyes, her irritating questions, her relationship with the mirror and with Rina’s theatrical poise arrived in a new light of desperation, and Kat felt her soul clench with remorse, genuine remorse. Yes, Rina was her sister, hers alone. But Kat had wanted to siphon the sorrow for herself when there was plenty to go around.

What did the scarred-over wounds between them signify, anyway? Joy was “doing great” now. Joy had conquered her demons. Joy had soldiered on without Kat, the shattered sister.

Kat let her champagne glass rest, trying to stitch back together the newly-reopened gashes. Joy showed up half an hour later. The two women circled each other, exchanging pleasantries with others. They smiled over strange shoulders like prospective lovers.

At last, Joy approached Kat, armed with a new confidence, a slimness in the belly, a sense of having survived, and won.

“How are things?” Joy asked. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“It’s been – ” said Kat. “Well, it’s getting better. Well, not better, but bearable, I guess. I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch.” She looked down at Joy’s shoes, which came to an abrupt point. Power shoes. Probably Joy had just been asking how things were, in general. She probably didn’t want a report about where Kat had arrived in the five stages of grief.

They spoke of this and that, of Joy’s new career in arts administration – she was working at a theater – and Kat’s promotion at her lab.

“You always did like experimenting,” said Joy. “You must miss Rina. You still go to synagogue right? I’ve gone a few times, wondered if I’d see you.”

“My family stopped going. Like, totally. I don’t really know why, but I actually do go pretty often on my own, and I always go for Rina’s yahrtzheit, just to hear her name and say Kaddish. It’s actually next week,” Kat said, surprised at the rush of words, the lilt in her voice. As though she was asking something of Joy.

“I know it’s next week,” said Joy. “I wouldn’t forget. Hmmm. You shouldn’t go alone. I’ll try to make it.”

Despite herself, Kat nodded.

“That would be so lovely,” she said.

The next Saturday, Kat arrived at the synagogue and looked for Joy, but didn’t see her friend in the lobby. She chastised herself for holding expectations. Why was she here anyway? Because no one else who was close to Rina was. Because here in this crowd, with no other family or friends to mourn, Kat could hear her sister’s voice and be alone with it. Selfish to the last.

But she wasn’t alone. When Kat was nine and lost her grandfather, they called his name from the bimah each Sabbath for a month. Every Friday night, her family stood up to acknowledge their loss, always to Kat’s humiliation and Rina’s perverse pleasure. But on the fourth Friday, Joy came and sat with them. And that night they stood together. They stood up as one family suffering one loss. One family, knit together by Kat, Joy and Rina’s friendship, their voices murmuring the words of the Kaddish in unison. Rina’s voice the clearest, the highest, a voice people said was “destined for the stage,” a voice whose sudden silencing would never, ever end for Kat, even as it receded behind layers of time.

Now, Kat sat in a corner, finding herself looking at the same stained glass, finding faces and patterns in it as she had when she was a girl. Strange that she was the only one in her family who came here, the one who wasn’t born a Jew, the one who baffled people. There were so many things she’d lost since she’d lost Rina. She’d lost her parents coming to shul, she’d lost her ability to empathize, she’d lost her sister as a shield and protector, and she’d lost – she’d pushed away – Joy. They might not have stayed close. But a yearly coffee didn’t seem so terrible.

Loss builds upon loss. A sudden wind sneaks through a cracked window and every thread of the curtain inside is displaced by the movement of its neighbors. The ripples go back and forth, from the threads that are nearest the wound in the glass to the edges of the cloth and back again. 

Kat never imagined she could bear such a thing, but here she sat. She was still here.

She stood up in the pews when the Rabbi read out Rina’s name and craned her neck around to find any other mourners standing. But she was alone, as always, the eyes of the congregation on her, on her skin and on her hair and on the hole beside her where her sister should be. She recited the words of the Kaddish by heart, loud and unafraid, because it gave her comfort, because she would remember always as the ripples slowed but never ceased.

They would never cease for her, but they would never cease for Joy either – for Joy, somewhere in the city, walking forward in her power shoes with her head high, touching the other side of a thousand-threaded curtain, an endlessly shifting curtain of lamentation.

Oseh shalom bimromov, hu ya’aseh shalom alaynu, v’al kol yisroel; vimru Amen.

 

 

Edna Aphek

Translator’s Note on Edna Aphek’s Work:

My guidelines when translating my own work are: 1) Making sure the original meaning is conveyed, 2) Translation should be as close as possible to the original work, and 3) The translated material should read as it were originally written in the target language. Keeping this in mind, I have both the luxury and the difficulty of mostly translating my own work. The luxury being that I take license in deviating sometimes from my original work but the same luxury can also be a hurdle. How far can I exploit this license? This becomes very clear in the last stanza where I substituted Beit Hakvarot (Hebrew) as “cemetery tombs.” Then for Azmutcha (Exem is bone in Hebrew and Azmut is being), I decided to translate it as “bone marrow.” I felt it might combine the two. However, the greatest liberty I took in the last line of “My Father” is in the last line where Minaleihem (Hebrew for ‘their shoes’) is translated as “feet”. When translating this painful poem, I could see that what I meant when writing it was that my father’s blood and bone marrow continue living in my children, and therefore their shoes, while the original idea, became clearer in English as “feet.”

 

AphekEdna Aphek, born in Israel, 1943, is a linguist, a lecturer, a researcher in Hebrew Language and Literature, Education and Israeli culture. She writes in Hebrew and in English. She translates much of her own work mainly from Hebrew to English. Edna is a poet and an artist. She has published one book of poems and many poems in magazines and journals. Some of her poems have been translated into English and appear in several anthologies and can be read online.

 

My Father

Snow is falling over my father
Wrapping him in a feathery blanket
My mother’s sorrowful hair
Caresses his dead-open eyes

Snow keeps falling over my father
Serving him water to drink
My mother’s rivulets of sorrow
Water his bones

Snow keeps falling over my father
Pearls of tomb
My children coming home from their play
Your bone marrow in their light feet.

 

 

Aphek_MyFather

R.A. Santos

R.A. Santos is a Filipina-American artist based out of New York City. Her writing and photography have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Kartika ReviewRio Grande Review, and Cleaver Magazine. R.A’s work explores notions of place and impermanence. She currently works in public affairs with a larger focus on art and activism. 

 

Body in Hands

1.         You met him on the street, at fourteen. It was daylight and you were passing around cheap vodka mixed with Sprite in a Poland Spring bottle. Marlene was the one who knew him from a math class; she’d texted because the two of you were bored and he lived close. She offered you a Camel and you took it. He watched as you exhaled, and you felt the hot spotlight of his gaze. The feeling of a man’s eyes on you was a paradox of craving and detesting something all at once. It made you want to hide in your skin.

But he was not a man. He was a skinny, ninth grade boy. And when he said, I love the smell of cigarette smoke, you didn’t notice that his voice cracked, because those were the first words he had spoken to you and not your friend.

People walking on the street stared at the horrific picture of the three of you. Children smoking and drinking in broad daylight. You introduced yourself, and he said, I’m Sam. He watched as you exhaled and you passed him the water bottle.

In a strange way, Sam made you feel comfortable, even in those moments between meeting and knowing. The space between you is fear and love. And even years later, you will be close, but sometimes still exist in silence, like people who were just introduced. He will still sit in your cloud of smoke, breathing in your toxins, never complaining about the closed windows or the graying walls. Still be there just because you asked.

You remember your mother told you once that there are some people who meet and they barely have to speak. They don’t need to think. It happens that fast. It’s like nature, or physics, or a sunny sky after a rainy week. They meet and they never stop meeting. As if they’ve known each other for longer than they’ve lived.

2.         Sam knows nothing about you at home and everything about you at school. He knows how much you hate math, and how much you like to take pictures. He knows that you do homework in your free periods and that you are friends with all the security guards because you stay in the library every day until they lock up.

He is like everyone else in that he gets this look on his face when you speak Tagalog on the phone to your mother. He becomes mystified, in awe. Tries not to make it noticeable, but concentrates extra hard on the floor so that he can listen without looking. Hard consonants spin him into a spell.

He sees your body like the rest of them do, too. Your bra size is that much more exaggerated in his mind, your boobs bigger than even the most voluptuous of your classmates. Your waist is somehow smaller than other girls’ waists. Hair that much longer. Lips fuller. Sometimes, at school, you wonder if people really see you or if they just see some old World War II trope. Everyone says your skin is dark but when you compare it to theirs, it looks more similar than different. The New York winter ravages it into the same dry patches. Skyscrapers block the sun from your pores the same as they block it from everyone else’s.

3.         Sam holds onto his Jewishness like a lifeline. You never really discuss anything too personal, but it is in the way you categorize your lives that you start to know each other. He speaks about his religion in facts: Purim, Passover, Bar Mitzvahs, Seders. You tell him about Confirmation and Communion, how many beads are on a rosary, and together you count how many invisible lines make up the Sign of the Cross.

4.         It was in the way he wanted to know your opinion. It was when he asked for a drawing from your notebook. How he went to your first exhibit at the art school. His face when you talked to other boys. His face when you talked to him. The time when something came up but his phone died, so the next day he told you, I waited for two hours. It was in the four years that you saw each other every day but he never stopped looking. In the way his friends called you exotic and mysterious, but he always said smart and distant.

5.         You hate the idea that we could be together, he told you when you were sixteen. This moment you will remember forever. I don’t know what you’re talking about. His breath was the whole contents of an Old English 40 oz. and his temper was carbonated. You know what I’m saying.

One of your friends stumbled over and dragged you away. I’m stealing her! She’s mine! They handed you another beer and tugged at your hands until you were dancing, but you could feel his eyes on your back. Later, when the last song had run its course, you tried to find him to take the train home like always but he’d already left.

6.         It was always at night when it would happen and it was always while you were asleep. The only way you knew was, when you’d open your eyes and a figure snuck out the door. Your room was so dark sometimes you felt blind.

7.         One day he starts sitting at the opposite end of the room. He has been talking to a girl with wavy hair and long eyelashes. She is nothing at all like you. She is calm and laid back. Likes comic books and is good at science. Her family has cartons of Parliaments that they share, because they smoke openly in their house.

He begins leaving class for ten minutes at a time and coming back with a goofy smile on his face. In the library, they do crosswords together, hunched over the table looking for words they don’t actually care about finding. Someone tells you that they went on a date. Another person says they saw them at the movies. He stops answering your texts, and when you hear her whisper to her friend, Sam asked me out, you feel your whole teenage universe come crashing down. It’s in that moment that everything you ever wanted becomes so clear and then so far. This is how you know.

8.         He disappears, gradually, from the parties. Spends time with her indoors. Every Friday and Saturday, you find yourself dressing with the idea in your head: I wonder if he’ll be there? And even if he never is, you repeat this cycle every seven days.

I wonder if he’ll be there?

I wonder if he’ll be there?

I wonder if he’ll be there?

I wonder if he’ll be there?

I wonder if he’ll be there?

I wonder if he’ll be there?

I wonder if he’ll be there?

 

9.         In May, the letters come in. Everything becomes about tuition. For some people, the story of school is about serendipity: I felt at home as soon as I stepped on campus. For others, it is about bills: Where can I get the most money?

Everyone has their dream place, but few get in and few can pay. Really, when a decision like this comes around, it is not a question of want and more a question of ability. Financial aid is announced and you go one place. Most people from your school go to the state university. I don’t really have a choice, he tells you. But then he leaves something out. One day you walk into the college counselor’s office, and there is Ana, putting a deposit into an envelope with a familiar address. Suddenly, you feel like you’re watching your whole life ending with one lick of a stamp.

10.       At graduation, he says the first thing he’s said to you in months, which is, I wish she and I were going to different places.

And you say the last thing you’ll say to him for months, which is, But you aren’t.

11.       Everyone puts up pictures in their dorm rooms, but you wish you could put up your memories. In a perfect world, you would pin that first cloud of smoke with a thumbtack. Your bulletin board would have all the words he’s said to you. Pushpins would anchor knowing grins across classrooms. Blue tacks would connect the walls around you to the sound of two people laughing at once. 

12.       College has you on the computer constantly. You start taking photography classes and when you’re not looking through a lens, you are looking at a screen. You spend your time editing, manipulating, saturating, animating. Making life into something else. On late nights, you log into instant-messager, hoping for some old friend to be awake and willing to procrastinate alongside you. It becomes clear that his name is always there. That username – a mess of adolescent humor and misspellings – constantly plastered in the space of the screen that Adobe does not fill. It is there every day – popping up at night and staying until the morning. You cannot hear Sam or see Sam but you watch, nonetheless, until Sam becomes just a name, or a word. A screen. A conversation that does not get started. You wonder if he is also looking at his computer and watching for your word to become a message. If somewhere in upstate New York he is also waiting with tunnel vision.

Those minutes on those nights are seas of anxiety. Names on lists glare back like pennies in a tourist wishing well. The minutes are the quietest galaxies where nothing is said and everything is hoped. They make you wonder: where are the words in silence?

13.       It happens at night in the middle of a heat wave. You are home for the summer after college and he shows up at Marlene’s apartment. You and some friends have been drinking wine from the bottle all night and lamenting the lack of air conditioning. When he knocks on the door, he finds you gulping down Riesling that still has the price sticker on it. You have not seen each other in at least a year, but when your eyes meet it becomes the most uncontrollable reaction. Mouths turn up into wide smiles. Shoulders relax. I missed you.

The heat wraps around the room like a wool blanket. He takes out rolling papers and makes you cigarette after cigarette. Ana smokes, he explains. Yes, you say. You remember. She doesn’t like to buy them, he says. So I just sort of picked it up.

The night unfolds like a pre-pubescent crush. You sit closer and closer to one another until finally you are both on the couch. A few people have left, but neither of you pays attention and eventually his arm finds its way behind your back. It’s high school all over again. No more computer screens, no blinking cursors waiting for an instantaneous response. Just the two of you, talking. Staring.

Marlene yawns and pulls you and him over to the mattress on the floor. You all lie down and the two of you are awkward at first, but then you find a place between his shoulder and his forearm and it feels too safe to leave. It is not long before Marlene gets bored of the bed and wanders into another room, where the last guest is packing a bowl.

You take the final drag of your cigarette before stubbing it out. This is the closest proximity you’ve ever been to him. It is the line in desire between fantasy and reality. The wine has you drunk, but you start to get nervous thinking about all the times you’ve dreamed of this and all the time he has, too. His body is as bony as it was when you first met him. You are about to comment on this, but then he says, In high school, I liked you. It is an avalanche of upset. You cannot find your words. It becomes ping pong game of secrets:

                    You were so hard to get close to

I was afraid

                    It made me hate you

I made a mistake

                           You are so beautiful

__________ __________ __________

                             I wish I had known

I wish you had too

                              It’s too late now

Everything changed

                               Sometimes, I wonder if it had been you and not her.

I wish we were still kids.

He touches your waist and asks. but doesn’t wait for a response. He kisses you, and in an instant it’s a thousand thoughts spinning out of control inside your head. You are still lying down and his body is on yours. If he were a flavor, he’d be sweet. You have a preteen reaction to his lips: shock, confusion, awe, but most of all, self-consciousness. Panic. The two of you have always been so in tune and it’s been a year but he still knows your feelings when you say, I don’t know what I’m doing.  And you still know his feelings when he says, I can’t do this.

15.       All it ever takes is a pause, and when that happens, everything is retracted. If the night is in motion, you are the finger that presses Rewind.

Limbs between limbs and

Lips on lips

His hand on your face

Can I kiss you?

In one second, you reverse. Your hand on his chest and your breath on his neck. He gets up a million times and lies back down again. Don’t leave. Tries to kiss you and you pull away. You avoid his eyes, but stare into his shirt. Please stay. You want to be in this place forever. 

I feel like I don’t know you at all, he says. 

Sometimes it’s like talking to a stranger. 

Tell me something,

               anything. 

16.       Your body can tell the story of all the things he doesn’t know.

Your feet could say the places they’ve walked. The hallways they’ve wandered. Dirt roads on trips back home. Churches and seminaries. Chapels and convents. The cold linoleum tile of a sterile outpatient ward. How one anti-depressant made all the blood rush to your toes. How another made you feel like you were walking on clouds.

Your thighs speak to the one time, when you were younger, when your dad was still drunk every day. Your thighs know the kaleidoscopic web of burst blood vessels that decorated your legs. Continental-sized bruises coloring your limbs blue, yellow, purple. The place where the other end of the belt hit and the metal latch dug into the muscle so that when you tried to walk away, you limped. The next day was the first time your dad went sober, and your mother slept with her arms wrapped around you for three weeks.

Your wrists still have the shadows of middle school. Soft, pink lines where scar removal cream failed. It would be the story of pocketed XACT-O knives from the art supply closet. The sting of your mother’s tears as they fell into open wounds.

The torso holds memories of skin on bone. An upper body that looked like a harp, every rib a string to be plucked. Anyone who got close enough could hear the symphony of an empty stomach. The rumbling of gas and air as you digested vacant space. Your concave gut singing the song of six years spent chewing gum. Of losing vision when you stood. Hair falling out. Stripping naked every morning on a scale full of hope. Sometimes, your heart might say, the sound of speeding up whenever Sam was close.

But your breasts could tell the most. They are oversized and full, perfectly formed in acute post-puberty. Even now he looks at them, like they all did in high school, but if he really saw them he’d find tiny white stretch marks that trace lines along the undersides of each breast. They are like rings on a tree trunk: they tell you about years. This one is 2001 and you’re twelve, and your chest inflates too quickly for your skin, so as they grow, they leave marks. This one is 2002 and the tissue swells, overflows until you cage them in underwire. Men stare at you on the street, calling, Nice tits. Shouting, I’ll show you what a real man feels like. This one is 2003 and your uncle lives with you. The lines are a young body in old hands. They are the things you can’t say.

17.       The next week becomes a series of messages written but not sent. It is a full Drafts folder and an empty Inbox.

On Tuesday you write, I was too drunk. And on Wednesday you try, Can we talk? At dinner with your parents on Thursday, you type under the table, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Friday night, Marlene invites you to the bar where she works. There might be a job opening up and you’ve been looking for extra hours. It’s a cigar joint right next to that famous steakhouse in Williamsburg, so it’s not difficult to imagine their clientele. The tips are unbelievable, Marlene told you. All I have to do is light their cigars and laugh at their shitty jokes. Wear heels and put on some makeup. The one time you’d worked as a hostess, you got fired because you refused to flirt. That’s dumb, you told your boss. That’s the job, she told you.

The bar is not very big and you show up wearing both heels and makeup. You have a sheer nude shirt on and it contrasts against your skin, which is so yellow in the winter but so brown as soon as the sun comes out. Marlene told you to wear the black skirt, so that is what you have on, and while you walk from the train to the subway you hear the anonymous echoes of men’s thoughts escaping their mouths.

                         Chinita, you are so fine.
                                   Hey Baby, I like how you look.
                                       I could watch you all day long.
                                 Mami, I wanna know your body.
                         Come on. Give me a smile. 

Marlene greets you the way she greets the businessmen who filter out of the restaurant and into the bar. She grins and runs a hand through her hair. Good evening, welcome to Velvet. A tall, handsome man comes up behind her. He has evenly-tanned skin and a shaved head. No more than forty, you think. Maybe forty-one. He’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and his upper body is sculpted with the dedication of an obsessive vanity. You know him already. He is Marlene’s boss, Phillip. You like Phillip because he played along when you said, I’m twenty-three, I promise, and he let you drink for free since, Marlene’s his girl.

So, you down for the job? he asks. His eyes scan up and down your body, lids lifting and falling as he goes from head to waist to hips to soles. You’d be great. I could train you after we close. 

18.       After hours, the bar is quiet and small. You sit on a stool and he shows you how to light a cigar. Use the tallest flame, he explains. Rotate it like this.

Together you go through a bottle of red wine as you go over time sheets. You’re better than Marlene, he says. She’s the best hostess, but that’s all she is. You are something else. It is not very clear what he means by this, but with recent events, you take it as a compliment. He invites you to his apartment upstairs for a cigar, and then a joint. Smoke with him and talk to him. Think, this will be good. Think, a job will distract me.

When you look down to stub out the cigar, he takes your face in his hands and kisses you. I’m nineteen, you say. That’s fine, he says. You take a
second to pause and consider it, and even though that’s not what you came for, you realize, like a little girl, that this is an opportunity. Okay, just for practice. The fortyyear-old man looks at you and laughs. What the fuck?  So you say, I don’t have a lot of experience, as if that is a logical argument.

But even if you are a prude who’s been lost in her own fantasies, the first time you realize the way a kiss can escalate is always a shock. It starts with you thinking, I’m going to practice making out, and it becomes your legs on either side of him. Heart rates go up and each breath becomes a gulp. Phillip carries you up the stairs and onto his bed. It is very dark in the room. He starts at your feet and moves his hand up your thighs. Kisses your stomach, then your ribs. He pins your wrists above your head. Unbuttons your shirt. Unclasps your bra. With both hands, he touches your breasts.

               Your body can tell the story of all the things Sam doesn’t know.

Being naked like this is a disorienting experience. It’s like being an adult but feeling like a kid. Phillip is the farthest thing from a boy; he is a man, and now the story has become an old body in young hands.

When he spreads your legs, you let him. But as soon as he touches you, your nerve endings die. You go numb. Cold. It’s like something switched. As if you are floating somewhere above yourself. You’ve heard about this kind of thing happening, but you didn’t know it would be so literal.

There is no feeling, but there is movement. At that moment, he is the most alive person you have ever seen. There is a tangible difference between you. He keeps looking at you but you look away. He is here and you are somewhere else. Finally, you say, I’m tired, and move to the edge. On your side now, you feel his arms around your waist. Hear his voice in your ear, Goodnight, Yana. Soft strands of chest hair against your back. His breath on your neck. You want to cry and when it seems like he’s fallen asleep, you crawl out of Phillip’s bed and cover your body with blankets. At four in the morning, you sit on the floor of a man’s room, and you write a note to a boy. 

19.       Years later, in college, you stand at the back of the crowd for an event led by a women’s group. It has been months since you’ve even thought about Sam. Messages were, as always, never sent. Words never spoken. And when you returned to school, you decided, chance missed. Sam still wrote to you now and then. Told you things about him and Ana. You talked about your work, the photo thesis you’d been planning. I’m glad you kept up with it, he said. I remember your stuff from school.

By now, you have met someone else and it has been the greatest revelation because, in some way, you never thought it would be possible. He is the first person to make you think, maybe that wasn’t it, and his words and his thoughts consume you like the strongest gust of wind. The first night you spent together, he pointed to the black-and-white blow-up on your wall and smiled when he said, That’s my favorite picture.

When he looked at you, he saw your eyes before anything else. In the morning, you didn’t even realize that it was your first morning with anyone. Sunlight from the window washed your bodies in honesty and every piece of you that was ever shrouded in darkness or quiet or creams was suddenly there, but you kissed him with closed eyes and you couldn’t see the light, all you could do was feel it.

And yet, six months later and here you are again. Behind a sea of people with him at least one hundred bodies away from you, standing at the front, holding the hand of a girl whom, after a moment of silence, takes the stage to say the words that many other girls before her have said this night. The event takes place in the dark, and the only ones speaking are the women at the podium, so that the rest of you stand to listen in a hush, faces lit by candles. It is beautiful, really. It is tasteful, really.

When you lost your voice was when you lost your nerves, the second you were touched but not looked at. You were in bed with him and it happened again, just like you remembered it did with Phillip, just like it did with Sam. The next day, your voice box was empty, and sitting in class with him became an out-of-body experience of looking at your hands shaking, legs jerking, hairs standing up and pores brimming over with a cold, nervous sweat. It became painful to watch yourself, and he said the same things that Sam did. He said, communication and closeness. Why won’t you talk to me and Say something. Say anything.

His new girlfriend is standing at the podium and her voice is the loudest sound you’ve ever heard. She is amplified by the supersonic power of the microphone before her, and she says the words, keeps saying the words, that you can never seem to say. 

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ _________________________ _____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ , 

          they go on forever 

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ __________________________ _____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ . 

                    as if she’s said them before and she’ll say them again 

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ _______________________________________ _____________ ! _____________ _____________ 

                              and you listen in the quietest galaxy of a crowd in tears 

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ __________________________  _____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ ? 

          you watch as he goes up to hold her when she starts to cry, too

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ __________________________ _____________, _____________ _____________ _____________

               think, 

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ __________________________ _____________ _____________ _____________ .

 

               my body can tell the story of all the things She will always know

 

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ __________________________ _____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ 

wonder,

____________ _____________ _____________ _____________ __________________________ _____________ , _____________ _____________ _____________ .

                                                                                                                   where are the words in silence

 

 

Sara Henning

sara henning picSara Henning’s poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Bombay Gin, Willow Springs, and Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

 

 

Cutting It Down

My mother, the apple tree, her house in Des Plaines.

My mother, turning pages with juice-stained fingers, entire afternoons of books and wind. Sparrows’ toes tempting her to become part tree, part girl.

Then Dean Martin gushing through the living room windows. Then time to hide the children.

Memories are made of this, her father’s voice joining the lilt. Sixth Martini. You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.

Her body dropping reckless from branches, plucking toys from her sibling’s hands. Sister on her hip, palm hard against her brother’s back. Up the stairs, shoes shorn for soft stepping, into closets. Cotton and leather to swathe the body. Silk for the face.

Always a different location. A game of memory.

Bedroom, crawlspace, bathroom cabinet. Wherever their bodies, contorted into shapes of fear and corduroy, could slink. Linen or bivouac. Whichever safety would hold them.

Breathe lightly, she’d tell them. Gather your breath into a small orb of light and hold it in your chest.

Stockings stained with cinder, upstairs fireplace. Children still as lamps, children behind curtains.

Hold it there. Like they’d entered a game of waiting.

Try not to let go.

Needle grafting the record’s face, the return to song. Her father’s voice, her mother’s voice.

Leave them alone, like her mother would say on Saturdays in autumn, when he’d spend mornings raking, then burning leaves. When he’d return to the pile from a break with the paper to find the gold and burnish ravaged, stains of laughing and jumping, a trail of things dead and glowing.

Her youngest running to show her the rake-shaped marks on her legs.

Leave them. The bodies, tucked away. The bodies unheeded.

Leave them. First, soles of leather shoes slapping wood. Then restlessness, small things curling away from their latitude, their longitude. The ripping apart of drawers, waspish oblivion. Kicked cat, kicked dog. How his body looks when it touches the bed. How his body, in blackout, is still reaching.

Gather the children like apples, turn them over in her hands.

When she returns from school and the apple tree is gone. Hollow, he’ll tell her, spectacular with rot. The next storm would fill it with a rage of water. The house would lurch when it split the roof. Have mercy, he’ll tell her, on a thing that will fall.

The tree, not the fruit now bitten.

The book, not the hands that clutch it.

The wind, toes of sparrows, not the leaves that hang, not the rain still clinging.

Never the apples, brutal.

Never the storm.

Kim Myung Won

Translator’s Note on Kim Myung Won’s Work:

The root of my desire to translate, which is selfish, is the same thing that keeps me from the perfect translation. Translating Kim Myung Won’s poems, I wanted to break open my own memories of Korea for the reader: washing dishes in a bucket out on the street, jumping on trampolines over the rooftops of neon buildings, tasting squid so spicy that I shove both nostrils full of mayonnaise. But inevitably, I got in the way of myself. I fixated on the words and how I rearranged them—for my own benefit as a Korean American poet. In the end, I realized her words were only ropes. And what I needed to translate, in fact, were not the ropes themselves, but what those ropes were tied to.

Last summer, my mother introduced me to her childhood friend Kim Myung Won, who was vacationing in the States during her professorship at Daejun University of South Korea where she taught Korean Literature. Not only did I have direct communication with Kim Myung Won throughout the translation process, my father provided insight behind meanings that I often did not recognize. For instance, it is normal in Korean culture to follow ceremonies from Shintoism at birth, Christianity at the time of marriage, and Buddhism at death. Even more, what many of my colleagues were not privy to: I was reunited just last year with my parents after eight years of separation. Translating these poems with my family was the first thing we had done together, and somehow, we vanished the distance that had been wedged between us—from both verbal communication and cultural differences.

As Jorge Luis Borge said Don Quixote “wins posthumous battles against his translators and survives each and every careless version,” I hope Kim Myung Won’s poems survive me. Rather than override her subjects with impassioned verbosity, I hope to be a vessel for them. For me, my pursuit exists in the tonal, in creating something that sticks to the ribs, and I learned that could not happen with words alone. I aim to translate her poems less with the mind, and though it took many years to learn, more with the heart.

 

Kim Myung Won is a poet and a professor of Korean Literature at Daejun University in South Korea.

 

EJ KohEJ Koh is a poet and translator. Her poems have appeared in TriQuarterly, Columbia Review, Alchemy Journal, and others. Her work is forthcoming in Narrative, Fence, World Literature Today, and The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics from Black Ocean Press (ed. Andrew Ridker Black Ocean 2014). She is a Kundiman Fellow and was named as number two in Flavorwire’s (2013) list of 23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry. Her blog is located at www.thisisEJKoh.com.

 

 

49th Day

Father, Father,
I wanted to call you, bursting at my throat.
Only in my mind did I call twice.

I know you would grieve
for not being able to answer me.

Even in my mind,
I could not call you a third time.

The red glow of twilight bursts
beyond that sky, which cannot be called.

My throat ached all night.
My voice hoarse for several days.

 

*49th Day: A formal Buddhist ritual executed on the 49th day marking the time from death to rebirth.

 

 49thday_MyungWon

 

On the Road

With bones for legs
and a bird slender chest,
an old man with a felt hat
dawdles along the road.
Father, I follow you without knowing.

Cotton white strands of hair,
a voice that rushes straight ahead,
never once falling to the ground,
your courteous and coolheaded stride.

Never once able to catch up
to the beautiful gap you maintained, Father.

I never reached you while you lived.

So many of your roads were erased.
Without knowing, Father,

Without knowing, Father,
if I hold onto everything that collapses,
little by little, I catch up to you.

You are in the distance.

 

MyungWon_Ontheroad

Inna Kabysh

Translator’s Note on Inna Kabysh’s Work:

With the exception of several short poems published in anthologies of contemporary Russian writing, almost none of poet Inna Kabysh’s work has been translated into English—this despite national and international acclaim for her work.  What draws me to Kabysh is the breadth of her vision: she’s equally at home doing the laundry, depicting an orphanage for the souls of aborted children, or talking shop with Dante.  This translation appears in a dual-language edition of Kabysh’s poetry for the iPad that includes text and audio versions of the poems in both Russian and English, as well as video interpretations of the poems. 

 

Inna Kabysh (b. 1963) is the author of six books of poetry: Lichnye trudnosti (1994), Detskiy mir(1996), Mesto vstrechi (2000), Detstvo, otrochestvo, detstvo (2003), Nevesta bez mesta (2008), and Mama myla ramu (2013).  In 1996 Kabysh was awarded Russia’s Pushkin Prize.  She is also an awardee of the Alfred Toepfer Fund (Hamburg, Germany) and winner of the Anton Delwig Prize (2005). 

 

Katherine E. Young’s (translator) translations of Russian poet Inna Kabysh were awarded a share of the 2011 Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender Prize and commended by the judges of the 2012 Brodsky-Spender Prize: a dual-language edition of Kabysh’s poetry for the iPad is forthcoming from Artist’s Proof Press.  Young’s translations of Vladimir Kornilov appear in Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Brodsky (Penguin Classics, forthcoming).  Day of the Border Guards, a book of Young’s original poems, was recently published as part of the 2014 University of Arkansas Miller Williams Prize series. http://katherine-young-poet.com

 

Triptych

*
…When Jesus said
Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone,
she, taken in adultery,
narrowed her eyes –
and there and then felt
a stone hitting her head.
She opened her eyes
and saw
not a soul around:
the people
who’d demanded to stone her according to the laws of Moses
had dispersed, having heeded their conscience;
Jesus, saying Go and sin no more,
had turned to the people waiting for him;
and she herself threw that stone
because sin – it’s a stone
thrown at the sky,
and it falls on one’s head
not according to the laws of Moses
but according to the laws of Newton.

*
If Christ had been asked to fill out a questionnaire,
then in the profession column
he’d have written: man of letters.
Jesus spoke in parables,
that is, he was aware
not everyone understood him,
but he couldn’t do otherwise:
like a true man of letters
he spoke as he heard,
not following the opinion of the crowd.
He wasn’t even a man of letters
but a philologist,
not even a philologist
but a word:
he was both singer and song –
one person with two faces.
…Why do we mourn the death of the Singer,
when he left us his songs?
But that’s just the point, we love
the singer – all of him.

Literature – it’s the personal body of the writer.

*
If Jesus were human to the same degree
as he’s God,
then he’d in full measure have been a man.
But insofar as women are prone to idealize,
they all followed him exclusively
               as God.
All except Magdalene.
Magdalene,
to fill the emptiness
arising after Jesus expelled seven devils
           from her,
needed something from Him that,
entering into her and instantly filling her,
would afterwards grow day by day.
And that,
as she knew from experience,
could only follow a sexual path.
She followed Jesus
on a path
that was different
from the rest of the women:
she wanted him.
But the body
she never received,
even approaching the grave.
Because that would have been happiness for her.
And Jesus, like an honest person,
never promised anyone happiness –

he promised bliss.

 

 

Kabysh poem

Moshe Dor

Translator’s Note on Moshe Dor’s Work:

The Hebrew language is spare, rough and guttural, without frills.  It is about one third more compact than English.  Today’s spoken Hebrew is a vital language, its slang richly peppered with Arab and Americanized words.  Israelis speak of the “layers” of their language—low and scruffy, or elevated.  Poets from Dor’s generation can incorporate many of these layers into their speech as well as their writing.

 

Moshe DorMoshe Dor, born in Tel Aviv in 1932, is one of the most prominent poets in Israel. The author of forty books of poetry, essays, interviews and children’s books, A recipient of the Bialik Prize, Israel’s top literary award, and twice winner of Israel’s Prime Minister’s Award in Literature, he is former President of Israeli P.E.N., Counselor for Cultural Affairs in London, and Distinguished Writer in Residence at American University, Washington, DC. As a young man, Dor joined the Haganah and later worked as a journalist, serving on the editorial board of Ma’ariv, a leading Israeli newspaper. Many of Dor’s poems can be found in Hebrew textbooks and studied by students of all ages. His poems have been translated into some 30 languages, including Arabic and Chinese. Dor is the lyricist of Erev Shel Shoshanim (Evening of Roses), one of Israel’s most beloved songs, performed worldwide as a wedding song.

 

Barbara GoldbergBarbara Goldberg (translator), raised in Forest Hills, New York, has worked with Moshe Dor for over twenty years. They have translated and edited several books of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace with a foreword by then Prime Minister Shimon Peres (University of Syracuse Press), The Stones Remember: Native Israeli Poetry, recipient of the Witter Bynner Foundation Award (The Word Works) and The Fire Stays in Red: Poems by Ronny Someck (University of Wisconsin Press). Goldberg is a poet in her own right, with four prize-winning books of poetry, most recently, The Royal Baker’s Daughter, recipient of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize (University of Wisconsin Press). Among her awards are two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, numerous grants from the Maryland State Arts Council as well as awards in translation, fiction, feature writing and speechwriting. Goldberg’s work appears in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, Paris Review and Poetry. Goldberg, visiting writer in American University’s MFA program, lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland. www.barbaragoldberg.net

Scorched by the Sun: Poems of Moshe Dor, translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Goldberg and Moshe Dor (The Word Works, 2012) is their most recent collaboration.  The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature awarded Goldberg a grant for her translations.

 

Old People Talking

Old people talk too loud
because they can’t
hear themselves  and because
they want to leave a word
or two in the death
song of the universe.

They have no idea if
their voices will blend into
that mighty stereophonic chorale
but they try, their throat muscles
stretched thin.   It’s impossible
not to honor that human
urge to keep talking.

 

 

Moshe Dor_OldPeople

Ellen Brooks

Ellen Brooks photoEllen Brooks is a teacher and writer living in Westchester County, New York. She currently teaches at Hunter College (New York City) and Manhattanville College (Purchase, NY) and has worked as a special education teacher, literacy consultant, and writing workshop leader. Ellen has published two professional texts on the teaching of reading and writing (Learning to Read and Write, Garland Press and Just-Right Books for Beginning Readers, Scholastic); her writing has appeared in other publications for parents and teachers. Ellen completed a doctoral degree in education at the University of Pennsylvania (Ed.D., 1981) and recently completed an MFA in nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College (December, 2012).

 

Dayenu

At ten minutes before six on a cool October evening, I follow my teenage daughter Lizzie along the narrow stone path that leads through the garden to the yoga studio. We are early, but the classroom, where we will practice vinyasa yoga, is almost filled to capacity, and we will need to put our mats close together, leaving only an inch or two of floor exposed between. In the front of the room, propped up against the wall, is a small white board with a quote by Ganga White, founder of the White Lotus Foundation and a well-known figure in the yoga world: “Being present is balanced and tempered by keeping a long view, a lifetime perspective.”

The lights are low, and the glow of the evening sun filters through the side window, casting a faint shadow across the floor. Stillness permeates the space. Lizzie whispers, “Please stay next to me.” She lines her mat up on the floor, taking care to make the edges straight, to secure a bit of space between her mat and others nearby, and to roll the front edge under to keep it from curling up. She pulls her sweatshirt over her head, folds it neatly next to her, and takes a cross-legged seat on the mat. She takes off her earrings, necklace and bracelets, carefully placing each on the floor next to her. She glances at me. Smiling. All sweetness. I picture her room, which we have just left behind— socks, shirts, and sweaters scattered on top of her dresser and on the floor. I picture the gum wrappers on the night table and piles of jewelry strewn everywhere. And I can see her angry look; she is scowling at me and reciting a familiar mantra, one that seems to give her momentary pleasure as she distinctly utters each word: “You don’t know anything, Mom. You are such a loser.”  I am happy to be here and not there. 

When we go home, the notes for the research paper for her ninth-grade history class will wait in disarray—spread across the kitchen table and floor where she left them. Maybe she’ll be in a better frame of mind to face the challenge. Maybe she’ll try to read her own handwriting on the note cards and just maybe she will feel sturdy enough to grapple with the task of organizing and synthesizing the notes into a unified whole—to follow her outline step-by-step—to put in the time and effort it will take to write the paper. She wants desperately to do it herself; I want desperately to offer my support. After all, this is what I do everyday. As a teacher, I am practiced at helping kids just like Lizzie— students with language-based learning difficulties who work hard to meet the demands of reading, writing, and listening in school. As a mom, though, it is difficult to watch her struggle. When she encounters a problem or makes a mistake, she blames herself. I can’t, she says. I’m not any good at this. I remember a scene in the car—she is seven, and we are on our way to dance class. Mommy, am I smart? This, from a small, voice in the back seat. Even then, the lilt in her voice warned that there would be little I could do to give her assurance. In school her teachers offer praise for her hard work and persistence, but she believes that the world values performance. She doubts herself, and I want to boost her up, to give her the confidence that her efforts will make a difference. To help her develop the mindset that she can learn and grow even when the challenges are great.

Meanwhile, in the yoga class, our teacher, Shannah, will start class with a personal story or maybe she will say that this is a moment of bliss. Although I like to think of myself as positive and optimistic, and although I love words, bliss is a word that is a bit too optimistic, too cheery and over the top for me. But maybe Shannah is onto something that I can’t quite see. I imagine collecting all this bliss, bottling it up, and taking it home. Saving it for when we need it most. 

I feel Lizzie shifting on her mat, adjusting her spine, relaxing her shoulders, and sitting tall like a dancer, graceful and poised. I wonder if this is the young woman who will walk through that door later when we leave all this serenity and return home. Or will it be the beautiful girl who glares at me, standing tall, hands on hips, summoning up the same words she hurled at me when she was three: “You’re not the boss of me.” She’s right. I am not the boss. I’m the ally that she cannot see.

I don’t dare let my gaze fall directly on her. It is enough to feel her presence next to me as we settle into the practice by standing tall in mountain pose; Shannah directs us to rest our hands at our sides, to close our eyes, and focus on deep rhythmic breathing. I resist the temptation to turn my head in Lizzie’s direction. I know that she doesn’t want to stand out, to feel that all eyes are upon her, and especially not mine. I also know how much she loves attention. Mommy, look what I can do! I see the proud, confident little girl who can do it all by herself: taking her first steps, swimming across the pool, riding her first two-wheeler, running across the school playground as she clutches her latest artistic creation—a still-life pastel of poppies in a vase. 

Shannah guides us through the flow from one pose to the next. I notice all that breathing in the room. It is a rhythmic whooshing like the sound of the undulating waves of the ocean, reminding me to breathe and push the outside world from view, but I still see the image of the crumpled papers tossed on the floor. I hear the harsh words intended to push me away. I breathe in. I breathe out. I recoil in silence.

 *****

There was a moment earlier in the day. I am hurrying to get dressed, she wants to borrow my make-up and blow-dry her hair, and your bathroom is so much nicer she says, and then she makes herself at home, turns up the volume on her iPod, and suddenly I am no longer feeling annoyed by this intrusion. We have landed in a familiar place—a routine we both loved when she was a toddler: we are dancing in the bathroom to “Brown Eyed-Girl.” This is how I want her to think of us. 

Inhale. Exhale. I picture a moment with my own father: I am the stubborn teenager who knows it all. We are upstairs in the hallway, just outside the bathroom, and while I can’t remember how or why we arrived at this moment, the hostile and unforgiving words in my head fill me with shame, but the rage takes hold, and I hear myself say the unthinkable. Die. This? Aimed at my father whom I adore? My tall, dark-haired, handsome father? I turn away, avoiding his face. I can’t disappoint him. My anger is real, but the words untrue. “Dai….enyu,” I say, grasping for a way out. With just one syllable of Hebrew, everything changes. As a child, “Dayenu” was a favorite Passover tradition, a single word conveying “it would be enough” as we sang of God’s help in our journey from bondage to freedom. As an adult, I am beginning to understand the beauty in these words. Dayenu is a reminder to be grateful to God for his many gifts. With each gift—from taking the Jews out of slavery in Egypt to the gift of Shabbat and Torah—the words echo a feeling of gratitude and convey the sentiment that this gift alone would have been enough. No more is needed. My father’s glare softens, and the tension is broken with the sound of a syllable—enyu; we are in a place where we would both rather be. I imagine my father’s initial outrage, anger and disappointment. This, from the daughter that he loves? And then he simply lets it all go with a smile. Even now, he likes to tell the story. We laugh. But I still feel ashamed.

*****

At the end of the class, when Shannah slowly brings us back to our awareness of this time and place, of the world we’re about to re-enter, she asks us to close our eyes and imagine where we would like to be if we could be anywhere. Imagine a place that brings comfort, joy and peace. Keep your eyes closed, your gaze inward. What do you see? Where are you? Picture the scene.  She tells us to remember this place and this feeling. Know that you can always come back here again. She talks about carrying this moment off the mat into our lives. I take a sip of water; my eyes wander.  Lizzie’s eyes are closed.

By the time we reach the car, I am half in calm serenity and half-thinking about the fact that it is already 7:30, we will need to get dinner on the table, maybe my husband, Marshall, remembered to make a salad and maybe he didn’t; it’s turned so cold outside, and my sweatshirt is not enough protection for this night when a blustery wind comes howling across the island. On the short ride home, a drive I love, I settle back in the seat, taking in this clear October night sky, a deep navy blue sea of stars. We seem to be the only car out on the road. I think about how I would love to paint this night sky. I wonder if Lizzie will settle into her work. Will she get the job done or will she ask for just five more minutes to change back into her jeans, and then five minutes will become ten, and ten will slip away into twenty, and she will be up in her room listening to her music, checking her Facebook, and calling down to me, “I’m almost ready,” while I pace the kitchen floor, resisting the temptation to organize the books and pick up the papers. Resisting— until I cannot stand it any more. 

Lizzie breaks the silence.

“Where was your place?” she asks.

Her question startles me; at first I don’t even remember that we have just come from this peaceful space where we can hear our own breath and focus on the stillness. I breathe in and then out, a long deep exhalation. “Good question,” I say, remembering our teacher’s words, remembering how I drifted in that moment.

“So where were you?” I ask, shifting the focus away from me.

She’s quick to answer, eager to share. “It was a Sunday morning at Grandma’s. I had a sleepover, and Grandpa made Mickey Mouse pancakes with chocolate chip eyes and a chocolate chip smile. Grandma said they were made with love and kisses.” Her voice is sweet, gentle—this is the graceful girl who sits tall on her mat.

My father’s famous pancakes. My mother’s familiar words—made with love and kisses. Words handed down from generation to generation. Those pancakes have received considerable attention over the years and have made their way into Lizzie’s writing with a notable degree of regularity: a first-grader’s illustrated sentence about a favorite food, a third-grader’s guide for making the best pancakes in the world, a seventh-grader’s reflections on lessons learned while making pancakes on a Sunday morning with her grandfather: Grandpa taught me that it’s often the small moments in life that mean the most.

“I love your story,” I say.

“Thanks. And thanks for taking me with you.” Her voice is soft and kind and gentle. It’s not her usual fourteen-year-old voice at all. It’s a voice of quiet strength, self-assurance and satisfaction.

“Anytime,” I say. “Okay, sweetest…I’ll tell you my place.”

No response. I try again, louder this time. “Lizzie…Lizzie?”

Nothing. I turn and see that she is wearing her headphones—listening to her music. Her head and shoulders sway in rhythmic motion as if she has transported herself from the passenger seat to the dance floor.

One day I will tell her that the place I imagine is one in which she is the central figure. It is a cold October evening, just like this one. The rain is pounding, and the trees whip against the house, but inside, our home is filled with a feeling of calm, quiet, and serenity. The light glows from Lizzie as I watch her sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by papers and her laptop. She works on the final revisions for an essay for history class; she is in a deep state of concentration. The usual activity continues—the dogs chomp on their dinner, the dishes clink in the sink, the phone rings—and, yet, she seems to block it all out. She has worked at this makeshift desk for more than an hour. I watch as her eyes move from her notes to the laptop screen. I want to move closer, to see what she’s writing—but I resist the impulse. I imagine that she is searching for just the right word or remembering a detail that she wants to add. Maybe she is taking time out—time to take stock and enjoy the feeling of control. Eventually she gets up and says: Want to hear what I wrote? Can I read it to you? She stands tall, her shoulders relaxed. I am aware that my own breath is slow and steady as I exhale. Her presence in this moment is a reminder that patience is an essential part of a long view of your child’s development. Lizzie begins to read. She probably doesn’t even realize that the corners of her mouth are turned gently upward.  

*****

We are home again, and in the kitchen, the bright lights shine on the table, now set for three, with Lizzie’s books and papers neatly stacked at the other end. Marshall has picked up the crumpled papers from the floor. I wonder how my father let go with such ease. Each year at the seder table, I can’t help but remember that long ago fight. Dayenu calls for us to notice each single act of goodness. It calls our attention to the extraordinary and to the gifts that reside in the small everyday moments; dayenu reminds us that each step is significant in the process of moving us closer to the life we seek. Perhaps, it is easier to be a teacher than a mother, easier to be accepting of the students in my classroom, honoring and rewarding their successive approximations of the desired strategies, behaviors, and routines that I aim to teach. It occurs to me that the moment Shannah asked us to imagine was already within my view—the image of a teenager on her yoga mat, moving through the poses with intention, making the choice to commit this time to the yoga practice and to herself.  Dayenu.

Balvinder Banga

Balvinder BangaBalvinder Banga works as a lawyer in London. Several of his short stories have been published and he has completed a novel, Land Without Sorrow, that traces the journey of two untouchable boys from India to England.

 

 

 

 

Bare Footed Dreams of my Father

It didn’t matter if a hockey stick smashed your bare shins, or the fat man, some tailor from Ludhiana, used your feet as a trampoline, launching off them to strike at your face. If you played hockey you played without shoes, with your bare feet pounding the makeshift pitch, your heels throwing dust in the face of your foes, and your heart pounding out, “I am alive.” This was my father’s truth. Shoes were rich men’s toys, for city boys from Delhi, or tailors from Ludhiana, a district in the Indian state of Punjab.

Back in the village, when the family’s cow needed feeding he would walk it to the water’s edge, his feet gripping the earth so that his chappals stayed dry, saving their tread for days that never came, keeping their pristine purity beneath a charpoi his father had made. It didn’t matter that one time his feet met a snake, and he danced into the sky until it slinked away, oblivious to my father’s sweaty panic. To bare your feet was to bare your soul, to show the village you walked like a man.

But four decades come and go in the blink of an eye, in the same time that it takes for a tear to fall. When he came to the West he was felled by a stroke more powerful than any tailor could give. And for a year his life swayed between a Victorian hospital and home, and his ankles swelled in proportion to the shrinkage of his hopes. As days passed, he would tell my mother to slip shoes on his feet and dress him in the cheap suit that she had bought from a market in readiness. In readiness for what? He would sit and wait for the white nurse who visited daily, not wanting her to think that Indians were slovenly or dirty or undignified, not knowing that he was not an ambassador. He was a peasant and the earth was his, but he had retired with the force of his bare feet now shriveled like dead roots in cheap shoes. If only God had told him. Ask him now what it means to walk, to walk as a man with nothing but the entire earth gripped and held still by your feet. See if he doesn’t throw his shoes in your face.

Tom Leskiw

Tom_LeskiwTom Leskiw lives outside Eureka, California with his wife Sue and their dog Zevon. He retired in 2009 following a 31-year career as a hydrologic/biologic technician for Six Rivers National Forest. His research, essays, book and movie reviews have appeared in a variety of scientific and literary journals. Awards include The Motherhood Muse (1st place contest winner). His column appears at www.RRAS.org and his website resides at www.tomleskiw.com.

 

 

 

Family Matters

August 1963. The Leskiw family is going to party. Our parents had just moved into a new home in the Bay Area’s Santa Clara Valley. The subdivision was carved out of cherry, plum, and apricot orchards that stretched to the horizon. Although my three siblings and I understand that the orchards belong to someone, their vast acreage—ripe for exploration on foot or by bike—retain an air of unkempt mystery, of wildness.

Even a nine-year-old like myself senses the transformation—renters buying a dream home. Long into the night, my mom and dad discuss plans for home improvement projects: a sidewalk to connect the front yard with a soon-to-be enlarged back patio, landscaping that will include fruit trees, a series of stone planter boxes slated to zig-zag across the entire width of the back yard. These new surroundings—from front and backyard crannies to bike treks further afield—all seem to symbolize a new beginning for our family.  Settling into our home gives us a sense of security, palpable and positive.  

So, we head to a pizza parlor to celebrate. My dad orders two pizzas and the first of several pitchers of beer. I don’t remember how many pitchers my father drinks, but Leskiw-lore holds that it was several and that my mom abstained from drinking.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this.

We finish our dinner and leave the pizza parlor, all four kids in the back of the Pontiac Catalina.

We begin a right-hand turn onto Homestead Road, but my dad is slow to react and the driver-side tires carom off the curb of the pedestrian island.  We four siblings come to attention.

 “Give me the keys, Walt,” says my mom. “I’m driving.” In a slurred voice, my dad replies that he doesn’t want to give them up. There’s more verbal thrust and parry between my parents, until, finally, my mom commands, “Just get out. I’m driving the kids home.” The door opens and, into the darkness, with cars whizzing by, my dad gets out. Mom slides over behind the wheel, puts the car into gear, and drives off. We are stunned. Long moments pass before anyone says anything. 

Ellen, the eldest, speaks first. “Mom, it’s a long way home. How will Dad get there?”

Silence. Then my mother says: “I don’t know. He’ll probably take a cab.”

I dared to speak up. “Should we go back and pick him up?”

“No. Even if he has to walk… he’ll get home.”

Given the distance—over two miles—it occurs to me that, should Dad have to walk all the way home, he is going to be pissed.  However, tension fills the air, and one look at the expression on my mom’s face, makes it clear that this is an opinion best kept to myself. Once at home, we siblings are too amped up to even consider sleeping, but my mom insists. “Off to bed you go.”

I awake to my mom standing over me, shaking my arm. Downstairs, pounding at the front door, my dad is shouting. “Eileen! Ei-leen!!” Mom, her voice quavering, speaks to us. “Tom, Larry, get in the bathroom.” We do as we’re told, encountering Ellen and Beth who are already there. My mom joins us, locking the door behind her.

I really don’t know why I’m telling you this.

I hear sounds of the front entry hall door being opened and an unsteady clomp of feet up the stairs. Dad continues his bellowing, “Eileen! Ei-leeen!!” Huddled together in our jammies, we look to our Mom for an answer.

Bam. My father tries to kick in the bathroom door. Bam, Bam, BAM! The hollow-core door reverberates like a kettledrum, the percussion pounding at my inner ear until I think I’ll pass out.  

“If your dad gets in, he’ll kill us all,” cries my mom. We know the lock could be picked with a hairpin. That, combined with the splintered shards of the hollow-core door giving way beneath my dad’s kicking, petrifies us. Mom slides open the tiny bathroom window. Climbing out requires a drop of several feet onto a sloping roof. “Beth and Ellen, out,” she commands.

Bam, Bam, BAM! “Eileen! Ei-leeen!!”

Larry and I join our sisters on the roof.  I wish I could say that our shivering is due solely to the cold night air. Stars must be blazing in the inky darkness, but we have no time for that.  

The events of that night grow hazy at this point, but I think my dad passes out. Neighbors must have called the cops. They arrived to escort him away.

At our new house, my siblings and I build a fort in the back yard. A month or so later, our dreams of adding a second story to our Children Only—No Adults Allowed refuge are put into action. My parents had replaced the shattered bathroom door, so we claimed it for our fort. The door served—not only as the floor for the entire top story, but also as a reminder of that chaotic night.

*****

Several years later, my parents divorced again—the second of three from each other—I moved in with my dad. By this time, he was consuming a half-gallon of bourbon every three days, and my mom had remarried.  The judge in the custody suit was aware of the toxic relationship that had formed between my stepfather, my mother, and me, and decreed that I’d be better off with my dad.

Although I was intensely curious about my dad’s side of the story, I avoided bringing up the topic of “What the hell happened that night?” for several years. Finally, one weekend afternoon, when I was about sixteen, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. Maybe it was a question I should never have asked, because I wasn’t prepared for his response.

“Tom, don’t ask me why, but I just felt that night like your mother might harm you kids.”

 “You were trying to protect us… from Mom?” 

“Yeah, I thought she might try something.”

Over the years, I’ve sometimes wondered if there could have been a way for my mom to get my dad to relinquish the car keys without forcing him to walk home. However, since then, I’ve encountered enough drunks to realize that the answer is most likely no.

Maybe now I know why I’m telling you this.

I’m the only one of four siblings who chose not to parent. Even after I told my mom about the vasectomy I got in 1986, she continued to confront me about the need to “Grow up and raise a family.” Over the years, I’ve cited the standard litany of reasons that people give for not raising a family. “The organization Zero Population Growth had a big impact on me. The planet—with its finite resources—isn’t able to feed an ever-expanding population. ” Or, “Who would want to bring a child into this messed-up world?” Or, “Being a parent has its drawbacks, such as loss of freedom and a financial sacrifice I don’t want to make.”

I knew that no matter how valid these points might be, they weren’t the real reason. Even when I was four, in the Chicago courtroom where my parents’ first divorce took place, I could see how they used us kids as weapons against each other. I remember the pressure I felt when the judge asked me which parent I wanted to live with…while both parents waited for my response.  Like my three siblings, I elected to live with my mother. I’m confident the judge felt that taking my preference into consideration was the right thing to do. And maybe it was. But the judge lacked the backstory. He was unaware of the lengths my parents had gone to win our favor. They even enlisted both sets of grandparents in their game, catering to us for several weeks—trips to the park, buying copious amounts of baseball cards for my brother and I—to tip the scales in their direction.

Finally, I know why I’m telling you this.

Did I mention that my mom was a nurse? Long before the term codependent was coined, my parents found themselves ensnared in those dynamics. Nurse and patient. Bad-boy drinker and his good-girl savior. Although each of my parents had a good side, the genes I inherited from them terrified me. And the only way I could ever positively, absolutely know that I’d never wield my kids as weapons against a spouse was to never have them in the first place.

Susan Knox

 

Susan Knox & Marie, 1998
Susan Knox & Marie, 1998

Susan Knox enrolled in writing classes after moving to Seattle and got an idea for her first book, which bridged the gap between her old career as a CPA and her new one as a writer. Financial Basics, A Money Management Guide for Students was published by The Ohio State University Press in 2004. Lately she has become interested in retirement and aging and is working a collection of essays on this subject. Her short stories, creative nonfictions, and personal essays have been published in CALYX, Forge, MacGuffin, Melusine, Monkey Puzzle, Pisgah Review, Rusty Nail, Signs of Life, Still Crazy, Sunday Ink: Works of the Uptown Writers, Wild Violet, and Zone 3.

 

Autumn Life

Twenty years ago my mother decided it was time to move into a facility where she would be cared for in her old age. When I was a child, they were called “old people’s homes,” but now they are “retirement homes” or “continuing care facilities” or “active retirement communities” and they have bucolic names like Tall Oaks, Willow Knolls, Primrose Manor; or hopeful names like Horizon House, Golden Age Center, Friendship Village; or corporate names like The Alliance Community, Emeritus at Regency Residence, Five Star Premier Residences of Plantation; and mottos like “Beautiful Vision,” “Whole Life Living,” or “Destination for the Ageless Generation.”

Mom was considering Copeland Oaks Retirement Home in Sebring, Ohio, a premier facility twenty miles from her home. She was seventy-seven, still driving, and in good health except for epilepsy that was usually, but not always, under control. She told me she was slowing down and she was worried if her epilepsy worsened, she wouldn’t be admitted to Copeland. “I need to be healthy enough to walk in the door, and if they accept me, I’ll be taken care of for life,” Mom said. Copeland Oaks is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and like so many retirement homes under church auspices, they guarantee lifetime care even if a resident exhausts her fiscal resources. It was a comforting thought for both of us.

I felt fortunate my mother was taking charge of her future. My aunt Rachel, the matriarch of our extended family, was unwilling to move from her Minerva, Ohio, home of more than sixty years. Her children, Liza and Leo, were beside themselves. They lived in Arizona and wanted their mother safely settled with caregivers. She refused to move and, for a while, hired people to stay with her, but her worsening heart congestion canceled her say in the matter. Aunt Rachel’s ambulance journey to a Kentucky nursing home near her granddaughter might as well have been a dead-of-night exit since her children did not offer Aunt Rachel time for farewells to neighbors and relatives in the town where she had lived for ninety-two years. I don’t know why Liza and Leo didn’t invite family and old friends over before they moved her, but they are the same cousins who, without consulting any of the other twenty cousins, sold the family Bible at public auction.

Copeland Oaks Retirement Community, built in 1967 on 250 acres of land with stands of alder, ash, oak, sycamore, Scotch pine, birch, and hickory, was situated in the Ohio countryside, a location inviting peacefulness and pleasing views but isolated, being five miles from the nearest town. A long lawn as verdant as my dad’s alfalfa field led to the main building constructed with bricks rosy in summer sun. Thick cream columns stretched two stories high and invited us into an atrium lobby reminiscent of a four-star hotel with its apricot and ivory walls, soft easy chairs, and taupe, low-pile carpeting. We viewed various-sized apartments and meeting areas on each floor where residents could gather to play cards, read, and entertain visitors. We surveyed the library, fitness and aquatic center where a water aerobics class was in progress, art studio where two women were working with watercolors, health services center, and chapel. Everything was clean. There was a fresh citrus scent in the air. The dining room, spacious with floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors, opened onto lush lawns and gravel-covered walking paths around a lake featuring two swans. We stopped for lunch and ordered tuna melt and tomato soup, and Mom pronounced the food good. We talked money. Copeland required $30,000 to secure a place and a monthly fee based on the apartment she chose. She’d had to pinch pennies when we kids were small, and it wasn’t until she went to work as a beautician that our family was pulled out of near-poverty. She was proud she could afford to live here.

For the next ten years, Mom lived in a series of apartments at Copeland—she enjoyed change. She played bridge almost every evening, she read, she did water aerobics, she went on day trips arranged by the staff. The only complaints I ever heard were that the swans were territorial, and no one walked near them for fear of being attacked and that all the residents were Republicans. “I just keep my mouth shut about politics,” she said.

Mom was bright, had a great sense of humor, a trim figure, and two boyfriends. Homer was genteel, tall, thin, soft-spoken, a retired county extension agent. Bud was a lively man, short, muscular, loud, a garage mechanic. Bud eventually won the competition and spent every day with her, took her out for dinner on Saturday, and phoned before he went to bed. Mom made it clear, she didn’t want marriage. She had no intention of cooking, cleaning, and caring for a man in her old age. Mom and Bud enjoyed eight years of companionship and love until he died in 2001.

My brother Tom and I visited Mom after Bud’s death and took her out for dinner as a pick-me-up. When I checked in with Bridgett, the head nurse, she told me Mom was missing appointments, showing up on the wrong day, often wearing the same food-spotted clothes. “We didn’t notice she was slipping,” Bridgett admitted. None of us had realized Bud had been keeping Mom on track. I opened her pillbox, which contained eight different medications segregated for each day of the week. Even though it was Friday, near the end of the week, there was an uneven number of pills in the preceding slots. It was clear she was confused and missing important drugs like Dilantin, which prevented epileptic seizures.

Looking back, I realize I missed a lot of signals. My mother couldn’t balance her checkbook anymore; Tom took over her bill-paying; she mentioned how hard it was to follow the story line of a book she was reading; a bridge partner complained that if she couldn’t count cards, she shouldn’t be playing. While I don’t think there is much I could have done to change her decline, if I had been more aware, I would have been less critical and more understanding of her needs.

Bridgett insisted she move to assisted living. I told Mom. “Assisted living? That’s like going to jail.”

“Have you ever visited assisted living?” I asked her.

“No, but I’ve heard stories. Friends drop away and the rooms aren’t nice, just small bedrooms. It’s like a dormitory.”

“Why don’t we take a look?”

We walked to the manager’s office. Bill said, “We have two single room vacancies.”

Mom looked at me with a raised eyebrow as if to say what did I tell you?

“And there’s one unit with a separate bedroom and a spacious living room, but it costs more money.” He named the figure. “Can you afford it?” I told him she could.

Bill led us to the assisted living wing. When we entered the light-filled living room, larger than her current apartment, Mom’s eyes lit up. She loved the space and was delighted to learn her laundry would be done for her, and she would continue to take her meals in the main dining room. She agreed to move.

A year later, in 2002, she began to wander at night, looking for my father who had died twenty-two years earlier. The staff insisted she wasn’t safe in assisted living. “But she’s so happy here,” I said to the floor nurse. “Isn’t there a way to monitor her movements?” I was told no. “Could I hire someone to stay with her at night?” I was told it had never been done. The staff wouldn’t budge so for the last year of her life, Mom lived in Crandall Nursing Home. She did not go happily. Sitting together on her new blue couch, Tom broke the news. “Must I?” she asked. He nodded yes. She looked at him, her lips compressed, and turned away.

After moving to a small room furnished with a hospital bed, recliner, and chest of drawers, Mom quit wearing hearing aids. Hershey chocolate bars, once irresistible, went uneaten. She lost weight. She didn’t answer her phone when I called, and I had to contact the nurses’ station to get her attention. My mother had tremendous will. I think she’d decided it was time to go. She died just short of her eighty-eighth birthday on July 28, 2003.

*****

Through all of this, I never thought about my older-age future. I was in my fifties, healthy, energetic, strong. Retirement home? Not for me. But today, in my seventies, still healthy, I am not as energetic, not as strong. I can no longer scramble on top of a desk to dust high shelves or paint a room or move heavy furniture. My hearing is not as sharp. I’m developing cataracts. Recently I tore cartilage in my shoulder doing a simple move in Pilates—a move I’ve been doing for fifteen years. “A common injury for older women,” said the physical therapist. Twice my optometrist has spotted a ruptured retinal artery and sent me to a specialist. The condition was uneventful, but frightened me and I wondered, is it starting—that downward slide to infirmity?

Then there’s my brain. My mother developed dementia in her eighties. My late father’s siblings, Mildred and Jack, have Alzheimer’s. That’s both sides of my family. Does that double my likelihood? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in eight Americans over sixty-five has Alzheimer’s or similar dementia, and nearly half the people over eighty-five have the disease. My mother lived to eighty-seven. I will probably live longer.

My husband, Weldon, and I were invited to visit our friends John and Beverly in their apartment at the newly opened Mirabella Retirement Community located in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. John had been an engineer at Boeing and is a community activist—vigorous and energetic. Bev is a pianist and one of the best-informed people I know. John and Bev met after having been widowed in their seventies and have been a couple for ten years. They delight in shocking people with their unmarried cohabitation status.

Mirabella Retirement Community, constructed of maize and burgundy brick eight stories high, covers a city block. The building seems uninviting, its design cold, and the location feels remote even though it’s only eight blocks from downtown. Across the street is the Seattle Times buildingwith its charcoal gray exterior. I saw no coffee shops, no retail, just a few fast food restaurants, and a dry cleaner. I would not want to walk in that desolate area.

After drinks in John and Bev’s Mirabella roomy apartment, they took us to the top-floor restaurant for dinner. As we waited for a table, most people arrived carrying a bottle of wine, already opened, so they wouldn’t have to buy the restaurant’s higher-priced wine. All the residents wore name-tags. They greeted one another effusively. Everyone was old. Weldon and I were quiet as we drove home. Returning to our building, we took the elevator with neighbors, Jack and Kathy, and I blurted out we’d had dinner at Mirabella. “Everyone looks the same and they act desperately happy,” I said, “and you have to pay for thirty meals a month in the restaurant. So much togetherness. I don’t think I could be with the same people day after day.” Kathy nodded her head and said, “I’ll never move to a retirement home.”

Shortly after the Mirabella visit, I received an invitation from Skyline at First Hill, “downtown Seattle’s only true life care retirement community,” to join residents for lunch. A colorful trifold brochure had a picture of a smiling woman seated at a table with a grouping of white-haired men and women standing behind her holding wine glasses in a celebratory fashion. I wondered, would I act older and feel older if I lived exclusively with people my age?

Every week I write with a group of women ranging in age from forty-two to sixty-two. I am the oldest. I learn from them about raising children in today’s world, about dating, changing social mores, current vernacular, their work world. This is an important connection I might lose if I were in a retirement home. Fourteen-year-old twins and their parents recently moved into a condo on my floor. I enjoy our brief elevator conversations, getting a glimpse into their young lives. My book editor introduced me to a thirty-something entrepreneur who lives in my building, and we went to the Virginia Inn for drinks and conversation. Would this happen if I were in a retirement home?

I’m entering unknown territory. My mother and I never discussed what it was like growing old. One time she mentioned being scared of dying and I was scared to have the conversation with her. In her last year I questioned Mom’s physician about why she was sleeping so much. He looked at me, a little exasperated, and said, “Old people don’t have much energy. Even the act of eating a meal can exhaust them.” In her essay “Why I Moved Into an Old People’s Home” the British writer Diana Athill, reflecting on an acquaintance who insisted on dying at home with the help of friends, wrote, “I had not realized until now that an old person can be reduced to helplessness—can reach the stage of having to be looked after—almost overnight.” As I write these words, I feel a frisson of apprehension move through my midsection. It’s visceral, my denial, my apprehension. I recall my mother’s words in her later years, “We come here to die. We all say that to one another. We come here to die.”

I watch the elders at Market Place North—a condominium building in downtown Seattle where my husband and I have lived for the past seventeen years. I observe them in elevators, converse with them in the lobby, query our doorman about their health. I’m curious about how older residents are managing while staying in their homes. One couple, Phyllis and Mike, installed an electric chair to trundle them up and down their unit’s stairs. My place has thirteen stair steps, and it’s reassuring to have this option. Mark, in his nineties, a former physician, shops Pike Place Market every day and finishes by walking the steep incline on Virginia Avenue that borders our building. I tease Weldon, who exercises six days a week, that I will be long gone and he will still be running up Seattle hills. Pat relocated her husband Brewster, ill with Parkinson’s disease, from a nursing home back to their unit at Market Place North and hired round-the-clock nurses. We often see him being wheeled around city streets and always say hello even though he can’t return our greeting. I was seated next to neighbor Gordy at a fundraising dinner for the Seattle Chamber Music Festival when he leaned over to whisper he was scheduled for radiation treatment for a brain tumor. Nine months later Gordy died in his bed tended by his wife and a nurse’s aide. Bob and his early-onset Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife shifted to assisted living until she died. He returned to his condo and remarried. Unable to shop the Pike Place Market anymore, Pia, a widow who kept her husband’s ashes in her living room until hers could join his and be buried in their native Italy, had groceries delivered from market vendors she had long frequented. Pia made her own Limoncello digestivo and drank it daily saying, “It’s good for my heart.”

Maybe I will be able to stay in my condo with its view of Elliot Bay and spectacular sunsets. I love living in downtown Seattle where the streets are alive with residents in low-income housing and young Amazon employees in recently built high-rise apartment buildings and empty nesters and retirees who’ve downsized to downtown condominiums. I hear Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German, French, and Italian as I move through the Pike Place Market. And, yes, there are homeless people begging for money and drug dealers darting into alleys to conduct transactions and while I’m thoughtful about where I walk, I don’t feel threatened. The street life invigorates me. I value the diversity.

I’ll continue to walk to Benaroya Hall for symphony concerts and to ACT for plays. I’ll walk to the movies and the Seattle Art Museum and the public library. I’ll go to Caffé D’arte every morning for doppio espresso and chat with the regulars. I’ll shop in the Pike Place Market. I’ll converse with the fishmonger, the green grocer, the cheese purveyor, the grocer, the baker, the wine merchant. When I don’t feel like cooking, I’ll dine in a neighborhood restaurant.

Last summer I prepared a thick notebook for our children entitled “After We’re Gone…” In 2012, nine years after my mother died, we discovered a life insurance policy she’d taken out when she was nineteen. It had been fully paid by 1954. Prudential Insurance Company was ready to turn over the proceeds to the state of Ohio unless we made a claim. Her $500 life insurance yielded $5,000 to her heirs. I didn’t want our children wondering what we’d wished or if they’d missed an important paper. I made lists and copies of documents for them: financial advisors, attorney, insurance agent, real estate agent, Last Will and Testament, social security and Medicare cards, banker, bank accounts, safe deposit box location, key for box, condo deed, supplemental health insurance, doctors, passwords, artwork bequests, jewelry bequests, disposal of possessions, cremation wishes, spreading of ashes, celebratory dinner in lieu of funeral. I included articles on dying that reflect my own wishes for care at the end. Weldon and I have talked with our children about not letting us linger, but I wanted to reinforce our desires.

All that remains is finding a compatible retirement facility. While my intent is to follow the example of older neighbors at Market Place North and spend my remaining years at home, I know there may come a time when I can’t cope on my own. I’ve been declaring for five years that I will visit retirement homes in Seattle to collect information, assess their desirability, persuade Weldon to visit my short list, and inform the children of our preferences in case they have to move one of us quickly, like my Aunt Rachel. But the truth is I haven’t done the research; I’ve only talked about it. I’m resisting this project. I think, it’s too early. My mother was seventy-seven when she went to Copeland Oaks. I’m only seventy-two. I’m a lot like my mother. Will I know, as she did, when it’s time to get assistance, time to quit driving, time to move to a full-care facility? I’m going to trust that I will be as decisive and responsible as she was, that I will know when it’s time.

My mother’s final legacy.

Zvi A. Sesling

Photo Credit to Susan J. Dechter

Zvi A. Sesling’s poetry is in print & online journals in U.S., France, U.K., N.Z., Ireland, Canada and Israel. Publications include: Ibbetson St., Midstream, Black Heart Review, Paradise Review, Levure Litteraire, Green Door, baseballbard.com and Main Street Rag. His poetry was in the Spring Rain Poetry Festival on Cyprus in 2012. Featured readings include: Jewish Poetry Festival, Brookline, MA, Massachusetts and Boston Poetry and Massachusetts Poetry Festivals and Open Books in San Diego, CA.  He publishes Muddy River Books and edits Muddy River Poetry Review.  He reviews for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene. Sesling authored King of the Jungle, (Ibbetson St., 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011). He edited Bagel Bard Anthologies #7 & #8.

 

Excerpt from the Inquisition

And you slept with him?
Yes
You gave him the final vote for the award?
Yes
You knew of course this was against the rules?
Yes, but we were married later
It was against the rules, no?
Yes
And did he become famous?
Not really
Famous like you
No!
Was his reputation enhanced?
For awhile
Yes or no?
Actually no
You are sure of that?
Yes

Wendy Mnookin

Wendy MnookinWendy Mnookin’s most recent book is The Moon Makes Its Own Plea. Her other books are What He Took, To Get Here, and Guenever Speaks. Widely published in journals and anthologies, Wendy is the recipient of a book award from the New England Poetry Club and a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches at Emerson College and at Grub Street, a non-profit writing program in Boston. You can find out more about her work at wendymnookin.com.

 

 

 

With

Sighing
down their branches

willows weep

what’s hidden.
Catkins

mouth the need

for wind. Bark
furrows, wanting

touch, not wanting it.

 


Who Wins

Pick a hand!
the uncle cries
and hides behind
his back
clenched fists.
We have to
choose. One
hand or the other.
All or nothing.
My sister sings
that one, no,
this one, dancing
from one foot
to the other.
It’s a good show
but up against
my silence she
has no chance. My
nimbus of need,
pale and urgent,
pulls even the uncle
into my spell, tilts
his hand almost
imperceptibly. But
you, growing up
with a brother, played
different games.
My silences, no matter
how long, how
deep and determined,
don’t pull you
toward me even
the slightest bit.

Wally Swist

Wally WistWally Swist has published several books of poetry, including Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, and as a co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Competition (Southern Illnois University Press,2012).  His new poems appear in Commonweal and North American Review.

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner with Camus

I plate both halves of the omelette, one half for now, one for later; and hear
his voice: debonair, erudite, sweetly gruff, Merci beaucoup, he says; and takes

a plate, then sits opposite me.  Switching to English, he asks, Why did you
put in garlic with the sautéed sweet potatoes and onions. 
I tell him, It is because

I love a woman, and that she loves me, but now we only see each other when I visit her
at her office. 
Camus answers that Sartre and de Beauvoir lived separately.

He adds, It was unconventional; however, their love perpetuated itself.  It lasted;
it wasn’t a convenience that they celebrated, but each other.
  I ask him, Did they fight?

He answers with his eyes, lifts a forkful of omelette into his mouth, then says,
Since we all argue about life itself, then why shouldn’t lovers argue about love, even if

they do so silently.  Before I can ask another question, he queries me about why
I added the sweet bell peppers and the sun-dried tomatoes to the omelette,

and I reply, Because I wanted to sing.  I wanted to recollect what was fine about
last summer; making dinner for Julieanne.  Since I had frozen the peppers, I wanted

to eat them before the fine weather this summer.  He stares quizzically, but
compassionately, then asks, Why?  I push my plate aside, surprised to finish

before him, since I am such a slow eater, then answer, Because I am passionate
about the simple mathematics of the lyric
.  He reaches over to help himself

to another glass of wine, and says, It is exquisite for me just to taste this again,
holding the bottle of Baron d’Arignac up to the light fading through

the two windows beside the table.  Just like Meursault when he makes an omelette
after his mother dies, and has a glass of wine with it, in L’Etranger
, I ask, knowing

the scene by heart. Oui, he responds, and looks out into the falling dusk.
Did Meursault fire the extra shots into the Algerian, thinking it didn’t matter, since

he was dead already?  I ask him, nearly feeling a little heady from a second
glass of wine.  It didn’t matter at that point, but everything matters all the time;

what mattered was Meursault’s freedom, unenviable as his decision may have been,
he explains.  I want to respond that I follow him, but since I don’t, I say,

Then what about Meursault’s sense of freedom after he is tried and condemned to death?
He eases back his chair, then replies, You are a commendable cook, and I am

appreciative that you know my work so well.  Alerted to his imminent departure,
I ask, Must you leave so soon?  He responds, We all must go, unfortunately.

Lucille Lang Day

Lucille DayLucille Lang Day’s memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story, (Heyday Books, 2012) received a 2013 PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles Literary Award and was a finalist for the 2013 Northern California Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in more than one hundred literary magazines, including The Cincinnati Review, Eclipse, The Hudson Review, Nimrod International Journal, Passages North, and The Threepenny Review. She is the author of Chain Letter, a children’s book, and eight books of poetry, including The Curvature of Blue, The Book of Answers, and Infinities. She received an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University and a PhD in science/mathematics education at the University of California at Berkeley. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, she also served for many years as the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive museum in Berkeley. Her website is lucillelangday.com. Twitter: @LucilleLDay.

 

Rituals

A sunflower thrown on the water at dusk
the day you died.
I stood on the bluff to watch
it float away.

Poems, a photo, a bell and a rose
placed beside a bronze urn
in a vault to be covered
with flowers and dirt.

Small mementoes and photos of you
sewn inside stuffed toys:
a bear your son named Captain Puffy,
a cat your daughter named Katy.

A stake bearing your name
driven into the earth
beneath a redwood
whose upper branches wave and wave.

A future of fat white candles
to be lit for you each year.
Yit-gadal v’yit-kadash sh’may raba…
May there be abundant peace…Amen.

 

 

I Am Afraid

I am afraid I will write a masterpiece
and people will mistake it
for an old pot.
I am afraid I will write and write
all day for years, and the pot
will remain empty.
I am afraid I will have no time
to fill the pot
let alone write a masterpiece.

I am afraid I will go to sleep booing
like a screech owl
into my yellow pillowcase
and wake up still booing
like a screech owl.
I am afraid I will never stop booing
and my pillow will get moldy
and my husband will get mad.

I am afraid I will make a mistake,
erase it,
then make the same mistake
over and over again.
I am afraid the erasure dust
will make me sneeze.

I am afraid people will give me
only dogbane and thorns,
never invite me into their gardens,
turn away my offerings
of sage and thyme.

I want to go to Mars, Venus, Jupiter,
where no one knows me,
where no one can see
my old pot,
my soggy pillowcase,
my erasures,
my scratched hands.

I am afraid there are no more tickets
to Mars, Venus or Jupiter.

I am afraid I will wake
some morning, eat breakfast
and not remember
my breakfast.
I am afraid I will mistake an egg
for a masterpiece. I am afraid
I won’t live long enough
to forget I ate breakfast
and the difference between
a masterpiece and an empty old pot.

Julie R. Enszer

 

Photo Credit to Steffan DeClue
Photo Credit to Steffan DeClue

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. She is writing a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2000. She is the author of Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). She is editor of Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011). Milk & Honey was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. She is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

 

Imperfect

The ketubah doesn’t quite fit
the mahogany frame:
an extra quarter inch
on top and bottom.
I should have had it
professionally framed.
Carefully fold the edges
around the cardboard backing.
Hanging on the wall
the error is invisible.
This is the secret of marriage:
things don’t always fit.
Fold, adapt, squeeze
into form. Make do.

 

Note: A Ketubah is a Hebrew marriage contract and one of the first legal documents giving financial and legal rights to women. The Ketubah is usually created as an artistic keepsake to be treasured by families throughout the years. The literal translation of ketubah is “it is written.”

Natalie Fisher

Natalie Fisher was raised in Alabama and currently lives in Israel, where she is pursuing an M.A. in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University. Her work is featured in arc-23,Thirteen Myna Birds, and Poetica Magazine.

 

Watering the Roses

The monkey grass is tall, so I
gather peas with one swift thrill
of finger, squeeze until they change
to black juice staining palm. Her voice
makes the air feel heady, draws me deeper
into the garden, where she shows me how
to cradle root in belly of earth, to know
where I belong. She scratches ankle
with painted toenail, unsticks hair
from freckled forehead, so beautiful
that tiny buds sprout from my skin.
Softly she explains that wild things
need water. I pick up the garden hose
and spray her ‘til she’s dripping.

Kayla Haas

Kayla Haas graduated from Stephen F. Austin with a degree in creative writing. Currently, she is an assistant editor of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Her work has appeared in Humid, Circa Review, and The Story Shack.

 

Another Tamarind Night

She wears black dresses that turn sheer under neon Corona signs, driving him crazy. She sits at the bar with him and pictures a boardwalk in Mexico with shops lining waves. Shops pastel like Easter M&Ms. She’d rather be there. Tequila makes her lonely. She’s the color of honey and he could sop her up with a tortilla.

Lying on the beach, sea salt seasons her pulse and he winds around her body like the boa winds around Nastassja Kinski. They’re in waves, covered in grains of sand mixed with fossils and amber beer glass, and he comforts her with kisses that she accepts, but doesn’t care for. They push. Push. Push close to each other and rest afterwards. The days are too much for them. Her words flow like Agave liqueur through her lips, beckoning him back inside.

Donna Vorreyer

Donna Vorreyer’s first full-length poetry collection, A House of Many Windows, is now available from Sundress Publications. Her work has appeared in many journals including Rhino, Linebreak, Cider Press Review, Stirring, Sweet, wicked alice, and Weave. Her fifth chapbook, We Build Houses of Our Bodies was just released from Dancing Girl Press, and she also serves as a poetry editor for Mixed Fruit magazine. Visit her online at www.donnavorreyer.com.

 

Finding A Way

In my pocket, I keep a speckled stone
to turn between my fingers, plucked from
a wild Galapagos shore, the slow roll
of waves feathering the black sand beach.
Some days disappear like stones inside
pockets, like the tide that rushes then spills
over shores and jagged coastlines, a child’s
crooked drawings, wild and uncontained.

I want to be more like the color red,
like a cardinal whose plumage parades
its presence. Instead I tuck my head
beneath a wing, nest myself in shadows,
camouflaged in the breaking mist.
But because the day was rushed, I almost
missed the cardinal outside my window,
the slow burn of its brilliant wings
setting small fires from branch to branch.

 

 

Instructions for Stones

Start wild, tumbling in the tilt and spill
of a landslide. Hone your edges sharp enough
to draw blood or round and smooth enough
to settle in the easy masonry of a pebbled
bridge. Become a metaphor for silence lodged
in a woman’s throat, for worry in the gut
of  a soldier. Take flight. Crack a windshield
on the freeway. Settle in the hollow of a small
boy’s fist for skipping. Bury yourself in deep
pockets of a woman walking into the River
Ouse. Live clean and speckled and favored
on a windowsill. Weigh down the pages
of a well-turned book, anchor the carcass
of a chicken as it stews to make the soup.

Hart L’Ecuyer

Hart L’Ecuyer has poems published or forthcoming in PARAGRAGHITI, Futures TradingZ-composition, and others. He has taken workshops at New York University and Webster University and has done readings for the Ethical Society of St. Louis, the River Styx Hungry Young Poets series, and the Webster Groves Art on the Town festival. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Phizzog Review and a guest editor for Red Dashboard LLC’s print anthologies. He lives in St. Louis.

 

Carnival in Neosho, Missouri

We rode golden-oldie carnival car-halves
That spun smaller-than-life in hard colors
On a fast October’s Missouri night
That dealt thrills like a highway’s turn
Straightening out. On that ride’s axel
We whipped our stomachs to the point
Of regurgitating roadside convenience chips,
Give or take a mouthful of salt.
It dug its steel claws in motel grounds,
Too small to grind a Ferris wheel.
“Motel” is all the low-down building said,
In decades of neon red. 

We passed up the popcorn trucks, all had a dollar
For rides, and passed a slouching woman
Waking in the corner by the bounce house.
She looked up from shadows of gold and shook
Her head, mumbling, turned us away
With a twitching dialect of the body I knew
Only in passing. Those rides,
Were they trucked in from the parking lot
My grade school shared with church?
Tangled extension cords, yellow fluorescents.
I’ve seen these stuffed animals before.

                         ***

We’d seen it glittering beyond waiting
And listening fields. They were cut
Now and then and this was then,
This was when ditches and burrows were like dads
With scratchy beards that carried by default
Skinny insects climbing lazy blades.
We were unpacked strangers sizing up
Neosho from our chain hotel’s parking lot, and
Thought police when we saw flashing lights,
A speeder, a drunk— but we kept walking, knowing
There was something good out there.
The guy with a cigar got it into his head
They were carnival lights, not the law,
But it was a small town—even if it was
A carnival surely they’d closed it down by now.
Another said, “Hey, well the lights are still on.”
We walked, and after ankle sprains and crossing
A ditch-lined road, we had a blurred hour
For the carnival. No one was there to stay.

 

 

A Subway in New York with Hart Crane

I ran down the avenues under hardworking streetlights
with an angry foot, browsing the windows and puddles
for wide-awake moons. In my starved insomnia, and looking
for a view, I went down the steps to the subway, reciting
your dreams. What destinations and what rats.
Whole families of rats having midnight picnics,
Trains full of ghosts, homeless men between the cars,
Businessmen under the seats—and you, Hart Crane,
I know what you were doing down by the subway map.

I saw you, frantic, unwelcome young guzzler,
Shoving through the corps of shadows
And checking out the midnight boys.
I heard you asking rhetorical questions
to the few of us listening: What stop’s next?
Are there not refunds at the ticket machines?
Are you coming to the Brooklyn Bridge?

We danced around the thundering subway car,
consuming advertisements, waving at every platform,
catching each other staring at the tunneling darkness.
I know where we are going, Hart Crane.
These doors always open again. I know which way
the wind is blowing, even down here.
Shall we get off and walk the bridge to sunrise?
With the street lights mimicking the moon,
the buildings’ fiery parcels,
we can both pretend it was some other time.

Will we strut speculating about the loud mechanical future
of America, after stopping in the middle of the bridge
to keep watch over the cityscape, back
to your old apartment in Brooklyn?
O ageless, lonely young prophet of torment,
what America did you have
when Whitman quit driving his ferry
and you got out on a dirty bank and stood watching
the boat disappear on the gray waters of the East River?

Cheryl Anne Latuner

Cheryl Anne Latuner lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she teaches writing and literature at a Waldorf high school. She has published two poetry chapbooks, Soon They Will Fly—A Mediation at Fitzgerald Lake and The Ballad of Sackman Street, based on her Italian grandparents’ immigration to and experience in America. She has also had poems in The Comstock Review, Blue Unicorn, Tar River Poetry, and The Spoon River Poetry Review and forthcoming in The Naugatuck River Review.

 

What Rests in the Earth

For these two hours, I am harvesting carrots,
furrowed farm acres before and behind,
half-plume, half-crocheted-handkerchief
green tops of carrots signaling from mud to sky.

Blunt-bladed, a tractor nudges them, arching and twisting,
into the light, and a bright orange glow, released
from the clay, uprooted, lolling, takes on form. Sometimes,
approaching a bridge, I have recoiled in terror of what seems

all too probable: a slip past the guardrail
into the immensity of sky and water, vastly more present
than the curving slice of bridge; as if it were possible
to be pitched too soon back into the ether. 

Sometimes, in the first awakening moments
of morning, the day stretches out like a bridge,
a continuation of yesterday too narrow to hold to,
while outside the window, birds beckon to me

with their startling freedom, their songs
like bells calling monks out of their cells
to pray. With each tug on a tuft,
a carrot, effortlessly, follows. Plump,

hard, cool in the hand, it knows how it is
to rest in the earth; how it is that body
and root are one; how it is to trust,
yielding, to the open air.

Adrienne Su

Adrienne Su is the author of three books of poems, Having None of It (Manic D Press, 2009), Sanctuary (Manic D, 2006), and Middle Kingdom (Alice James Books, 1997). Recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is poet-in-residence at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, New Ohio Review, and Best American Poetry 2013.

 

Procrastination

It was surely invented by demons.
No one else could make it the human
norm, defied only by those military
civilians no one can identify
except as aberrations everyone
resents, know-it-alls impervious
to temptation, misfit geniuses,
certain as engines. Released into
the world of people, they cling to
order, chronically surprised
no one else met requirements,
complacently holding the ruler
by which the rest of us measure
growth, as we quit, start over,
scale the hills of our failure,
and descend the other side,
telling stories of our lives.