Category: Uncategorized

Affirmations for a Surge

After Leah Barclay’s ‘Migration Patterns: Saltwater’

The sound has a cataclysm to it
crackable & pert, blueberry or hazelnut
on a tongue, a sense organ itself bowl-steadied,
becoming acceptable. There is a coo or a crinkling;
a keen; a cooling tree canopy or river-shallow in which
we keep all our roundest mutterings cupped. We are rounding up;
the fright becoming a chain of recorded dusks & they go so well with the last
sun-dapplings reordering themselves on grey carpet; the Arctic storm
they say has been coming for days, smattered to us here
in surprising gusts. The end of the sound file is a gem
or a dwindling, seems to twirl.

***

Alicia Byrne Keane is a final year PhD student at Trinity College Dublin, having completed a MSt. in English Literature 1900-Present at Oxford. Alicia’s poetry has been published in The Moth, The Colorado Review, The Cardiff Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Banshee, Abridged, and Entropy, among others; the poem ‘surface audience’ has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Bud Dajo, 1906

I said to my son on our ascent,
the volcano is extinct –
we need no longer fear it.
Immediately he felt at ease.
He had faith in his mother’s word.
He trusted me to keep him safe.
We walked in the path of Allah,
and for that moment, the path
was an uphill climb.
We scaled the heart-crushing slope,
sometimes crawling on our bellies
to press against the steep angle.
I had to pause many times
to catch my breath.

In the crater our crops thrived –
potatoes and rice, nourished by spring water.
We greeted each green growing thing
with the same joy we shared
with newcomers from Jolo.
We were only a few hundred
in the beginning, but by the end
we were a thousand,
our very own barangay
in the bowl of a dead volcano,
turning ourselves five times a day
toward the sunset ridge to say our prayers.

All of us, women and men alike,
were ready to fight and die for our faith.
We had large knives, short swords, spears,
and a few rifles. But our tiny cannons,
almost like toys on the crater’s edge,
were no match for the shelling that began.
The booming and shaking scared us as much
as a lava explosion, and our children began
to cry. I wished I could hold my six-year-old
in my lap, feel his heart like a hummingbird
against my chest, and tell him everything
would be all right.

But how could it have been,
when we were inside a crater,
and you fired at us from the rim?

You who had called us,
when your grand project started,
your little brown brothers. We all know
what happens to your little brown brothers.
Look at Wounded Knee. Look at Samar,
where your General Smith said
the more you kill and burn
the better it will please me.
We had already heard from the north
of your occupation, concentration camps,
water-torture, genocide, the order
to kill everyone over ten.
Predictably, that day in Bud Dajo,
when we were screaming inside
the crater and you were a battalion
of bayonets through and through us,
only six of us survived.

In a photograph of you
standing over our corpses,
– a woman’s exposed breast,
perhaps mine, in the center –
your faces are hard to read.
The image is too grainy and old
to show the stark contrast
between a troop of white men,
hands on hips, and a ditch of brown
Muslims, five layers of bodies deep,
your little brown brothers and sisters
in a crater we had made our home,
shot for refusing to submit to you.

My son was only six. I can’t
find him in the picture.

***

Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared in America magazine, The DewdropFOLIOLucky JeffersonHeartWoodThe Good Life ReviewSmartish Pace, and others.

LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION, ST. LOUIS, 1904

You made us eat dog
so moms with giant feathers in their hats
could point to us and exclaim
to their astonished kids,
“Look at how these savages live!”
At the edge of our enclosure families
glanced at guidebooks you wrote
and whispered, wide-eyed,
Head hunters! – their mouths
agape with fascination.

Our forty-seven acre reservation
brought in more revenue than anything
else at the fair, even with all
the hot dogs and ice cream cones,
forty brands of ketchup on display,
ferris wheel, carousel, dirigible,
dinosaur bones, trains, and a funhouse
where fairgoers could visit “Hell.”
There was noise everywhere
from marching bands, barkers,
throngs of people. I missed
the highlands of Bontoc,
the mists and green slopes,
the quiet, and the scent of pine.

Two of us died on the way here,
frozen in the boxcar you failed to heat.
Some got beriberi, smallpox, pneumonia.
No one at the fairground asked if we were cold –
instead, they complained we were half-naked.
You people were so ill-at-ease
with your own bodies, so unlike us,
so afraid of your humanity.

You made us dance in our loincloths
several times a day and compete
in unfamiliar games we couldn’t help but lose.
Outwardly we smiled at you, but inside:
a swirling pool of shame, the surface
rippling with each stare, the depths
a dark and secret muck
embedding our despair.

You measured our skulls
to prove we were stupider.
I only learned later
you conspired to collect them
and take our brains after we died.
You knew, you anticipated,
that some of us would die,
and you felt entitled to dispose
of us as you wanted, without asking,
a femur here, a calvarium there.
Our bodies didn’t matter. You treated us
like dogs, consuming us, so even in death
I was still in a zoo, exposed,
my flesh boiled off and thrown away,
my skull indistinguishable on a shelf
with a thousand others, still subject
to scrutiny and gawking and judgment.

I want the last word.
I want my skull back.

***

Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared in America magazine, The DewdropFOLIOLucky JeffersonHeartWoodThe Good Life ReviewSmartish Pace, and others.

Pacification, 1901

On Immaculate Conception Day
just in time to ruin Christmas
came the order to move
to “zones of protection”
– a disingenuous phrase.

You asked us to fetch petrol, then
doused our homes and burned them down.
Our paper faroles, already hanging,
quickly flared amid the flames.
Our desecrated memories
the color of ash.

Near the concentration camp
a blister on my heel burst open
and for a moment the pain was gone
but a minute later, excruciating hurt
even worse than before, as with each step
my shoes rubbed raw the broken surface.

The crowding was an abomination –
30,000 where only 3000 should have been.
We were packed together so close
in our living spaces that I could count
the goose bumps on my neighbor’s skin
when he took ill with fever and chills,
his pallet drenched
with a sick-smelling sweat.

Within six months the parish burial records
in Batangas and Lipa more than doubled
from the camps, where cholera and measles
festered. Everyone had diarrhea, and if
we weren’t vomiting from disease
we were throwing up from the stench

and filth in which we lived.
How I longed for clean water
to wash with and drink.
I would have asked for a jug
if I could have been sure
you wouldn’t, out of habit,
hold me down at each extremity
to force the water down my throat.

***

Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared in America magazine, The DewdropFOLIOLucky JeffersonHeartWoodThe Good Life ReviewSmartish Pace, and others.

Days of Protest

We will smash the world
Wildly
We will thunder…

Roses and dreams
Debased by poets
Will unfurl…
— The 150, 000, 000, Mayakovski.

We will not disappear.
like her birth name
like his dead letters
buried inside a sheaf
after a flash rain…

We will not disappear.

**

Death yawns stately.
Death conjoins us.
— whether we make music
noise, love, or bourgeoisie war.
Free assembly and funeral
rites, these days, symbiotic, interchangeable.

Siren sounds. We will not disappear

**

xxxxx we proceed like marionettes
carried along on one string
crowds of selfsame mouths
our tongues chant now in unison
the pitch like a cracked accordion
then canticle is cant
and cry.

xxxxxxxxxxx and the dead also
They will not disappear.

**

Death conjoins us. The streets
indigenously compel us
whether we lay down
and recharge
screaming at planned events
protests marches
and vigils
have become
intermarried, like a sexual transgression

Death conjoins us

**

Death pulls back the curtain.

Public war,
like private mourning,
pulls back the curtain.
An old law is a heavy sigh.
Its retellings, latchkey shibboleth xxxx blood nurses grief,
grief nurses war,

and what else is changed to soldiers and mourners?

**

We wear hoodies and chains
— hoodies, sneakers, jerseys, chains;
lining the streets carrying placards,
banners
and loudspeakers
amplifying x Trayvon xx Breonna
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EricGarnerFreddieGreyPhilandoCastle
xx like aggravated parlor ghosts
And sound systems reify the abstractions:
let the crowds inspire regardless
belief in eternal succession…

**

– then we seize the streets.

then we seize the streets at noon and night
but dispassionately challenge
standard badges of the numinous state;
officers in bright-dark svelte glasses breaking
past the front lines berate us.

The blue lines aggress.

– but we seize the streets at night

***

We amplify. We reify.

xxxx — we amplify using cost efficient
instruments of bulbs, amps, wattage;
cackle and hum breaks daylight monotony
then we seize the streets at noon and night
like visionary candlewicks afloat on
sea and surge. But the sea will never

xxxxx swallow the candles: burning brightly!

***

And amplify. And reify
flesh of my physical atrophy
death’s indigenous people
shortchanged before destruction…
who will not disappear
like her birth name
like his dead letters
after a flash rain…

 

*****

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is the 2021-2023 Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His 2017 chapbook, Life’s Prisoners, received the Turtle Island Quarterly chapbook prize. His full-length collection is Psalms at the Present Time, published in 2021 by Flowstone Press. Wellington has dedicated his Poet Laureate term to highlighting poetry dealing with oppression, cultural division , and historical trauma. The poem ” Days of Protest” is a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Justice Village, Guatemala

The wind, first, brushing the flames eastwards towards the city, the green dust of traffic and
dying chameleons. I haven’t seen their faces, but standing at the blue corner shop selling
Granada bars and cheap shampoo, I can smell burnt hair. The girls in uniforms still like owls
on a starless night, their siblings puking, covering eyes that won’t close. What’s there to
learn? Starve, but don’t steal. The stench of dying men is rancid pork in the square, the toes
melting, blackened. There never were greens and reds and purples except this tree upon
which they hang, two thieves, flaming and fuming. The crowd is a torchlight of anger
glowing when the night is out. The tree, still burning, reeks of something human.

***

Abigail Ardelle Zammit is from Malta and has had poetry published in a variety of international journals including Boulevard, Gutter, MyslexiaInk, Sweat and TearsThe Ekphrastic Review, Aesthetica, Iota, and Tupelo Quarterly.  Abigail’s two collections of poetry are Voices from the Land of Trees (Smokestack, 2007)and Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin (SPM, 2015).

“Dancing on the Grave of the Fucked World”: An Interview with Sam Taylor about his newest collection, The Book of Fools

Sam Taylor is the author of three books of poems, including Nude Descending an Empire (Pitt Poetry Series), Body of the World (Ausable Press, now available from Copper Canyon), and, newly released, The Book of Fools: An Essay in Memoir and Verse (Negative Capability Press). A native of Miami and a former caretaker of a wilderness refuge in New Mexico, he currently tends a wild garden in Kansas, where he is an Associate Professor and the Director of the MFA Program at Wichita State University. His work has been recognized with the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, among other awards, and his poems have appeared in such journals as The Kenyon Review, AGNI, and The New Republic.

Tiffany Troy: How did you create this one-of-a-kind book, The Book of Fools, which features self-erasures as well as gradations of gray for the text being printed? What led you to these strategies?

Sam Taylor: I was just talking with the poet Carey Scott Wilkerson, and he described it as a text in crisis, as well as a text of crisis, and I loved those descriptions. The crisis is the crisis of our planet, the existential crisis of the earth that has been our home. It’s a crisis beyond the scale of our imagination. I have married that crisis to what might be viewed as a formative cluster of autobiographical crises in my life—though the latter is not, for me, the source of the book’s urgency—and these crises are manifest in the nature of the text.

The book evolved partly as an elegy for both the earth and for my mother and partly as an investigation of aesthetic constructions and a quest to find a “nonfiction.” In all of these respects, the book engaged with an underworld—the underworld of death, memory, childhood, loss, and the underworld of the text, of its formation from a swirling ocean of available language, feeling, and thought.

Quite frankly, I feel that a lot of poems lie—sometimes fruitfully—and I was trying not to lie. I wanted to get as close as I could to what actually happened. Ultimately, I came to feel that any aesthetic or psychological construction is partly mythical, and also necessary, and in that sense true. Along the way, however, I was investigating the different ways a lyric might be formed: alternative lyric constructions. The use of self-erasure, greyscale, strike-throughs, and footnotes create a more multi-dimensional, polyvocal poem, one that scores a more varied relationship between what is said and what is unsaid. It allows there to be multiple compositions simultaneously within the same poem, which together form a singular chord. It also makes the process of revision, filtration, and selection—the decisions about what to say and what not to say—part of the work. The poem becomes a layered palimpsest gesturing toward all possible poems. It incorporates more gradations in the relationship between silence and speech: what is said and crossed out, what is said faintly, what is erased, what is excavated and rescued through the selection of erasure, what would not have been said without other things being erased.

Self-erasure is maybe the most prevalent of all the strategies here. “Traditional” erasure always enacts haunting and loss, as well as a rescue and recovery in which the text’s underworld becomes palpable; all this was fitting for the themes of both ecological and personal loss. But, applying erasure to my own text, in 2010, was a radically new approach. I loved some of the first erasure texts I had seen, but I also felt like the proliferation of erasures, without some new concept or particularly fresh application, offered diminishing returns. And, of course, the authors were not exactly authoring anything. I was fascinated with the idea of creating real poems—a hard enough thing to do to begin with—and then erasing and defacing my own work, not someone else’s. I liked the nonattachment required. I also liked how it undermined a sense of a monolithic text and a definitive version. It created simultaneous alternative lyrics, and I liked the different relationships that could be formed between the two texts. One could distill the other, or offer a counterpoint, or a discovery of something that resonated within the wider work. Basically, all the strategies you mention allow the poem to unfold in an extra dimension.

Tiffany Troy: The first line of the main body of the book is: “When I entered the room, it was like entering a painting.” The visual arts are a sub-thread throughout the book, with illustrations and discussion of paintings and aesthetic approaches of Matisse and Picasso, among others. How do the visual arts and its practice help inform and give shape to your collection? 

It seems to me that the poetry world is sometimes less daring and more conventional than the art world and that the poetry world never fully underwent or incorporated certain artistic revolutions. I like the visual (and conceptual) arts, and I like artists. When I go to residencies, though I’ve had some great friendships with writers, I often find I connect more frequently with visual artists. I think like an artist, but my medium is words—and this book, in particular, feels to me like an art object as much as a poem. 

The investigation of aesthetics and different ways to render reality had an obvious analogue in art. I happened to be reading books about Picasso and Matisse in the early days of this book, and there was a resonance between the strategies of the book and some of the aesthetic perspectives and practices of Picasso and Matisse. In Picasso’s case, he creates his work one way and then erases elements by painting over them until it is radically transfigured. In Matisse’s case, he does different versions of the same gesture or idea again and again and again until he is satisfied. Of course, they also represented very different tonalities and styles. In the book I associate Picasso with the underworld and Matisse with the impulse to praise, to please, to escape. 

But the book’s frame of painting probably preceded all this because it is there in that first line of the book: “When I entered the room, it was like entering a painting…” That line introduces the idea and experience of being inside a creation, the mysterious nature of choice and fate, and the resulting complex relationship with regret and forgiveness. It also blurs the relationship between reality and text, between experience and poem, art, memory, and myth. 

Tiffany Troy: I love that idea of getting to the essence of something through abstraction and through repetition. I noticed that both your previous book, Nude Descending an Empire, and The Book of Fools include moments of direct address of the reader. I’m interested in the different terms of this engagement in each book. How does the speaker address the presence of the reader in The Book of Fools?

That’s interesting, I never thought of that, probably because the terms are so different and Nude is only aware of the reader at particular moments. But you’re right, it’s part of the central frame at the beginning and end of Nude Descending an Empire, and it occurs as an engagement with our immediate shared, urgent moment on earth. Both books are primarily engaged with planetary crisis, and they therefore have a sense of a shared fate with the reader. 

Nude Descending an Empire, which was written 2003-2011 (Pitt Poetry Series, 2014), was really a book of prophecy and warning; the engagement with the reader is one of exhortation and awakening. We are now living in the future some of us saw 20 years ago. The Book of Fools, on the other hand, is more of an elegy for the earth that we are in the process of losing, which is the one that gave birth to us. (Needless to say, we cannot destroy the earth itself, only the ecology and climate and companion species that were our home, the earth as we knew it.) The Book of Fools aspires to confront, accept, and mourn this loss and to find new life dancing “on the grave of the fucked world.” There’s not exhortation of the reader in The Book of Fools. But the reader is instead conceived as a companion in the book’s journey, as a voyeur to confessional moments, and as a witness to the process of composition. The book is so involved in the process of what is said and what is unsaid, and how it is said, that it is necessarily sensitive to the presence of the reader.

By addressing the readers directly at times, I hope there’s the effect of taking the reader into the underworld and leading them back out. One thing I found interesting with some early readers of the book is how the book brought them into their own story and childhood formation, their own underworld. They said they felt as if I was writing about them, even though in many cases our stories could not have been more different

Tiffany Troy: The Book of Fools, which you describe as a book-length poem, features threads of family history, ecology, and mythology. What led you to weave these strands together? How does the sea in particular speak to the underworld, and vice versa?

The ocean probably stands at the center of all of these themes. The book is an elegy for the earth, but it is specifically an elegy for the ocean, for the bodies of water that cover most the planet. I don’t want to tell others how to read the book, but my mother, for me, is a figure for the ocean, and the ocean is a figure for my mother, and together the ocean is sort of the main character in the book. My mother loved the ocean, as do I, and she grew up near the ocean, as did I, and this association is echoed throughout the book’s narrative movement to return to the ocean. I feel The Book of Fools is a story about our loss of the Earth cast in personal terms and endowed with a family narrative to incorporate the full array of feeling and the intimacy of grief appropriate to the loss of our mother, our home.

The root of ecology is the Greek word for house, and ecology is in a sense the study of relationships between living things in a house. A family has an ecology. The earth is our house, our home. 

In the process of writing, I became aware that in the Greek imagination, the journey to the underworld and the journey to the edge of the known world which took place over the sea were parallel journeys, because the underworld could also be entered from beyond the furthest reaches of the sea. It seems to me the ocean is also a literal underworld—as well as a metaphorical underworld with its plastic gyres representing both the afterlife of how we live and the whirlpools of particulate information we live within.

Tiffany Troy: In spite of all its dark themes, I found the book funny at times. Is it supposed to be funny? How does humor function in your poem? 

Sam Taylor: Well, it is, in a background way. I’m glad you felt that. The book is playful, and it takes neither the self nor the poetry world all that seriously—it subtly mocks them, in fact—even as it also takes both poetry and individual experience very seriously. It’s all there in the title. Fools refers both to our lives and to our grand predicament, as well as to the guild of those who shall not be named. And the subtitle: An Essay in Memoir and Verse, is not entirely serious. In fact, I nearly gave the book a subtitle something like: 

The Book of Fools: Fools Being the Best Actors in the World, Either for Lyric Essays, Essay Essays, Lyric Verse, Novelistic Verse, Conceptual Lyrics, Mythic Memoir, Tragedy, Apocalyptic Memoir, Lyrical Microplastics, Dramatic Quietism, Craft Talks, or Long Poems.

To do so would have extracted the undercurrent of playful absurdism and humor in the book and put it out front. But it is after all an undercurrent, and I stayed with the simpler title, though if it were possible for the title to have the polyvocality that other aspects of the book have, it might have had both.

How does humor function in the book? I don’t know. We need to laugh at our condition. It’s also just a challenging text, and I try to modulate the tone and mode to sustain reading. Eliot said a long poem cannot have a constant intensity, and I found that to be true.

Tiffany Troy: Your poem sometimes tackles political issues directly by implicating the lingo used by American society every day. In “There Ought to be a Law against the Truth,” for instance, you write to implicate the reader with such language. You write “Like a lock on a shed in the back yard/ that holds your real feelings,/ or that holds the illegal people/ who every day, cleaning and mowing/ and plastering, see and feel and hear/ what is really going on.” 

Your poem also incorporates scientific language like “84% of male Chinook in the Columbia River/ have reversed their sex” or “parts per billion” in a lyrical way. How do you use different types of languages to confront different injustices in your collection?

Sam Taylor: Well, first, it’s actually strange to me that so much poetry is written in a language that seems so different from the language that we live in. I mean, I do also try to use language in inventive ways that you would not typically encounter on the street, but I certainly don’t want to keep out the language in which our experience is embedded. I don’t think, in fact, that it is any more “political” to include such language than to remove it; to remove the shitshow of earth from poems in order to beautify them is also a political act. I’ve always insisted on taking the beauty and horror together.

The phrase “illegal people” is, of course, used ironically to emphasize the insanity and callousness of that dehumanizing language and ideology. I hope that’s clear in context, because the subjects of the phrase are in a sense the heroes of that piece, those who see the reality of what is going on in the country.

With the more scientific language, like the 84%, there was a deliberate choice to incorporate particulates of information that we encounter every day. It seems to me that this is a unique aspect of our 21st century condition; we are deluged with bits of information that become part of us, part of our emotional experience and spiritual reality, information about what’s happening to the earth and various injustices all over the world. I wanted to develop a poetics that reflected this new experience. 

Tiffany Troy: What are you working on today, and do you have any closing thoughts for your readers?

Sam Taylor: I have a fourth book of poems that engages with issues of race, ethnicity, and whiteness in America. I am working in the background on a nonfiction book about being a man, relationships, and sexuality. Recently, I’ve had ideas for a nonfiction book about processing and another about gardening as a spiritual text. I’m working on love poems. By now I’ve written a lot about the crisis that we’re in; I want to write more poems that are just poems of love and praise and celebration of the earth. The racial history of America is the larger issue I still feel a need to address more, in both poetry and prose. Another way to say all this is I don’t know what I’m working on now. While I’ve been mostly done with The Book of Fools for many years, I’ve still been tied up with it energetically, bringing it to this point. There’s so much potential energy released when a book is finally released into the world, and I don’t know exactly where it will go first.

What I’m working on most though is just learning how to be a human being on earth, to love, and bring more truth into each moment and in each situation. This sounds very noble, but of course like most people I’m not all that good at doing it. I think we need a miracle. I don’t think we can do it on our own. But, if there’s going to be a miracle, the miracle will not happen without us. When I speak of dancing on the grave of the fucked world, I really mean making real the unmanifest truth, and I think it’s what we need to do regardless, whether or not there is hope for this epoch of earth.

***

Tiffany Troy is a critic, translator, and poet.

Hitchcock in Bel Air

Dizzy birds careen over the harborside
and scud against windows and walls,
blitz chrome and belt buckle:

poisoned by a plankton neurotoxin, some
seize in flight, thud against hoods and
roofs, a hailstorm of fowl.

(At fifteen, you heard over the pig squeal
of sirens the drone of Zeppelins flying
low with payload: a flock

of crows come to tear flesh from bones,
children from the graves of their
beds.) Each terror its own

messiah, dubious in birth, endless in its
resurrections. Years later, Hollywood’s
prophet, you cruise Bel Air

in a saloon car, Burberry suit on a grocer’s
son. You, who watched hellfire rain
through sleep’s sieve of ceiling

while the women of London shed nighties
for trousers—since the first rule of sex
is survival, a scrambling out

of war and rubble. Insatiable, you marshal
parades of blonds, but all the cotton
candy in amnesiac America

will not let you unremember. Into the eye
of veteran terror, you train the camera.
In photos for The Birds, you pose

with a dead goose, a hand around its naked
neck as if it were an umbrella. Tonight, you
dine on your boyhood’s pietà.

***

Heather Treseler’s Parturition (2020) won Munster Literature Centre’s international poetry chapbook prize, and her sequence of poems, “The Lucie Odes,” won Missouri Review’s Editors’ Prize. Her poems appear in Cincinnati Review, The Iowa Review, and Harvard Review, and her essays about poetry appear in the Los Angeles Review of BooksPN Review, and in eight books of criticism. She is a professor of English at Worcester State University and a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center.

Pain Bias

“[A] Swedish study, published in 2014, found women waited longer than men to see a doctor in a hospital emergency department. This bias is amplified when it comes to reproductive health.”

                                                                        -Lydia Smith, “Is Women’s Pain Taken Seriously?”

How is your pain?
                                    When you answer, beware the god
trick-eye. Don’t say cresting. Don’t say eleven.

Build a papier-mache of your uterus
            and play arsonist or slasher
and scissor it to shreds.

When they say, Don’t cry,
                        plant a field of cattails
            waving for water in a homemade diorama of the Sahara.

When they say, Hysterical,
            do not bury your voice.
                        Say each world dissolves into the next
through the sticky amber-slur 
            of the maple syrup they serve on Styrofoam pancakes.
Wax lyrical in your pajamas
                        about seventeenth century Dutch vanitas paintings
and all they got right:
                                    the skull and burning incense,
                                                             the tumbling wine glass.                   

When they won’t believe your symptoms
                        and slap on the wrong diagnosis again,
scatter seeds in the whorls of their ears.

Ask them if they can hear the whirring of first growth.

***

Sarah Giragosian is the author of the poetry collection Queer Fish, a winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize (Dream Horse Press, 2017) and The Death Spiral (Black Lawrence Press, 2020). The craft anthology, Marbles on the Floor: How to Assemble a Book of Poems, which is co-edited by Sarah and Virginia Konchan, is forthcoming from The University of Akron Press. Sarah’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Pleiades, Orion, Ecotone, Tin House, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She teaches at the University at Albany-SUNY.

Breaking Through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

“Unprotected Russian Soldiers Disturbed Radioactive Dust in Chernobyl’s ‘Red Forest’, Workers Say,” Reuters, March 29, 2022

No glowing eyes, no fifth limb,
but the gray wolves of Chernobyl,
free for a time of humanity, nip and kill,
lope and roam—thrive, their numbers swelling seven times
their normal size, and maybe there will be time
for the pines to rally back,
though when the liquidators spotted them spitting
up rust-red leaves, fuel for radioactive fires,
they bulldozed them back.
Earth to earth, ash trees to ashes.
Dead, they could go on forever;
all these years with fewer fungi and insects,
they’ve hardly decayed.

                        Child, it’s too late
for butterflies and rebirth, but here’s
another cracked planet, another cracked bell jar.
Can you set the story straight?
Can you remember how in the fairy tales,
even the darkest ones, when the soldiers
stationed in the enchanted forest discovered a curse
had settled into their cells, it had a name
other than collateral damage, and ashes to ashes,
dust to dust inflected an elemental goodbye?

                        Once upon a time—
but how to tell this story?
                        How to stake out lyrical territories
for nuclear fallout
                                   and wolves our most fatal creations cannot contain?
Once upon a time, dust meant dust
            and rain meant rain,
and the ravens, once loyal to wolves,
                        flew every which way, forgetting the landscape
had been magicked into a vault.
            And all the birds in the Exclusion Zone,
                        smaller brained, dwindled,
                                    particularly females, overstrained by reproduction.

Lonely, all the males sing
           and sing, awful,
                                     awful in their doubled volume.

***

Sarah Giragosian is the author of the poetry collection Queer Fish, a winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize (Dream Horse Press, 2017) and The Death Spiral (Black Lawrence Press, 2020). The craft anthology, Marbles on the Floor: How to Assemble a Book of Poems, which is co-edited by Sarah and Virginia Konchan, is forthcoming from The University of Akron Press. Sarah’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Pleiades, Orion, Ecotone, Tin House, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She teaches at the University at Albany-SUNY.