The unkempt boys crawl away, barefoot,
from their teachers. The principal masks
reality with stories and props—pretens
of teaching. On display like rare animals
in a zoo, the children stare but not at us.
If only I could calm their bodies that
cannot keep still—tell them that I too
drown the silences of this world with my
own song. But I can’t catch the gaze
of even one. One day, we’ll all be buried
in outer-borough cemeteries and none of this
will matter. But until then each moment
is a gaping mouth of want. The boys don’t care
if we stay or leave. Every day’s the same
headline news. Each child here was born
in a white hospital room stamped with normal
APGAR scores, by arrogant doctors, and set
howling. I cannot be restored to that antiseptic
bed where I took mine to my breast, unaware
what asylum was in store. I need another hour
to hold that fat red face in its cotton cloister.
To unknow all this—to be astonished
by her halo of dark hair and to drown
in her temporary blue eyes.
HAPPINESS IN MORTALS IS NEVER LASTINg
Euripides tells us this in a choral song
from Orestes. Only a fragment remains.
Scholars reconstruct the music—the sound
of guilt and grief through the ages. In the home
of my Sicilian grandmother, thousands
of Athenian soldiers, held prisoner, sang this
song for their captors so they would not starve.
When I sat, small in Siracusa’s amphitheater
or coveted paintings on papyrus, I was not yet
his hostage, forced to sing. It was the last day
of the year at the end of a century. The city set
fireworks on the harbor near the Grand Hotel.
Velvet bows choked branches of Christmas trees.
I was running all over the world or waiting, playing
Odysseus and Penelope in repertory, convinced that
devotion could sustain desire. That my bronze hair,
in winter light, could be both Achilles’ empathy and his
engraved shield—undiminished by Mediterranean sun.
PREPARING TO MOVE
They’re finally leaving me—each old good thought
of my favorite park with the dead dog and all
the calm days in countries you promise to unruin
for me. I’m leaving my body wash, the boar hair brush,
a blanket, hidden in your rooms. I tell you I want
nothing but books, my grandmother’s marble table,
the intarsia desk from Florence. But you don’t believe me.
You think I covet my relics, Venetian glass, giraffes
scratched on banana paper. You think I want to pack boxes
deep as caves. The ones who love me know it’s true
and think my disavowal’s a sign I’ve learned nothing.
They don’t understand that having lain in a machine
for seven weeks, while oncologists eradiated my sliced
tongue and slashed neck, I learned to leave my home
as if I were never coming back. That lying robed
in that cold cavern severed any attachment
to my sleigh bed or cabinets stuffed with souvenirs—
animals caught under snow globes, dancers smothered
in porcelain lace. They cannot know that each day blooms
into a ceremony of leave-taking. That when I say goodbye,
I mean it. That all words are only practice for no.
BURIAL OF THE BRAINS, VIENNA 2002
In front of reporters and doctors, dignitaries parade
seven hundred brains of children in black urns.
Sixty years after Dr. Gross killed them with poisoned
cocoa and starvation, their bodies are finally left
alone. Awarded the cross of honor for his research
on gray matter of the children he murdered—
epileptics, autistics, midgets—citizens of the city
still protect him. My love, you would have been
among the first taken—force-fed and when you
vomited, force-fed your vomit, your head then pushed
into the toilet and flushed and told to wash your face
as the doctors did to all girls who survived.
Your shrieks and babble would have been smothered.
You couldn’t have suffered frostbitten toes in silence.
Throughout the funeral, youth of Vienna, ashamed
of their ancestors’ past, hold posters of the lovely
little faces. Most are younger than you are now.
Seven hundred children labeled, sliced onto slides,
stored in jars for sixty years. Studied until 1998.
Why does cruelty require so much time for clarity?
I fold myself in the corner of my mauve room
with a prayer box full of stashed pills. Even when
you don’t wake screaming, I can’t sleep
because of what you’ll suffer when I am gone.
NEW PARENTS OVER A STROLLER
I want to tell them to memorize
not just the shape of their baby’s
sleeping face but the feeling
they hold, now, for each other.
They believe this is just
the beginning of happiness.
I force myself to walk past
wondering if God feels this sad
looking down at the world.
AFTER THREE YEARS IN CAPTIVITY WITH BOKO HARAM
They tell their mothers there is no horror
they have not suffered; relive at least one
each night. In the reintegration program,
nobody trusts them. What they saw
frightens them more than what they did,
eyes filled with executions. Rocks flew
from their hands when soldiers ordered
them to stone a couple to death without
crying. When given toys, they smash them,
pull heads off dolls. Nothing can remain
whole while they’re shattered. Just girls,
they cradle their new-born babies.
Their story is reported as if it’s over.
As if because they lie in dry beds
they’re home. I must speak of their suffering
though I know nothing of their pain.
They wake screaming, chant “stop”
in a circle. Oh, how we lie to each other.
STILL LIFE WITH THE SPECTACULAR
I wish I were a widow, convinced
that the love I imagined
was real. Carry me back to February
before everything that’s going
to happen anyway.
All day, we listen to music.
There’s a frog in a pantomime pond,
the Chinese peacock dance,
and tangos, tangos burning through
the screen while she exists,
frenzied or serene—
her ethereal face possessing a secret
she won’t reveal. I scrub and scrub—
still the whiff of urine
or my imagination contaminates all
the rooms. Listen to the dancers
breathe in unison
when they touch, after a brief separation.
The books’ spells fill me with all
their enchantments that keep
me sane. In white nightgowns,
I’m cold, even in summer. The angel
in red velvet knows
nothing I remember is true.
THE FIRST WEEK OF THE NEW ADMINISTRATION, JANUARY 2017
When the Reality TV star was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States:
A. We protested by turning off our TVs, took to the streets with pink hats and signs.
B. The White House website eliminated pages for climate change, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, disabilities, and health care. The new website promises to “develop a state-of-the art missile defense system.”
C. A resistance of more than one million people united in marches throughout the world
D. We worried that our shock would begin to lessen over time.
When he opened his mouth to speak
A: All who do not look like him and his bigot billionaire cabinet nominees knew that life would become harder in expected and unexpected ways.
B.Children recognized him as the playground bully he is C. All women and girls heard only his recorded words—“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
D. The rain came down from the sky as if Hera and (even) Zeus were ashamed.
After he promised to “Make America Great Again” he:
A.Signed an executive order that began to dismantle The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Restricted funds for global health assistance groups that provide abortions. Promised to cut funding for the NEA, NEH, and PBS, Minority Business Development Agency, Economic Development Administration, International Trade Administration, Legal Services Corporation, Civil Rights Division, Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ, UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Office of Fossil Energy
B. Issued an executive order for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border” of the United States and signed an executive order to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East from entering the United States, excluding the Muslim countries where his organization has conducted business
C. Ordered White House Press Secretary to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, “falsely declared” that his inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.” Ordered White House advisor to defend the Press Secretary’s lies as “alternative facts.”
D.Caused Orwell’s 1984 to sell out on Amazon.
In his first week as commander-in-chief, he:
A. verbally attacked Muslims, immigrants, and refugees. Issued a Holocaust remembrance statement that did not mention Jews. Put a gag order on women’s health issues, lashed out on Twitter, denounced the Press, banned the EPA and Department of Agriculture from “providing updates to reporters.”
B. Drove us to reread our Constitution, Origins of Totalitarianism, It Can’t Happen Here, and The Holocaust as History and Warning. Tested our courage to act on the beliefs we have been professing.
C. Made us grieve for people who revel in his hate like the spectators in Rome’s coliseum.
D. Gave us nausea (severe or continuing), migraines, burning in the chest, numbness, prickling, dizziness, indigestion, anxiety, behavior change similar to drunkenness, chills, cold sweats, confusion, cool and/or pale skin, difficulty concentrating, dizziness or lightheadedness, drowsiness, excessive hunger, eye pain, fainting or faintness, fast/irregular/pounding heartbeat, sensitivity to light, skin ulcers, sore throat, sudden weakness, trouble breathing, unusual tiredness, headache (severe or continuing), increased sweating, increased thirst, lower back or side pain, nervousness, nightmares, tearing of the eyes, restless sleep, seeing shades of colors differently than before, insomnia, stroke
E. All of the above.
after AE Stallings