In her mind, she needs to cross the boundary
navigate clear water, sleep again, be whole—
she’ll erase her Muslim name, forget life’s memory.
Why not Bavaria? Why not the travel remedy?
Study without the Sarajevo Rose.
Her mind a boat; she floats across the boundary.
Everyone said, the conflict? only temporary—
She’ll call her family often; keep close by telephone;
pour the past away, skip the shit of memory.
But each night she pays, this is not her country.
The thoughts shoot back and forth, a mental palindrome.
Her mind: ocean without boundary.
Other students stare in disbelief as she leaves, quietly.
A homing instinct, streams; she charts the map alone.
Is the past no more than present memory?
For one moment, her return is almost celebratory.
Mortar rounds and shelling, a kind of pleasure dome.
Her mind circles round blue boundaries.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Self Portrait as Leonora Carrington Painting
I never understood how it happened
the doorknob turning left, not right,
until the different selves assembled:
how I recognized myself in the blue chair
like a hangover of sky complete with hyena
and rocking horse. A kind of overworked
alchemy that made the chair legs wear the same
boots that I wore—painted with a delicate dab—
six buttons up the side like soused constellations
working afterhours. And when no one was there,
the horse, shoeless, stumbled out the doorway,
mane matted and unadorned. She
cantered to the orchard for just a moment—
yet, in her clouded loneliness, how she howled—
how she opened her ginger mouth to the sky—
apricots buzzing on the branches as if to join
her. How did she transform from toy
to Pegasus? How do I toss off my blue dress
of missteps and instead choose a star map
that slips me through to another galaxy? Good-bye
to the asparagus of self-doubt, the onionskin envelope
of the lonely. Instead, let this hangover open
into uncharted happiness, let the sweetness be dangerous.
Unfasten the windows from their frames, take off
the rooftop from the triple decker house—join the hyena,
the horse, and the girl. Offer them wings.
Tonight, I Travel Back to Allston Street
When my father turned nineteen
his father died and no one told him
the truth of dying:
the ocean is for sale today
and you cannot buy it.
In their corner store, Kosher for Passover,
labels arrived unaccompanied
by the rabbi’s actual prayers
duplicity sticking to each can
of mandarins, each vessel of sour pickles.
The silences could drown a boy,
could slay him
down to a slip of breath—
language drifting between Yiddish and English—
Shabbat candles the only brightness
he could rely on. Stay bright,
stay bright, he might have prayed
but probably not.
Perhaps his mind played the periodic tables
or bicycled down tenement avenues.
Here is what he learned:
to perfect invisibility, to become a statue—
an “American” like Buffalo Bill
or the Kennedys. I think of the tides
that grew him—a man with a talent
for happiness and his wife most alive in misery.
The plush and spin of their marriage; green tongues
never watered enough. Angel wing begonias
my father grew in pots of vermiculite – no dirt
allowed in my mother’s house, no bugs. What made
him do it? Every year as winter dust tempered
the sun porch he transplanted the starts upstairs
and attic bound they rested, dormant. Today,
my father, dead 20 years would be 93. It’s hard
to believe it. Were you his favorite? my father’s best friend
asked as the funeral broke up. And so I took it in
the same way I overheard a student on campus
pleading with his friend, Do I smell of pancake batter?
asking as if he really needed to know. So little
it takes to swim beyond the small talk and investigate
the ocean floor. The coral reefs and lost sunglasses,
the obscured treasures of feeling and forms
of intimacy. Only once did my father tell me
I love you. That human line of language, three
syllables and eight letters with two spaces in-between.
It’s the in-between where I live now. The
middle of middle age where I paint my house
the blue-grey of Allston Street, to invite back
the person who fathered me, the branched
tributaries in blossom on his birthday, May 20th,
where I will return to him beyond language.
My ghost self and his finally speaking.
All poems Copyright © Susan Rich 2022