an online showcase curated by Maya Kóvskaya



by Donna Fleischer



[Editors' Note: An edited version of the following poem was published in chapbook form by Casa de Cinca Press. It is reprinted with permission here.]

i. Prologue

Lithuania, country of my grandmother’s body
unfolding in the cave-like cotton motion
of her sleeping gown       our dreaming feet
entwined toward rest there    where
I had never been but for her body
of startling lakes and pine trees

                    pitched from the edge
                    of the Baltic Sea
                    dripping amber through
                    centuries once a valued
                    currency, even the language
                    at least as old as Sanskrit
                    singing itself through
                    each siege of history
                    pushing her     here    shipped
                    for matrimony without
                    reading and writing

                   she who did sing held me through
                   each night stricken without
                   a mother    near enough
                   taught me to read    eventually
                   mystery    with my own body
                   to sing through even my loss of her
                   when I was nine   and alone
                   when I left my body    in exile

                   I ran to the river then
                   its little fish and murmurs
                   become the missed caresses,
                   standing in a field of sour rhubarb
                   while the sky runs through me its
                   wide saber mysterious and cold

ii. In Exile

Antarctica, vast whiteness of the mother
before memory     lost to us

Exiled in my language       waiting
on the nameless jutting island stone
Seals surfacing smooth     as stones
black as obsidian      icy lava

How to find what is possible?
How to find ourselves     each other?

To become so little I could walk inside this poem
or make the poem so big you could walk in too

I want to write myself back into my body
back to someone I call you

iii. Discovery Hour of Desire

Seals smoothing water back      recess
its quiet black volume

until consciousness reports letters,
words, ablated at the glassy surface

rolling off to mountains floated
from the original world      return

as elements of the periodic table,
contrapuntal pairs of infinitesimal charges

composing this
voluble world,
this ocean      island
chair     this
memory of you seated
in a high school biology class
that sat me down beside you
before a light microscope,
to unravel the orbed onion,
attuned my sight to elegant details
of another life, of a universe
in a cell

on glass, colloid liquid life,
colonies urgent with equilibrium,
parallel wills lining up
no longer sitting alone

I gorged my senses in the sense of her
swept into her view as if I’d found
heaven too near

Gorge of her supine throat
flaring into steep cheekbones
riveting each blue winter eye
in place, where they, in turn steer
the rest of the face an assembly imperial

IV.  Skipping School

Sigma Chi smiles stare
in hallways near our lockers
deciding finally not    to pledge us.
We were finding something else –
wonder in ourselves

Drunk on our only experience
of power      trading sex like coupons
for scotch whiskey from older men,
stealing back from them our desire
the way Prometheus stole fire and
was condemned     seeking a way
to each other    no flight manual
for this

Shakespeare’s witches instead
stirring warnings     that survival
depends on disguise     glamour,
competition, seduction       lies
that the only way
to hold on to self
was through an insistence of pain,
sometimes the only thing that seemed
real    the clarity of  it    of feeling
beyond emotion     beneath the glossy
array of images which eventually
collide us into overnight jail terms
on Morgan Street

Eyes glinting along edges of dark roads
try to find each      other    encouraged
by almost everything to     turn away

V.  In Captivity

Crundge      went the dungeon door
our tiger eyes met       glared behind those bars,
refused release on our own cognizance
our families would be coming    freedom conquerors
our eyes brown and blue eggs
running in the snow
they were breaking and entering
our lives our lives
somehow that sounded strange

Lives already sliced into by shame
feelings wasting like garbage
Looking always about my shoulders
pleading with the fast asleep stars to guide us
back to each other, longing for a foreign place
she sent postcards from Maine
“love, Cordelia”     I told no one
barely myself.

VI.  In the City      Breakdown

Outbreak came at sixteen.      Social Security
processed our numbers.     We could be
waitresses, typists, solicitors.       Selling
Life to immigrants over the telephone.

From a reservoir causeway
the ground view of big sky
flares off the grand pines
standing in the distances
light of brightness
light of darkness
we expand with the ever enlarging water
for hours in the presence of steady trees,
the Canada geese, who are ready to climb
and watch them climb       and fly
and not fail

We knew all we did not want
sinking beneath menial jobs
in the private land of hell

Indigo, indigo
her father established order.
Marks on her arms    her face    shine indigo
until the bloat of my rage
matches each blow of his fist
on her cheek and cries out
in the din       indigo
He said I was to blame.
He said, “Separate them”.

vii.  Solos

Four seasons passed like four planets
in four difficult orbits spinning slowness
careening by each other our
massive precise spherical silence

I heard from strangers      that
winter Cordelia was hospitalized     will meet
someone     older, so ample we spread out and in
to each other  from two o’clock morning walks
to Arthur’s Drugstore for cigarettes
slow conversation-holding-hands in
the silent snowy night time city streets, to
espresso in the Village, finding more — Simone, Dylan,
Ginsberg, Hinduism, Shelley, Coltrane, Beatles, Blake

Two women together without rules
in this new world of selves,
tenderness growing us
in some kind of singing school

Her breath rasped on the lung machine,
plastic hands probing valves of her heart,
they tore apart her chest and patched and
patched and still could not

Vocal chords abraded by surgical tubes
intone Lithuanian refrains. ‪Ilgiausių metų, Cordelia. ‪
Women singing through each others’ mouths     as one

viii.  The Frame of Windows

University    meeting new people every fourth month
lectures gliding through French doors onto Spring
lawns     coffee house music    poetry     open books –
their gaze on me      thumbing through blue exam
booklets in love with my own mind but as if it were
some one else’s

Then Eugene McCarthy’s radical challenge of self-
determination     Vietnam     Poverty     Civil Rights

           fire in the lake of the heart
           burning the church on Birmingham  Sunday
           burning Tet Nhat, Newark, Watts
           burning Thomas Merton, John and
           Robert Kennedy, Medger Evers, Malcolm X,
           George Wallace, Buddhist monks, even
           Martin Luther King, Jr.

learning Gandhi's truthforce     ahima
nonviolent protest marches moratoriums
Berkeley Free Speech Movement    SDS
Angela Davis    Black Panthers    New Haven on fire
Americans For Democratic Action Weathermen
Kent State    Watergate     Stonewall Rebellion
lesbians incarcerated in Niantic taking the Fifth
the Second Wave of Feminism
Nuclear Freeze Earth Day
o mercy mercy me,     the ecology

you had to resist       to expand consciousness
we were the walrus

ix.  Framed, Extra Lucid

a window
opens, the political
a window
closes, the personal

semi-permeable membrane
frame of windows
and opening, each cell
osmotic, dependent
on the degree of presence
or absence of sea
in the watery window

it is said
Atlantis did
send out ships
of poets and physicians,
into the realm
of not knowing

x.  In the Icy Mirror

Cordelia dreams
walking into
blue becoming ice
tremors bolt through
her ears she stabs
at her fear
but does not scream

peeling back thicknesses
layers to the heart
discloses a hidden chamber
and witnesses love
crawling there
in the guise of puppets
grinning and twitching
they claw they cloy at her
hungry again

how long
will the shark
to eat its own skin?

xi.  Chiaroscuro

She will find me six years later, will
arrive when woods pass ripening as
fog seized with rain moves in

ducks threading narrow trails
pulling water on their way
tree shadows wave on the waves of geese
I hear a molecular pounding

That’s me with Cordelia
talking through a dinner I will never
remember, of studies in Ohio
finished, as well as marriage
to a Cuban man gone American from
his native soil, how she became the cockatoo
he would not be and crooned, fanned
her resplendent plumes, shook off
feelings as they stiffened into hardware

we sat through a movie
on her sister’s living room couch
drinking too much wine, laughing ourselves
so close the affectionate terrier I called Sheba
found not room enough between us
became instead our only witness
this first time we ever kissed, and kissed
one an–other into sleep in my bed
love splashing from our breath

xii.  October

She untied my knotted fingers
persuading these hands
to scars in her chest
the curving lines of her breasts
unfinished circles of
holding off, holding back
so much wanting
we touch for the first time
the other
every where
every way

Each push of her swollen lips on me
bursts into crimson fish and gold
streaming beneath her

Our skin choosing a foreign place
where we rise and come
to waylessness

xiii.  China Blue Sea

in a vein blue ribbon
of rest being drenched
in the floating
bluest eye of a heaven
burnished by gold breath,
mystical tiles of ivory
prayers worn
from an endless rubbing

How apricot underpants clash
with the fire red rug how dust
rolls around this room like trouble
I am alone the first time I ever
saw her not seeing me comes back –
smoking urgently she marshalls meanings:
to be seen by the father and that this
means more than it should, of Juan
walking around suicide, pushing his arm
away folds up her income disdaining
just sex now flies to Senegal and another
man who drinks too much while she walks
the crumbling sea wall wells eventually
dry up and her passport stamped for Chicago
my name stumbles from her throat

She could teach archery
to a Chinese child and make the bow blue
into a fanciful sea encircling us three.
No. I am a bone that was sawed in two
during her heart surgery

xiv. Paris, France by Gertrude Stein

When you wish
upon a star
makes no
who you are . . .
your dreams
come true

But some stars
be red
and some
be blue

I go back to the causeway for some sense
of how I offered myself to her, I want to say
you. When you flinched at some gap in your
own courage that could have helped us at least
as women. As my face hovers over the severed
fate of itself, rushing at the face of clear water,
trapped into the endless smoothness
of my loss of you

up above the world so high,
like a diamond in the sky

xv. This Mineral World

Placing carefully
each foot, each foot within
frozen mud prints
of others’ steps, trying
to fit into anyone else’s life,
feeling instead every instant
sharpness of you
angles, imprints
still left
Stumbling between
two shifting slabs of water
freezing on each side of the causeway,
remember autumn sunlight splintered
into death’s gold dust as it sifts
effortlessly downward
through the quiet
depth of lake
leaves drawn to the bottom
by their own weight and compressed
in the shape of silence

Then the recoil of twenty Springtimes
hurtling through false bottoms
beyond mistaken depths
and all light gone.
Shelves, cinder blocks,
temporary housing,
a way to live beyond collapse,
in whose house on what terms and
in what land?

vi. Epilogue

Snow fall frozen
into a geography of its own
even moonlight
stacked in shivering columns of air
presses the last thin leaves
out of November

Spiritual savage
living on scraps,
no ancient gods
to mother you but sparrows
flown through their own shadow
crossing a causeway now broken in two

I broke myself
over you
the way water breaks
over rock
we who are
each other
without resistance
over each dark gash,
breathe in
where feeling
opens voice.





Return to table of contents.