Posts Tagged ‘ars poetica’





pulling on my mask

as my nom de plume

unbuttons her blouse again

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It’s not so much because

poems make things better—

don’t heal the sick, don’t

stop a war, don’t make the bread

any less stale, don’t bring

people back from the dead.

But poems do have a way

of making me feel more

okay with the world not

being the way I wish it were.

They say yes to the world,

again and again, telling it

like it is. And then,

like a dandelion

already gone to seed,

they wait for the gust

that will strip them bare

until all that’s left

is a hint that once

there was something

lovely here.

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When I met Amadeo Modigliani,

I knew of hunger

what did I know of love?

I was in Paris. On my honeymoon.

As my new husband met with other women

i met with Amadeo, an impoverished Italian Jew.

His paintings not yet famous.

We would walk Parisian streets

in the warm summer rain

and snuggle under his black umbrella

and recite by heart poems from Verlaine together.

He begged me, don’t go back to Russia.

Russia? I said, where is that? It’s Russiya.

Don’t go back to Russiya, Anna.

I did.


That winter he wrote me in Petrograd:

Vous êtes en moi comme une hantise;

You are obsessively part of me.

I knew it was true,

that he was more myself

than my own familiar hands.

Back in Petrograd,

I would touch my lips in the mirror

and say my own name

and believe my voice was his.


I think of Lot’s wife.

How they told her not to turn,

to not look at Sodom, her home

even as it was being destroyed

but how could she not

turn to the green fields where she had sung,

turn to the bed where her children

were made, turn to the place

of her blood?


When I turned back to Paris

because his love felt like home

even though i knew it would be destroyed,

I was not transformed into salt

but into chalk, black chalk, his chalk on paper.


I did not know then

how that I would come

to treasure his vision,

how I would tape his drawing

on the wall in every house

i ever lived in so I could live again

between those lines in a time

of wild honey, scent of beeswax candles,

his amber eyes.


Amedeo always drew me naked

in long spare lines—

Always from memory when he was alone.

With me, his hands

were too busy for chalk.


He’d slip off my dress,

and in my breast,

he’d visit my beloved Russian steppes,

in my waist, he buried himself

in Siberian snow,

and between my thighs,

he was baptized again and again

in the floodwaters of the Neva River.


They’d not yet made

a corset that will fit me—

how could it when I

am all of Russia?


Oh I loved him. Wrote him poems.

Left red roses strewn on his studio floor.

How airy the light was then.

How I loved being what they would later call me,



polovina monakhini, half nun,

polovina shlyukha, half whore.



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Damn Thirsty




Scent of Darjeeling

escapes through

the poem’s cup—

from miles away

you smell it,

twist of citrus,


try telling your thirst

it’s just words,

the delicate

flowering in the air,

the warmth

of the cup,

the fruit

making merry

on your tongue.

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One Because








still we arrive

to be wrestled

by a poem



what emerges

has wings.

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I could tell you it doesn’t hurt, but

that’s a lie. Still, I choose

to dive into what’s frozen,


entering the cold with no armor.

Naked and alone. I could tell you

I want you to join me,


and that is partially true.

After the shock, the shudder,

the clench, we can stretch


our limbs on a warm flat rock

and let the sun write its blushing graffiti

across our skin.


It is not our toughness

that will save us here, but

our curiosity.


Let us not come for answers,

and if we find some, let’s not

fill our pockets. Let’s toss them


like stones into the lake,

and let’s not dive in after them

no matter how strong we are,


no matter how deep

the water, no matter

how clear.


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Into the Poem I Tuck




a left turn,

a river stone,


the moon,

an empty frame,

the scent of books,

a wide-brimmed hat,

a question mark,

ripe peach juice, maps

to nowhere,

unfinished songs,

a trunk, blue mornings,

fields of gold,


of what comes next,

the promise

I will try


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One Unfathomable




this ornery pen

even when I tell it I’m too tired

it keeps writing love poems

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It’s like the absence

where the cat used to come

and rub against your leg


and you had some hope

there was real affection,

perhaps she even favored you,


you were, after all,

the one who fed her—

no wonder she nuzzled your shins—


but that was before you tried

to pick her up and rub

her belly. Eager fool.


It was days before the cat

let herself be seen again,

though you set out cream,


though you promised loudly

not to pick her up.

God, just to feel her


rub against your leg.

That would be enough, you

tell yourself, but you


and the cat both know you’ll try

to pick her up again, your hands

desperate as a blank page.

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But you got it all wrong,

I wanted to say to that gift horse.

You brought me what,

stubbornness, devotion and persistence?

What kind of gifts are those?

I wanted to be a poet.

The gift horse reared and ran off,

leaving me with a thousand thousand poems

to read, a pen that will never run out,

and a whole lifetime of blank pages

just waiting to be written.

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