SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: CAROLE BERNSTEIN

By Carole Bernstein:

PASTORAL

Sunny with the intensity of dream.
Huge balloony graffiti covered the stone
wall at the end of Avenue M,
where Iris Bloom took me to smoke a joint
and we cut Orchestra, second period.

Avenue M—was that it? some
concrete promontory, secret, above the subway
where it burst up into the light—we watched it
racket a while among the green backyards
like a real train from a real place, not Brooklyn,
and sink again.
The passengers, blinking,
would be headed for work, starting their day . . .

What possessed me that morning? I never cut school.
But we would not play that day,
our oboes lying in cases by our feet and books,
the reeds not in our mouths,
the joint passed, sipped at with the breath,
tentative, a new thing to do.
I took off my jacket, the breeze moved over my arms,
we felt lean as boys, we were
dangerous, unsexual, unobserved.

And then returned to the low building
and entered it,
blinded for a few seconds, believing
ourselves altered—the blackboard fathomless,
the passing bell shrieking.
Dull-lipped seemed the faces of the uninitiated.

By three the sun had faded, but
our smoke, its animal warmth, I thought it
scented the spring wind.

BACK TO LIFE

Daughter, delivered by an attendant:
silent and watchful in your orphanage smock
with the cartoon dog, and pilled mended pants.
A smell of mildew came from your shock

of sweaty, cropped black hair. Stuck to your chest,
in English and Chinese a name tag read
Happy Springtime: a name pressed
upon you by no father, mother. Closeted

from the world before you came to us, as if
in an ancient tomb carving of a child
rising from the grave in a flowing shift.
Freed from the humid earth, she almost smiles.

You don’t remember, but love to be told
how they brought you through the doors and you were ours.
But buried in you is that place, still. Were you cold,
solitary, left wanting, maybe for hours…

Don’t go there, I tell myself. Instead,
I grab you and inhale your fragrant head.

Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Carole Bernstein’s second poetry collection Buried Alive: A To-Do List is forthcoming in Spring 2019 from Hanging Loose Press. She is also the author of Familiar (Hanging Loose Press)—which J. D. McClatchy called “an exhilarating book”—and a chapbook, And Stepped Away from the Circle (Sow’s Ear Press). Her poems have appeared in magazines including Antioch Review, Bridges, Button Jar, Chelsea, Light, Paterson Literary Review, Poetry, Shenandoah, and Yale Review. Her work has also been included in three anthologies: American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon University Press), Unsettling America (Viking) and The Laurel Hill Poetry Anthology (Laurel Hill Press). She lives in Philadelphia and works as a freelance writer and marketing consultant.

Guest Editor’s Note: Carole Bernstein’s work carries an honest and relaxed tone, even as she addresses sensitive and intimate personal experiences. Reading her work is like being invited into her world as a close confidante, if just for a few moments. In “Pastoral,” Bernstein describes the newfound and sensual freedom that came from cutting class years ago in high school, allowing her and a friend to be “lean as boys” and feel “dangerous, unsexual, unobserved.” She resists romantic or sentimental treatment of the most personal and sentimental moments of life. In “Back to Life,” she presents, with unadorned comfort, the immediate love for a new daughter that was accompanied by “A smell of mildew came from your shock / of sweaty, cropped black hair.” Both of these poems are part of a new collection of work, Buried Alive: A To-Do List, forthcoming Spring 2019.

Want to read more by and about Carole Bernstein?
Buy Familiar on Amazon
Poetry Foundation
Hanging Loose Press





Guest Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.



A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RHIANNON CONLEY

MURMUR
by Rhiannon Conley


“Did You Know? You can swim through the aorta
of a blue whale.” I watched as two children
swam, their soft hands like fins pushing themselves
out of the open chamber of the imagined whale’s
red ventricle and back into the museum showcase.
The heavy plastic held on to the throb of their laughter.

I could fit, I thought. I could be held in this heart
like blood. I could be pumped through the veins
and organs of the whale, let it take me, flowing,
my arms at my sides gliding head first
through the enormous animal’s body.

Your heart, just the size of your soft infant fist
which fits twofold into my own, holds a small
whispering defect. The pediatrician presses air
between his teeth – tsst tsst – to mimic the sound
he hears on the stethoscope. “It’s nothing,”
he says, “Just relax.” Tsst tsst. Just a leak,
a little mist pressed through a tiny spout,
a space as tight as teeth.

You are supposed to outgrow the hole,
supposed to grow muscle around the flaw,
supposed to be as strong as hard plastic,
the murmur shrinking so that you never
have to think about the way your body
is whispering its defects. I am supposed to relax.

I could fit. Inside your body, remembering how you
once fit into me. I could repair you
with my own body, the way my body prepared you
in the first place, with all your flaws.
The pediatrician says it gets louder – tsst tsst –
as it shrinks. He says your heart is much louder.

I’ll take you someday to see the whale’s heart
and watch as you swim through its ventricles
and out of the oversized aorta like a fish, unaware
of your heart moving blood through your body
like waves, little echoes, like the plastic heart
holding onto your laughter.



Today’s poem previously appeared in Whale Road Review and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Rhiannon Conley is a poet and writing instructor living in North Dakota. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Her first chapbook, Less Precious, was published by Semiperfect Press in 2017. She currently has work forthcoming in Literary Mama and Longleaf Review. She writes an irregular newsletter of short poetic essays called Smol Talks and more regularly Tweets @RhiannonAdmidas.

Guest Editor’s Note: The echoes throughout this poem are its heart beating, whispering the emotions of the speaker told to relax when listening to a diagnosis of a leak in her daughter’s heart. Like so many mothers, she wants to fix the problem and also shoulder some of the burden. The following lines repeat words and sounds and serve as a mantra that comes from the deepest and most profound feelings of helplessness: “I could fit. Inside your body, remembering how you / once fit into me. I could repair you / with my own body, the way my body prepared you / in the first place, with all your flaws.” The repetition of “body” and “you” is natural, seamless, barely above a whisper. The second appearance of “I could fit” is a rhythmic reminder of the speaker’s profound wish.

The model whale heart is the perfect opening for this poem, set in a familiar place to observe children perhaps on a field trip or visit to the museum. The imagery of swimming through “the imagined whale’s red ventricle” in the first stanza begins a narrative that circulates through thought and lands back on hope for future visits in spite of a mother’s fear. The well-crafted stanzas and lines serve the poem and its theme and create a circular effect that emanates from the narrative, its imagery and metaphors.

Want to read more by and about Rhiannon Conley?
ND Quarterly
Moonsick Magazine
Occulum
Buy Less Precious from semiperfect press
Smol Talks


Guewst Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Gluttony (Pure Slush Books), The Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, Random Sample Review, Into the Void Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, and Rivet Journal.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LAURA READ


RIP, LAURA’S VAGINA
By Laura Read


Your vagina is beginning to devitalize,
the doctor explained, when I asked him why
I had had so many urinary tract infections lately.
The first thing I thought was that I should say
No, your vagina is devitalizing, because I have
two teenage sons, and that is what passes for wit
in our house. But then I got lost in the fact
that he didn’t, in fact, have a vagina,
and I thought I should point that out instead
because in some circles—say, mine—
that would be an insult. Then, in the little
room inside my mind where Dorothy Parker
was holding court at the Algonquin,
I thought maybe devitalize is just a medical term,
give the guy a break. But I didn’t even know
this man. Couldn’t he just give me a prescription
and say something vague about aging?
What about euphemism? I guess devitalize
was one because he went on to more vividly
explain that my tissues were, frankly, deteriorating.
At that point, I was thinking But you haven’t even
seen the area in question
and How did you get
this far without knowing how to talk to women?

Devitalize reminds me of de-ice which is what
I was doing just before this tricky moment
at the Urgent Care. My son was late to Algebra
because it’s really cold and it took a while
to clean the car. And at 8:00 the door
where he usually goes in automatically closes,
so I had to take him around to the front,
and he dropped his phone in the snow
and it got run over, so now there’s a crack
in the screen. He wants me to replace it,
but I said, No, it still works.



Today’s poem previously appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Volume 68, No. 1. Winter 2018, and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Laura Read’s first collection of poems, Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral, was published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her second collection, Dresses from the Old Country, will be published by BOA in fall of 2018. She teaches English at Spokane Falls Community College.

Guest Editor’s Note: This poem moves through thought and returns to previous memory in a deceptively effortless progression, as if listening to someone recount an experience in conversation. The speaker fixates on a word that informs the tone of the experience and the poem: devitalize. This word takes her down a linguistic path that leads to another path and another, but, unlike Robert Frost, she returns to the fork in the road at the end of the poem with her response to her son that is meant for the insensitive doctor: “No, it still works.”

The allusive dark humor of Dorothy Parker is conjured as a familiar satirical connection and an anchor for association or a metaphorical leap. The “little room” inside the speaker’s mind is where pithy retorts are stored for occasions such as the encounter at the Urgent Care clinic, but she doesn’t respond in the way that she wants to, keeping her thoughts to herself, as many women do in these situations when they are being told that their bodies have failed them in some way by doctors who make assumptions without being completely sure.

The significant linguistic turn the speaker takes to a new word: “Devitalize reminds me of de-ice” leads her to recent memory, and the experience of taking her son to school that morning evokes mournful anger and defiance in the face of a doctor’s proclamation that a vital part of her female-ness is deteriorating. The details are important in her reliving the moments with her son as she is sitting in the clinic, and seemingly mundane facts become the thematic crux, informing the reader how life and language connect to produce intense emotion when we least expect it.

Want to read more by and about Laura Read?
Laura Read’s Official Website


Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), the Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, and Rivet Journal.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RACHEL HEIMOWITZ


REFRESH
By Rachel Heimowitz

We raise them in lemons, in buttercream, in cornmeal,
we cut the crust off every loaf and serve blueberries
to those who can’t abide the crumbs. We let them

ride our arms like cowboys, and when their imaginations
cry elephants, we give them elephants, thick skinned
and wrinkled, but theirs. We sail them off due west,

into the froth of their own desires, tell them their lives
will roll like the hills behind the hills behind the hills
into a mist the color of tamarind and smoke. Lovely

parenthood, open and bright, sunlight through a window,
a hand smoothing sheets, Lego basketed in a corner.
The refresh button under my index finger, set to the local news site

pressed over and over and over to discover
if my child has gone to war.

 

Today’s poem previously appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Prairie Schooner (Volume 91 Number 4) and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Rachel Heimowitz is the author of the chapbook, What the Light Reveals (Tebot Bach Press, 2014.) Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Spillway, Prairie Schooner and Georgia Review. She was recently a finalist for the COR Richard Peterson Prize, winner of the Passenger Prize and she has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Rachel received her MFA from Pacific University in Spring 2015 and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California.

Guest Editor’s Note: This is a poem of immense restraint, power, and impact. How we are lulled by its lyric, set softly adrift amid its imagery, then gutted by its simple, brutal truth. How effortless the poet makes it appear to live this unbearable life, to write this poem.

Today’s poem is dedicated to the children’s lives lost to gun violence. It is offered as a battle cry as we take to the streets today with the #NeverAgain movement to save our children, to march for their lives. So that the next time this poem is written it does not end: “The refresh button under my index finger, set to the local news site // pressed over and over and over to discover / if my child has died at school.”

Want to read more by and about Rachel Heimowitz?
Rachel Heimowitz Official Website
Buy What the Light Reveals from Amazon
Atticus Review
Twyckenham Notes
Tinderbox Poetry Journal
Cutthroat
The Missing Slate

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. It is an honor and a unique opportunity to now share this series with a number of guest editors, and we’ll be hearing more from them in the coming weeks. Today’s feature, however, is a labor of love from yours truly.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MALAK




From MALAK
By Jenny Sadre-Orafai:


LAST READING

There is a pregnant bird in the cup.
Malak looks at me like she has never looked

at that in a cup before. My father looks at me
like there are things I’m not telling him.

She crochets baby caps, square blankets,
booties in Neapolitan ice cream colors.

If I ever have these babies, if I’m the bird
in the cup, I’ll want to devour them.

After the last reading she leaves the cup turned up,
daring the bird to forget I was pregnant.



MOTHER SPELL

I felt for mountain
and ocean, my first globe.

Mouth or beak. Arm or wing.
Skin or feather. Feet or feet.

Who brought these to me
to dress in booties and caps.

I didn’t ask to know a belly
so tight.

I didn’t ask if it was girl
or boy or bird.



LANGUAGE OF SIGNS

I slept the whole day
without remembering, Malak.

I dreamt I had a son
growing so fast,

a tomato plant sprawled
everywhere, unstoppable.

I held him at my hipline.
And I fed his hunger.

Now he’s a pitcher
of water.



Today’s poems are from Malak (Playtpus Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Malak is an invocation of past and future. With familial lament and childish wonder, the words lay tribute to the infinite—to the beauty in descent and the heartache that binds us to place. To our smallness in death and the importance of conjuring anew.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather and five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Hotel Amerika, The Pinch, and other journals. Her prose has appeared in Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, South Loop Review, Fourteen Hills, The Collagist, and other journals. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Editor’s Note: Birds, tea leaves, foxes. If there are talismans that illuminate the path Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Malak lays out for the reader, these may be those divining objects. There is magic within these pages — the kind that is conjured up in Gypsy tents and over old world kitchen tables, magic from a time and place when women were believed. But the future is always uncertain, and the tales that unfurl within Malak‘s pages curve and splinter like the lines on a palm.

What is inheritance, this collection asks. What is lived? What is lost? Do we inherit even that which cannot be passed down? Are predictions only as good as their fruition?

Malak is a book that pairs loss with beauty, future with past, the certainty of fate with the unknown and the unknowable. Throughout its pages, a sense of familiarity is established that both grounds and destabilizes. Its stories are told in the dark of night, but under the light of a full and generous moon. When Malak‘s truths reveal themselves, you bask in their luminosity and marvel at the careful magic of their making. You do not ask if they are boy or girl or bird.

Want more from Jenny Sadre-Orafai?
Buy Malak in paperback from Platypus Press
Buy Malak on Kindle from Amazon
Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: GILI HAIMOVICH


AND THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SOFTNESS
By Gili Haimovich

People are still flirting
with trying to look younger,
to make each other laugh.
Their existence is softened
by the luxuries of having some time, some needs, met.
People are still eager,
not too tired of being keen,
I have found out
among the snow banks,
pushing
the stroller of my soft new baby.



Today’s poem appears here today with permission from the poet.

Gili Haimovich is an international poet and translator who writes in both Hebrew and English. She has six volumes of poetry in Hebrew, including her most recent, Landing Lights (Iton 77 Publishing House), which received a grant from Acum, as did her previous book. She also received a grant nominating her as an outstanding artist by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption on 2015. Her poetry in English is featured in her chapbook, Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008) and in numerous journals and anthologies, such as Poetry International, International Poetry Review, Poem Magazine, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Asymptote, Drain Magazine, Blue Lyra, Circumference, TOK1: Writing the New Toronto and Mediterranean Poetry, as well as main Israeli journals and anthologies such as The Most Beautiful Poems in Hebrew (Yedioth Ahronot Books, 2013). Her poems have been translated into several languages including Chinese, French, Italian, Bengali, and Romanian. Gili is also presenting her work as a photographer, teaches creative writing, and facilitates writing focused arts therapy.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem excels in the realm of wordplay. Double entendres luxuriate in a language that is as rich as it is simple, as straightforward as it is complex. The poet’s clear love of language — the sheer joy of it — culminates in a narrative of the unexpected, in a revelation that demands we enter the poem again and consider it anew. Delicate and layered, this poem is a labor of love that offers the reader the fruits of its bounty.

Want to read more by and about Gili Haimovich?
Poetry International Rotterdam
Mediterranean Poetry
Drain Magazine
Taylor & Frances Online
PoetryOn – Gili Haimovich’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MANISHA SHARMA

sharma-image


Millions of girls continue to vanish pre-birth in India simply because they are girls. The following poems imagine these vanished girls.


DEAR DAUGHTER

In my mind I cradled you in my arms
            I didn’t cage you
you latched onto my breasts
             I didn’t siphon life into you
you mumbled bilabial sounds, m…p
yet my ears did not hear you speak
I know you exist
              waiting to be reborn as my son
then, I will cradle you in my arms
              let you latch onto my breasts
              siphon life into you
              hear you mumble Ma, Pa
              welcome you as the heir
              who will carry your father’s name


WOULD YOU STILL BLAME ME?

You were like circles of incense
It wasn’t that we couldn’t feed another mouth
It was the kind of feeding we would do
For every roti soaked in ghee for your brother
You would get only one not soaked
Every glass of milk that went down his throat
You would drink chai with a hint of milk
Every pair of new clothes he would get each month
You would only get one pair a year
He would utter complex phrases in English
You would say soft words in Hindi and the local tongue
He would earn fancy degrees to do something great
You would master fine skills to please others
He would walk with his head held high
You would walk with your head bent
For you are leased property
Returned to its rightful owner in two decades



Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Manisha Sharma: Born and raised in India, Manisha Sharma earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Tech. A graduate of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, she was a Spring 2016 poetry mentee in AWP’s mentorship program, where Shikha Malaviya mentored her. Her recent poetry and writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from TAB, a journal of poetry and poetics, New Asian Writing, The Bombay Review and The Huffington Post. More of her work can be seen at www.genderedarrangements.com.

Editor’s Note: Between 2000 and 2011 seven-to-ten million girls in India were prevented from being born simply because they were girls. With her important poetry and collaborations, Manisha Sharma tells research-based stories of these girls-who-never-were. Her work goes a step beyond giving voice to the voiceless. Sharma literally gives life — through her art — to those who never came into being because of their sex.

In today’s poems Sharma imagines these “vanished girls” from the perspective of the mothers who carried, but never birthed them. “I know you exist,” one such mother reflects, “waiting to be reborn as my son.” Another considers the gender inequity she wanted to spare her would-be-daughter: “It wasn’t that we couldn’t feed another mouth / It was the kind of feeding we would do/ For every roti soaked in ghee for your brother / You would get only one not soaked / Every glass of milk that went down his throat / You would drink chai with a hint of milk.”

It is heartbreaking to think of the lost souls whose sex alone prevented them from having a chance at life. But it is perhaps more challenging to consider the mothers who conceived, who carried the seeds of life inside them, and who made the choice — if they were given a choice at all — to terminate their pregnancies when they discovered they were carrying girls. One mother harbors no illusions as to the kind of life a girl child in India would have had to lead, while the other acknowledges that, despite the choice made, she suffered a great loss: “In my mind I cradled you in my arms.”

Want to see more from Manisha Sharma?
Gendered Arrangements
“Indian Girl Crumbling” in New Asian Writing
“#17”, “#18”, “#22”, “#23”, and “#25” in The Bombay Review