There are poets with history and poets without history, Tsvetsaeva claimed living 
through the ruin of Russia.  
 
Karina says disavow every time I see her. We, the daughters between countries, 
wear our mean mothers like scarves around our necks.
 
Every visit, mine recounts all the wrongs done against her
 
ring sent for polishing returned with a lesser diamond, Years of never rest and,
she looks at me, of nothing to be proud of.
 
I am covered in welts and empty pockets so large sobs escape me in the backroom of 
my Landlord's fabric shop. He moves to wipe my tears
 
as if I’m his daughter 
or I’m no one’s daughter.
 
It’s true, I let him take my hand, I am a girl who needs something. I slow cook bone
grief, use a weak voice.
 
My mother calls me the girl with holes in her hands, every time I lose something.
 
All Russian daughters were snowflakes once, and in their hair a ribbon long
as their body knotted and knotted and knotted into a large translucent bow.
 
It happens, teachers said, that a child between countries will refuse to speak. 
A girl with a hole in her throat, every day I opened the translation book.
 
Silent, I took my shoes off when I came home, I 
put my house clothes on.
 
We had no songs, few rituals. On Yom Kippur, we lit a candle for the dead
and no one knew a prayer.
 
We kept the candle lit, that’s all.

The wave always returns, and always returns a different wave.
I was small. I built a self outside my self because a child needs shelter.
 
Not even you knew I was strange,
I ate the food my family ate, I answered to my name.

You don't love me, you say, and deflate

You don’t love me, you say, and deflate
our air mattress, meeting me at the fold.
                                        We’re in a bad lesbian performance piece

You don’t eat the sandwich I make you.
I puncture your yoga ball. Or, the dog did
                                                            This is a drawing of the dog.
                                           I meant to watch something and be still
                                                                                 for a long time.

I'm not sure what belongs to me. 
                                      It’s your money
                                                         stop asking me what you mean

Porcelain skunk, perfect Q-tip holder.
Ceramic parrot, good for something.

                  If you don’t trust me with this cup then wrap it yourself.

The dog hasn’t stopped barking in hours—anxious.

                                  I know you can lift the chair, what you can do
                                                                                is not the point.

Vasya, in Bed

If you fall asleep now, all the mice will find your bed.
Drawn to the warm life in you, they’ll spend the night

power grooming your small patches of fur     nibbling
on your overgrown toenails.         You don’t want that.

It’s too close.                                     Stay awake, Vasya.
No one’s coming.                                      Breeze is cold.
Pull the covers over your ears.                 Not a woman.
                                              Just the shape of a woman.

Weight presses down on your duvet-lump body     push
the word go from your ghost-wrapped throat. She’ll go.

Not all ghosts mean trouble     —you could let her stay.
                       (To aid sleep, recite the Cyrillic alphabet.)

At the foot of your bed                                 something.
Close your window, keep water by.

That’s a frog’s croak.                           That’s your body.
                               That’s a night bird.

On the Brighton Beach Boardwalk

On the Brighton Beach boardwalk men sit in the rain shelters smelling of piss, shouting drunk genius into the afternoon sun. Men play chess on small portable sets, holding beach umbrellas for cover. Men take care of other men, raising them from wheelchairs and guiding them to benches and it looks just like slow dancing. So gentle. Someone has rolled blue carpets from the boards, over the beach, to the pale-blue water.

There are so many young mothers but my mother has hope for me too. She says a beautiful girl like me, men must make advances all the time. A beautiful girl like me has to think of her future. A beautiful girl like me, well, cousin Lena turned forty and she quit that Los Angeles life and that Los Angeles girlfriend. Got herself a rich husband, an adopted baby. And, don’t you know they love that baby? They love her despite how, in the wrong light, she’s a little too brown.

I’m furiously stuffing my mouth with black bread because this talk makes me angry and because I’m crying, staring down into my plate, thinking on last night—how you called me difficult when you could have called me beautiful. And here it is, beautiful tumbling out my mother’s mouth like bad oil. More and more I imagine my dead body slumped beside me. It feels peaceful. We’re just having a heart-to-heart, my mother says, you shouldn’t get so upset.

Related Poems

Professor Hesser, Music Lessons

Jupiter Hesser, Piano and Violin, ca. 1852

A painted shingle on the door. Within,
the larger of his ecstasy-machines
grins in its sleep, cradling the violin.
On the table: papers, his goose quill pen.

The slattern still abed. An open book
next to his side. The heirloom cuckoo clock
counts sieben. In the garden, long awake,
Jupiter stops weeding, and rests his back.

Da di di DUM! The tune which only he can hear
organizes the surf between his ears
in a sensible torrent. Notes cohere
like little dancing round black dots and spheres.

Kohlrabi, gooseberries, red cabbage, leeks …
The Chermany he left behind can lick
his hinter. Better to live among blacks
than to sell your soul to Schweinhund Catholics.

But he cannot understand the bigoted:
Some blacks are musicalisch talented.
Great music may grow in a woolly head.
If only they’d learn how to make black bread!

A citizen now, self-named Jupiter Zeuss
Thor Hesser, he calls all gods to serve his muse.
Who knows what symphonies we may produce,
which student take from us somethink of use?

 

German immigrant Jupiter Zeuss Thor Hesser, a gardener and composer, owned seven lots, which he called “Jupiterville,” in Seneca Village. He composed and published several popular songs.