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Fall 1996, Volume 13.3

Poetry

 

Lyn Lifshin


Lyn Lifshin has published a number of books including Black Apples, Upstate Madonna, Kiss the Skin Off and Not Made of Glass, and she has edited four anthologies of women's writing, including Ariadne's Thread (Harper and Row) and Tangled Vines (Beacon Press). Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Rolling Stone, The Christian Science Monitor, Chelsea, Minnesota Rewiew, Mississippi Review, and others.

 

Afterward

First we burned even
the birch covered with
punky mushrooms the
dried pearwood cherry
then wrapped in electric
blankets when houses
still had light. Later
we dressed in four
layers of wool. Suddenly
see thru nylon silk, those
sheer blouses young girls
saved for, were useless
as transparent bikini
tops to a woman with
both breasts freshly
gone. It was strange
to be glad for drawers
of my dead husband's
sweaters, the youngest
wore them as a dress
when she could still walk

              * * *

Television sets can't,
like dresser drawers,
be used for the smallest
coffins. With the trees
turning into hulks of
driftwood, squirrels
gnaw thru pebbles in
the roof. Grass stays
grey into what should
be summer. Those left
shiver in houses where
there's nothing left
to burn. A woman washing
her baby notices blood in the sink that the
child's hair tangles
around her ankles and
wrists like sea weed
or rope as candles
sputter fall in
to themselves too

              * * *

Cars that used to sound
like the sea even thru the
ring of maples are suddenly
still. For days people waited
for phones to work for
something to come thru the
snow on TV on channels as
unlike what they'd seen
as faces of those survivors
at Nagasaki. It took days
to see how what we couldn't
see was turning the grass
and leaves colorless as
petals pressed in a book.
Instead of cars, within
the month, we began to
hear digging. Women who
didn't know how roots
tangled under houses
had to dig graves it
was like they were
scooping out parts of
themselves the way they'd
scooped out a squash and
stuffed it with croutons
and celery for Thanksgiving
to bury babies they'd held
weeks before, thankful
there was no direct hit
only to watch them roll
into a ball and turn
still as the branches.
Soon all the lawns
were mud

              * * *

phones die first TV
channels turn snow. but
no spoons or bones melt
into hair or smoldering
ashes. doctors disagree
about rads. sun still
turns coppery roofs
cherry but a young
boy says the milk
tastes odd. a young
girl's hair falls out
overnight a baby
turns from a nipple
weeks before there's
no oil or gas and a
child's buried in the
drawer of a favorite
dresser as mothers
touch their children
like someone clutching
what was nearly torn
from them stroke
skin and lips stunned
at how what seemed
ordinary now dazzles

 

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