Kalyna Review

Sheila Black



Look at the clues you missed or pieced

together wrongly.


Look at this book—I wrote it and tore it

apart.  The ancient doctors thought

they could locate the soul

in the beating heart of a dog or a

chicken so they cut it open.


Put a butterfly into a jar of chloroform,

Amortize it with a pin.


Nothing but pipes, fluids,

which turn noxious once the spark

is gone.  Nothing but the you I track

through blinkered windows of night,

phone lines and email waste.


The words give us away—even the “the” and

the “and,” holding their secrets

as stones do.


And you.  You who could swallow

any light. Tell me it does not have to be

like this. Tell me I will learn a

different frequency or simply

how long and fluid any road.


Read to me the stories that speak

of this—two children loosed in a forest

who attempt to follow


the bread crumbs home. The birds

that eat the crumbs. The crumbs

replaced by pale stones.





It would not be fair to say I loved

the sickness in you when it was the

sickness in me you revealed.  I thought often


of the child with magic glass in her

heart who sits in the palace of the ice

queen and moves around the shards.


Each time they catch the light she seems

almost to see a face, but so quickly the sun-

beams spread their glitter over everything,


Meanwhile her fingers blacken.

These old stories are cruel.  One will  lose

her feet and receive a pair of painted red


shoes.  One will sit in a tree and weave

nettles until her fingers bleed to stumps.  This

one will go West of the Sun, East of the


Moon; that one will climb a mountain

of glass—pieces of themselves they sacrifice

to the task that drives them forward.  I


wanted to turn the swans into my brothers,

I wanted you like a mirror-shadow of

a panther I had long pursued.  I envisioned


constructing a bird of wire, inflaming it so

despite itself it would soar lark-high and sing.

Now that I know you won’t ever return, I


am grateful for mere pavement glitter,

the Styrofoam cup, trash by the road-

side, even the rust-ugly grackles clustering


like peanut-crunching crowds along the

high-tension wires outside the

supermarket.  They want things,


and they flap their wings and shout

and shout.  Ordinary life, where

everything moves, and I move, too,





The Artifacts

(for Andrew)


The body won’t hold what it loves.

The body forgets and lets go like a

car crossing a distance from


point A to B that can’t bring itself

to stop beside the single luminous

tree growing out of the dull


plain or the way its leaves catch

at the rain, always the miasma: What

the body had and couldn’t


keep. Last night on the phone you

said to me “The boy burned the house

down because that was where


the crazy people lived.” In my head,

a picture of us years ago, striding the

length of Claremont Avenue.  The


powdered coffee we made in the mornings,

proud of our thrift.  Our riches—

the simple ones of believing the body


would always be this good.  You stood

outside in your socks and watched

the flames, smell of plastic streaming


the air.  At odd times, a memory

retrieves itself; the cells shiver a little

and wake.  Remember the Klezmer player


on the 125th Street Station platform, the

beaver hat he wore to catch our dimes? Why

did we never hear the swoon in the


waltzes he played—echo of countries

torn by ethnic strife.  You stood outside for

an hour or more before they delivered you


to the shelter—and the snow, it fell

in feathers and notes, a hush on the purple

majestic skies, skies of middle-of-


the-night, black milk we drink

like morning, the grief of the good body,

which remembers everything.



The Fable of Demeter and Persephone


In the hospital of sad princesses,

they walk with their feet

pointed outward, their washboard

stomachs.  They weave friendship

bracelets of violet and crimson lake,

bend their heads like swans

to half-empty cups of water in

which they never see themselves,

not once.  Six glowing jeweled

seed are clasped in every hand.

Nights, they picture an earth heaved

open, themselves on a pale throne,

judging souls. Their mothers must wander

the world, carting wheelbarrows of

pumpkins that have lost their stems,

whatever would connect them to the

wormy soil.  Their daughters know

what lives down there—what fire

can exist in the chill core of any

stone.  They only care for what lasts

while their mothers weep over fields

where winter has stripped every

leaf.  In the hospital of sad princesses,

they perform a pageant every day

for the miracle of ice, what strength

in a land where nothing will grow—

planetary florescence of sapphire, emerald,

the trees of underworld whose the

beautiful fruit would break anyone’s

teeth.  It is not so different from any

game of chicken—the car speeds towards

you, and you hold a pose, sing the

weeping willow, the singing head floating

the River Lethe, which murmurs on,

swallowing everything that has

ever been.  O dark mouth of the world,

here is where all mothers and daughters

must part.  How can the girls not despise

that the mothers will make a meal of

anything—even them?


About the author


Sheila Black is the author of Love/Iraq (2009) and House of Bone (2007) both from CW Press, and Wen Kroy, which won the Orphic Prize in Poetry from Dream Horse Press.  She co-edited the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press), which was named a  2012 Notable Book for Adults by the American Library Association (ALA)  She is a 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, selected by Philip Levine.

I saw your hands


on the table six inches from the coffee cup,

the butterfly shaped stain


where some had spilled, one nail flattened

slightly as if you had hit it


with a hammer. I saw their tremor.


I saw your face in a crowd, body leaning

forward, walking like other bodies,


but you were not them. I saw you--


your face as if red-stained, as if blackberry—

as if I could smell it,


which I couldn't. At the table, your hands,

the ridges of your nails, the


coffee-shop sounds of names being called

as in a ceremony. There was no


ceremony. I saw my hands, heavy at the

wrists, on the table, thirteen inches from


yours. I saw you too much. You diffused like


a sky with a smear of cloud.


In the particles of the dust which glittered,


In the particles of air, which trembled like

flowers in my chest.


Where were you going? What did you see?


I could not imagine across so much distance.


And so your hands.


And so the way your collar stuck up on one side.


Or your hair, not washed, combed back hastily.


I saw you until I couldn't see,


until everywhere was exactly the same—


the gas stations, the men burning tin cans by the

railroad tracks, the whistle like a


color, ratcheting through night.