Bio Note: I feel fortunate to have been able to enjoy my quarantine summer, to spend time with my husband and our cat or on the phone with my father, to write poems, do yoga on Zoom, read poems on Zoom, flit around the country on Zoom. I wonder what life will be like when we are truly done with quarantine and traveling to California will require a long plane ride, made longer by the different stops. My new book, Poetry en Plein Air, is now available on Amazon and at Pony One Dog Press.
After a photograph by Alejandro Alvarez and Frida Kahlo’s Henry Ford Hospital, 1932 She stands behind the sky-blue armchair in back of the brick building where she and Diego now squat. Brush clenched between her chipped teeth, she has painted white palm trees and their beach on the chair that someone else had spray painted before. She is poisoning herself with oil paint, turpentine, and tap water. He kills himself with fast food: taquitos, beer, and pizza from 7-11, with too much work. She will lose their child in Detroit again. Around her, blue and teal graffiti floats against the Pepto pink wall. She remembers her cracked skeleton, the dying fetus she had tied to her naked body with ropes of blood at Henry Ford Hospital. Bleeding beneath a wrapping paper sky, she froze, without Diego, without words. This time her hearts and letters float free. They are leaving her like her child, like her blood. Wearing black rayon, her eyebrows plucked, she holds the pain and longing she always brings to this city, this clipped language, this country that froze her out years ago, that is still poisoning her now.
Originally published in Visual-Verse
In the City Made of Fog
After Hung-Ju Kan, Density Vs. Emptiness 19-2 (triptych), 2020 The young artist spent his first days in the city walking through fog. Smelling faintly of chlorine, it erased his way home from school, from the bus stop, from the corner store that sold food with no taste, from school. He climbed up a street, not his own, and imagined he had seen someone, a classmate, emerge from the mist. Smelling of mocha and turpentine, she stepped off the slicker-colored bus as red smoke swirled around them, then turned to leaves he could touch and tear off. Each night in his apartment, windows shut tight against vapor, against erasure, he dreamed of gilt gift wrap from home covering parked cars and broken couches, turning them into mountains, places seen from a distance.
In Which the Singer Becomes a Nurse
White coat thrown over a jade polyester dress, the singer graduates from nursing school. She stands with a friend, a woman from the Gambia, the classmate she sang hymns with at a blind man’s bedside. The singer’s smile is fixed, the way it was when we worked together, when we sat at desks, answered phones, pounded out memos on the last typewriters, when we blow-dried our pixie cuts, ironed our blouses, dabbed clear polish on the runs in our stockings. I wonder if she knew what she was getting into, working at the center of this pandemic in the Bronx where suiting up means reusing masks and gowns, wearing plastic shields and garbage bags, laundering latex gloves. Elsewhere in the city doctors in private practice die from the virus; workers who hand out the masks, who hand out the trays die from the virus. Maybe this is the wonder. The singer gets up before dawn and comes home in the dark, climbing four flights of stairs as if she were still Sister Blanche the nobleman’s daughter who ascends to the scaffold, bare-headed, wearing white in the last scene of Dialogues of the Carmelites. This time, the singer finds her way to her upright piano, to sing again.
Originally published in Mike Maggio’s COVID-19 Project
©2020 Marianne Szlyk
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