Author's Note: What ties these poems together is the Latin word for threshold, limina. Dictionary.com defines a limen as a border between one thing or another. The psychological definition is the point where one stimulus is not perceived or distinguished from another. Both definitions seem to fit here. The narrator is simultaneously looking forward and back, viewing an instance in the past and filtering what he sees through the knowledge of what has happened in the intervening time. It is as if peering into a room from the doorway of another, noting both darkness and light.
Shifting, Too Anxious to Be Fully Aware
after John Ashbery What could I say of a young Polish woman that January? I was barely a year into college, on my first time abroad, felt out of my depth. She worked the hotel dining room, met me for coffee to practice English. My words faltered. What could I say about watching London snow, first time in 33 years, orange juice cartons cooling on a window sill, drivers skidding white roads gray? Not about the Jameson’s I downed in Windsor—the morning a chilled side of beef, and me feeling hung on a freezer hook. After it, I reeled a good part of the afternoon but stayed warm. Didn’t tell a soul about Stratford-upon-Avon, where two Bobbies tailed me—streets empty, shop windows dark, me feeling the bottle of red wine drunk with dinner and deathly afraid of a tourist trip of jail. Didn’t mention the trip to Wales— hung over, I yearned for a deluge long as five summers to wash Wordsworth and Tintern Abbey down a mountain brook. As if nouns were stones, torn from cathedral walls to drop and envelop me—a collapse followed by stillness.
Originally published in Panoply, A Literary Zine, Issue 14 (Winter 2020)
My Shoes Have Scarred the Walk I’ve Taken
after John Ashbery —steps I take again, feeling a stone column’s weight my one full day alone in England. I went to Coventry to take in the apocalypse of the place—the cathedral blitzed into ruin and the new building built alongside, all brick and long rectangles of stained glass. Only now, 40 years later, can I appreciate the quiet there, as water taking so long to percolate into a baked soil not unlike the old building’s floor, a fire-polished mirror. A spire pointed a Gothic finger to where the Luftwaffe brought hell, in a war long burnt away. Another struggle roiled inside me, the lack of words to express it like the town’s water mains, bomb shattered, as flames spun a vacuum that sucked away thought and oxygen. An askew cross, charred beams, graced a heat-bleached altar. Behind it, the words Father Forgive. I had no idea how to ask it for myself. And I still don’t. How do you ask yourself to erase how you were born—blaze and ashes framed by fissured walls, cracked traceries? It doesn’t fall away, like the statue of Saint Michael standing over the devil, spear in hand and wings full spread. It’s another statue, one of reconciliation, at a corner of the ruin—a man and woman on their knees, hugging one another tight, holding for all it’s worth—for all the steps and scars—
Originally published in Silver Birch Press, Landmarks Series (Jun-Aug 2020)
©2021 Jonathan Yungkans
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