When you left
I knelt and held them in my hands as they gasped and drowned
We slept below the surface like sunken islands, in my dreams
urchin spines fanning from the soft places behind my ears
your hair a moonless forest
My ancestors were sea serpents, I told you once
coiled turrets of chain link fence,
rising all around us
Past the scrapyard behind my house
shallows thick with frog spawn
On its rust-stained banks I pull my knees to my chest
red sun sinking below the skyline’s jagged teeth
and all that stands to be revealed
Kelly Rose Pflug-Back is an author, social activist, and student based out of Toronto, ON. Her poetry, fiction, and journalism have appeared in publications such as Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, This Magazine, Counterpunch, Canadian Woman Studies, and many others. Her first book of poems, These Burning Streets, was published in 2012 with Combustion Books. She is a contributing editor with Iconoclast Media and Fifth Estate Magazine, America’s longest-running journal of anti-authoritarian politics. Updates on her various readings and speaking events can be found at www.kellypflugback.wordpress.com. She says:
I wrote this poem while thinking of the ways in which we can learn to embrace loss and loneliness, and view these things as potentially cleansing and rejuvinating rather than wholly negative. A lot of the imagery I used relates to water and submersion; in some ways I associate these images with illusion, submission, and loss of control (being “swept away”): all of which we experience if we allow ourselves to become lost in or overwhelmed by things which are external to ourselves.
There are dead who light up the night
– Mahmoud Darwish
My life has been the tin ribbons of a jaw harp,
I’ve tried to make sense of it:
The bones of my face are a map, I told you
where the Queen’s infantry anointed me in mortar dust
I told you the truth:
You never stared at the palimpsest of scrawled transgressions
Once you took my hand
Trepanned from birth,
As a child, you told me how you used to wake sometimes
the dark haired Virgin standing over you,
Their feathers were cursive, crested
she pressed her palm to your chest, once
I wonder where the mark of her hand is now
The world turns its black spokes,
Daylilies wilt and bow their heads,
The insult of bayonets will erase you
a limp body left to bear witness
I am a corpse, like the others
I am a man who has blinded himself
and my hands, too are cast into the insensate dark.
In my mind
I called you City of Ur.
Your eyebrows the dark arches of Fayoum portraits,
The stelae of their backbones rise like buzzard-ridden arbors,
I want the ululations of a thousand throats
a ghost of night overpasses
I want to open my eyes to see her staring down on me
frail and impossible, a hothouse flower
I have bled, and seen a river fork through this place.
I have watched lithograph smoke
fetal buds pushing through cracked asphalt,
Somewhere, a revolution is happening
Somewhere, the sun rises on a world
Kelly Pflug-Back is a 22-year-old writer and activist living in Toronto. Her poetry, short stories, journalism and essays have appeared in places like This Magazine, The Dominion, Mythic Delirium, Ideomancer, Not One of Us and The Molotov Rag, and she has won awards from the League of Canadian Poets and the Great Canadian Literary Hunt as well as having been nominated for a Rhysling. She goes to Wilfrid Laurier University, pursuing a double major in Contemporary Studies and Human Rights. She says:
I wrote this poem for my partner after we were both arrested during a protest where martial law was enforced and over a thousand people were swept off the streets, brutalized and detained in a makeshift facility with little access to food or water for days. I felt that this experience gave me a deep sense of intimacy and identification with people in my family tree as well as my partner’s family tree who have lived through (or been killed by) war, famine, genocide, and political violence in various parts of the world. The first-person narrative used throughout the poem is influenced by Carl Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious, specifically the concept of “ancestral memory”. While the narrator’s identity does not change, in a sense they are speaking through the voices and experiences of many people in various times and places throughout history. Also, the Mahmoud Darwish poem was translated from Arabic by Sargon Boulos, and it was originally published in Darwish’s anthology Eleven Planets (1992).
Illustration is Albert Goodwin’s “Apocalypse”, 1903.
night spawns the shapes of dark birds
suspended legless on their wing tips,
loping like stilt walkers
ragged in their gait.
i saw the moon curve its ridged spine against your cheekbone once;
a crescent of bristled fork tines, spokes,
tendons forming ridges under the skin of my hands.
i thought of you while she combed my damp hair over my face,
a curtain of blond tatters to veil my eyes.
the birds walked hunched under their winter cloaks,
only graceful in flight.
they pull themselves, dripping
from the cluttered dark of your pupils,
leaving sparse haired brush strokes
where their wet feathers drag.
when i stood still they used to flock to my twisted arms.
my body was a filter, a valved artery for the world’s slowing traffic.
they grinned under their beaked masks when i sang,
when my ribs creaked and opened.
a jew’s harp strung between broken teeth,
the striated palette.
i hummed under your bow once,
an instrument gutted.
inside me is a world of oil-dark pistons,
a rhythm madder than the heart.
my hands unfold embossed in red seams,
anemone flowers petalled in boneless fingers.
this is where they cut me, i told you.
this is where the flesh-tone doll’s parts were grafted;
blank ugly sutures, a torturer’s braille.
this is the cartography of the blind.
my body is scarred in botched attempts,
a city untouched by grace.
sometimes when i lie awake at night
i can still hear their scraping laughter.
her back arches,
the sky filled with battering wings.
i live on the banks of a tar-black river;
its silence swallows everything.
she bunches the skirt around her hips,
crumpled gathers of white netting.
the birds take form under her hands,
bright eyed in the pooling ink.
they tug like kites
until she cuts them from their puppet strings,
with the clatter of hollow quills.
my flesh rasps, i tell her.
there is nothing that could appease me.