Ava C. Cipri

Ava C. Cipri

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Illustration by Pat Messina Singer

Snake-Girl

ln her 40th year, my mother

abandoned a previous life: a husband,

three teenagers, and the white-picket fence

that framed their suburban pool.

She felt a pull to the north, back

to the log cabin

built for weekend getaways,

so she could take up horses, walks, and books.

It was the cold air, the depth

of the night sky with its endless pinned stars

among the aurora borealis, where she came

to know her vastness and smallness at once.

Those nights the pitch of moonlight cat-walked the oak table

where she read by gaslight.

Up the mountain dirt road,

along untethered dandelions swelling in the breeze,

behind the log cabin,

groves of blackberries cast shadows

across the field, across her hand bright

as a summer solstice, ripe as the fruits

she fed on, staining her fingers, her lips.

She began showing that fall, sun-soaked

rocks along the riverbed, growing rounder.

At the shallow’s edge she basked

looking for small fish. And like the poetry

she carried and dreamed by, there is this first shedding

at dusk with her skin giving way, the leaves

shadows scaling across her body.

***

Others had been here

before me; inhabited

this space.

Although I didn’t want to leave the womb, I was born

on time under a new moon that Summer. I emerged

with a head of thick unruly black hair.

I crawled that first day. I walked the second, and began to climb the third.

Days when my mother couldn’t find me

she came to the river where I swam

in the shade among turtles and darting tadpoles.

At night, the black bears came

to rub their backs outside

our cabin, clawing the wood.

I’d press my body against the wood beams

to be closer, to understand.

***

And, now, after driving all day

deep into the night I’ve come to bathe

in the moonlight

seeking

what was left to me

among the glinting, river-bottom snake-skins.

 

Dr. Costone Kissing Pope John Paul II’s Hand

 

And now distanced from that snapshot,

its moment nailed on Dr. Costone’s waiting room wall,

where I sat crossed-legged with my St. Cecilia’s knee socks

at my ankles; and picking a ripe scab

on my shin from falling off

a bike or roller-skates.

I could hear my father, the tree surgeon

exchange a payment of manual labor,

and in this version, the job entailed trimming sumacs

at Costone’s Long Island beach house.

On clear days from the park

my father showed me the island

that glinted across the sound in the distance,

as I squinted my eyes in the sun.

During the arrangement, I began to rock

with my arms crossed over my knees.

Making a tent out of my plaid jumper,

while cupping an ear, this time the right

one and pulling my lower lip, over my teeth

until it bled.

Dr. Costone shakes his head and takes my face into his hands—

Too many earaches, for such a young girl.

His hands are cold, slightly dry from so much washing,

sting of detergent and pine—and I am thinking—

cleanliness is close to Godliness.

His hands once held the Pope’s hands,

and the Pope is anointed by God,

not realizing at that age that I was part of,

particles of God, too.

That my father’s red calloused hands,

flaking and rough were also God’s,

that the pines and oaks he climbed

into a sky forged from stars,

that the stale air in that office,

and even my nail bitten fingers folded in prayer singing:

He has the whole world in his hands,

He has the whole world in his hands . . .

After show and tell,

my pregnant teacher, Mrs. McCallen

asks us, What are you going to give God?

And me often saying, all the puppies, or all the puppies and the people.

Even though, I understood the hands of God were big,

were they big enough to hold all these requests,

the whole world . . . so I began to wonder

just what God would choose to hold.

The scarcity of God’s hand space began to take root in my mind.

 

Tree Surgeon   

 

My father cements

cavities of the blue spruce, kneels

beside the maple during sugaring, and grinds

their stumped hearts

into woodchips; the piles steam

in the backyard. His history

like the aged elm: trunk

thick; its roots

mining the soil.

Ancient sprigs

kneaded their knuckles

from Calabria to Ellis Island.

He’s lived half a century

with spur-clawed boots. Like a bear

he tackles a tree with nothing

but a rope no machine bucket,

no power-saw. Only a single hand-

saw swings, anchoring

him down toward earth, keeping him

from climbing up

onto that last limb.

Men half his age work on the ground

and gather his flying brush.

From each incision the artery

runs over, healing itself,

pasted to his skin and clothes;

a doctor’s dress after surgery.

The brown stone slips

between Camel Mountain.

Father embraces the oak’s back, shimmying

and tramples a hornets’ nest. Welts blister

over his face, red skin peels like sheets

of mica. His thumbs are black, bark

wedged under the nails.

He comes home, shouldering

sawdust; his hazel eyes tell his wife

nothing, nor his daughter

about the supporter-belt nearly giving out.

 

The Number 17 Bus to the Jewish Ghetto, Terezín  

 

Already an hour has dissolved

into my text of The Terezín Requiem

by Josef Bor; a piece of fiction suited for tourist.

I remove the yellow cover

and slip it in the dark folds of my backpack.

I’ll put the book down now with its half-truths

granulated out of the persistent musicians

who named their experience with a requiem.

The day is unaware of my destination;

sun bounces off my window, clouds sift

this sky’s Raphael Blue scrim, and long,

wicked birches cling effortlessly

along the valley’s ridge.

I look across the aisle, past two tourist

who boarded in Prague,

through the glass into open fields

of sunflowers. The glow wraps around

the bus until I realize the sunflower crops

are also pressed up against my window.

For acres my eyes can’t scan anything else

until this yellow ribbon margins

with the noon sky.

Witnessing the ominous stalks

with their thousand heads’ bowing

in prayer. I know as the last bus parts

these plains tonight, death will come.

Where no one who knows sleep will be

and He’ll come to harvest each

stalk braiding them one

on top of the other.

 

Unknown Destinations     

  1.  The arrivals

 

Before Prague’s Jewish Staré Mesto

was transported to the Terezín Ghetto

as part of his solution, children

had already learned to draw.

Their art retains what has perished.

The colors; the white of snowmen,

the gold shimmer of the synagogue,

the green flower stems and grass, the petals

pink, purple, and orange, the butterflies

can be named: Clouded Yellow

and Painted Lady. The butterflies’ relentless wings

like two palpitating tissue paper hands.

How unwilling these wings came

to inhabit Terezín. Like the ash tree

in Terezín’s square; how a girl transplanted

it as a twenty centimeter sapling by carrying it

in her shoe from Prague.

  1.  Building the railway

Before Terezín exported its Jewish cargo

to Auschwitz in 1942, the labor’s friction

of taut tendon lifting from bone recorded

the men’s persistent arms swing

toward a promised progression. Steadily

the churning of empty stomachs moved ahead

the train’s stamatic wheels. The drawn spikes stitched

through parallel frames of tarnished rail

and mulish terrain. Each night’s suture,

only the breath of persistent birch

with its silver fingers; a gigantic overgrowth

kneading the sky’s membrane like barbed-wire.

The sullen echo of that vile steam engine

under heel with its cognitive conductor

devising an entire European transplant.
Ava C. Cipri is a poetry editor for The Deaf Poets Society: An Online Journal of Disability Literature & Art. She holds an MFA from Syracuse University; her poetry appears or is forthcoming in decomP, FRiGG, and Rust + Moth, among others. Her first chapbook Queen of Swords is forthcoming fall 2017 (dancing girl press). Ava remembers harvesting Gaglioppo grapes with her grandmother; the same grapes that made their way across the Atlantic from Calabria. She resides at: www.avaccipri.com and tweets at @AvaCCipri

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