Ava C. Cipri
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
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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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