February 08

Poems by Yerra Sugarman

Yerra Sugarman


Their possible crumbled; consolation held captive in the blasted hive of a once
Room. And shabby were the clusters of rain swollen on the panes

While calendars clinging to the aspirin walls went silent
And windows no longer recognized the sky’s bracelet of stars.

The trapped noticed their fingers weave themselves into wreathes,
That the knotted wood of home was no longer

Literal, that God needed mending. God was damaged. And still unfixed,
There is not enough remorse for the weight of an eyelash

Of the ones whose beds were built by a carpentry of ash and scar.
Sometimes, we stop to ask ourselves how we continue to live

In the moment, lumber over the drowsing
Lilies and landmines, above which souls swarm.

Will there always be lace adequate for beauty and grief
To approximate mourning, a sequence, without instructions?

The cameras focused on the emptied. Their lenses were sad,
Memory carelessly stepping on ache — which always tells us liberty

Is its own form of captivity. Night blooming in the chests of the gone,
Emitted a dark light. Where are the maps to their voices?

O, the clouds’ soft corridors; O, waves grinding the weakened spines
Of shores; O, swinging doors onto nothing,

God kneads and bakes the dough of time,
but what are its braided loaves to the crushed and famished?


And from the thin pitch of their throats,
their caws scraped
the wind, then landed

on our lawn: lamentations breaking
out of crows —

whole notes
on the staff of hard ground,
fat with sorrow.

Early spring, they were an alphabet
in flight. Each one a letter.

               Their bold script of wings
               marked down warning, then mourning,

               inscribing the unpolished sky —
               a plaque where the sun turned nimbus,

               a dull pearl, a patch, the March she died.


Solitary my father —
the wool of his voice,

the thinning part we could barely hear
death reel in,
raveling it and winding it around my mother’s dying.

               Its sound trailing her as sun whitened
               the uneven flagstones on our porch.

               How he finally lay on his back there,
               two and a half months later,
               his will a force of gravity,

               his jaw clenched like a fist
               fighting to reach her.


But mostly, so resistant was the metallic sky —
unyielding blade
in a sheath of haze — of a season

in limbo, the almost spring,
the infant grass sucking snow.
And I felt the outsized days overwhelm

me like a girl playing dress-up
in her mother’s brocade gown,
grief filling the folds,

the tunnels between silk and legs.
Lemon the gown,
as in after a snowfall the sun

pouring citrus on my mother’s walker,
its steel forming a triangle with the seam
of a corner near her big kitchen window.

No way to know what she saw
in the dried flock of rain on the glass
or how rudderless the craft she was steering.

The distances different then
from sink to pane,
bed to chair, day to year.

In her white flannel housecoat,
she’d raise her cup —
a bud of ripening light.

I’d think God
I’m not ready
fog lifting so we could see

the soft pendulum,
outside, of the swaying
tree. I’d beg her

to stay living.
She’d teach me
this moment

is the only
then go back to sleep,

her face divided
by the bed’s railings,
her housecoat hanging

on the glint
of her walker
and God

not listening.


And God,

with the pearls

of his fists,

from her

he’d planted,

had grown
from such seeds
of grief —


Images: Zulu Jew, Hog Tied Again, KO - Sting Like a Bee and Wonder Woman's Last Episode by Shoshanna Weinberger.


Yerra Sugarman’s second collection of poems, The Bag of Broken Glass, was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in January 2008. Her first collection, Forms of Gone, also published by Sheep Meadow, received the 2005 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. Her other honors include a “Discovery”/The Nation Poetry Prize, a Chicago Literary Award, the Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award, and its Cecil Hemley Memorial Award. She is currently Writer in Residence at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, and is teaching poetry at Rutgers University. Born in Toronto, she lives in New York City. More information about her new book can be found at her blog.