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Sample Poems by Sheila Black


It is not Babylon. The city of candlelight
and travels of children,
but the real city
where men sell Adams chewing gum
and single cigarettes at the kiosk,
papers from Egypt and France, where there
are the dusty shipping offices in
the buildings with concrete fretwork,
lobbies of glazed tiles mimicking the legendary
mosaics, the billboards of Coca Cola
and condensed milk from America. This is what
I want, the city where you were a boy
distracted by a white moth
that fluttered near a flickering street lamp
(even then there were power outages,
even then the rumors of war). The weight
of the air against my legs. I want the sounds
that have no names—traffic, train, water gurgling
through a silted pipe, perfume flecked
on a hand, a man chewing charred
meat. I want what cannot be recovered.
The fifteenth seat of the third merry-go-round that
stretches big as the dying star, the one
we did not get to name between us.


Difficult to remember with any clarity later,
your sense that this was simply
a greater degree of life, life squared or quadrupled
to the infinite power as if the fact of
to cut and bleed was somehow beside the point,
as if what you were testing was the
proposition that there was anything in the world
you could do to make yourself just stop,
as if the buzzing in your ears was the electrified voice
of God, as if she (it?) were pushing you
to become part of it. March soil
broken by the irregular chunks of
dirtied snow, the streets of yellow-backed taxis
and red café awnings, and the parks
with their dumb bulbs under the ground,
the shoots of them pushing
through the darkness, their delicacy like
the crunchy heart of celery, something clean,


I suppose I should be grateful to
the American boyfriend—the one I can
hardly bear to think of now—
for how he kept us apart like the sword
between the two lovers, curved,
dangerous, allowing what was
between us to become inviolate: A moon,
shining over the stirring forest,
the nightbirds flocking to the higher branches,
even my skin moisturized by that distant lover,
peering jealous over our shoulders,
turning the space between us particular,
the only place we could envision
inhabiting as the first humans inhabited it,
the earth under their feet
untouched, and they hungering it
precisely because it was already receding,
they were leaving their animal selves—
that blood-scented joy—
ears tuning for the echoes of where they
had been.

A Viewing

The exhibit covered four floors. Paintings from the Third Reich.
All the blonde fat women smiling. All the rosy-limbed
blue-eyed children. As we went deeper down through the white
curved galleries, the glass brick wall and the blurred figures below—
boys on roller-skates, a man on a bicycle circling tighter and
tighter—and behind us the farms and forests, the baskets of apples,
the pigs and cats on the laps and everyone always smiling.
Nothing pictured that could cause concern. Outside it was getting dark.
The curator flicked the lights off and on. In the dimness we could
see their teeth. We said nothing. We unclasped our hands.
We walked out into the city. Streetlights. Pinpricks. The loud
whoosh of buses. You bought me a crepe soaked in sugar.