Not sleepwalking, but waking still,
with my hand on a gun, and the gun
in a mouth, and the mouth
on the face of a man on his knees.
Autumn of ’89, and I’m standing
in a section 8 apartment parking lot,
pistol cocked, and staring down
at this man, then up into the mug
of an old woman staring, watering
the single sad flower to the left
of her stoop, the flower also staring,
And after we officially gained entry into the Brotherhood of Bad Motherfuckers, what could our mothers do but lose sleep, wake into prayer, prepare herbs & apples, cursive the names of our enemies on loose leaf, & let their names dust in the sunlight.
Now everything is clean, rezoned & paved, tenements abandoned like whack parties, what is left for us to do but summon bullies from their graves & liberate ourselves from influence.
A flash of light—
out of the corner of my eye. Fireflies, the thought flicks on—and dies.
Outside, the night air slaps my face
like a sheet of ice. Tufts of grass
crackle underfoot, porcupines
crawling up my spine.
The power goes out at night.
The house grows colder, its walls
begin to shiver, and we, its organs,
organize. My little son arrives
at my bedside, breathless,
in an inflatable boat.
We go to the window and search for signs.
Disorder everywhere: suitcases
strewn all over lawns, baby carriages
spilling bottles and toys, towers
of books toppling in the driveways. But the sky’s
perfectly ordered, still. In my chest I grope
for a moral law. And I find—
beating powerfully—a starfish.
Oksana Maksymchuk‘s writing has appeared in Words Without Borders, Poetry International, Modern Poetry in Translation, Los Angeles Review of Books,New Orleans Review, Salamander, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. She won first place in the 2004 Richmond Lattimore and 2014 Joseph Brodsky / Stephen Spender translation competitions and received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Most recently, she co-edited the anthology Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine. Maksymchuk teaches philosophy at the University of Arkansas.
In this my thirtieth year,
Drunk and no stranger to disgrace,
I grin like a fool from ear to ear
Despite the trickle of tears on my face,
Clown that I am, condemned
By Thibauld d’Assole’s command,
Threatened and even damned
By the faker with the crozier in his hand.