To Fear Him Reverently
In the back of the barn
where the hay’s stacked and the eggs cold,
my grandmother prayed in Polish, stolen
papers wedged between her thighs.
The man she peeled potatoes for strode
out from the house, told her
His leather jacket slapped
the sides of the door—She rose
in the stable, stole his horse and rode
west, her hair whipping the invisible
beard wreathed across Roweno.
This is the version I heard at six.
Later I heard how
she scrambled to the woods, dug herself
a tunnel, slept for months with others
in a dirt hole. I imagined she started the Resistance.
At thirteen I learnt the worst of it:
He tore his pants apart, stroked
her cheek gently, then slit
her smock, blowing pipe smoke
through lashes, buckets knocked
Men, all of them, animals.
(And now, several versions later, amazed
by my own body and how it doggedly calls
the same man over and over, I wonder if
anything I’ve learnt has survived. It’s only
at night when I drink too much that I think
one day I’ll have a child. Inside me, I see her
with a shovel digging to get out and her father digging
his hands inside me to help her, and suddenly the bed, it too,
is a shovel, and we are all three underground where we should be.)
To Set the Mother Bird Free
Down the path she turns
the branch watching the blue
veins coil in her hand. A leaf falls—
proof of the sky’s flesh. Above
her fingertips she listens to the imaginary
owl hoot at a thumbprint of the moon.
In a month she will be old
and the tree just beginning to bloom.
She hears leave and breathes, catching
her face in the window. Each silver plate
aligns on the table. Her husband
notices something’s missing—
she walks through the doorway, her mind
still part of the bark. At dinner they talk through
glassware and think of the blue shutter
flapping in the bedroom. Pass the knife she asks
reaching over wings and boiled eggs.
This is how they touch. Upstairs
her night breath shakes the branch and the owl
flies from her mind—I can still hear
her talons shifting along the bark.
Barbara Schwartz holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poems have appeared in Nimrod International Journal, Vernacular, and Virtual Writer: A Longford Literary Project. contact