One: Write what you know.
I’m drowning and
the world I know
is gone ground under
the sea song
I gasp to tell
what I know
Two: Write from a sense of place. Details!
homes of racing
splinters schools of pots
washing down the alley streets
tables of bloated
bellies of cattle the hills
in the endless waters last
he would hold
and her last
in her lungs
Three: Find your voice.
You find it m’fuckah! I got it
in this howl I’m let loose
blasted by the barreling waters
my voice would make yours speak
the tepid pee water of the thief
of the green world and
the waters devourer
of the air monstrous you be
but that voice
you drip thin as sorry
She knew how to be poor.
She knew how to miss the one element she needed
more than any other.
When it was hard to get air, she could see it in the eyes.
She was a test.
What did she do? Any leadership qualities?
She would surround the results with her arms
but she was not magic; block it with her body
but she was not medicine.
She had hoped for long years that she was
but there was the truth in spikes and curves.
She’d find truth marching
across endless metal trays in slaughterhouses,
clinging to the instruments that would cut throats,
dismember, discard the invisible.
She would find truth in her voice
but she was no commander.
That she knew how to be poor did not get anyone
the air they needed.
Men lay underneath blue armies of thugs, gasping for it.
Women ascended, lit up as threatened
with fireballs consuming their elements.
She wondered about that gift she’d developed for so many years,
one it seemed no one could take away,
knowing how to be poor. Knowing how
not to have enough air.
That gift seemed not to do a damned thing, really,
as a country devoured its nurses, its doctors, its orderlies, its cooks, its cashiers.
Its drivers. Its elders. Its harvesters. Its children.
Its messengers slicing through the air of empty streets with food, with medicine.
What else could she do?
She knew how to fly, though. She knew how to fly through the empty diamonds
of the clanging of cages, above a silver sea of weeping and fevers.
She could not lift the children out, though.
She knew how to move into water and not rise,
lodge herself in the stickiness of river bank
while the whole howl of grief that flowed like river
and could not free a child and her father,
nor even turn them over to reach the air, the sun.
Her voice came forward, but the embrace was already death.
She’d known how to march down a road
washed by the tips of the palms
and arrive too late, just after
the fragments of the village
flung themselves like miserable fireworks.
how to arrive and she learned
how to leave.
The foul microbes of the past kept circulating
and all about her was the spread of the old hells
clearing their throats, practicing their speeches,
spewing danger and manifestos.
She knew how to grieve but it was useless.
She knew how to fear but it was masked
so that no one saw full on the terror
that had born her into this world.
These were her skills. But she will not be she.
She will be the one who finally gets there on time
the one who with her whole being will pull one tiny moon
of a child’s nail out of the river
to hang over us like the tap of a song.
She would hold the one who will lose her skin
as she runs down that road like a story
screaming for its echo to be drowned
in no sad bloody river but in the eyes of the mirror
that has finally been looked into, under the tap of song
and the blazing child, the mirror that will hurl lightning
at even the thought of repeating
what should never have once made nightmare from life.
Near the golden pier at the windy bay
where the people line up to fling themselves into the chill blue
She remembers having done something that made light.
She remembers having even made song.
She remembers having opened a door.
She remembers that she is as good as the world let her be.
She remembers that she is better,
better than permission.
She remembers she is yet to die.
She remembers that she is blazing howling brilliant gift
who wants others to cherish their own.
She remembers she is note in chorus, green plant, blood root.
She is ginger walking. She is gold of spice. She is voice that cries out. She is dance.
No longer seeking employment.
She is not death until she dies and then after a moment she is something else.
There’s shadow in this bag,
The bag’s a sad curtain around it.
It hangs from my arm
It cannot be put down
It rose up
called to me in a desert town
and what I thought it was
a bearer of groceries, of the change purse,
smoke to line my eyes
was only a way to cross
until there was no more ground
Earth above, shadow-filled
still it hangs from my arm.
Walking forward is difficult.
I bought that bag with scrubbing money.
I lifted it out of that faint smell
they always spray in the charity shops.
Three dollars and it swayed from the hook
by the open window
like a journey to Morocco.
It smelled like petrol in that sun.
When I walked it scraped the dry riverbed
that sudden rushed, full up
A royal tapestry that bag became
I hung it up at the door, a curtain.
I slept good.
ANYA ACHTENBERG is an award-winning fiction writer and poet whose publications include the novel Blue Earth; novella The Stories of Devil-Girl; poetry collections The Stone of Language and, I Know What the Small Girl Knew. Individual pieces are published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Tupelo Quarterly; Beltway Poetry Quarterly; Harvard Review and Poet Lore. Writing awards and distinctions have come from Southern Poetry Review; Another Chicago Magazine; Coppola’s Zoetrope: All-Story; New Letters; the Raymond Carver Story Contest; the Minnesota State Arts Board, and others. Close to completion: her novel History Artist, with an ensemble cast of characters centered around a young Cambodian woman born at the moment the U.S. invasion began; and a poetry collection, Matadors at the Crossing. Her occasional blog Writing in Upheaval explores Anya’s organic approach to writing craft that expands creativity; counters historical amnesia; and examines how trauma and narration connect, and how history sits in us. Anya teaches two series of fiction, memoir, and multi-genre creative writing courses, Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World; and, The Disobedient Writer Workshops; and consults with writers individually. See https://anya-achtenberg.com/