Terra Incognita
       And I’m generating, I’m generating,
       oh my babies by the millions where
       will you all sleep?
       —Helen Degen Cohen

It’s like when one of the dragons who patrol the edges of the known world
breaches beside the ship we did not know
we were sailing, water spraying off its scales;

or when a long-forgotten word swims into our brain
and finds its exact spot in an ongoing sentence,
though we’re not sure we ever learned it:

we make things, as if we’d suddenly remembered
their flickering images projected on the walls of a cave.
(But we never entered the cave.)

Some of these things we make
inhabit our bodies,
then learn how to breathe on their own.

Some glow in the dark, poisoning our blood;
or they open the door into rooms that were not here
before; they sing our mothers’ songs, wring themselves out like a mop.

Like the brain stem, that deeply embedded—
the urge to put things together like red and blue Legos,
to make something not in the instructions that came with the box.

 

 

Cartas, 1986
Elizabeth Catlett

She sits at the kitchen table
in her city hat, holds the day’s
letters in her hand: Still no rain.

No one remembers a winter
dry as this. We saw how that boy
was beaten and chased across

the highway up by you. His poor
mother. Be careful. Each time
she left the house, that refrain—

Be careful. She hasn’t been careful.
We’re thinking we’ll plant sorghum
this year. Better than corn

if it doesn’t rain. Over in Brownsville,
they’ve got more rain than they can handle.
The soil will be dry, hard, not receptive

to seed. She remembers. They will wait now
to plant. And in the next months:
Even the sorghum is a loss, brittle and brown.

Too late for rain. She remembers, sky
the same ghost color as the fields.
Seems like everything goes down.

We saw how the market crashed, almost
like when you were a girl. She’s never
been careful, but never lost

what she has, these lines and pools
of ink, this clean white page.


Susanna Lang’s newest collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was published in 2017 by Terrapin Books. Other collections include Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (Backwaters Press, 2008), as well as Words in Stone, a translation of Yves Bonnefoy’s poetry (University of Massachusetts Press, 1976). A two-time Hambidge Fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French, in such journals as So to Speak, Little Star, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, december, Blue Lyra Review, and Verse Daily. She lives with her husband in Chicago.

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