Poetry of Love, Resistance, & Solidarity

Posts tagged ‘Izzy Wasserstein’

You Will Come Up Short — by Izzy Wasserstein

wasserstein_selfieAlmost every time.

You will run for 24 hours, run until your calves burn

and your feet are a ruin of blisters,

and reach your destination fifteen seconds late.

The sandbags you stack through the night

will not hold back the floods.

You will look at the rubble of your life.

You will come up short.

The future you work for will always be the future.

The war you rallied against, prayed against,

shouted against, screamed against–

the war you beat your bloody knuckles against

until your arms gave out–

the war will come. The men who started it will grin

over the ashpits of your despair.

You will come up short.

The walls you build around yourself will crack.

The poem you write will fail.

This poem will fail.

Your song of protest will not sway the President,

nor the mayor, nor the mayor’s dog.

You will pull apart your pockets seeking change,

and finding none, you will give up the milk, or the eggs, or the flour.

You will leave the tying run stranded at third base,

and they will laugh and celebrate their triumph

and hope you do not notice they were born there,

on third base, while you fought to take your first swing.

They want you to come up short

because of the color of your skin, or the dirt

caked to your palms, or the shape of your genitals

or the self you need yourself to be,

or whom you love or lust after,

because you do not sound like them,

because you were born elsewhere

because you were born at all,

because you see their lies,

or because they hate everyone

but themselves, and maybe especially themselves,

and so they cannot stand to see you succeed.

They will leave landmines in your path,

and when they do not know your path,

they will leave landmines everywhere.

They will threaten what you love.

They will promise you a runner-up trophy

if only you stop now. They will take away the trophy

you earned, and if they cannot take it away

they will tell you it was never yours, or never existed,

or that they let you have it.

They will have you thinking since you first crawled

that your legs were theirs,

that your arms were useless to you.

They will cut your tendons.

They will tell you that you are safest if you are silent,

tell you to keep your head low

and your eyes on your folded hands.

They will offer you baubles

and tell you that you can only win

by joining them

and then they will place you in the stands,

far, far up, so you may cheer their triumph with your bloody mouth,

they will tell you that you can be one of them

if only you put the hammer down,

if only you take up their flag

and their knives

and put them to use.

You will come up short.

They are counting on it.

They have built the world to ensure it.

Almost every time, you will look back and see the long line

of failures and their way will seem appealing, so much easier.

Just put the hammer down,

they will say.

And then you will see the fear lodged back far behind their eyes,

the pulsing fear, the fear that is a mechanical fist, always constricting,

and the only way they can loosen it

is to make it grasp you.

And you will know you do not need their fist.

You will come up short.

The blow you strike with all your strength

will not split open the bars.

The alarms will shriek contempt, the hammer will drop

from your hands.

Look at it closely. See the way the grip

was molded for your dirty palm. The edge is chipped

but it is strong. The callouses you have earned

serve you now. Reach down.

The hammer is as heavy as it needs to be.

It was made for you.

Strike again.

~ Izzy Wasserstein

Izzy Wasserstein is a Lecturer in English at Washburn University. Izzy is the author of the poetry collection This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, and has published in Crab Orchard Review, Flint Hills Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Izzy shares a home with Nora E. Derrington, a cat, and three dogs, and believes in the power of resistance.

Guest editor bio: Annette Hope Billings is an author/actor whose published works include a collection of poetry, A Net Full of Hope, and a collection of affirmations, Descants for a Daughter. Her poetry, prose, and short stories have appeared in a number of publications. She resides within the delights of being mother to one, grandmother to two and friend to many in her village of Topeka.

109. Stepping Into The Woods

Turn around. The woods have swallowed

you already. The way in is easier

than the way out. Obey these rules:

 

stay on the path. Do not follow the lights

that flicker on the edge of sight.

Do not eat the bread crumbs,

 

or listen to the voices, though they echo

through you like the promise of home.

Begin to forget that word: it’s only

 

a place you return to and find

no longer exists. Like a cabin

braced with candy canes, lovely

 

to see, dangerous to touch.

You’ll meet strangers on the way.

Speak to them if you must,

 

but give them nothing, tell them nothing.

What sharp teeth they have.

Others have come here

 

before you, but few have left. Curiosity

can consume you. You may think

you see your parents, your lover.

 

Do not run to them. If you come to a cabin

with legs, walk past it. The skittering

behind you may grow distant in time.

 

Try not to dream of what may have been.

Distrust what you see. Remember the tale

of the girl who took the stranger’s

 

generosity, how he dragged her

through the streets in a spiked barrel,

or chewed her bones clean. Learn

 

that trust can kill, and that death

is not the worst thing that can happen

to the young. If you must sleep,

 

do not dream. The woods enfold

you now, thick as blankets. I tell

you the truth: they are patient

 

as wolves, hungry as winter.

— Izzy Wasserstein

Israel Wasserstein was born and raised on the Great Plains and currently teaches at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. He received his MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2006. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Flint Hills Review, Blue Mesa Review, Coal City Review, BorderSenses and elsewhere.

61. Highway 54: Controlled Burn

Eastern Kansas, hills pungent

with controlled burn: my eyes

sting, black clouds rise

 

into angry evening. All about me,

ribbons of flame unspooled

by grim-faced men with rusty

 

pickups. Sunglasses

conceal their eyes

as they watch the sky,

 

the night clear,

free of portentous clouds.

Rain will not come.

 

And if it did, they would still

burn, unwilling to risk

disaster, fires twisting

 

from these fallow

fields those newly planted.

Sharp-lined faces know too well

 

mercy’s cost, destroy

what they must to save

the rest. One man turns

 

his head to watch me pass,

glasses black as his hair

outlined against red flame,

 

orange sky. He nods,

I nod, accelerate

toward home, towards

 

whatever still remains.

— Izzy Wasserstein

Israel Wasserstein was born and raised on the Great Plains and currently teaches at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. He received his MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2006. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Flint Hills Review, Blue Mesa Review, Coal City Review, BorderSenses and elsewhere.

47. A Kansas Native Discusses Natural Disasters

Winner of the Kansas Poetry Month contest, week one: storms (amateur category)

Raised in California, you freeze with each storm warning,

listen for the locomotive roar,

imagine the funnel cloud descending

dark against greenblack dusk.

Strange, I thought. You know

the earth can swallow cars, buildings,

that land can collapse to sea,

that the next Big One is inevitable.

Yet a twister might pass blocks away

and leave us unaware until sirens woke us.

But now I know: you are a child of the land.

Amidst its tremors you brace under doorframes

without fear. I was raised by sky,

its furies as much as its calms.

When the evening chills with the hammer of hail,

the air takes me breathless, tense, home.

— Israel Wasserstein

Israel Wasserstein was born and raised on the Great Plains and currently teaches at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. He received his MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2006. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Flint Hills Review, Blue Mesa Review, Coal City Review, BorderSenses and elsewhere.

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