This week, we’re excited to feature two poems by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes. Mary is a lecturer in the First Year Writing Program at Emerson College, where she recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including the Minnetonka Review, the Squaw Valley Review, Poets & Artists, PANK, and Silk Road, and her travel writing has appeared on Boston.com’s Passport. She lives in Cambridge, MA.
La Niña, a girl Christ touching her toes
to the gulf stream, makes it snow.
Plastic cherubim lit on the neighbor’s lawn
wear softer feathers. Count as they swirl
from the sky, catch them on your tongue like hosts.
Slip a little on the icy driveway, laugh
as we unlock our door. Like this we end
another year: our familiar bed, your arms, lips.
Clank of the old radiator the only
bells. In the morning, my kitchen stays cold,
the church empty. We have no desire
for our mothers’ traditions:
pork and sauerkraut for luck against
a god-hand playing yo-yo with the planet,
a new year impossible without
the blessing of solemn gold and stone. My mother’s voice,
my grandmother’s singing praise to God,
who lengthens out our days, who spares us yet another year.
This time we want to measure,
grasp, elongate, hold—
you and I will keep it differently.
I pull you closer, need only
your body, late-night pizza.
The bed. The glowing
angels buried on the lawn.
We spent the evening naming imaginary babies.
When I called one Natalie, she suddenly grew
a face. I called her again, in a forest of boats and names.
I found her there, floating on a brick island,
in a book under glass. For decades,
they asked questions here, recorded people.
Books the size of countries. A thousand Natalies.
A million first words. My mother saved mine
under her bed. My handprints. Shoes. Certificates.
I was already Mary Natalie. Named for a woman
who crossed an ocean in the belly of a creaking beast.
She would not remember the scale of green waves—
everything before this was destroyed.
Words blown to the currents,
words out the bomb bay doors.
The island book told me all it knew—
Natalie. Ruthenian. Crude label for eyes
and skin. An illusion of distance:
How long does the alien wish to remain in the United States?
Always. Her answer same as the others
in an officer’s shorthand—Ditto.
A thousand pages of aliens, a history
of ditto. All we’ve lost in the naming,
between the ordered ledger lines we drew.