Poetry by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

AFTER THE DRUNKS ON POTRERO HILL   

From their arguments

we tried to divine

how flowers procreate

in cement planters;

how they sway

and signal to

pollinators; how

they retain

their optimism

because humans

always switch to

other populations:

The feral parrots

on telephone wires

dictating in sheared 

frequencies

have since 

gentrified

this neighborhood.

They call out to

Those imprisoned

properly, or within

the collective or

biological memory:

Something the Jungians

might have discovered

but it was made a 

state secret and changed

a war, displacing

the typewriter keys

once thought to be

mathematically

unbelievable.

The only equivalent

in my experience

were the broadcasts

on Radio Israel,

a roll call of the lost

and missing in a

nation built from

these plurals; 

people once 

launched into

an unnatural world

too easily flock

to organic positions

given the opportunity.

In the same way 

I once chased a 

man across this

country, and learned

that where there is

only skin, the center

holds nothing.

THE WATER METHOD WOMEN 

My grandmother loved the ocean.
She said its air helped her asthma.
She drank a brand of ginger ale

that burned my throat on its way

down, on top of the tea without

sugar. This must be what happens

when you grow up landlocked,

White Russia as far as the eyes

might track as you play with your

rag dolls on the roof, the only

memory that survived the transit.

This is what you must teach your

grandchildren; that wheat does

not feed the starving and it

ripens like something female,

ever on the verge of stinging, 

or curdling into an afterlife

of infection and soreness. 

Before she married my grandfather,

she supposedly ran from Los Angeles

to San Francisco for someone

else, draw into her lungs what

the climate made tactile,

a woolen restorative in its

finest, most delicate color.

Then she came back, though

we don’t know the whole of

that story, only the struggle

subsequent to escape the bedrock

and inhale where breath could

be braided with salt and moisture.

       2.

Her daughter chose the deserts

on the other side of the hill,

the water channeled through

cement to the harbor, an  

unnatural opening that had to

be combed through regularly

by equipment and engineers.

Otherwise the liquid progressed

to vinegar, the final stage

unless you’re counting 

disappearance. My parents

discovered quite by accident

how vinegar in salad dressing,

left open on the table, 

deterred bees from circling

over the meat. We always

kept some extra, as if a dish

of tears, for our outdoor meals.

Both sides of the family went

after the war and politics

like a second Pacific theater.

I watched her sweat as though

drowning in her failed pregnancies.

She drank instant coffee,

served in the mug my parents

found so hilarious: Made in 

Japan on one side,

the rising sun on the other.

Her brother always said

we should be upfront with 

our intentions and origins,

ultimately foreign

and risky.   

THE REMAINS 

The skin a slip

of what a child might lose

on a bicycle, the skid

against asphalt,

rendering a joint

suddenly fruit and liquid,

in need of a gauze support

if it is to harden properly.

I can’t say why I’ve always

imagined the assemblage

being placed in an envelope,

exquisitely folded paper

given a sudden new responsibility.

To be sent to a locker

at the bus station, as if

a lock of hair, a scent crushed

between the pages of a book,

a plot no one cares to remember,

then retrieved to make a point

rendered moot.  Outside it might

be like foil sundered from

wax paper wrappers, how girls

entertained one another

after lunch period, torturing

packages, comparing the dexterity

of their fingers, their stubby

nails with no effect on

the thick, almost acid

feeling to their cuticles,

the peel of citrus.

THE DEVIL’S ETIOLOGY 
(After Jeffrey Chang)

The satisfaction in smallness:

trace and piquant.

He gave each three incisions

two down each rib

and one at the waist

so the body would flop up

as if a baby’s bib

dirtied by peaches and boiled asparagus.

The clean innards were there for the taking

and he had yet to brand  

these figures in marble, 

the crux of each

milled stone alternately

fugitive or developed.

Obverse to each elbow

is the other, and that’s

where invasions were

made on my person;

though not like the others, by a

person or deity, 

but by a more natural subtraction,

movement and doom,

the repetition of small, trace

irrelevancies, post-skeletal,

post-muscle, a burden

and curse I must have deserved

for being so ungodly,

elastic and transom-like

always connected.

The devil in my blood

rests at the bottom

of a hinge, not a cleft,

and it beholds a singular

word: Achievement. 

TOYS 

Sometimes a body fools you. 
You extract all hope from a body 
and you are disappointed
when it does not respond 
with further enthusiasm,

as if a box of rotten playthings

or playthings you have let rot

because they are built so much

better nowadays, the fur more

resilient, the joints better lubricated,

and you cannot keep up with the changes

in content. You’re

old-fashioned, and prefer 

replicas of previous responses.

I’ll always take chains and rattles,

trinkets you can worry between

your fingers and rub to a polish,

a needle type of gleam like ice 

or the pelt of your favorite

animal: of course all bodies

are deceptive. Or all bodies

of this genus—female,

diminished–half the way

between two opposites.

If only the body could bend

this way or that; if only it

lived up to its advertising, 

but that would be giving up

the store, letting the public

in on a secret. So pop 

a knuckle, move time 
back into its composite 
and start again, although 
this round, do not demand

too much joy or loyalty

from the object.

It lacks, after all, all consciousness,

though it could be dreaming

in its plastic wakefulness.

Poetry by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Jane Rosenberg LaForge writes poetry, fiction, and occasional essays in New York. Her next full-length collection of poems will be Medusa’s Daughter from Animal Heart Press in 2021. Her next novel will be Sisterhood of the Infamous from New Meridian Arts Literary Press in late 2020.

About the contributor

Jane Rosenberg LaForge writes poetry, fiction, and occasional essays in New York. Her next full-length collection of poems will be Medusa's Daughter from Animal Heart Press in 2021. Her next novel will be Sisterhood of the Infamous from New Meridian Arts Literary Press in late 2020.

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