Sheila Black


Listen to the audio version.

If the publicity machine worked differently,
I might get attention for how I sprinkle sodium on
this side of dead beef, or the errand I run to
the local pharmacy, stranded between cough
syrup and toothpaste. There might be a headline
about a woman who forgets her keys on the
counter, who leaves the chili on the stove. There
might be an in-depth feature on the spaces of
solitude and what it is to sit down with another
human and speak. So many explosions. The man
three streets over, who holes himself in a basement
with his two toddlers and an arsenal of weapons.
They talk him down over a space of six hours, but
who knows reading the story how he got from
Egg McMuffins for breakfast to standoff? The news
should be more like a poem, more like the solitary
voice as it coughs or laughs or pleads simply
for a little more time to understand how one
should live. Each morning I walk past the house
where the man fired his guns. I see his children,
left here, while he goes to prison. One sits on
the curb with his head in his hands while the
younger rides a red tricycle in circles. There is
a story here full of stutters and the sudden flare
of wings, the blackbirds escaping from the mulberry
tree in the yard as if it were on fire. Explain please.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

The light in the lab when we
boiled down the pitch-blende,

swamp gas of childhood, that fox-fire
leaping. Is it so wrong to

want more? I knew I
appeared of little interest to

the men in their gabardine coats who
eyed the women in the hotel

bars, their low-slung
fascinators and flat white powder,

lips like plush cushions,
but beneath my scrubbed

hands,an itch to touch that fatal
damp, press my eyes to a window

so hard it might shiver.
The sores that opened later,

the fatigue in the bone, even these
appeared to me as merely necessary.

I knew what it was to see inside,
knew that love is a pitiless

gaze, never satisfied with what
it finds, most itself in the anxious

space of dream, where the stars
float and breathe their

distant fires, which I touched
with my own hands.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

She is bald in the Amsterdam hotel
dressed in a man�s dress shirt
and a burgundy bowler hat. "You can choose
to dance a little," she says, not directly
referencing her partner: Mr. D. D. D.
man of eternal mystery or sometimes
a masked woman, a starved child who breaks
a window for a piece of warm bread. I
like that version best—the notion that death
is the Match Girl pressing her face to
the window and the tree of lights that is
life, her pinched lips, her translucent
hands. When she comes, she comes quietly,
and with a kind of grace. My friend ticks off
the latest indignities: one seizure, a rash in
the mouth so caustic warm milk tastes
like Clorox, swollen ankles, a touch of
blindness. In the afternoon, my friend will
wander the Rembrandt galleries—sepia
candlelit world where a woman�s flesh blooms
like the blush on a pear, bruises as if in time-
lapse motion. What can we do but love how we are
marked—decorate it like a fir tree with tall
candles, bees-wax, the dazed lights always
jumping at any shift in the air.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

You know how it is holy, sometimes to
not know, to get on the bus and ride it
in circles around the night city, the trees
whipping in rain, the slick of leaves.
You slip when you feel you could balance
even the slenderest beam, climb the factory-
roofs and gaze down—all the scenes rendered
harmless by distance. These half-tender hard
regrets you know so well they have become
like stern family members; surely, they love
you; surely, they know somewhere why you
love falling, if only for the moment of shatter.
And each time the self you recover
a rarer china, meshed with dark unguents—
glue of sap and bone. So bent-bitter,
so stretched beyond redemption; yet here,
right here, in the shaking of a bus window,


Sheila Black is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent Beauty is a Verb: the New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press, 2012) and with Michael Northen and Annabelle Hayse, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press, 2017). In 2012. She currently lives in Washington, DC.