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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Cheryl J. Fish


Iceland 14 (Overturn)

One minute it rains around the corner the wind blows you inside out

then the sun glistens on a basalt cliff where gulls or terns dive to let you know you don’t belong

in their nesting areas then a car speeds by and almost hits you then you almost step in horse shit

or sheep shit you need your hat as the wind comes up you wish you hadn’t said that to them

then you get back in the car and notice a waterfall dropping off the cliff

from this angle go into the nothingness of somethingness, madness or gladness

you stop wishing and just wander in the soft moss in the rocky field in the rain in the river

in the lava remnants with the terns and gulls and ducks protecting their nests and outnumbering

humans by a multitude.

 

Yesterday you met an American philosopher burned out on academe who

hides from the world here watching horses on a farm driving to the edge nowhere in the

midnight sun mostly in the wee hours since he cannot sleep before you met him

you had walked alone on the small island in the river Blanda not bland but

flowing from the northwest side of the Hofsjökull glacier into Húnaflói bay

you saw Greylag geese and goslings later you drank beer with artists

a painter’s husband had a mini stroke that night you were sitting across from him.

 

Go soak in the geothermal pools your skin smells like sulfur as long as you’re

in Northwest Iceland and then you hear The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade

while you stare at grey clouds in a village of fishermen and birds

time reverts to stones packed inside lava mounds

elves live in certain rocks they ask us not to overturn them not to destroy

the balance between light and the times the sun will never shine.


Two ABECEDARIANS: Infrastructure

for Joseph H. Fish

 

1.

A feat of engineering on an island in Munich’s River Isar, the Deutsches Museum

Brings science and technology to the public, with research facilities and small bedrooms

Corralled amid old space ships, a nuclear fission table, 560 war and invasion reports.

Dark halls sleep visiting scholars, gates to buzz open, a cafeteria where

Everyone must line up, no snagging a plate or a piece of fruit

From the central salad bar. Dad, it felt alien to

Go to Munich to present on infrastructure, in that infrastructure.

Heady with staircases and closed wings, cubicles and echoes

Inside research rooms. An antique building, gabled windows on an island with a

Jutting observation tower. Imagine, I’m the only one sleeping there that weekend.

Kept on haunting me, motion detectors, long echoing hallways and flies in bathroom stalls.

Left me taking sleeping pills, dreaming of Allied bombs in response to Hitler’s bombs.

Much wandering in old town, then a drunk fellow asked me to come to a Bayern München game.

No thanks, I said. Dad, would you have shrugged, or snored through such emptiness?

On a long cold weekend in that 1903 behemoth, I chatted with a number of

People. Servers, bartenders, shoppers, strangers sipping mulled wine by a fire pit.

Questioned them about their lives. When you did that on family trips, how it embarrassed

Renee and me to listen to you chat up staff at Colonial Williamsburg, or Howard Johnson’s.

Silly me, now I do it too. I’m more like Anthony Bourdain, scarfing street food, observing

Time and the effects of globalization, eating Turkish mesas you would never try.

Up in the hallway I thought I heard something, could be anything, in chaotic frightening times.

When you died Trump was only a loose thread sticking out. I spent time that weekend

Examining environmental books at the Rachel Carson Center. Soon a global pandemic erupted.

Year 2020 about to dawn, you gone from this madness. After your War, nothing measured up.

Zero.

 

2.

Attention turns to the photos. What can be done with them, Dad?

Being that you never wrote any account of your life, they

Capture a neat American uniform. Triangular flag, medals at your funeral.

Dead doors. Didn’t scribble dates, decisions, locations.

Elegant snapshots. Young soldier. Army-Air Corp.

France? English Midlands? A photo at the air base. Before D-Day. You’d

Gone back to London, ordered to deliver a parcel

Heady bombs and blasting bridges. Did you cower? Run? Pray?

Inches, smashes. At what point do your children grow curious?

Just when you’re nearly gone, they wonder about glory and

Killing. What infrastructures limned from the same old story?

Listening beyond your death. Mom, age 88, shows everyone photos.

More and more, black and white, mixed-up piles. I carry snapshots home.

Next week, another war. Hatred, propaganda, fascism, unmarked graves.

Openness remains in your smile. You and mom met in the Catskills,

Post-war. Some photos get stamped on postcards, Grandma Rebecca’s

Quiet dead brothers, from Poland, beyond the pale. Yiddish letters.

Recourse? What do I do about the faces of perished family members,

Stragglers. She couldn’t speak of them. I am the writer. Not in that language.

Trust me. Photos inch open.

Unveilings. Measured in blackouts every which way.

Violent victories.

What wisdom awaits?

Xenophobes come again.

Yeomen photos. Standing guard over such

Zeniths, installations in motion, on night watch.

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Cheryl J. Fish’s debut novel OFF THE YOGA MAT was published on 10/20/22 by Livingston Press/UWA. She is the author of THE SAUNA IS FULL OF MAIDS, poems and photographs celebrating Finnish sauna culture, travel, and friendships, and CRATER & TOWER, poems reflecting on trauma and ecology after the Mount St. Helens Volcanic eruption and the terrorist attack of 9/11. Fish has been a Fulbright professor in Finland and is a co-editor with Farah Griffin of A STRANGER IN THE VILLAGE: TWO CENTURIES OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRAVEL LITERATURE. Fish’s poems have appeared in Hanging Loose, Maintenant, Terrain, Mom Egg Review, New American Writing and Poetics for the More-than-Human-World. Her short fiction has appeared in Cheap Pop, Iron Horse Literary Review, and Liars League. She has published essays on environmental justice through the arts and media. Fish is professor of English at BMCC/City University of New York and docent at University of Helsinki.


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