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

Susan Terris


The Girl, the Djinn, and the Panga Machete

They — the women and their daughters — are gathering nuts

from shea butter trees when the girl declares they must not

 

cut her. If they do, she promises, the djinn in the trees will

disappear all their budding girls. But her mother says,

 

Tradition, and her grandmother insists. The grandmother

swears that her dead mother insists, too. Then the girl, flipping

 

her dark braids, says they must never cut her or she will take

a panga machete and slash all the shea trees, and when

 

they drag her from the schoolroom and sell her to some

old man, she will slash him, too. Down below. Then

 

the women say it’s her father who wants her cut so she’ll

be a faithful wife and will not stray. Him, she cries, dropping

 

her basket of shea nuts, clapping until legions of tiny djinn

swarm from the trees. So, the reason is my father!

 

Now the djinn will kidnap budding girls, and she’ll stand

by him with her panga, as she cuts. Kills him? No. Herself.


Yekkish in Vienna

Since my father-in-law had loved sachertortes,

we went to Café Central and ordered them.

 

The waitress, long-necked and tall, ash-brown

braids wound in a crown around her head, did

 

not smile when she took our order, then dallied

before she decided to pick it up and serve us.

 

The china cups rattled down from her fingers

spilling milky lukewarm coffee into our saucers.

 

The tortes slid precariously across their plates.

Yes, 60 years after the war, we were still hated.

 

Our clothes were ordinary. I wore no jewelry,

yet one look and she knew we were Jews.

 

Leaving the kaffe mit schlag and the sachertorte

untouched, we tossed Euros on the table,

 

decided despite the Philharmonic, Boys’ Choir,

the Freud Museum, and Stadttempel Synagogue,

 

we’d pack up our rented Opel now and head

due south to Milan or perhaps to Florence.

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Susan Terris’ recent books are Familiar Tense (Marsh Hawk) 2019; Take Two: Film Studies (Omnidawn) 2017, Memos (Omnidawn) 2015; and Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk) 2012. She’s the author of 7 books of poetry, 17 chapbooks, 3 artist’s books, and one play. Journals include About Place, The Southern Review, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. A poem from Memos was in Best American Poetry 2015. Her newest book is Dream Fragments, which won the 2019 Swan Scythe Press Award. Ms. Terris is editor emerita of Spillway Magazine and a poetry editor at Pedestal.

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