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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

Susanna Lang

Speaking with Strangers

I’ve never visited Montana
so the picture in my mind comes from billboards
hung above the clogged streets of my city—
bighorn sheep staring out at us
from a mountain meadow, under the words
There’s nothing here, as if they were only
ghosts of sheep gone missing.
I can’t imagine the view from the kitchen
where Barbara sits at the table
with a cup of coffee, already a little cold
when the phone rings—my call.
She can’t see out the window either
because, as she tells me, she is nearly blind.
The computer screen informs me
of her name, address, and age: 98.
She doesn’t remember where she put
the absentee ballot I’ve asked about
but a friend will help her find it.
Her mother won the right to vote
the year Barbara was born, so of course
she’ll send in the ballot.
Her mother expects it of her;
she was always after Barbara
to put things where they belong.

In the awkward silence while I decide
whether to nudge the conversation back
toward the next question in the script
or laugh My mother too,
a rooster crows outside that window
that is opaque to us both.
Nothing there but bighorn sheep
and roosters, and women who remember
their mothers’ battles.

A Glass of Water

This goes deeper than water, deeper
than water can eat into rock.

There was intention here, more corrosive
than the acids that scrape at our pipes.

It stains our sinks, whistles in our veins,
sings in our livers. Poisons the heart.

Our children won’t come to the table.
They stir in their sleep. When you

were a child, afraid to lie by yourself
in the dark, you asked your mother

for water. When you were the mother,
you brought the cool-skinned glass

for your child, and read a story
about the little fish in the darkened sea

who sleep with their eyes wide open.
Now be my guest. Spend the night

in my house. Turn on the tap.
Fill up your glass.

Not Vacant but Fallow

A man bends and rises above the corner lot

where a building has come down, a factory

or warehouse. He scythes a summer’s growth

of yarrow, culver’s root, wild aster, goldenrod—

bundling the stalks as if he had a barn full of cows

on the next block. Or the barn may be behind him

in the place he left when he set out for this city,

like the cultivators of small plots who bring their baskets

to my local market and claim in competing accents

that their peppers are the hottest, their bundled herbs

the sweetest. The house where this man was a child

is rubble now, but he’ll take home something

that smells of that place, and I have a paper bag

filled with thin green peppers that will make me cry.


Susanna Lang’s most recent collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in June 2017 by Terrapin Books. Other collections include Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (The Backwaters Press, 2008) as well as a chapbook, Two by Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011). A two-time Hambidge fellow and a recipient of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published original poems and translations from the French in such journals as Little Star, Prairie Schooner, december, Blue Lyra Review, Prime Number Magazine and Poetry East. Her translations of poetry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language. Among her current projects is Self-Portraits, a chapbook collection of ekphrastic poems focused on women across the arts. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.

Other works by Susanna Lang »

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