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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

Lee Sharkey

You are not from the castle, you are not from the village, you are nothing

The flowers, though, are a deep cadmium yellow and bathe the table in their saturate of light

Deep cadmium yellow is the color I need today, the return to exile in these deep yellow flowers

Their blooms may be wilting but their smell persists in my palate

Not a sweet smell but something turmeric-like that quiets the appetite for intoxicants

The rabbi spoke of a vital capacity for understanding, but what do I understand

not the flag of poetry, not the flag of country or the insane black MIA flag still flying above the statehouse

though I love how the wind slaps them in a simulacrum of freedom

Today as every day I return to exile, the past flooding forward, the future receding

I turn from Jerusalem as a plant turns toward a sun-drenched window

I sit at my table, lift my spoon, and watch the quick and halt going about their business

The dogs of spring are tugging at their leashes

I pet the cat, who wants nothing else of me

I touch the mezuzah and ask the Shekhinah to bless me with her breath of pollen yellow

Let this not be a good day for fear or the fires that destroy villages

This is the day that the cosmos made, let us rejoice and


Today I am thistle down spreading out from my body on the wind

From this perspective I can contemplate how the gas masks Otto Dix depicted

Resemble the screaming faces of blue monkeys gassed in experiments at Porton Down

Silken, gold-flecked tree-dwellers who thrive on figs and flowers

Matrilineal tree-dwellers who pass their infants from arms to arms

Today I walk almost fearless into the box where they press their palms against a wall of glass

Swallowing absence, our mouths distend

Today I walk almost fearless into the dying that overtakes my cousin, Sweet Arlene

Her tongue jittery now from chemo

As if she’s stammering her way to a new language

Where childhood memories surface

On Firglade Avenue, our grandparents’ house

The trees, in fact, deciduous, fir glade whispering through screens on summer Sundays, the tantes fussing

Steam from Old World dumplings floating up from the tureen

Soon, I’ll be the only keeper of the memories that made a family

I don’t trust myself with that much treasure

But here I am, holding out my arms and smiling

Today the woman who reads my body like script on water made a skullcap with one hand and eased the other under my sacrum

My spine became a flute again

Death floated past like thistle silk

Blue monkeys were sleeping in the trees


Lee Sharkey is the author of Walking Backwards (Tupelo, 2016), Calendars of Fire (Tupelo, 2013), A Darker, Sweeter String, and eight earlier full-length poetry collections and chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Consequence, Crazyhorse, FIELD, Kenyon Review, Massachusetts Review, Nimrod, Seattle Review, and other journals. Her recognitions include the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, the Abraham Sutzkever Centennial Translation Prize, the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance’s Distinguished Achievement Award, and the 2018 Maine Literary Award in Short Poetry. She counts as her most important commitment the workshop she has facilitated for thirty years for adults recovering from mental illness.

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