Rachel Galvin


And why, and when, and who, strangers shout
from the open doorways. And how, and how. Each greets me
by name. I will take the blue passion and dip it in water
so it will not stain, and the heart, in its endless cracking—
a tree aching for ground—can rest an hour.


illum absens absentem auditque uidetque

Out of absence she configured desire, conjuring the divided
world in negative. She knew the stillness of sycamore was more divine
when flustered by wind, the smooth mountain when creased

by raptor’s careen. She sought a stereoscopy of ardor
overlaid on piety—led the other girls at night to the tomb
at Saint Médard. In filmic delirium they consumed dirt

from the grave of François de Pâris, to choke full,
stem and root, supine, vulpine. Convulsionists, sécouistes
flocked to the miracle: girls trampled,

pierced, their scavenger exclamations. Were they the arrows
of the Lord? The tableau writhing. The script read bring yourself
closer to his aphrodisiac silence. Her eyes grew accustomed,

concocted a ricochet from phantom to man: in her,
a delectation of lack, a displacement of self. Pleasure’s subterfuge.
No living man compared to the deacon dead at thirty-six,

buried with the poor. Into her devotion François reached his deft
tactic—she was certain the bittersweet image would emerge—
as when the eyes fix on the space a star is not.


A release of rain filled the cafe
with people: bouquets of brass sunflowers
above the booths, trios of light-bulb Cyclopses.

I discovered my heart had a seam like a walnut,
you could press to lever it open
and expose its dark, wet dividers

—inside a locked mailbox, a letter.
The wind bared its hem as I passed a butcher shop,
pheasants and rabbits hung upside-down, inside-out.

Tibetan Buddhists dismember their dead
so that birds of prey may easily ingest the corpse,
to speed the reincarnation of flesh and breath in flesh:

an arrow drawn, an agitated electron that arcs
from shell to shell toward the nucleus,
leafing through sheaves of light.


When we awoke all flesh was blue:
the bell in the square, once rescued from a Vilozhin fire,
now Prussian blue, Chaya’s oxen

a bright French blue, linens drying on the line
and the morning minyan’s prayers
tinted from hyacinth to wisteria.

Overnight clocks regained authority, took
metronomes for brides. Young Rivka stashed the last
unofficial green in a basket of apples and ran to her Moishe,

who in three minutes recounted
the original malady of every stone in the village.
Where to find a remedy? We fluttered

our hands in supplication, the merchants went on
conversing in the marketplace, adding consonants on one hand,
launching their sums on paper wings—

how the houses rose to resemble people!
There, like a handkerchief emerging
from the pocket of each villager, was the name of the Lord.


If the wings should brush too close—
we hide under the skirt of a table.

We invite the disguised messenger
to the repast: in his pocket, a vision.

The goblet drinks its own wine.
Long skeins of melody to wind before we eat,

vowels I’m learning, egg glow, scent of yeast.
Here, candles burn longer because of prayer.


Men sway in the aisles, praying, Hatikvah
on the intercom as the plane touches land.

My friend says I cannot touch the Torah,
a woman’s touch defiles. You won’t

if you’re a Jew. But it is too late. Aliyah,
the going up. Standing

before unscrolled pages, I chant,
opening and closing blessings,

sewing goatskin with my silver finger,
while sun blisters my shoulders, collarbones.


My life, a ship setting sail—
now I spend my days writing a scripture

by hand: stories made of stone,
salted with telling.

I look up at my mother over the stew pot
she is stirring—in a dream of hornets,

I kneel on one unknowingly. It enters
my left knee.


I am catching a train, I am
looking for myself

in a shop window,
between the o and m

of home. Standing on one leg,
I recite.

Land whose holiest wall is cemented
with handwritten prayer,

where I am a Jew two steps removed.
Despite all revolutions,

feet continue forward, blood matches blood.
A ruined bathhouse, dark angels

with siege machines. But I,
could I take my nipple from my child’s mouth

and draw a line across her throat? My hands
are unsteady. The woman hidden

in a storage room, the only adult
to tell the tale:


She preferred salt on all her meals, she believed
the soul was finite, she loved noisily.

She whom the grocer hid in a barrel to escape the Cossacks.
She who used a broom to beat my father,

left her children in London, Ballyminton, Rochester.
She who raised her children Jews,

she who raised her children Catholics.
Who spoke Russian before English,

Yiddish before Russian before Hebrew,
who used different gestures in each language.

She who kept her letters in a soup tureen.
Who told my father to fuck off one Christmas day.

Who ran anarchist meetings, who had a harelip,
who was left without a cow to live by.

Mysterious kitchen, duty and dominion,
boiling carrots and prunes together, phrases

of steam over the pot we stir.
She gathers consonants, seed-shaped

prayers, a cloth over her head,
hands over her eyes, she sways.

Rachel Galvin
Rachel Galvin is a graduate student in comparative literature at Princeton University, where she studies twentieth-century poetry. She has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Hedgebrook. Her poems and translations appear in Gulf Coast, Spinning Jenny, Gargoyle, Del Sol Review, and Nimrod. Her first book of poems, Of Pulleys & Locomotion, is forthcoming from
Black Lawrence Press. She recently completed a translation of Raymond Queneau's Courir les rues and is now translating Cesar Vallejo's Poemas Humanos. More of her doings can be found at



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