Judith Harris



Each evening she goes to the sitting.
She can barely hear the grackles in the park,
the crossing guard's low whistle.

It is becoming twilight,
the neighborhood stews are warming;
the moon, a comma, swirls above dogwood.

This is the hour when
the little gold keys
pirouette at front doors,
when wives, the color of milk,
press close to the windows.

Although it is fall,
she wears the same summer dress,
revolving in lemons. With a blue thumb,
the wind reels in its leaves.

She thinks this is what it must be like
to be motionless as a stopped clock, or a clinched fly,
or the page-boy manikin in the tailor's shop,

to be, not a body, but a statue.
Now, as night leans to kiss the frail lips
of the moon, someone tells her to hold still,

and she thinks this is the unreal,
the painted sky and black trees
stretching above the frosted clouds of her town--

and the lungs of flowers, dark flowers,
breathing so softly, so perfectly,
no one can see.




Flocks herd with their young,
buffeted by the long
sticks of rain.
Darkness pauses;
it is the silence before all things.

At least this place was certain.
Baskets of figs,
the moon's soft dial.
Someone takes stones
and sets them for pillows.
You bow yourself seven times before sleep.

The hills are far away.
Women eat raisins and carry their sons.
What are you thinking
so close to the stars?
When the ladder is set
up to the earth--
reaching toward heaven--

the sky appears more fluent
in its radiant shining,
and the bushes
extend their bronzed fruit,
slow emissaries of light; and a name.


Judy Jashinsky
Lost Letters Of Artemisia Gentileschi

charcoal on paper
see more work by Judy Jashinsky




How many coats of darkness can there be
as a child falls asleep,
like a story within a story;
or a doll within a larger doll
like the wooden dolls
my mother wrapped up in two small boxes
and carried home from Haifa.

Green dresses, bowed kerchiefs,
and painted faces,
bellies halved and shellacked
in bakers' aprons,
girths wide
as the earth itself,
belted with a tiny crack
at the middle.

My mother never told me
how babies were born,
only that the body
unscrewed itself like a jar
and that the shell peeled open;
and inside was the seed that would
begin the child, like a sprout, growing:

a girl within a finished girl
as a maze uncoiled upon the map
or a bobbin of thread unwinding,
or a branch unraveled
from the licorice twist of wind
or the sky lifting up
yet another hollowed mask.

Now I have my own daughter,
a scroll of flaxen hair laid
in the spread palms of afternoon,
and I wonder
what she dreams
as she spirals down
into the dark orchard I meant
to plant inside her
and the darker orchard underneath.

And there a gardener gathers
under the base of each tree
more red and gold in airy baskets,
until, one day, my daughter will eat the flaky seed
that will split her in two
and break the sky
with a cranny of thunder.

My daughter was born in summer
among the lemons and roses.
What my mother told me
whispered again in my ear:
how a child snaps out
from a tree,
and the cored world circles
and circles around
the black mouth of its own equator,
sealing itself back together again.



Tinsel wings
snipped out of horsehair,
head concealed in its helmet,
emerald thorax,
the compound eye,
exquisite in its glass bier,
all luminous nymphs, or naiads,
hatched not from
larvae but a thin filament's drop
at the stream.
They are beautiful, I say,
not knowing the real from the fake,
from buglike nymph stage to dun,
rainbow to spinners,
all names that ring like a bell:
brown drake, blue-winged olive:
yellow miller, black ghost,
coachman, and mayflies,
eggs reborn, bursting, dodging
like microscopic miniatures
of man's first flying machines,
pinions flapping on arm,
sailing up over the treetops,
foredoomed as winter's only
lightning bug,
flecks of snow hitting
the pond's surface,
then ebbing one by one.
What counterfeit jewels:
a little tarnished
from the wear and tear,
now housed in a tin box,
like sampled candies,
feigning sleep as frozen statues do,
nestled in the sham stillness
of the summer heat,
just catching the rust of sunlight
on the brittle hinges of
their spidery legs
and paintbrush tails.
I think of them all as
sudden masterpieces--
and seem to nudge them irresistibly,
as if to chock them
from the airy airlessness
of some human dream,
as if they were not so frail,
or waterlogged,
from all that molting, colliding,
and diving,
only to rise again each time from the dead.


.................................for Mark and Marshall

One elm
in my neighbor's backyard
shudders in the darkness,

its branches adamant,
still gold.
I have seen it harden
against the cold,

heard its voice
like an open wound.

And tonight,
somewhere between knowing
and not knowing,
I watch as one by one

its rough leaves,
light downy tufts
in the vein axils beneath,

flicker and blow out,

because of the stars,
because of the inevitable body,

because there are always more
consoling words to fall into,

before us, and after us,
but never our own.



Judith Harris is an assistant professor of English at George Washington University, and author of three books of poetry, Poppies, Song of the Moon, and Atonement, which was nominated for the William Carlos Williams and Lenore Marshall prizes. A fourth book of poems, The Bad Secret, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in 2004, and a book of criticism, Signifying Pain: Constructing and Healing the Self Through Writing, was recently published by SUNY Press (see www.sunypress.edu/details.asp?id=60726 for more info). Recent poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner and The Southern Review. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband and daughter.

Published in Volume 4, Number 2, Spring 2003.