poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

Julie R. Enszer



I didn’t actually want one, but after your mother died,
you, with a big check in your pocket, became obsessed.

I measured. We shopped and shopped. You
selected and purchased. This one. It is too big—

just barely, but still—too large for the space.
I want to return it. Get a smaller model, an easier fit.

You refuse. You want this one and only this one.
You say, We needed a carpenter. I say, You deal with it.

The electric behemoth sits in the center of our kitchen floor
for months. I tell our visitors that this refrigerator is

your grief—large and in the way—transformed into my headache.
Finally, I pay the housepainter an extra three hundred

to put the refrigerator in it’s place. When she finishes,
I admired how perfect it is. Drawing a glass of water

from its cool interior, I cry. My anger, never at you.
I want what you got. A mother to give me

something stainless, purposefully cool and icy,
something frozen for a reason.


My father wanted to name
his daughters Ethyl, Methyl, and Propyl;
I would have been Ethyl, the eldest,
perhaps that explains my affinity
for another Ethel—Rosenberg—
who I saw again this weekend
at the refurbished American Art Museum.
First, a photograph of her with Julius
in a paddy wagon during their trials—
it’s trying to remember the pain
of Ethel, so young and so beautiful
in that hard-working way of socialist women;
then, a sketch in the portrait gallery:
Ethel’s disembodied head—no neck—
adapted from a snapshot for a protest
poster; the artist captured
her jaw set with purpose,
her clear eyes so certainly innocent,
her frizzy hair, a utilitarian halo,
around her determined head, oh, yes,
Ethel. . .but my father would not
have named me for you, Ethel, rather
for those basic organic molecules —
all grown, you are as basic to me
as ethyl to a student of chemistry.
Although when I was younger
I wanted to be my sister, heir to the name
Propyl, I imagined us calling
her Iso for short and my other sister Di,
but the joke would have been
only in our family—it would never
have translated to the hard-scrabble
streets of Saginaw—for that reason
and many others, my mother resisted
my father’s chemical compounds;
we have bland names, we blend in,
until you meet us, until we speak.
Then you can imagine Ethel,
her grey coat, sturdy shoes, curly hair,
that look of defiance in our eyes.





Sheila Rotner
Apotheosis III
2001, acrylic, mica and sand on canvas woven into wire mesh,
48 x 48 inches
see more work by Sheila Rotner


We were never close.
Never dyed our hair together.
No tandem manicures.
No joint shopping excursions.
We fought.
Earlier, in the back seat
of the Caprice Classic
on family vacations
and later on the telephone.
Before she died, I told her
no one could take her seriously.
It was the way she talked.
So fast. And breathless.
Ending every declarative
with the intonation of a question.
She dismissed me, angrily.
She said, You don't understand
my artistic personality.

I didn't. The dancing.
The boyfriends. Alternative
music. I disdained
them all. This is the truth:
I've loved many women
more than my sister.
Had she lived, she would
have been nothing more than
a familial correspondent—
tracly holiday sentiments
and Hallmarked birthdays.
Occasionally, I might have
called her; late on Sundays,
with an obligatory update.
But now we're closer
than we've ever been. Dead,
my sister is finally present.





In kindergarten, I carried a schoolbag
my mother made from fabric with fairy tale scenes.

For three years, it was my most prized possession.
When I was scared, I would look at the bag and recite

fairy tales to myself. Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood,
the Golden Swan. These girls faced fear and survived.

In my carefully buttoned bag, I carried books, rocks, pencils,
and other childhood treasures. At seven, teased by children

for my handmadebag and matching dress, I demanded
store bought clothes, a back pack. Now my briefcase

is leather and bulging with files, but I yearn for my childhood bag
still in my closet. Sometimes when I am alone

I pull it out andcarry itaround the house filled with special objects:
papers, pens, stones, and books, items not so different

from when I was a child. I value handmade things.
I believe that thre are two kinds of love in this world:

inherited and handmade. Yes, we inherit love
but my people, my people make love by hand.



Julie R. Enszer’s first book of poetry, Handmade Love, was published in 2010 by A Midsummer Night’s Press. Her chapbook, Sisterhood, was published by Seven Kitchen’s Press in 2010. She has her MFA from the University of Maryland and is enrolled currently in the PhD program in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. Her poetry has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Women’s Review of Books. She is a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.


Published in Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 2011.


To read more by this author:
Julie R. Enszer on The Furies: Literary Organizations Issue