Poem Written Backward
In the real Jerusalem, the facts on the ground:
I lived beside the embassy where the servant
women made red sauce, and beat the Berber
carpets clean on the terrace until there
was dust enough for a new continent.
At the market, beyond the checkpoint,
chocolate milk was dispensed in antiseptic
packages; “chocolate tits,” the cousins
called them, and asked why I acted
like such an adolescent. They’re dead
now, all the cousins, in the family plot in
Los Angeles. There isn’t really a family plot
unless you count the cemetery in the Mexican
neighborhood, where the portraits have
been carved out of the tombstones
in an act of nondenominational vandalism.
You could also count the Kern River
or Pacific Ocean at different points,
or tissue and bone samples, stored
in the repository of doomsday genetics.
That’s what death is: leftovers, non-refundables,
or when the boys in Turkey tear down
the sunflowers to tweeze out seeds
as they hold the heart of the plant
like a mirror or embroidery patterns.
I saw them with the cousins, as
we tried to pay respects to see the beard
of the Prophet; we did not get to see
the beard itself but the mother-of-pearl box
that holds it, in the city where the whirling dervishes
originated; where only men could
represent Earth in its eternal dance
with the central, gravitational force.
Only boys might be called little emperors
In the palm of a nation of usurpers.
Any place I might have visited with
those cousins, only men were
permitted to approach the boundaries
that contained the sighs and expectations
of their people, as if brick were sentient.
My grandfather from the other side,
the native, the enlisted, told me to stick
a dollar bill in there, rather than a disputation
This he thought was tribute enough,
to nations and jurisdictions where
citizens were like horses,
yet to be broken, perhaps,
though all too easily persuaded
to give up their freedoms.
The Set Dresser
My father loved the movies:
In high school he entered a contest
to win a date with Elizabeth Taylor.
Imagine the minds I would have
unlocked had I received her violet-fire
eyes, the calibration of her
nose, mouth, and eyebrows;
the timbre of her speech;
as though everything about me
was finely wrought and polished,
a bell as clear as the sky used to be,
the way my mother talked about it
as she lit her cigarette, tapped the ash
on to the patio, and swept it
into the garden plot with
the bottoms of her feet.
© Jane Rosenberg LaForge
Jane Rosenberg LaForge writes poetry, fiction, and occasional essays in New York. Her third poetry collection will be Medusa’s Daughter, from Animal Heart Press in 2021. Her second novel, Sisterhood of the Infamous, is forthcoming from New Meridian Arts, also in 2021. Her novel, The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War (Amberjack Publishing) , was a finalist in two categories in the 2019 Eric Hoffer Awards.