Elisabeth Murawski

Holding Pattern
On a Line by Muriel Rukeyser
Poem for the Widower
Committed Rectangles Destabilize the Region

Holding Pattern

What do I call the year
I didn’t lose my son?
Those months on a slant, 

remorseless
water coming down
until I almost drowned.

A junk yard dog
unchained, 
scenting more than blood.

Nights without light.
Nights with too much,
as in countries of the fjord. 

Bizarre exercises. 
Lung crushing poses:
now be Christ of the Andes.

Wicked family lies—
loved ones who will die
because I haven’t done enough.

Blackened eyes
burning a face on my brain
as if it were the veil

of Veronica. Call 
the year coral, builder 
of reefs in strong surf.

On a Line by Muriel Rukeyser

—Children shattered by anything

I had no say in the shattering.
Lighthouse derelict, my boat 

in splinters on the rocks.
Consider these two kinds 

of drowning: by wreck,
as in Shelley. By infection, 

as in Keats on a cot. What if I 
did not? Fooled, the family

who accepted me pretending
to breathe. The wound 

underneath, out of sight, 
a cave like Chauvet, never

acknowledged. Pay someone
to fix it. But the edges won’t 

cooperate. Thus, requiring
a constant shift 

of perspective 
on stars I was born with.

I love birds so much 
I won’t keep one. Cage-free.

That should count for something
when I’m judged.

Poem for the Widower

He feels her moving toward him 
in the first spring wind, 
looks for her head 
behind him in the mirror
when he shaves, 

and cuts himself again.  
Why should his blood run red 
while hers fled, turncoat, 
from his side? Such 
wrenching thoughts please, 

punish him, for health,
a surfeit of days. He sees 
the dog retrieve a stick, 
the frozen beaver pond,
through her eyes.

And begins another poem 
to their joy. Reads 
the draft aloud 
as if she sat beside, nodding
when the words fit 

ineluctably, rocking
harder to weigh advice.
 “Well?” he says 
to her empty chair, 
and jabs his nose,

a boxer in the ring,
about to realize 
why mourners tear their clothes—
it’s not just to vent
but to feel their skin 

without its routine 
cover-up. Bare to the sky.
Open to the same blade 
that shears away
both stranger and beloved.

Committed Rectangles Destabilize the Region

The cheating grape. Slow, dumb 
smoke. A field of poppies blown
to kingdom come, thy will be done
against the grain. What pearls 

are these in the swines’ trough 
among the burning dead?
Take the sky away, for instance. 
Feel the fever in the bed.

Too late. Worn out. 
The suicide had no blood in it. 
The white walls stayed white, 
the tub immaculate. Nothing

to clean up. Down the hall
the chorus of feet. Orderly
as geese in a V, the marble 
frieze of the family.

ELISABETH MURAWSKI is the author of Heiress, Zorba’s Daughter, which won the May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury, and three chapbooks. Still Life with Timex won the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize in 2020 and has just been published by Texas Review Press. A native of Chicago, she currently lives in Alexandria, VA.


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