Five Poems


Lorrie Goldensohn


The earth belongs in usufruct to the living…the dead have neither powers nor rights over it…”

— Thomas Jefferson

If earth belongs to the living
then what is the place of the dead?
Or yet more perplexing,
of those who are dying…

Dying on a pallet in the schoolhouse,
a boy wrapped in the overwhelming
stench of his wound.

Dying in the ditches both fast and slow
after the squadron passes.

The blood of so many killed in my name
acrid in my nostrils
close to my living face.

Closing a book with a tattered cover,
I shut away a dead person’s words.

Although they still belong to me.

Licking the flap,
I seal a dead person’s photo
in the tomb of an envelope.

I give away a pink coat
once worn by my dead mother—
I think her smell clings to it—
and put my flowers in her blue glass bowl.


Two little sisters in a film,
Mariane und Juliane, watch another film—
Resnais’ Nuit et brouillard—over
their shoulders the small
screen visible inside the larger screen—
its recognizable corpses.

We hear faintly
the somber voice-over
and track the little girls
rushing to the bathroom where they
vomit in the stalls—

and in the tranquil Fifties
we too had seen the pictures
although we did not vomit and yet
move as we would,
turn our heads as we would
the skeletal flesh, the unadorned and
bony pelvis of each corpse
with its listless and obscene genitalia
would not leave us.

    And yet
the horrifying
   dulling of image—it is
lonely for the dead in their singular
knowledge. How do we
hold the terror of others? Cling
to the dread we feel
we must honor.

Women This, Women That

Casual and cruel, its delivery
hurt me the most.
You meant to hurt.

I parsed
and re-parsed
your taunt in my mind:

the blunt facts of my childhood
flung at me
as if I
were somehow responsible
for the damage
they made in me.

Of course I am responsible.

As if my life did not near daily
bring the old record back.
As if I never knew
my lack
growing in the shade of those

unstoppable abandonments
made by those who could not
help themselves—as if

I did not know,
could never see—
how the thumb of my injuries
pressed on others
including you

After all these years
how absent forgiveness.
I smile. You smile.
Come, give me your usual kiss.

Hopi Point, Grand Canyon

Why there? She mocked,
to hang for twenty minutes
over the edge of a big ditch?

Arizona natives, our hosts
were not into touring…

And so we dawdled all day,
barely making the park
by closing time: at the entrance,
me shouting to the ranger,
only half in joke,
Where’s the best lookout
for the sunset of our lives?

Careening along the rim road
in their big van, “views”
unfolded as we passed,
each more seductive than the last,
until we came to Hopi Point. It

would have taken a whole mountain
upside down to fill this fissure,
its giant lips spread apart,
its golden maw
full of peaked shadows, always
another depth besides the depth
feeding the one the peering eye

has plumbed to. All of us
sauntering along the rim, the dark
rising, the sun going down,
our backs hunched against the wind.

One of us disappeared to take a pee—
finding, right beside the scragged
bush he was wetting, a curious
flesh-colored stone. Like the canyon,

deeply gashed: still
satin to the touch,
its sides curve outward
in the fossil impress
of where a whelk or cowrie shell
once lay when the molten rock
settled and hardened around it.

Settled like the flaking
rock our eyes can hardly
lift from—a titanic drift,
a layering so far and down
we hardly dare to pace its edges:
womanly Death, so large, kind,
and simple in its use of us.


Did I come to believe
that people die
because animals did?

If this then that

In my mother’s apartment
I saw the first dead person of my life

standing in what I did not know
was shock

and then they came
so quickly
and put her in the blue plastic bag

the sound of the zipper
zipping right over her face

its little teeth
and closing.