The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2022

All Issues
NOV 2022 Issue


What are today's sirens for?

Yesterday's sirens
were the deli down the block on fire.
Four ladder trucks, three blocks

full of emergency vehicles blocking traffic,
at least twenty of them,
and a helicopter.

It hasn't made news yet,
only people in the neighborhood know or care.
The sun reaches its peak and begins to set.

Moon arrives at fullness and begins to wane.
Points form along this trajectory
the distance between points can be called lines.

Stepping back, lines themselves become arcs,
images to paint on cave walls, make into gift cards,
print on face masks and t-shirts: merch.

Forever keeps moving, keeps flowing–
a cycle, a circle, a spiral. Never static never still–
what it’s for is different every time.

Act natural

Act natural, notify supervisors.
Their information charts
and database is not truth,
just urgent, just vital–
pairs well with basic
survival fears. Sleeping
with desperate
and a need-to-know
basis. What worth
pledged as unity
when we many one
to keep the memory
of systems generating
way worse than
stick rock throw
this essential service.

In what together

Can we, concerned, meet
halfway with this invitation to joy
by force to reality us all

sane times a million?
Herd star stuff and trees here
across the sectioned sky toward

right with the universe.
Child that I am, life flows
through forced imaginings

to challenge the rigors of injury,
illness, lack of sleep. Manifesting
impatience with mutual growth,

overwhelm. No matter rained down tears,
precarious power of mind over mind
green for hope of special treatment

not lost on me, chronically self-aware.
Ferocity freed, we could be
having coffee right now. I would

consider than an excellent use
of my time. New York needs us
strong, but not in the ways we think,

every movement scrutinized.
Mind reflects as light,
fooled again to dream and want

and imagine all is possible.
Oversensitivity to touch or gaze.
Every instant is an hour.

Backwater planet

Seed threats model desire
just as twin suns
we are close to rising

juices, innate spirit
half hidden in the smoke–
destruction of old forms

while enduring the deepest
most open, radiant spaces.
Thought I'd be dead by now,

postponed not cancelled.
Survivor syndrome practicing
at empowered flesh,

pretending a voice to speak in
lighthearted and brick
that window to survive and thrive.

Unguarded moments
within the five fires
some kindness for our broken

hearts. The new day
announced, even here,
rewiring our violent suffering.

Earth Store

Disintegrating hopes of rescue back
into midnight: curse up believing

in anything. Common blue violets
bloom all try-hard (deer-resistant)

under the black walnut through holes
and cut out toes this drastic change of weather

is woven linen, cornflowers, or a ribbon
divider marking out days of belief

in grand houses, library magnificent
with high ceilings, textiles, ornaments

disappeared back into market stalls.
Nature will rise against nature, through it.

A whole neighborhood

Altars hidden in walls and floorboards
caked in glitter beneath piles of paper,
finding notes, evidence of apartment life.
Low lights and a too much touched wall–
every blind moment just one found step
the way from the bedroom to the bathroom
is leaning for support on years of walls
along the grey hallway. Gas still piped in
up the four flights of marble steps worn
down by the now-dead, climbing a struggle
even for me. My floors are her floors.
Our neighborhood existence dreamed to life.


Celebrate what anyone would–
roast vegetables, bake cakes
this abundance will burn, vent
become cloaked with light.
An actual oven or countertop
from sticks and cardboard.
Ash rooms of burned off
eyebrows and lashes, open flames
lit by hand and thin ice.
What they'll see first is that I
left it better than I found it.

Reasonable people are probably sleeping

Play done until play hallway
ends where door slams into rug.
Hearing might go next.
Downstairs neighbors parkour
here, rattle and bell
somersaults, backflips.
Wall climbing toward ceilings.
I throw coat rack into position
shake here until supple, smooth
softer. Saturated in oils
that flow down every step
cheering our song and
our silent wonder.
As individual planks
nailed down in the protective
patterns ancestors cast here
in floors, fences, gates:
each doorway a portal.
Every mirror a vortex.
Winsome reminders
that kindness is an antidote
for fear, cold water in the face of it.

Cheats that help you win

Up mourning old friendships
from the minus world: invisible blocks

upward with loss or maybe is it growth?
I feel like I'm twice my size. And stronger.

Down with order seems like chaos, the timing
must be perfect. I'll save your place, finish

your sentences with hidden warp zone's
secret fireworks left between us. Start over.

Trees rise up, vigilante mode, now buildings burn
instead of forests. Distortion woman

in the passenger seat, someone else driving,
suddenly turbo run from standing bewitched

and clinging tightly. I know how to get out of this level,
you can glitch through if you do this right, to a bonus area,

walk along the seafloor or have only clouds in the background,
have no enemies. I'm the one giving directions here.


Betsy Fagin

Betsy Fagin is the author of All is not yet lost (Belladonna, 2015), Names Disguised (Make Now Books, 2014), and a number of chapbooks including “Resistance is beautiful” (therethen, 2019), “Belief Opportunity” (Big Game Books, 2008) and “For every solution there is a problem” (Open 24 Hours, 2003) among others. She works as a librarian in New York City helping people navigate information landscapes and shares embodied mindfulness practices to support community in cultivating resource for the ongoing work of collective liberation.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2022

All Issues