The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues
SEPT 2023 Issue


Mid-Sentence at Year's End
for Mary Shultz

, or those pleasing days, merely seeing
light, city winter light
across old bricks,
windows reflecting
patterned circles recalling
(Think: Walking
with a friend, speaking
of one artist's long ago, ear-
splitting incisions into what had been

Other days replay
stings, loops
unspooling, some,
framed and frozen.
(Note: Box turtle,
dead, flies occupying
its eye sockets like
augmented molecules,
or, a brother, wide open
eyes uncomprehending,
ending nesting within
that word, his future,

Years rip
by, speed
of motorcycles perforating
silence, impudent,
or snow falling-falling
down air shaft,
rustling subtle
as a tutu's, bringing
one out of time into
making, into nature,
into small words'
broad meanings.
(See: end   art   you)

Numbered observations,
divisible by opinions:
Favorite food.
Worst movie.
Funniest joke, reclaimed
(like abandoned buildings)
by memory's charged sensorium:
footfalls; front porch; sandbar;
watching, being, staying with.
(Feel: "He died young," we go on
All kinds of days,
opaque, or,
box turtle = light


Why, I wonder, do ripped
men or denims count
as high fashion?
I guess taut flesh over abs
teaches us to admire
perseverance, but so do
people on crutches.

Choosing holes in clothes?
My lovely baby
alpaca shawl—now ruined
by telltale, see-through spots
made by diligent, egg-
laying moths—speaks neither
bespoke nor slang, only
of carelessness in allowing
the care and feeding of insects.
I dearly preferred it before
it got eaten.

Then what does it mean
when thirsty cotton costs more for what
is not there than what is? A way to save
water? Certainly not
a way to save cash.
I find their gashed persistence
a minus in more than missing
fabric. Does the sweatshop
worker—making millions
of them for pennies, and all manner
of outlets—also wonder?
Might that person, hunched over, love
to own something new and whole,
straight up?

Does faux poverty
obviate hunger, via mind-numbing,
ear-thwacking machines, stich-by-stich?
Do I sound like that ersatz journalist—
Fox's former fox in U.S.A.'s henhouse—
still fouling the air elsewhere, asking
obvious rhetorical questions, able to petition
the already initiated in what it means to stop

That thought is far worse than nits or pricks
in soft wool, damaged,
at worst, by less-than-glam
Lepidoptera: dun-colored,
unbeautiful, unwitting, unable
to rip away what embraces me hardest
when cold evenings or insights arrive.
Not sacred, just irksome, these
empty spaces. No real harm.
Keep me warm.

Bad Bodhisattva

Hard enough to be in the shower,
when I am in the shower, to worry
re: citing or thinking, Dharma.
This very argot, incipient figures kept dry
while water runs, move outside, like clumps
of coke become adjacent lines—mind
a razor's edge, dull or sharp.

I am intentionally bereft.
My equanimity grew thorny
as my doubts simply grew. Bad
Bodhisattva. I saw that I wanted.
We all want. I wanted the world beyond
the formal sangha. Have never done well
in prescribed groups.

Can you be a lapsed Buddhist?
Erstwhile Bodhisattva? The vows
say, "No," and in some ways,
serving others suits me. I had a former
sister-in-law who'd been a Catholic nun.
My renunciation wasn't a torment,
just a slow and gentle sinking,
though sitting still, still floats.

I stopped studying the precepts.
Already lived most, screwed
up others. Adultery. Something
adults do. Intoxication? You bet.

Living by conditions set by men
of wisdom. I think about this.
Have my doubts about their
interpreters. Have yet to find the man's
voice, speaking in parables and admonitions
I should follow, as I do those lines laid down by poets:
the truly grand

Some number of poets
whose poems I admire
practice the practice.
Also, many cloying poems
I detest. Judgment, judgment.
Bad Bodhisattva.

Mindfulness. One of the words
of the day. One can be mindful
building a poem or a bomb.
Here, once upon always, is intention.

Paying attention.
Already the purview
of writing a poem.
If it speaks, and you do not
listen, it will disappear,
carried off by a monkey
nattering, chattering, laughing
all the way, saying, "Yes. You will hang
about," and "No, no thank you, not yet," to nirvana.


Elena Alexander

Elena Alexander is a poet and a writer.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues