In previous issues, Dzvinia Orlowsky's:


a feature
of One Obscene Brushstroke

her translation
of Dovzhenko's
The Enchanted Desna


Photo by Max Hoffman


For more poetry

Dzvinia Orlowsky


       I have to admit I hadn't thought about this group as a chapbook, though I love your series and concept, in general, of publishing poems as such. The poem, “The Fox,”, for example, written at the same time as the other poems, is not included in my new book, Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones. I don't know if the arc of my breast cancer experience is present with the same kind of clarity and emotional passage that I hope builds in the entire collection. In an ideal world, I'd love for my poems to speak directly to Lisa Katz's terrifyingly beautiful poems on the same subject (Breast Art). She captures that experience of finding reconciliation with an altered self with such honesty and uncompromising bravery. Almost three years into recovery, I look back at the experiences that shaped the poems in this collection and think my God, I survived that. How do you move back toward self, toward the natural self, after months of feeling like a walking nuclear plant? I recall, after completing my 6 months of chemo treatment, the utterly strange sensation of crying into my goggles as I swam laps. Moments of helplessness coupled with moments of great faith and resolve. One eye laughs while the other weeps. Poetry, thank God, allows that—it makes room for all of that, for all of us.



Dear        ,

Holding her was like holding a large fallen leaf,
her hair recently dyed an unnatural red
perhaps the russet of Ohio's steel mills.

This moment didn't last long;
embarrassed, she pushed me away.
I kept my sunglasses on,

recalling her You don't look good
when you cry.


Dear        ,

Ten minutes of storm pass over the lake, knocking
dead branches off trees, pushing water.

Her phone lies sideways on her bed,
Long-distance voices disappear in marsh grass,

It's your daughter spills
out of the receiver —

She turns it upright as if it were a vase.

Now where will I go?


Dear        ,

A blue piece of paper dropped from my Grandmother's hands
onto the wooden floor of our house.

She died years ago, buoyant, among the fire burning
in my dream, through my mother's waking
screams, grass fields rippling not toward
but away from our house.

Have faith, faith will protect you

Where did it come from? On my floor?


Dear        ,

I'm just trying to get to heaven, and I think I'm getting

a man mumbles past me
in the treatment room.

Others, too— children
wearing startled adult masks

& still others waiting to be born,
for me to vacate my chair.

5. Dear        ,

They could've carried you on their shoulders
for hours, your body rocking gently

from side to side as if in a boat.

Before they closed you for eternity,
I saw your thumbs move,

but not enough.


Dear        ,

Be still,

ants cast lions' shadows to entertain themselves,

branches scrape music
against windows,

each day prognosticated —

living as if.

Another Waiting Room

The breasts here, too, are horrifying,
lit by the same master-plan bulb
that could bleach our teeth, our skulls
long before we're buried.

Some, I imagine, emit an inaudible scream.
Mine, I thought, small enough to be left alone.
The mammogram plate lifts and presses
until I can't breathe,

until the technician's convinced
she's clasped everything on metal.
It's skin that holds us all together,
soft and dreadful.

I turn my face until I can't look any further.
to see what it was I was —a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap.

I'm back in it.

Outside it's cold, snowing.
The floor rises up in my throat.
My body dissolves into a million grains
to be decoded by a passing wind.

I don't know what's been written
in the yellow margins
after she's through and I'm returned
like a weeping child to myself.

All Gone

Among first words kids learn to say
tipping their empty bowls and sipping cups.

After that, Disney producers remind them
Moms, too, have to go —

on hospital beds, in mall accidents,
just before a rodeo.

Dads remain strong in plaid shirts
capable of handling a combine, moving everyone

to the country to begin again, the neighbor,
Not Mom, new to town (or not) —

maybe the town's longstanding vet,
sensitive with horses, stroking their long necks

& more like a friend. She knows she's not Mom,
who, except for being dead, is always there present,

over-expressed as a split milkweed pod.
After dinner, Not Mom tucks the kids in.

She doesn't have to check her weight or blood
or kick the bucket on Lifetime Channel.

Not Mom knows when it's time to give it all a break.
She turns toward Dad, lowers the heat under the kettle.

Good Cells

Make them as true as Father
pointing to heaven knowing
he's left no one behind,
tenacious as my mother
looking out of a window at a lone
resident tree. Hand her a paintbrush.
Let her drag its bristled hair
across a white page.
Let them carry my husband's
snow dampened wood,
be the passing flickering flashlight.
Let them be my son
and my daughter, the scent of white soap.
Let them be my working dog, Laika,
the flurry of stones as we walked.
Let them sound for my sister
Monday's church bells,
a piano's felt-covered hammers,
her husband's throat, 7 years cancer-free.
Let them carry light suitcases
to my nephew and niece,
to industrious cities,
where they may
applaud fruit ripening on a table
without its tree.

The Cop

I wasn't the sassy red head he thought he'd pulled over,
black framed designer sunglasses hiding the fire in her eyes,

the woman whose car he'd walked extra slow to,
passenger window lowering as she turned to speak to him

ice slipping from the safety glass as from a square fin,
hiding deep inside the car door, smudge-less, ready to rise.

He looked directly at my mouth to see what it might
be, a warm, welcoming silence, or a dog caught with a bone.

But my lips are too thin, slightly purple like morning
glories choking along their white line.

And that is not good, the same line of logic
as what you can tell by the size of a man's hands.

His hands were large. He spread his legs, ripped the ticket
out of his book as if he was about to strip and the ticket

was the first accessory to go. I wasn't the woman
he thought he pulled over, but a spinning out of control

strip show coming at him. I pulled off my wig, held
it out to him like a scalp, a sacrifice, an enormous spider mashed

on the dashboard. Holy Jesus he muttered. sorry, sorry, sorry,
stepping back from my car. He didn't know where to look —

no eyelashes, no brows, no face to match the face
on the driver's license, no deep sky blue backdrop curtain

to highlight the eyes. My hands shook on the steering wheel.
A woman can be dismantled, yet she moves or dies —

The cop is thankful his kids or his wife are not me,
this woman for whom he now wishes God speed toward

her prayers or the Mother ship or the ocean's white lip,
his large hand holding back traffic as together we pull out,

gravel kicking up from behind his tires,
siren blasting birds like torn paper wavering in the air.

By nightfall I'll convince myself it is a gift:
this life so thick it sticks deep in my throat

parched and yellowing, overgrown shoulder
like weeds rippling throughout my body —

a cop home and showered with a story to tell,
his family gathered inside their dinner halo.

The Fox

At night I hear it screaming as if it's being robbed.
There are signs of other wildlife too.
It must be that I'm dreaming — headlights, a car coming to stop.

Who unlocked the gate, on my pillow last sobbed?
A deer stands motionless — lost, but in view.
At night I hear it screaming. Is someone being robbed?

Coyotes break from a shadowed mob,
Raccoons, opossums, wafting pool of skunk.
It could be that I'm dreaming, the sound of a car stopped.

Whose flashlights unearth each barren den?
Daylight witnesses are too few.
At night I hear it screaming, as if someone's being robbed.

I lived so long without it —
Fire streak, a flick of russet tail. Perhaps I was only
dreaming, no blood trail found or stopped.

How brief the wilderness at last had come.
Awakened, it wouldn't stay.
At night I hear it screaming, as if being robbed.
It must be that I'm dreaming, the sound of dreaming stopped.


To touch the back of such a man —
my mother whispers — of course

it means he belongs to a club
that has sex with wolves —

a wolf's paw prints tattooed
upward to the right of his spine —

Don't be so naïve.
His secret trail hidden;

how vivid the unseen,
the nape of his neck —

a few stray curls, underbrush.
He hands me pink dumb bells.

How many women has he seen
like me, avalanched, quick

to turn from mirrors?
On the bench press, my

right arm buckles in;
too much has been cut away.

You're so tiny, he says — code for
slight, small-boned, soft-spoken,

wish-boned, muscle-deprived?
But I know how some wolves

never get past hunger,
ribs stabbing through their

blotch-gray fur.
Into the first clearing

they run, head down.
Sunken deep into the cold

they'll rip ice from their paws
as if hard water alone could feed them.

Yes, Back

Hastily pre-dye-shampooed in the afternoon queue, some strands
turn deep sapphire blue. She calls it yes, black.

Others twirl stray silver tape down her neck, the color of
withered shingles outside of her new room, not the home she

refused to leave, where undesignated envelopes returned, marked:
better address needed. Her dreams answer: yes, back.

She points to her calendar, then to the clock. She remembers
clearly which daughter never comes on time and which leaves early.

My sister brings her walking shoes, I bring her my one
month of recovery, my Joan of Arc Released Before the Fire look.

She lifts a paper place mat to show us how carefully she has drawn
a vase of flowers with a thick black crayon like the one she used years ago,

the light gray appearing like endangered dune grass.
The bottle touches its point to her white skin, uneven lines,

attempts to color in the shoreline just above her eyes.
Yes, they pull me in, their back, black.

* * *

Dzvinia Orlowsky
is a founding editor of Four Way Books and a contributing editor to Agni, The Marlboro Review, and Shade. She is the author of four collections of poetry, A Handful of Bees, Edge of House, Except for One Obscene Brushstroke, and Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones (forthcoming, Carnegie Mellon University Press). Dzvinia Orlowsky has taught as Faculty Fellow at the Mt. Holyoke Writers' Conference, as well as the Boston Center for Adult Education, Emerson College, Gemini Ink and the Stonecoast Writers' Summer Conference and MFA Program for Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine. She currently teaches at the Solstice MFA Program for Creative Writing of Pine Manor College. Her poems have appeared in a number of magazines including Columbia, Field, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, and The Massachusetts Review. Her poetry and translations of contemporary Ukrainian poets appeared in numerous anthologies including Dorothy Parker's Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos (Warner Books, 2002), A Map of Hope: An International Literary Anthology (Rutgers University Press, 1998) and From Three Worlds: New Writing from the Ukraine (Zephyr Press, 1996). She has also recently completed a translation from Ukrainian of Alexander Dovzhenko's novella, The Enchanted Desna forthcoming from House Between Water Collections. Dzvinia Orlowsky is a 1998 recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council poetry grant, a 1999 Massachusetts Cultural Council Professional Development grant, and a 2006 Pushcart Prize for poetry.