My father built biceps working for US Steel
smelting iron in heat that humbled men.
Now I could break his arm
over my knee, brittle as kindling.
My father used to let me walk up his body
balancing my hands on his fingertips
till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag
after my mother passed. Rising at night, no moon out,
she collapsed in the dark and never woke
as once my father fell when a clot in his head
tossed him down. He speaks of my mother
rubbing his back with eucalyptus oil and saves hair
from her brush, strands he wraps in kleenex.
At night with his whiskey, facing Jeopardy, my father
drifts off to Kargasok.
In the Russian mountains women live to be 105.
So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea,
making love last forever.
by Chella Courington
Editor’s Note: The title of this poem carries the weight of multiple meanings, but this is not apparent until the emotional punch of the last few lines.
Women have cried over my confinement
in hell by a husband who loved me so
he could not turn away
could not abide the caveat.
These long dark days
I have not lived yearning for him.
Did you really believe he wanted me
on earth with him?
The beloved singer?
What would he sing if I were there?
For his song he needed me
buried beneath the crushing ground
star-crossed love that could never vanish
because it never was.
He didn’t desire a woman
bloody with menstrual rituals
whose body once luminous would be taken by time.
Orpheus could not accept such a betrayal.
He wanted me as nymph, not crone.
Even more than age
he feared my voice.
Afraid it would rise above his.
What did he know of suffering and forgiveness?
I was the one severed from the sun
shut in subterranean darkness
barely enough oxygen.
He could have joined me the day I descended.
A knife to his throat, a serpent to his breast.
But he did none of these.
Came to me later by other hands.
I have no use for him.
by Chella Courington, first published in NonBinary Review.
Editor’s Note: This lament follows a non-standand direction—the narrator is not mourning a loved one, but rather, mourning what could have been with a less narcissistic husband.
We hate the tall grass by the river
afraid we’ll step on a cottonmouth.
But water the color of indigo
waits for us the other side of danger.
We shed jeans shirts underwear
mark our place at the edge
hold hands like Ruth and Naomi
wading into the deep.
With each step water moves higher
chills our new breasts.
I throw my arms around Anna Claire
press against her for warmth.
She pushes away
plunges into the dark blue
swims under me
and cradles my back in her palms
lifting me to the air
so I float on her fingertips.
Her hands move gently
touching my shoulder and thigh
as she kisses my lips
uncloses my eyes with her tongue.
We don’t say a word
reach the point of mooring
and venture back
through the tall grass.
by Chella Courington
Editor’s Note: The opening line of this poem commands the reader’s attention, and as the narrative unfolds, the “hate” of that opening takes on multiple meanings.