Everything I know for sure about my mother’s mother can fit in the space of this poem. As if a poem were a reliquary
custom-built to house the artifacts of the dead:
something characterized, chiefly, by space and the disposition to distance. And what was once the wood
in the carpenter’s hands is now the will that all of this
shall be filled. Once, years ago, I bowed my head at St. Vlad’s Ukrainian Orthodox and vowed to listen.
But I could not hear her prayers, uttered unceasingly
in a language as strange to me, as fleeting as smoke from a coal stove, boarders nestled upstairs, tissue-thin hair
clinging to metal rollers. That church was no place to find her,
and if she was anywhere, it was not within those gilded walls, boarded up behind Theotokos and the lesser saints,
but in the casual way my mother chides herself
when no one’s listening. My mother, youngest-daughter- of-only-daughters: like me: non-inheritor of her mother’s
tongue. And what was once the breath
in my grandmother’s lungs is now the answer to questions left unformed. Thoughts drifting through the rafters of my mind:
the fog of incense: there, then gone. And I wonder
if that language might be a kind of sanctuary, a refuge from the self. Or, no. Something more: a private audience
with the past: a door swung open from its hinges.
The Year of Love
I want to bear an exquisite name. Something that sparkles. I want to suck the life from figs newly shucked from their branches. Where
do figs even grow. I’ve never seen one outside of a Newton. Outside of Newtown, the tragedies I most remember
boast a date or a woman’s name. Speaking of tragic women, Juliet was only thirteen. Barely old enough for Facebook. Though
let’s consider how we’re defining tragedy. After thirteen years my friend got herpes from her husband. Then she found out
about the baby. All my life I believed my mother chose the most common girl’s name of 1982. But Ashley was only
second and only in Louisiana. Which brings us back to Katrina. And makes me think of Blanche Dubois. My brain’s irreverent that way.
Always groping after connections. Not unlike my body: touching things, testing the wire, testing to see if it sparks. If the fingers burn.
All those years spent with my hands in my lap. I wasn’t crocheting anything. I was only tearing my cuticles. Like the pictures I unsheathed
from Glamour and Redbook. Where did those go. Rose bushes wild as summer. Diamonds the size of a fig. Mine’s a carat
and a half, sealed away in the top drawer. Zelda, maybe. Or Guinevere. Cassandra, Evita, Salome. Though their sorrows outnumber the stars.
-- Ashley Kunsa's recent poetry appears in Massachusetts Review, Cream City Review, Barrow Street, and Southern Humanities Review. Originally from Pittsburgh, she is currently assistant professor of creative writing at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, MT, where she lives with her husband and two children.