Ellen Wright

The Other Side


The news these days, full of celebrity

suicides, puts me in mind of the view

from my long-ago ninth floor window


where a colony of water towers gathered

atop several blocks of apartment buildings

that sloped downhill toward 96th Street.


An agitated depression owned me then.

I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t wake up.

Couldn’t move. Couldn’t sit still.


What I could do was smoke. The ectoplasmic

dawn would mingle with my tobacco fumes

and the occasional plume of blues


from an alto sax on nights when my

off-again-on-again boyfriend was off-again,

or when the tribe of friends’ paisley swirl


of psychedelic ecstasies had formed

and reformed without me. Then

the saxophonist became so lucid


and lonesome, the wafting mists would incline

the Tin Woodsman hats of the towers

toward me and invite me to their


fellowship that spanned the plane of roofs.

Like the child at her nursery school concert

who, seeing Mom in the audience, walks off


the front of the stage, I had no thoughts

of EMT’s sweeping any splat of my blood

and bones from the canyon of 99th Street.


Neither despair of unwashed dishes nor

gross-out of burgeoning ashtrays moved me.

If any anguished outpouring of internet

empathy had existed then to prompt me

with suicide prevention numbers, it would

have meant nothing. If I could have called,


I could have made the leap

of faith that would have united me

with my new friends on the other side.

 

Interior with Washer and Dryer

Maybe our own parents will eat us

eventually – they may have eaten us

already. . . .

– Richard Howard


Not the swirl of Provençal/bandana/blue-and-white-toile prints

sloshing among sheets and pillowcases in the peristaltic

action of the washer,


Not Baba Yaga’s kerchief. Not Hänsel’s Tyrolean suspenders

or Solveig’s apron,


Not the youthful hero (who, I always forget, is invariably a boy)

who leaves home in search of adventure in that

turd of a fairy-tale contained in the innards of another,


(and not that one either)—not the one where my mother left her

tyrannical and narcissistic mother to marry King Arthur,


Not my aspiration to write my own life with my own feet

whose homing instinct has always pointed them toward

the autobiography of some husband or boyfriend,


Not Kris Humphries’ angry plot to humiliate Kim Kardashian

urped up like five-alarm chili from the belly of

happily-ever-after,


In fact no escape at all. Only deeper and deeper absorption

into the churning bowels of myth as I have just


scribbled all over the margins of Us—quick! before the

washer’s enzymes obliterate any trace of insight

leaving me to mutter to myself please, please


let me resist the come-on from the mirror that’s supposed

to make this place look wider than it is so I can

concentrate on folding my red riding hood.


 

Foolish Virgin Resistance


Then shall the Kingdom of Heaven be likened unto

ten virgins which took their lamps and went forth

to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise,

and five were foolish.

Matthew 25:1


Let’s not go to Oily Oliver’s shop.


Let’s wait. Fill our lamps when the procession starts.


Better yet, let’s not escort Miriam to go marry Whatshisbutt

and then disappear into his camel-dealing life forever.


Let’s just hang out here in the barn. Look. I’ve filched some wine

to keep us company.


Let’s just always be a girl-gang. Hike in the mountains. Swim in the lake.

We can pick olives and tend the animals when they need us. Then

the rest of the time is ours.


Let Miriam’s tidy little friends hand her over to the joys of married life.


In the meantime, please help me not be the next sitting duck to be bartered

to some creep for a few jars of oil. I’ve heard Dad and Eleazar plotting

to bestow me on Oily Oliver. They don’t care if I have to put up

with his smelly beard and unctuous attitude forever.


Don’t let them press me into the olive business. Don’t let them squeeze

the juice out of me. Or pour me over their meals. Or light me up at night.


I don’t want Oily Oliver’s oily dick up my nightgown.


I don’t want to be a fruitful vine. Don’t want olive branches for children.


I’ve got a better idea.


Let’s make a mess of this hayloft. Scatter wineskins and halvah wrappings

all over the place and then fall asleep on it. Maybe Oily Oliver

won’t want a drunken clutterbug like me for a wife.


Maybe without our help, Miriam will lose her way over to Whatshisbutt’s.


 

Self-portrait as Louisa “Mayhem” Alcott

I am bursting out of a farmscape

by George Henry Durrie, wresting

myself from the inertia of its

skating ponds, freeing my ambitions


from its pastorale of red barns

and cardboard children

pasted against the hillsides.

I intend to light Fruitlands on fire.


Roast a bloody steak over the flames.

Don a top hat and bustier to write

a bodice ripper by its light. Then

sell it on the capitalist market,


purchasing the affections of some

rent-a-swain with the proceeds.

Father can sit in the cold nibbling

a potato and an apple from a napkin


in his lap. If he’s too conscientious

to rob the hen of her eggs, what

does he want with my earnings?

Let Meg make a prie dieu of her


threadbare husband. Let Amy’s scene

be the upholstered domicile of some

art patron. Let them both remember

how Beth died from the altruism


of hunger artists. When I go to pry

Marmee from the chair where she

poses by the fire reading to her girls,

I’ll have to kill her.

At my own hearth there will be

apple cores and balled up first drafts,

underclothes hanging off the backs

of the chairs, and books all over,


but no volume of Marmee’s

benevolence anywhere. No gilt frame

imprisoning some engraving of

Jo in a Vortex. Only a whole


house bursting with living Louisa

in a righteous rage. Off to the

saloon I’ll go! Jump on the bar,

a bottle of rum in one hand,


a blunderbuss in the other.

Rip off the petticoat!

Tear off the chemise!

Take it all off! Then take off


just as the Furies swoop in

to bear me away with them.


 

Ellen Wright’s chapbook, In Transit, was published in 2007 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. She has since had work in New Ohio Review, Fifth Wednesday, RHINO and Ilanot Review, among others. Her master's degree in comparative literature is from New York University. She makes her home in Brooklyn and her living as a musician.