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
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.