Reading by the author

In my great-grandmother's time

there was a tool for everything
and for every tool—a toolbox
was not an ill-fit universe—worn yes
but orderly

in her room I played
with progressively smaller things:
an hourglass
a hand-held balance with its weights
of ten and twenty grams
the five and one
that could make all the difference

i think of the smooth
hollowed piece of flotsam
shown by a museum man
it is a tool he said
to channel holy water
when a healer casts a spell

my great-grandmother held
equal faith in St. John's wort
and codeine
could hit the vein when she
could no longer thread a needle

dream sequence

                        white lace
                        sentry cyclamen
                        in window boxes
                        like Lilliputian cyclops

                        the corner pharmacy
                        a step inside
                        my childhood self
                        a curio
                        held cool
                        inside its dark rectangle
                        of curved glass

things that swim

Poet’s Note

"In my great-grandmother's time" began as a response to Charles Simic's poem "Autumn Sky":

 In my great grandmother's time,
 All one needed was a broom
 To get to see places
 And give the geese a chase in the sky.

We think of our ancestors' time as a mythical era, but what if it's a different relationship they had with time itself that made fantastic things possible?

The poem began as a recovery of a childhood memory: My great-grandmother and I are playing badminton. She is seated in a chair in her room that was always just a little too dark. Here, the time she inhabits also warps the space—it is the fact that we are in her room, her time that makes the birdie fall short or fly long.

My great-grandmother was born in 1900. She would eventually die in that room, in the cavernous, tile-stove-heated apartment in Lviv. She was trained as a pharmacist's assistant which, in the wars that followed, was as good as a pharmacist. Her room was a fascinating place. Things there smelled funny, had funny names (aside from medicines in amber-glass bottles there were her small stiff purses which she referred to exclusively as ridicules), or were kept out of a child's reach altogether. Her glass syringe in its neat sterilizer box. Her ampule cutters.

"dream sequence", by way of an imagistic scatter-shot, accesses another experience from my childhood: my great-grandmother would take me with her when she went to the pharmacy across the street. Pharmacies were often equipped with uncommon furniture and dispensed things that adults thought would fool me into thinking they were something other than themselves: hematogen, for example, which is not chocolate (look it up), or dime-sized ascorbate pills which are not candy.

I'll let you guess what those things that swim were.