August 1, 2016

Three Poems by Billi MacTighe: "Zemblanity,” “Sophrosyne,” and “Querencia”

Billi MacTighe is a poet from Eastern Mass., currently pursuing two graduate degrees at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. She is a memoir poet with a passion for twisting forms. Her previous works have appeared in Rock&Sling (twice featured on Verse Daily), Blood and Thunder: Musing on the Art of Medicine, Free State Review, Words Dance, Mock Orange, Rock&Sling, Paper Nautilus, Prairie Margins, Squalorly, and Cease, Cows

The following poems are part of a larger collection that uses foreign words (for which there is no English equivalent) as titles. Each poem attempts to elicit the emotional response the foreign word would in its native tongue.



“I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”
            ~Sylvia Plath, Mad Girl's Love Song


I recognize the eyes in your photograph, blue
from 1,000 miles away. You are sea glass brushed soft
as velvet, smooth soothing stone against my circling
thumb and forefinger. I'm counting the ways you've changed.
If we passed each other in a crowded restaurant, I might look
twice – wondering. But would you turn your head to the memory
of two little girls in a meadow? Through a veil of pine
branches like gates unfolding, a muddy path along a low
rock wall. I see you here. In the background is Dubai,
in the foreground is a man I have never met. You quirk your brow
the way that I quirk mine – I see it in your pinched-cheek grin.


There was a funeral procession three months after you left.
And though the people cried and smiled and laid flowers down
upon our grandfather's grave, I couldn't help but think
we were all mourning you. There was a porch at dusk,
a leather jacket, a picture on an aging phone now packed away
to contemplate like worn suitcases – all just half-lives.


To the sister I do not know: How many letters do you almost write
to home? The pen, the hand. Does your husband know you hide them
in a shoebox beneath your bed, reread the lines you write but never
send. This is the turning point. Your face lingers in my dreams
like steam on the mirror; an image superimposed. When I lay
my hand against the reflection, I can almost pretend you only live
inside my head. And with a single flick, maybe I can
wipe your visage away. Maybe then we will both be free.

*zemblanity (English) (n.) the inevitable discovery of what we would rather not know; the opposite of serendipity. “Serendipity and zemblanity: the twin poles of the axis around which we revolve.”
Armadillo, by William Boyd, 1998.


First there is silence. It permeates the air with its stillness - the lack of breathing. It's not until you notice the numb quiet that the hum of your heartbeat settles - the electricity in the synapses in your eardrums exploding to produce meaning: gone, gone, gone. A pulse. You search for her in your reflection in shop windows, turning your head at the last moment past the glass - hoping to mistake the trail of your scarf in the up-draft as her waist-length hair. It would smell like sunshine, sunflowers, sugar of red hummingbird water. So much red. In the spread of cells like an oil spill on the brain, topographical map in your memory. You will curl inwards, hands and knees, like you used to when you rolled down the hill at your elementary school, the one that parents warned their kids about; you will spit up silver bile, backwash, radiation from overexposure to the sickness. Her brain becoming more cancer than grey matter, the greyness affecting your own ability to think. You wonder if she gets confused sometimes. You wonder if she wakes up thinking today might be the day she dies. You wonder if behind the loose skin, the raw rash, the blue irises pulled thin as ice, there is hesitation. And then— with a stuttering release of air— you let go.

*sophrosyne (Greek) (n.) a healthy state of mind characterized by self-control, moderation, and a deep awareness of one’s true self, resulting in true happiness


In the quiet loudness of my mind
I revisit every careful moment. You,
waving out the sunroof of your car,
calling to the wind: an ode to a town
you never loved. Overdue hospital bills,
credit card debt. I moved a third of the way
across the country to escape my imagination –

how can it be so hard. A gas station map
of Indiana, a convenience store sale
on astro-turf flip flops. I think of my mother
with her gypsy hair, the mismatched earrings,
and my father, with tears in his eyes,
talking about Christmas in August. My legs
still bear the tan lines of the miles, though

the drive is like a memory that does not belong
to me. Massachusetts is a concept
of hills, of trees, of of of. Even as my nightmares
spell out my formative years in Russian letters,
I hope for mornings filled with blueberry muffins
and hummingbirds at the window. Pavement
stretching out in ribbons, dividing me.

Even two and a half months later, when I say home,
I do not mean here. The carpet is brown,
the garage is filled with bulbous-bodied spiders,
the laundry is piling up in the bathroom
as the dirty dishes spill over the kitchen sink
and the moment of my arrival is on repeat:
sitting at the top of the stairs, you ask me

what I think of the house; you make reference
to the tulip-shaped glass sconces of the ceiling
light. I ask how one measures the necessary number
of watts. I ask about the lifespan of bulbs. I ask
what year this house was even built in: 1898.
And as you twist the energy efficient spiral away,
I begin to cry.

*Querencia (Spanish) n. A place from which one's strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self. The terms comes from “querer,” which means “to desire.”

~Billi MacTighe 

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