March 5, 2017

Three Poems by Marianne Szlyk: "Shattered, Callie Drives Through Nevada," "The Poet of Spotsylvania," and "Home from the Oncologist"

Marianne Szlyk is the editor of "The Song Is...," associate poetry editor at "Potomac Review," and a professor of English at Montgomery College. Her second chapbook, I Dream of Empathy, was published by Flutter Press. Her first chapbook, Listening to Electric Cambodia, Looking up at Trees of Heaven, is available through Kind of a Hurricane Press: . Her poems have appeared in a variety of online and print venues.Two of her poems received nominations for Bet of the Net and a Pushcart Prize. Recently she was artist in residence at The Wild Word: . He blog is at

Shattered, Callie Drives Through Nevada

Crossing the border from California,
the runaway bride shakes her head.
After the blow she’s received,
she expects pieces of herself
to fall like plaster.
She wonders what will be beneath
the fragments: nothing or a bleeding,
oozing pulp, a simpering girl
with a black eye beneath thick makeup.

She turns on her phone,
the ringtones becoming
this road trip’s soundtrack.
She never picks up, not even
when her married fiance’s ring
became her sister’s barrage
of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

Now “Smoke on the Water” sounds
like a bass-heavy police siren.
She snickers, imagining
her brother-in-law from Baltimore
as a cop. She pulls over
at the world’s last Radio Shack
to take his call.
“I’m okay, bro. I’ll stop soon.”

She hangs up
before her sister
starts wailing
in the background.
She won’t call back,
not until
she’s filled up her car
she’s drunk some more Red Bull
she’s changed her ringtone
to “Army of Me.”
She shakes her head no
and feels more pieces
of her false self fall.

Home From the Oncologist

Parking by her house, Thelma
counts the crows balancing
on the roof. They are
almost as big as chimneys.

She tries to remember whether.
crows on the roof mean
death. No. Maybe it was
owls or ravens, birds from
out West where people are
older and trees tower over
tiny houses. She will ask
her friends. She cannot ask
her husband. He is dead.

Thelma watches the crows fly
off to the neighbors’ trees,
their larger house. The crows
are just birds up there.

On her roof they loomed
like bad omens from nights
swirling with coal dust and
cigarette smoke, from a print
where light is just a blotch
of yellow orange ink
trapped behind panes of glass.

She imagines horses’ bells jingling
to ward off the evil
of smoke and fog. True,
she doesn’t remember these days.
She knows them from books,
from long-dead relatives’ stories.

She pictures their ghosts strolling
down her street, trying to
find the house where she
is living alone.

The Poet of Spotsylvania

I scan the afternoon sky
for words, images, rhymes. Birds
take off from grasping trees
to fly south towards dolphins
and palms, towards warm ocean,
the direction I’m not going.

I want to stay home
where my yard grows all
the words, images, and rhymes
I need for my poems.

I get in my car
and drive north to work.
There strip malls bloom like
poison puffballs on far-off fields
that once grew sweet corn.

After work, I will not
see or hear the birds
sleeping in the barren trees.
My son will play videogames
behind a locked door. Gunfire
and tinny music will escape,
running upstairs to remind me
he’s home. I’ll go online
to visit the other poets
back from call centers, hospitals,
strip malls, and truck stops.

Then I’ll write my poems.

Marianne Szlyk

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