Elizabeth Langemak

Elizabeth Langemak

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the poet

Elizabeth Langemak’s poetry has appeared in AGNI Online, Shenandoah, Pleiades, The Colorado Review, Literary Imagination, Sugar House Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal and elsewhere. Her work has twice appeared in Best New Poets: 50 Poems by Emerging Writers, and been featured on Verse Daily. Elizabeth lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is the recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and Breadloaf.

the poems

What Everyone Has Done
vs What Everyone Would Do

00:00 / 01:36

            Even taught hard and so long

            the truth is we have and would always

            back out again. I think. Really,


            who has not, is not still ready

            to erase their own name, to flip

            and come up new. Not unsing


            the Song, precisely, just stop

            singing. Like seeming stopover

            or changing clothes, like promised


            return but stepped or stepping

            out for good, into Gray: how simple

            it was and would be again.


            Each wolfthought behind us

            reappears fresh, everyone did

            and keeps flicking back hoods,


            revealing our faces

            changed and still changing.

            So many faces behind and beyond us.


            With lap-hands, with crossed legs,

            an upright spine of baked

            bricks and stiff, Virtue forgot us


            and never remembered. Unfooled

            and refooled by gnawing

            and guilt, each breath and Choice


            was and still would be lastingly

            fixed, decisions made

            wholly from cinders, from shadows


            and sparks hopped free of our fists.

            So here’s what we did, what we would

            still do despite having done: eyes


            shut and necks turned we reached

            and keep reaching shoulder-deep

            and our hands fell still falling


            on something blind but Beating

            O Beating and warm. We

            are pulling it into the Light.

All My Questions Become
Their Own Answers

00:00 / 01:23

            When her legs struck out      shuddering like fat lightning

            bolts. When my breasts turned      to stones within stones


            on my chest. When I couldn’t      tell hindmilk from foremilk,

            and my collapsed tent      of gut held no guess.


            When she wouldn’t sleep      and so no one would sleep,

            or vomit flew like a fist      on the end of a long, gloved arm


            from her throat. When      I knew better, but still.

            When over a phone, when      in fever, when in the puce


            doctor’s office with my list      and all I’d forgotten to write

            there. When I held her      up to the mirror I looked


            like a person holding her question      like it could be her answer

            if only she could coax it      to speak. Is she sick. Should


            the doctor. What should      I. Who should you. When

            I finally nippled a finger      into her mouth would you


            believe I felt first punctuation      squatting under her tongue

            full stop like a fat bud of cartilage,      an unfused bone


            of statements from which all      questions understand how

            to grow. I asked then, I keep      asking: who planted this pea


            an inch under soil, who      waits for that pea to lift

            its hand into the light, who      knows what it will want to know.

Conspiracy Theory

00:00 / 01:48

            In Arkansas, the red-wings

            go down, nearly two thousand

            slapped out of the night.

            Beaks pointed, wings drawn

            to their sides as men shot

            from cannons, they land unseen,

            on their sides, like pepper

            shook out on a small Southern snow.

            They fall in a scene now cut

            from the movie. They fall

            together with a noise mistaken

            for gunfire, or soundless

            as dust falls, one to the ground

            at a time. One burrows up

            from the earth. Like a stone

            from a sling, one kills a deer

            with a crack to the head. When

            they’re poisoned or struck

            or sucked whole through

            the props of a low-flying plane,

            when they cramp, when wind

            ices their sails or God

            licks them with lightning,

            they fall. They fall from great

            heights, not as Icarus fell,

            flailing, but they duck

            into the dive and go down

            as though grateful, or,

            some say, they fell upright

            like jumpers whose chutes

            wouldn’t open, feet first

            toward accordion crush.

            Not every faller makes

            for the grass, but some

            plunge into the false skies

            of blue cars, some are

            delivered to doorsteps

            like badly thrown papers.

            Before you wake up,

            some are dog-gotten or swept

            downstream like small

            ships, one lands in a nest,

            one is not dead but crawls

            into the hand of a man

            dressed in orange. While

            you sip coffee and news

            of air travels over the ground,

            an enemy folds one into your bed.

            Most are gone by noon. Some

            were never there. Wherever

            they go to, they stay.

Publishing credits

What Everyone Has Done vs What Everyone Would Do: earlier

  version appeared as The Be Good in Yew

All My Questions Become Their Own Answers: originally

  appeared as The Answer to Everything in Storyscape (Issue 19)

Conspiracy Theory: Shenandoah (Vol. 63, No. 1)