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.
What Everyone Has Done
vs What Everyone Would Do
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
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.
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.
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)