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

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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

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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

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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)

S h a r e