Poems by Marcela Sulak


If the groans and shrieks of martyrs, the shofar cry
of Yom Kippur really rend the heavens, then I picture it
like this: clouds are ripped as if by swords, and angels spill
and spread across the world.

                                             Once a rabbi fled from Poland
to the tranquil town of Tzfat, enduring unutterable privations
and fear along the way.  As the Galilean hills lift and lull
his tired feet, an angel infestation fills his red, chapped ears. 
Their voices chirrup from synagogue

                                                                to synagogue, he can
almost glimpse their ragged white beneath the turquoise doors,
like lice beneath a skirt  of lettuce. And so he leaves for Tiberius
complaining that the angels had kept him up at night.

My grandparents sheltered their hearty human bonds
in a wood-framed rental with a wrap-around porch.
Each of six dark daughters through the years
reduced the sum of chaos by a suitcase as they left.

Though loathe to do it, grandpa dies and leaves
grandma alone.  She says she found angels
skittering across soup plates, wrecking havoc
on the crystal.  When asked if she would like

to die and join her true love, my grandmother
replies, not unless he stops arguing
with God in the next room.  And how
he loves her still, we thought.


The Antimatter of Angels

Antimatter is not found naturally on Earth, except very briefly in small quantities … because... when matter and antimatter come into contact they annihilate.

Maybe I’m not hurt enough,
or maybe I’m just standing
on the wrong side of eternity.
My only bloodless visitor
comes when I am all alone.
I hope I never know
if his infinity of no can really
blot out God the way
he whispers that it can,
just as his colorless shadow
snuffed the closet light
when I was still a child,
how his unbearable approach
silenced my ears; the world
stopped as the windows quaked
against his fingerless whorl.


An Olive, A Letter

Summary of Genevre Fonseca’s Inquisition records, Portugal 1642

There are visions that are dangerous:
       purple, blue, or magenta ships
       sailing in a cloudless sky

       your deceased mother
       has taken you to heaven
       your sisters are awaiting
       in the presence of unmarried men

And actions from which you should refrain:
       singing and playing the lute
       taking pleasure with great mirth
       in the making of new clothes

And items that arouse envy or suspicion
       a length of fine green cloth,
       smuggled fishes lightly fried
       a length of purple cloth
       the scent of cinnamon

There are phrases which cannot save you:
       spinning wheel before a window
       famous surgeon husband
       tender age

And if you are shown tokens from heaven
       an ear of corn
an olive
       a letter
Genevre, give them back.
Genevre, say you're sorry.


Comforts of Home

When I buy vegetables I prefer
to be in my country rather than yours
though in my country crescent moon carrots, radish hearts
are not so juicy and fancifully shaped.

But I prefer to find you in a place
your vocabulary carves  a secret door
through which I can enter or escape.
Where syntax is not a floodlight on my blinded tongue
negotiating taxis at night.

I prefer to be here, where I don't have to lie,
to say I’m married and my man's 
the jealous type.  He´s with the police,
and my father is the ambassador. 
Here I am not a bare field in need of a flag.

Here the way I hold tomatoes, touch a cantaloupe
is just like all the others do
and it is your fingers which are different. 
You don´t watch me carry my purchases home.
I can stare back.  And when I smile
it means whatever I want it to.


Central Park

The important thing is to be burdened with your emptiness
--not as a pregnant woman balancing across the street,
for your emptiness belongs only to you and no one
placed it there. Nor are you like a barrel of rainwater

collecting ripples and images. Nor are you a shadow
or a sun.  The necessary thing when you are
standing still is to have a place to go.  To have something 
that should be done or could be done

or at least begun. Consider when your hands
are gathering up strange letters --and they are prone
to slide--they are not grains or seed or keys to a mystery,
though they are not yours, or to a house or a heart.

Bells are not syllables, slaps are not chrysanthemums. 
Dictionaries will give you nothing.  There is no language
in your blood, no hurt under your boot heels. 
What is gliding on the lake is gliding away,

it is looking for fish and frogs. It cannot speak
to you, nor can the oak that drops its button acorns
and moves its arms in the wind.  And the children
walking hand in hand before you in the reeds

are only going home to supper.  The sun
is setting.  It is only the end of the day.
To remember: it's better not to look for things
or pick them up.  Stay out of libraries and away

from electrical outlets, hospital rooms and theatres,
from secretaries, businessmen  and all who traffic
in similes, stock, grain, meat, desire, daisies
snails and shipping.  Stay out of suitcases,

closets, diaries, milk pails, washing machines,
Beware of stockroom boys, of grandmothers
with their heavy tablets of bread,  bakers and their ilk. 
And yet, it isn't good to be alone.  Not too much alone.


Elegy for Arturo Puente

The brother wants to drop out of fifth grade
now Arturo’s gone.  He’s remembering
the fisherman speared by a marlin leaping
across the boat’s stern and wants a manly job. 

But Aurelia, the eldest, says no; tells him
just thinking is dangerous sometimes, too,
like that Greek guy we read about in school—
an eagle dropped a tortoise on his bald head,

which, from a distance, looked exactly
like a stone. Arturo’s death was simple,
almost as if nothing happened at all:  The car
fell  from its jack in Peterson’s Garage.

A sentence so lucid you can’t take it
any other way. There must have been
a sharp boom,  the clatter of the jack 
striking the cement, and, much quieter,

the socket wrench dropping from
Arturo’s hand.  After the funeral the clods
of earth scatter,  arch,  and fall unseen on
the casket below.  If his mother, his five sisters,

balanced on thin, fuzzy legs, had any sort
of premonition the night before he died
they didn’t say. My friend Isela always
dreams the soon-to-be deceased’s pulling

flowers from a garden.  And when my grandfather
died he arrived in his white-and-blue pajamas and
brown house shoes to tell me so himself.
The mourners bite into their German chocolate

cake, clutching white paper plates.   The ivy
pulls like fingers on the cemetery fence.
What will they do now, we say.  The syllables
of Arturo Puente’s name, etched into the breath

of the town, slowly begin to fill with
other conversation, the elements begin to lap
the letters on the headstone so they are drifting with dust
over the garages of minimum wage, with pollen

over fruit trees and grain, across the Texas
coast,  over the grazing cows to the west, over
the border.  The sisters marry, perhaps a little
sooner  than they would have otherwise. More

men part the ribs of a fence and squeeze
through. No one believes in victim of
circumstance. Sometimes the rushing coastal wind
stills suddenly, as if the earth had stumbled.



If the horizon marks the place
beyond which we can neither see
nor imagine, and you

a dark dot in the middle
or perpahs in the upper left-hand corner
wearing shoes, or barefoot

with the shoes in your hand,
having just removed them
to walk in the sand,

or having just decided to put them on,
do you look up, or out, or
not at all, or in?

Maybe something’s
there, and maybe it isn’t.  It’s the form
emptiness spills over, the rim of you,

everything—the shoreline,
the distance, the footprints—
elastic with longing.

Let us praise Braque,
who tried to paint the sensation
of moving around objects

the feeing of the terrain,
the distances between things.
When a plain meets the sky, you

may be walking on the beach,
still you may be the blemish
on a horizon that won’t ripen,

holding the place from which one lifts
momentarily given,
momentarily borne, and borne again

and given, and given away, and mercifully,
utterly, and yes, let it be
nothing, let it be

at last.

These poems were first published by Immigrant, Black Lawrence Press, 2010.

Click here in order to read an interview with Marcela Sulak.

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