Esther Sadoff

“White Barn (Interpreted),” Kristin Ducharme, acrylic on wood, 2018, @kristin_ducharme_artist

Grandmother Wolf

watches girls fly toward school
in the ruddy light of leaf flare,

feeds on hunger as the corn husks
twine into straps of leather,

as bumble bees tuck themselves
into ruby bell flowers.

Just one more taste.

Her stomach folds into itself
like layers of sky on sky,
the arc of sun into night.

Grandmother fears the knife
that cuts fur into red ribbons,

nurses her hunger,

mother and daughter
to her own appetite.

Under the hangnail
of the rusted moon

she waits for her children.

Gold Fields

In the shade of a ruptured barn,
rows of cars are wrestled by weeds.

I always knew plants had muscles,
arms, and legs: sinews I can’t trust myself

to tear from the dirt between stones and bricks.
Not even a leafy rebel steeped in asphalt.

The gray afternoon is fleeced with goldenrod,
ruddy plumes, bushy stalks as fat as caterpillars.

Soft-nosed deer shimmer, their brown
pelts disappearing in a shady patch.

Two plastic geese graze by a pond, frozen mid-peck.
Fall is without myth, carries no quiver.

Just a curled leaf, sun-tipped.
A gold scorch I’m too scared to pluck.

On New Year’s Day

the sea shot boulders
across the pebbled shore.

A month of drawn cuffs
and high collars. My lips
pressed against storefronts

while street cleaners
swept away
the sea’s damp cough.

Instead of palm trees
and rushing surf,
I craved pine,

a Genoese bridge,
the river’s slow trickle
reflecting crisp sky.

Enterrement was the first
word you taught me.

An end for a new beginning.

We’d eat auras
sweet as apples,

live on the slow gold
of intention.

Even in winter,
wet chill at my elbow,
I long for you.

The Calling

I was overburdened and gracious.
The animal in my bones quivered.
Forbearance became me.

I was trained to look only at the present.
I idled among matchsticks,
lining them up like toy soldiers.

I thought I could catch a shadow,
hold a flame’s dead center.

The animal hunkers down, shifts
onto front paws. Slides into mystery.
Its eyes are flecked with liquid light.

Is it possible to steal yourself?
To test your own languorous tongue?
To break the crackle of your throat
until it runs like a river racing night?

In the dream of a thousand mirrors,
I toss my mane, breath damp stone,
the warmth of a body’s trapped heat.

I call myself to myself like ripples
swallowed by a waterfall,
stones lodged back into a mountain.

Tick Bite

Near a stone wall where no moss ever grows,
the welt of a tick’s bite blooms pink as a rose.

The tick steals the bright ribbon of my sister’s memory.
She comes back empty-handed after climbing the stairs,

mistakes clementines for nectarines,
turns left when she should turn right.

Now the tick has an urge for a tried and tested
mare and two buckets of coins to buy her.

In my sister’s version of the past, I win
the tennis match. I pass my swimming test.

I’d like to give myself to its nibble,
let it latch to the ghost of my girl flesh.

Yet, she never forgets the greenest clover patch.
How it makes the horse’s mouth water.

Author’s Note

I’ve always felt the itch of memory. As a child, I remember forgetting to tie my shoes many times before I remembered, as if forgetting and remembering were half the joy of learning. I remember my grandfather singing many songs I failed to write down. Each song has its own shape and color, but I can no longer hear the words or melodies.

These poems are acts of acceptance and recall, of standing against the fear that you can never possess the past. Whether it’s the dispossession of Grandmother Wolf as she creates and feeds her own hunger or the tick that stole my sister’s memory (my sister had Lyme disease as a child which caused bouts of forgetfulness), I think of these poems as small acts of reclaiming, of crystalizing the past to ensure the present. Today, we like to joke about how my sister misremembers the past and we chalk it up to the small tick she tried to hide until it became too big to conceal.

Trying to remember the past is a constant preoccupation of mine, full of losing and gaining, arbitrary and impossible as catching a shadow, holding a flame’s dead center.

Esther Sadoff is a writer and English teacher from Columbus, Ohio. Her poems have been featured or are forthcoming in Progenitor Art and Literary Journal, Passengers Journal, SWWIM, Marathon Literary Review, Sunspot Literary Journal, West Trade Review, River Mouth Review, Penultimate Peanut, as well as other publications.