Friday, October 1, 2021

Selected Works, Oriana Ivy



I let him brush against me,
let his face muss my hair.
I turn toward the light

of dawn in his eyes —
hold his hand and whisper, 
“No, no, it’s impossible.”

I wake up and wonder, 
is it all behind me, 
that alphabet of glances,

silences —is it all behind us, 
that fire and shiver, 
lost to us like lilacs, 

like the scent of rain —
gone from us forever 
because we are not young.
No, it’s the sacred
shyness of the soul.
He said nothing 

and I said no —
but in silence
everything was said.


“What is it,” the nun intones, 
“that we envy angels?”
Angel-envying eight-year-olds, 
we all shout, “Wings!”

“No, no, no,” chimes the nun.
“Think about it: angels can see 
God.” We think about it.
We still want wings.

“And what is it,” the nun presses on,
“that holy angels envy us?”
We squirm on the hard benches. 
“Angels envy us our bodies.”

We almost stop breathing.  


“Angels are made of aura-like 
material,” a New-Age half-nun 
gasps in a half-whisper. 
“When two angels stand close, 

their wings inter-penetrate.” 
I think of Milton’s
Easier than Air with Air,
if spirits embrace, total they mix.

That’s what I always wanted —
blind Milton, how did you 
divine — beyond the startling
rose of genitals, entirely

entering each other.


If spirits embrace . . . .

But can angels croon Mmmm . . . 
Later, can they lazily
disentangle themselves
to get up and go pee?

Virgin nun of my childhood,
many years late I raise my hand.
In your gray habit and unloved 
black shoes, 

how did you know 
what the angels crave:
our bodies, soft as regret;
our laughter so much like pain.


Between dream and star,
we sleep like Jacob
on his pillow of stone. 
I still think about it: 

we don’t want to see 
God. We want wings.



My love, I have a new lover.
Last night he and I
watched a shadow-bruised moon
sail between narrow clouds.

You preferred the ghost light of dreams.
You hated these ruthless streets,
the suspicion you were only human.
You wanted a candle-lit

mansion of a thousand windows.
But you lived in one room,
and what you drank
wasn’t a love potion.

Tarnished glow shrouds the pavement.
Legend says you died for love, 
and that I died with you.
That I loved only Tristan. 

But to me every man I loved 
was Tristan.

Before a sliver of steel
took you past farthest shore,
in one instant you knew
you loved nothing and no one.

How cold the sea wind is
for the journey beyond you.


The Baltic wind
confesses to the pines
the secret of that glow

at night on the Gdańsk Bay:
it’s ancient Kashub fishermen
ladled on the dark

water that was home.
They row in the endless
trembling wake of the moon,

and do not complain.


I loved science for the wrong reason.
Vanadium, I whispered, meniscus. 
Alluvial, I prayed in my bed
along the edge of my pillow.

There were signs in each train: Do not 
lean out of the window, but I did.
The State urged me to build socialism,
the Church taught me I was a sinner.

But I believed in the tenses,
I confessed devoutly with verbs.
On my knees, in damp creaky vowels,
I confessed even sins I didn’t commit, 

just to taste the forbidden syllables. 
Speaking was like kissing:
a question of loyalties, fidelity.
Truth was only another pretext.

Later I almost grasped 
the mysticism of it — why mother 
said Close the window
when she meant Open the door —

Father put a twig in his mouth:
Look, I’m the Dove of Peace —
while grandmother teased, Quick!
Sprinkle salt on a pigeon’s tail —

The child who leaned out of 
all the windows still believes 
I’m here to sprinkle salt 
on the tails of flying words.

for Sutton Breiding

In San Francisco an angel
bears a fluted holy water conch —
a marble smile, celestial.
The Golden Gate Bridge 
departs into fog, a harp of bones 
of builders and suicides.

Cloud-eaten hills, 
views of Alcatraz;
drunks grinning to themselves
in Victorian doorways.
Angel, you smile as if you knew
beauty is the sole excuse.

The city rises, half-dream, half-fog, 
here on the slippery
ledge of the continent.
Seagulls blur with white sails.
At the Palace of Fine Arts, 
a bronze Perseus lifts

the head of the Medusa,
though he himself is headless.
But you, mild angel, bless
all who enter the dim vestibule.
At the tomb of a dead god,          
you change stone into hope.

When life is over, burnt to ash,
At the bottom of the urn shall remain
               Victory’s dawn, a starry diamond.
~ Cyprian Norwid

You was born under an unlucky star,
a fake Gypsy declared
at my half-price palm reading. 
On her neon-lit windowsill,
a row of porcelain Madonnas 
and a Jesus with a light bulb heart.

Do you believe in God? 
the Gypsy pressed. “I believe
in a higher wisdom,” I stammered.
Earlier that year I turned down
three splendid young men.
How could I reach the heights
unless I sublimated my libido?

But where was it, this new Life in Art?
I was drowning in a maelstrom
of erotic dreams. In the end 
I threw myself at an alcoholic 
Vietnam veteran, his ponytail
a comet of ill omen.

In the quiet of the appeased body,
I could see the oleanders again,
starry scatter of the poisonous blossoms.
I could smell the iodine ocean.

You don’t even know what love is,
the fake Gypsy wailed.  

But perhaps I did.
My star the color of ash. But underneath 
that death, immortal diamond.

Oriana Ivy was born in Poland, and came to the United States when she was 17.  Her poems, essays, book reviews, and translations have been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Best American Poetry, Nimrod, Spoon River Review, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Los Angeles Review of Books and many others. She’s the prize winning author of the chapbooks April Snow (Finishing Line Press) and From a New World (Paper Nautilus). A former journalist and community college instructor, she leads an online Poetry Salon. Her poetry-and-culture blog,, has gained an international audience. 

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