POETRY MONDAY:  December 5, 2016


Jayne Benjulian


Welcome back, everyone.  As I keyed in this date, my mind jumped ahead and back to “a day that will live in infamy.”  Of course.  But we’ve had many infamous days since then  — some very recent —  and we have to remember and hold on to the fact that poetry helps to keep us not only alive but human.

Our new poet today is one who was new to me until a short time ago, when I discovered her here in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.  Her poems were a delightful surprise.  It was also a surprise to learn that she has just come out with a first collection, although she has been publishing in many fine literary magazines for some time.  Yet another surprise is the variety of careers she has had in what cannot be that long a life so far:  chief speechwriter at Apple; investigator for the public defender in King County, Washington, and director of new play development at Magic Theater.  She was an Ossabaw Island Project Fellow; a teaching fellow at Emory University, where she earned an M.A.; a lecturer in the Graduate Program in Theater at San Francisco State University; and a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Lyon, France.  She also holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.

That she hikes the Berkshire Hills with a long-haired German shepherd named Ophelia is another plus.

Here, then, with pleasure, are three poems, “Kaddish,” “Pearls” and “Julius” from her collection Five Sextillion Atoms (Hilo, Hawaii, 2016).

-Irene Willis,
Poetry Editor  



In the attic deep enough for twenty
childhoods, an autograph book,
Oak School No. 3, resplendent in gold,
zipper teeth around pastel sheets,

Mother’s signature shaky cursive.
Bundled in blankets, smaller than
a ten-year-old, fingers cold,
she felt awkward holding the pen.

A hurricane will blow tiles off the roof,
room will freeze, mouth open drinking rain.
You will always be, she wrote—
the rest will wash away.



The odd thing is, my brother is missing.
We lock arms in a semi-circle: cousins
and friends, girls in their padded bras.
Where am I? he asks.

December, six months since our father
became our sole parent. My father
is going steady—he doesn’t tell us
he is already married. He and his date

light a candle for the bar mitzvah boy.
Rhinestones around her wrist,
she twists with cousin Dick.

But outside, the boy catches snowflakes
on his eyelids, someone bends to kiss his face,
her pearl earrings against his cheek.

–First published in Women’s Review of Books

After my father died and all his money
went to his wife, I held out hope we’d receive
a gift, some paltry sum that spoke affection from the grave—

but nothing. She gave the money to her sons
the weaker one admitted when I faced him down.
Did I want to say something? A eulogy?

It didn’t seem like such a great idea at the time,
but for the record I shall compose it here:
A Flawed Man, who could walk out of Lee Shore’s studio

never collect my brother’s bar mitzvah album
because he argued with the photographer
about the price. The stepmother’s name? Rita.

After the funeral, I found a marriage certificate
dated six months before the wedding.
An ultimatum, marry me now or it’s off.

That’s the guy alright. Old mink coats,
a piano—my piano—disappeared.
You were in California, she said.

My own brother wouldn’t talk to me.
I had lived with them, I was the enemy.
On the path from San Anselmo to Terra Linda,

a woman with two German shepherds,
both four years old, one all muscle, ears
at attention that German shepherd way,

the other puppy-sized. He walked
in circles. Brain damaged, she said,
attacked, while trying to eat food

put down by a kennel boy who,
leaving, left the pups locked in
with a mother not their own.

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