Barbara Ungar


 Welcome back to our poetry pages, everyone.  Happy Labor Day, if such is still possible in the world we’re facing right now.  Nevertheless, we carry on.  The hard work of labor unions over the years needs to be honored and rights maintained. It’s also back- to-school time for all the students and teachers among our readers, as well as a time of celebration and reflection.

Our poet for today, one whose work I encountered only recently, seems especially appropriate.  I heard her read in Lee, Massachusettes, and she was a delightful discovery.  Not only were poems exceptional, but so was she – and very funny!

The poems chosen for today are all from her collection, Immortal Medusa (wordworksbooks.org, 2015).  She is also the author of Charlotte Bronte, You Ruined My Life, as well as Thrift and The Origin of the Milky Way, which won four awards: the Gival Press Poetry Award; a Silver Independent Publishers’ Award; a Hoffer Award, and the Adirondack Center for Writing Poetry Award. She has also published the chapbooks Sequel and Neoclassical Barbra, as well as Haiku in English.  A professor of English at the College of Saint Rose in Albany,New York, she directs the MFA program there.

Here, now, are three poems by Barbara Ungar.  I hope you will find the first one,”Kabbalah Barbie,” as amusing as I did, and as the editors of The Atticus Review, where it was first published, surely must have.  “Visiting My Parents’ Exercise Class,” which appeared first in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and “Becoming My Father’s Mother, from Kin, speak for themselves, eloquently.

                                            –Irene Willis,
                                               Poetry Editor



Kabbalah Barbie

I know, I don’t look Jewish,
but my mother was, so maybe
that explains my new obsession.
I’ve got my red string bracelet
on, just like Madonna, except mine’s

wrapped around my waist. You think
dolls can’t pray? If everything is One,
that includes plastic. Barbie is a spark of G-d,
just as much as Britney Spears. I was created
in your image, as you are in HaShem’s.

Why do kids love to torture me?
They tear my head off, melt me
in the microwave, the little Mengeles.
I guess someone bigger’s hurting them—
it’s like play therapy. Trace that hurt

back to its source—Ein Sof, the primal
wound of becoming. Cut off. Free will’s
a flimsy excuse. How much free will do
I have? It all depends on whose hands
I’m in. Before Barbies, there were rag dolls,

corn husk dolls, clay goddess figurines—
(me & my bazooms a corrupt remnant
of those ancient mysteries). If you keep
going back, through the primordial light
that always shines on us, even at night,

from the blast of creation—the universe
compressed to a point tinier than my pupil,
a spark of impenetrable darkness, my head perfectly
empty as the vacuum it emanates from . . .
Anyway, that’s what I like to think about,
when I’m not trying on new outfits.


Visiting My Parents’ Exercise Class

We all turn our heads slowly to the left,
then a slow half-circle to the right
past sweaters slumped in chairs

to where snow falls through the pines
beyond the picture window.
Pachelbel plays unbearably
sweet and slow as the white heads
revolve in unison back toward the baby grand,
then right where pieces of white sky fall to white ground.

My mother’s still among them,
my father’s not.
The white heads go on turning
above their pain like ballerinas,
as if fourteen snowy egrets
rose in slow mo

from the frozen skin of a pond and,
on streams of air so cold it makes your bright teeth ache, one
by one flap away.


Becoming my Father’s Mother

How the dead live on in us,
how we learn they do not die—
how their photographs possess their souls
as if they still breathed.

How we see they do not die:
closer now, telescoped within,
as if they breathed still,
they stream, all ages at once . . .

Even closer now, telescoped within,
you love your daddy best
(though he’s all ages at once)
in sepia knickers, white shirt shining.

You love your daddy best
around the age your son is now,
in sepia knickers & shining white shirt—
his sweet smile, his eyes luminous.

Around the age your son is now—
you could be his doting mama—
(his wounded smile and wary eyes)
the one he never had.

You can be the doting mama—
how his photographs possess you—
the one you never had.
How the dead live on in us.

Explore posts in the same categories: Poetry

Comments are closed.

Recent Posts