Laura Kochman

You left it on the shelf, behind the aluminum sulfide
and crows’ feathers.  It stinks of grease

and hears nothing but the clinking of ice
in your empty glass.  Bring back the soil,

the grainy heat.  Stop chiseling
at my eye sockets.  They’re down where you left them,

in the pressure box at the Danube’s bottom
waiting for soft tissue to leave.

I’m sick of swan shit and acid rain,
dank pavement, this city and its shining

windows–from which you tossed my head,
to see which fell faster, mine or the lettuce.

We splattered equally, but those leaves lie
in the ground somewhere, while my head sits,

wishing for tear ducts, propped up on the stand
between Cameroon and Benin.  The glass is smeared.

My face is printed in your journal,
in ten thousand copies at dusk.

You hid behind your silver lens, knowing you
didn’t need my photo, knowing you could study my face

under lights, in the river, packed in ice, stripped
of skin in a museum case, a century older

and three stone-blocked floors above the ground
I miss so much, soured to the bone.


It was the summer when the seventeen-year cicadas hatched,
and they were everywhere. Walking down the sidewalk
sounded like fresh popcorn, their black and yellow bodies

scattered like they had fallen, mid-flight, out of fuel.
We learned to look before we sat on the grass,
not to brush our fingers against trees, the sad face

of waste staring from puddles, stuck between windshield wipers.
They appeared so suddenly, they might have always been
lounging there, clogging the swimming pools, forgetting life

if they ever knew it.  After the first big storm came churning,
we jumped, shrieking, into the quarry, glad to see the surface cleared
after weeks of sweaty necks. I felt my bottoms loosen,

then drag down to my ankles as I kicked to the surface,
panicking in the dead water, shadowy kisses
of soggy wings against my bare topography,

their decomposing bodies clinging to peeled skin,
clothing me in racing colors. I drowned in rotten vestments.


“A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation
with the bricks that others throw at him or her.”
-Psalms, Ch. LXXV, v. 6

If we inherit ourselves
the way Lamarck predicts
(when a giraffe

loses a leg,
its calf is born lacking
from hoof to shoulder)

we must all carry inside us
small instruction manuals.
You know, you write your o’s like that

because H. sapiens
lost a fingertip to a sabertooth.
That propensity for songs to stick

in your head like stubborn burrs–
Russian rabbinical school.
You’ll forget yourself

and your language, your name
lost at sea,
somewhere over the mid-Atlantic trench.

You’ll always love sand dunes
and caves (pre-Cambrian aquatics
swimming in your blood).

Always wind-ready,
seeing stars and craving salt.
You were born to throw chairs,

to lack oxygen,
and to be inflexible.
You see yellow more than most people

and adore the number 3.
(you might blame this on Sesame Street
but blood will always tell–

trace it back to Augustyn Tzedudka,
institutionalized in Lublin in 1793,
who left unpublished: “Minor Prophets:

Three Perspectives on Jonah and the Whale.”–
cells swimming lonely in a body
like a ship, carried to the far shore.)

You’ll try to avoid the number 3

but it will always pull you back.
Red for lamb’s blood
and oil paints,

for the sky over an expectant Sinai,
the hearth fires of 1934,
and the sea that lingers.


Your legacy comes
like a flat upper lip
from your grandmother,
flapping across the Atlantic
–For You: From Hungary–
like wasted eyebrows,
chicken you can’t chew.
Smeared lips on chalkboard
and skinny fingers,
no heat in Strawberry Mansion,
the streets creasing
between crabapple trees
and piecemeal chocolate
sold in the park.
You got forty years
from the corner store,
from wandering and wanting.
You got a gallon of milk,
plastic bags bulging
like swollen feet in the basement,
molding pillows ballooning
on the curb in the condensation
of your smear of a lip,
where the angel pinched you
to forget the rain
of smeared chrysanthemums,
your shifting island. The basement
folded in half again,
spring floods washing
your sour smell away.
Your lip is lost in late arrival,
in the restaurant rafters,
joining abandoned constellations
in the late smeared sky.

Laura Kochman grew up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and now lives and writes in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I’ve never been fortunate enough to live in a house with a front porch, but I did stay one summer with my family in a house by the Ventnor shore, a house that had a screened-in porch on the side facing the street. On rainy days, my cousins and I would play Spit out there, munching on toasted bagels and dry cereal as we slapped the cards on the cold tile floor. We could hear the waves from down the block, lapping up against the seawall, the salt water rushing in the gutter below our bare feet.”