POETRY – 3 Poems by Robin Reiss

Romans 6:4a¹

The second time you’re baptized
you wade into the Westfield River, skipping
stones across the unscrolled Bible
in your head, following a skinny-limbed
boy who slipped a ring on your finger
and will take it off before spring; the river
is sun-green in the summer heat

and a basket of friends waits on the bike path,
one pregnant with her first and firm
as if she holds a mixing bowl under her purple
cloth dress; you sink into the wet bank
messy with weeds and mud thick up to your calves
and water gets up your nose, burns
the pocket between your eyes; life, spirit, and hot algae;

your mother used to feed you
green algae bars and take you to church,
and the first time you’re baptized
it’s by Pastor Mark’s fingers in the hospital room
where cancer will slip her out of herself;
they say words like “pearly gates” and you see oysters
open their waterlogged mouths to spit beads

and no one touches your father; you try
to remember the hospital now
but all that comes back is the tabloid magazine
blurring out an upskirt
shot, the day your uncle cried
instead of telling you,
and crawling onto your father’s lap,

your holy forehead
falling as she thickened into a slab
of limestone: (n.) sedimentary
rock of marine skeletal fragments
so heavy it would sink
to the bottom of a stream and never, never come up

 


¹ “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death…”

Lady Vesuvius

Dormant
and dark as the stomach
of a mountain, she scooped

a crater in the crown of her head
and packed it with snow. Cold mud
and slabs of rock tamped her down;

she picked the dirt from her nails
with a pen tip. Sunlight slumped restlessly
over her on its path to pockets of rainwater

and polished metals. Vapors made her crazy.
The aching plates beneath her groaned
and ground bone. Finally a welling of magma, reckless

spurt, madness blooming crest over molten
crest. The pomegranate sun hummed and cracked and six
hundred and thirteen ruby globes rattled free, glowing
like hail, and she bit them apart, every inch

of sky. If men bronzed in the heat of her fire,
distracted by loudness and light, they did not taste
the ash they swallowed, hungry as moths,

till it swallowed them, ripples in bedrock, back.
She excavates them now with a pen tip,
chipping pumice from the vertices of mouths,

eyelids, lies; cool again and heavy
with the echo of burn, she skims
the gritty map of her thighs,

stuffs her kaleidoscope
full of pills
and shakes.

Ellen Andrée²

The reeds contain them, press
them in like guppies

in a bowl. One of those June
days hot as a tongue, the smell

of brie and river stones purling
on their skin; two men

without sleeves posture
under the striped red canopy

while one in a sweater
is getting the girls.

No reeds have ever looked
so soft as Renoir’s, a whorl

like a thumbprint
eddying unnoticed by the porch

rail. Everyone has finished
their drinks; their cream-colored

skin blushes against the greens
of the reeds and the greens

of the four uncorked
wine bottles and the deep purple

bunches of grapes. The greens
and the purples have shed

on everything – the man’s
buttermilk sweater, the tablecloth,

the indigo gloves
of the tired woman almost

hidden who adjusts her bonnet or
blocks her ears

and either way is grabbed hard
at the waist by a man in peach.

Ellen sits, holds an empty

water glass to her lips, flattened
and dried like a dahlia pressed

under His fist. Ellen
is depleted. She no longer casts

her gaze but rather lets it slide
toward the Painter, crawling

out like the hair of a corpse,
the purpled nails –

an illusion of growth
as the body shrinks back.


² An actress and model who sat for impressionist paintings in the 1870s, including Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Robin Reiss is a twentysomething from Massachusetts who graduated from Westfield State University with a degree in English Literature. Her writing can be found in Westfield State’s Persona as well as Futures Trading and The Sigma Tau Delta Review. In her free time she may be found learning Spanish, eating copious amounts of pizza, balancing things on her head, and generally fretting over the future.

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