Poems by Yael Massen: “in the back of your throat I stay and remind you”

Words and Phrases To Learn

In which case :: shame :: what a shame ::

to parade :: make a fuss :: if (to insist), then (coerce) ::

provided that :: decoration :: occasion :: such as ::

underwear :: to disappear :: limit :: permit :: poof ::

indeed, I am (concerned) :: besides :: beside myself ::

on the side of :: explanation :: justify :: repeat over and

over again :: waken :: kept :: and therefore :: heavy-

footed :: measure :: burden :: out of obligation ::

rot :: clink :: jingle :: polite :: once (disowned),

hence (reclaimed) :: steep :: slut :: wretch :: reanimate ::

to reunite with (confidence) :: every new way :: tell it

Bed Bugs

Teeth in the thigh
Teeth in the back
Teeth inside the ear
Teeth in the classroom
Teeth in the cereal
Teeth in the milk
Teeth in the fingernails
Teeth dress
Teeth shower
Teeth bed
Teeth eggs
Teeth floor
Teeth in the sores
Teeth in his pocket
Teeth fingers
Teeth in the sand
Teeth thong
Teeth in the ass
Teeth tongue
Teeth hips
Teeth bruise
Teeth long
Teeth sharp
Teeth inside the mouth


The man said it was fine to eat the fruit with the skin on it. I didn’t even feel its barbs in my hand. How was I supposed to know a cactus fruit? Wouldn’t you take free fruit if it was given to you? I was hungry. I was learning how to say yes and thank you. I was practicing to be kind. I had nothing. It was sweet, even where the barbs entered my tongue and burned.

Self-Portrait as Cardamom

If I can lay beside my grandmother
as the last cup beside her bed—a sieve
to gather her as she leaves: the final clench
& calm & stiffen—let me believe the moment before
her departure is sweetened by a sugar cube between her numb lips.
Let me remind her how we began: carried
to Merv by caravan & caravel, hoofed out under sword
& czar. In Mashhad, we bled in a boiling samovar.
Our bearded ancestors bartered on silk trades—
a brush of rose hips, madder dye rich
enough to run our bones red. But just carpets would do.
At the end: through the strainer, our brew will remain
potent; in the back of your throat I stay and remind you
from the inside: I was here, I am here, I still live in your cup.

On Walking
after Ross Gay

Most who know me
well know what
this walking
trail does for my health
to pull my body slowly
from six till sundown
and listen to myself or move
through some sadness
the way dog owners trail
their homebound mastiffs
before dinner
and sometimes it takes so long
to settle myself out
that the path disappears
into road and
I am still a woman
on this evening
on the shoulder
I am lighter I am taller
and the honk that bruises
and the driver cruising
beside me
and the road rubble
known only to bikers
and hitchhikers
are not intended for me
in a space called public
and free and with bags of books
and food in each hand
I do not sink down
because I am not looked
up and down
I am not given new names
to become on this walk
which is like
unbuttoning the woman
from my body for just a moment
knowing each mound of flesh
will mean a different
kind of need
to a growing thing
carried into this world quietly
through a night
pushing each foot until
we deliver ourselves home.

Yale Massen is an MFA student in Poetry at Indiana University and Nonfiction Editor of Indiana Review. Their work can be found in Mid-American Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Ilanot Review. They have received support from The Yiddish Book Center as a 2015 TENT Fellow, The National Society of Arts and Letters (Bloomington), Middlebury Summer Language School, and The Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University.

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