Two Poems by Mary Birnbaum

Unzip the suffocating wall of what you own.
Crumble window glass
into blind raw sand.
You’re embodied in repeating mirrors of light.

Will you use we or they
for the scattering patterns in the distance
on the long beach,
approaching strangers raising a hand?

You answer in a blue echo.
You are followed by unravelling souls,
cirrus, nimbus, and the naked,
beautiful steel wind.

The monstrous breath of the sea
sucks the gasp of the earth’s
obeisance and resistance.
Prayer remains subvocal.

It wasn’t long ago men murdered forests
to saw and hammer into vessels,
knotted wings on roofless beams,
drove them over a seemingly docile surface.

Groaning and shivering,
slaves, wounded and hidden strangers.
Centuries later, in our minds we’re still blown
in the same trade winds.

Arched canvas, dead trees,
the bloody lace of chains,
the beaten stone eyes of sand,
the immense gift we pass by.


Winter’s intense blue is gone.
.             You keep ordering more light,
your eyes tensing to find
words in the knotted thread
crawling and jumping on the page
forced flat with one twisted hand.
.             The slow count of age
weighs on the skin and strains sinew.

You’re not ready to be softly
clapped into an obscure seat.
.             The patterns of beauty that you cut
into some cosmic consciousness,
some stone moment—aren’t quite
complete. No. You still have breath.

But your eyes can no longer think,
your hips ask you to kneel,
your neck says you may bow.
.             A wind blows from the audience
in the distance. Time changes.

Now numbers, the sparks of being,
become so tiny and so rapid,
.             you realize you exist
in a different universe
from the crowded languorous
young in their vast pastel cave.


About the Poet
Mary Elizabeth Birnbaum was born, raised, and educated in New York City.  She has studied poetry at the Joiner Institute in UMass, Boston.  Mary’s translation of the Haitian poet Felix Morisseau-Leroy has been published in The Massachusetts Review, the anthology Into English (Graywolf Press), and in And There Will Be Singing, An Anthology of International Writing by The Massachusetts Review, 2019 as well.  Her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Lake Effect, J-Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Soundings East, and Barrow Street.