3 poems — Ellen Elder


I have sex with ghosts (she says).

You look better as a clam shell (he says).

Love me ripe into a pomegranate.

The waltz of a camel.

I watched you purchase tangerine silk for her in Lugano.

A woman’s face is like this apartment—endless clock intercept.

Men are atavistic ruins after the rain.

It’s your mother that you want.

Did you know that Vita Sackville-West grew up in a house with 365 rooms and 52 staircases?

You missed a stair.

I never wore a fur coat by the fountain in the midnight piazza.

I never wanted the weight of denim beneath a starved pigeon.

It’s what lovers do best—love too little.

Fail unflappably, devastating the myth of oranges.

The cousins of giraffes and harp strings.

So why did you leave me outside Rome, with a table of white linen in my palm?



She took refuge on the firm ground of fiction, through which indeed there curled the blue river of truth.
           Henry James, What Maisie Knew

Hosiery moseys up the thighs of mannequins,
           the babysitter repositions her wooden leg.

To drive in the backseat comfortably, the father
           tucks the girl in origami carpet.

In a manner of speaking—, he teaches her to read
           by cross-examine.

Another babysitter guides her through recipes,
           potatoes currying the stove.

The Russian, who had lived on a train,
           blew first on every spoonful.

Custard and mink, she taught the girl to pucker,
           lipstick on the serviette’s fold.

Her father bundles her in a seal sweater
           and borrowed skates

with laces chalked by use. He ties them just so.
           Sharing a roast beef sandwich, he reads

the newspaper before cradling it
           round her toes—the skates too big.

This little Piggy went to market, and so on,
           his hands stained with ink,

purposeful as a footnote
           or a book unbound, pages and pages

rippling across the frozen Chesapeake,
           teaching her the utility of word.



Using tenses to divide time is like making chalk marks on water.
           –Janet Frame

The summer my mother dies
           I am no longer a child.
           I work in an Irish hotel.
           In Virginia, syringes strut the fridge.
           Mother emails:
                      I think you should fly home now.

Father telephones Aer Lingus
           to request a compassion
           ticket but they request
           a death certificate:
                      She’s not dead yet, he exclaims of his ex-wife, she’s dying.

I walk about the pond,
           collecting watercress.

I hang a sign on the doorknob:
           Eat soup.
Flying backward in time,
           I do not know yet
           that I am five hours too late.

Over the Atlantic
           I sit next to a woman
           who uses her walk-man as a mirror
           while humming “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

In the lavatory (slide to lock)
           I put on mascara.

The mirrors are made of polycarbonate
           so they won’t continuously combust.

Lungs combust
           one before the other.
After death, each hour the body’s
           temperature drops 1.5 degrees
           until it reaches room temperature.

It is so cold in the plane
           that my nipples animate.

The stewardess autopilots:
           Café, thé? Café, thé?

Fa freddo, someone complains, It’s cold.
           Mama mia.

The flight deck announces we’re flying over Iceland.

I fall in and out of oxygen.

Or perhaps there is no objective
           correlative to mother.


Ellen Elder studied at The University of Chicago, Miami University of Ohio and The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She spent her summers growing up in Ireland. Her poems can be found in The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems, Exquisite Corpse, Leveler, Mayday, About Place Journal and elsewhere. She lives in Germany.