Monday, October 24, 2016

Marianne Szlyk and the Battle Ground From the Basement to the Womb and the Twins Haunting Cities of Possible Parallel Lives

For My Ex-Husband’s Twin Sons (2)

Winter 1996/1997

That winter I stopped in Boston
on my way back to Indiana.
A friend told me my ex-husband,
your father,
had been all but evicted,
not packing until the last day
of his last month in our apartment
of several years.  But he wasn’t
homeless, she reassured me.

In retrospect, I am surprised that
he wasn’t living in her basement,
the place I had planned to be,
if I were still living in that city.

My friend was too old to be your mother.
Some other woman bore you.
She raised you both,
her last chance to have a child.
Fierce in red, her strong core
hiding her bump, she traveled down
the winter sidewalks alone.

Come summer,
she would push a borrowed stroller
past empty storefronts and dying trees.
She would push past my ex-husband
who, talking to himself, wouldn’t know
his own children or even her.

For My Ex-Husband’s Twin Sons (3)

Summer 1997

The next summer I believed in nothing.
Windows open, drinking icy Pepsi, with the fan off,
I lay awake upstairs, not reading Clarissa
while my friend the atheist slept
in the basement to escape the heat
while the man I liked slept
back in the city I’d left.

As I listened to the oldies from Battle Ground,
I thought nothing would change.   I had
been listening to these songs for years.
Levi Stubbs would always plead to Bernadette.
Dusty would always offer advice I’d never take.
Alone in bed, I would be reading
these thick books forever,
my life captured in small print
and amber-colored soda
drunk in some college town.
Like Clarissa, this life would continue
as long as I chose to turn the page.

This was the summer you two could have
been born, perhaps to a stringy-haired woman
who had traipsed in and out of our apartment,
perhaps to a fierce woman in red.
For her, whether or not she kept you,
whoever she once was,
everything would have changed.

I guess.  I’ll never know.

For My Ex-Husband’s Twin Sons (4)

Summer 2016

Somewhere else you exist with my own son
and the daughter my husband and I
adopted from Ethiopia before I died.
The two of you sit or don’t sit in class.
You roam the hallway, pace the aisles,
perch on bookshelves, listen to heavy metal
or rap or garage rock from the 60s.
You chatter constantly about video games.
You don’t know your father or mother.
To you, they are ghosts.

Like Emily Dickinson, each of you
dwell in possibility.  Unlike her,
you write nothing down.
You do not evolve
the way she did
over two thousand poems
written on the back of envelopes.

I see you in glimpses,
standing around Harvard Square
and the upscale mall it’s become,
as children riding the Orange Line
with your mother,
the fierce, stout woman
in red.  Now she has forgotten
your father’s name
but not his face.
She may even be friends
with the woman
who would have been my landlady
if I’d stayed in this city.
Maybe you have left it as well.

I must imagine what this life is like
for you who do not exist
in the real world
without children.

Marianne Szlyk is the editor of The Song Is... , an associate poetry editor at Potomac Review, and a professor of English at Montgomery College. She and her husband live with two cats, too many books and CDs, and no cars.  Her second chapbook, I Dream of Empathy, was published by Flutter Press.  Her poems have appeared in a variety of online and print venues, including Silver Birch Press, Cactifur, Of/with, bird's thumb, Truck, and Yellow Chair Review.  Her first chapbook is available through Kind of a Hurricane Press.  She hopes that you will consider sending work to her magazine. For more information about it, see this link: http://thesongis.blogspot.com/


  1. When reading poems like these, good as they are, one hopes they are children of the imagination and not real life, especially in light of the author who I associate with her beautiful magazine, A Song Is, and the beauty of Jazz.

    I prefer, I suppose, not to know since either way I know more than a little myself of the roller coaster life is.

    Thanks to the author and Rasputin for presenting these poems, a tornado for my Monday morning.

    1. Thanks so much, Donal. I'm especially pleased to see your praise since I always enjoy reading your poems.

  2. These are very strong poems Marianne. Very evocative. Realities playing with possibilities. Nice! Thous as the other commenter says, hard if true. And if not true for you, likely it is for someone else, is my bet. Even if you don't know them. You have such a wild imagination!!

    1. Thanks so much, Bea. :) Realities playing with possibilities...that's what I was aiming for.