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Elissa Malcohn

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The Poetry of Elissa Malcohn
Gingerbread Poets chapter, Florida State Poets Association


No beast
Knew, in the end,
Survival's haughty whims.
The pointed crest, the throat's red sac.
What worked?

What failed?
Trial and error
Fed the hungry, ignored
Tender losses cold on the plains,
The grief.

Hid its wisdom,
Simple and merciless.
Unchecked, fittest could turn unfit
In time.

Those spawned
Who took the risk,
Vulnerable, spreading
Confetti strands of DNA.
They died.

And lived,
Injecting traits
Into genetic soups.
An eon's recipes, to please
The cook.

...Published in Star*Line 30(6), Nov./Dec. 2007.


You teach me about pomegranates.
The one your sister gave us
before we flew back across the continent.
Tough-skinned, unwilling to yield,
opened only by those willing to delve deeper.

Red trickles down your fingers
as you pop the seeds
from their spongey beds.
First I take your fingers into my mouth
and then the seeds, sucking,
savoring their tartness.

It is still warm where your sister lives
but here we've put the garden to bed,
buried the stalks and leaves,
cut the crops into pieces
manageable by worms.
Life infused seed and seedling, gave us
peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, squash --
Now we've dug their graves, with cliffs of dirt
the height of our knees.
Pulled them up by the roots and laid them to rest
in the netherworld, returning their treasures to the soil,
covering the friends that had nourished us,
leaving naked burial mounds.

And I thought of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld,
six months beneath the snows, six in the sun,
her mother Demeter spreading wild fecundity
in summer heat.
Persephone, who ate pomegranate seeds,
the blood on her hands
condemning her to winter darkness.

I know better now.
I know better, because beneath the snow
our compost is steaming.
There's churning life burning up those dead leaves,
a bacchanalia turning moldy rinds to soil.
There's Persephone's sticky heat
sweet with pomegranate juice,
her belly holding hot promise of spring.

She's not dead. She's got work to do.

We paint each other with red fingers,
spill multitudes of bloody seeds into an enamelled bowl.
Our mouths fill with tartness
as we roll them around with our tongues,
as we lick the stains off each other's skin
and paint anew, learning Persephone's code
in the bubbling heat of winter.

...Excerpt published in We'Moon '04, Mother Tongue Ink, 2004.

Labor Intensive

That people love their work, who work a drill
Or run a lathe, sounds alien to some
Who see in them "the robots they've become":
Automatons bent to assembly's will.

And some are that, who welcome programmed steel,
Greet automation heralded as Change --
But others feel an intimate exchange,
The tiniest components but a field

As varied as a single breed of snail,
With textures, contours hidden from all eyes
Save those communing daily half their lives
With parts they know like totems. They have nailed

That one philosophy, have made the grade
Who see in work their lives, and love their trade.

...Harvard Business Review, July-August 1986.

First Things First

When water's worth surpasses that of gold
and breathing freely brings the keenest joy,
and all the waste that we have bought and sold
no longer find a place in our employ—

when we have learned that war is over land
and all that nature yields to let us live,
be it savannah, mountainside, or sand—

when we have learned that something's got to give
and what we've got to give becomes our fear,
accustomed to the task of wanting more
and wanting new, discarding every year
the very goods that we had craved before—

when we have given up economies
that run neither to logic nor to scale,
and blue chip stocks are worthless next to trees,
and we must be sustainable or fail—

when we become endangered as the beasts
whose DNA we treasure in our vaults
for times when our plundering will cease,
and finger-pointing, faulting upon faults
will come to rest at last upon us all—

when then we take responsibility
and stop, and listen to our bloodbeat call
and slow the progress of sterility—

then we will learn the wisdom of the grass
that knows the wind that carries every song
that tells of how our nature must surpass
the artifice we thought would make us strong—
when even ants are teachers and we take
the time to hear their sermons on the mound,
and we will walk the long way for the sake
of coaxing one more lake to stay around—
then no one needs to walk the path alone
as bound together, we behold our worth
and come at last to our ancestral home
as creatures nurturing this good, green earth.

...First place, "The Save Our Earth Award," NFSPS Inc. 45th Annual Contest, 2004.
Published in Encore (2004); FSPA Anthology 24 (2006).

Elissa Malcohn

Daytona Beach, 2005 FSPA Convention

ELISSA, a member of Gingerbread Poets, lives in Beverly Hills. Her poetry, fiction, and commentary have appeared in dozens of publications, beginning in the 1970s. In addition to receiving various awards for both poetry and fiction, she was a finalist for the 1985 John W. Campbell Award, given to the best new science fiction writer of the year as chosen by the reading public. From 1986-88 she edited Star*Line , official journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Covenant, the first volume in her Deviations trilogy, was published in 2007 by Aisling Press. The second volume, Appetite, was published in 2008.

Elissa teaches creative writing at the Art Center of Citrus County in Hernando FL. For more information, visit her website, Malcohn's World.

(Photo by Elissa Malcohn: E_Journeys.)

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