We Can’t Hide if There’s No One Looking

"January" and "Vinegar Ghazal," two poems by Emma Törzs

barn on fire

We Can’t Hide if There’s No One Looking

January
 
In January we held out
 
for a snow that didn’t come –
instead, the clouds grew
 
varicose with rain.
 
I turned twenty-one
and my father watched me drink
 
a glass of wine with his best friend,
 
at a table worn rough by years of dinner.
This friend had trouble sleeping, and when he died
 
we read his journals: read catalogues of light,
 
the position of his head, the weight
of blankets; he’d kept volumes to determine
 
what might let him pass into that state –
 
yet in Vermont, he claimed he slept
like a dream, the four nights we stayed.
 
Remember, he wrote, in a journal we found,
 
the image of Natalie and Beatrice hugging in the morning.
They were so beautiful. They had such ease and acceptance.
 
Something I have never felt. Reminds me of my mother
 
when I was young. I’m crying
on the flight from Spain to Paris.
 
When I was ten, and flying into Iceland,
 
we saw below us a flaming house
in the midst of a black field,
 
and the lights of fire trucks, too far away –
 
I imagined I could hear them wailing
as they crawled their tiny way across the earth.
 
Loneliness is not a passive feeling;
 
it has teeth, it chews, and I believe
we take some power from it,
 
from how it puts its mouth around our heads
 
and forces us to stare
into the complicated tunnel of its throat.
 
We cannot hide if there is no one looking,
 
and the lonelier we are, the more we ask,
who am I, to myself?
 
Though perhaps the question ought to be,
 
who am I, to the winter?, and the answer
– in its coldness – nothing –
 
might hold the truth to shrink our grief. 

Vinegar Ghazal

To preserve this sight, please drop my eyes – like spring’s green fruit – in vinegar.
I’d put aside my wine for memory, and drink only thin vinegar.

New owner of antique furniture: do chairs remember bodies once held,
Do beds remember dreams of falling, or the taste of love’s skin-vinegar?

At the carnival of my ex-lovers, I watched you toss a ring: your prize?
An oak barrel of satisfaction, while you watched me win vinegar.

How did I come to be? I was distilled from yeast and sugar, heated
To a potent soul. If left too cold and still, I’d have been vinegar.

A doctor came to town and drew the crowds, crying Cure Your Loneliness
With this proprietary blend of blackened oats and Berlin vinegar!

At the café by my house, where I am known, they give me bread and oil
When I sit. They bring me salt. But they withhold my passion: vinegar.

Attic-bound, I write a drama for four sisters – wool blankets gown us,
Bittersweet piano trails the sour flute, the violin vinegar.

To make a sword that’s forged from blood, extract all iron from the body’s Veins. 
To make a knife from wine and ire, harvest grapes and smelt tin vinegar.

I walked across a grassy field to find the marble entrance of your
Crypt, and moved the stone. A dark room; your casket; and therein, vinegar.

Let me tell you what I look like with my clothes off. My eyes are rabid
Mice, and above the unset table of my chest, my grin’s vinegar.

Sanded down with thirst, how I long to be invited – Dear Emma, drink
This vintage and ascend, do not content yourself with maudlin vinegar!


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