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Rachel Elizabeth Griffiths



I am here before the nurse brings my mother breakfast.

I study her body. Try to remember if I caught my mother

in the dream I had the night before where the hem of her

gown flew through a silver tunnel without end. Her skin

went right through my hands whenever I was close enough

to save her. She slipped through her name, her name I could not stop

calling until I sat up alone in my crib. Embarrassed, she tells me

she remembers how she phoned me last night to let me know

she was in the morgue. She laughs as the nurse, whose feet squeak

in Minnie Mouse Crocs, arrives with tea. We watch the nurse

with eyes that will never remember her face. Thank her

for the toast that is thicker than my mother’s hand.

That morphine is some powerful shit, my mother says.

I agree with her as though she has merely mentioned it is cold

outside though I have rarely had morphine &

have never made courtesy calls from a morgue. It was late

& I didn’t know where I was, she says. Because that wasn’t death,

which means I couldn’t have called you from that place.

This is my new mother who has finally admitted fear

into the raw ward of her heart. This is my mother who flew away

from my grasp in the tunnel without end. The woman

who could not wait for me to grab the white edge

of where she was going. I was afraid, she says. Looking

over the rim of her plastic cup, she shakes the world. Chipped

ice between us. Yeah don’t go & write about me like that,

she says. I already know you will.

-from Seeing the Body: Poems. Copyright © 2020 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths, selected by Fall 2020 Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Woman and The Branch


I knew. I knew. My mother gave me

her bluebird of happiness. Carrying the

glass inside my skin to school, I was


Show us what you have, the world

said. I was polishing somebody’s


It           wasn’t mine.      Not      my

paradise or my mother’s love,

but    oh     god    how    it    shone. I

could never tell

which bird was singing. I went home

like a canticle to its branch. I flew

through gray leaves away from

childhood.   I   gave   my   mother   answers   I

knew, didn’t ask whether there was another

color—   was  blue   right.  after   all?   Was


a song to be shattered?

I   couldn’t   explain   the  frailty,

how the figurine had cracked

when I looked through its life.



July 13, 1954


“I live on air, accepting things as they come.”

Frida Kahlo


Because you sat upright, not yet

ash. Already myth, yes,

already. Spine broken into bone silence.

You sat upright near fire,

preparing as the phoenix must

gather her fires to die. Lady

Lazarus whispering inside your


Fitting the body into lightning, 

the faces, painted &


a furnace of dreams wait in paradise.

Because we gathered around your

ribs, your hundreds of convex


& dignities. Near the immortal needle

of desire you’ll twist perpetually,

out of reach in paint, pleasure.

Blazing, your night hair & soft

bones descend through the

canopy to kiss your coverlet of


I never write an elegy for you, Frida.

But once in late spring I lingered

in a sky of laments

at the top of the stairs in your house.

The last room. On the last day

a young man with eyes like burning

told me She is still here, he said,

pointing out the urn, shaped & brown

like a humble creature of the earth,

glazed by the hands of a tarnish

that glazes anything worthwhile. Animal, which?

Pre-Columbian, two clay arms

extended to hold your fatted death &

afterlife life.

I don’t always tell where

she is, he said in Spanish, his

voice splitting like a fruit. Frida,

there is a death mask of your

face on the canopied bed.

Above, God waits like a mirror.

In the corner the painted leg in

its red boot waiting to dance.

I am talking to you,

naming comets

& my deaths in your name.



| dear America


I pick you up

& you are a child made of

longing clasped to my neck.

Iridescent, lovely, your

inestimable tantrums,

I carry you back & forth

from the famine in your mind.


Your alphabet wraps itself

like a tourniquet

around my tongue.


Speak now, the static says.


A half-dressed woman named

Truth tells me she is a radio.


I’m going to ignore happiness

& victory.

I’m going to undo myself

with music.


I pick you up

& the naked trees lean

into the ocean where you arrived,


shaking chains & freedom

from your head.


No metaphor would pull you

out of your cage.


Light keens for the

dead. & I’m troubled

by my own blind touch.


Did the ocean release

my neck? Did the opal waves

blow our cries to shore?


You don’t feel anything

in the middle of the night

-from Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books 2015), selected by Fall 2020 Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is the author of five collections of poetry, including Lighting the Shadow. Her literary and visual work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Paris Review, and many other publications. She lives in New York City.

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