Back to Issue Thirty-Seven

Another Spring

2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


Another failed chance to vault froglike
into a new life. It’s pre-green, thinned
acrylic approximating watercolor,
and with a paintbrush I am pollinating
lemon trees, impersonating bees. Still
so far from honeyed. I couldn’t kill
a stinkbug, but somehow it was easy
to betray you. Ants swarmed
the semen-damp cloth. Releasing
their glossy bodies into moss,
I allowed myself to pretend
I am not monstrous. Every year
this ritual. Spring is only a performance
of reinvention, the flowers keep becoming
themselves. Always the stinkbug concealed
behind its shield, the hungry, horny ants,
the sparrow undoing her nest as I
pull apart my life. I have to believe
azalea buds might swoon into forsythia
while nearby snow melts to milk. Some proof
I could become improbably gentle, good
as drops of water on turned dirt.




2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


lusting and unafraid. In this bipedal incarnation
I have always been scared of my own ripening,
mother standing outside the fitting room door.
I only become bright after Bloody Mary’s, only whole
in New Jersey summers where beefsteaks, like baubles,
sag in the yard, where we pass down heirlooms
in thin paper envelopes and I tend barefoot to a garden
that snakes with desire, unashamed to coil and spread.
Cherry Falls, Brandywine, Sweet Aperitif, I kneel
with a spool, staking and tying, checking each morning
after last night’s thunderstorm only to find more
sprawl, the tomatoes have no fear of wind and water,
they gain power from the lightning, while I, in this version
of life, retreat in bed to wither. In this life, rabbits
are afraid of my clumsy gait. In the next, let them come
willingly to nibble my lowest limbs, my outstretched
arm always offering something sweet. I want to return
from reincarnation’s spin covered in dirt and
buds. I want to be unabashed, audacious, to gobble
space, to blush deeper each day in the sun, knowing
I’ll end up in an eager mouth. An overly ripe tomato
will begin sprouting, so excited it is for more life,
so intent to be part of this world, trellising wildly.
For every time in this life I have thought of dying, let me
yield that much fruit in my next, skeleton drooping
under the weight of my own vivacity as I spread to take
more of this air, this fencepost, this forgiving light.



The Truth

2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


I am only kind to my father
in poems he will never read.

I try to imagine him small
the way my grandmother tells it:

patient, deerlimbed, pondering
polynomials. Wanting only

a Toblerone bar for his birthday
to eat alone in his room

away from the violence of exploding
raindrops, pitiless Madrasi summer.

I wonder if he is proud
of his life like I am proud

of my poems—the best
we could do. In another world

I would go down the stairs
to where my father is sitting alone

with his wine glass and I would tell him
I’m sorry. But I am a woman

the same way my father is a man: always
a little embarrassed.

Somehow it is easier to say I hated
practicing piano in the morning

than it is to say I loved
the way you turned the pages for me.

I cringed being woken up each morning,
pulled blinds and tough light, but I loved

your capable hands on my forehead
brushing away the remnants of a dream.

Note: “The Truth” previously appeared in Narrative Magazine. We are grateful to reprint this poem as part of Natasha Rao’s Djanikian Scholars portfolio.

Natasha Rao is the author of Latitude, which won the APR/Honickman First Book Prize and is forthcoming in September 2021. She holds a BA from Brown University and an MFA from NYU, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She has received support from Bread Loaf, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Nation, The Yale Review, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. She is currently an editor of American Chordata and lives in Brooklyn.

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