Poet Wrestling with Her Empire of Dirt

Aba says in a blizzard, fill the bathtub.
With firewood. Aba says a leaky roof

is a blessing. Provided
the bucket. To melt

snow. With fire. We gather.
All the trees in Queens. Shake

& shiver. My axe
cannot approximate.

My axe is a plastic bottle. Filled with club

soda. I wonder
when it unfreezes,

will it explode. Aba says: Light
of my eyes,

where are you getting your science.

I no longer know. I used to believe
in string theory. But the field

breaks. Too many. Rules.

& you can’t quantify nor quantum
even a drop of rain—everything’s just

too damn big. For models that would prove. The rules. Tried & still
not true. The roof is always leaking. The bathtub is a mass

grave of trees. Aba says go outside
before it’s too late. But I have. I’ve seen.

In a public bathroom I hide
with many other women

from a storm. The leaky roof
fills with cinders & once more.

A dead bird. One of us screams.
They all scream. When I pick him

up off the slimy floor. Pick
the maggots from his body.

Soon. I have the bathroom. To myself.
In public. I have an entire sanctuary.

Of sorts. To mourn. When I bring the dead
home. Aba tears at his clothes & covers

the mirrors. Won’t let me burn
the body. Says even birds died

in the Shoah’s desperate, hungry hands.
Days before the bodies were turned

to ash. Perhaps this bird too descends
from a lone survivor. We cry for

his mother. We cry for my grandmother.
Free up the bathtub & flood our home.

With rainwater. Float
a burning, empty pyre.

I say: Aba, this isn’t what we do
either. Aba says: It’s too late

to go outside. Which I do. I try.
I dig & dig.

For dirt, defying
my father.

I lose
the feeling

in my hands. In snow
that doesn’t quite stick

to the ground. Night falls
& his body stays warm

under my layers
drenched. From

sleet & sweat.
I won’t give

in. Birds gather around me. Dark lights
against blue cement. They wait it out.

They stay perfectly still.
Right out in the open.

More Poems by Rosebud Ben-Oni