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Selva Oscura

I extend my middle and index fingers and press them to my lips.
Beatrice looks into my eyes and nods.
We stumble across the lawn to the water,
or collapse under a nearby tree and sprawl out in the grass.
We pass a joint, and lift our heads periodically to scan for cops.

When Jamil and I first became lovers, she says,
I would wake up in the middle of the night
and place my palm over his face, an inch or so away,
tracing the contours of the heat he radiated.
Even at night, he seemed to shine.

Now his parents live with us.
They came to visit when we had just gotten married and stayed.
His mother inscribes names along her arms, reads them out loud.
His father walks into walls, disoriented.
It’s like Dante, the outer rim of hell.

There’s this woman, she teaches at the Law School.
We go out, we get high in the parking lots.
We talk about sports, post food porn to each other’s walls.
And this pain, it lets up.
Sometimes I go home with her.

Is it really love that holds together heaven and hell, or is it
not love, but something else, much worse?
She takes a long drag and her face lights up,
and it keeps shining, and doesn’t stop,
a boat of light floating in the night.



Father and Daughter

When Marta first arrived, her hair was long.
Now it’s cropped. She has piercings, and a tattoo.
My dad, she says, if he saw us like this, he’d kill me.
I hold my breath as her hand slides up my thigh.
Tomboy, daddy’s brave girl, she looks just like him.

Memories of him start with the siege, images of
a man with a sniper rifle, a magician
with a slick companion that he brings to life.
Did he go every day, I ask. For a moment she seems surprised.
Nah. Some days he stayed home, drank, watched TV.

Mom kept saying, we can’t stay, we must leave.
Mom kept saying, everyone has left, we must stay.
Somebody has to fight. So we thought.
Marta’s expression goes blank, her hold on my foot tight.
Both thumbs on the same side—a proper gun grip.




Mag works with refugees in distant parts of the City.
At picnics, I pick up snippets of her stories.
For example, a little boy, whose school bus takes hours to bring him home.
He comes out of it soaking wet, half-conscious, as from a sea voyage.
For example, a little girl who refuses to look anyone in the eye,
her speech constituted by a monosyllable: No.
In every story, a person, whose body you’d begin to imagine.

Some time ago Mag went to work at a refugee camp in Africa.
She came back pregnant, asked for a divorce.
Back home, her dad turned the table over at her.
Get out of my house, you whore. I’ve had it up to here
with your faggot husband and your bastard child.
He raged through their apartment crashing into furniture and wept.
In the morning he asked for forgiveness.

How I loved sleeping next to that man,
his sculpted black buttocks pressed against my womb.
Leave me a child, I said, stay safe in me.
Anguish is like that. It agitates your genes.
Horror—it makes you horny.
I wonder if he survived, if one day
he’ll send me a friend request on Facebook.



Oksana Maksymchuk is the author of two award-winning books of poetry in the Ukrainian language, Xenia (2005) and Catch (2009), and the winner of Richmond Lattimore (2004) and Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender (2014) translation prizes. She is a co-editor of Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine, a NEH-funded poetry anthology.