poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

Blog Archive

Friday, December 18, 2015


Kiss me on the wrists—
such a rich, warm color.
Lime roses rise to my lips,
kiss me on the wrists.

Hartshorn is the crushed up petal
of the rose that grows at the end of a unicorn horn:
ladies snort it
to feel better about the blooms

at the end of unicornism.
Winter is gone forever:
we sold it.
Even the horse-chestnut is a kind of heart.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

When we are both water and I can’t sleep

When we are both water and I can’t sleep
the tides pull you to the edge of the loft,
below in the kitchen, I am writing 2AM
poems about mirror neurons and Emerson’s oversoul,
the tides pull you to the edge of the loft
microwaving leftover mac and cheese and mirror neurons and oversouls
so hungry for air and vaguely scared of love that locks
microwaving leftover mac and cheese sizzles and burns
and you call “What are you doing?” so hungry for air and vaguely scared
of love that locks in the kitchen. I am writing 2AM cheese
sizzles and burns and you call “What are you doing?”
the macaroni oversoul: You know exactly
—I am writing 2AM mirror neurons—
what I am doing,  poems to go with sleeplessness
and cheese, You know exactly
if mirror neurons are real and we can explode
what I am doing, watching movies where people explode.
My heart is beating too fast if mirror neurons are real
and we can explode and if I came back to bed your heart
would sync up with mine. In movies people explode.
My heart is beating too fast so I came here to eat cheese,
I came here to eat cheese, find me, nibble and if I come back to bed
your heart will sync up with mine. What am I doing?
Eating cheese when we are both night mice and I can’t sleep,
when we are both water in the 2AM boil.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Two Windflowers Under the Lights

Speak to me in the language where the word “love” is at home.
Love me a free country.
Every language has a homeland. I don’t need
whole continents. Just your two arms. Just you.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Illumination at 4AM

The narrow sound of a barn on fire
woke me to the window
where I watched the roof collapse through
before I woke you.

There was time to ask five questions
of the fire before the sirens came.
How modern. The kitchen blank
where I stood wearing clothes

while you ran out into the night
—underwear only—
ran until you realized it was just a barn. No people.
The miscarriage ghosted my vision

a narrow pain burned up and through
watching you. That’s how far a father forgets himself
—you would have made such a good one—
half-asleep, you ran toward the blaze.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Ridge

Wind teaches the snow
to blow open the front door
in the night. Mad, you wake to close.
When we make the air hot
to cut the cold, it burns the world
cloudy. That’s the back-end.
Handle it. Test the yellow leaves
for burns. Flowers grow from ash
but they will not grow from snow.
Stone could go either way.
Most stones are signs.
The pimple in the crease
of my nose, (of all the things
my hands will do today,
the most difficult
will be teaching myself not to touch it.)
All day our proximity is wrong.
My hands lack the functionality
to touch you. I see your radar screens
and there are radio communications
all night between us while we sleep.
The front door of my heart is blown open
and you have snowed in. We live here.
When it gets too intense
you wake up and close the door.
There’s a ridge on the edge of the city. You used
to walk the railroad tracks up there,
tracks without a train. In metal and in memory.
The dining car. The chapel.
If the train wakes up, I will roll down the side of the ridge,
here, let me show you. Under the snow sleeps the burned leaves,
the old metal, the first time you fell.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Can’t tell if we are moving through the sky or the sea

Now the clouds are like bread dough,
the clouds are pulled cotton balls. The clouds are like sleep.
Woke up today and took the desert for ocean,
surprised myself, feeling lucky
like I’m the first person to make this mistake.
There’s no way I’m the first person to make any mistake.
But they all feel so personal.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The front-line troops of so few illusions

Welfare is a woman
a black woman a poor woman a fat woman a middle-aged woman
you count you don’t count
millions like me.
some, really poor, don’t know

the majority are white.

we expect to work, all our lives, for nothing.
You may have to agree to get your tubes tied
Governor [Ronald] Reagan calling
"lazy parasites," "pigs at the trough,"

Because she knows there's some place lower she could be.

if she tries to go it alone without a man.
ladies stay on their feet or on their knees all their lives
the front-line troops of
so few illusions

This is an erasure poem that uses Johnnie Tillmon’s article “Welfare is a Women’s Issue” originally published in Ms. Magazine in 1972. What follows is the original article in which the erasures are struck through.

Welfare is a Women's Issue (1972)
by Johnnie Tillmon
I'm a woman. I'm a black woman. I'm a poor woman. I'm a fat woman. I'm a middle-aged woman. And I'm on welfare.
In this country, if you're any one of those things you count less as a human being. If you're all those things, you don't count at all. Except as a statistic.
I am 45 years old. I have raised six children. There are millions of statistics like me. Some on welfare. Some not. And some, really poor, who don't even know they're entitled to welfare. Not all of them are black. Not at all. In fact, the majority-about two-thirds-of all the poor families in the country are white.
Welfare's like a traffic accident. It can happen to anybody, but especially it happens to women.
And that's why welfare is a women's issue. For a lot of middle-class women in this country, Women's Liberation is a matter of concern. For women on welfare it's a matter of survival.
Survival. That's why we had to go on welfare. And that's why we can't get off welfare now. Not us women. Not until we do something about liberating poor women in this country.
Because up until now we've been raised to expect to work, all our lives, for nothing. Because we are the worst educated, the least-skilled, and the lowest-paid people there are. Because we have to be almost totally responsible for our children. Because we are regarded by everybody as dependents. That's why we are on welfare. And that's why we stay on it.
Welfare is the most prejudiced institution in this country, even more than marriage, which it tries to imitate. Let me explain that a little.
Ninety-nine percent of welfare families are headed by women. There is no man around. In half the states there can't be men around because A.F.D.C. (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) says if there is an "able-bodied" man around, then you can't be on welfare. If the kids are going to eat, and the man can't get a job, then he's got to go.
Welfare is like a super-sexist marriage. You trade in a man for the man. But you can't divorce him if he treats you bad. He can divorce you, of course, cut you off anytime he wants. But in that case, he keeps the kids, not you. The man runs everything. In ordinary marriage, sex is supposed to be for your husband. On A.F.D.C., you're not supposed to have any sex at all. You give up control of your own body. It's a condition of aid. You may even have to agree to get your tubes tied so you can never have more children just to avoid being cut off welfare.
The man, the welfare system, controls your money. He tells you what to buy, what not to buy, where to buy it, and how much things cost. If things-rent, for instance-really cost more than he says they do, it's just too bad for you. He's always right.
That's why Governor [Ronald] Reagan can get away with slandering welfare recipients, calling them "lazy parasites," "pigs at the trough," and such. We've been trained to believe that the only reason people are on welfare is because there's something wrong with their character. If people have "motivation," if people only want to work, they can, and they will be able to support themselves and their kids in decency.
The truth is a job doesn't necessarily mean an adequate income. There are some ten million jobs that now pay less than the minimum wage, and if you're a woman, you've got the best chance of getting one. Why would a 45-year-old woman work all day in a laundry ironing shirts at 90-some cents an hour? Because she knows there's some place lower she could be. She could be on welfare. Society needs women on welfare as "examples" to let every woman, factory workers and housewife workers alike, know what will happen if she lets up, if she's laid off, if she tries to go it alone without a man. So these ladies stay on their feet or on their knees all their lives instead of asking why they're only getting 90-some cents an hour, instead of daring to fight and complain.
Maybe we poor welfare women will really liberate women in this country. We've already started on our own welfare plan. Along with other welfare recipients, we have organized so we can have some voice. Our group is called the National Welfare Rights Organization (N.W.R.O.). We put together our own welfare plan, called Guaranteed Adequate Income (G.A.I.), which would eliminate sexism from welfare. There would be no "categories"-men, women, children, single, married, kids, no kids-just poor people who need aid. You'd get paid according to need and family size only and that would be upped as the cost of living goes up.
As far as I'm concerned, the ladies of N.W.R.O. are the front-line troops of women's freedom. Both because we have so few illusions and because our issues are so important to all women-the right to a living wage for women's work, the right to life itself.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

An assortment of small resistances

Chia Pets occupy my mental spaces
where brilliant ideas are supposed to grow

I have Chia Pet cats instead,
giving me toxoplasmosis. I pet my bad ideas,

I have a whole library of them.
If only I had the time

to get them in alphabetical order.
An assortment of small resistances

unwieldy wildflowers in the wind
and colors that I can read like Little Women.

Oh Fruitlands, let me move in, all that commune needed
was a good cook and maybe some chia seeds.

God give us a pill, to get inside the collective head
and get rid of all the cats.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Someone is practicing New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” on the piano while I read Emerson and think of Mark Samco

I am constrained
from some alien energy the visions come.

The immensely sundered stars
the flowing robe in which she is clothed.

The thin rinds of the visible and finite
a royal road to particular knowledges and powers.

In youth we are mad for persons.
Every time I see you falling

I get down on my knees and pray
and the man becomes suddenly virtuous.

We are wiser than we know.
I’m waiting for that final moment

A certain tendency to insanity
You say the words that I can't say

In the flowing of love,
which of us has been just to himself,

your genius will speak from you, and mine from me.
The tone of seeking is one, and the tone of having is another.

I feel fine and I feel good
I'm feeling like I never should

because the heart in thee is the heart of all
when I burn with pure love

the world is the perennial miracle which the soul worketh
and so hath already the whole future in the bottom of the heart.

This is an erasure poem, mingling lines from New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” ( in italics) and Emerson's essay The Over-Soul

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Night Spreads Stars

Beskin’s calf got out last night,
so young he swings a baby pink umbilical cord
and sometimes he crumples to the ground, legs wobbly
yet trying to escape. The stink of freedom
is a warm blanket of smoke that protects us from the stars.
Earth rests low in the belly of the universe.
If Beskin’s calf can make it to the road, he will leap
from one side to the other, because the middle is mud
and even a newborn can intuit that sink. The baby cow leaps
into the dreams of the townspeople. Your mama is so fat,
begins a scowling man in one dream
while the lovely ice cream of home calls another dreamer to half-wakefulness
and the window keeps night out there.
The small cow wobbles through our dreams on new legs
and we don’t notice. Lay down in my dream, baby cow
and I will wrap us both in a blanket of smoke
and we can Sputnik around the Earth together—
that satellite is my other self—but now the little cow
wants to go
back to his mother.  
The night spreads his cry over the heads of the dreaming town.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bathroom Wall

Drinking saltwater and woodsmoke in April in Vermont
where you live life according to your favorite tee-shirt motto,

didn’t realize how drunk I was until I started walking up the stars.
Adding vertebrae is the only way to keep my head above the water.

Sometimes I can grow those inches, but other times I must buy them.
The bluegreen yearning from my tailbone tastes like saltwater,

feels like the cold slap of a whale’s tail. The yearning
always smells like shit (I just want you to be proud of me)

when you get too close. That’s why boys never try hard,
or if they do try, they lie about it. Boys love to tell girls

how easy it all is. So easy. Click-click
go the vertebrae in beats of two, never three. Growing taller

is something other people notice. Most people don’t see the water.
It takes whales to make people see the water. Nevermind

that they sing songs about it all day. Boys tell girls purplegreen lies:
You are almost as pretty as these sandwiches, he said.

There is another way, in case adding vertebrae isn’t an option.
You’re almost as sweet as this cookie, I told him.

I’m going to the food court. I want a judge and jury. At the very least
I want a burrito. I want the sandwiches found guilty.

The chewy baguette of consciousness plus the snap of green apple
all smoothed over with brie, he said. I’ve been reading

what they write on the bathroom walls too much
trying to see sandwiches in it. Bathroom walls are not what they used to be.

Now everyone uses the internet for that shit.
Added five vertebrae yesterday just to breathe. Both feet on the deck

of the boat today. Hold on to the railing. Watch the other girls float.
It’s only that giraffe girl that keeps building her neck

and not floating like the rest of us, they say. Breasts
are basically life vests. When the whales come up and tip us

we’ll see how good you are at staying afloat.
You’ll want to climb my long neck then, I said.

The soul lives in the stomach.
Et tu, Brute? said the stomach to the sandwich. And you?

I just want a burrito
and a sweet song.

Friday, January 30, 2015

More Cowbell

In one sock was a coin, in the other a spider
the game was to reach your hand in. Pick one. Pull it out.
My tooth came out that first trip to Switzerland

into the hard dark inside a chocolate croissant. Déjà vu
and my tooth were the two things I told:
in one sock was a coin, in the other a spider.

Sweet ache in the wild twilight when I saw the Alps
like seeing my own face in the mirror for the first time.
My tooth came out that first trip to Switzerland

while I was yodeling, while I was a cow with a bell around my neck.
The other children let me trot in their herd. I taught them the game:
in one sock was a coin, in the other a spider.

Coins are small talk, even in German. Fear is spiders, is pain,
is myself reflected in an unfamiliar place. I have been here before.
My tooth fell out like some part of my body wanted to stay in Switzerland

where the water is orange soda, cows in both socks
and the Alps have faces—yes, and they smile—
white with falling-out teeth.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Kitchen cabinets full of snow,
at home the cold won’t break.
So you leave, down the street in semi-straight lines
bent against the wind, bent against other the people passing.
Is that cold or sadness or a spark?
Yes, something about to go off—
somewhere between snap and catch.
This little flower blooms with wrongheaded love:
a mignonette foolish for snow, for the pale opal-fire of January
icing over the wetlands
as grey clouds smoke-over a white sky,
slipping past the jagged tops of trees who never
drop their needles, while other trees lose all.

Who’s to say why the beavers took down this stand,
leaving an empty space, a stain
and why the tall grasses and cattails go yellow from brown
but stay erect, when tougher weeds than they have curved down
and forgotten what they stood for, and how
to count the pleasures of snow;
tracks, then melt, then more, then waiting.
Old farm tools in the snow look like girls curling forward,
resting their foreheads on their knees. Frozen and numb.
But not beyond the possibility of uncurling.
The sound of running water after months of stand-still deep freeze
is like the sound of your key in the door, my heart
will melt down mountains, and what is white now
will be green when you come home.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Without the Shipwreck

Viking gold lingers like it was made to sit with salt,
made for the bottom of the ocean. Until we find each other
underwater, bumping round air-helmet heads.
I bite my tongue, hard.
You just want the treasure, without the shipwreck.

When I bite my tongue I pour salt into a mug and it sinks:
the top is water and the bottom is lines in the ocean.
Once I sat in a salt room for an hour. Everything was coated
in a singular salt from an astonishing cave, brought to Manhattan
by mad beauty geniuses, salt scientists, sure they had stumbled on
the treasure everyone else swished and spat.
Salt carpet and salt walls, watching relaxing salinated images
on a plasma screen and at the end of the hour they gave me a bottle
of water. I drank it too quickly and then
I took the biggest shit of my life. It was brown but also green,
like the chia seeds I had been eating had come to life
in my intestines. Remember Chia Pets?

The last thing I remember her saying
was that her sixteen year old niece was a pathological liar.
That seemed like ok first date talk, right?
But then there was a bunch of stuff I missed.
And when I tuned back in, it was because she was getting
a bit loud, because she was very offended,
because he suggested she go to Al Anon.
Then she stood up and was like,
"I don't need you to help me."
And that was the end of their first date,
this couple that had only previously met online
who I was sitting next to at the café
at the big New York Public Library on Fifth Ave
where I was browsing The Atlas of Shipwrecks & Treasure
missing you so much I made maps with sugar
how the East Coast meets the ocean—
the distance between us is many sugar packets—
and I thought everyone else around me
was in love, though they didn’t know it.