poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

Blog Archive

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fix You Between the Sugar and the Fire

Cover the head of the day in lemon silk.
Meet the morning river white as mist turning the plums
black. The yearling bear makes his spots with milk
as mountains mark each tree with fresh rust,
clean against the squall from the south.

Spin the day down crumbling numb steps.
Drop your spots but don’t forget your name:
most tenderly take the teeth of your own family.
Past are the days of new sneakers, fresh music, belief
in boy-band radio: now be the most careful with the teeth
of your own mouth. Don’t tell on yourself.

Sing songs betwixt the olive and the oil. Don’t tell him.
Sharks can smell your hair dye in the water, the way
you scraped your knee and a kind woman helped
opened her purse for a band-aid, you’ll be ok—
don’t cry my river dolphin, cover the head of the day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sheep Dip Tea

I’ve seen it—if a squirrel shows up
you need to get rid of what does not belong to you.
If it’s a rabbit, you are in imminent danger.
Have you ever made tea from sheep manure?

The squirrel was down like he was dead
maybe he ate poison. Under the wheels of the car
I gave him some sheep dumpling tea
and he revived, wearing a tank top

shorts and flip-flops. The squirrel says
you should hide the money in the White Mountains.
The dirt eats gold bars only in the dark of the moon.
The squirrels will bite in the light

of the moon, black cats lay down
in the drive way, say circle-of-life
that fresh asphalt—so soft, so warm.

Down on that driveway I died
next to her. I’ve seen it done this way before:
we will both rise as crows
tomorrow morning, milk in my mouth.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cosmetic Lead

Kitty Fisher killed herself killed herself in the 18th century
with strychnine pills she took to be paler
than the most subtle moon.

Her portrait up there with all those old Astor’s
is a warning to those who would be famous
for being the most white.

To get a darker tan in the sun,
the man takes off his tee-shirt
and reveals a cross tattoo that covers

his spine and wing-span. There,
an unlovely Jesus sweats blood.
“Three new Thai restaurants

on the same block,” says the man
with that famous old Jesus riding his back.
He smiles, “It’s all that rice.

In all five boroughs, man. I seen it.
Bitches love rice.” Kitty Fisher could have used
crushed-up rice powder on her face

instead of ingesting cosmetic lead.
Maybe he’s right, about most women, just not Kitty Fisher—
that bitch did not love rice enough.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Shadowboxer Logic

Would an algorithm have matched them?
Strip of birch
covered in ones and zeroes
too small to see
they read as white with black noise. Wishes.

Write the wish on the white part
leave it somewhere else
don’t let the trees see. Is she
allowed to tell him things that don’t make sense?
Summer is the big-hearted season

the open-heart of the year. The suicides
of August—the way the world ends: summer
smother. It’s not enough. All the maps
smell like church: holy water and mold.
Libraries are filling up with algorithms of love.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Owl Mouth

Nights I hunt with her
we read the incoherent sky

drink black coffee
against the morning,

enough to wash the blood
out of my mouth.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Grass, Leaves, Salt, Mud

Each day we are one less day
until the year wins and we begin

like the blackbird with the red arm band
in a high polish of rain,

we miss the night, the nest,
the taproot drinking from the past,

we soar over cows in the mountains
as bears take the pasture

fox for the chickens
all listening to the language of waning light:

happiness the electricity
that keeps us alive in the snow and the stick

of a Hawaiian punch flavored lollypop
wilts paper between my teeth, each night

we take double electricity,
until the moon wins, seasons the prize

each with a distinct stain: grass,
leaves, salt, mud.

for Michele

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Red Fox, Early Summer

When they are too skinny, beware of rabies, mange, feelings of alienation.
Someone shot the fox off the ridge in the backyard

the one that cut a black figure in the sunset
we took his heart

and planted it. A magnolia tree grew
and Omi said it was the first time

she’d seen a tree as beautiful as trees were in the old country.
We took the heart out of the old house and planted it here:

a fox blossomed. When they are too fat
beware of gratification, pleasure, feelings of satisfaction,

a fox fulfilled forgets
how to kill a chicken.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Speeding on the Long Island Expressway

Cigarette butts crushed out
into the narrow edges of sidewalks

beset with island roses
at the corner of summer and Sunken Meadow. Anxiety.

Candy. Cigarettes. On the way home from the beach
we’d both smoke and drink iced coffees.

Polished toes on the dashboard,
she cranks the radio—this song—

I run my palms up and down my smooth shins,
the song is summer-high and hard-yearn.

I make fun of her for not knowing the words.
Rain comes suddenly, race you to the car,

sand lodged in the cracks of the scratchy leather.
You have to learn the words so we can sing it together,

until we got pulled over—
my mother was a blue flower and I was a flame.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Teenage Moose on the Highway

What’s your favorite animal?
I asked a four-year-old girl
and she said, a baby deer.

The last time I saw Baltimore Jack
he called my attention to the people sitting at the next table:
They biked here, they got the gear, the helmets, the sweat

and they’re not even talking to each other, he yelled,
they’re just looking at their cell phones. They can’t stand each other!
What is this? Calm down, Jack, I said,

can’t you see we’re trying to do business? Last night I saw
a teenage moose on the highway,
all legs and slender tripping, through the mountains,

we drove for hours listening to 90’s music
eating bags of candy and potato chips.
Baltimore Jack is dead.

I read his obit while watching a video where Ana, topless
linked arms with other topless girls
black letters slick on their bodies/ no more indigenous genocide—

is that a moose on the highway? Don’t hit the moose.
Behind Ana there’s a row of riot police//a plastic shield at her back
just before the canister of teargas explodes

and you can’t see the women anymore
and you know they can’t breathe.
The moose isn’t fully-grown.

She wobbles on her big, new legs.
Someone you love is being choked by the police tonight,
and Baltimore Jack is dead, which is to say, he is still moving

and the problem with forgetful medicine  
is that when it stops working, you have to stop the car.
And it’s no good comparing him to Jesus. Look what happened to Jesus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Music

They sounded like radio static. Spinning in a hum pattern spin.
They sounded like trains, helicopters.

A swarm was shaped like the dome of the planetarium
and there were as many on Earth as there are stars in the sky:

they were scattered, like stars are scattered,
and when they got together it meant something.

Once there were bees in my hair.
My legs were itchy with stings.

I knelt on a bee during mass. The lump that pushed out
was Calvary, the bee died there, stinger stuck, last of his kind.

Now my legs are itchy with trains,
with planets. Bees had bad breath, I remember that.

New music sounds like bees, after they went extinct
we realized the math their music made was necessary.

So we don’t forget what bees sounded like,
we make music with lawnmowers and landscapes,

helicopters and modal logics. All these
wings in my hair, they’re giving me a headache:

that’s just what it was like to be stung by a bee,
that and more. Joyful poison. Bees were flying bits of texture.

Velvet randomness.
The bees gave us math.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Providence, RI

Let the knife go
at the red plastic ties

another section of blue tarp comes down:
last night I pushed back the curtains

to get at some city dreams,
then too much night came in

and this morning I dreamed I was blind.
A cloud full of lightning

calls another section of blue tarp down
and I can see the edges of what they’re trying to hide.

Two medieval harps with different faces:
first the mild lion, with locks brushed to the sides
of his big face like Shirley-Temple-curls.

Watch as she raises her small, German hands to the strings.
I ache to join her but I don’t know how to touch
the lion face or the dog.

My song isn’t ready yet,
still just the slip of a fish
through silent water.

The second harp features the dog, smiling too much
at the senseless music of it all;
birds, running water, metronome heartbeat.

Use two fingers, and the thumb, like this,
it’s not a trick but a craft:
touch the harp the way you would like to be touched.

Swoops the crow out my window,
clearly structured, theoretically motivated,
the whiff of cherry Chapstick,
singing the medieval prisoner song—

tell me, what are the consequences of changing the equation?
—the ad-hock ethics of cherry Chapstick;
skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer
leeward, windward, and the swoop

of the crow, natural vs. un-natural
knowledge of his chapped lips at my mystical windward,
his leeward wasted, that lean bird-muscle music
not dog nor lion did make.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Barbed wire electric fence breaks
in the bend
wire crackles and throws sparks

—the way the light catches
on the side of the whitewashed church
just before the sun goes down—

toward the dry wood
the pinecones and needles:
the break makes the fence alive.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

At the Hour of Our Death

The grim reaper stood slim
to the right of the cockpit, holding the sickle,
“I can carve anything into an angel,” she said.

Childhood flashback: museums with dinosaurs,
wooly mammoths sickle-toothed, Native Americans and Jesus,
those myths we’ve grown out of.

If that’s history, vague and vast
then what comes next? Look down—
rivers were cut into the Earth with that sickle from the sky—

flashback: the white sea, children screaming
on the boat when the whale spray reaches us,
“Make room in your life for joy,” the whale says.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Holiday Makers

1: Naturalia

The man in our subway car sings
in a language I forgot, but I know the song
is about love. I respond in four hundred year old German
separated and moved into the mountains. My mouth fills with
the acrid smoke of having
but being afraid to give.

He wore a hospital bracelet and danced mambo.
Maybe he is a distant cousin. In another turn
he could be the one giving
and I the escapee from the hospital.

I went looking for you
in the wrong place, where I found you once.
Any of the people here could have been you.
Wrong face. I mean, wrong grace. Not enough haircut.

Look for me. I'm the little girl in the patent leather
shoes and a white rabbit fur coat. The homeless man
called me Little Baby Angel.
The passersby agree.

2: Scientifica

On the third floor, in the shower, a skinny white cottontail
with a shaved head sings Frank Sinatra.
He is not a fascist, but he looks like one.
Except when my mother dresses him for Easter:
patent leather shoes and a white rabbit fur coat.

Deodorant; Toothbrush; Toothpaste; Razor;
shaving cream gets me in trouble. Cabbage whites
fly through the scene. At art museums I get yelled at
for touching—NO TOUCHING!—

but at CVS I can touch
whatever I want. Curiosities. Gassed in jars
and sprayed with preservatives and stuck with pins:
excuse me—don’t hug that—excuse me.

3: Artificialia

On the second floor my mother is singing
a praise song. Practicing for Easter. Church.
Patent leather shoes and a white rabbit fur coat.

When she says the word "Parisian" she pushes
back the honey-colored bob she carefully wears.
"Holiday makers," she says. "The beach as boulevard."

The song and dance man on the train
is from Cuba. Unmistakable accent.
I give him three dollars and he calls me a name
I haven't heard since I was his most beloved child.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I Hate You Arthur Dimmesdale

Dearly beloved but seven years silent,
the first time I read him—
Dimmesdale the father?—
so fucking ineffective.

Listen, everything talks to Mistress Hibbins,
trees tell, and the brooks, some animals
hear but Dimmesdale can not. The dell is full
with suggestions of what might have happened:

tongues, multitudes of them,
become the words themselves
and when Hester Prynne slept with
books next to her bed, tales ghosted out

from the formed pulp
and took shape in her dreams.
It starts as the clap of leaves, rises up on the wave
of the idea: leave the colony. Forget America.

I hate you Arthur Dimmesdale, because you can’t listen,
because you swear that one sad music made the whole world.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Eat dirt and grow roots, Root Hog or Die
spelled out on all the windows in white paint, rainy day,
and there wasn’t anything open in the town, no lunch.
If you baptize her, she’ll name you.

She names each leaf after the horses of the rain,
after the hogs rooting among the dead.
The prince of air shook his wings over you,
rooted to the spot as the words fell

around the shape of the people, and they bloomed.
When the rain stops
the desert smells like heaven. Call her
honeyrose, saguaro blossom, coral bell.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Lineup

The cows lined up for the funeral: they’re facing the fire department.
Match your voice to the lowing—it’s all lines and breaks—
crash, crack and cow sounds squiggle the field.
Sing the cow hymn. No. You’re out of tune
your chemistry is off, singing is physics—
can’t you hear yourself? This is terrible—
make some calculations. If you tried to build a car
the way you approach music, it would not go.
At the start of the winter they drove a truck over the pond,
declared it safe: so much for the music of the rules. No weight.
Today the cows line up facing the fire department.
They know a man went through the ice. They know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Incarceration Ode

Close, the breath of that truck
sea smoke of disaster and gravity:
the closest to forever you’re willing to go, but when you get
far enough from the Earth

the salt smoke tastes like change.
We’re going to build a false wall
the stars will still be there
but you won’t be able to see them for three years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

All Finches Evolved Over Time Really Differently

Walking the roof in the morning
against a hollow day, years of Earth
push up, through waves of sediment—push up—waves hello
what I mean to say is, dance

three-part rhetorical figures, figure out forever, disappear.
The first two attempts never work.
What I mean to say is, all finches
evolved over time really differently.

The noise from his stomach is like a woman
speaking harshly into a cell phone on a train.
No, he says, those are ghosts.
Put them on the boat.

Post-war melancholia is now called PTSD.
It doesn’t mean anything.
Braided rug or magic carpet.
Nothing means anything. Everything now

has a pharmaceutical name. Even babies.
Somebody just got a star.
I was too young. I shouldn’t have seen it when I saw it.
Objects need the air around them.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

If You Know the Answer, Raise Your Hand

Photography and anthropology
were primary ways of institutionalizing racism and colonialism
in relation to the 400 years
of trans-Atlantic slave trade.

So how did photography and anthropology
come to be taken up by women? Didn’t they see
how these practices undergirded the systems

that also oppressed them? There is someone
under the ice. Shit, there’s a hand.

That’s clearly a hand.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Hour of That Choice is the Crisis of Your History

the favorite of Heaven and earth, the excellency of his country, the happiest of men
in painting, in sculpture, in poetry, in fiction, in eloquence
any antiquity, any usage, any livery productive of ease or profit
the resources, the subject, and the discipline of the scholar

its fragrant midsummer breath, its sparkling January heaven
Greece, Rome, England, France, St. Helena
churches, literatures, and empires
to history, to the pyramids, and the authors

neither Greece nor Rome, nor the three Unities of Aristotle, nor the three Kings of Cologne, nor the College of the Sorbonne, nor the Edinburgh Review
the Plutarchs, the Cudworths, the Tennemanns
of Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Xenophanes
Milton, Shakspeare, and Plato

in spite of slumber and guilt, in spite of the army, the bar-room, and the jail
observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them
the crowded orders, the stern decisions, the foreign despatches, the Castilian etiquette

in the workmen, the boys, the maidens, you meet
in the hopes of the morning, the ennui of noon, and sauntering of the afternoon
in the disquieting comparisons; in the regrets at want of vigor; in the great idea, and the puny execution

behold Chatham's, Hampden's, Bayard's, Alfred's, Scipio's, Pericles's day
its sweetness, its greatness, its pain
its evanescent beauties, its wonderful details, its spiritual causes, its astounding whole
paint a Transfiguration, or build a steamboat, or be a grand-marshal

poetry, wit, hope, virtue, learning, anecdote
free, impassioned, picturesque speech
with thoughts, with pictures, with rhythmical balance of sentences
flowers, birds, mountains, sun, and moon

The screaming of the wild geese flying by night; the thin note of the companionable titmouse, in the winter day; the fall of swarms of flies, in autumn, from combats high in the air, pattering down on the leaves like rain; the angry hiss of the wood-birds; the pine throwing out its pollen for the benefit of the next century; the turpentine exuding from the tree

Homeric, or Shakspearian, or Miltonic, or Chaucerian pictures
the sun and the moon, the snow and the rain
the name of the Pelasgi, of Athens, of the Etrurian, of the Roman people
and politics, and philosophy, and letters, and art
to sift and wash and strain
such a flyaway, such a slyboots, so untransportable and unbarrelable
Translate, collate, distil
Greece, Rome, Stoicism, Eclecticism
Plato, Bacon, Kant, and the Eclectic Cousin
solitary, laborious, modest, and charitable

he does not see; he does not hear; he does not think
cherish your soul; expel companions; set your habits to a life of solitude
private, sincere, divine
the garden, the cottage, the forest, and the rock
Pindar, Raphael, Angelo, Dryden, De Stael
with abstractions, with verities, with ideas

balls, concerts, rides, theatres
and retire, and hide; lock the door; shut the shutters; then welcome falls the imprisoning rain
of muse and prophet, of art and creation
do chores, and suffer, and weep, and drudge
silence, seclusion, austerity
the fool of society, the fool of notoriety, a topic for newspapers, a piece of the street

the russet coat, the privacy, and the true and warm heart of the citizen
the subtlest, strongest, and longest-lived
incomplete, pedantic, useless, ghostly creatures
of tenderness, of terror, of will, and of fate
needs, appetites, talents, affections, accomplishments

Out of love and hatred, out of earnings, and borrowings, and lendings, and losses; out of sickness and pain; out of wooing and worshipping; out of travelling, and voting, and watching, and caring; out of disgrace and contempt

exactly, bravely, and cheerfully
demolished cavalry, infantry, king, and kaisar
experience, methods, tools, and means
no word, no act, no record
the transaction, a letter of credit or a transfer of stocks
get land and money, place and name

What is this Truth you seek? what is this Beauty?
be bold, be firm, be true
of art, and poetry, and science
an acre, house, and barn
roof, and bed, and board
in all men's possessions, in all men's affections, in art, in nature, and in hope.

This is an erasure poem made from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “An Oration delivered before the Literary Societies of Dartmouth College, July 24, 1838.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Night Shall Be My Germany of Mystic Philosophy and Dreams

language, sleep, madness, dreams, beasts, sex
space, the air, the river, the leaf
a house, a canal, a statue, a picture
chipping, baking, patching, and washing
Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline
Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn
his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed
the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal
outline, color, motion, and grouping

the acorn, the grape, the pine-cone, the wheat-ear, the egg, the wings and forms of most birds, the lion's claw, the serpent, the butterfly, sea-shells, flames, clouds, buds, leaves, and the forms of many trees, as the palm

The shows of day, the dewy morning, the rainbow, mountains, orchards in blossom, stars, moonlight, shadows in still water

Homer, Pindar, Socrates, Phocion
the persons, the opinions, and the day
the poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, the architect
Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom

a plant, the organs, or work, or noise of an insect
of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise
mountains, and waves, and skies,
day and night, river and storm, beast and bird, acid and alkali,

"garment," "scoriae," "mirror,"
space, time, society, labor, climate, food, locomotion, the animals,
its solidity or resistance, its inertia, its extension, its figure, its divisibility
adds, divides, combines, measures, and finds nutriment
annoyances, inconveniences, dilemmas

the widow, the orphan, and the sons of genius
Agriculture, Astronomy, Zoology
Light, Heat, Electricity, Magnetism, Physiology, Geology
form, color, and motion
in values and wants, in corn and meat

the chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects, sun
the sailor, the shepherd, the miner, the merchant
a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time
the snake, the stag, and the elephant
sun and moon, man and woman, house and trade
the broker, the wheelwright, the carpenter, the toll-man
— talking, running, bartering, fighting, —
the earnest mechanic, the lounger, the beggar, the boys, the dogs

air, the sun, the mountain, the camp, the city, the hero, the maiden
sonnets, the lays of birds, the scents and dyes of flowers
vanities, dreams, shadows, unrealities
of persons and things, of actions and events, of country and religion
wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power
corn and the apple, the potato and the vine
of conchology, of botany, of the arts
flowers, shells, animals, architecture
fire, wind, water, and the mariner's needle; steam, coal, chemical agriculture

the traditions of miracles in the earliest antiquity of all nations; the history of Jesus Christ; the achievements of a principle, as in religious and political revolutions, and in the abolition of the Slave-trade; the miracles of enthusiasm, as those reported of Swedenborg, Hohenlohe, and the Shakers; many obscure and yet contested facts, now arranged under the name of Animal Magnetism; prayer; eloquence; self-healing; and the wisdom of children

What is a day? What is a year? What is summer? What is woman? What is a child?What is sleep?
social life, poverty, labor, sleep, fear, fortune
a cobler's trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar's garret
swine, spiders, snakes, pests, madhouses, prisons, enemies
beautiful faces, warm hearts, wise discourse, and heroic acts

This is an erasure poem of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay “Nature.”