Category Archives: Poetry

Three Poems from Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

When I posted a giveaway for my poetry collection, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, I expected 10, maybe 15 people to enter to win copies of the 5 signed copies.

Imagine my surprise when 315 people entered.

And I’m constantly being told that no one reads poetry any longer, though it’s still one of my passions, despite the fact that I also write novels (have more to say on a topic when I’m writing a novel).

The Giveaway has ended, and all the copies were mailed to the winners last week. I hope you enjoy them.

To the rest of you who entered, I’d like to share some poems from the collection, since I never realized so many of you still liked poems. And, just in case you wondered, the line-breaks are syllabic. I started that with my Holocaust collection, Where Lightning Strikes, to imitate the arbitrary and rigid nature of the Nazi regime, the concentration camps, etc., and then, when I was writing other poems, it still seemed like a natural “challenge” to compose the poems so that, though the lines broke rigidly according to syllable-count, the language flowed over those breaks.

Field Trip to the Serpent Mound
Portrait of the Poet as a Woman
Auggie Vernon and the Eclipse

from

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs


This is one of my favorites, about one of the many Native American Mounds in Ohio, where I was born and raised. This is about the most famous Native American Mound in the North American continent: The Serpent Mound.

Map of Great Serpent Mound in Southern Ohio

Map of Great Serpent Mound in Southern Ohio

~~~

Field Trip to the Serpent Mound

Once again our professor reminds us that we
have not come here to see the Serpent Mound but to see the

geological formations beside it, and
because we want the ten weeks’ credit for only

five long, hot summer days, we dutifully turn our
attention back to the area, nearly five

miles in diameter, containing extremely
faulted and folded bedrock, Paleozoic

carbonates, sandstones, and shales, dutifully noting shatter
cones and the vertical fractures in the rock, all

uncommon in the normally flat-layered rocks
of Ohio, even southwest Ohio. But

it’s the Serpent Mound that draws our eyes again and
again. That nearly quarter-mile embankment of

earth built by Indians a thousand years ago,
the gigantic snake uncoiling in seven deep

curves along a bluff overlooking Brush Creek, the
oval embankment near the end of the bluff most

probably representing the open mouth of
the serpent as it strikes. It’s the largest and finest

snake effigy mound in North America and was
not built over any burials or remnants

of living areas as everyone once thought,
its massive body uncoiling, its huge earthen

mouth unhinged and open, ready to swallow down
anything foolish or blind enough to stumble

into its path. With an exasperated sigh,
the professor reminds us how the landowners

have been most cooperative in allowing us
to examine the site and will we please respect

their property and disturb it as little as
possible and please pick up that empty plastic

bag lying there in the thick ground vegetation
and will we shirkers please pay attention for once

in our lives? We obediently huddle around him, scribbling all
his words in our spiral-bound notebooks, thinking of

Moses instead, casting his rod down before the
Pharaoh so it might turn into a serpent and

devour all the serpents conjured up by the
Pharaoh’s magicians and sorcerers. In a drone,

the professor points out the exposed bedrock and
the dolomite, shattered and brecciated, but we

think about snakes digesting everything but hair
and feathers, even teeth and bones. We think about

curved fangs and glistening scales and the tremendous size
of it all. During lunch with his favorite students,

gulping down tuna salad on toasted rye, the
professor explains that researchers have been studying the

possibility that the effigy may have
been laid out in alignment with various and

sundry astronomical observations. The
professor discusses the closely spaced fractures

and the undisturbed Pleistocene glacial till, while
we shirkers tiptoe around the Serpent Mound,

whispering about Medusa, her voluptuous
body and writhing nest of serpent-hair turning

us hard as stone. About the sweet illicit taste
of forbidden fruit and afterward our crawling

on our bellies and eating dirt all the days of
our lives, gladly, so gladly, with the sweet taste of

the fruit forever on our lips and tongue. After
lunch the professor patiently explains why the

Serpent Mound disturbance cannot be explained by
either the meteorite- or comet-impact hypotheses

or by the gas-explosion theory but may be
somewhat if only incompletely understood

as the result of some ancient volcanic or
tectonic activity, but we’re thinking of

Cleopatra, with her dark hair and her milky
white breasts, bared to fangs which, when not in use, fold back

and lie flat, but which when used, spring forward and then
become erect. Serpent bodies long and cool and

hard, muscles undulating beneath taut snake skin.
Vipers’ pits seeking out the heat, the damp moist heat,

trembling to the vibrations which reach us through the
faulted and folded Paleozoic structures.

Which stir us from our underground dens and thrust us
violently up along the fault lines, our bedrock

exposed. Which leave us shattered, gasping and spent, our
snake hearts dark and deep as the earth from which we came.

~~~

Back to Poems


I was in a relationship when I wrote this poem, and the man had children from a previous marriage, but we weren’t even living together, let alone married. Still, when I wrote it, while living in my one-room apartment, and it won a prize, the person who awarded the prize thought it was memoir. He told me he would’ve given me an even “bigger prize than the Grand Prize” if he’d known I wasn’t married nor had any children and lived in a tiny apartment when I’d written it, just for “writing a relationship poem that made [him] think it was memoir, albeit well-done memoir.”

~~~

Portrait of the Poet as a Woman

Your second wife calls to say that the children get
ill after you bring them home Sunday night it must

be something they eat what do I feed them something
dreadful? She calls collect when she’s away. If I

ask who’s calling she says, This is his wife. If I
don’t ask, she says, This is his wife. Sometimes she cries.

I want to feel for her pain, but loving a man
is penance enough. In the yellow tea kettle,

the water steams. Holding the phone to my ear, I
sit at the table with this morning’s dishes. At

breakfast, your youngest son decided to hate the
toast, the jam, the world, me. I wanted to hold him —

the hands covering his face seemed so small, but his
older brother’s stare fixed me, as if in a bad

photograph: off-center, one hand reaching out, the
other almost tipping my teacup, mouth open,

staring straight into the camera. Lot’s wife stilled in
faltering. Pinned without wriggling to the wall. One

of the children slams the bathroom door. The water
steams, without whistling, in the yellow tea kettle.

Last night, one of your children cried out in sleep. The
wood of the hall was cool on my bare feet, and

my nightgown brushed my legs. You were already there
in his room. I stood near the open window and

listened to the hum of your deep voice, woven with
your child’s answering sobs. The white lace curtains brushed

against my flattened belly, aching to be child-
swollen, to share you with something of me instead.

The water steams and she reminds me again that
I have moved into her house. I crumple some burnt

toast with my fingers. Outside, two brown sparrows hop
together in the dried leaves, talking bird-somethings.

~~~

Back to Poems


When I was working on my short stories, a character named Eddie Madison kept appearing as a kid, the friend of one of my narrators, but I could never make the “story” ideas for Eddie as an adult work. That’s because, apparently, they were meant to be poems, and three poems featuring Eddie Madison appear in Love in the Time of Dinosaurs. Then Eddie’s friend, Auggie Vernon appeared, and he was even more intriguing than Eddie. Here’s one of Auggie’s poems.

~~~

Auggie Vernon and the Eclipse

He has everything he needs set up in the back
yard: two triangular UPS shipping tubes
held together by duct tape in the middle, with
a pin-pricked piece of foil on one end and a piece
of white paper on the other end of the box,

 

inside, near the viewing portal. Several pairs of
dark Ray-Ban sunglasses, each pair larger than the
last so Auggie can wear more than one pair at the
same time. A welder’s glass. The Bible. And cousin
Vern’s brand new, high-powered telescope, which

 

Auggie had to sneak into the basement while his
wife was at work because she’s a nurse and has been
scaring everyone with her warnings about light-
induced retinal injuries, which can occur
without any discomfort or pain since there are

 

no pain-receptors in the retina and which
don’t occur for at least several hours after
the damage is done. But nothing’s going to stop
Auggie from seeing the full solar eclipse, though
he’s not interested in the eclipse itself. No,

 

he’s not interested in the color of the sky
changed by the refraction of light. He doesn’t
care if birds or bats or other animals get
confused and prepare themselves for night. He ‘s simply
not concerned with the umbra, that vast shadow

 

of totality rapidly advancing like
a tidal wave across the landscape towards him. And
he doesn’t care about the photosphere shining
through lunar valleys and creating Baily’s Beads
— a familiar feature of total eclipses —

 

when the razor-thin solar crescent breaks into
a chain of bright beads as the moon covers the sun.
Or the Diamond Ring effect, when the sun’s inner
corona forms a wedding band around the moon
with a single diamond of blinding white light. Or

 

the solar corona which appears when the sun
is completely covered by the moon, though that’s the
only time the corona is visible to
the naked eye, and though the corona looks like
white streamers radiating outward. Auggie’s not

 

interested in the sun’s prominences either,
those gigantic, crimson, flame-like jets and loops of
gas around the edge of the sun. No, what Auggie
Vernon’s interested in is Hell. And though he can’t
find any biblical corroboration for

 

it, he’s pretty sure there’s only one place in the
whole universe that’s big enough and hot enough
and infernal enough to serve as Hell, and that
place is right in the middle of the sun. So that’s
what all these preparations are for — Hell. If he

 

times it correctly and aims the telescope right in
the center of it all, Auggie figures he’ll be
able to see all those damned souls, crammed so close and
tight together they look like urban tenement
dwellers, all of them squirming and shrieking like they’re

 

in a blast furnace, only with their skin growing
right back on the bones after it’s melted off so
they can suffer all over again, for the rest
of eternity. And Auggie thinks there’s a good
chance he’ll get to see plenty of demons, too. They

 

should be easy to distinguish from the rest of
the damned on account of the horns growing out of
their heads, the leathery wings on their backs, and their
cloven-hoofed feet. And then, if he’s really lucky
and his courage holds out, Auggie thinks he might get

 

a chance to see the Big Guy himself — the biggest,
baddest guy of them all — Satan. Lucifer. Prince of
Darkness. Beelzebub. Mephistopheles. Of
course, Auggie doesn’t know what the Big Guy looks like,
but he guesses he’ll recognize Satan when he

 

sees him. Only Auggie won’t have to shout, Get thee
behind me,
’cause he’ll be safe here on earth, about
a billion-trillion light-years away from the sun.
And according to Auggie’s calculations, the
best time to see Hell is right after the solar

 

eclipse, when the Devil thinks he’s still hidden by
the moon. After Auggie’s seen Hell and can describe
the Devil to everyone else, he won’t have to
worry that his unemployment benefits ran
out or that his wife is threatening to divorce

 

him unless he finds another job. Why, people
from all over the world will just throw money at
him — piles and piles of money — just for the privilege
of hearing Auggie Vernon talk about Hell. Oh,
yes, Auggie thinks as he puts down the taped shipping

 

tubes and takes off the welder’s glass, it’ll be worth
retinal damage, with or without pain. Oh, yes, he
thinks, as he aims the telescope toward the sun, it
would even be worth eclipse-blindness, despite the
fact that his cousin Vern tried to scare him, saying

 

that Satan’s face, as the last thing Auggie saw, would
be burned on Auggie’s retina and would be the
only thing he’d see for the rest of his life. Vern
was jealous ’cause he hadn’t thought of looking for
Hell himself. Yes, Auggie thinks, as he pulls off the

 

sunglasses, if only he’s brave enough to look
at the Devil’s face, he’ll be a bigger man than
anyone else in the history of the whole
human race. If he can look the Devil in the
eye without flinching, he’ll learn all the secrets

 

of the universe. Except for the ones that God
didn’t even tell the angels before they fell.
It’ll be the closest Auggie Vernon ever
gets to fame and immortality, he thinks as
he takes a deep breath, grabs his Bible, and raises

 

the telescope to the fierce light of the sun. It’s
the closest Auggie Vernon will ever get to
being somebody important, the closest he’ll
ever get to respect, the closest he’ll ever get to
beholding the ever-radiant face of God.

~~~

Back to Poems

Hope you enjoyed the poems, and please remember that they can’t be distributed without copyright info and all that jazz (all poems from Love in the Time of Dinosaurs ©  1980-2010, 2012, 2013, by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman).

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

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Three poems from Where Lightning Strikes

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Filed under Free Books, GiveAway, Memoir, Poetry, Writing

Three Poems from Where Lightning Strikes: Poems on the Holocaust

When I posted a giveaway for my poetry collection, Where Lightning Strikes, I expected maybe 5 people to enter to win copies of the 5 signed copies, not just because it’s poetry, but because it’s on the Holocaust, and not just from the victims’ perspectives.

I was stunned to learn that 396 people entered.

This despite being told that no one reads poetry any longer.

The Giveaway has ended, and all the copies were mailed to the winners last week. I hope you enjoy them.

To the rest of you who entered, I’d like to share 3 poems from the collection, to give you a taste of what the collection is like. The line-breaks are syllabic. I started that with my Holocaust collection, Where Lightning Strikes, to imitate the arbitrary and rigid nature of the Nazi regime, the concentration camps, etc., and then, when I was writing other poems, it still seemed like a natural “challenge” to compose the poems so that, though the lines broke rigidly according to syllable-count, the language flowed over those breaks.

The Dead Bodies that Line the Streets
On the Other Hand,
The Day the Snakes Came


These are two of my favorites. The first is from the perspective of a young SS-guard at the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews died so fast — from starvation, disease, shootings — with no place to bury them, that the bodies were piled up in the streets.

~~~

The Dead Bodies That Line The Streets

chatter and snipe at me constantly, as if I
were responsible for their being there. But I

ignore all their remonstrative and sarcastic
remarks. Favoritism or fraternization

with the enemies of the State is forbidden,
and I won’t tarnish my reputation or my

family name by giving them special privileges
that might alleviate their misery. Don’t they

deserve what’s happening to them? Didn’t they kill
our Lord and Savoiur? My best friend Kurt, though he wears

the same uniform as I, is not as cautious,
not as circumspect. Why shouldn’t we be paid to

do our job in this God-forsaken Ghetto and
be rewarded for sometimes not doing it as

well? he says before he slips behind the bricked wall
or behind the stack of bodies with his latest

protectee, a beautiful girl who hardly looks
Jewish at all. We’re much closer to the Front than

we are to home, he reminds me, buttoning his
uniform after he returns. Such things are routine

at the Front, he says, and he should know since
his brother was killed there only last spring. Sometimes,

I admit, I’m tempted when I see some lovely
girl who’d do anything for only a bit of

brown bread or a piece of sausage. I even caught
myself wondering what one of them might do for

a bite of chocolate or some cigarettes. But they
heard my innocent musings and have fastened their

rolled-back eyes on me ever since. I get angry,
threaten them, poke them with my bayonet: leave me

be, I shout. But their gaping mouths tsk tsk tsk at
me until I light up a cigarette and toss

the still-burning match onto one of their lolling
tongues. That usually silences them. These bodies

should be carted away and dumped somewhere, but Kurt
claims they’re here as a symbol to the living. As

far as I can determine, these beggars ignore
their dead. Instead they scurry around, stealing food

from each other, trying to bribe me or one of
the other fellows, hurling themselves over the

wall or through the wire. And the dead bodies that line
the streets certainly don’t care about their living

comrades or they wouldn’t lie around spying and
gossiping to annoy me, trying to prevent

me from doing my job. The bodies that line the
streets should be hauled away and incinerated,

their ashes scattered to the heavens. Then I could
perform my duties without interference, eat

meals without tasting dust,
sleep at night without dreams.

~~~

Back to Poems


And this, from the perspective of one of the Extermination Camps (like Auschwitz) Sonderkommando, the Jewish inmates in charge of leading the incoming victims into the gas chambers, putting their bodies into the ovens, then cleaning out the ovens. He’s a very devout man, and often quotes from the Bible, in his Yiddish dialect, as he teaches the newest member chosen by the SS to help with their “work”:

(Note: the mussulmans were what the camp inmates called the Jews who were were so thin & sickly that it was obvious they were going to die any time.)

~~~

On The Other Hand,

death: not everyone’s favorite topic
of conversation, I know, but some things

they have to be talked about, they can’t be
avoided, you’ll get used to it. We get

used to anything. Look at me: as stout
as good challah I used to be, and now:

matzoh. Open the door from this side. But
what a man I was. What arms I had. The

envy of men, desire of girls for
miles. What shoulders I had. From hoisting those

sacks of flour. Stir them around. Don’t look:
just stir. And muscles from kneading. Did I

knead. Day in, day out. In the beginning,
lying down on my pillow at night hurt,

my shoulders were so sore. I learned; you will,
too. But more bread than anyone I made,

better, cheaper. From miles they came to buy
my breads. And my ovens weren’t even so

large as these: I could afford such ovens?
Only toward the end did the fires burn

all night, so no crumbling bricks in mine. Here,
take them out this way. Now the fires will

not go out. The beasts have been sent among
us. They rob us of our children, destroy

our cattle. Cattle they never touched, let
alone destroyed. Drag this to the door: scrape

the ashes into it. Cattle — grazing,
sleeping, as if it were Shabbas. We take

the fat and burn it in the ovens: it
goes faster that way. One set of clothes we

take off, another we put on, and to
another place we carry the ashes.

Don’t worry. This is your first day: you’ll soon
forget to notice. That which remaineth

of the flesh and of the bread shall we burn
with the fire. Only better to eat the

bread, they would mind? Worse than yours my first day
was. For months I don’t see my in-laws I’m

working so hard. My wife is complaining —
all these strangers and you’re never at home —

she’s worried. My first day here, who do I
see? My wife and her parents. What do I

do? Kiss them? Cry tears of reunion? Of course
not: foolish I’ve never been. Here, work is

all we know: people we don’t recognize.
It is written: ten women shall bake in

one oven — even if they’re mussulmans,
into one oven, don’t put that many.

Otherwise, another catastrophe
like a few months ago: new helpers we

have, but does anyone teach them? Fans they
don’t turn on. Ovens they overheat. Then,

Pow. The wall explodes. Three days we don’t work.
We don’t work, we don’t eat. We don’t eat, we

bake. After, among ourselves, we agree:
Never again. From now on, we teach the

right way. Us they will not swallow up in
their wrath. Us the fire shall not devour.

Us the land of our enemies shall not
eat up. Our ashes they shall not scatter

into the wind, God willing. We are few
in number. And on the other hand, death.

~~~

Back to Poems


Once I’d written poems from the period before the War and the Concentration Camps, and the time during those periods, from the perspectives of both the perpetrators and the victims, I knew I had to write some poems about the permanent repercussions of what the Nazis had done. This is one of them.

~~~

The Day the Snakes Came

Wouldst thou have a
serpent sting thee twice?

William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice 4.1.69

We thought, at first, that we were imagining them:
that sliver of disturbed dust by the sidewalk, that

hint of damp on the kitchen floor. Then we thought they
were an aberration: the one found coiled in young

Markowitz’s bathroom sink, the other around
the apple strudel in Mrs. Polski’s icebox.

 The beasts have been sent among us, said Leopold,
to rob us of our children and to destroy our

 cattle. Since we knew he drank his meals, we shook our
heads and pitied his daughter Leah who came each

night to drag her father home, his arms waving like
snakes. Then others began to talk. Everywhere, there

was snake talk: It’s been pretty dry the last few years;
they’re just looking for water. Old Farmer Johnson

 must have turned up a lot of rocks in his field this
spring. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Some people even laughed. Then our neighbors began
slicking back their hair. Our children practiced flicking

their tongues in front of the bathroom mirrors and changed
their names to snake names. By September the snakes were

everywhere. Glistening black bodies swarmed over
the sidewalks, bubbled out of the water pipes, milled

out of morning cereal. Some tried to ignore
the snakes. They were the first to disappear. Others

argued: They don’t have any reason to hurt us.
What have we done to them? If we don’t bother them,

 they won’t bother us. They were next to vanish. A
few brave ones tried to learn snake words, to untangle

the slithering black unrest. Their facility
at languages could not save them. But most of us

tried to protect ourselves. The snakes caught us any
time: when we were gathering fruit in the garden,

when we reached into the basket of knitting, when
we crawled into bed at night. Then suddenly, one

spring day, the snakes were gone. A cold wind blew in their
place. We lost most of our village to the snakes. We

heard the same from neighboring towns. The wind chilled us.
We swept the brittle carcasses out of our homes,

replanted our gardens, and tried to rebuild new,
snake-less lives. The years passed. The wind blew cold, hard words

at us: There must have been something to upset the
snakes: they only attack to protect themselves. It

 could never happen here. I never saw a snake
in my life. If they were here, they weren’t in my house.

But we have taught our children about the snakes. We
teach them how to wield bats, how to ignore wispy

whispered snake charms, how to crush a snake’s head with their
heels. Because late at night we hear them, late at night

rustling feverishly around the base of the house,
their long fangs clicking, their lidless eyes watching.

~~~

Back to Poems

Hope you enjoyed the poems, and please remember that they can’t be distributed without copyright info and all that jazz (all poems from Where Lightning Strikes ©  1980-2010, 2012, 2013, by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman).

Related Posts

Three stories from Naked, with Glasses

Three poems from Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Leave a Comment

Filed under Free Books, GiveAway, Holocaust, Memoir, Poetry, Writing