photo by tess. lotta
Anna Balint is the author of Horse Thief, a collection of short fiction, (Curbstone 2004), as well as two earlier books of poetry: Out of the Box and spread them crimsonsleeves like wings. In the wake of 9/11 she organized Evidence of Compassion: A Reading of Middle Eastern & Central Asian Poetry and Literature. She also co-edited Poets Against the War, an anthology of poems protesting the Gulf War, 1991.
Her own poems and stories have been published in numerous journals and magazines including Calyx, Briar Cliff Review, Raven Chronicles, Clackamas Literary Review, Stringtown, and Knock. In 2001, she received the Starbucks Leading Voices award for her work with urban youth in the field of creative writing. She currently teaches at Antioch University and Richard Hugo House in Seattle.
In 1965 a small man with a stoop
and timid expression
arrived at our house (courtesy
of the Women’s International League
of Peace and Freedom) with a mission,
a translator, and a twisted claw
where he’d once had a hand.
Also a miraculous jacket
of ash and lace,
its shreds of cloth strung one to the other,
delicate and intricate as spiders' webs.
This the jacket he’d worn
twenty years before as he bicycled
one bright August morning
on his way to work the fields
twenty-five miles outside
the city of Hiroshima.
For seven weeks he lived in our house.
His mission: to hold up his jacket,
in schools, in churches, in people’s parlors,
and tell his story.
To hold up the claw that once was a hand.
To show the crimson roses blooming
on the side of his face and his neck.
Undressing, until naked to the waist,
shirt and suit jacket draped neatly on a chair,
he turned to show the ropes of scars
responsible for his stoop.
Sometimes he wept.
Sometimes the translator wept.
Sometimes the audience wept.
Sometimes he included the detail
of his body’s refusal to make children.
Sometimes details about
other people’s children: babies born
with arms and legs enough for insects,
or no limbs at all, or cleft palates,
or two sets of thumbs, or no stomach,
or a missing anus.
Sometimes he included the detail
of his own missing family.
Into this silence
devoid of either bird song or breath
but thick with dust
he poured his own quiet plea for peace.
The kettle shrieks,
the clothes drier screams,
cats wrap about my legs
with plaintive meows,
plants hang out their leaves
like parched tongues,
and dishes in the sink
stare up with oily eyes
while I play god.
With my smarts I could
have been a secretary,
top notch, efficient,
long fingernails clicking
over a keyboard, could have
snagged a real check,
real benefits, medical
and dental. Old voices repeat this
it runs circles inside my head.
I listen instead to the radio,
playing noon-time jazz,
a gold-throated trumpet
soaring to celestial high notes
as I turn my back
to the kitchen, and let temptation
lead me on
to my own private Eden,
over the dining table.
Crumbs of clay, water,
sponges, Q-tips, pins,
kitchen knives, and in the midst
of it all a half-formed figure,
eight inches high, pedastalled,
on what used to be my best
maple wood cutting board,
I the creator mucking about
with clay. Grey, moist,
and primordial it moves
like flesh, muscles appearing
like miracles, my hands shaping,
my own Eve,
her clay head tossed proudly back,
her round-bellied, ripe self
dancing into life without
while I, that first Eve’s
chuckle, and say:
this is only the beginning
and it is good. Behold!
It is very good.