Sunday, December 02, 2018

My Fibonacci Sequence Poem, "Aging," Up at Poetry with Mathematics

INTERSECTIONS: POETRY WITH MATHEMATICS


Aging (Fibonacci Sequence: 01123581321345589)



none
 
1(one) 

1(ego)  

two (I)

I 2 threeeeeeeeee

5 school, ruled 2 three   

hate math 8/5 parents split divisor 3 & me

bad teen luck black eight-in-hole no triskaidekaphobe call five ringtones call.

now lucky legal drink: I’m old-gold-rolled ready-to-hold; I stick on 13 so play vingt-et-un with me tonight.

still 13 in the soul, getting old with a balding, working luck. 34 is dirty floor & still behind, & the legal drink now a double, hit me hit me & no! not prime.

Fivefive, now fivefive, finally loving the mother/other/the 21-still-angry child & forgiving the serious careerist, so knowing, so sure, so 34. Take our bald inner luck as it comes, let’s leave the dirty floor alone (why are these aches all right ,why are these losses, these losses, so possible to endure?) Five years plus ½ century, decoding while eroding, ofivefive. 

89 am I 8 or 9? The young ones are 34, my children 55. There are 13 pills in the morning, 13 pills at night. But what, exactly what might happen next? A working soul and another season’s turn, what else did I ever have? This world is greater than my numbers, the poésie of my self. I take the garbage out and set it on the street with joy. Tell me your secrets: I am the one who truly wants to know. Lemniscate, I move toward ∞ today.

THREE REVIEWS IN NORTH OF OXFORD TOP 15!

Thrilled that THREE of my reviews have made the top 15 list for generating the most interest at North of Oxford! The fabulous books of poetry I reviewed are Thaddeus Rutkowski's BORDER CROSSINGS, Marc Vincenz's LEANING INTO THE INFINITE, and Michael T. Young's THE INFINITE DOCTRINE OF WATER'

READ NORTH OF OXFORD REVIEWS HERE

Friday, November 23, 2018

"ADOPTION" IN BENGALI-ENGLISH JOURNAL SHADOWKRAFT

Pleased that my poem "Adoption" appears in the bilingual Bengali-English journal SHADOWKRAFT.  Thanks to editor Subrankasar Das for the pub.

ADOPTION
I was not a mother until today.
The brand Trump is emblazoned on tents
and abandoned Walmarts.
Nannies wear jackboots, joke as
children cry.
Secretly, at night, children are taken
to undisclosed locations across the nation.
Where are the girls? With
the Roy Moores of the world?
Hear my NO.
Listen, Space Force:
I am the Horta, fighting for my children;
I will drive you from the planet.
Attention, big game hunters:
I am a tigress, risen from extinction,
to protest, protect the little cubs.
I, ordinary woman, with my instincts intact,
the maternal rising in me like a huge blue tide:
watch me topple the Orange Ozymandius.
What you have unleashed can’t be
lied to or stopped.
I am more than me, too;
I am the children, too.
6/21/18


"Johnny I Love You Don't Die" in Sound Poetry Library in Italy

Listen to it here! JOHNNY I LOVE YOU DON'T DIE

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Where Do Your Interests Lie?

As a white Eastern European woman, I know my interests are aligned with people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other disenfranchised minorites. White male supremacists do not deem white women equal - they see us as slaves who also provide sex. Hitler spelled out the role of women in Nazi Germany: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). And evangelicals bring Biblical authority to the subjugation of women. As a white woman, my interests are #neverTrump: queer, worker, interfaith, rainbow, pink, diverse, global. And now more than ever, as fascism closes in, we had better realize where our interests lie. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

SLY BANG NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

My new experimental novel, Sly Bang, is now available from Amazon SLY BANG ON AMAZON

Larissa Shmailo’s SLY BANG is a futuristic hallucinogen of a novel that pervades your consciousness. Our heroine Nora could be the love child of Barbarella and Hunter S. Thompson if she grew up to be a telepathic FBI agent. Her story will make you wonder if all wars are truly fought on the battlefield of the psychosexual female libido.
Cecilia Tan, author of Slow Surrender'

SLY BANG IS ASTOUNDING! The "typhoid Mary of rape and murder," having been determined by alien pterodactyls to be "the only non-Nazi in the universe," teams up with a skinner-alive of pubescent virgins and ardent collector of Rothko daubs. Together they wage war against an ialdabaoth who intends, just for kicks, to atomize the universe by means of particle accelerators. Hyperspatial scene-shifts are conveyed by telepathy or supercomputer-assisted dialogue that bristles with snappy one-liners paced faster than a meth rant. Somehow, across these solar system-spanning pages, supercharged as they are with psycho-, neurobio- and quantum-physical erudition, the plot comes across vivid as anything Tolstoy ever evoked with his most considered panoramic prose. Larissa Shmailo's SLY BANG is like nothing that has ever been seen, or heard, anywhere.
Tom Bradley, author of Useful Despair

In this breakneck, futuristic, socio-sexual-psychological thriller, Larissa Shmailo tells the story of Nora Volkhonsky, a smart FBI agent targeted by multiple evildoers. As bad guys and worse guys close in on her, Nora’s main goal is to survive. She is helped somewhat by her “telepathic” powers, but her experience is often more dream than reality. “Who was sending these clangs and hoodoo messages? Who was receiving hers? Who wanted her insane or dead?” Fasten your seatbelt as you ride along a wicked highway with SLY BANG’s tough, spirited heroine.
—Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Border Crossings





Wednesday, October 31, 2018

NAZI "THEORISTS"

You need to know what the Nationalists read in order to understand their comic-book-like evil objectives. Their Nazi "theorists" would seem parodical, like Batman villains, if they weren't taken seriously by Bannon, Gorka, and Miller, and spoonfed to an eager president. Julius Evola, "fascist intellectual" (yes, an oxymoron), who wrote "rape is the ultimate manifestation of male desire," is a favorite of Bannon's, largely due to murky mysticism and even murkier thinking. Generally, Nazi theorists want to establish a dark age or feudal state with a few ubermensch lords. "Dark, I love dark!" Bannon rambles. This is the guy that Rebecca Mercer (Cruz and Trump funder) calls 'the Leni Riefenstahl of our movement." It's pathetic, but it plays with readers of The Daily Stormer.

Lineage

People often take me for Jewish, and that has always pleased me. My lineage is quite different (gentile, Ukrainian cossack, in fact). But, as some of you know, my parents and grandparents were interned in Nazi concentration camps during WWII, so I naturally gravitated to people with awareness about the Holocaust. There was also our shared love of borscht and horseradish and pickled fish. And - a certain tingling on the radar for Nazi catch phrases like "America First" and "I'm a nationalist." From what I've learned, we are witnessing the rise of Nazism in the United States, led by Trump, and although people of color, Muslims, Jews, and LGBTQ folk are the visible and immediate targets of the storm troopers he has incited to violence, trust me: we are ALL under attack. #neverTrump

Friday, October 26, 2018

AWP 2019 PORTLAND PANELS

Here are my two back-to-back panels for AWP 2019 in Portland!
Thrilled to be presenting with the likes of Erica JongAmy KingCecilia Tan, Kwame Dawes, Michael AnaniaMarc VincenzThaddeus Rutkowski, and Jonathan Penton!
Thursday, March 28, 2019
12:00 pm to 1:15 pm
Portland Ballroom 256, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2
R214. The Critical Creative: The Editor-Poet. (Marc Vincenz, Larissa Shmailo, Michael Anania, Amy King, Kwame Dawes) This panel will offer an insiders' look into poetry editorship and publication from poets who edit prominent journals and presses. How do these tandem roles, poet and editor, influence one another? Do they detract from or enhance poetry publishing? Does the critical mind impede the creative mind or strengthen it? How? Are certain poetic schools favored? Where does preference end and narrowness begin? Panelists will offer real-life anecdotes and insights on poetry selection and editing.
1:30 pm to 2:45 pm
B116, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1
R223. Hybrid Sex Writing: What's Your Position?. (Larissa Shmailo, Jonathan Penton, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Cecilia Tan, Erica Jong) In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault argues that sex was not repressed in past centuries, but codified. How does contemporary hybrid sex writing crack these codes? Is there a relationship between gender politics and hybrid writing? How does hybrid writing give voice to marginalized gender identities? What is hybrid ecstasy? Is there a special connection between transgressive sex and hybrid writing? Panelists will discuss these questions with a focus on 21st-century writers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

RULES OF PROPAGANDA

Do not underestimate Trump. He has effectively followed Hitler's racist and rapist playbook for power and has divided our nation to the point of civil war. We are surrounded by disinformation and propaganda and the press and freedom of assembly are in grave danger. 
Remember the rules of propaganda, of which Trump is a master, and teach others to resist.
1. Make the lie big.
2. Make it simple so that your least intelligent follower can grasp it.
3. Repeat it often.
And . . .
4. Accuse your opponents of what they accuse you, to confuse and undermine. If your followers are an angry mob, call Democrats an angry mob; if you are extreme and dangerous, call Democrats extreme and dangerous. Etc.
Watch for these tactics, and educate others, and resist, resist, ,#resist.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

In memoriam Irene Tara Shanahan Sargent

In memoriam Irene Tara Shanahan Sargent
my niece and godchild
March 28, 1969 - October 20, 2003
A poem I wrote on the plane to her funeral:
Aerial View of the Rockies

The gods like to trace their fingers in the world;
like leaves from a primordial tree, landforms
bare their veins. Clever of her to suicide this way
leaving no one but me to know. Impassive as
the dead face she wanted no one to see, clouds
hide rigor in the lines, purposeful or not, below.
In winter, sunrise looks like sunset in this distant
land, soon to be nearer, nearer, soon.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

SCARCITY

Listen:
If you wait but don’t want
If you want but don’t take
If you take but don’t use
If you use but don’t care
If you care but not much
The petty demon comes.
The petty demon says:
Not all of you are wanted
Not everyone is needed
A few may be accepted
There’s scarcity, you see
There are no loaves and fishes─
Not for the likes of you─
A few baguettes for baby
Some caviar for me
There’s just enough to shit and sleep
But not enough for thee.
The petty demon shrieks:
Time is money
Sell short
Eat to win
Assume the position.
In the world
In the angry material world
There are men who are not men
Men
Whose imaginations never rise
Whose imaginations squat
Upon the positions of power.
If the petty demon bothers you
Here’s what you say
Tell him:
I don’t know about
Your lawyer’s fees
Your MDs
Your CEOs
Your deep freeze
I do know that
The blind man is perfect
That there’s more to life than irony
And squealing like a stuck pig
That the truth is hard but you can stand on it
That time isn’t money or a threat but a gift.
As you assume your position
In the world
Do not love
Men who are not men
Whose imaginations never rise
Walk tall; walk with good
Assume nothing; take a position.
OCCUPYTRUMP#

In memoriam Sinaida Nikolayevna Gnatchenko Shmailo, October 16, 1923 - October 20, 2000

For my mother
MEMENTO MAMA
I haven’t passed that dream of wisdom,
the borders you crossed through.
I can’t translate the language
I thought I thought I knew.
I see a meaning, watching you die,
hold it in my hands like a graying sigh,
this lock of hair which I comb and tie.
I kiss the head which hears my no,
and meet your eyes, and say: Don’t go,
and leave you to this tongue of dread:
This is me, it cries, this is me and I die.
We will all speak these words in this way
and then, and till then, what shall I say?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Khashoggi, M,B.S., and Trump's Complicity in Murder

As a member of PEN, I have a special animus against those who would harm journalists. One of ours - yes, with that foreign, Muslim name, Jamal Khashoggi - but one of ours, a Washington Post op-ed writer, a permanent resident of the US - has been tortured, brutally murdered, and (nightmarish) dismembered for criticizing Saudi strongman Mohammed bin Salman's repressive regime, a regime that flows millions every day into our president's coffers. Trump repays the Saudis by complicity in the cover-up of this crime. Don't let this stand: Demand sanctions under the Magnitsky Act from your representatives. First the journalists and dissidents, the Muslims, the people of color . . how many steps before it finally reaches you?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Intellectual Dark Ages

My worst fear about Trump et. al. is coming true: Trump is writing the history books. In the heartland, the age of the Earth is 6,000 years per Biblical begats and the theory of evolution is censored. Climate change research is not only ignored, it is destroyed. The Holocaust didn't happen; Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton have been removed from the curriculum in Texas; neo-Nazis and Confederates are "good people"; Republican candidates for Congress praise slavery. Evidence-based disciplines such as science and journalism are attacked as "fake." Trump's constant propaganda of big lies repeated often is working- our children are numb with apathy or animated with right-wing reaction. Unless a change comes soon, I see all Trump's lies dutifully recorded for future students, starting with "More people attended his inauguration than any in history, period."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Wrapped in myself, / trapped in myself"

A line from my poem, "Frog Prayer," is traveling across Tumblr: "I am wrapped in myself, trapped in myself." Thanks to violentwavesofemotion and others for quoting me! 

FROG PRAYER
Dark Light, stark Light, take me from the public bog
where I, frog, lurk, waiting for a divine arch
to spark the dog in me.
                   In me fight tedium, odium,
banal canals of waste; light, I squat and
slight, rape.
                   Slight rape forgiven? Dear God of Frogs:
Please goad, load me,
take my slippery smoothness, flippery foolishness away.
                   A way must be sound: I am wrapped in myself,
trapped in myself. My froggy self longs to produce, create;
but no, I seduce, berate.
                   Berate me, Tricolored Frog:
Light whose waste product is air, help me,
for as I sit and soak, I croak, I croak.

Monday, October 08, 2018

My Poem "&" Appears in Shrew

Delighted that my poem "&" appears in the current issue of SHREW, guest edited by Michael T. Young. I'm honored to be in the company of so many wonderful poets. 
https://www.shrewlitmag.com/issue8
&
My love, I see myself in a fur coat lying face down, drunk,
on the floor of the subway train, one heel lost, & I feel a
hardened man raping me, my virgin soul frost, & awards
are easy, mama says, & they may choose you, but,
they don’t know you, Ms. Boss, & my father says that I am
sexy & the time after that is lost & I know I am fat,
that I cost, & before she dies, mama says she wishes
I was never born, my death in my mother’s eyes, crossed,
but my love, see this chasm & wall here & be brave for me,
come swim the swamp around me & trust it is not within me,
or if it is, come love this swamp creature until it is drained,
and look at the dead in the moat, for here they will remain,
& sit here, still, with me & I will haltingly explain
I still love, beyond barbs, beyond wounds, beyond pain
.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Excited to share cover and blurbs for SLY BANG, my new novel

Larissa Shmailo’s SLY BANG is a futuristic hallucinogen of a novel that pervades your consciousness. Our heroine Nora could be the love child of Barbarella and Hunter S. Thompson if she grew up to be a telepathic FBI agent. Her story will make you wonder if all wars are truly fought on the battlefield of the psychosexual female libido. 
Cecilia Tan, author of Slow Surrender'

SLY BANG IS ASTOUNDING! The "typhoid Mary of rape and murder," having been determined by alien pterodactyls to be "the only non-Nazi in the universe," teams up with a skinner-alive of pubescent virgins and ardent collector of Rothko daubs. Together they wage war against an ialdabaoth who intends, just for kicks, to atomize the universe by means of particle accelerators. Hyperspatial scene-shifts are conveyed by telepathy or supercomputer-assisted dialogue that bristles with snappy one-liners paced faster than a meth rant. Somehow, across these solar system-spanning pages, supercharged as they are with psycho-, neurobio- and quantum-physical erudition, the plot comes across vivid as anything Tolstoy ever evoked with his most considered panoramic prose. Larissa Shmailo's SLY BANG is like nothing that has ever been seen, or heard, anywhere.
Tom Bradley, author of Useful Despair

In this breakneck, futuristic, socio-sexual-psychological thriller, Larissa Shmailo tells the story of Nora Volkhonsky, a smart FBI agent targeted by multiple evildoers. As bad guys and worse guys close in on her, Nora’s main goal is to survive. She is helped somewhat by her “telepathic” powers, but her experience is often more dream than reality. “Who was sending these clangs and hoodoo messages? Who was receiving hers? Who wanted her insane or dead?” Fasten your seatbelt as you ride along a wicked highway with SLY BANG’s tough, spirited heroine.
—Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Border Crossings

Available for pre-order at http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/sly-bang.html

All-Star Women Poets Democratic Fundraiser - the Youtube Video

If you missed it, here is the Democratic fundraiser with Elaine Equi, Rachel Hadas, Patricia Spears Jones, Trace Peterson, emcee Maggie Balistreri and me! We are photogenic and powerful/!

ALL-STAR WOMEN POETS READ TO BENEFIT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Thursday, September 27, 2018

WOMEN POETS READ TO BENEFIT WOMEN DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES


For immediate release
Contact: Larissa Shmailo 
212-712-9865

ALL-STAR WOMEN POETS READ TO BENEFIT DEMOCRATIC PARTY 9/29
Women poets read in support of Democrat women candidates

Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia off Bleecker
Greenwich Village, NYC
Saturday, September 29, 6:00 – 7:15 pm
$20 cover / $10 minimum

New York City — On September 29, as part of the global 100 Thousand Poets for Change initiative, seven leading New York City women poets will read to benefit the Democratic National Committee’s (Democrats.org) midterm election efforts. Proceeds will be earmarked for the campaigns of progressive women candidates and candidates in battleground states.
All-Star Women Poets Read will feature Lee Ann Brown (In the Laurels, Caught; Polyverse); Elaine Equi (Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems; Sentences and Rain); Rachel Hadas (“The Golden Road”; The Iphigenia Plays of Euripides - New Verse Translations); Patricia Spears Jones (A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems; Painkiller); Trace Peterson  (Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics; Collected Poems of Gil Ott); and Larissa Shmailo (Patient Women, Medusa’s Country), led by mistress of ceremonies Maggie Balistreri (The Evasion-English Dictionary Expanded Edition; A Balistreri Collection: abc poems).
All-Star Women Poets Read will celebrate the growing role of women in political leadership today and send a message of #neverTrump to Republican anti-women agendas.  Voter registration information and volunteer opportunities to help Democratic midterm candidates will be distributed at the reading.
All-Star Women Poets Read is part of the eighth annual global event, 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC), a nonprofit, grassroots organization which brings communities together for sustainability and peace. This year’s events involve nearly 2,000 individuals and organizations and include a special initiative among families and in classrooms, “Read a Poem to a Child,” to highlight the importance and vulnerability of children.       
All poems read at All-Star Women Poets Read and 100TPC will be archived at Stanford University.
For more information, contact Larissa Shmailo (All-Star Women Poets Read) at 212-712-9865 or Michael Rothenberg (100TPC) at 305-753-4569.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

5 Poems up at Dispatches from the Poetry Wars


SCHOOLING
for Alexander Skidan

The motions of children
of courts

Carlight
industrial prolegomena

Eradicated Ovids
fast loose change

Rivers of tar, of cars, of tattered water
leave the driving to us

“I love you.”
“Don’t talk to me that way.”

Resistance is futile

Under the spreading chestnut tree
God’s joke

Come to me
my mitochondrial baby

I sing a song of mouse elf

Heidegger, Heidegger everywhere
and not a stop to think

Resistance is utile

In the conifer stands, Artemis’s breath
she doesn’t work here any more

Fuck utopia:
More burnings

Resistance is a drink
for those who think,
a meal for those who feel

Jumping off premises
the white cliffs are over

Tolstoy: “Turgenev
can-can; boring.”

Dig a whole
for decapitated Anna

The peasant become
proletarian, iron clad
then fat.

Did I arouse you, America?
Good. Coke is life.

Your jeans become genes
the eugenics

Not to interrupt the show, but
do you still know
how to pleasure yourself?



SPECTACLE IS THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF FASCIST ART

Come, hide with me from
their violence in the vi-
olets. They’re soon gone.



AMERICAN LIFE
mama
soma
chemo
coma

SET OF EXAMPLES AND NONEXAMPLES
1. 2. 3. . . . ∏=P. Place your value, place your bets, find a
reasonable answer: The probability experiment begins. Here
you, like a lost abscissa, start, an upstart fractal, an enclosed
polygon with an infinite perimeter. Heads or tails, + plusses, you
seek congruency in your scalene life, with no order of operations.
There is missing information, or too much information; too many
variables to solve the equation. Try a new calculus, and measure
your dimensions. In the probability experiment, the outcome "yes"
is unlikely, the expression P = ?, even simplified, irrational; perhaps,
you wonder, the set is null? No: embrace me, acutely, and my non-
linear charms, and fall, meters squared, to my alge(bra) arms.



PARTS OF A FLOWER

Q. Anthrax pustule stigma style:
your gaps                   pedaling, stab
your brazen face.
  you were made
for manhandling
torn from
the erg and
reduced to buttons

A. I’m the child of manure, a clod
one of many accidents
                        along the highway.
Like you, I’m a wino creep
stepped upon______ stamped on
pissed on by the Gogs
I can still see the
hell of us and  chain your food.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

#Why I Didn't Report; #Me Too

When I was 13 in the post-Woodstock era, I was a teen runaway in the East Village. I stayed at a crash pad in an abandoned building next door to the Hell's Angel's headquarters. An older man approached me. "Wanna get me off?" he said. Confused, I nodded. He went at me and for ten minutes I screamed at the top of my lungs because the pain was so bad. The next night, a 36-year-old dock worker had me; he was gentler. I was 36 before I realized that what happened was rape, child rape, and not my fault. If a victim delays in reporting her assault, it is because rape culture is powerful, pervasive, and poisonous.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

So, this is living under fascism . . .

So, this is living under fascism . . . the avocados I buy are still ripe and delicious, the trees in Riverside Park still speak of the beauty of eternity, my friends still write exquisite poetry and prose. But a weight hangs over me, a sadness, a loss . . . . Today, I noticed the long tail of a rat scurrying beneath my favorite park bench, and I cannot sit there anymore. It is that loss of security, freedom, dignity, the knowledge that honesty and fair play are forever gone, that the rules will never be respected again and like the rats, outrages will continue to multiply and authoritarian rule alone will stand. And we can patch things up a bit, but life will never be the same. Is this when I, writer and poet, go to work? Yes, otherwise, what good am I?

Friday, September 07, 2018

REVIEW OF MEDUSA'S COUNTRY

Michael T. Young's beautiful review of MEDUSA'S COUNTRY.


Aching toward Redemption: a review of Medusa’s Country by Larissa Shmailo


Reviewed by Michael T. Young
Medusa’s Country
by Larissa Shmailo
MadHat Press 
2016, 70 pages, $14.95, ISBN: 978-1941196380
It’s been said that there are only two subjects in literature: love and death; Medusa’s Country is the battle between those primal forces. It’s no wonder that battle, and the country where it takes place, are hard given the power the eponymous figure is known for. As the poem “Schweinerei” says of the world, it is “hard, atrocious, and cruel”[i]And what makes the country of this collection especially so is that it is not fantasy, like medusa herself; but rather a steady look at the reality of our own world: a world of war, rape, suicide, where “life is real; and death the realest part” (28).
But let’s delve more carefully, because such a description may give the false impression of depressing teenage verse, and the poetry of Medusa’s Country is far from that. It is rather the poetry of experience and not of innocence. It is a collection of incredibly intelligent and subtle poetry that never loses focus of its themes. It is a poetry that aches toward redemption even as it is bogged down by histories and impulses that cannot be undone. So between the transcendent and the incarnate there is a wrestling for justice.
After torture and rape a child dies, finally;
The suffering of innocents, God’s gaping sore.
Still I pray daily, but I’m mad, you see. (31)
The reach toward love, toward what transcends the pain and suffering of the world, results in an embodiment. That embodiment becomes a confinement, a trap, and thus a kind of failure. As Joseph Brodsky once said, “In poetry, as anywhere else, spiritual superiority is always disputed at the physical level”[ii]. Shmailo’s poems rage at the center of that dispute and thus the governing metaphors tend toward the claustrophobic and crippled.
Your empty heart can’t know love’s blood at all.
You’ll be my heart, a numb, reflexive pleasure
to beat, half-heart, and never know full flexure. (21)
Family history
is largely hysterical mystery.
This old cold sold blow hold on me
is moldy genealogy. (12)
In that “love’s blood,” in that “reflexive pleasure,” that “moldy genealogy,” is a determinism that belies all effort to a transcendent love. And this makes that desire so painfully felt. I’m reminded, at times, of the aridity and emptiness that St. John of the Cross explores in Dark Night of the Soul. Shmailo, in longing to transcend the pain of the world, embraces a totality that inverts ordinary terms:
I love love’s desert and its snow.
I, Shmailo, dervish, a lover signed. (51)
Or as in the first footnote to “Between Eclipses” says, “It is not the grace of salvation you await, but the grace of no salvation” (10).
At the end of the second section, the spiritual dispute surfaces as an aching for an end to the boundaries of the self. And this is where death and love seem to become almost indistinguishable. In the final section of a poem called “War,” we read
Maybe as the last breath—will we know it as last?—as the last
breath goes, we—will we know any we?—we might feel another’s
dying breath that we might know someone else’s as we know our own
death. (38)
In Eastern philosophy and on the subatomic level in science, the boundaries that separate us become tenuous. So, the final section, in the wake of this poem, enters realms of quantum physics and Hinduism.
I’m the field of every being;
parts of me are parts of you. (47)
This is me, it cries, this is me and I die.
We will all speak these words in this way
and then, and till then, what shall I say? (55)
The final section from which these poems come is the collection’s supreme effort toward redemption. But love must ever return to its embodiment and, therefore, a kind of entrapment. Transcendence is not permanent but only part of a cycle.
I will make love to you between rebirths
with penis and womb, with land and sea,
with wind and sun and death. (49)
Buried within that sentence loaded with polysyndeton is the phrase, “I will make love to you . . . with. . . death.” If an orgasm is “le petite mort” one gets the sense from this collection that death is a “grande orgasme,” and the cycle of rebirth returns us to the desires of a body that can’t shake its history or primordial urges. As the collection concludes with the poem that gives the collection its name:
The water will dry and will leave only dust;
I will feel no prick when it does.
The serpentine grass will cover my love
And green growth enshroud what was.
But once a man stood like a statue
Before my cave of trees
His eyes transfixed by my serpents
That hardened, froze, and pleased. (56)
Apart from that return to dust and resolving into bitter memory, it’s important to note the innuendo that plays through the lines, for Shmailo’s poetry is abundant with linguistic wit and wordplay. As here, “I will feel no prick as it does” simultaneously means “prick” as a penis and “prick” as a pang of grief or anguish. And that is equally part of the hardness learned by a hard life. It is forgiveness learned through pain, as in the poem “Rape,” where a footnote tells us:
“Through the ability to understand how little you cared, I grew strong. I forgave and forgot you, like used toilet paper, flushed” (29).
Sexual love and transcendent love become indistinguishable and so transcendence slips away and the harshness of the world crowds in. We are left with terrible longing. But also the beauty of the language, a beauty that has the power to transform the tragic into song.
One of my personal favorite poems in the collection is “Live, Not Die; Live Not, Die.” It’s a marvelous variation on that unwieldy form, the sestina. But more than this, it is a poem of both linguistic and ideational play that is dreadfully serious. Springing off of Hamletand his ponderous question of existence, it goes on to weave in relevant references to Eliot and Marvell, and, of course, questions of love. The poem exemplifies the intelligence that pervades the collection in double-entendres, in deep engagements with literary figures like Nabokov, Tolstoy, or Lermontov, or in pressing literary forms into a painful service as when a limerick is used to talk about a crematorium in a death camp.
It’s important to remember that medusa was once beautiful and was changed into a hideous creature by failing to keep her vows as a priestess of Athena. The pain and suffering traced through Medusa’s Countryare like a series of betrayals that results in a similar curse. The beauty that is written into the language, and painted into the cover art, are undeniable. But the world will not let beauty go untouched. It forces the hard choices, rendering them as compulsions of survival and so torturing the beautiful into the hideous.
In the movement of poems from formal to free verse and back, there is a push against restraints both in theme and form. So Shmailo’s “Cardiac Ghazal” is written in iambic hexameter rather than the more common pentameter and her villanelle “Apostasy” resists any definite meter when scanned and yet the muscular character of the words and rhythms works well with the outrage of confronting the injustice of children raped and driven to suicide.
If I find a disappointment anywhere in the book, it is only in the few moments of failed editing or formatting which falls on the publisher’s shoulders. So, there is a comma or period out of place on occasion and the opening comments by Steve Dalachinsky misquotes one of the poems in a significant way. But these are not, as I say, errors that are to be lain at the poet’s feet. No, in fact, if anything is to be lain at Shmailo’s feet it is the laurel of antiquity in recognition of her mastery as a poet.
[i]Larissa Shmailo, Medusa’s Country(Asheville: MadHat Press, 2017), 34.
[ii]Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One: Selected Essays(New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986), 133.
About the Reviewer: Michael T. Young‘s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint (Finishing Line Press), received the 2014 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club.  His other collections include The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost (Poets Wear Prada), Transcriptions of Daylight (Rattapallax Press), and Because the Wind Has Questions (Somers Rocks Press).  He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Chaffin Poetry Award.  His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous print and online journals including The Cimarron ReviewThe Cortland ReviewEdison Literary Review, Lunch Ticket, The Potomac Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.  His work is also in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost, In the Black/In the Red, and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems.  He lives with his wife and children in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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