Débora Ewing, Corner Empathy


whose voice in my psyche
demands I clean this damned oven

sets the parameters for success
at the boundary of not quite lived-in?

living is messy – memories are stains
you never quite wash out

nobody names them

this is the one where you thought I was great
while spinach blew from the stew-pot to the ceiling

This one you called me over and
in my excitement I forgot there might be blood.

Here are the fingerprints, brushstrokes on my jeans,
mistakes that didn’t make the canvas.

Those cigarette burns show
unintentionality, the stain of distraction.

These rusty wrinkles mark where I loved the translation so much
I dropped a glass of Frappato in my book

This is the one where I was dying, not in control
of my body. I could replace the blanket

but I prefer to remember
I didn’t die

I’m clearly pariah

spooky action

untangle my head
from these twilight bats
while cold mist is still
letting go of the asphalt
soft rising pink into the grey

entangle my heart
with ghost arms counter-spun
silver-thread holding my dreams
at a distance from where I imagine
your heart to sleep

if there’s a funeral for me
please come in costume
not the plastic death-mask
of decency, mind you
but clown paint, wings, false eyelashes
crinolines and cowboy boots

make them clutch pearls whilst
you pluck mandolin in bard-procession
wear the stories we told
at campfires in separate cities
bring me ghostly by your side
that I may see the measure
of my life’s amount.

but before we come to all that
hand me a rock like a piece of your heart
infused with the DNA of joy
I’ll put it in my pocket
a tangible talisman
and wish for nothing more

Deborah describes her painting ‘Other’ as the inspiration for the following poem.


I raise my glasses
quarter mast to the half-sun
squalid air lingers half-dead with a coastal smell
of fish, uncharacteristic for here
we have somebody else’s atmosphere

and it suits me – I’d rather be
somewhere saltier, more humid
more squalid

and I think of Octavia at the dollar store
stately Caribbean princess buying snacks
on her lunch break – does she bring this climate with her?
calling me by name – does it always break one’s heart,
to be remembered?

Octavia with her grandmother’s name
and a thousand scripts in her eyes, so strange
to meet someone here, now
from another lifetime just when I so wish to be
somewhere else

and I wonder, in leaving, was there something more to be said
polite niceties and we should do lunch
but what of my world would I offer?
Baleadas? pool-hall cocktails? a park bench?
what’s the currency spent to voice that question?

the sky rings closer to home, and
the sun sinks into familiarity
decisions are made, paths taken
that octopus removed from my chest once again
I can tell by the siren in passing I’m here
now, with certainty, and this
is the load to be taken up

regular pickles

willing concessions like
diced pickles seem reasonable
a safe sandwich
somebody slides them into your salad
with “this will be good for you”
next thing they’re chopping up other stuff
filling your bowl with what’s
anyone’s guess but most likely
their favorite ingredients
anaphylactic at worst, mouldy or maybe
bruised at best
as the chef continues with zest
(and here we don’t mean the rind of lemon)
pulling out bigger knives and ingredients
more forgotten than exotic
things wanting composting or
parts that were yours not meant
to be diced
saying, “I made this for you”
suddenly everything weighs more unreasonably
enough of these dishes you won’t
recall what you’d grown in your garden or
where to find the furrows
produce left languishing
eaten by weevils

corner empathy

you offer me
the weight of your history
in the form of water-cooler chat
perhaps believing this
camaraderie in bite-size bits

it starts with my face
pulleys and levers raise up a smile
eyes forced into tunnels of focus
my hands rise involuntarily
to catch each lump of your weekend
they’re measurable, your phrases
and take shape
and space and heft
as I topple them closer to my chest

but the worst – the worst
is that pleading at the end of each sentence
that implicit request for reciprocation
and here’s the awful rub:
I don’t think you know
it’s your addict’s way of asking
for my pain
because yours is not enough
to sate the beast

I feel your teeth
wanting to eat my story
as they enunciate plainer things
there’s a bit of spit next to your mouth
where the blood of my story will leak undigested
if I give it to you
but I can’t bear to watch you chew

and maybe that’s the worst –
it’s the churning you crave, not me
rending flesh still attached
tendons stretched while you devour
my careful anecdotes
looking for meat
while my heart slips out the back

Débora Ewing paints and writes in Annandale, Virginia, USA. Her short fiction ‘Coloring Outside the Lines’ and ‘Full Moon New Year’ can be found at www.jerryjazzmusician.com.  ‘Coloring Outside the Lines’ is cited as a resource in Jazz Fiction: A History and Comprehensive Reader’s Guide by David Rife. Her poem ‘To Mum, With Congratulations was published’ by Kalon Women Magazine. She blogs about the artistic process at www.debnation.com

Read more of Deborah here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s