Two poems by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes

A Photo of Pennsylvania in Fiji

You’re in the middle, row house with a low
slung porch. Daisy-print house dress, coal
bucket, cricket dusk, hair gray static.  Always
those mountains behind you,
where riddled veins map a deep
underworld, weave our history

in hard black ink. How they bleed
across the state, Appalachian sash
on a plain beauty queen who’ll never win.
With nightfall, your black-lung husband,
football and fistfights in brotherhood bars.
The Saturday church will heave with your wishes,

coins in a basket to the heathen abroad.
Winter waiting just behind the altar’s
Cyrillic promises. Where I am is winter, too—
a sultry season. The mountains sleep loudly, their guts
undisturbed. Children dressed in American t-shirts
cheer a soccer match on TV.

The players’ bodies twist and waver
in impossible contortions, dreamlike
with the fitful signal. Like this we reach
across the dateline and the waves—
antenna stretched to the top
of a strangler fig tree.

Christmas Emotion Salad

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Whoever translated the menu at Twin Peaks Restaurant
understood kung-fu action heroes
should not be digested. Chicken Jerk Jackie Chan’s so hot
and raucous it’ll smoke your eyes out and make you want
to smash the table with your fist.
No one would notice if we did—
too many bra-less college girls on the dance floor, getting ogled
by the rusty accordion players from Folk Band Sinatra.

Tonight I’ll have the Christmas Emotion Salad.
Our indifferent, saucy waiter, Dmitri, delivers
peppers roasted in a terracotta oven,
cheese thick and provincial, loamy
nutmegged beets. This taste is a bread-warm house
where my grandmother waits at the end of each year,
getting ready for her descendants to invade. We’re always hungry

for her cookies and hamburgs, want to wash our gullets
again with the rush of hoof-prints
in a new-dawn snow, sink our teeth into the immortality
of the plastic tinseled tree. I want her to leave it
up all year. I want this taste
on my tongue all night: the flavor
of what just spent a whole life
plump and round in the earth like a heart.

The man I’m with has a Neverneverland
voice and eyes like lilycelery.  He’s devouring
his Meat with Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.
For dessert we’ll nibble a Cake for Persons in Love—
drink enough Valley of Roses Merlot to go back warm

through the icy streets to our hotel,
stumble a little and hold onto each other’s coats,
get a little frisky on the elevator,
make out in a corner of the rooftop bar.
Try each other out like items we discovered
at a flea market—familiar and worn,
valued because we were alone.
In the morning, we’ll drink coffee over scrambled eggs,
pretend we don’t feel anything
but a sweet headache from the wine.

About the author

Mary Kovaleski Byrnes lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, but doesn’t stay put for very long. She has worked in a restaurant in New Zealand, studied…

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Issue 14 · February 2012

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