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2 poems by Lisabelle Tay

First Star

What happened was that someone moved in

next door, into the haunted apartment.

She brought only herself — there must have

been bags, few or many, but no vans came,

no men — no hint of furniture whatsoever.

Suddenly in silence she was here

and behind the shared wall we felt her

and before long we breathed back in liturgy.

Looking back now I see it was the neighbour

that kept us together. Finally we had something

in common, something to latch on to —

both of us slippery with forethought

of future griefs, too similar to settle into

something real until she gave us shape —

first star in a long and tedious night — and as we

crouched with our ears to the door your face

brightened with the possibility that, after all,

the fear might subside. That maybe we were

capable of new inventions, that if we could only

hear her speak we could die happy.

Mystery was the only thing keeping us alive.

Though we confused mystery with secrecy

the instinct was true — with the knowledge of

good and evil came the failure of god and so too

the abundance of absence. Lightfingered, fate:

I thought I had you and you thought you knew me.

But for now at least we had something nearly real.

That night we clustered at the window breathless,

bewildered, with all the weight of a ritual —

and then we heard her wailing. And then I felt

your hand on my elbow, the first time in years.


What my mother gave me in this country

overrun with civil servants was a sense

of magnitude. There was a fatefulness

in the way she beat me, a sense

of the romantic: wild, compulsive. Once

I mistook form for fact and anger for love —

later I exchanged feeling for control,

trading one weakness for another.

And again I was mistaken: the hoodwinked

wife is robbed of all control. I was humbled,

made small, then ruthless.

Perhaps the most disturbing blaze of

knowledge is suddenly having nothing

to lose. From every memory and intention

there is now nothing left to burn, only

material to sieve. From nothing I think

of how my mother bred competence

into my body, splicing and grafting until

her vision took root. Even then it wasn’t

enough to save me from her past, my

future. If there’s anything I’ve learned

it’s this: to love is to defend another person

from one’s worst self


Lisabelle Tay is the author of Pilgrim (The Emma Press, 2021). Her poetry and short fiction

appear in Bad Lilies, Sine Theta Magazine, and elsewhere.


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