3 poems by Juliana Roth

At My Father’s Funeral


Picture me: I wear an orange dress

thinking I am the sun, reviving the dead

only to mourn them. How selfish I must be, here

his words: It’s all about language. But what isn’t?


More: how displaced we all are.


Lyme burrows, like a small animal,

meager love curled at my feet after a meal

or they say Lyme hides, the disease a swift robber

masked as an aging man. His words again: I


began to paint again and once again forgot. Speak this:


Do I belong standing here? Father

easily drifts away, then why cling paper?

Private mourning is hard to detect. Every

thing is coded and quiet among them --


She clutches her battered poem,

rubs it like a talisman. Time passes; day is used up.


The father said angrily, “I don’t eat sweets anymore.”



swimming breast stroke as a swamped thing


“I run, a running man. Not a plant, but a man. But how will they

know? How will they know I am a man unless I wear a man’s skin?”

- Alan Moore, Saga of the Swamp Thing


i.


for a moment there is beauty -- there's a hole in my head

as big as the world -- the YMCA isn’t crowded

at 6 am I go there to change a dry, mad voice

that whispers of Earthdeath coils my hair, capped


I am tadpole I am fish I am a plant watch my toes

flex against tiled wall watch my arms become water poppies

pierce through surface tension watch I obey gravity but not here

I propel I propel I propel


flip my body in ways I can’t on land, aquatically alive

I think of the rudders, fishing lures waved at my throat, the thing

of the swamp constructs my body out of shrub, reeds, papyrus

inhabiting that which may not seem to be alive


my consciousness seeps out and thinks of the word suck

I suck to my milfoil lungs the air I’ve trapped in my bulbous mouth


ii.


in my bulbous mouth, air held captive -- savoring

the new taste of molecules, moving through the water unnetted

I think of the months I once lived as the woods

writing letters to a man in a language he could not speak


he lived in a room, investigating my disappearance, unsealed

the letters evaporated, became my veined roots, branched

like you, receding in our memories until they're no longer visible, my human

hands tired from pitching tubers, like felled timber floating the Colorado, reddening


a body is a thing that can be erased, like breasts crossed over by drowning arms

I flattened rode out rapids flexed my muscles eroded my hips

a swamp thing

a girl, but tonight


I looked into a man's eyes who seemed to see my own, glimpsed

the abyss bubbling through the chlorine, my scent submerged


iii.


sight submerged like scent underwater

gliding, knowing how to forget, I thank

rubber goggles for what otherwise may blind me

I see, everything’s a dream when you’re alone,

but the pull through the wall of water, the flip turn

tumbles my body as I try to say his name

a kind of grace I try to learn underwater

it comes out as ah ah


ah ah I gasp choke

emerge to save my life, intoxicated by the motion

we forget all the risks

I almost became flooded by forgetting

I almost became flooded by joy

almost called for him where there is no sound


iv.


I called for you, moss skin, pulsing body mantle

igneous intrusion of southern rockies, you


magma bursted peaks out from core, rudely

earthtorn hands and knees on shale rock face


I crawled the border between us, saw the line

for what it was, nothing to be seen, unidentifiable


another word for algae is pond scum, algae forms

green scoundrel stealing dissolved oxygen, suffocating


you, earthmess! -- you, bloody pollen making breath asthmatic

your air was so thin I cried for more, and then the beauty?


from up high, your mountains cut through water, I see

you are stony soil, petrified, like frozen time. I command you:


do not bring your evil into my swamp


v.


soil frozen, time petrified -- I think it matters to see the world for

what it is, where we plant our feet on earth, that we become planted

rooted, watching from 13,000 feet, asleep in the cleared path

of pregnant mountain lions while tiny spiders drape their ribs


in silk, know how ferocious is a mother lion with her cub

know how she pardoned you, leafed body, sleeping breath

in a near miss of tumbling boulders, faulted land, lizard

who walks across your chest, look down and speak to him


greet the nearing creature, and mean it, be wanting the same thing

to not just survive a desert but to live there, together, if my body is

eroded from my own movement, from the way my human limbs

arranged at birth against me, then even bones can’t agree on representation


we must still agree on a name for not just him, my lover, me,

this voice you follow, but for you, green monster of my making


vi.


you must know then that mis-arrangement is precisely the point

the answer of course is we want our bodies

our poems to represent the parts that spasm

the parts that remind us this is just a pool encased in

cement, I push off rusty tiled walls, harsh watered floodlights

here I am in what we have made, gleeful, dancing, just afloat --

thinking of my umbilical body, thinking of my mother’s sounds

her infant sleep song sung from parted lips, I struggle to impose

a structure sometimes her melody slips as she cleans, rearranges

griha pravesh puja, the red inked footprints crossing parchment

our new sister’s feet framed on the wall, I think that has meaning

on the madness that churns, to celebrate a formed body’s new entry


a home within this continent, I push off from the wall again

I am in artificially nighted waters, what oxygenates my blood


vii.


I oxygenate my blood, swim into midnight water -- please,

don't go it's lonely -- what must you do with your hate

what must you do with your hate when your object is gone

my body their bodies the body we stand on


what must you do with your hate, green, you have waged bitter

and undeclared war upon the green, think of the moonlight

think of how love is a kind of belly you can crawl into gutting

the rain forests, mile after mile, day after day, think: jailed waters contain us


if you want to do the breaststroke right you must remember it is the slowest move

you are imitating a frog buried under the Sahara dusted over like the 10,000 year old

you are soaking through to paint swimmers on a cave wall, at last I comprehend

their stance, what the scientist said briefly forgetting herself, a chlorophyll creature


she whispered it looks like those bodies are in flight

that hole in her head the way

out is

through




Juliana Versus United States AKA a Love Poem


Because I am arrogant, audacious, wanting

a way to imagine tomorrow. Because what’s retroactive

matters. What heals Weinstein-earth process, mothering

for a future due to us -- utopic or not, a chance


to be breathless, sex sweaty, crying to dream

clarity out of theater. Our monument is for expecting

our ever disappearing tomorrow. Do we get to intervene?

Even this case is doomed for an ending, even this poem


deals in matters of grey all the time. Institutions are not made for accountability, but

to believe in a story. Wake up, Agent Orange, see what is invisible! Do we have

the power to give you the relief you seek? The Hudson filled my basement

and no one drowned, plus I’m white. What did they mean by Public Trust?


Inaction is a danger itself because harms do not immediately manifest

our point of individuation within the universe. Sustain me,

please. I refuse my own suffocation, and yours, and yours

are the breaths that control and facilitate our system.


I was once told my poem was beautiful and so without merit.

I was once told Teddy Roosevelt should mean something to me

other than a Christian patriarch sitting for his portrait after a hunt.

I was once told there was space for me. Here:


I just wanted you to love me. I don’t want life to end.


_______________


A multi-genre writer and educator raised in Nyack, NY, Juliana Roth is the creator of the web series, The University, which follows the bureaucratic failures of a university in the aftermath of a sexual assault on campus. She was twice nominated for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology for her fiction and non-fiction. Essays, poetry, and stories by Juliana have appeared or are forthcoming in Entropy, VIDA Review, Irish Pages, The Atticus Review, The Establishment, Yemassee, among other publications.