Potato-thick Slovak names drop off your tongue:
Dankocic. Paholic. You tap your cigarette
to a cadence of nine, girls from days of jacks
and school books now an old woman’s memory game
against herself. Sabucha with the long braids,
Irene the year’s favored name, its meaning peace.
You chant on: Talepka whose father spat black dust
and struck her red behind her knees.
And the steel-choked city descends through smoke
as your eyes fix on a far-off street, The Hollow
where Tanczak and Vodjak swing a clothesline
you jump under. Zahorsky claps rosy hands
that reach for you at Sunday mass. Peace be with you
nine times over, murmured through incense.
Markovic, the twin you never matched, grabs your hand
and pulls you homeward, through the alley’s stink
of fish and cabbage, to the mother who loved her better.
We notice that your night is falling,
and though you forgot Gabovic, we won’t tell you.
A touch brings you back to present peace.
Next month, another will go missing ―
soon, only the sidewalk slap of the empty rope, turning.
Jocelyn Heath is currently an Assistant Professor in English at Norfolk State University, having recently completed her creative Ph.D. at Georgia State University. Her poem “Orbital” won the 2014 Alison Joseph Poetry Award from Crab Orchard Review. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic, Fourth River, Poet Lore, Sinister Wisdom, Bellingham Review, The National Poetry Review, and other journals. She is an Assistant Editor for Smartish Pace, and she has reviewed poetry for Lambda Literary and others.
Tealia Ellis Ritter was born in Illinois and currently lives and works in rural Connecticut. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently by Aperture, The New Yorker, at PRC: Exposure, on Women in Photography by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, at The Magenta Foundation, at Catherine Edelman Gallery, by Taschen NYC, and at Humble Arts 31 Under 31 exhibition. Her work has also appeared in many publications, including The London Daily Telegraph, Stella Magazine, Bloomberg Pursuits Magazine, and The Financial Times of London.