C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Speaking to the Dead; my mother didn’t whistle; Not Asking

By: Helena Lipstadt


Speaking to the Dead


Let me not be thief of your story   let me paint a still life 

of names   you stand over and below me    I inhale the shimmer

of your breath    I will not betray your blame

Perhaps you are resting and I disturb   perhaps you are where 

I put my father   wise and full of sympathy now that he 

has crossed over   sees how small we are   how full of longing      

I will not betray your blame    the dead need their space   

I bow to a world of lost gestures     mothers and fathers 

of my liquid core     I pull you from the acid

burying ground of my mind and plant you     my eyes sluice water

to feed you    where can I bend   gdzie?    where can I kneel   gdzie?

where can I place   this food of stones?



my mother didn’t whistle


but my father did   he whistled   la donna e mobile

when he wanted us   when the day

was going his way    she never pursed 

her lips for music     she bent over a novel 

by romain rolland   waiting at dusk   in the doorway   

she gleamed her feral eyes    

he raised his voice   his glorious eyebrows

we paged through their bodies   our baedeker   

our world book encyclopedia

well-schooled   my brother 

and i     he scared us   with his noise   she with

her silence    the tryst they made



Not Asking


I never asked you,

what was your father like 

Was it because you

       cried alone in your bedroom, behind the thin door

Was it because you

       flew apart sometimes, tectonic, and I was terrified

Because your heart 

       was held together matches and tar. I didn’t want to break it

Because you 

       were protecting me and I was protecting you

Because you 

     were keeping me from bitter truth, and I really didn’t want to know

Because you 

      were a mystery I couldn’t solve and one more would be too many

Because I knew, deep, 

     how much you loved me, and maybe you loved your father that much

Because no matter 

      how much I loved you, my father, I am mortal and can’t heal the dead

Helena Lipstadt is a Berlin native and lives in Los Angeles and Blue Hill, Maine. Her poems have been featured in Rattling Wall, Sinister Wisdom, basalt,The Midwest Review and elsewhere. Lipstadt is the author of two chapbooks, Leave Me Signs and If My Heart Were A Desert. She has been writer-in-residence at WUJS Arts Project, Arad, Israel and Borderland Foundation, Sejny, Poland. Lipstadt is a member of Women Who Submit and volunteers as a writing mentor at Hollywood High School, Los Angeles, California.

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