Susan Rich


Laura Letinsky

Curating My Death

I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens
—Woody Allen

Let me order my death as I would order a party

wrapped-up lightly in cornstarch sacks—
Let me arrive at the all night caterer, exchanging

guitar riffs with Lou, scatting over and over, may I help you?

Prawn masala, cinnamon tarts, ginger ice cream and red plums.
Let the end come with spice, let the parting be sweet

as cheese blintzes raised to an oven-baked shrine.

May handsome musicians play bold Sevillanas,
Miles, Otis, The Supremes—

Bring in rounds of mourners, not afraid to dance

or celebrate butter cream and layered cakes—
a galaxy of frostings.

And after—we’ll sip cups of Arabic coffee,

linger with dark chocolate—
its own global paradise.

At the airport kiosk, I’ll offer up last good-byes,

to acrobats and rabbis; landscape painters
and Mt. Rainier guides—

all the lives I intended to try.

Proceeding along the skyway, I’ll find
a chair at gate 2B, then check-in with the others;

in scintillant darkness we’ll wait:
                anticipatory, amiable, traveling free—

The Usual Mistakes

If the conflict lasts more than three months

you should expect problems with hips and knees—
surgeries, fireworks, friends

all of your relationships …

He discusses the war as casually
as he reviews the football scores,

or his daughter’s coincidental green card.

Before the war I never coughed, he said—
now instead of summers by the sea,

I vacation at hospital in Germany.

The body, he tells
me, remembers.

The body is trouble he makes me repeat.

                Bosnia Herzegovina

Tender

She will be known as the Michelangelo
of the Golden Kimono

the magician of the Singapore Sling.

On Sundays, half insane with a feeling
she can’t name

she opens a bottle of absinthe, breathes in

the bitter sting of a Lancashire spring
and thinks how a tender-leafed herb

begat an international outlaw;

how the wonder of swizzles, juleps, and flips,
could bring her here, to this.

Behind the bar’s immaculate boundary line

her fingertips linger
around a jigger, a beak, a shaker, a flask—

she exchanges Polynesian parasols
for yellow sugar pistols, relinquishes

a lobster stick for one elliptical orange twist.

Toward evening’s end
she’ll pour herself a pony of Calvados,

add one dash
of Caribbean grenadine,

conjuring her own blue mix.

And in the moment of last orders
she’ll shake her customers, stir them

towards a momentary bliss
offering a Devil’s Whisker, a rhythmic Widow’s Kiss.

A Corner of My Studio

after a painting by Myra Albert Wiggins, 1930

Texture, as a kind of thought

                                as if the canvas were discarded

and then someone reconsidered, after all,

                                took the painting back

from the brink,  as if

                                someone fruitlessly

attempted to iron out a few cracks;  review

                                the dried out folds,

as if to hope a second time—

                distill a certain flourish, extra depth.

                                Memory is like that;

a gilded hat, a blue glass jar;

                                one single disguised bed.

What to Make of Such Beauty?

The attack lasted less than half an hour. Approximately 1,200, 000 books and 600 sets of periodicals were destroyed.
—Kemal Bakarsic on the burning of the Sarajevo National Library, August 1992

The next day along the streets of Sarajevo
scorched pieces of paper

fluttered like a strange snow.

Peel one scrap from the sky
call it hope and an urgent message

appears—for one moment—

a new form of God pentimento.
Turkish, Hebrew, and Bosnian texts …

Desire lit in the arabesque of black, besotted alphabets—

until the warmth of the lines
recede and the magic letters fall like trash—

fingers chalked in the floating literatures of grief.

Yet, the hardest part, Lejla says
is to not live within such burning,

not breathe in the pages of our indestructible history.

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More Susan Rich on Escape Into Life

Susan Rich is the author of three collections of poetry, The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World, Cures Include Travel, and The Alchemist’s Kitchen. She has received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers. Her fellowships include an Artists Trust Fellowship from Washington State and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa. She has worked as a staff person for Amnesty International, an electoral supervisor in Bosnia Herzegovina, and a human rights trainer in Gaza and the West Bank. Rich lived in the Republic of Niger, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, later moving to South Africa to teach at the University of Cape Town on a Fulbright Fellowship. Susan Rich lives in Seattle and teaches at Highline Community College where she runs the reading series, Highline Listens: Writers Read Their Work. These poems are from her book, The Alchemist’s Kitchen. You can purchase a copy of it, as well as her other books, by going to her website.