Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Joseph Brodsky at Queens College (or, Me at Work)

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Joseph Brodsky at Queens College (or, Me at Work)

Article excerpt

Note from the author: The poems below are selections from a book-length cycle of poems that in part retrace my mother's journey as a half-Jewish, half-Uyghur refugee from the Soviet Union during Perestroika, while very pregnant with me. My mother gives birth to me along the way in the city of Vienna in the summer of 1989. The collection is tentatively titled How to Love the World: Poems for my Mother. The project reflects on what constitutes an act of hope or love in the light of loss, alienation, and stifled expectations that we often cannot help, in spite of a rudimentary desire to live a good life. In the poems excerpted here, I imagine sharing with her what her journey means to me as an adult, working as a CUNY adjunct instructor in philosophy.

I try to imagine him talking to the secretary

lecturing to his students who must have looked up at him

as they look up at me now, with the heavy-lidded heart of Orpheus,

stuffed with sawed-off branches and the light

of interior moonscapes, the glint of snails, clay, and mortar shells.

They too only half mean to sing low to themselves,

lift lines from epic poetry and actually conjure something from

another world.

How interesting it must have been to catch him in the corridor

on his way to the toilet or just stretching his legs a bit,

to watch his face change expression as he accidentally steps on

a wad of bright pink bubble gum,

tries to drink from defunct water fountains and makes the janitors

sob out loud from the sudden revelation

of the agony of having to love today and again tomorrow.

I'd have enjoyed exchanging cock-and-bull remedies for a chest cold,

ruining his day with a pointless argument,

or just listening to him complain about bus schedules,

the plastic spoons in the cafeteria,

and the old-fashioned timetables of college administrators. …

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