Claudia Cortese

What Lucy’s World Looks Like

      Three branches strangled
in telephone wire. The chain
      links of a fence.

      Not the red swings behind it
but maple leaves on the slide
      rotting under snow.

      The oil stain on the wall
with tomato skin stuck to it.
      A strip of negatives—

      the photo’s seared palm.
Black rings, and the raccoon
      crawling up the stairs.


Nonna Erminia

I put too much pepper in the stirfry so I fish
the broccoli out, run it under cold water,

make the meal plain. My grandmother died
last summer and she’s in the pot of oil-scrimmed water, my ghost

face in windows, and I know there are too many dead grandma
poems, not enough about the iPod Nation, but I called her

Nonna Erminia, she lived in Naples,
and some days I hardly remembered she existed—

I was busy and she was rich and racist, a Victorian
vase, the old-fashioned lace you forget in a box in the back of the closet

and to love the masses I had to hate her though I never
could so I mustered up indifference, a critical

distance, and sent her a card saying, I miss you
and when I went to Italy for the funeral, the card

was propped on her nightstand, she loved me that much or
so few cards came or both, and what if I loved

an idea more than the body—
its charts and maps

and not the beloved beside me.
Perhaps the one good act in my one small life was to send a card

and what if one day I see the sky’s spires, its stones of blue light, and my eyes,
screen-tired, can’t see them

which is to say I see them but can’t feel
them because to see a simple sky with its simple stones,

to feel that church inside me,
takes practice,

which I never tell my students.
I want them to know poetry

is hard work, to fill the reader
with your uglies, your swans—

the forks and cul-de-sacs of an Ohio girlhood . . .
And I’ve never told the truth:

the work isn’t time—it’s the everyday

My dad once said, When my father died I was relieved,
and I didn’t say anything. I’ve tried

writing a dozen poems about that day, they all failed.
I couldn’t imagine his story—

hating or fearing or some-other-something feeling
a father so much that when he dies you don’t wake

in the night, your teeth in the pillow, glottals clogging and knotting
your throat. The day my dad passes, snows will shoot up,

the glass fall. I’ll be a small girl
in a small jar

and it will take all my work to shear a hole,
I won’t leave the way I came—

Claudia Cortese has two chapbooks: Blood Medals (Thrush Poetry Press, 2015) and The Red Essay and Other Histories (forthcoming from Horse Less Press, 2015). Her poems and lyric essays have found homes at Black Warrior Review, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review Online, and Sixth Finch, among others. Cortese lives in New Jersey and is the poetry editor for Swarm (