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Sample Poems by Zara Raab

Before boarding

you'll shoulder your duffle at twilight,
Father's overcoat stiff on its hook,
Mother's knotted scarves tucked in their drawers,
the house on its lot, the clothes, the books--
left behind save the serifs shelved in your throat.
You'll cast yourself out onto the waters,
not asking the destination or route.
In your mind you'll touch in silence each stone
weighting the customs abandoned at port,
and row when asked, and always with effort.
To your captain, offer salutation,
and quiet the willful, mutinous thought.
But for the stars shining through a breach,
doubtless, you'll come ashore in darkness,
soft lapping of water against the beach.

Taking Sides

Young as we were, our contests
went to the edge of the known world.
There we did not trip and tumble
from hard court to abyss,
but found the earth to be a globe
any boy agile at tennis
might navigate and hold.

On courts fenced by wire and spruce
behind the gabled house
we volleyed back and forth;
all summer we took our sides--
glare of sun or bruise of shade--
tight-strung rackets raised, on guard
for what came our way.

Dressed in the same clean white
that set out of bounds in paint,
the lanky boy opposite,
the enemy-opponent,
hit with ease the fast ones I slammed
across the court to him
till sunlight came slant at last.

He was the foe-in-friend
we would not permit to win
by missing an easy lob
or staggering where we stood;
though after add-ins, score in,
we liked to see whoever won
shake a sweaty palm and grin.

Oh, we all exalted in winning!
Each of us felt a keen chagrin
contemplating a loss;
each knew quite well which side was his,
wanting the impossible--
the contest our manifesto
recited in the muscle.

Take the Cake

Land O Lakes and the sugar cream
under the beater's whirring blades.
Furiously I whip them,
and fold in the cool-lava eggs.

White caps in the enamel bowl
fluffy in a batter smelly
with vanilla--all this I pour
in the Bundt flutes Crisco-shiny,

and slip into the hot oven.
Come now, peer in with me, and see
the blonde batter rising golden,
and as we watch--sinking sinking.


I so wanted that high, light cake,
airy and sweet, not this, cooling
festively as if to placate
with gaudy birthday icing--

a cake fallen flat.
I so wanted light confection,
not this shrunken slab,
with its deathly scent of lemon.

What use now my dreams of lightness,
and sweet cakes of airy panache?
Ablaze in the icing, a crush
of candles, all sulfur and ash.

Iron House

The guards with rifles swivel
in theirs towers, like lifeguards
eyeing an expanse of sand.

Inside, clang of doors, odor
of lye on pale walls, faces
creased, wrung out dishrags.

The men are counting the cost:
this tray is rationed, this cot,
this hour, this decade measured.

In bright coats of prison orange,
they pace behind the bars,
up and down the high-walled yards.

Leaving, I note my car's size,
I study distance, mileage,
the dollars in my wallet,

lands I'll not see, the silence
of my neighbors, the smallness
of my yard, my age, my sentence.