Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site
Cambodia, August 2008
Elizabeth Kate Switaj’s first book, Magdalene & the Mermaids, was published in 2009 by Paper Kite Press. She has also published a chapbook, The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems, with Ypolita Press. Her photographs have appeared in GUD and Carpe Diem Review, as well as on the cover of Boxcar Poetry‘s 2006 anthology. Her photograph “Recycling in Zhengzhou” won Folded Word‘s “Freight: What Are You Carrying?” competition. She is currently an Editorial Assistant for Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing and a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Belfast. For more information visit her website.
I thought there’d be bars in here
but the plexiglass pen doesn’t allow
that sliver dream of privacy or shade
as if there were a sun
where windows aren’t allowed
The window bars drag patterns on the wood
floor beside my futon
that twist and curl.
Soon I’ll know what time of day I’ve woken up
by the fatness of the heart.
I tell the man who sleeps above me
I didn’t do it
he tells me
to get a job in the kitchen
so I can eat the scraps
and buy better soap
My roommate’s making something spicy.
The wok sizzle seeps under my door.
I wait to wash my dishes
until she’s asleep.
I’d rather have a number than my name
tongue-&-toothed in mouths above blue
polyester draped arms that wear the gloves
No one says they’re innocent
while they’re being searched in here
No one has said my name in nights
“Chinese delivery.” ”Four-fifty-seven.”
is all I’ve heard
since he said my name
I tell the man who sleeps above me what I’m in for
He laughs and calls me a BAMF
Why would I tell him I’m innocent?
Standard greeting back to work:
what did you do with this long weekend?
rest. Why would I want to explain
there’s no point in reporting
crimes you can never prove?
Since completing her MFA at New College of California in 2004, Elizabeth Kate Switaj (website) has published Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press), Shanghai (Gold Wake Press), and The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems (Ypolita Press). She is currently an Editorial Assistant for Irish Pages and a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Belfast.
swimming hole or should I say
concrete hexahedron of chlorine
water & washed-off sunblock
was never carefree
someone didn’t have a lunch
& deep-end pennies weren’t enough
for candy bars from QFC
girls layered shredding suits
swam a few laps & announced
you could lose more weight that way
fatter girls stayed wrapped in towels
until they plunged in hiding blue
& when diving board contests of daring
went too far, lifeguards stopped telling
us to walk & strapped the wounded to backboards
for transport we didn’t know
their parents couldn’t afford