Christine Lilian Turczyn

Lena speaks: A Persona Poem

    one day I fail an exam and no one knows why no one knows the phone calls I've been getting and the looks and the walks to my car and the lectures on why I'd rather talk theory than roses and no one knows why I don't have a heart for these things why I don't have a mouth for them either no one no one knows why I drop out of school and lose years to dull work and quarrel with male shrinks who suggest that I always want to be on top no one no one picks me up when I fall when I crawl on the ground and my life writhes under silence like a snake of false words no one listens to my silence to a tree that grows behind my back year after year soon its apples are beyond my reach and its shadows become my spine no one listens to my gestures speak to the way I cry behind your back like a leaf turning in a windless sky cry like the bone-white skin of a star twitching in space no one
    so I have lived and I have done these things and more and I have carved my words out of the silence of my bone and I have dripped white rain of song and I have taken every word from the black earth of my thought and I have taken every word from my children never conceived and I have written down hope in braille and followed its staccato path and I have lost everything once and then again and I have been proud and crescent thin--almost invisible
    so tell me how I should theorize these things because I feel that those who theorized my academic decline did not think it would ever really happen if they did they would have used different words used words I understood and I would not have failed have failed with a nearly perfect academic record so tell me how you theorize the sound of your life falling stillborn through your body and the way that you bend to pick it up and the way that you bend and the way that you bend and the way that you rise because you simply choose to do so because you found there was a mortal cost to saying I read paul celan because I love his work I love it and no more no less than that

Your Laughter Running

The day the evaluator came,
you took the podium, rose up
the way words do when tears
lie deeper than the heart of bone.
“Stop crying son,” you read,
your laughter running
further than my life would ever take me
from myself.
Your poem was about the times your father
told you to stop, or he would really
give you something to cry about.
How you laughed and laughed as tears
streamed down your face,
sorrow released from its epicenter--
a patient wing of moonlight loosed from sand.
I thank you for trying to better my job,
for feeling what I could not say,
that somehow we are all abandoned
waiting for someone who might never return,
our birth names different from those given,
our grandmothers--mothers, our mothers--children
lying in floods of rising grass,
beneath the drone of bombers.
What kind of world is this, I ask
in which love means never coming home,
home means “no house,”
just an October maple of sky:
A fist of sparrows beneath the ribs,
there, where the heart should be.

This is For

This is for the women of America who stood up—
who shifted the frame and heard the voices behind the wall,
who gave us beauty without silence.
This is for all the mothers who envisioned generations,
as they stood before the window and bought prison clothes.
This is for the medics at the front lines who watched the world-wound
bleeding and stitched hearts of air.
This is for the grandmothers, who asked
why young men seeking love went to war,
who asked why rivers opened to the sky's blank stare,
who waited for their daughters to come home.
This is for the quilters who continued telling
in times when icons became inscrutable,
when landscapes unfolded without pattern, trees
dreamed phantom roots.

This is for voice.
This is for hope.
This is for the listeners who weave stories into braids.
This is for love—braided bread rising.
This is for tears, unsung, trapped in still-lives.
This is for myths etched onto glass,
and for the light-years of distance between our lives
and myths.
This is for Maya, who stood at the edge and came back
to talk about its sparrows.
This is for my mother, who could not finish high school.
This is for flight, for wisdom, for rivers that heal.
This is for the languages of stone that make white water sing:
For our suffering.
For words wrested from bone.
For the women in sweatshops who embroider poems
from scraps.

This is for strength, for letting go:
Time blown from its clotheslines toward the sea.
This is for music:
cry of a young parent, “I Love You” carved on elms.
For a young woman in my class who placed a stone heart
on the sidewalk where her boyfriend had been killed.
For the teenagers who grow younger as time passes, their memories
no longer petrified.
For the women who lead, who walk before they know.
For the female rappers and philosophies of rain.
For the next- generation poets who brought rhythm back to questions.
For all of us who went to college and survived our friends.
For all of us who wondered why we were so lucky,
who cried at reunions and kept on,
who housed unspoken futures,
floating like lanterns on the lakes inside our smiles,
Who somehow, somewhere found the words to set them free.

About the Author

Formerly a Fulbright Scholar in Modern German Drama, Christine Lilian Turczyn is a poet, educator, and freelance writer. She has taught critical writing, creative writing, and literature at Dutchess Community College and William Paterson University, among other institutions. She received her B.A. from Cornell, her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee, and her Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University. While earning her doctorate at Binghamton, Christine had the great privilege of taking workshops with Ruth Stone and Milton Kessler.

Her poetry awards include first prize in the Allen Ginsberg poetry awards, mentioned in The New York Times, an Associated Writing Programs' Intro Award, an award from the Academy of American Poets (university level) and honorable mention in the Rita Dove National Poetry Awards (under the aegis of the Salem College Center for Women Writers). She is the recipient of fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Dodge Foundation. She was invited by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to read her poems at the 2002 Dodge Poetry Festival as a Poet Among Us. Most recently, Christine was awarded first prize in the Mohonk Mountain Stage Company's “Vanguard Voices of the Hudson Valley” competition. She has just completed her second collection of poems, The Sky Inside Your Body.

Her work has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Puerto del Sol, The Princeton Arts Review, The Cream City Review, Dutchess Community College's Exposed, Really: The Funnel: Newsmagazine of the Fulbright Commission, and the Associated Writing Programs' Pedagogy Papers, among other publications. Her poems have been performed by actors of the Yara Arts Group, La MaMa Experimental Theatre. Christine's academic articles include “Varying Composition: Music, Imagery, and Performance in First-Year Writing,” included in the anthology, Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner, and New Methods of College Teaching (2004).

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