Today I’m thinking of Dmitri Shostakovich on the train

after Lady Macbeth in Mensk and Stalin’s sniggering,

his round glasses mirrors

for the darkness moving outside the windows.

I’m thinking about how he rode that train for the rest of his life,

friends in camps and friends shot and friends without work

getting on at every stop and he can’t get off that train.

Still there was music, often so faint,

he had to eliminate the sound of Stalin

the way a bloodhound eliminates the scents of everyone

but the pursued.

How much was lost in the din?

I’ve never really understood the nature of art until now.

The Whiteness of the Whale


I am a white woman sitting in the gallery,

my two white girls fighting for space on my lap


as black boys mostly avoid looking

at the pictures on the walls

and at the three of us

huddled on our plastic chair.


I am a long chapter on nothing they want to know

who only occasionally wants to erase herself.


I am required reading.


They are there to see the photos

of incarcerated youth on the walls.

They are there, some looking,

some not looking, for maybe fifteen minutes.


Fifteen minutes of containing the arms and legs

and bristling curiosity of the girls,


fifteen minutes of trying to let the boys be

but not ignore them,

trying to think of some thing to say or do

to make them feel at ease,

while the boys grow into men,

find work, fall in love, lose work,

go to school, start a family, get sick,

get worried, get pulled over, get shot.

Get shot. Get shot.

Get shot. Get

shot. Get



I have the keys to the building.

I’m just waiting for them to leave

so I can lock up.

About Rita Mae Reese

About Rita Mae Reese

Rita Mae Reese is a recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship in fiction, a “Discovery”/The Nation award, and a Pamaunok Poetry Prize, among other awards. Her second book, The Book of Hulga, was selected by Denise Duhamel for the Felix Pollak Prize in 2016. She designs lesbian poet trading cards and is the Co-director of Literary Arts at Arts + Literature Laboratory in Madison, WI.

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