“Nude Ladies” by Taisia Kitaiskaia


I was outside myself, picking corn in a tall shadow,
When I was ordained to be an Anglo-Saxon
Warrior making my head from my own head, making
An extraordinary instrument from which we shall
All suffer madly. And the mirror was always a jewel,
And the jewel is a spun armor of living tigers, who
Clamber out and slurp your oyster heart, a task
To be shouldered by barbarous cardinals,
And in thick-smirched, burning loams of carpentry
I was castled to be a moat woman in my own
Brain: when mice come in, she runs out: the worlds
Are large, the openings small and this big fish
In herself is what she is, this vision, this fishling
Gold, the seventh and the big fool and she does
Eat the meat and she does not uncreature
Herself at any point of the calendar, she is a tall
Seamstress thinking doomingly, she a brave loss,
And did you brilliant the flies making swimming
Dialect at your feet, did you subtract from your eyes
Heavy spoons placed upon the mood-mood,
Did you crouch down holy in the you of you,
Did you crouch, did the crouching make a crackle
And did long-suffering beads crowd themselves
Into your dark dream sockets? I am under duress
Of flames but believe you me that certain flowers
Toss their rings into nighttime and so become
Crowned by ancient unseen kings in the halo
Where my genius did roam and wear little
Inkles, and the animals have eaten my numbers.


This is the black field my shame drains to,
Where a lady burnishes her face, hiding
In a shawl. Every time a mean thing is said,

The field widens and someone falls in.
The Ministry of Crows circles over, scavenges.
I walk the perimeter and win a cake. Clap clap

Black applause and I go bobbing for apples
In a black river. I lay the paint on thick
So it can live on my wall forever. My ear

Against the world is. My ear against the world
Is dull. But brightening. Wincing traveler,
To wear red shoes in this life is to eat cinnamon

In the next. To die by bear now means a heavy,
Well-haired heart later. Today is moms and TV,
Tomorrow is milk and walks along a dragon’s back.

Wisdom, you popped out like a prairie dog,
Then left a husk. Are you mammal
Or snake? Friends with everyone or no one?

My ear is pressed against foul winds. My eye
Wanders to the twigs. The Ministry of Crows says:
Swollen with river will be your thirsty bushels.


I was born into a shopping cart, pushed through a parking lot
By a manic aunt. I was just a skeleton then, but already waving
Like a mayor, though only the secret trashcan women were out.
My aunt’s eyes were wild, she had insane wheat brewing
The field over, she’d spent all her money on overpriced
Notebooks, her torso was woozy with bad decision Tetris.
I cowered, my skeleton pelvis rattled against the metal cart.
Oddly, the trees weren’t changing much, no matter how far
We ran, they all sang the same nursery rhymes and patted
Me down with their big hands. I had my first rash of beauty
When the night began slow dancing with a whistle from
Earlier in the evening, which remembered itself as we passed.
The whistle laughed in the night’s arms. With a pang I knew
This romance would end, whistle and night would become
Simple farmers, combing our foreheads over with rakes,
But the pang eased as I thought of human extinction and
The slow growth of species over the earth, its face restful
As a mother turning on the microwave. So gradually, over
The course of the shopping cart ride, I learned to speak
In a manner hospitable to plants, in a manner hospitable
To humans and the cows who raise them from the dead,
In a manner that wouldn’t embarrass my windmill and cause
Him to cover his eyes with his arms. The convenience store
Milk jugs were sweating, and the parking lot dog’s head
Was an angry basket of flowers, considering. I could feel
My aunt getting tired at last, we’d been running forever,
And by the time my childhood ended, my aunt, she was gone.
How the worms moaned and turned over in their living
Graves that night! I walked home in electronic rags,
As if Zeus had ripped up a lightning bolt to make me,
A loose collection. The flower-dog was now a toilet
Calm and white; then a refrigerator, murderous with
Weight, groaning with meaning; then a bunch of forks
Dumped into the sink at once. The vibe was decidedly
Domestic but I was still learning the ways of the world,
So I tied ribbons over my face, fell asleep in my own palm.
When I woke up, whatever is out there, always ranging,
Sniffed me over at great length, like I was an angel
Carved from soap, or a trash woman bearing secrets
From her nighttime vigil, and that feeling of being sniffed
Over, head to toe, that’s what I’ve been after ever since.

Taisia Kitaiskaia (Tai-yee-see-yuh Kit-ai-sky-uh) is a Russian-American poet and writer. She is the author of THE NIGHTGOWN AND OTHER POEMS (Deep Vellum, 2020); LITERARY WITCHES (Hachette/Seal, 2017), a collaboration with artist Katy Horan celebrating magical women writers and an NPR Best Book of 2017; a divination deck, THE LITERARY WITCHES ORACLE (Clarkson Potter, 2019); and two books of experimental advice from a witch of Slavic folklore, ASK BABA YAGA: OTHERWORLDLY ADVICE FOR EVERYDAY TROUBLES (Andrews McMeel, 2017) and its follow-up, ASK BABA YAGA: POETIC REMEDIES FOR TROUBLED TIMES (Andrews McMeel, 2020). She has received fellowships from Yaddo and the James A. Michener Center for Writers (MFA in Poetry, 2015), and her work has been published in journals such as Gulf Coast, StoryQuarterly, Fence, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Pleiades, and Guernica. She has written for The Hairpin, Electric Literature, Jezebel, and Bitch Media, and her work has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize, most recently by StoryQuarterly. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, the writer Fernando A. Flores.