Three poems by Erin Russell • Empty Mirror

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Harlingen Dis(a)sembled


the way their mother said values
and blond kids scowled, they were
suspicious behind thatched thighs:

our kiss on the pier

travelling north of Amsterdam, out of the city, a journey
pilgrim, to stand at the edge of an everything
a way of being

that lied and lied and

the way you saw from their eyes,
a behind-furrows scene: perennial, certain—waters
out a small Dutch


the way we entered their frame, something to
widen a reference,
my remembrance we were told

to save their souls—

they are soul saving children
how little I knew of my own nature
the way we had gathered

more of your lashes

one by one only that morning, they were
almost all fallen out by then.
the way my nerve endings were

all grown back—our losses

and gains nonbinary, that is to say
points on the continuum:
situated, counted,


such cannot be our honest theory unless it is also our practice:
an exploding pink firework graphic,
a flashing rainbow heart.

you came to the rescue

in your own make-small-of-it way, your more kisses and
academic distance
and I was content
to class myself with the hearers

the clearer the sense I got of the shape and proportions
of the huge shadow that must, after all, hang over us

and you opting to go on

with the smiling


and always it is you, in your own small way
dove belly arms that hold—at the end

of years we are still repeating this “shortly”

if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater

whether or not in the gaze of men,


smiling your anxious smile

such cannot be our honest theory unless itbe likewise our practice,


a certain kind of doing, an application of form
there with your pineapple and melons bag for the overnight
expensive eyebrow brushes>

and no eyebrows—

the light cut across high cheeks you smiled and smiled
but I saw it flash, saw blue eyes

deepen dark at brackish waters out

a long Dutch


we may not connect so human a virtue as patience with the blessed Angels,
because exemption from sin seems to entail incapacity for certain graces

it was night

I was angry

*with found poetry content from Christina Rossetti (line 16).
*while the Netherlands is one of the most accepting countries in the world for LGBTQI+ people, there remain conservative communities outside major cities where reports of harassment have recently been on the rise.
*people with alopecia can lose eyelashes and eyebrows at different stages than the hair on the head.

joe’s loyalty

like mastodons folding slick-seed wide wings across the winter-cut
meridian plain: the slack yellow blades, the ergot-razed green. we came of age in corridor
clinics—all those tongues of flame

the last dove perching only a minute now before it tears off what it can in teeth,
the way ruin begins with a moon, a month; I’m just trying to be super, is it showing
the signs of ablation like so many irruptions,
heaping freshwater silt, waving, seismic,
fowl—the oscillating bracken swell

but you performed the topographies of place with care: were always correct—
the fragile fin still lodging itself in my mouth

what it could be to the gods who came before, the son
losing karmic ground, a spice-sea carnation holding fast he was
first to fell the fist-slip stalactite: twin figures in an unquiet cave

and you with your hemlock fresh cut and thinking to try this distemper

our mother was beautiful though was she not in those days the leaves up to her
mandrake throat



You put down your Plath, point portent fingers at the cracking devastation screen: squatting demigod with pomegranate head on fire—your left hemisphere ready to collapse on itself, trauma bondsperson thing. I think maybe you shouldn’t watch the news.

Attention seeking, remarks the man-doctor. The bell tower might yet be saved, a commentator. This is the greatest

spectacle in the world—you/folks come off simple when you/they get excited. Distance is relative, nuclear, murder. You consider getting in the car, you have

navigation. Texts are coming in. Five hours, you write. I’ve read a lot of the classic stuff, they reply. Bukowski? you ask.


The smell, a chinook in hot wind but continental. An orientation, an embodiment, embalmment. You/we feel it on the skin.

As all things. All the things. Practicing normal by following its scripts in our choice of lovers, forms. Judging thingness by its situation—an inscription.

These gaps between text and body. There are whole worlds. (And you thought the discomfort was somatic was all

in your head). The crypt/hive/offering box/spire all the while incinerating like dry juniper. Patterns are hard to break.

Things accumulate—


There is protest: remember when you were the apostate loved by everyone? Desire is harder to pin down, geographically, ontologically, in theory—

A gazillionaire pledges money for reconstruction.

(You’d think I meant wealth, as in money, security, power, esteem, but things, really I just mean


Habitual: just another word for you’ll accept it all.

* with found poetry content from the phenomenological thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Sara Ahmed.

About Erin Russell

Erin Russell (@etcall) is an Amsterdam-based Canadian writer and is the recent winner of the Patricia Goedicke Prize for Poetry, the Able Muse Award for Fiction and the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College Poetry Award. She is a reader at PANK and Black Bough, and her work has appeared in CutBank, Pigeonholes, Time Out, and The Holland Times. a.o.. She researches disability and queer theory in hybrid literary form and lectures in literature and writing at Amsterdam University College.

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