Nancy Naomi Carlson

Lockdown Aubade on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Birthday; Zooming to Elysian Fields: Nancy Naomi Carlson

Lockdown Aubade on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Birthday

This violin solo teases the spring air, undulates
like a veil and shimmies to a high

“G”—the leitmotif for Scheherazade conjuring
concubines, sailors and rocs to save her life

from her Sultan husband who’s sure
all women ring false and flighty.

To secure their undying affection, he orders
the death of each of his virgin brides,

beheaded the morning after the wedding vows.
Accompanied by harp arpeggios for one thousand

and one nights, the blue Sultana weaves chords
into tales within tales, whirlpools within seas, and now

on our first of untold quarantined dawns,
may we be sustained by a handful of plucked strings.

Zooming to Elysian Fields

—for Aunt Marilyn (1925-2020)

The gravesite sound system falters
and almost dies, and more than once
the image turns upside down or flips
to one side, making this scene seem even less

real, as we shelter in place from LA to DC,
gathered around our computer screens
to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish
as one, led by the rabbi, masked to protect

my husband’s cousins once-removed,
sitting beneath the canopy, waiting their turn
to share stories to bring Marilyn back to life
before she is lowered under Floridian ground.

I think of my mother in senior care,
kept alive by circuitry pacing the beats of her heart.
At ninety-six, her days are parsed by films
and Facetime calls—no substitute for touch.

I pray to feel her warmth on my skin
before arrythmias claim her for good,
and her body is washed, blessed and dressed
in tachrihim, sash tied in the form of a shin—

Hebrew letter a stand-in for God.
Marilyn remembered, Marilyn gone,
though her heart outlasted three husbands,
as one by one the mourners

throw shovels of dirt into the earth’s new wound.
Each thud brings us closer to unmuting
our grief, and we weep, slur our goodbyes,
and as if scripted, it starts to rain.

Nancy Naomi Carlson is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Carlson is author of four books of poems and translator of six books from French to English, including An Infusion of Violets (Seagull Books, 2019), recently named a "New & Noteworthy" title by the New York Times Book Review. A senior translation editor for Tupelo Press, her work has appeared in APR, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review and Poetry. Her website: To read more by this author: Summer 2005 issue