20th Anniversary Reflections
Myra Sklarew has been a stalwart supporter of Beltway Poetry Quarterly since its founding, quick to praise and encourage the editors, always willing to lend her considerable expertise and give recommendations. She has written essays for many of the Literary History issues, including: the Memory and Influence Issue (Fall 2003, Volume 4:4), when she wrote about May Miller; and the Forebears Issue (Summer 2008, Volume 9:3), when she wrote about Leon-Gontran Damas. Her poems were showcased in the Winter 2004 Portfolio Issue (Volume 5:1), and included in four special themed issues: The Whitman Issue (Winter 2005, Volume 6:1), guest edited by Saundra Rose Maley with Kim Roberts; the Sonnet Issue (Winter 2015, Volume 16:1, guest edited by Michael Gushue with Kim Roberts); the Sterling A. Brown Tribute Issue (Fall 2017, Volume 18:4); and the Jewish Poets Issue (Spring 2019, Volume 20:2, guest edited by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, with Kim Roberts). Sklarew guest edited the Splendid Wake Issue (Fall 2014, Volume 15:4), compiling essays and tributes on influential past DC poets. She also contributed three essays to that issue, on Sam Allen (aka Paul Vesey), the Howard Poets, and William Stafford.
Sklarew writes, “Both in serving as guest editor for Splendid Wake Issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly and as author of articles on Sam Allen, aka Paul Vesey, William Stafford, Leon-Gontran Damas, and May Miller, Beltway provided a perfect home for this remarkable, diverse community that must not be forgotten and that continues to evolve.”
Letter for Nikos
Be reasonable, Nikos.
My friend has gone to five wars.
Now he contributes his two sons
and hoping to escape like the rest of us,
he puts on his uniform again.
I’ve got my old job back, he writes.
Who will win, Nikos?
Not you, shouting at me
from your sad vision of the past.
And not my neighbor from Tripoli.
We stand in the airport at Athens.
I’ve just offered him my seat.
There is good feeling between us,
though he goes back to Libya
to check on his stock of submachine guns,
and I go back to America
where it is easier to be innocent.
Here in America
I open three tubes of paint
and set the primary colors
down on canvas
as though I could create
the world from the beginning.
With all that we know
we are required to begin again.
Like the poor man who dreamed
of a fine new suit, yet when
he took the suit home it didn’t fit.
But first, the tailor admonished him,
you must take off your old clothes.
for Stephen Hawking
into a black hole
is its image encoded on the
surface, like some golden engraving forever there
or does it descend into the darkness and splay into a thousand particles not
to be found again, its identity vanquished as if
it had never existed, its great
tusks, temporal lobe,
you say of
sad endings. A jet
emits from that black hole and guess
who’s riding it! None other than our roused elephant,
who makes new life by collapsing
clouds into the form
of bright stars.
Poem of the Mother
The heart goes out ahead
scouting for him
while I stay at home
keeping the fire,
holding the house down
like a skirt from the high wind.
The boy does not know
how my eye strains to make out
his small animal shape
swimming hard across the future
nor that I have strengthened myself
like the wood side of this house
for his benefit.
I stay still
so he can rail against me.
I stay at the fixed center of things
like a jar on its shelf
or the clock on the mantel
so when his time comes
he can leave me.
“Poem of the Mother” first appeared in Lithuania: New & Selected Poems, Azul Editions, 1997. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Myra Sklarew was educated at Tufts University and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She studied at Cold Spring Harbor Biological Laboratory with Salvador Luria and Max Delbruck and conducted research in frontal lobe function of Rhesus monkeys at Yale University School of Medicine. She is the author of 17 collections of poetry, fiction and essays including Invitation to a Country Called Aging (co-written with Patricia Garfinkel, Politics & Prose Books, 2018), Harmless (Mayapple Press, 2010), The Witness Trees (Cornwall Books U.S./London/Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture, 2000, reprinted 2007), Lithuania: New & Selected Poems (Azul Editions, 1995), and the forthcoming A Survivor Named Trauma: Holocaust Memory in Lithuania (SUNY University Press). Awards include the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and the National Jewish Book Council Award in Poetry for From the Backyard of the Diaspora (Dryad Press, 1981). She is the former president of the Yaddo Artist Community and professor emerita in the Department of Literature, American University. To read more by this author: Five poems, Winter 2004, Whitman Issue, Myra Sklarew on May Miller: Memorial Issue, and Myra Sklarew on Leon-Gontran Damas: Forebears Issue