Tanya Paperny

Three Poems


My brain hasn’t let go of some details even if my brain hides those details from me.
— Javier Zamora

I. Tremolo

the starry collapse of an animated character knocked upside the head
a helium balloon yearning spaceward
the cross fade transition in movies
a war reporter in a bar after a bombing
radio frequency too far from broadcast
a panicked to do list

II. Crescendo

our shared bedroom, a robe
a bathroom, double sinks
a sense of impropriety
image as flash bulb
a menace lurking behind fabric
the implications

III. Moderato

an aquarium of blue water and bright orange fish
sunlight piercing through algae
the sensation of skin baking
the relationship that enables life restored to centrality
the subterranean world now playful again
wonderment, fire behind my eyes
grinning until jaws hurt
a head encircled by curly locks
pointing to make things mine
being re-grounded in full, glorious color



the surgeon:
what did she tell you?

a set of numbers
I can no longer recall

specificity for space
no longer inhabited

for five days I woke at four a.m.
recorded volume on a wrinkled paper chart

scratched your back above the bandages
made you purr — compersion

the only time I ever saw you weep
you felt taken care of

three months later
and I’m not your lover anymore

my grief at heartbreak mislabeled
as grief for you without an audience

fashion myself into an ear
become whatever response you need

I seem to assume things only
become real when spoken

rub arnica on scars
and they won’t disappear

I think I want some vaulted title
a clear conclusion to this procedure

the weighty nod of implication
things I’ll feel for someone else someday


Personality Test

sure signs of the presence of a ghost:
pulling out individual strands of hair
cutting hairs of imperfect length
creating hangnails to then rip them out
the attainment of social perfection
through small acts of self-sabotage
Stalin is a member of my family
has been for four generations
the system’s basic values
imprecision demanding to be purged
dots of blood along the cuticle’s edge
a Seder plate’s symbolic regret


Tanya Paperny is a writer, editor, and literary translator living in DC. The child of Soviet Jewish refugees, her poetry and nonfiction deal with the aftermath of atrocity. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, The Literary Review, Vice, and Pacific Standard.