Western Voices: Chani Zwibel


Chani Zwibel is the author of Cave Dreams to Star Portals, published by Alien Buddha Press. She is an associate editor with Madness Muse Press. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but now dwells in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and their dog. She enjoys writing poetry after nature walks and daydreaming.


Every Jew harbors horrors,
genetic memories like microscopic suitcases,
left to discover when cleaning
 our grandparents’ attic.                                                                                                    
A hump-backed steamer trunk,
brass-hinges brine corroded,
creaks open to reveal
 pogroms packed in silk purses,
inquisitions stashed in suit pockets,
diaspora internal like a swallowed emerald,
and all these passed down generations.
I found mine under Papa’s bed
while cleaning his room
after his death:
 a battered, mold-bloom-flowered, carboard suitcase,
 some small unknown thing,
 (a finger bone?)
 (a rusted ring?)
 inside rattling.


Who minds the thoughts of water bears?
After all, this is their planet, not ours.
Crude sketches of cosmos,
 cretins carrying commerce.
This abyss my vista.
Everybody’s trying to sell you
everything from crystals to colonics,
 from Beet Juice to Jesus,
and if any of it works,
 it’s mostly placebo.
The true kingdom of God
 and the keys to health
are inside you;
even the water bears know it:
 perfectly imperfect, flawed but fine.
Now don’t get me wrong,
Beet Juice is good for your blood,
 and Jesus will wash you in His blood,
 but it’s the sales pitch that irritates.
No one begs a backyard violet
to be more.
Ask the water bears.


All hazel my mask of tears, still better than yours: your empty hood a hollow socket. You might chase me through the wood all fox, all bobcat, all grey muzzled wolf, but you are an old nightmare, a bag of forgotten talismans: a pen knife, a safety razor, a cap gun.

In the crimson velvet sleeves go the roses. In the pressed leather box go the tulips. In the crème valise go the peonies. In the locked steamer trunk go the lilacs.

My darling, my lovely, my dangerous, my quarantine, my pill box, my puff adder, my sweet kiss, my absinthe, my night-lord, my dark king, please tell me. What stones are loose in the labyrinth? How much does it take to tease out the trick of being rapt and wrapped in satin? Underpinned in whale bone, corset stays, hair caged, and clasped in pearl-headed comb tines I writhe.

What price shall I pay for this revelation: a gold coin, an emerald, a white orchid?

Run the tests for blotting paper, rubbing alcohol, and vanishing ink. Check coffers and coiffures. Be sure to charge admittance.

Did not discover the devil coiled serpentine, laying lithe inside the leather strong box. Eschewed the viper’s fatal kiss in favor of a risk, kept hidden like a secret pleasure.

Did not uncover the rosewood casket bearing spices bound over the caravan camel’s hump, swayed over a thousand miles of desert. Who polishes the silver brackets of the pearl-inlaid alabaster on the moon’s horns?

Has mold been growing in all my books? Surely not, surely not, whispers the tea kettle. Little white moths in the mimosa blossoms are small folded flags fluttering in summer-storm-dark air.


  1. I love the line...nobody begs the violet to be more. Very striking in the context of the poem.

  2. "...it's the sales pitch that irritates." Nice!


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