Farrell Greenwald Brenner

Whispers for the Unclean Dead


in this phantom forest frequented

by lurking leshy and patient polevoi

one baba sits, sways, sighs


I can’t help you

she groans between the to and fro

as groans her palsied rooster legs


you can baptize your bastard baby

three hundred and thirty-three times over

but back its soul can never be bought


Have you never had a child?

begs the kneeling molodka with black holes beneath her eyes

Have you none of your own?


a rustle in the white birch leaves

a chuckle in the wayward wind

the joke passed between the common terns and loons


You misunderstand, I have one treasured child,

she spits through a spiteful smirk,

who is the father of that one there


Baba’s knobbed finger finds like some twisted twig

the empty swaddle there

which unravels to a spool of mottled atrophy


she laughs poison mushrooms

because she’d know her son’s handiwork anywhere

Where is your husband, your baby, your god, now?


the water molecules in the soil

rise to a boil, distillation

death gives way to death


there is no ceremonious prayer of welcome

no iron sglaz amulets askew

here, no one lingers on the threshold


an invitation consists of: a shrug

an over-the-shoulder glance

might as well come in, then


only one mat, so you can sleep by the fire

but watch out—around two or three

the pots and pans come to life. They mean no harm.


one grainy room ground to bits

in this earthquake of wretched frustration

you can’t answer to a god if it stops asking


All we’ve got is each other

Baba mutters through the door handle

the first of many incantations


a whisper for tears, a whisper for blood

a whisper for pins and needles and pine needles too

whispers that belong at the bottom of the river


We’ll skip the whispers for colic, for now

but you’d be surprised how long and low the night can wail

they move on to whispers for rooster crows


dig hearty, dig deep, dig down into

the damp, damp dirt

and bite that tongue—the forest is loud enough as it is


As the unclean dead rise and dance

molodka sleeps on her pillow of ashes

and dreams of nothing for the first time.


Farrell Greenwald Brenner is from the Hudson Valley and is a recent graduate of Syracuse University. Her writing has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Lilith Magazine, Lavender Review, Hematopoiesis Press, Milkweed Poetry Journal, and more. Her inaugural book of poetry, Diatribe from the Library, was published in 2017 by Headmistress Press. She works for a nonprofit organization for the LGBTQ community by day and moonlights as a beginning roller derby skater.

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