Stephanie Rauschenbush


I. I See My Mother as a Fish

I lug to my mother a heavy pail of sand,
gritty and sticky sand like sugar in a sugar bowl,
to bury her old sour body. I offer her another bucket
that holds the green-brown salt water:
a cascade of fish scales, a Chinese jade grave suit,
so that she will have a mermaid’s burial.

II. I See My Mother Lose her Sea Legs

A persistent thought of death draws her eyes
to the spirit level of the sea’s horizon.
She cries out in the terror of falling backwards
off the edge of the world.

III. I See My Mother’s Mind as a Paper Oyster

which, when you put it into a glass of water,
does not dissolve but sends up
a sea wrack of paper flowers.


The fire dies. I feed it paper, shingles,
driftwood, logs, but since it keeps on dying
I will have to feed it my arms and legs, if
It’s going to keep going, if I’m going to stay warm.

The rain outside is dreary, sopping the lilac and
horse chestnut flowers in its greasy tea.
I’m sleepy, good for nothing, ashamed
to be so comfortless in a place I love.

Rain on the new windowpanes crackles softly
like the burnt-out fire I’ve now piled with shingles
that raise it to such a height the three tongues
of flame almost reach out to eat the mantelpiece.

I can live or not live. I can become the rain,
the fog, trailers of poison ivy on the paths
strewn with pine needles, the quail calling
“Bob White” from the hedges, the weathered

clapboards, the distant harbor and sea
invisible beyond the sandy beach, the low
creeping coastal night like the last glacier
molding land the sea assaults and wears down.

Rags and tatters of flame like the mantelpiece
with Dionysian pleasure, then fade out into
a wasp’s nest of papery ash. I can be anything,
and I can be nothing. I am hypnotized by the fire and

want to be a fire or fire itself, that raw element,
warming, burning, and destroying, following
its hunger in any direction—the hunger of fire
for wood, for cloth, for baby raccoons, for my heart.

That is my hunger—to reach out, devour
all forms and myself, be a force formed only
by what it devours.

Stephanie Rauschenbush is a Brooklyn artist and poet.  She is also a docent at the Brooklyn Museum.