Poems by Anna V. Q. Ross


All my poems used to end in sky


but now they end in sleep,
each day blurring post-equinox
toward the longest night.
The pandemic gave me glasses
is what I tell people and myself—
all that Zoom. But really, I’m just old—
all the ads on my feed for overpriced sweaters,
hyaluronic acid, and orthopedic ankle booties.
Readers. I try to wear them the way the woman
in the optometrist’s office demonstrated—
perched halfway up the nasal bone
so I can look down through them at my phone,
student essays on “The Woman Question,”
or my pores outlandishly clear in the mirror,
then raise my eyes to peer
over the frames at anything more distant, but I fear
this will give me more forehead wrinkles
and I’ll have to click those links
to the best skin (abs, neck, ass) I’ve had in years.
I’m allowed to wear my glasses when I go in
to teach my class at the men’s prison,
a wedding band the only other ornament permitted—
wouldn’t want to give the guys the wrong idea
as we discuss chattel slavery, market capitalism,
and Olive Schreiner’s theories of the “sexuo-economic
relation” and “the parasitic wife.”
My students all wear jeans or sweats
and white t-shirts, all of us doing our best
to be drab. Midway through the semester,
a student brings in the black lab
puppy he’s training to be a service dog
for deafblind or autistic kids.
He shows me how she can already sit, stay,
raise a paw, and lead me away
from danger, tells me the best part
is when he gets to meet the families
who take the dogs, and the parents thank him
for saving their marriages, letting their kids
go to school, have friends.
Imagine, I could do all that! he says.
I hand him back his midterm paper on Phillis Wheatley
and a poem he wrote about a man being watched
by a department store clerk while he tries
to pick a Christmas present for his wife—
some earrings, maybe a nice
printed scarf. I forgot my glasses today,
but it’s ok, my prescription’s not that strong,
so I can still see the blue lives matter pattern
on the friendly guard’s face gaiter
after class as he leads me back
through five steel doors
past J-block, L-block, C-block,
the no man’s land beneath the tower’s gaze,
then two sets of barred gates on pneumatic tracks
to the 12-foot hallway with a six-inch slit
in the ceiling (for what purpose, I don’t ask),
and then into the Trap,
where a second guard searches my pockets
and my bag (for what, they never say),
then one more door to the lobby,
where I turn in my Visitors Pass
to a third guard behind reinforced glass,
who hands me back my license
via a stainless-steel drawer
before releasing me to the parking lot
and the highway’s blank exam
I’ll try and fail and try again to read
the whole drive home,
where I’ll set my glasses down
beside my bed before I go to sleep.


All my poems used to end in sky


but now they end in sleep,
a kind of tumbling toward the inevitable.
Or maybe that’s what I want to believe,
like the anonymous woman
on the burning Orange Line train last week
who jumped from the smoking window
of the first car and then 30 feet
off the Mystic River bridge
where the train had stopped.
I think I’m safer here, she told her would-be
rescuers in the Coast Guard boat,
before she swam to shore and disappeared.
Boston’s new hero! crowed the headlines
the next day, and maybe
that’s just where we’re at right now, America—
a woman uncoupling herself from burning steel
to dive into a brackish current
famed for absorbing heavy metals,
petrochemicals, and other bodies,
then swimming away without leaving her name.
In the video posted on Twitter,
her head is small dark blot
almost obscured by haloes of ripples
as the camera pans from too far away
to find her face. Boston strong!
Probably she was already late
for work, people joked in the thread.
But maybe she was on her way home
from the overnight shift,
I thought but didn’t say—
a job she fell into years ago,
never meaning to stay
until the kids came along
and she couldn’t afford to pay
both rent and a sitter.
Now she relies on the jerk and clatter
of the Orange Line to lull her back
each morning over the bridge towards bed.
I was very scared for all of us, she said
before hanging up on the one reporter
who tracked her down.
I imagined her turning over
and pulling up the sheet,
erasing herself back to sleep.


Anna V. Q. Ross’s most recent book, Flutter, Kick (Red Hen Press), won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award. She is a Fulbright Scholar, a Mass Cultural Council fellow, and poetry editor for Salamander, and her work appears in The Kenyon ReviewHarvard ReviewThe Missouri ReviewThe Nation, and elsewhere. She teaches at Tufts University and through the Emerson Prison Initiative. Anna lives with her family in Dorchester, where she runs the poetry and music series Unearthed Song & Poetry and raises chickens.


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