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Painlandia and Other Poems, by Barbara Ungar

in Poetry by


Language is the only homeland.
—Czeslaw Milosz

you want only to escape,
barefoot, schlepping

your bundle. If you’re lucky
and do, you lose the lingo

we all want only to forget.
Cross the border and no one

gets that primitive tongue
that sounds to them like barking

or moaning. Who could guess
the tenderness of its ten thousand

untranslatable ways of saying

P comes from the 3,000-year-old Phoenician and Semitic sign pe, mouth.



She Drives Home after Viewing the Drones Quilt

Izaak, age 12,

on the couch playing games on his phone.
His sneakers the neon colors of tropical fish.
His flesh knitting sweetly on long, milk-fed bones.
His five-thousand-dollar braces.
She hugs him till she feels the bird beating in its cage
of ribs

while all those little ones—
Noor Aziz, age 8
Shafiq, age 2
Shakira, age 4
Sheika, age 3
Ikramullah Zada, age 12
Khadije Ali, age 1—
have flown forever out of reach

to keep her tank full.
Her house warm. Her neighbors
blowing dead leaves off the lawn.

All night the hollow moan of oil trains
runs hidden behind trees in the dark

S comes from the 3,000-year-old Phoenician and Semitic sign shin or sin, tooth

The Drones Quilt, begun by women working for peace in the UK, inspired by the AIDS Quilt, commemorates civilians killed by US drones.


Emily Dickinson’s Estate Sale

It is not down in any map; true places never are.
—Hermann Melville, Moby Dick

I got her glasses and sunglasses—
both surprisingly hip—
and a blue fountain pen. I wanted
to head out for the ocean
but you didn’t. You were delighted
with her liqueur glasses, so tiny,
tall and delicate, on two glass trays,
and a remote for the ceiling light.

You switched it on—dazzling.
The estate was vast, with lots of visitors
wandering through, yet not crowded.
Not the cramped rooms
in Amherst. Her other place,
the one not on any map.


How the Light Gets In

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending
precious pottery with gold

Don’t call it your bad hip—
recall the Japanese art of kintsugi
and be the cracked vessel
patched with gold.

Don’t wince when it squeaks
but thank the bright steel
wound inside, cupping your pelvis
and capping your thigh.

Don’t feel shamed by the scar—
you’ve wrestled till day break
with man and god, and managed
to limp away blessed.

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Barbara Ungar has published four books of poetry. Her most recent, Immortal Medusa, was chosen as one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Indie Books of 2015; their starred review said, "Ungar's new collection may not make her immortal, but it surely establishes her as a contemporary poet of the first rank." Prior books include Charlotte Brontë, You Ruined My Life and The Origin of the Milky Way, which won the Gival Prize, an Independent Publishers Silver Medal, the Adirondack Center for Writing Poetry Award, and a Hoffer award. A professor of English at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, she coordinates the MFA program there. Her current manuscript-in-progress is entitled Her Mark, an abecedary book inspired by “The Diverse Vices of Women, Alphabetized,” circa 1454. This didactic alphabet was written by Archbishop Antoninus of Florence to teach women to control their sensual appetites, especially their desire for speech. For more information, please see

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