Monica Ferrell

Mohn des Gedächtnis

Picture it: a girl in a strange city

Unpacking her suitcase, setting things on shelves

In the middle of the folds rises the berry

Of her determination, a black pearl on white cloth

As fine-wrapped as a baby Jesus

Or new star—she the one who will set it in the sky

Tomorrow, it’s only the night before still.  Picture it,


This stranger: doer of an incomprehensible,

Resonant past thing, which echoes in the oyster miles beneath.

Who was she?  Some figment, miniature self,

A toy soldier set in motion by

An accidental kick of the dreaming real girl,

Far away untouched and unblemished in sleep.

Yet I was she: I was the eunuch who, smiling, salaaming,


Lets in the ghostly sahib to the huge jewel room

While his hukkaed shah lies fallen.  That night,

A little doll stuffed tight with my fell purpose,

How I wandered the city, outdated treasure map to hand

Searching my buried gold.  Where my fear went

Skipping a few paces ahead, a paper butterfly, later

I hung my tears like earrings from the lampposts.




I could make a thousand poems from this

There came in one day enough pain for ten

Natural lives laid end to end,

I could make a whole galaxy of glowing suns

Heating their decades of planets and trash—

But how can I let this live through me any more?  Or

I should be the girl of the music box


Open her red coffer, out

Pops the same old song,

Only magical for never changing,

Crystalline, distilling

Its own liquor of eternity

From the sole inexhaustible god-grape—directing,

Suspending me as the magnet-chip in the old jade statue.



Now I may lie tossed up by this ocean, like an old

Jellyfish losing its clarity, hexed

By a curse ancient as a blue faïence

Scarab carved with hieratic marks,

But even if it means a change as came

To Anthony, after the god abandoned him—

Human, no longer tragically, singularly destinied—


I will live through it: burn it up

With my breath.  For after all I am alive

While what is past has lost that art.


Note: “Mohn des Gedächtnis” —“The Poppy of Memory” —after the Paul Celan title “Mohn und Gedächtnis.”


This poem first appeared in PN Review (UK), 30.1.