Larissa Shmailo








For C.K. Williams



Reading the prose of young media scribes, absorbed, as they are,

with sex and money, and the need for status, even among orgiasts,

I pause. How they claw, struggling for cabs, cars with bars, and the

nod from Cerberus at the door of the club, as if from him,

his acceptance, could come entrée to it all, the whole nine circles of desire.


But Buddha was right, and it makes for lousy verse, the cascade to the fallen

from fulfilled. The rituals are old, and the same rachitic claw

reaches over us all. And so, torn, we tear, primordial as the air.



We live in parts. The rich ones know. Their eyes caress metals,

held tightly to the chest, played closely to the vest, thrown stingily

among the just-good-folks. You won’t find the address of an arms factory anywhere. We don’t know. An igniter built in Chappaqua, a pull-pin glazed in Maine, in Idaho a shell. We need arms, military muscle, American dough.

Watch it blow.


Skeleton, skeleton, step on a crack,

live grenade payback, Jack Iraq.

Shrapnel tears run moist and red.

There, there, there, there (he was six)

there, there, there, there (she has no hand)

there, there, there (his spine is torn)

there, there, there (her head is gone).



A small time to be alive. A very small time to be alive, short enough

to pretend we’ve done no harm. Thanatos is a blind-man’s bluff,

an ignoramus with a stake, a what-were-we-thinking?, a mistake.


How did we not know there was really no other? How could we, eyes

and legs, mouths and heart, all the same, damn it, same, how could

we see anything else but we? No fires or fall, just beloved all?


Maybe as the last breath—will we know it as last?— as the last breath

goes, we—will we know any we?—we might feel another’s dying breath

that we might know someone else’s as we know our own death.



It’s  not the ops tempo the  boys

have  financial problems they think

about  looking  at those rigs in Basra.

Noncoms got body  armor  we don’t get

suicide  prevention teams this ain’t Nam  &

only  98 under 25 did  it & only 310  tried  what do

you want  there are stressors and  the guns  are there.






I embrace you, dear shadow,

my revelatory friend,

dear suicidal impulse; today

I dream of the parapets above

A la Vielle Russie, and

of splattering near the Plaza

where Woody Allen wooed young girls,

leaving a bit of me

on the Strand Bookstand,

near the park and the seals —

but this is too vibrant and real.


Better to find myself alone

in a porcelain tub

with chamomile bath oil

(as if I needed to be calm;

there is eternity for that),

listening to Verdi’s Requiem,

holding a razor,

or better still, to poison myself

with small scored rose pills,

avoiding arsenic and the Bovary traps

of indigestion, detection;

best with caplets, red carafes of wine,

or Guinness brew —

(who wouldn’t want to quaff a few?)


What catharsis there is

in the dive, the gesture, the infinite jest,

the slash, the brush (its own fire),

the dance with death?

Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near,

chingon to my chingada

bite my ear, stop my breath—

who else could do that?


Dear friend of ferment,

who unearths the worms

that enrich this blissful human soil,

promising the end of eternal roil:

Te quiero, my Mescal, my absinthe,

my blue cyanosing corps, my Mayakovsky, my you. . .


Was this a mistake? Is it too late . . . ?

You bite my ear, take up my rear, whisper:





Thanatos in Love


Living here now, where Eros lives,

They are both at home in the night time trees

Where she inhales and he can see.


In the cafe light, she sang about war.

Eros seemed innocent, looking at the floor

With kind blank eyes.  She was tired


But finished her chant and walked out with the group

And he, alongside her, talked as men do

When they wanted what they needed to want.


She sat with him because he was near;

Later, she would know he was older than she.

He told her that night he had tried to die,


And would have, and she cried No! and Why?

And then she saw his hunter eyes

Unveiled and rapt and not surprised.


And Thanatos felt a heart that was not hers,

Cried a “no” that meant yes, felt the pain of a why

Where a rib might have been near her heart.


They met again;  when he held her,  she felt

What he wanted he would have,  and what she needed,

She would get.  How important it was that he lived.


In the night, his voice is soft and the moon

holds them both.  She cherishes what she had never known

Except through him: life, his, and then her own.











Larissa Shmailo‘s newest collection of poetry is #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books). Larissa is the editor of the anthologyTwenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark restaging of the multimedia opera and has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the American Bible Society. Her other books of poetry are In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), the chapbook, A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and the e-book, Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew), for which she received the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award.

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