These Days

featured in the poetry forum December 15, 2010  :: 0 comments

There is a shift, sometimes,
you can feel it if you lay very still at night,
while the rest of this city is sleeping.
You’ll feel the shift, like a crack.

And it’s down there
in that space between yesterday and today
in that never-was time,
that I fear I’m slipping into these days.

So instead of me, I’ll fill it with these things I carry,
with the journals I have kept
words inked with a dead octopus
on paper brittle and cracking
but always words,
with the postcards
and broken down carburetors
and sand from the beach
with the conversations
whispered over the tops of baby heads
and inside stalled cars in the rain
the wipers frantic like a dying creature.

With the stories I’ve told and retold and changed
so often that even I believe it might have happened that way,
with the rocks from English countryside
and the coasters from the cafes in Paris,
and the maps of Spain,
with the dust of too many silent months,
settling over my lungs,
with the broken keys of pianos
and snapped violin strings,
with the teeth that are falling out
and the stubbed toes and the banged knee
and the broken skull
and the tongues of dead boys.

And especially little letters like this,
from you,
slipped under my door,
that if stacked one on top of another
could reach the top of buildings
all begging for the same forgiveness
that I’m not so generous with,
these days.

The Poet’s Book

January 23, 2010  :: 0 comments

I hold your book open walking though the Atlantic Avenue subway station.
The pages are so white that the black slashes of your words seem small.

I hold your book open walking through the subway station
cradling the spine, keeping the pages back with my thumb

The way my mother taught me to support the babies head. Always.

I hold your book open walking through the subway station
and lower it, like an offering, so that the people passing by can see

As if they could read it and understand your words
about your brother’s death, and the winter when the snow didn’t come.

But your words didn’t come out. They stayed in my head.
Your song, sung, open mouthed and low behind the rumble of trains.

I hold your book open walking through the subway station
like a divining rod, like a guide, your holy voice, like it will bring me closer

to what I said and what I always meant to say.

– Ally Malinenko © 2009


featured in the poetry forum January 23, 2010  :: 0 comments

Somewhere outside New Orleans I lost my voice
about there the pages in my journal are blank.
This country was too big for me,
and my small noises.

When the car started bucking
just outside the hundred miles
of Mojave
I couldn’t help but smile.
Even as an adult, these things you fear can really come true.

But by the time we got to Salinas,
we were used to the revving and
I was back to driving without shoes.
I still didn’t have my voice
and had to keep shouting things twice
to you
over the roar of the wind
through the open windows.

After we bickered outside the John Steinbeck library
and sometime before we drove up Polk Street
in San Francisco
you said,
that you didn’t think we would really do this.

I told you of course we would,
what else could two lost people do?
Where else do you go when the frustration
of being dispossessed
for years turns your vision black?
What else is there when all your belongings
fit into the corner of the garage
of your childhood home,
and your father is upstairs waiting
to tell you they took him off the chemo?

But you didn’t hear anything past
of course we would,
because my voice was snuffed out.
You just heard my resilience, saw my smile,
and believed that I believed it was this easy.

– Ally Malinenko © 2009

-for Sesame, my sister

August 20, 2009  :: 0 comments

Stephanie, you are thirty-five
but it is early still and I’m not sure if you know that yet,
asleep in your bed
in your house,
300 miles from here
where I sit,
watching the dawn spread
a startling blue spider web of light
thinking about sisterhood,

and how when we were younger,
I used to sneak into your room
when you weren’t there
just sit on your bed
and wonder about you.
I touched your jewelry cases, opened them to see your earrings,
laying like little treasures.
I would open your closet,
try on your Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt
which still smelled faintly like your hairspray
and your skin.

Or earlier before that
when we shared that little
room but then it seemed so big
plenty big for two little girls
who shared a pair of roller skates,
one on each foot on the bumpy driveway,
and how I wanted my hair to be just like yours
which it never was.

Never so fine and delicate.
Skin never so freckled.
We were all brown-eyed,
except for you with those lighter than sky blue
translucent eyes.
Ghost eyes.
Our father’s eyes.

When our oldest sister moved out,
you took her room,
and I remember thinking how lonely it would be at night
without you breathing in the bed next to me.
I was a tornado even in sleep,
tossing and turning, sleeping with my eyes open,
but you lay perfectly still,
as if you hadn’t a care in the world
cocooned in whatever dreams you were having,
as you may be right now, as I write this,
another thing I could add to the list of things I didn’t know.

And now we are grown,
too grown it seems,
making the kinds of decisions that
don’t seem as important
and you are far away
too far away it seems,
working to become a mother yourself,
and I wonder where all that time has gone.

And I hope that you have girls,
to pound down the steps of that house
to slip secret notes between the cracks in the wall
and I want you to remember that we used to do that
from one closet to another,
and I want you to know them,
their laugh
their nervous late night call for you in the dark.
I want them to share a pair of roller skates
on the driveway
so that we can watch this cycle
repeat itself
and we can see how certain things
are unchangeable,
and that sisterhood is unchangeable.

It is a coming together and apart,
over time.
It is our hair growing down to our toes.
It is the secret language we once knew,
and then forgot,
coming back to our tongues one final time.

– Ally Malinenko © 2009


August 20, 2009  :: 0 comments

“You stole it,” he says,
taking a sip of his drink,
a wry smile playing on his lips.

“I didn’t steal it,” I say,
I found it, I think. I saved it.
I rescued it. They should have been more careful.

“You stole it,” he says again.

I look down at the blue t-shirt
the way it fits perfectly,
the way it hugs my breasts,
especially now, with no bra on,
like a strange pair of illicit hands
holding the weight.

And he’s probably right. I did steal it.
But it was left in the washing machine
downstairs, in the basement of this giant building.
They left other clothes too but I noticed them
as I pulled my wet shirts and underwear into the basket.

I didn’t notice the blue t-shirt because it looked like
it was something I would own.
Should own.

“You need to bring it back downstairs,” he says.
“I know,” I say and then change the topic
because I also know that if I do, if I leave it on the
oh-so-polite communal table of the wash room,
like the way people leave movies or used books for anyone to take
that someone else will find it before the owner.

And it won’t hug their curves,
or show their nipples in quite the same way.
And did I mention how soft it was?
Or that it has the cutest little bleach stain on the back, just by the shoulder blade?
Or how it reminds me of a t-shirt I used to have
a million years ago, when my hips and breasts were smaller
and my high school boyfriend and I wore the same size.
I used to let him borrow it
and when he gave it back to me
it smelled like him,
him and sex and summer nights on the beach
and rainy fall days in my rusted out car
and kisses that lasted hours, and punk rock shows
and cigarettes and aimless night in small towns
with nothing to do but try to not get pregnant.

“What if it was your favorite black t-shirt?” he adds.
“Yes I know,” I say changing the topic again.

Because right now, on the couch,
I don’t mind being the bad person, the thief.
I don’t mind remembering
for a change.
Remembering the good parts of back then.
I’ll wash it next week.
And I’ll give it back.
I promise.

My Inheritance

featured in the poetry forum August 20, 2009  :: 0 comments

I wish I could find the loose seam
of me where I can unravel myself,
pull back the flesh and check
under each hot organ, just to make sure
that everything lays where it should
that no little cells are misbehaving like naughty school children.
I could feel that my bones are thick, solid,
not hollow and light like a little bird’s wing.

My mother asks me if I will get the cancer test.
And I remember being 24 getting my first mammogram.
She says it’s my choice,
but I wonder what difference it will make.
When the dial on my life changes, it changes,
without permission.
And maybe not knowing
and waiting and wondering
is my inheritance.
The way the night sky gets to keep the stars
till they explode and shatter as if made of glass.
The way the river keeps the stones that fall in its path
and the ocean keeps all the wishes cast in bottles from the beginning of time.
All the heartache
that makes up this story is carved around my skull,
and floats behind my eyes each night.

“No,” I tell her, “not today.
But if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

She says she understands,
and her words sound heavy like bones
cracking under the weight of all these questions.
She is sorry, because she is a mother,
for what has passed at birth in the making of
our lives, in the rickety ladder of these chromosomes
the dominant, the recessive
the little consciousness that sits patient like an old poet inside me
holding the answer in a silver chest.
Her news is neither good nor bad,
it is just my inheritance.