Larissa Shmailo

Williamsburg Poem

shaking like the El beneath the Williamsburg train
I wait for him to come
bridge and tunnel meeting like the girders of the El
his hard arms open my thighs

in the hood they have names for him
the girls say his names:
they call him dos cafes con leche
they say ruega para nosotros
they say he’s yucca, white and shining
like the crucifix on your breast
they say he’s lucky like a spider
they say he’s yucca, white and hard

they watch him
run like a wolf on the rooftops
run like a wolf on the rooftops
every night

like the train beneath the sidewalk and the El above my head
encircled by
these girders and his arms he
whispers spray paint and graffiti
pulls me down into the subway
pulls me down and up again
lifts me to the bridge the girders tattooed light the open El

his mouth burns the asphalt
graffiti burns my thighs
and I run through the clotheslines that flap on the roofs
I run through the night after him.

the girls give me garlic
the girls all pray for me
and I pray with the words from the spray-painted walls
and the girders that shake on the El
and I pray:

he is my catholic con leche
he is my old native religion

I pray: ruega para nosotros
I pray: ruega para mi

he is my brujo lobo blanco
he is my lobo y arana
and my prayers are as dark and as deep as his night
as the hole he will fill with his eyes
here in me

he opens
my Williamsburg thighs


We will love like dogwood.
Kiss like cranes.
Die like moths.
I promise.

Dancing with the Devil

They say that if you dance with death
You’re going to get a date.
But I don’t mind-the music’s fine,
And I love dancing with someone who can really lead.

Dante -- Anna Akhmatova
                                  "Il mio bel San Giovanni" - Dante

Even after death, he did not return
To his old Florence.
Leaving, he did not look back;
I sing this song to him.
The torch and the night and the last embrace
Beyond the threshold of fate’s wild lament,
He, from Hell, sent her a curse,
And could not forget her even in heaven.
But he did not pass, candle in hand,
In his penitent’s shirt through the Florence he wanted:
Faithless, low, and long-awaited.

In Paran

Call me Ishmael: my mother was a slave in the house of a patriarch
Hand against her thigh, he swore to raise her firstborn
But he lied. He threw my mother out; she made it to Paran
She found a well and didn’t die. She saw God and lived;
I saw demons, and thrived.

I grew up wild and reckless in the land of desert nomads,
In the arid lands that lie near the promised land and Egypt,
That land of milk and honey they were saving for my brother
And the land of Pharaoh’s bondage where my mother’s kin were born.
I lived my youth near Canaan and the slaving lands of Egypt;
I lived my life an outcast in the desert of Paran.

I grew up wild and stubborn: my hand against my father
At war with all my kinfolk; my kin at war with me.
I grew up wild and skittish like a scared colt in a sandstorm
I laughed at mules and camels that never could break free.

I learned to run in sandstorms, and how to eat my water,
And how to find oases, and how to take the heat.
I learned to talk to demons, to tempters and to genies.
I learned to talk to devils, to outcasts just like me.

I learned to love and pity my younger brother Isaac
When they took him to the slaughter not even asking why.

God bade me make the manna for Isaac and his children.
My demons said they’d be here, twelve tribes of them someday.
In this land of desert nomads near the promised land and Egypt
Near the land of milk and honey in the desert of Paran.

About the Author

Larissa Shmailo is the translator of Russian transrational opera Victory over the Sun with art by Kasimir Malevich; the opera was performed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the Smithsonian, and internationally. Her poetry CD, The No-Net World, is available at, at St Marks NYC, City Lights SF, and other bookstores. Larissa has read for the Writer's Harvest against Hunger, at the Knitting Factory, the Langston Hughes Residence, and other venues. She has received "Critic's Pick" notices and critical acclaim for her readings and radio performances from the New York Times, the Village Voice, and Time Out magazine. Larissa has been widely published in print and web sites ranging from Newsweek, Ratapallax,, the American Translator's Slavfile, and Street News. Larissa is founder of the reading series Sliding Scale Poetry and the poetry association The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses.

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