Throughout Southern California,
The sky was illuminated with a pink, hazy glow
And smoke rose like a marine layer of fog.[1]

Crowding the parking lot of North County Fair
A mall in Escondido, California
The horses rest their heads
Onto each other’s shoulders.
Lit by the distant blaze
Their lithe black bodies
Become a hieroglyph
For something that we dare not speak.

Abandoned things and animals
Tend to crowd together.
En masse, the pain
Is somehow easier to bear.
They cling like children. Every curve
Speaks to another curve.

(A horse won’t fit inside an SUV.
It won’t ride on the highway.
Won’t be convinced to carry heavy loads.
And, as for passengers,
It would gladly help,
But is too proud for GPS on country roads.)

Suddenly unwieldy, they were left with
Feed, the concrete pavement, and themselves.
With deadened eyes, they watch
Fire devour the trees
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaSlither down a row of houses
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaSnap, sizzle, and sputter on the sooty sidewalk.

In the stark neon glow of the strip mall
Horses, with their heads bowed

Become a darkling hieroglyph
That used to dance upon the caves in flickering light:
A sullen, aching call
aaaaaaFor prayer.

[1] The italicized verses appear verbatim in The New York Times article “California Fires Keep Spreading”, 10/24/07.


The angel struck my forehead with his wing
And promised me safe journeying.[1]
I cringed under the weight
Of his dense feathers
Their whoosh split-second unfolding
Blinding me to the music
Of flight and rippled stillness.

Today he struck me
As I looked at an old letter of yours
Its simple wording now somehow indecipherable.
He struck me when I noticed your home phone number
Is listed by your name
While you have neither name nor home.

In January we will usher in the first year without you.
There will be so many angels
In the forest where we’ll gather
Their wings will crowd out the night
And we’ll feel suffocated by their presence.

Feather by feather, they’re inching us towards winter—
The tepid sunlight and the hearty meals, the slow
Forgetting of your hands, their shape, and how they shaped
That little ship from half a walnut shell,
Then made it sail, and then
Let go.

[1] A paraphrase of Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XII, 98-99.



The blue breakfast bowl
cradles the early
morning light
but refuses to hold my thoughts. Angry tenants, feisty mice,
they crowd a page of text, forgetting
a word is an inhabited, misdirected
stripped of its halo.


The lapis lazuli pitcher from Babylon,
alive only when its s-curves are full to the brim
with water. Now,
an objet d’art confined to
catalogues and museum dust.


As a child I’d watch the v-shaped fruit clusters
of boxelders, “flattened anchoring seeds attached
to an elongated, thin wing”,
helicoptering softly
through Odessa’s autumn air,
twirling onward
until caught
aaaaaaaaby a trembling


At the woodside road, a plant
whose fruit looked like a small potato,
peat-colored, speckled, and round.
I held it in my palm
and burst it open:
it contained a small
pocket of air.


Some seeds settle smugly into the pine cone,
wed to their place with a fragrant resinous tar.
Some are buried deep within
the sweet soft flesh of their fruit.
I’ve always swallowed apple seeds
along with the apple’s core,
and they gently prickled my tongue,
a merry throng of children
jostling you with their elbows and knees,
kicking up dust
on their way to a river.
They carry its name on their lips, but each
seed moves a little deeper into the earth, a little
closer to its core.


The ancient people of the Magdalena Valley
Believed the grave is a uterus
To which all humans return.

Bones are seeds from which new life springs.
Every seed dies in the deep dark earth
To rise again, and not recall its shape—
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaLovely in its oblivion, a flower.

Mother Earth carries us
As she propels herself into the galaxies
Swaying her body with the ease of exhaustion.

Accepting each of the dead with barely a whisper,
She cradles us deep within her core of luminous darkness
Until we split the Earth with our longing

Stalwart, ungrateful
To her who carried us beyond her term,
Ready to rise now

Under the footsteps of strangers
To ruin the home of a mole or a centipede
To break through

So many lovely surfaces, so many illusions:
The sun’s glare on the face of the ocean
The grass on the mountain, windy and wild

The latticework of green
And shadow—

Just for a moment
She closed her eyes
And was gone.

Natalya Sukhonos hails from Odessa, Ukraine, and has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She is a San Francisco-based poet, academic, and educator who speaks five languages. Her poems have appeared in Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, Yellow Medicine Review, Middle Gray Magazine, cahoodaloodaling, Emerge Literary Journal, Empty Sink Publishing, and Really System.