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Olga Livshin

Martial Arts

The night Sandy Hook’s children were killed, I bought four boxes of pancake mix. Recently immigrated, I wanted an underground bullet-proof bunker. Whole Foods had to do.

It was our date night. Dave had to watch the comedy solo. I walked across the glittering street. My kindergartner shouted: mama, mama, let’s have thousands of breakfasts and live

an awesome American life! A black belt in breakfast, that’s what I want, punching life with pan-fried suns every morning. I’d wrap my son in silky camouflage of flapjacks and hotcakes, those warm secrets

that English opens for the newly arrived. But Kolya peeks out from history: mama, what do you do all day long but think of the kids who were almost me, who put on little rain boots on a real morning

before someone swept away all their trains and dinosaurs, dolls and small funny clowns, and so many packages, all sorts of presents, tons of purchases pinning us to the ground?

The Xanax Debate A Quadrupalogue

The Brain:

Mind, when did I stop being your sister? When did I become the mule you threw bag after bag of work at? Sand, clay, cement spluttering, hurled at wherever I tried to tend to a garden of stop. We worked when the world had its short rib stew, petted its cats before the dumb, lovely TV show, and sugar-powder snow fell. When we needed sleep, when we really did need to fall prostrate and sleep, instead you and I dragged ourselves on brisk walks under the bulging sky, or worked right after giving birth. That’s when we first zigzagged down the world-of-medicine stairs. Yes, our culture demands exertion; but not so fast. Remember how you basked in work, Ms. Cog- of-the-Month at Self-Sacrifice Corporation, Perfect Mother Who Just Can’t Get it Together? You loved ravishing me. Now I’m frayed. Don’t get dressed, Mind. Don’t eat, Mind. Take that pill! All dials scream fear, fear! We are fellow travelers. Hear me, hear.

The Mind:

(Swallows a Xanax. Waits ten minutes.)

That’s better. But how it tortures me, this shame that I give voice to. Brain, let’s not kid ourselves. You threw me out at your whimsy, Your Crazy Majesty.

I was once a rational animal, mother of all my work. When you said, “I am real, too!”, how you loved crushing me into you, like America’s favorite medication

smashed now into my mouth! Medical nomenclature calls us an organ – and just that: a smallish, mortal and twisty sort of cinnamon bun, black raisins of illness

baked into our folds. GAD—that’s my name thanks to you: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Should I be glad? Bodies are real, your wisdom declares. I’m not myself until Xanax doles me out

and then that suddenly ends. And Xanax needs to take me again, and again. That’s my only feasible, cyclical return to me. No: not to the healthy woman I used to be.

To our easy-to-memorize, our dearly beloved formula: 8-Chloro-1-can’t-live-without-it- methyl-abhor-depen-dency-4H-phenyl- it’s-intimacy-that-I-didn’t-know-benzodiazepine.

The Xanax R&D Team

If we may: we are biochemists. Which is why we meet you here. Poor Brain, how hard it is – we know this better than anyone. Please accept our response – these meds – as-is: you’re not in a madhouse, at least! Some facts for you, Mind, too, so that they might balance the heavy medical authority that upsets you. We have no idea how Xanax works, and only vague notions about why you’re sick to begin with. Hormones, the environment, what you dreamed of, drank this morning, what your boss said at 3 p.m. No cure, but treatment, and we still try—

Pfizer Corporation:

Now, Drs., if you don’t mind, step aside. We’ll speak directly to our customer. Ms. Mind! (It’s illegal for us to speak to your damaged organ, we’re advised that diseases are biology. Also, you’re paying.) Let’s face it: Xanax is the best- available, premiere anti-anxiety medication. Unrealistic worries vanish after oral administration. Join our fifty million clients per year, plus illegals, and growing under our leadership. What else can you do? Why do you people add this cause for worry to your already-enormous list? You’re one powerful army. Ms. Mind, soldier on!

Thoreau in Russia

Outside Moscow, a sixteen-year-old girl in thick glasses looks for something in the littered, self-shedding woods. At home the TV has exploded: Americans have brought down their own skyscrapers, now they’re destroying our ancient homes, poisoning minds, snatching girls. The girl runs away, reads Genri Toro in translation, and Walden rolls out.

By the hand, by her pinkie finger, Toro takes her away from near the cranberry bush that almost shades shards of vodka bottles, to the vaguely clean willow, eva in Russian, not weeping, but bathing her lithe arms in the pond. Genri liked washing off his nights, he announces vigorously: morning baths in the pond were his religious exercises,

and the best. The girl dips a toe: icy, October, black water. Moscow’s autumn has been mute to boys and girls noiselessly reading poems, microscopic, untranslated. Do Americans read Genri? She forces herself to undress, falls nude into the pond: a blast of liquid icicles, then warmth. This, too, is real. It fits her like glasses.

As she hides in her jacket, she watches the oaks and maples lift their yellow leaves – clubs, spades – against the sky’s booming blue gouache. It’s just a bet, a quick card game, yet the post-empire plants stand up, small-tall, no defenses. Propped by a birch stump, Thoreau sits quietly with the girl: irrelevant to their countries, legible to their dreams.


Olga Livshin ( is a bilingual Russian-American poet. Her work has appeared in The Mad Hatters’ Review, Eleven Eleven and other journals, and was included in The Persian Anthology of World Poetry (in translation). She teaches Russian at Boston University.

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