Alice Friman

Dealing with the Forbidden & How It Begins
June 20, 2020 Friman Alice

Dealing with the Forbidden


I’ve a talent for throwing things away.
Once I tossed a copy of Anna Karenina,
my favorite book, found in my mother-
in-law’s basement, printed in 1930,
because right in the middle of the part
where things were heating up between
Vronsky and our Anna there suddenly
appeared–sneaked into the text–a word
of untranslated Russian: a barrier of
Cyrillic worthy of the KGB, a knot
of the unreadable, a tangled thicket,
a snarl. But let’s not blame Russia
for everything. Here it was, the key
to the plot, the key to our Anna’s fate
inaccessible to an American audience
because the American editor forbid
the translation of the Russian word
беременная. Midwest sensibilities
and all, which go to explain a story
about my aunt, the quiet one, the shy
one who eloped, shocking the family.
It was 1930, the very year беременная
was left raw in the text. Now why
would a girl who helped her mother,
sewed her own clothes, and never did
a racy thing in her life elope, except
to avoid a possible “disgrace,” which
left me lost, flipping back pages to
figure out when what happened to
Anna happened. Anna, who ended up
jumping in front of a train, her name
dragged like a dead cat through dirt
then forgotten like certain ladies who
live alone without the person who got
them беременная to begin with. Truth?
In my aunt’s time when you wouldn’t
translate беременная, let alone show it,
the real taboo had nothing to do with
the word or condition, but the whoops
of how you got that way in the first place.


How It Begins


The day I visited Thoreau’s pond,
I wanted only to marry my sight to his,
to see from his cabin door what he saw—
the water blue and green together.
I stayed, a reverie. Others came and went,
snapping pictures, placing pebbles
on his cairn. Until, coming up the walk—


“What’s this? What’s this? Oh, it’s that
nature nut, his shack in the woods. Bor-ing.”
She said, “Bor-ing,” throwing her hands up
and drawing that O sound out like judgment
before turning and flouncing off. Her friend
running after her, he who had brought her there
to share the words that had touched him.

And it came to me that I had always
lived my life a stranger. Always the need
to explain, to clarify. The way that young man
chasing after his girl will find it necessary
all his life to account for what he feels,
as if a vibrating string needs justification,
or a plucked harp permission to sing.

Alice Friman’s eighth collection of poems, On the Overnight Train, is a New & Selected due out from LSU Press in February. Her last books, also from LSU, are Blood Weather, The View from Saturn, and Vinculum which won the Georgia author of the year award in poetry. A recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and included in Best American Poetry, she’s won many prizes and has been been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Plume, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry East, Massachusetts Review, and many others. Her website is