Rosanna Warren

Three Poems
December 27, 2023 Warren Rosanna



I’ve seen demons, each one tossed
in its hurricane of scarf—


they were foreign, carved and painted, they protected
a temple. Shall I invite


one home with his bug eyes, his
fangs? But that’s not the conversation


we should be having, you and I:
let’s go back to our early letters.


See how the ink splurts out
of the capital “I”? See the tremor


blurring Y-O-U? Each ink blot a cocoon
in which a demon larva battens


and dozes, oozing out its time.
They live for decades in manila folders.


This species is indigenous, end-
ogenous. They secrete


venom. But warmed, scrabbled free,
released to air, they


rise, each new-skeined wing striking an emerald shimmer,
a flash of quartz—
I could have


seen you better, I
know that now.



Sunfish Midrash


“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justice?” Genesis 18:25


First the spade slicing fat earth, the satisfying heave
of soil onto grass: I poked with my fingers to pull
naked worms. At seven I learned to torture
as I pronged the fishhook into spasming flesh
and dropped it in the stream. And learned to kill—


“If you desire the world to endure, there can be
no absolute justice”—not when I yanked the sunfish
through bright air, hacked off its head
with the not-quite-sharp-enough knife, slit open the narrow
belly, ripped out its guts—all this I learned—


“If you desire”: blood on my fingers, I wiped the blade
on the grass, and how the body sizzled
in the pan, my pride and hunger sizzled as I ate—
“absolute justice, the world cannot endure.”
“Flying white,” a classic Chinese calligraphic


brushstroke, ghost of a figure, not laden
with ink. I still eat fish. I observe the hibiscus,
its pleated white paper satellite dish of bloom
receiving whispered messages from some heavenly
realm where letters aren’t shaped in blood.



And, till action—


Castanets in the inner ear, a concert of cicadas
chiming to fanatic sea gods as olive trees


curtsey. Those gods care not
a whit about sexual shame. The face


in orgasm: tragic and
comic mask speckled with foam.


Sacrifice required. The girl will be tossed
from the steed at full surge, lie crumpled


on sand where only hoof prints hem the shore.
We rested briefly on the strand, then rose to shake mica from our hair.


Years later, waves still seethe in the inner ear.
The gods leave traces.


We’re streaked and scarred, but still we persevere.
And when, years later,  that face startles again


we won’t
recognize the beauty we had thought.

Rosanna Warren’s recent books are Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters, a biography, and So Forth, a book of poems, both from W. W. Norton in 2020. She retired from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago in 2023.