Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 1



Janette Schafer


On Leaving Detroit
             after Julia Kasdorf and Psalm 137

By the waters of the Detroit River,
we sat and wept as we remembered
the prosperity of the Industrial Age.

There on the corner of Nichols & John R
we hung our harps on a
dilapidated fencepost,

for there, the survivors of the race riots
called out to their descendants,
How can you leave us behind?

How can you sing the songs
of Motown even as you pack your cars
and succumb to urban flight?


If I forget the French glass
of the Guardian, may its dust
fall in my eyes.

May the iron taste of blood
stain my tongue if I do not recall
the colors of Diego Rivera’s frescos.

Remember not, oh Lord, the sins
of those who had to walk away to find
food and a day’s work as our city crumbled to stone.

Tear it down! Tear it down! The Mayor
and the Statesmen cry. Let it topple
to its Foundation.


Daughter of the Golden Age of America—
Grant us mercy. Do not doom for destruction
those who abandoned you.

Do not dash us on the broken pavement.
We were dying, too.
Even Motown has left us.




Barn Burning

In the red barn, we found magazines
with naked children, thick black rectangles of ink
blotting out their eyes.

In the red barn, we saw the first vagina that did not
belong to us, hair thick, black, and coarse, hands
tied above her head, legs splayed, red lace and torn
fishnets, flesh bursting through the holes. We ran
from the slats between the rotting wood.

In the red barn, we found the rat, dead and heavy.
First, we poked it with a stick. I grabbed the tail
holding it up as it turned like a chicken on a spit.
I laid it across your palm. It was full of coins that
crumbled beneath the dead skin. You took it in the house,
showed it to mother, who beat you as she screamed.

In the red barn, our landlord took Libby, the neighbor
girl we called Libby the Lisper, where he touched her
before she went away. We crawled into her empty
yard and took apples from the tree. Mother turned them
into pies and cobblers, asked if he touched us—
you know—down there.

In the red barn, I hid with my first lover, a Pakistani boy
my Dad called a towel-head. In the dark, I could only see
the whites of his eyes but I felt him everywhere, my pale
legs glowing as I wrapped them around his brown hips,
his mouth blazing on my shoulder.

I burned down the barn with a misspent cigarette,
another thing hidden, too terrible to confess,
except that here and now I am ready, and this is how I tell you.




Ode to Heroin
             for Holly Evans-Spencer

It drives first with pain into a vessel,
breaking down the maidenhead,
the slip beneath the dermis that promises
a pleasure to come if one can only first endure.
It nestles, curls through the pores of skin,
bathes like the naked Bathsheba in the blood.

Nerves pulse and twitch, ecstatic dancers
electrify and shake, ebullient lovemaking;
mouth unhinges, opens into a silent “O.”
The dark of eye and underbelly of brain
reach out to embrace. It hums and sings,
I am in you, oh my darling, we are one.

Visions cloud in a thousand rainstorms,
water disintegrates the loose gravel path.
Shards of broken glass swirl like prisms,
kaleidoscope beneath the eyelids,
burst the ears with a calliope of sound.

This is not about what heroin will later
take away. This is a recall of the Come, hither;
I have so many things to show you.

I did not want to write of it, but it was
stuck in my gums like dry brittle bone.
You have asked me many times, so now
I try to explain it. How does the dolphin tell
a dove of swimming? How does the dove
tell a dolphin what it is to fly?




Found Sonnet #5
             after Clare L. Martin

The land is made of naked coal—winds stir,
breathes a desert into Earth Mother’s throat.
Pillars and tunnels are cold as old bones,
mineshafts a harvest of muddy wet veins,
sky made of threads of copper and water,
abandoned underground as a leafless tree.

It is comfortable to care for nothing.
Below us, something good has gone to rot—
others try to eat from the fruit we’ve bruised.

We began in God’s breath—a fire of stars.
Crows caw a warning; cleaning women shake,
mark our decaying flesh with salt and clay,
draw a midnight cowl, smother the quiet.
We should chase our sun like the open clouds.


Janette Schafer: "I am a Venezuelan playwright, poet, and opera singer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am a 2017 awardee of the Maenad Fellowship in writing through Chatham University and a 2015 awardee of the Arts MODE Fellowship through New Sun Rising LLC for playwriting and experimental theater. Recent and upcoming publications appear in Calamus Journal; Zany Zygote Review; Eyedrum Periodically; Nasty Women & Bad Hombres; The Woman, Inc.; B. E. Literary Journal; Big Lit International Writing Festival; Chatham University broadsides."




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