About a dozen of the poems in Larissa Shmailo’s In Paran (BlazeVOX, 2009) also appear at Fictionaut. Before that they appeared in such diverse publications as Fulcrum, About, Rattapallax, and Barrow Street.
About the title poem I write, “I so highly recommend this poetry book. Buy it if you dare! It’s strong yet nurturing, nurturing yet cutting-edge sophisticated. The title poem seems centered on origins–what so often creates a spark that leads to a fire.” Shmailo notes, “My name, Shmailo, may be derived from Ishmael, father of the other twelve tribes.”
Death is a man in Shmailo’s writing, but he is a lover and dancer, dark yet honorable, honoring her, posing as you, in making her his statistic. He is a suave in Shmailo, accessible only through ornery and dangerous rituals. He is not a traitor or thief as in Judy Grahn.
In “How to Meet and Dance With Your Death (Como encuentrar y bailar con su muerte): A Cure for Suicide,” the speaker vouches for a recipe she learned from an old Curandera who cautions her, “that it could be done once, and only once.”
The recipe begins with “2 gallons of pulque (fermented Mayan beverage), or, if unavailable, gin” followed by “1 case tequila/Several cases beer/1 bottle Mescal/2 ounces good marijuana/carton cigarettes/three large peyotes/coffee as needed.”
The procedure includes dancing. “When the dancing is over, go somewhere and drink the bottle of Mescal; leave the worm in the bottle for Death.”
“Do this correctly the first time [the recipe says], because it can not be done more than once. To do this once is sagrado, sacred; to do this more than once is common, so no lo jode. If you do this more than once, you will do it often, and then you will become an old borracha who sleeps with common men. Punto.”
Besides being a poet, who performs her work, Shmailo is also a translator. In her poems, “New Life 2/Variation on a theme by Joseph Brodsky et al.” and “New Life 5 (Magpie Translation of Joseph Brodsky), Shmailo imagines and rhymes the end of the war: “Imagine that the war is over, that peace has reigned,/That you can look at your face in the mirror again./That magpies, not bombs, whistle down upon your head/That outside the city, homes are not destroyed–instead/A baroque burst of laurels, palms, magnolia, pine[.]”
Her poem, “Six Months with You” appears at Fictionaut in the group titled, “Three Love Poems.” The speaker pledges to “Quit my lover/Leave the city/Sell my books” and “Live in Kansas, Join a carpool/Shave my legs.” The man she addresses is more than any man she has already met and not the man of death seen dancing in “Cure for Suicide” or felt rumbling in “Williamsburg Poem.” For him, she would “Break the true law/Break my poor heart/Break my vow.”
Shmailo’s transcultural poetry lights our side of the sea.
Ann Bogle has been a member at Fictionaut since July 2009. She is fiction reader at Drunken Boat, creative nonfiction and book reviews editor at Mad Hatters’ Review, and served formerly as fiction editor at Women Writers: a Zine. She earned her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Houston in 1994. Her stories have appeared in journals including Blip, Wigleaf, Metazen, Istanbul Literary Review, The Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Fiction International, Big Bridge, Thrice Fiction, fwriction : review, THIS Literary Magazine, and others. Her short collections of stories, Solzhenitsyn Jukebox and Country Without a Name, were published by Argotist Ebooks in 2010 and 2011. Books at Fictionaut features reviews of books published by Fictionaut contributors.