Phoenix, Arizona

31 August 2008

Five Poems

Big Mouth  
Consider Me Your Student
Consider Me Your Daughter
Consider me Your Future

About Jess Burnquist




for Sempo Chiune Sugihara 1900-1986

I. Choice

An awareness of options must begin early.
Internally—you straddled a different horizon,
Telling your father No when he urged
You to become a doctor.

Did he live to see
How many lives you saved?

On that mid-summer morning
In 1940, the sky set its vantage point
At your door—and you opened.


II. The Last of the Just

You wired your Japanese leaders
Three times for permission
To issue visas to Jewish refugees,
Three times you were denied.

For the Jews to survive, the Talmud
States there must be thirty-six
Righteous men alive at all times.
They are considered “the last of the just”

To the weary father,
Leaning between the fence posts of your yard,
The image of your hand stamping Yes
Grew in multiples of three.
In his exhaustion, blurred vision,
Your goodness clearly multiplied.


III. The Song You Heard

Even a hunter cannot kill
A bird which flies to him
For refuge

It was this Samurai maxim
That you recalled
While preparing the Jews
For their flight.



big mouth

In this dream I line up with the crowd
For one of Goebble’s birthday radios.
The Sabbath begins with Nazis
Bursting through the door.

While I struggle to wake, Freud chants
To know, to know, to know.
His voice is ancient-static.
He begins reading The Odyssey.
Calls out a question,
          Might the struggle be shifted
          To darkness and light?
          Right from wrong?

Even in dream I’m no Athena—
Would I leave Telemachus to fend
Off the haughty suiters?

No. I would speak up at the assembly,
Try to turn eagle-omens back toward the sea.

Freud declares a turning point,
The conscious soars to daybreak. Uniforms are falling feathers
Crooked in my arm, a pillow.




1. Residue of Shadow

Nightly news chants
Not if, not if, not if, but when…

We float above gaping holes,
Open mouths in maroon dirt ask why?
This dream ends with you, Sugihara,
Shying pale blossoms with each step.
I translate gardens of words.
Unable to gather light, I can
Only dream one life at a time.


2. Chorus

How you came out to calm them
Then began stamping

How you came out to calm them
Refusing your government
As they ordered you to stop.

How you came out to calm them
Through the window of your train
Escape, escape, escape.


3. Reading Clouds Without Words

My cellophane world, our bubble
Needs bursting—or else, I fear, or else.
What I need to be sharp on, Sugihara,
Then, weren’t there signs? Didn’t you,
All of you, know? Does destruction begin
With the absence of self?

It hasn’t rained here
In an exaggeration of days.
Everything except the sky
Is erupting.

Waking takes so long,

Time feels like a near miss.
Air rises, still weather refuses
Release. Just because we can’t see
Silk-soft stagnation, just because dead mouths
Speak to only some of the living, doesn’t mean
I am just imagining.



consider me your daughter

I think we may never understand
The way light departed into ash.

To locate the self feels irrelevant,
Identifying darkness, a necessity.
Your legacy might light old gateways,
Let fly fresh hope. Generations
Twilight themselves in the millions.

Consider me where you dwell,
Sugihara, consider my sepia family.
Do I belong in their falling sky
Years before this light?
Consider me a Samurai dream—
Shadow turned dusk
Turned daughter.



consider me your future

A Samurai rests toward the sound
Of sun melting snow.
Elm branches slope and point
In the direction of time turning. Earth’s belly has been burning for eons.
There is often a fiery labor before birth.

My children wonder
What life was like inside of me.
I understand their need to know
What exists beneath the surface—
Their lives before this life.
Out attachment to each other
Is translated from flesh
Into the language or everyday, and I
Concern myself with a legacy
Of stories short lived.
So many endings to consider.
This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Children, there was a time
When a mother just like me
Watched a uniformed man
Toss her son into the air,
Then shoot him to the ground.
If it had been a different autumn
She would have been cradling
Her infant while dividing daffodil
Bulbs for spring. It is too much.
For the sake of our story
I must narrow the focus.

I begin with the Samurai.
Samurai know their obligations
Begin with light. Our people
Celebrate this miracle as well.
All of us dwindle in octane blue—
It can’t be undreamed.

Every generation or so,
The world goes mad.
Luminaries are extinguished.
And my children, this is the part
That must be told.



Jess Burnquist was raised in Tempe, Arizona. She received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry from Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in The Miranda Station Review, Persona, Clackamas Literary Review, Natural Bridge and various online journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU. Jess currently teaches literature and poetry at a charter high school in Tempe, and was recently honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award and grant for teaching. She resides in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix, with her husband, son and daughter.