Four Poems by Kathryn C. Bratt-Pfotenhauer

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Reading Mayakovsky in Brooklyn

It’s past one at the Bad Luck Bar. On the corner, a couple
pressed up against an iron fence. The neon light
of the convenience store windows haloes their heads.
Their mouths are frantic, their lust hungry and clean.
For once, I’m not ashamed of myself for looking—
a man, passing by, croons I know that’s right! into
the cold April air; allegedly, it’s spring. They break apart, laughing,
this couple learning each other for perhaps the first time.
I miss knowing someone—I don’t think that’s wrong to admit,
wanting to be wanted. But so often the dissipation—I love you,
and now I don’t. So no more of that, no more of love’s boat
taking on water. No more the crumpled bedsheets in a Bushwick
walk-up, and no waiting until 3, until 5 a.m. waiting for someone,
to tell me I deserve to be held and to say they’re not ashamed
of loving me. No waiting for the man that hungers me; I am done fighting
sleep because I have to be. There is no world large enough to disappear
and have no one notice. I’ve tried. But tonight I must admit
a certain kind of gentleness. The couple peels away from the corner.
They hold hands and stroll out of sight. And tonight,
there are no stars in Brooklyn, but people still kiss in the dark.

Becoming Your Mama
after John Murillo and Elizabeth Bishop

Throw out
the scale, then buy another.

Eat. Don’t eat. Feel bad
about your eating.

Lose a baby. Lose two.
Rebuke your daughter

for the way she slides
into the toilet bowl in shreds

of tissue. She is not skinny enough.
Too much of herself

is in the bleeding. Rebuke
yourself for the bad men

and the worse sex. Remember:
the man who loves you

is years beyond your twenty five.
Watch him go away. Watch him choose.

Years later he might call
to say he chose wrong.

Sit in silence on the other end,
wonder if you should say

you’ve waited your life away
for this. His damaged wife,

your othered woman, slinking
in the background.

Watch his house
flood, and do nothing.

Swallow water. Tread lightly.
Don’t worry: you’ve done this all your life.

Blue Traveler

I woke up and everything was blue
blue the bomb gone off by the school blue the blackened
windows of the burnt out house blue like the walls of the dark hospital room where
for the first time I heard the sound of my ovary, flushed with blood which
was so like a heartbeat I thought it must be one
blue riddle of my body blue ribbon unraveling in my womb
I thought my first baby would be a boy like my brother I named him
lucky I named him Felix I named him even as the dark clots
stained my blue underwear russet I named him even as the blue
night faded into dawn I shoved a hand between my thighs thinking I
could keep him if I kept him inside me a little longer it was
blue like the hospital room with clouds painted on the off- center ceiling tiles
and I thought that’s sad why is it so sad
the doctor saw my face bright with terror and said
no, honey, nothing like that you’re not while in the room
across the hall I heard laughter a woman exclaim congratulations


and suddenly I was no one’s mother

For T, Who Begs Me to Consider the Tragedy
after Anne Sexton

I wonder what it must feel like, to be that sure
of yourself. To bestow gravitas on what you deem
grave. You see, I am tired of performing grief
so that you may call it grief, tired of prostrating
to the figures of tragic men. Hamlet, with his canopy,
the roof fretted with golden fire. Lear, haggard on the moor,
and Cordelia, like the good child should, cupping his face
with her two good hands. It isn’t lost on me:
you’d deem the tragedy of my wrist circumstantial
if I decided to split it. Each month is a new tragedy:
my wound opens again to spit another child
onto cotton, and no, I am not a mother. And the dramatic
action, you say, isn’t enough to warrant the articulation: I am not
a mother. The argument of this poem is that grief
is a series of painful articulations. I am not a mother. The sun
the day after I climbed out of bed and brushed out my matted
curls was a flat, watery disk and I was not a mother. The room
where the man touched me was a tomb: gray, cement walls and I
was not a mother. I crept on my knees in the dark
to the dashed string of lights on the floor, still bleeding
from the cut place. And you say it isn’t tragic enough,
the loss of my child. The act of it.
But I ask you this: did you ever hold
your wife as she bled from that darkest part
of herself? Did you wonder at the syntax
of your shared grief, then? Did you criticize the diction
of a mouth ruined by loss? You must’ve.
After all, you know so much about my life.
white woman with brown hair, wearing gray sweater and silver hoop earrings with blue eyes

Kathryn Bratt-Pfotenhauer (they/she) is the author of the poetry collection Bad Animal (Riot in Your Throat, 2023) and the chapbook Small Geometries (Ethel, 2023.) The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, their work has been published in The Missouri Review, The Adroit Journal, and others. They have been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets and have received support from The Seventh Wave and Tin House. They are a graduate of Syracuse University’s MFA program in poetry and will start a PhD in Comparative Literature at NYU in Fall 2024.

Image: “Angel of Grief” from Monument for Jennie Roosevelt Pool, at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, CA, from Seattleretro under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license via Wikimedia Commons.

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