Leveler Poetry Journal
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Trumpeter swans from Russia south for winter: En Bōqeq.

What I see is food for what I see.

Mind meandering far from body,

over the dead and heavy sea

whose salt once healed an ugly summer cut.

Before the gush, the skin was insular—all the hexes

sealed. Trumpeters swans, their hearty honks.

Beyond them monumental mountains—Mo’av in the mist.

The gist of it—whatever rises

outside gets reflected

back. The terrace lit with candle-lanterns, oleander, jazz.

Lo, behold—

the blue-note horns are us.

What I feel is food for what I feel.

I wish I could have swept you up, before the fall,

and ferried you away. The way the very air has weight,

the way you were a seraph once (when I was being razed)—

light as light, insubstantial as grace.

Elana Wolff

levelheaded: Lo

“Lo” begins with an image of trumpeter swans on the Dead Sea, noting their long seasonal trip from Russia. The swans’ trip to the Dead Sea mirrors the speaker’s mental trip from “En Bōqeq” out “over the dead and heavy sea” in the very next line. At its most elementary, the poem is a nature poem. It’s a description of a landscape with a flock of swans. Like all nature poems, this one is filtered through a personal and public history. So, when the speaker imagines her “Mind meandering far from body” she solidifies her abstract imaginings in the very real, physical flight of the swans.

The speaker’s personal history revolves around an “ugly summer cut” restored by the healing waters of the Dead Sea. Later, the self-conscious moments, “What I see is food for what I see” and “What I feel is food for what I feel,” indicate the speaker’s quiet skepticism about making grand pronouncements in the sacred space of poetry about the ancient geographical space she inhabits in the poem. Even as the poem centers on the speaker, it doesn’t shake the large-scale historical significance of the Dead Sea. It’s this public history that references the kingdom of “Mo’av,” speaks of “seraphs,” and uses the interjection “Lo, behold” to remind us that some of our earliest collective memories – our most ancient stories – come from the region. We know from the “terrace lit with candle-lanterns, oleander, jazz” that our speaker is contemporary, but if not for that last word, “jazz,” we might think we’re being spoken to from across centuries.

All of this history, these images, the healing of a literal and figurative “summer cut” by the “dead and heavy sea” leads to the private wish in the poem’s final stanza. We call the wish “private” because we can’t be sure who’s being addressed, who’s to be “swept” up, what the speaker means by “the fall” (autumn? the biblical fall of man?), or what it means for someone to be “razed.” Still, a sense of longing comes out in the language. Notice the “w” sounds in the last four lines. Notice the pun on the word “raised.” It’s as if the speaker’s language escapes her, as if the sound of the words betrays her desire for privacy by conveying how much emotion the speaker feels, as if something is trying to burst forth. By the end, we glean the speaker’s regret, but importantly, we also recognize her being compelled to song by a dual sense of place and history.

– The Editors