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Five Poems by Emily Bilman


Rembrandt projected his self-love 

on an elderly woman self-searching 

in shadow while reading an illuminated book—

an old woman protected against ignorance.

Her wrinkled right hand resting on it could point

to her life experience in concord with the lit book,

the warrant of her progress or prophesy 

compensating for her guilt as a heroine. 

Yet, her lowered gaze seems as ephemeral 

as her bonnet’s fleeting shadow upon her pale 

blasé face. And the intensity of the light 

brightening her page insinuates the painter’s 

obsessive quest of immortality after death, 

braced by his model’s liberal feminine faith.


Like Orpheus who defied death searching

for his wife in Hades, the poet traverses 

his book, unable to abandon the shadow-lands 

in search of transformation in the plains 

between the earth and death. Like Orpheus guilty 

of abandoning his wife, the poet’s books, too, remain 

unabandoned, their meaning broadened into the next book 

in search of immortality. Yet, the poet celebrates 

the garden, the midnight sun, lovers’ passions 

even if, like a somnambulist, he must delve 

into his unconscious to discover his clues. 

The poet traverses the mirrors of his buried self.

Yet, the shadow-lands are tainted with the poet’s life-force.

Like Orpheus, even in death, he is alive with music.


When I swim in the seas of my childhood

I feel my protective shadow like a mask sturdily

Shielding me. When I venture yet further 

In the plankton-sea, I suddenly grow fearsome 

Of my own shadow as it struggles to drive 

Away the sly multitudes that wanted to steal

My childhood. As I dive to the plankton-depths

The swarms disappear. The iodine-waters wadded 

With minerals blur my fear. Submarine sands shiver 

With rainbow-wrasse. When I swim up for air with

A weightless body, these fish-swarms reconcile me

With those who assailed my childhood cocoon

That kept my pupae-organs warm and immune. 

Gyres of Disjuncture

The patterns in the widening gyres of the sea-shells

Resemble the ever-widening gyres of the galaxies 

Whose Medusa-poise keeps the earth in place. 

The shield that shelters the lucent animal in the shell 

Is as tough as its flesh polished by the sea-waters  

That witnessed our birth. But in the greed of our affairs,

The shell-flesh is gnawed by the virulent virus of our misuse.

Pandemics and water-wars are loosened upon the world.

When will the rough beast of our anguish recede finally?

Now the sower can no longer hear the water’s elegy.

In quarantine, labs can no longer contain our masked

Discomposure. We’ve grown vulnerable like children.

When we shall leave our shields of self-confinement

We will have attained the future’s new assignment.


An absence, ethereal as the wind, 

yet corporeal as a wound regains

my pliant body before I begin to write.

The text is my inner garden’s palimpsest.

Like a tended garden, the text grows 

blending song, sinew, and symbol on paper. 

Images arise from my malleable life-force

and verses link metaphors with music.

Meaning hides behind the ink-shade.

Intuition is the glimpse from the unknown

which we access through our wounds and

the primeval knowledge of the primal forest.

In this harmonious hunt which avoids decoys, 

the falcon can hear the falconer who tames

the hunter and fowl out of the primal forest.

The wound-pores open to let us see glimpses 

of the light, to form an ideal consciousness

binding us together to mend our quarantined world.


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