Susanna Lang — Three Poems

Like an Interruption

No sig­nal.
Or an echo on the line,
some­one else’s conversation.

Except there is no line anymore,
at least not those icon­ic poles and wires
loop­ing over the black-and-white prairie.

A man holds up his cell phone
to video the bod­ies in the back of a van.
Too many, he says. And disappears.

Warning bell, lights flash, the gate descends.
Nothing to do but wait.
One train, maybe two. 

The Congress Hotel’s light­ed sign
has been nib­bled at
by some elec­tric­i­ty-eat­ing creature.
Edited. Now it calls us to CONFESS
as we check in at the desk.

What have we done,
what have we neglect­ed to do?


Like a Jot or a Tittle

tit­tle: a small mark in writ­ing or print­ing, used as a dia­crit­ic, punc­tu­a­tion, etc.

Like a note writ­ten in the mid­dle of the night
or a pen stroke mark­ing the absent letter.

Like a let­ter not deliv­ered, or
a miss­ing letter-writer.

Like a lan­guage spo­ken in five moun­tain villages
on the oth­er side of the world, nev­er writ­ten down,
sev­en hun­dred voic­es recit­ing the same words
so they remember.

What else is disappearing,
and how do we mark so many absences?

Here is a nest built last spring by a bird that will not return,
did we ever know its name?

Here is a stump, the ash tree cut down
after the ash bor­er devoured it.

Here the façade of a build­ing hol­lowed by fire.
Where are the peo­ple who lived in these walls,
did we ever know their names?

Here there should be a gravestone
but in a time of plague we can­not hold funerals.
Will we remem­ber where the dead lie?

Here is a mark, in their memory.
Here is anoth­er and anoth­er and another
in mem­o­ry of all that has been lost.

A jot, a tit­tle, part of a word, a frag­ment of verse
in a lan­guage we are all begin­ning to forget.


Like the Letter Z

The back-and-forth line of tracks through anoth­er snow­fall heavy on the daf­fodils, trace of some small crea­ture whose foot­prints I haven’t seen before

The road that stopped unex­pect­ed­ly at someone’s barn—we’d lost our way dri­ving home after the eclipse

A ceme­tery no longer in use at the end of the dirt road where I lived as a girl

The zigzag line climb­ing up the graph when up is the wrong direction

The line of masked faces criss­cross­ing the park­ing lot out­side a gro­cery store

The final scene of a French movie from the ’80s, a green ray appear­ing over the water at sunset

The last let­ter in the name of the stone that glit­ters in the creek bed, beneath a bridge where jas­mine grows over the railing

The last let­ter in the alpha­bet that holds all the words we know, all those we’ve for­got­ten, and those we’ve nev­er learned

Your father’s last breath, alone in his bed at night

The card you tuck away in a draw­er, the last one your father signed

The last day of a fever, the last day we will be required to remain in our homes, alone in our grief

We are in the mid­dle now
but there will be an end
or many endings


Susanna Lang’s most recent col­lec­tion of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in 2017 by Terrapin Books. Her chap­book, Self-Portraits, is forth­com­ing in August 2020 from Blue Lyra Press. Other col­lec­tions include Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (The Backwaters Press, 2008). A two-time Hambidge fel­low and a recip­i­ent of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, her poems and trans­la­tions from the French have appeared in such pub­li­ca­tions as The Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, decem­ber, Mantis, American Life in Poetry and The Slowdown. Her trans­la­tions of poet­ry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, and she is cur­rent­ly work­ing with Nohad Salameh and Souad Labbize on new translations.