Liane Strauss

Liane Strauss was born in the borough of Queens, NY, and grew up in New Jersey. She is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Leaving Eden, and a pamphlet, Frankie, Alfredo,. She is a guest poet on the Clive James website; her work is featured in a number of anthologies, including, most recently, The Art of Wiring, edited by Christopher Reid; and she is Head of Poetry on the Creative Writing Programme at Birkbeck College. Her website is at

It’s Never Too Early for a Clean Slate

I’m blinking at the clean slate of morning
and the voice beside my head has seen more of the world already.
She reassures me like a baby, but I’m 42 if I’m a day
and I need to hear the forecast,
which I still haven’t learned has nothing to do with the weather.

My first cup and it scalds my lips, my gums, the parapets
and vaults of my mouth and you’re talking to me
in the native tongue, which was my own once,
set like type or handprints in cement, as near
second nature as Mother Nature, but I can’t make
heads or tails of anything you’re saying.
Nevertheless I remain solidly convinced I only need to try
a little harder, apply myself with more stick-to-itiveness
to be able to save you or be myself saved,
from what from the look in your eyes,
is some not-so-new or even unforeseeable disaster.
If only I could hear myself think.
But I’d need earplugs and a pneumatic drill
to get through this concrete layer of words,
and even your eyes don’t seem to hear me when,
out of time, ideas and desperation, I semaphore
in my own dead language and remember my father
telling me never to fall in love with a foreigner
because in the middle of the night he’ll curse you.

But it’s only first thing in the morning,
and not the first time, by my troth, I’ve failed to seize
let alone shuck, a pearl of wisdom cast like an aspersion before me,
and time to go, so I wave good bye,
which I see as an ambiguous, as well as ambidextrous, gesture,
but at the same time I also can’t see –
and what choice to I have?
I don’t have two right hands.
But the coast in clear, the toast is cold,
we’re at the crossroads of the breakfast table.

And it’s not until after I unbolt the chain, let slip
the wards of God, or Whoever it is Whose gates these are,
and toss precaution, and my only set of keys,
into the hedge that I notice
that it really isn’t too early yet
and I’m brimming with hope,
which has its disadvantages.

Ceci n’est pas

The love letters you sent me were not love letters.
The nothings you whispered were not sweet.
The promises you promised were not promises.
Your kisses betrayed nothing.

The things you never wanted me to see
were not the things you didn’t want me not to see.
You weren’t the one I thought you were to be.
I was exactly what you expected.

The smoke that bellowed from the cinema
was not the fire that broke the paper moon.
The nest that piped its passion to the sea
was not the lookout gone to dream among the briars.

The lies you told me were not lies.
The truth you professed was not the truth.
Love is not love and nothing is more real
than who we’re not and what we never had.

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