Scent Memory

by Emily Bjustrom

Diving past the general mills factory
A sweet scent wafts into the car
It reaches deep past my guts and through my spine
into the backseat of my dad’s car.

In the driver’s seat he takes an exaggerated sniff says what do you think? I think coco puffs, No! Froot Loops.

There are places in my childhood I can touch without flinching

But here is something swollen and heavy

It’s the sense of safety
Sleepy but happy in the back of the car
Head against the window

I can’t reach it without the scent of baking cereal drifting in through the open window.

It floors me again and again.

I am weeping on the highway
For the child was
And the woman I am.

Invention of Heartbreak

by Emily Bjustrom

I feel I invented heartbreak-
Tinkering over a magnifying glass with tiny sharp tools- I made of my pain
A delicate and soft pocket watch!
That I open and close
On the way home from work
Or while I wash my hair or stir the soup on the stove
The clasp whispers open and shut
Miss you
Miss you
Miss you

I try over and again
To jam the pocket watch into the empty socket you left in my gums
I tongue it over and over
Miss you

The watch won’t fit
Heartbreak can’t fill the space where love has been
Yet it ticks and turns
I pet it and wait

For your mood to change.

Miracle Walk

Emily Bjustrom

In the twelfth mile,
well after we were lost and found ourselves again,
we sit on a fallen log to think
about what it meant to get so seriously lost.

The scent of damp sweet grass hangs,
the heavy heads of wild iris nod in the limp breeze.

It’s important to know your limits, I say,
Some people never learn them, you say.

Time passes
the leaves sing like water
the birds rush in the trees.

Sometimes, I say, embarrassed, I wake up and watch the tendons in the back of my hands as I move my fingers and I say to myself I am a delicate machine.

You practice the motion and smile.

The knowing and sharing of a too honest secret is a miracle.
My good legs that carried me well past the long hike I’d intended-
a miracle to tie the body to the soul.

“I would like to be a bridge”
I announce to my students.
They know me and understand.
Our delicate minds clasped, spanning the divide
a miracle of growth and recognition.

I tell you that God has spoken to me
through the new leaves of a once dead houseplant-
I have been reminded that not all growth happens on the surface,
my love and tender care has not been wasted.
It worked!

God has asked me for my patience, I say.
You don’t laugh, as you might,
but tell me God speaks
when we need to hear Him.

In the Ballpark

By Emily G. Bjustrom

The air smells of popcorn and spilled beer
The concrete floor sticky
The air balmy and cool
Were we in love then?

There’s something dishonest in the way I’ve dressed myself
Flattened out my curls
No jacket
Who was I pretending to be?

You look like yourself, eyes lighted
Exactly where you want to be.

Green collapsible seats, open like cheering mouths
Hopeful as their occupants,
Drunk and slurry behind, they jeer against us for the home team.

A summer ball game, a blue sky
joy palpable as water in the air

The bitter taste of a pregame beer lingers in the back of my throat.
Did you love me then?

Heavenly Host

by Emily Bjustrom

My mother’s deft fingers churn angels out of cloth,
made in the image of little girls-

who’s brows furrow in concentration
as needles dip in and out
of the would-be flesh
of the heavenly host.

That year we pierced cranberries-
fresh and tart-
to string around our tree.
Their juice was pinkish blood-
the smell of which lingered for days.

A soft cloth angel.
The lone survivor
of a Christmas born
of my mother’s sweat.
Her work-
pulling up two wild girls
and a sweet baby boy
with thread and tinsel.

For her, this angel is a reminder
of the weightiness of being alone.

For me, it is a token of her strength-
the shield of a mother’s love.

The most special Christmas-
out of poverty and divorce
an army of angels.

Puttering Around a Haunted House

by Emily G. Bjustrom

Ghosts gather under the refrigerator
Behind the dresser
And on the coat closet floor

In the milky daylight
The ghosts hunt for memories
To dance with
-a 12th birthday party-
-that day at the beach-
-a girl alone, left on the front steps-

In the day it’s plain
The past stalks the present
In shadows and from the corners of eyes.

A cold home.
A woman unburdened.
But haunted still by the weight
Of a dirty faced child
A demanding desk
The heavy gaze of a girl waiting on the steps.

Picket Fence Dream

Emily Bjustrom

Freedom is a freshly scrubbed bear trap,
new and waiting.
An ugly dream,
the kindest lie.

There are abandoned houses dotted coast to coast,
hand to hand across America.

Each one festers.
The homes they had been burn.

Rolling through the mountains,
on a backroad in New Mexico- A house!

Rough sawn boards
Slouch and wait
for me,
a defiant little light,
to replant the flower beds
in salted earth.

Wait for me to grow myself
like lavender.
Delicate fat limbs,
like the heavy heads of hollyhock.

I grow to haunt a house I cannot own.
I envy the seeds the future of their roots.

My body,
a graceful sore,
the most elegant plight,
to grow sons greater than their fathers.

A future not perched on a lie,
but cradled in its own graveyard.

Plague Ship

Emily Bjustrom

Chafed and cherished
Burned and blessed
Irritated and honored

I feel like a sausage stuffed into a dress
I feel like no one is listening

when beauties can’t sleep it’s a tragedy,
when I can’t sleep it’s indigestion.

Why do empty parking lots
feel like ghost towns?

What makes one
lone streetlight more romantic than any other?
Burning through the night-

No one will ever
hold these memories
and love them.

No one will ever
curl exactly
like you do-

You are an abandoned
boat house
on a wide lazy river.

I climbed
the magnolia tree
even though I am
too fat and too old.

You are my plague
and we plague each other.

The days yawn and snap shut

joints shift
in and out of place.

What does it mean
when little chamomile flowers
grow next to the front porch?

What does it mean when the worst thing you can do to a stranger is kiss?

My body is a ouija board.
My body is a play pen.
My body is a plague ship.

I’m a river.
I’m a house.
I’m halfway there.

Children with milk
smooth faces
smoke and fuck
call me cunt
nobody listens.

Half in and half out
which foot will you use
to step in this mess?

My body creaks
yours does too.

People are the plague
and we plague each other.


Being is inside and out of any person.
Therefore, inside ourselves we find both reflection and external expression.
It is one’s duty to consider both in equal esteem.
Can one be both internal and external and live within the empirical world?
The empirical world is created though both experience and consideration.
To be is to consider and experience.


Halfway to absolution
My body is a tether to this house
Which is a second skin
This city, the third- crawling as it is

I am heavy twice
Once for the hands that slide into my dreams
Once for the hands that stop short of my waking skin

Something for your Hands

I want to give you something for your hands:
all the jokes I made
at 17 when the world was young
and I was old
enough to know the difference
between lust and survival.

I want you to take it-
my cynicism-
and rub it against your palm
for the friction.

I want something for my hands:
your mouth and ears and the places they meet.
I want to hold them
like candles.