Robbi Nester – Singed

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Three December 2022.

 Singed, poem by Robbi Nester.


Yesterday, I saw the black and white page
of my email light up with posts, new ones
and old, ones I never bothered to erase.
As I opened up a note, I thought I caught
the scorched scent of my mother’s iron,
steam rising from damp sheets or shirts,
tasted my dry tongue, swelling with words
I couldn’t say, stuck in my throat like the
fishbone my father swallowed once,
scratching his pharynx, the tender tissue
of his throat. I trapped those words
behind my teeth like a monarch in a killing
jar, hands over my mouth to keep the fingers
still, stop them from speaking for themselves.


People ask why I still dredge up the bad old days,
the bullies on the block who called me “Bug Lady,”
my father’s belt, teachers who never saw my promise
or my pain. They ask why I must scrutinize the past
at all. I should celebrate, they say, instead of weeping
pointless tears. That’s when I remember home, where
I had to hide my past beneath a stone. Suffering isn’t
like a message on a chalkboard, easy to erase. It’s
etched into the consciousness, taught me to recognize
deception, to empathize. Forgetting history puts you
right back where you were, all those years ago, falling
for the ruse, believing that it’s all just in your mind.
It’s about us all, living in a world where cruelty’s enshrined
in law, where the innocent are dying every day, in schools,
and streets, and prisons, and people turn away from
suffering that seems too fraught, too hard to see or change.
They’re afraid of others’ ridicule or worse. How can they say
the past is gone, when It still vibrates in the air, a long-held note?

In Memory: Uncle Bill

My father’s half-brother, for a long time the last living
link to that generation, was once the only person
in my father’s family who smiled and meant it.
Short as he was, he seemed the tall one in the room.
I felt closer to the ceiling when he tossed me in the air.
He always thought to call on birthdays and holidays,
worked a steady civil service job, dead boring, just
to salt away the cash for his disabled daughter,
spent years doodling on his desk blotter.
When he retired, he framed it, declaring
I was there. But the world and his biology
caught up with him. Suddenly, the news
was always dire. It was my job to cheer him,
though he had children of his own. We shared
a mission: to unearth the mysteries
my grandmother had buried. She made
his father disappear. I was the namesake
of that man, her second husband, reminder
of a time she didn’t want to think about.
Before that, she’d excised the family of her
birth by taking on a name that seemed
American. No photographs remained
of her first husband, my grandfather.
She never to my knowledge spoke of him.
Together, uncle Bill and I conspired to
unweave her handiwork, fitting jigsaw
facts together till they meshed. It never
brought him certainty or peace, just
the enmity of others who wished he’d
let things lie, preferred her perfectly posed
portraits to the truth of who had slept with
whom a hundred years ago, who was insane
or violent, who let cruelty stand in for love.

© Robbi Nester

Robbi Nester is a retired college educator and the author of four books of poetry, editor of three anthologies, well as an elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her poetry, reviews, articles and essays have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Learn more about her at

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