Laura J. Braverman – For Sappho

Laura J Braverman LE P&W May 2019

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For Sappho, poems by Laura J Braverman

Laura J. Braverman is a writer and artist. Her poetry has appeared in the journals The BeZINE, California Quarterly, Levure Litteraire, Live Encounters, Mediterranean Poetry, New Plains Review, Sky Island Journal, and will be included in the upcoming anthology Awake in the World, Volume II by Riverfeet Press. Her first collection of poetry, Salt Water, will be published by Cosmographia Press in May of 2019. She lives in Lebanon and Austria with her family.

For Sappho

No absence now from any holy place,
from any grove,
dance, sound.
You sing of apple trees and apple branches
and radiant-shaking leaves—
from which sleep drops down—

of woven stems round soft throats
and longing let loose on soft beds.

You sing now—again—as you always did:
each cloudless word a bell,
a pebble dropped
into cold, creek water—plucked
from the high strings, plectra in your right hand.
Taut strings give you voice
—hands, limbs.

I see your heart, unadorned,
behind your lyre, behind delicate folds: open—
for searching and being sought.
I see the gnarled silver necks of olive trees
and the crests of your inescapable sea.

Your left hand quiets unwanted strings—
unfed measures between song,
the silences of yearning unreturned. Don’t burn
your fervor in expectation, but look
what’s struck inside,
where union also lives.


We sit cliffside on Astypalaia, an arid, butterfly
shaped island small enough to cross lengthwise
on a moped. At the summit we find a ram skull
mounted to a wooden stake.

Scattered behind us are the crumbs of old Gods,
temple ruins of a noble tradition in snatchings
and mutations. To steal the maiden Astypalaia
for his own, Poseidon chose this form: a winged
fish-tailed leopard, no less.

I watch Meltemi winds whip violet waves into
froth while R. paints the coastal outlines.
Tomorrow we will take the daylong ferry ride
back to Athens, where I’ll board the plane
But I don’t know that yet.

I do know this—as I sit, foreboding swiftly
shifts into a seismic rift, strikes like Poseidon’s
sky brother in a fury. I am one moment there—
cliffside, in the body I have known twenty-
four years, in the next the old “I” has moved
aside for something else. Sea, bluffs, temple
rubble, R beside me—
all seem dreamlike.

I will call this visitation—moments separating
before and after—“my Ghost.” I’ll be pricked,
poked, imaged, scanned. Doctors will shrug
I’ll pray, I’ll chant.

My name is fitting, is it not? I cannot see my
Ghost. Its moods are wily and unstable. Slowly,
though, I learn tools of placation. But perhaps
I was wrong. Perhaps it was a winged fishtailed
leopard all along.


Decades of snow and wind
and birdsong, rays
of star and sun, all live
within my cells. You may see
my six strings tightly wound
and think me young—
but I am far from that.

My soul—
my soundboard, was cut
from alpine spruce
on the perfect day. The master
harvester knows when it is time:

at autumn’s end when sap sinks
deep into forest ground,
when the moon hangs
low and farthest
from the earth—only then
will my heart be dry.

The luthier will choose
the straightest parts, no gnarls
or breaks will do—
and then, for years, the planks
will dry and wait
until one day I am built—
my strings’ vibrations
made to sing from Mi and La
Re, Sol and Si.

Iris Immortal

I glide along an arc of light, soar
to land from heaven’s
eye. If I am called
to watery depths, I walk sand as you
a day-lit path. I am a messenger—
wind-footed. What order
should I convey?

I am a shape-shifter, named
sky’s glory, and bring
the rain before the bow. I am the color
in your eye.

If I am called to shaded
hollows, the places hidden
under pastures, I descend to midwife
the dying, to cut the gossamer soul
cord. Someday you too will follow me
to fields of white-leafed poplar
and grey asphodel.

Who walks within these lucent
robes? Have these wings
ever taken me where I was not made
to go? I am a witness—
to the scattering of being’s warmth
by wind, to the light you cannot
look directly into. Only I
can draw water from the river
of oaths. But I am still
a daughter. Still
do as I am told.

For The Blessed Besotted Sufi

Let beauty be
what we do and feel—
kiss the ground.
There are hundreds
of ways to kneel
and kiss
the ground.

Breast of bird, ridge
of leaf, spine of boat—
bow to stern, all grow
from the axis. Lay
the keel! Kiss
the ground.

Fisher, consider
Mother Ocean’s
boundless blue—
her favour. Gather
your finned reap
in creels. Kiss
the ground.

What is hearing?
An instrument tuned
to receive—snow’s
whirl, brook’s purl,
bee’s drone, bell’s
peal. Kiss
the ground.

It’s not by chance
hands find each
the other—fervor’s
push draws palms
close. Throw away
genteel! Kiss
the ground!


Can I redeem
the vicissitudes of illness—

or the visions of freedom from it?

Cool winds clear
debris, restore—

scar by scar,
each recollection
of defeat dissolves

and what was far creeps

Here, I set out—

abandon shores to meet
the currents. Consecrate the trip
and tides, here
I depart.

© Laura J Braverman