Becka Mara McKay


Leviticus as a Grammar for Beginners

                            (after the paintings of Archie Rand)


                                                    Jeanne Bessette

                                                    Jeanne Bessette

You think I don’t know what they say about me

behind my back? asks disaster, whose existence

might consist only of listening


to what we say behind its back. The plural

of slander is slander. The plural of money

is money.Some painters excel at depicting


disgust, memorializing each bone’s role

in the lifespan of human revulsion.

The past tense of greed. The predicate


of slander.And when we keep the words

I dare you tucked in our mouths too long,

we grow knots of muscle near our jaws. Mine


keeps me from profanity but also 

from turning my face to the sea. Participle

of the unclean. Infinitive of idolatry.


Leviticus (a book to make human

anger look like a bowl of milk left outside 

for barn cats) convinces me the whales 


were meant to be in charge: holy breath

on the waters still the truest act 

of creation. (So many restrictions


pucker and pull at the seams of the world.)

Each slanderer’s hand is a small blond wife

he won’t be permitted to divorce.


People like us never believe we can 

be silenced, so the violence 

of our silencing is nearly a surprise.

{BACKWARDING: From an excess of joy to mourning.]

                                                            from The Dictionary of Misremembered English


Out of obligation to the saint who holds fat stars in her palms as she peers from the sky, I replant these hibiscus every forty-eight hours to keep their smugness in check. Still they mutter insults like a thousand cursing churches. The best tyrants are the tyrants who can live below their means. Because I owe her—the saint with poor circulation who pockets the plumpest stars as she wanders the cold space of God—I let the hibiscus talk trash about me. They are such pessimistic perennials, and they speak in the barking whispers of chain smokers. Mazel tov, they croak as I pick at the soil stenciled under my nails (Yiddish is the tongue of their deepest contempt) and hasten themselves into a fierce chorus, repeating their favorite words for exile: Banished. Language. Rubbed-away gold.


[FIDICINALES: Finger muscles used to play certain musical instruments]

                                                                        from The Dictionary of Misremembered English


What if recurring dreams are all one dream, 

like a government of hijackers sent

to survey the mind? This is what I thought 


when my mother and I cleaned out the bedroom 

closet. She handed me each old notebook 

with the kind of fingertip protocol 


reserved for shattered china or the weightless 

corpses of lizards trapped between window 

and screen. I’ve given my ancient rage proper 


interment, exhuming the bones of an argument 

with a hapless Dairy Queen employee 

in the Florida Keys over the size 


of my blizzard and letting them rest. 

Ars Poetica: Bad Translation


Let’s lick our thoughts from the ceiling, suggested 

my hosts, who may have been Scandinavian.


Was this a metaphor for parting at the end

of an eventful evening? A salute


to a Dadaist party game? But then I saw

the stepladder and the paintbrushes


and the food coloring, and my hosts’ tongues

already slick and green as chameleons.


The stepladder seemed rickety and uninspired,

and I could not tell whether I’d be offered help


balancing as I stretched my face to meet 

the words. Nor was it clear whether the words


were made from sugar or from salt. If this is you

speaking, disaster, I get the message. I will gather


forgiveness like a gleaner after the harvesting,

bending to my task in the corners of the fields.

Becka Mara McKay directs the Creative Writing MFA at Florida Atlantic University. Her chapbook of prose poems, Happiness Is the New Bedtime, was published in 2016 by Slash Pine Press. Other publications include a book of poetry, A Meteorologist in the Promised Land (Shearsman), and several translations of fiction and poetry from Modern Hebrew. Her work can be found in recent or forthcoming issues of Colorado Review, Cream City Review, InterimNinth LetterPloughshares and Forklift, Ohio.