Poetry by Rhian Sasseen

On Cruelty

———————-“If I am anything, I’m cruelty.” – Alejandra Piznarik

August is a comma,
a season signifying pause:
full-throated summer
is now drawing to a close.

I spent most of it on the floor.
This is, historically, my worst-of month –
my month of hangovers, heat,
of self-deception, self-defeat –
my month of sharp tongues and sharper teeth.
My meanest season.

“You’re a joke,” “you’re an idiot,” “you’re a liar.”
“I can’t stand women who make fools of themselves for men.”
Sometimes it is so easy to make a face cry.
So often, a mirror is nothing more
than an arbiter of our worst desires.

And since you asked, the answer’s yes –
how much easier it is to live a life alone,
surrounded by only the loveliest of things.
The simplest of feelings.

The purity of my own decisions.


The Rabbit

1.

Midsummer or late spring, one wild evening –
The pleasures of clean sheets, wet hair, an open window –
Contentment, cool and green, so similar to the leaves outside.
The rain continues.

Last night the moon made its way across the sky.
I noticed it alone in bed – what once waned now waxed,
what once was gibbous turned full. An opal, a pearl, a piece of jade.
We treat the moon as though it were as inconsequential as a necklace,
as though it weren’t privy to our whispers, our sighs, our games.

Tecciztecatl threw a rabbit there. It stuck – Or was this rabbit a man?
An old man, a little dog. – Or was this man a woman?
A goddess pulled by a horse. – Or was this horse a rabbit?
Three hares running, a churchman’s puzzle.
Three hares, running, pursued by Artemis, “whose study,”
you’ll recall, “is the bow and the shooting of hares
and the spacious dance and sport upon the mountain…”

“Among the headlines concerning Apollo this morning,”
reported Mission Control in 1969,
“is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit.”
Four thousand years prior, went the legend, Chang’e was banished,
charged with stealing the pill of immortality from her husband.
“You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit
who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet…
The name of the rabbit is not reported.”

“Okay,” agreed the astronauts.
“We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”
But disappointingly, she wasn’t there.

2.

The history of science, you once told me,
is a history of failure: all these theories disproved,
invented, disproved again – a cycle at which the end point –
knowledge – might never be achieved.
You found this very noble.

But alone in bed I imagine knowledge somewhat differently:
a spaceship, silent, armed with a single rover: “Yutu.”
Jade rabbit. Forty-five years after the astronauts,
Chang’e found herself on the moon at last.

The formlessness of lunar nights: two days passed.
Something went wrong. “Chang’e doesn’t know about my problems yet,”
the rabbit tweeted out into the cosmos. “If I can’t be fixed,
everyone, please comfort her.”

Are humans solitary or are we pack animals? –
Scientists don’t seem to agree. One theory will be invented,
the next day it will be disproved; “Goodnight, Earth,”
Yutu transmitted soundlessly to the world below.
“To tell you a secret: I don’t feel so sad. I was just in my own adventure story –
and like every hero, I encountered a small problem.
Goodnight, humanity.”

On Earth we are surrounded by a profusion of noise –
even our silences are tempered with a thousand flowers budding.
I could say, “I don’t love you,” and my words would be overwhelmed
by the sound of a million cells breaking, forming,
a billion molecules wasted as you move forward in a hug.

On the moon there is no air. – No tides, no trees,
no noise. The astronauts stood in perfect loneliness –
“Perhaps if I had to do it over again,” one wrote years later,
“I would not choose to celebrate communion…
But at the time, I could think of no better way to acknowledge
the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience
than by giving thanks to God.”

The knowledge, winsome, that humans will go on:
the moon is very large and here, we are very small.
All this human drama, unfolding so many miles below –
The moon, companionless, watches us on Earth instead.


Rhian Sasseen’s work has appeared in Aeon, Al Jazeera, The Brooklyn Quarterly, and others. More can be found at her website,rhiansasseen.com

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