Today's poetry for today's world

Willa Schneberg


Willa Schneberg has authored four poetry collections.  She received the Oregon Book Award In Poetry for her second volume.  In The Margins of The World.  Storytelling In Cambodia, Calyx Books, is her most recent full-length collection.  In conjunction with her interdisciplinary exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum, Fall 2012, a limited edition letterpress chapbook entitled The Books of Esther was produced.  Journals and anthologies in which poems have appeared include: American Poetry Review, Salmagundi, Women’s Review of Books and Poet Lore; I Go To The Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, Alive at the Center: An Anthology of poems from the Pacific Northwest, and Lit From Inside: 40 Years of Poetry from Alice James. Willa has read at the Library of Congress, Garrison Keillor has read her poems on The Writer’s Almanac, and she has been a fellow at Yaddo and MacDowell. Willa is also a social worker in private practice and a visual artist.  Her next collection, Rending the Garment is forthcoming in 2014 from Box Turtle Press, New York.  It will be the 8th title in the Mudfish Individual Poets Series.  An essay about Schneberg’s poetry and visual art can be found on the VoiceCatcher on-journal’s website: www.voicecatcher.org/archives/1700                







Click on the cover to buy In the Margins of the World.








The sorcerers are bored and frustrated

standing in their glittery robes and pointy hats

in the corner of my parents’ small kitchen

where the cupboards never close properly,

the pilot light always goes out, and

my father remains spindly and mute

as before he died.


They kill time rolling small glass balls

in their palms and conjuring

the electric can opener

to delid all the tuna cans,

but finally the incantations and

wand waving work.


My father is morphing

into his debonair self, tall of carriage

as if a picture were about to be taken

in three-quarter profile, a pipe in his mouth.


He vanishes.

Ashes burn in an ashtray,

the room thick with sweet smoke.


He reappears plumper, but still translucent

holding a bowl with a puddle

of vanilla ice cream and canned peach juice.


He floats down and sits.

The index cards are still

where he left them

waiting for names of uncracked books

and Dewey decimals.


The sorcerers do my bidding

and free him to be

who he never was in life.

Today he knows origami.

Under his hands

library index cards moonligh

as snails, whales and kangaroos.


The sorcerers are delighted with themselves.

Now, in search of my mother

they squish together for a ride

in the motorized stair chair

my father used at the end.


They find her fast asleep in the den

bent over a crossword puzzle.

When she awakens

all the empty squares are filled-in with:




                I  LOVE  YOU   I 



                                       Y O U






Previously published in Storytelling in Cambodia, Calyx Books, 2006;

Chance of a Ghost, Helicon Nine Editions, 2005 and This Year’s Best

Fantasy and Horror: Nineteenth Annual Collection, St. Martin’s Press, 2006




Click on the cover to buy Storytelling in Cambodia.




YOU KNOW THE KILLING FIELDS                              


                            for Rada Long, interpreter                        


She believes because I am Jewish

I must understand

what she went through after Cambodia

was ground down to zero on April 17, 1975,

when grim-faced teenage boys

wearing fatigues over black pajamas,

grenades, pistols, rifles, rockets

weighing down their shoulders,

marched cocky into Phnom Penh.


I must understand how the Angka found her

in the paddies in the moonlight stuffing rice kernels

into her pockets to keep from starving

and bashed in the back of her head with a shovel.


I must understand that they frisked her,

found the eyeglasses inside her krama

and smashed them into the monsoon-soaked soil, raving:

Traitor, intellectual relic, you can't run from

the ”Super Great Leap Forward” and then slashed

her arms with the shards of broken glass.


I must understand why they threatened

to cut out her tongue for humming

a snatch of song sung by Sin Samouth,

the Frank Sinatra of Kampuchea,

who is nothing more to them

than a bourgeois capitalist pig

masquerading as a Frog.


I do not tell her I wasn't there,

that I read about the Holocaust like any goy

who wishes to understand.

Instead, I tell her about a Nazi who sat at a table

covered with delicacies and booze,

holding an automatic pistol in his hand,

who forced Jews to lie naked face down in a pit

and between shots of cognac shot them dead...

as if it were my story.

She says, You don't know how happy

you make me, you know the killing fields. 




Previously published in Americas Review; Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists

& Our Friends and Storytelling in Cambodia; Calyx Books, 2006                       








Anticipating the lovers

who will soon be voices with bodies again,

the comforter on the bed fills with light

the color of sky when day puts up her feet and

slips on royal blue slippers.


Outside their window

the man on the roof dangles a dancing bear

or a baby grand or whatever 

the lovers want to unhook and haul inside.


Finally, their bodies are fields

of yellow tulips fringed purple

slowly opening their fists,

the bells of St. Bavo singing scat,

fire-breathing dragons barreling out of children's books

to race through the streets of Haarlem.


Belts daddies used for beatings

stay in the loops of their pants.

Charred bodies resurrect themselves noticing

a faint smell of smoke in their sleek hair or

the tweed of their jackets, while lovers

who parted without declaring their love

feverishly lick stamps on envelopes

of yellowed love letters

or claw at blood-red wax seals.




Previously published in Jacaranda; Storytelling in Cambodia, Calyx Books, 2006

and Alive at the Center: Contemporary Poems from the Pacific Northwest, 2013




Writer's Tip:  When I feel fully engaged in my life, poems are more likely to come than when

I am in despair.  Adrienne Rich has talked about writing out of a “radical happiness.”  She has 

said, “Real social transformation, real change has to come out of a love of life and a love of the

world . . . ”  Of course, I don’t believe poetry alone can be a change agent, but it can incite the

necessary conversation.




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