Atomic Time · Elissa Rashkin

Atomic Time · Elissa Rashkin

I, poet, convoke this minyan of infidels/to mourn and to celebrate/what remains of our humanity.” Elissa Rashkin’s Atomic Time entranced me with a timeless voice, a voice as sharp and sorrowful as broken glass, a voice “reeking of murder/rain and apocalypse.” Rashkin unflinchingly examines the atrocities of the European ghetto, of the Middle Passage, of a “no-woman’s land.” The language is rich, muscular, and mournful, a “kaddish for the rest of us,” that recalls a pain both exotic and hauntingly familiar. Rashkin reminds me that hope is just as close, “Just behind that distant mountain/must be Jerusalem.” The voice is human and generous, giving the reader, “blood of petals . . . . a blessing, a goodbye.” Atomic Time is an important book for this volatile world.
Jennifer Martelli, author of My Tarantella


The Chosen People

They say the grandfather
used to spit on the ground
each day when he passed
the synagogue.
Reluctant fruit
of the rabbinical tree.

Hatred makes no fine distinctions.
A Jew is a Jew and the devil will have his due:
G-d closed his eyes
the army came
and tossed the bodies
into a common grave.
One brother crawled out, broke
in pieces, to tell the story.
The family fled to Romania. The black waters
failed to recede. I wake up

each night

barely breathing

in my broken brother’s body
trying
to claw our way out


Civilization and Its Discontents

(A rehearsal for corpses)

syphilitic swoon on the floorboards
gnaw raw ankle
bone open

there is a picnic
but it takes place in a slaughterhouse

she: “there were
roses once
then
nothing”

she: a dry death
behind yr eyes
you drank the poison
now yr shit glitters

syphilization and its dis/contents

he: needle sticks in her thighs
i wouldve thought

await abscess
abyss

myself: hey! that thumping bassline
is not yr heart!

gnaw raw arteries
mucus seeping
sarcophagus valentine
like you guessed

in each other/skeletal
would be romantic
w/o so many ants

yes we will call this a picnic
complete with champagne,
wet-naps, demerol, and
tv. let us not
forget the local anesthetic
and human sacrifice.
cordon off the dead mans zone.
red velvet to hide the stain.


Atomic Time

biting yr lip you
hit the floor running
and the noise behind you
didn’t diminish
the relentless tango of
forward. oh you
stand in one place.

so you laid in his bed all
radiant as hell, spitfire
glowworm in heat, quivering
insect limbs.
you sucked his cock and
only later
remembered the factory
where rows of women paint
clock faces with liquid uranium
licking the tips of brushes
to keep their fine points.
it’s not the plague
so much as the risk of losing
yourself forever.
but everything is a crapshoot

with crooked dice, your
earrings broken your
jacket torn. so when
he comes in your mouth you
swallow, millions of little deaths
kicking and contorting
yr way back to life


Kaddish for Chantal

Art begets art
as sorrow begets sorrow

If there had been no Godard
If we had never sat in darkness
suddenly dazzled
by luminous oceans
and the thin air
of motionless
contemplation

If Karina and Belmondo
had never set foot
on that imagined island
if Jean-Paul’s thumb had never
swept across
his lips
to brush away the dust of cinema
to build anew

If there had been no Auschwitz
no six million flames extinguished;
what other memories would our blood carry
like hidden poison

If the mother’s tasks had been undertaken
in utter silence
without the camera’s caress
would we understand love
without its absence

If each object
reproduced itself in miniature to enter the eye
if there were no camera obscura
if a woman had never dared
to gaze upon another
retaining the imprint on the retina
her gestures
not forced
to look away
if we had never received this gift
of light and shadow
Chantal

Sorrow begets sorrow
the kitchen, the bed, the screen
the tenderness of orphans
the making and unmaking of graven images
then the last unmaking
turns out to be sacrosanct


Elissa Rashkin is a writer, historian, and professor of cultural and communication studies at the Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico. Her books include The Stridentist Movement in Mexico: The Avant-Garde and Cultural Change in the 1920s, and Women Filmmakers in Mexico: The Country of Which We Dream.


Copyright © 2019 Elissa Rashkin

Cover photograph from the collection of Lauren Leja

ISBN 978-1-949279-08-5

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.


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