Elvira Basevich

An Old Ford Pick-up

There are different reasons for why
animals eat their young.
Some biologists speculate that chimpanzees
are capable of intentional homicide –
they can tell because they seem to be annoyed
or have fun as they bash their offspring’s head with a rock.

The titan Chronos ate his children
because he was scared of their future reign
but in Goya’s painting his body
already showed signs of age. The last car
manufacturing plant in Dearborn, Michigan
closed in 2017. A dozen day
laborers held a picket line on an otherwise
deserted sidewalk. Passing motorists
did not honk in solidarity.
Heavy with despair, like used-up circus performers,
their pleas were soaked in gasoline,
hung briefly in the air in strings of fire
and then went out for good.

The factories are shuttered, broken windows
in the shape of tiny lightning bolts, caved-in roofs
but you can still visit the immaculately
preserved Ford estate,
as if it were floating in embalming fluid
in the woods, where Ford, the father of American civilization,
dreamed of houses built on a black-and-white
grid patrolled by dogs because it used
to be illegal to wave hello
to a neighbor who doesn’t share the shape of your skull,
the color of your skin.
Visitors can wander the dusty rooms
of a mansion that I am told
was small for the time, all things considered.

I read about a woman who accidentally
ran over her toddler while backing out of her driveway
in an old Ford pick-up. A blind spot, a problem of design.
A nurse who mistakenly administered
a lethal dose of vecuronium to a patient
who had asked for pain relief
and a glass of water. They were both very sorry.

Then again maybe they weren’t. They’re proof
that we’re all bad people in the right circumstances.
I listen compulsively to podcasts of people
recounting horrific child abuse.
The night one of their parents gunned them down
with a Kalashnikov. Real or play-acted,
it hurt all the same. Some died and came back to life.
Others didn’t and I’m just listening to myself think

when my sister tells me that our mother
got evicted again from her apartment in Brooklyn
and has been calling all her children
asking for $5,000
or to be taken in,
a kind of extortion of the conscience.
We both know we would be doing nothing to help,
suddenly unsure
after all these years who is eating who.

Or where is the closest shelter? Next to the McDonald’s
and methadone clinic,
figures suck salty milk foam from crashing waves
or straight from the air
like plants that hunt their food. To think,
the Atlantic Ocean is still so close
and so beautiful at midnight. Year-round.
Even now teenagers walk towards the moonlit boardwalk
to smoke cigarettes and open-mouth kiss.



The Williamsburg Bridge

The soft gray lung of New York City
contracts against the seaport
and the abandoned Domino sugar factory,
breathing hard, like a drowning victim
pulled out at the last moment.
In early December, snowdrifts whistle in the distance;
I feel a thousand girls take off their clothes
in an empty room. Their fullness grows still above
the water. Homesick, I want
to enter and exit their doorways.
I swim naked in the wind, stained by the broken-
open cherries of memory. Through the years,
they keep their shape, like plastic flowers.
The parents I’ve lost; not dead, just lost,
like the way you lose a favorite raincoat
to the back of the closet, and eventually forget.
A one-night stand that ended at a pharmacy counter,
with a pill rolled into my coat pocket
with a vague promise. Berlin in June, lovesick
for no one in particular.
The asylum in White Plains
where my sister asked me to press my ear to the wall,
if I can hear the voices too.
That they were saying mean things to her.
I held my head in
the ringing silence of a gunshot,
a question—why you and not me?
(I’m sorry. I miss you.)
On the shore, fragments of seashells wax, then disappear.
From the bridge, I trace the moonbeams
they catch, like powdered isinglass
on a Christmas card,
and brush the glitter off my fingertips.



Elvira Basevich is a poet and assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Davis. In 2022-23, she will be a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow at Princeton’s University Center for Human Values, where she will complete a new monograph on race, democracy, and justice. Her first monograph Du Bois: The Lost and the Found was also published in 2020. Her first poetry book, How to Love the World, was published with Pank Press in 2020 and was shortlisted for the National Jewish Book Award. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Pleiades, On the Seawall, Pank, Palette Poetry, Hayden’s Ferry Review, TriQuarterly, The Gettysburg Review, and Blackbird. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the Brighton Beach neighborhood.