Tina Schumann

Self-Portrait as Unreliable Narrator

Covert operator.
Identity agent. As in
as an inside job can be.

Habitual vertical
pronoun whistling
in the dark.

Meanwhile from a couch in California…
my brother is choosing oblivion
too soon for the rest of us.

His long foot in permanent rictus
points south. His morphine slurred
speech stumbles over the airwaves.

While in the pacific…sleeping octopus
change colors when dreaming.
Though no one knows what they dream.

Hundreds of nuns trained in Kung Fu
are biking the Himalayas
to oppose human trafficking.

Still, I remain content
with the family baggage
and our boneyard heresies.

Bumbling through the usual
bleak parables, I play both
understudy and stagehand.

While the city of Buenos Aires
has built a public park
along their old ramparts.

Lovers stroll by
rusted cannons
that point to the sky.

I remain one
with homemade double-blind
tests; placebos at the ready.

Can you see
the human
in my being?

It’s debilitating beauty -
fraudulent, carbon based
crackle and bloom.

The last thing
my brother ever said –
OK, I’m ready.



The Poet at Fourteen
          After Larry Levis

My youth? I hear it mostly in the hollow sounds
of a suburban street; a car horn in the distance, a dog
howl and the hard fact of a screen door slammed shut.
Reverberations of other lives.

Outside, the stone faces of apartment buildings
and a street lined by towering oaks that lead to
the high school’s porticos, past the pharmacy
and record store.

Ay Dios Mio, this heat, I hear my mother say
as she fans her face with a magazine, a half
crocheted scarf on her lap, a trail of yarn
running loose on the hardwood floor.

I hated any entreaty about my plans,
any unbidden advice. Adults had failed
me and were to be avoided, tolerated
but not sought out. They lived for me

between the stiff boards of photo albums,
glued together in black and white, thin ties
and crinoline skirts, a cigarette poised
at the entrance of a mouth, an affair about to begin.

And words of all kinds flew to my ears.
The music I hid beneath in my room. Liner
notes, lyrics repeatedly read and memorized.
And why not admit it? I was happy

then. A belief in only the future
and my ability to come clean from a
past that was not mine to claim, though
permeated every wall and bedframe.

As narrow and deep as the sidewalks
I wandered, summer lawns I crossed over.
I would look for deeper loves to come, other
rooms to fill and a faith that I could save myself.

A life like that? It seemed to me a kind
of contrived paradise, I spent whole days
constructing; from the rugs on the floor
to the man on the porch.

Still, the backyard proclaimed its calm but useless
air. Patches of burnt grass offered small sanctuary
between the clothesline and basement stairs.
Our closest neighbor, a single mother whose life I envied.

And then, my first notice of the sky above.
A white expanse, an onramp to freedom.
I could barely hear the adults inside, battling it out
over the kitchen sink, though they did not even own the house.



Tina Schumann is a Pushcart nominated poet and the author of three poetry collections, Praising the Paradox (Red Hen Press, 2019) which was a finalist in the National Poetry Series and the Four Way Books Intro Prize, Requiem. A Patrimony of Fugues (Diode Editions, 2016) which won the Diode Editions Chapbook Contest and As If (Parlor City Press, 2010) which was awarded the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize. She is editor of the IPPY-award winning anthology Two Countries. U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen, 2017.) Schumann’s work received the 2009 American Poet Prize from The American Poetry Journal, finalist status in the Terrain.org annual poetry contest, as well as honorable mention in The Atlantic. She is a poetry editor with Wandering Aengus Press. Her poems have appeared in publications and anthologies since 1999 including The American Journal of Poetry, Ascent, Cimarron Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Parabola, Palabra, Poetry Daily, The Writer's Almanac, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine and Verse Daily. www.tinaschumann.com