Series of Poems – Poetry

By Marlena Chertock

I am a rotting log of wood,

not thin, healthy twig.
My branches creak and groan
under gravity’s weight.
My bark is full of termites —
eating away my pith-cartilage.

I can’t stand a full day
in the forest like the other trees,
so straight, so tall.
A few minutes in the forest
and the fire ants start
chewing my bark

from the inside. I am rotting
log of wood, watching
the other trees hook up,
make tree babies.
But I’ve never had the bark
to ask out another tree —

a weeping willow or oak —
girl or guy tree, it doesn’t matter.
I don’t have the right texture
bark, long enough branches,
brightly colored leaves.
I want the other trees to notice me

down here, close to the forest floor,
but I also feel strong some days,
without anyone else, the sunlight
running through my leaves,
birds in my holes, my roots
firmly in the soft grass.

I don’t need another tree
to feel like me.
I breathe out
my own amount of oxygen,
carve my message in my trunk.

(Appeared first in Noble/Gas Quarterly in December 2016)


Harriet Tubman was disabled

When she was 12, Harriet Tubman jumped
in front of another slave when her master
threw a 2-pound iron weight. The blow
gave her a traumatic head injury.

For the rest of her life she experienced
dizziness, crushing headaches.
She led hundreds of slaves to freedom
with sleeping spells and a heaviness

in her head that felt like endless
2-pound weights swinging from her ears.
Sought out the North Star for guidance
even when she couldn’t tell dirt from sky.

These are things you don’t learn
when reading the history books.
No one dares to call Harriet Tubman
a disabled person. But why not

the full truth? A disabled woman of color
led hundreds of slaves to freedom.
Even when she needed brain surgery,
she refused anesthesia. Bit on a bullet instead.

(Appeared first in Noble/Gas Quarterly in December 2016)



We’re dancing the beats our ancestors
and generations of Moshniks stepped
on the cracking basketball court lit in amber lights,
the night surrounding us. Moths and bats
swoop overhead, drawn to the lights
like us congregating below on the dancefloor.

I’m a part of the circle, hands clasped,
more Jewish in this two hours of dancing
every Friday night in the summer —
folk dances from back when the first Jews
made aliyah to the homeland —
than in a synagogue, ancient words
I don’t understand swirling in the air.

After 40 minutes of run-dancing
to keep up with my short legs,
I sit on the brick wall with those who don’t dance,
swing my legs so they know I do,
I just need a break, my feet ache,
my hips and knees are kindling

I can’t give them more air
or my bones become crisps —
the only bonfire dancing.
I watch the others who can dance
through every song. Their bodies so fluid,
bones their age, not old-lady at 14.


How to feel beautiful

when you’re a 25-year-old
with 80-year-old bones.
Wear dresses everyday
because they’re easier to slip on.

Put on your darkest shade of lipstick
to match what feels like blood
seeping out of you.

Cut your hair short so it styles itself,
less work in the morning
when you wake up with an orchestra
of drumstick knuckle cracks.

Tell yourself you’re beautiful
so you start feeling it.
Ignore the coupling up all around you —
be strong on your own.

You’ll never have the bodies
you see in magazines, never walk
without a limp at the end of the day.

So tell yourself your size and shape
is all you have — your blood is still
made up of iron from ancient stars.

(Appeared first in The Deaf Poets Society in October 2016)



1. only you can hear the sounds. They’re not really happening. You’re being haunted by ghost train whistles. 2. high-pitched screech as I lay down to sleep. 3. eeeeeeeeeeee. 4. specialized cells dying. 5. scarring inside my right ear. 6. can be caused by ear infections. 7. an ear infection a summer since I was 5. 8. a whooshing ocean captive in my ear canals. Tunnels of sound. Hermit crab ear drum creeps inside its shell trying to avoid the rushing waves. mid 19th century: from Latin, from tinnire “to ring, tinkle,” of imitative origin.

Marlena Chertock‘s first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. She is the Poetry Editor for District Lit. Her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Deaf Poets Society, The Fem, The Little Patuxent Review, Moonsick Magazine, Paper Darts, and Wordgathering. Find her at or @mchertock.


samidan19 View All →

Sami Holden earned an MFA in Screenwriting from UC-Riverside at Palm Desert and is the founder of The Tiny Tim Literary Review. Previously she was a dating advice columnist for The Good Men Project’s column – Dating in the Digital Age with Sami Holden as well as the press and social media editor for The Coachella Review. She wrote a blog for a number of years called Chronicles of Cheerful Clotter for HemAware Magazine, where she detailed her life with chronic health conditions. Sami is also an associate producer and press manager for the documentary Invisible: The Film, which focuses on individuals living with chronic pain and invisible illness. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Hemophilia Foundation, spent time as a Senatorial intern, and was Miss Wisconsin for the ANTSO program. In addition, she has had articles published in Chronicality, Elephant Journal, The Glow (Australia), I.G. Living Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Mighty, National Pain Report, Ravishly, and YourTango. Her interests include ukuleles and sloths. Find her @SamiDan19.

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