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Rebecca Schumejda

Posted in Rebecca Schumejda with tags on February 26, 2023 by Scot

The End of a Season

The sun is already starting to set.
There are more leaves crunching
under her cleats than clinging to trees.
She kicks the ball ahead of us
toward the parking lot. She doesn’t
answer when we call her. I catch up
and she’s crying. I know why
but don’t ask. An endless flock
of birds fly above us traveling away
from one season and into the next.
Somewhere else a girl has a father
to kick a ball around the yard with
after dark. He tells her everything
will be alright and she believes him.
But here, before halftime, when she
got close to that goal, I said out loud:
please let her have this, please
and my older daughter looked up
from her cell phone, holding onto
that same hope for a few seconds
before the ball smacked into the post
and bounced out of bounds.
Now the season’s over and we are
walking away. Leaves fall like feathers
and collect by the fence. I want to
pick her up and swing her around,
toss her gently into that pile of leaves,
reach inside of her and straighten
her spine, curved like a question mark,
curved like disappointment. When we
reach the parking lot I don’t tell her
to pick up the ball like I usually do–
instead, we kick it back and forth
as if the soccer ball holds the words
we wish we could say to one another.
There are losses more heartbreaking than death
like waiting for morning count to end,
so you can walk through metal detectors
to embrace your youngest child
under the scrutiny of armed guards.
When you get there you can’t remember
the conversation you rehearsed during
your four-hour drive to see him because
you are lost in how his skin sank further
below his cheekbones. How? Just, how?
What can you say when he tells you
he passes time playing cards for push-ups
with a cellmate who is serving time for rape?
His antipsychotic meds give him the shakes,
but he has read four books from cover to cover.
When you call him by his name, he looks
around as if you are talking to someone else.
Before becoming a number, he was your baby.
You will never hug him outside of designated
visiting areas, like this one, where you watch him
devour vending food machine until he vomits
because his stomach has become accustomed
to emptiness. I tell you not to go so often;
what good can come from secondhand suffering,
of shackling yourself to someone else’s sentence?
On your way home, you pull over a dozen times
because of intervals of torrential tears,
but you will go back next week and the week after.
You can’t accept he could have done something
so disconcerting, even though he did.
The only time I see you smile now is when you
tell the story about when you forgot his lunchbox
on his first day of kindergarten and he told you,
Don’t worry mommy, I’ll go home and get it,
you wait right here for me and I’ll be back.
327 Days After Sentencing
The snow, falling all day, makes me
think about you in your cell,
in your head, a clam in a shell,
high or low tide, murky water
that hides sharp rocks
Where do I even begin shoveling?
I dream of us clamming in
the Shinnecock Bay beside the
Ponquogue Bridge using
bare feet to find shells like we did
when we were kids, like we did
with our kids. Now snow falls
heavy like the relentless fear
that I won’t be able to protect
my own children from monsters
disguised as people
they were taught to trust.
Forgive me
for telling a new acquaintance
that I am an only child,
for wanting to forget you’re alive
while simultaneously wanting
to pretend this shovel is a clam rake
that the snow is the bay. Forgive me
for making icicles hanging outside
my window into steel bars,
for not being a better person
for letting all the snowfall
before starting to clear it,
for snapping the handle of my shovel
like how a lifetime ago
I watched you shuck a clam
and snap that blade right off.
Talking About Mental Illness with my Eight-Year-Old on a Snowy April Afternoon
I watch a cardinal use its orange beak to dig through snow for seeds.
A knight for a fish, my daughter asks, is a knight worth more than a fish?
She means bishop but says fish.
The snow was supposed to stop falling by noon, but it’s a quarter of three.
When she asks me how people know if they’re hearing voices that others
don’t hear, I tell her two rooks are more powerful than a queen.
I mean I don’t know, but point to the rook she is about to lose.
There must be at least six inches of accumulation.
On television, she heard siblings of schizophrenics are at higher risk for psychosis.
I ask her why she doesn’t watch cartoons anymore and in one move she puts me in check.
As I remove the skin from a clementine, you tell me
you may drop the Civics class you’re enrolled in
through the prison degree program because
it gets so loud on your block that you can’t think,
the indescribable sound of pent-up guilt is cacophonic.
I don’t tell you my husband brings our daughters
outside whenever you call. There are only a few
dirty mounds of snow left. I watch my girls run
straight to them with their good sneakers on;
I don’t tell you this either, instead I suggest earplugs,
meditation, humming to drown out the background
noises. You laugh and ask me to send you pictures
of everyone and I say I will, but you know I won’t.
I am pulling apart what you say section by section,
your words seep into invisible cuts on my heart
and sting. I imagine the inmates in your class
discussing citizenship, the rights and duties they
forfeited. Outside, my daughters bury themselves
in dirty snow as if it’s beach sand. You tell me how
no one else comes to see you besides a preacher
who reads to you from the bible then quizzes you
on the material covered. You tell him your meds
make you forget, even though the truth is you
aren’t listening. Really you are trying to tell me
there has to be someone listening to your prayers,
that you need me. I place the clementine down
on the counter. I look outside again and watch my
daughters sculpting tiny snowmen with their bare
hands. Hey, you say, look out the window at the sun,
tell me you don’t believe there’s a God behind that.

Rebecca Schumejda

Posted in Rebecca Schumejda with tags on July 6, 2022 by Scot



At Grief Counseling

I am expected to take off my shoes at the threshold before entering.
I feel lopsided, carrying the unevenly distributed weight of loss, more on
the right side than the left, I am trying to compensate, I like to think
because my dead husband was left-handed, but really I just fit
awkwardly into this grief, a tight bathing suit pulled over a long,
lazy winter. I take a seat and stare at the shade obstructing the view
the window could provide. Everything I do and say feels awkward
since he died. When asked how I am doing, I hear someone else respond,
Good, real good. Who says good? I think, what an idiot, I think,
you are well, not good in regards to health and wealth and I am neither.
Outside I envision a Mourning Dove’s nest on the window ledge,
a few babies on the cusp of flight calling out for their mother. How,
she asks, are your daughters doing? Good, good, the idiot says
as they thrash impatiently waiting for a worm or some other small comfort.



The Growing Season

Outside on the porch, protected from the rain by the overhang,
We plant seeds-cucumbers, zucchinis, peppers, beans and peas.
This time, last year, I was learning how to operate a pleural drain
to release the fluid that collected in my husband’s lungs.
My oldest pushes the seeds into the soil and my youngest
covers them thoroughly—I make labels and when the wind and
rain pick up, my oldest holds her cupped hands out to catch the
offering, the way her father held out his hands when the pain
became unbearable, when he couldn’t speak beyond guttural
groans, when he needed me to drop a pill into his hands
like a seed, hold his water cup steady and keep our daughters
far enough away so they didn’t have to witness his suffering.
My youngest leaps out past our shelter. She knows nothing more
about ballet than watching the Nutcracker once, but uses
the handrail as a bar and lifts her leg up precariously into the air.
Within minutes she is soaking wet and giggling. I want to hold onto
this moment like a pill he let soften on his tongue before swallowing.




You could hear the dripping from the bedroom;
you open the cabinet below the sink
and discover the body of water.

There is a wrench, beside the pipe,
that your late husband was the last to touch.

You wrote to a friend, who asked, that you feel like
you are stuck in a riptide. He never responded.

You know you have to pretend you can do it
so you pick up the wrench and hold it like a hammer.

You watch the pooled water take on new shapes.

There are all kinds of directions on how to handle loss
but none will help you repair a leaky sink.

You twirl the wrench around like a grief baton
before banging it against the night.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise:
it is easier to lie.

Rebecca Schumejda

Posted in Rebecca Schumejda with tags on January 6, 2013 by Scot

What We Use Against One Another

You are thin as a celery stalk
and I, a Bosch pear.

Your feet and hands icicles
from September to June.

In the shower, I use up
all the hot water.

You get the bathmat wet.

I use your toothbrush

your razors

your deodorant.

There are piles of wet leaves
in our yard,
we will let decompose.

Snow and silences

cover blemishes.

Three rakes are truths
hidden under
rubbish in the shed.

On trash days, you wait

until the truck rounds the corner.

Instead of cleaning the fridge,
I push everything back
to make more room.

I ask the same questions
from a dozen different angles.

At parties, when I drink too much,
I paint us naked without consideration.

But, morning afters,
the empty bottle of Aspirin,
you leave in the medicine cabinet,

is much more telling.


The Spill by Rebecca Schumejda

Posted in Rebecca Schumejda with tags on July 5, 2010 by Scot

She is transitioning
from nipple
to bottle
from sippy cup
to straw.
My two-year-old
at the kitchen table
recklessly pulls
straw from cup.
Milk trapped inside
flows onto the table,
drips over the edge,
onto the tiled floor.

Over a mile under
the Gulf of Mexico,
an industrial vacuum cleaner,
without a collection bag,
has been gushing oil for weeks.
On the radio,
a reporter discusses
the complexity
of taking responsibility
as I hand my daughter
a damp towel
and ask her
to clean up
her own mess.

Chump Change by Rebecca Schumejda

Posted in Rebecca Schumejda with tags on July 12, 2009 by Scot

She took the buck twenty-nine
in two-headed-coins,
the type you flip
when you want to prove
you have control
over your own destiny.

Halloween Costumes…by Rebecca Schumejda

Posted in Rebecca Schumejda on April 13, 2009 by Scot


Steve tells me you’re slipping again
as he banks the seven in the side;
this is another reason why I hate

Halloween, the way you scoop the past
out like pumpkin guts and carve
your fears on your face. Even when

we were children, Steve and I calculated
time via the transitions of your emotions:
autumn’s always shrouded in self-

pity and regrets. Wet leaves waiting
on asphalt like unexpeted accidents;
the hue of the leaves steal our eyes

from the road; I thought you were getting
better; but I am busy, always busy,
rushing away from myself before the sun

casts shadows like people’s judgments.
My father’s brother, who visits least, offers the most
advice. So stinking drunk himself,

he tells Steve that he can knock him out;
maybe twenty years ago, before gout and
the wear and tear of disillusionment.

I envy the grip of the last leaves: holding on
despite fate and time, they are the uncle
swinging at air, you topping off your glass,

the brother’s words versus the uncle’s fists,
me playing busy and away, afraid
of inheriting our father’s weak heart.

I remember all the costumes you sewed by hand:
my favorite, a nurse’s uniform I saved,
hangs, like all our mistakes, in my dusty closet.

(from her new book Falling Forward awailable at sunnyoutside press)