Two Poems by Erika Meitner

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

    — based on the exhibit curated by Darby Penney & Peter Stastny 

too many battered shoes
one copy of Primer of Industry
who was noted to be singing, whistling, and generally noisy
a black conductor’s hat
a filigreed saucer and matched teacup
who suffered misfortune after misfortune
who became a close friend—it’s not clear whether their relationship was romantic
and how much tragedy can one person absorb before they crack
a pair of black leather ice skates
a photo of a girl on the porch of a shotgun house
who accused himself of having sinned too much
a neatly pressed Army uniform
one white baby shoe
who were probably not unlike friends you and I have now
a United States of America War Ration Book
silver high-heeled mules
who refused to leave the place where she was living
who went to bed saying she was ill
a spoon with her name engraved on the handle
a yellow alarm clock
“I was stubborn. I did not want to steal,” she said.
who became increasingly drawn to the world of the occult
Neutral Shoe Cream (for all smooth leathers except white)
pins tucked into a bit of cornflower blue fabric
who claimed to hear the voice of god and see the angels
the head of a broom
two curling irons
who became a licensed tinker, collecting scrap metal and repairing objects 
a carved wooden Yorkie with a red collar
notebooks filled with drawings of sine waves
who became the hospital’s unpaid gravedigger
“I got excited over the war,” she said.
a McCalls Pattern
a box of buttons
“I want out of here immediately,” she said.  
a metronome
a wedding day photo
“I think it is an outrage to be brought here,” she said.
who referred to herself as a fly in a spider web
spools of thread
letters that were written but never mailed
“I am all mixed up. I feel down hearted,” she said.
who agreed to stay only until a better place could be found


No matter how many skies have fallen

Let’s say we are making a list
and it’s not about how to be

good or zombie foreclosures
or anything resembling distress

calls from an airline going down
in a cluster of trees.  Someone

says, I’ve got a situation here,
but they don’t mean that holiday

picture of you dangling handcuffs
from your index finger or the fact

that your mother loved you
very much until we enhanced

the audio.  Let’s say we are in
violation of the local housing

code, which specifies the number
of outlets per room where we can

plug in to the network, which says
Join Other Network or Airport: On.

The overhead compartments groan
under the weight of our collective

sadness and in the emergency exit
row we must speak English, confirm

with a loud yes that we’re willing
to perform certain duties.  We agree

to rescue each other and strangers
who also glance sideways at street

grids from above during takeoff,
chew gum while we rise past what-

ever their threshold for fear or
adventure.  We are under the care

of each other and sometimes we
fail mightily to contain the damage:

the house, picked clean by scavengers,
the hanging gutters, collapsed garage.


Erika Meitner is the author of three books of poems--most recently, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls (Anhinga Press, 2011) and Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner. Her work has appeared in publications including Best American Poetry 2011, Best African American Essays 2010, Tin House, The New Republic, The Southern Review, and VQR. Her fourth book, Copia, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2014.  She is currently an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program.