Two Poems

The poem, "Esther," published here, won a special merit award in The Kenyon Review's Patricia Grodd poetry contest.


Vashti is still Queen here. Her voice
rings in these scallop-edged
spoons, and her jasmine scent sticks
to the suede soles of the slippers beneath
my feet. Though I am cocooned
in satin sheets, night holds no feverish
embrace, only cool recollections
of the stillborn year I spent steeped
in myrrh and honey while my husband’s
harem slaves tried to scrub away
seventeen years with a rough bristled
brush, but I am resilient as straw
clinging to the backs of camels in cousin
Mordecai’s barn. Beneath my fingernails
I still smell sheep manure, and I long for
days shepherding on Persian bluffs
so far above Shushan, I could almost
spot Jerusalem’s limestone walls
against the fertile plateau. Alien
from birth, I never climbed those olive trees
or planted chickpea toes in promised soil.
Mordecai insists I hide my heritage,
but, praying, I forsake Ishtar and turn toward
Israelite girls whose silence cries, “Hadassah,”
my Hebrew name, as they sweep
the palace floor.


Shanti Restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana

Shiva balances on a window
ledge where sunlight stretches to catch
the last grey strands of a woman’s
hair. Face tilted, she leans against the leaded
pane, only sifting through her side salad, suspicious
of cumin-laced dressing coating her only
Red-armed Ganesh glances
from behind my seat where an agile waiter
balances bowls of basmati rice as if gifted with four
hands of his own. He smiles and uncovers coconut
cranberry pastries I never ordered that steam
cinnamon and saffron across
the narrow banquet hall.
A bald man returns from the toilet and settles
stiff-backed by his wife who straightens
her cardigan sweater. Without words this gothic
Indiana couple scrape frosting from squares of white
cake. “Whose birthday is it?” the husband
asks, his burlap-faced frown softening to the flannel
of his checkered shirt, while behind the kitchen door,
an apron-clad Indian waves.
I reach for my manual
camera. The chala masala has cooled, but curry still burns
my throat, making my eyes water while I focus
on the woman who slumbers
beneath destruction’s goddess. She never gazes
up, but stays slumped, while, like Vishnu, the preserver,
I capture a second of Shanti and hear
the shutter’s click.

About the Author

Vienna  Wagner

Vienna Wagner is currently studying English at the University of Notre Dame. She grew up in Indianapolis where she attended First Mennonite Church and graduated from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. In 2010 and 2011 she won gold and silver keys in the National Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. Her poem Esther, published here, won a special merit award in the Kenyon Review's Patricia Grodd Poetry contest, and her poem "Art with a Heart" will be featured on a new Massachusetts Avenue bus shelter for the Indiana Cultural Trail.