Dana Sonnenschein

 Of these poems, one is from my current book project about American history, family history, and how we construct and live through stories ("At the San Diego Zoo"), one is a narrative in blank verse ("Two Ladies Share a Table"), and one is a sort of love sonnet ("The Girl Who Turns"). 



At the San Diego Zoo

Through plexiglass, the polar bears all drowse
Like vanilla ice cream melting in the heat,
Except the one who slaps beach balls with paws
The size of plates and snuffs the humped concrete

Where another bear sat back to catch his act.
I wonder how many of the snow-cone crowd
Know what we watch when he pads on her track
And sniffs and turns to lie down where she sprawled.

The bears move in their dreams. They have a taste
For blubber, warm and sweet; they have their own
Names for the kinds of snow and ice they paced,
Ways old as mammoth ivory and bone.

They hear us breathing from the other side
And pat cement for echoes sounding deep,
To feel the crystal give that means they've found
The blue cave where the milky seal-pup sleeps.


The Girl Who Turns

What I first noticed was your gaze, sustained
And focused so I felt framed, held in the lights.
I looked and looked away, hoping you might
See and take my example, but in vain  –
You stared as if you saw a new life, mine
That could be yours by power of pure will,
If your eyes could get me to just hold still.
A painting's model is almost divine – 
The girl who turns, always surprised and posed,
Aware of eyes but not yet of her face
As part of a tradition with rules that code
The look direct or down, regardless of intent.
The girl I was looked up day after day
Less startled, and she wondered what you meant.


Two Ladies Share a Table

She talked and smoked half of each cigarette,
dismissing the rest as simply as one hand
waved over frozen highways, job prospects.
From a foster home, her thumb took her to work
in diners across the states. Her ride stopped here.
When she leaned forward to give me a light,

she turned her face and carefully displayed
the red slap of a scar and, in her ear,
a drop of gold. Thank you, I said. She shook
the match out, pushed the ashtray near. In my coffee,
floaters marked the trembling surface and skimmed
away or sank when I raised the cup to drink.
Now some people just ain't ladies, she said,
but you are; I can tell by the way you talk.
I think she meant listen. Her mother locked
her in and set the house on fire. Once burned,

not shy, her fingers curled like question marks.
I had no real answers, and she would
take nothing else -- except the time we spent.
In darkness, our reflections slipped across
plate-glass: two strangers whose hands moved, who spoke
as if they made a pact, in words of smoke.


Dana Sonnenschein teaches at Southern Connecticut State University. Her publications include two chapbooks, Corvus (Wind) and No Angels But These (Main Street Rag), and a full-length collection, Natural Forms (Word Press). Recently, her work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Northwest Review, Seneca Review, Quarter After Eight, and West Branch.