Three Poems by Elena Karina Byrne

2 May, 2023

The poet presents three poems from her fifth collection, If This Makes You Nervous.


Elena Karina Byrne



A Walkabout In Andrew Wyeth’s Painting







If This Makes You Nervous is available from Omidawn.



Rachel Whiteread: It’s So

I was always like an old child
—Chantal Akerman


You could almost lick     those sugar cubes stacked in sleep
find     the hexahedron ark floating today’s ocean missing
its human animal leaving      home    Grief is an impression
of a missing table under the table    a body departed   withdrawn
from the body floating     the color of Halloween candy
wrappers. I lived     a whole afternoon under the leftover
house boards in our dying garden after my one sister
died    Half-sister    half death of my thinking     about death
at nine    A black hole can be measured      by the sheer speed of
what is orbiting around it   If you withdraw     one object from
its space in a room    measure      what’s left     all the empty parts
you have a child inside a box    A box thinking      outside itself



Sophie Calle, Now Take Care of Yourself

No, no one
gets to be happy here unless happy means Pain
is exquisite. Follow us to the animal bedroom, all the way to
the drive-through chapel & walkabout child fairytale day
hour it takes to become a stranger, where you can’t see
you, your hand on the heart like a small anvil. Where mothers
will make mistakes politicians appear speaking from sea-trash
& border wire’s mounting, meshed lingo. There will be a money jar,
pink hot water bottle, one duck-handle umbrella gun waiting for
you. What fathers take from us makes gunpowder-snuff for the blind.
But come. Come here anyway to this continent in a floating wardrobe
boat. Follow the past to its missing solitude. This is where you will
weep from your eyes only, making no sound, as if, all along, your
voice voyaged away from cage, far, from your body.


Elena Karina Byrne is an editor, freelance lecturer, Programming Consultant & Poetry Stage Manager for The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and the Literary Programs Director for the historic Ruskin Art Club. Former Regional Director of the Poetry Society of America, Elena served as a final judge for PEN’s Best of the West award, the 2022 co-judge for the Laurel Prize, one of the final judges for the Kate and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards in Poetry from 2016–2018 and visiting speaker for the 2018–2019 ten university consortia in the Georgia Poetry Circuit.  A Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry recipient, Elena’s poems, reviews, essays, and interviews can be found in POETRY, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, LARB, Poetry International, BOMB and elsewhere. Her five poetry collections include If This Makes You Nervous (Omnidawn) and No Don’t (What Books Press). Squander (Omnidawn), MASQUE (Tupelo Press), and The Flammable Bird, (Zoo Press/ Tupelo Press).

American poetrydeathhappinessold childwilderness

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