Two Poems by Kat Terban
For Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, Zatōichi, and Daigorō
There are people whose experiences
in life have hammered at them over
and over, folding them like steel
at the tongs and anvil of a smith
so skilled at their craft that they are left
with the ability to roll away the blows
that come at them later in life while
they remain supple in strength despite
whatever the world and the peoples
filling the world throw at them.
Even if they sit there,
a brick of stacked plates,
the forge welded steel that
has experienced shita-kitae,
coated in a mixture of clay,
water, and straw-ash, full of
dreams of being useful and
making a difference someday,
if they’re only given the scant
opportunity to be; or maybe
they lay on a shelf in the back
of a shop, a block of forge
welded steel, a shihozume
uchigatana-to-be; or perhaps
they were forged, a stretched
ayasugi-hada sword that leads
from the front, edge shining
with the hamon ripples
of their age clear for all
and everyone to see
ground sharp and given the opportunity,
when thrust forward to the front and center
none of these will let you down, when all
there is to do is the next right thing,
where the path forward only allows
us to put one foot in front of the other.
When I started writing poems
through the lens of the coronavirus, I saw
the worst-case scenarios and how the primrose
path would be lined with the bodies of the people
the man I never consented to be president abhorred.
Because weakness to him describes a person
who can’t pay for access to care, who can’t
afford an at will proposition without the rubber
snap of protection, who can’t afford to even
tie a shirt around their face for a mask
because they’re afraid to ride the bus
to the laundromat. They have to conserve
the bowl of bar soap slivers the neighbors
threw in their garbage for hand washing.
They could only ever afford
the packets of cheap, grained
detergent from the pull tab machine
that still smells of nicotine where
the drone and clunk of machines
once lived. They breathe deep
the memory of that smell, still hooked
from the ride on the bus in fourth grade.
Even if they could spare the soap,
the only place in the apartment
they’re cramped up in to hang
their bare closet of things to dry
is a shower curtain rod that’ll leave
rust stains on the single uniform they have
left, the one they wore when they used
to clean your toilets at the seedy motel.
You know the place? The one where
you fucked the person who’s not your spouse.
All three of their part time gigs aren’t vital.
They figure no one will notice when they stop
opening the hollow door of the only shelter
they have left. They figure people
will do their fucking at home, now.
Kat Terban's work has been published and anthologized in many places, most recently LittleDeathLit. They were: shortlisted in the 18th Annual BrainStorm Poetry Contest, named Outstanding Young Poet in 2019, chosen by a panel of judges to tour on the Connecticut Poetry Circuit, invited to read their poem "Pandemic - COVID19" to a live audience on Rattle Poetry Review's weekly Poets Respond Open Mic podcast, and read an excerpt of their poem "When the Interviewers Asked What They Did During the Pandemic" on NPR's In It Together radio broadcast on 4/14/20. They are a member of the Connecticut Poetry Society.