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Erika Meitner

Visiting Poet

Erika Meitner

Erika Meitner is the quintessential 21st-century storyteller bearing witness...a social critic with heart, humor, and an incomparable voice,” writes poet Carmen Gimenez Smith; “Holy Moly Carry Me is an urgent document of our complex ties with the past, and the dangers of letting histories, private and public, repeat themselves.” Meitner is the author of five poetry collections, including Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions, 2018) — nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Poetry— and Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010), a winner of the 2009 National Poetry Series competition. Meitner is currently a Professor of English in the MFA program in Creative Writing and the undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Virginia Tech. 

The winner and finalists of the 15th annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England & New York (selected by Meitner) will open the evening’s program.


Select Poems

I am 43 and I just drove to CVS at 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday

to buy a store-brand pregnancy test two sticks in a box

rung up by a clerk who looked like the human embodiment

of a Ken doll with his coiffed blond hair and red smock

even though I wished there was a tired older woman

at the register this once even though I am sure I am

not pregnant this missing my period is almost definitely

another trick of perimenopause along with the inexplicable

rage at all humans the insane sex drive and the blood that

when it comes overwhelms everything with two sons

already what would I do with a baby now even though

I spent four long years trying to have another I am done

have given away all the small clothes and plastic devices

that make noise just looking at toddlers leaves me exhausted

this would be a particularly cruel trick of nature the CVS

was empty there was no one in cosmetics or any aisle including

family planning which is mostly lube and condoms I didn’t

know Naturalamb was a thing “real skin-to-skin intimacy”

there’s just one small half of one shelf of pregnancy tests

and some say no/yes in case you don’t think you can read

blue or pink lines appearing in a circle my grandmother

was a nurse-midwife during the war in the Sosnowiec ghetto

her brother ten years younger a change-of-life child she called him

when she told me finally she had a brother when the archivists

came around for her testimony years after her brother was gassed

alongside her mother in Auschwitz years after my grandmother

euthanized her own daughter whom I was named for because

the SS were tossing babies from the windows of cattle cars

change-of-life child the name for a baby born to an older mother

past forty I peed on so many sticks over so many years

gave myself scores of injections took pills went under anesthesia

and knives since there’s an unspoken mandate to procreate

when all your people your family were actually slaughtered

I gave one son my grandmother’s brother’s name and

the other was called King Myson by his birth mother

on the page of notes we got that she filled out before she

gave him up it took me an hour of staring at the form

before I realized it was my son she was claiming him

before she let him go and I think the morning will bring

nothing just one blue line but right now it is still night

and I am sitting in my car under the parking lot lights

which are bright and static like me and beyond them

there’s the clerk in the red smock locking the doors

— originally published in The Believer (2021) 

If you are fearful, America,

I can tell you I am too. I worry

about my body—the way, lately,

it marches itself over curbs and

barriers, lingers in the streets

as a form of resistance.

The streets belong to no one

and everyone and are a guide

for motion, but we are so numerous

there is no pavement left on which to

release our bodies, like a river spilling

over a dam, so instead my body

thrums next to yours in place.

When we stop traffic or hold

hands to form a human chain,

we become a neon OPEN sign

singing into the night miles from

home when the only home left

is memory, your body, my body,

our scars, the dark punctuated

with the dying light of stars.

—from Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions Ltd., 2018)

About Erika

Poetry Center Reading Dates: April 2021