Black Lawrence Press
November 7, 2019

Welcome back, Marcela Sulak!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Marcela Sulak, author of the poetry collection City of Skypapers, which will be published in 2020. This will be Marcela’s fourth title with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Marcela Malek Sulak is the author of two previous Black Lawrence Press poetry titles, Decency (2015) and Immigrant (2010), as well as the forthcoming lyric memoir, Mouth Full of Seeds (2020). She’s co-edited with Jacqueline Kolosov the 2015 Rose Metal Press title Family Resemblance. An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Sulak, who translates from the Hebrew, Czech, and French, is a 2019 NEA Translation Fellow, and her fourth book-length translation of poetry: Twenty Girls to Envy Me: Selected Poems of Orit Gidali, was nominated for the 2017 PEN Award for Poetry in Translaiton (University of Texas Press). She’s also translation Karel Hynek Macha’s May and Karel Jaromir Erben’s Bouquet of Czech Folktales (Twisted Spoon Press), and Mutombo Nkulu-N’Sengha’s Bela-Wenda (Host Publications), from the French. Her essays have appeared in The Boston Review, The Iowa Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Asymptote, and Rattle, among others. She coordinates the poetry track of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University, where she is an associate professor in American Literature.

On Writing City of Skypapers

City of Skypapers was an effort of daily writing in Tel Aviv for a span of about three years during which time I tried to inhabit and reconcile Jewish sacred time (holidays, Shabbat, daily prayer rituals) with private, social, and civil secular time—two wars with their worries and missiles, explosions, and a sense of solidarity, as well, with beloved friends in Gaza or West Bank, a custody lawsuit, daily small-scale agriculture, running along the Yarkon river, riding public transportation in Tel Aviv and Ramat-Gan, teaching, friendship, love and its disappointments, mothering. It attempts an openness to the daily world, and an attention to these details, charged by an interpenetration of the sacred and the secular, aspirations and reality.  I wanted to mimic in writing the way the mind works, the reality its imagination builds, the relationships it creates, among people, objects, and geography. 

My technique involved a morning ritual of moving through time in space—running, bussing, urban farming, preparation for Shabbat or holiday or for work, all the while attending to the details of the ritual. I would write down observations, and then, to separate out what was essential, I would place the writing in a poetic form—ottava rima, sonnet, heroic couplet, or syllabic, usually. Sometimes the forms fit, and highlighted the essential. Sometimes the forms did not, and I let them fall, but the exercise was useful in identifying the heart of each piece. Sometimes the routines were disrupted by war, internal travel, bureaucracy gone awry, and other trauma. These provided intense opportunities of observance and attention to the human condition in the worlds we create, and the worlds that were made before we arrived on the scene.

Excerpts

When I sit and when I stand,

when I wake and when I fall asleep
I am thinking of it, it is a slight 
pressure on the stomach the length of a 
finger, it is the sudden ambiguous 
movement, as if from a field of zinnias 
a kingfisher shot out of view before 
the eye could register it, it might not 
have been a kingfisher, I might have 
just imagined it, it could happen 
at any moment, I might have 
already missed it, it might not 
even exist except in thinking 
about it, which I never do, 
except when I sit and when I stand, 
when I wake and before I fall 
asleep, when I go out along the road, 
when the chain comes off my bike
and I yank it from the gears
and lift the rear tire, and guide
it back on, when I wipe my hands
of grease, when I run along the river,
when I get home with my dirt-streaked
legs, while I am grinding coffee, while
I am waiting for it to boil, while I am
selecting clothes pins for the socks
and snap them to the line, which will
break sooner, rather than later, and I
say this, too, will happen sooner
rather than later, the laundry line
has been repaired with plastic twine,
with ribbons from boxes of chocolate,
when I set the table, when I remove
the plates, when the water is running
from the tap, while waiting for it to
grow hot. Otherwise, I am perfectly
still inside my breath, which I send out
into the world, which always comes back to me. 

***

A Piano

To get here today I pulled leggings on, 
and a dress, made oatmeal and coffee, cut fruit, 
then walked back and forth before a book 
bag in the living room into which I knotted two 
amulets against suicide for someone I love—
a flat stone Karel drilled a hole into
before he died (having lived in the school
janitorial closet in lieu of a nice monastery cell 
because of the communist government)
which I’d found escorting forty Czech children 

up and down the coast of Spain, and a black round
of coral my ex-boyfriend’s mother had given 
me after she lost her other son—and walked-run 
to the bus with them and the gargantuan Norton 
Anthology of American Literature Smaller 7th Edition 
because I’m teaching Fitzgerald, and A Dream 
of a Common Language because I couldn’t seem
to find my Audre Lorde and I wanted to send 
her something beautiful and surviving, not 
something that dwelt only on the pain, but 

that explored a way out; someone who knew 
(to kill oneself doesn’t require, though, 
a disaster) what pain can do. 
No books composed by suicides. No 
Deborah Diggs, no Paul Celan. To 
get here I walked to the bus stop planning how 
and when to explain where babies come 
from, for my child’s already asked…and I thought, 
I’ll tell her in the summer, 
for I’m a single mother. 

To get here today I lined my eyes with dark sky, 
filled in with moss green, and in the crease,  
stone. In the street I realized my leggings 
were on inside-out. I quartered a kiwi 
and halved a passion fruit, for I love the feel 
of infinity in the sandy crunch of seeds,  
and the viscosity of the other’s jelly reminds 
me of the frog egg clouds we used to find
as children in the pond in Texas. We’d slide
them into the claw-foot bathtub that sufficed

as a cow trough, caress them saying caviar,
by which we meant luck and money, the stars 
that hung over the house in the dark,
and which I’ve not had in ages. Today I rode 
the #56 bus down Derech Ha-shalom,
to Aluf Sade, and just past the stop
where the soldiers get off, I noticed someone 
had painted the white wooden slats of his fence 
black at even intervals, turning his 
privacy into a piano again. 

***

The editor suggested “correspondence” as the title 

of a piece I was writing with my friend while our countries warred; 
though the elegance appealed, 

I didn’t like the agree, conform 
definition that predates communicating via letters. 

Were I asked again, I’d have agreed 
to correspond—there was, after all, more 

we agreed on 
than not: That her side’s 

missiles were wildly inaccurate; my 
side’s were more precise, and that we both lived 

in buildings no sane person would waste a bomb on unless 
they were landlords.  (My building’s exterior holes 

are plugged with plastic soda bottles. I’m not sure why, 
but they magnify the swallows wings) (and I 

live in the fancy part) So we agree, it’s safer to be 
bombed by our side, but for daily life, which was most 

of the time, it was better to be us, for only
assholes would tear-gas her campus. 

And that baking was a wonderful thing to do
—the bombs don’t make cake fall if it’s almond flour. 

And that it sounds exactly like the word: boom-
boom, from the chest of earth, and 

politics were for the evil. I said
Conversation.  I love the con—–

the converse—–the versation—–
the living together, having dealings; 

the talking part only came later, 1575 
or so. We discovered we could phone 

each other, without any documentation, just like that
—our voices didn’t believe at first—without 

a roaming charge even. This was probably wishful.  It’s old 
French. And no one can see very clearly 

through barbed wire lines that catch and stretch 
everything like soap bubbles: 

inside-out and back—all that spin.
When we 

close our eyes and push. It’s so difficult to walk here without 
stepping on a cliche, or in the ruts 

of heavy tropes, for once the argument was fresh and wet. Yet 
everything.  I do feels framed as in the second day 

of bombing: I took my girl in the rain to school 
on my bike, in my melon-colored rain

coat, wet hair flying, and a hidden photographer shot me. 
I said stop. I dismounted and went right 

up into his face. What, I asked, would this frame demonstrate. 
What would it prove and to whom and why and who 

determined 
its borders?

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