Paula Cisewski

Paula Cisewski

The shyest girl tried
to stop laughing first.

It caused a milksnort sound
the whole class noticed.

When she didn’t die
humiliated, she didn’t

stop laughing. Her friends: their
braids and plaid uniforms quaking.

They were an eruption. The teacher
shouted STOP which struck them silly.

Then the whole class became a wall cloud.
Dispersed down the hallways

and through the entire student body. STOP
yelled the headmaster. The children possessed

by an unpermitted vocabulary.
The children sent home.

A headwater grotesque.
The parents caught it from

the children they were trying to scold.
Why they thought why

doesn’t laughter rhyme with daughter?
Couldn’t reconcile.

Said the school board.

The quarantined people
laughed till their hearts fluttered.

Weeks. Months. Broken ribs.
The village colonized by laughter.

Till it wept. Till it puked.
Till doctors were called.

Doctors tainted with laughing.
The candle power of it.

The brave alliance of it.
Origin laughter. Genesis laughter.

Is this joy is this joy when you can’t
stop birthing a thunderstorm?



We thought we might like
to look at a television.

See pundits play the shell game.
Or a news anchor’s lock jawed

attempts at humor. Our fury.
For we did. We liked it.

We couldn’t reconcile it.
The color was amazing.

Is someone worried for our happiness?
According to experts, too much is as bad

as none. I don’t believe
that expert advice has a scrap of meaning.

But my brain made the phrase
a little pocket. But the sound was amazing.

We changed the station
and we liked it.

We’d fret over the choices
of vampire housewives,

then the computerized weather
voice would lull us to sleep.

We’d dream of spider webs creaking
in laugh tracks. A comfort ritual

we couldn’t reconcile.
We liked how someone would always

gladly keep talking.
We sold our television.



Enter with a question
the path folds
and I pleat

the outskirts
with following
sunrise and chill

whatever you carry
in carry out
groggy novelty

absence, luck
some blackbirds
observe from an ash tree

the path folds
and I am no
more than

a sinew inside
a flowering
I’m afraid that

my impression of stillness
the walls are not
are suggestion

are more of
a rule one agrees to follow
my impression of a question

is a stillness
I’m afraid that
the path’s folds resemble

picking off the petals of a question
like the boss of all flowers
a single pathway in
to the center it’s not
a maze you’ll follow
the single path out

The path whose folds
Resemble insomnia yes
and also my impression

of seeking I’m afraid
that there’s a prison
a cochlear progression

round these circuits
like the boss of all asking
Sawtooth and cusp

how can I
possibly be
doing this right

Rose petal stations
I’m afraid that
Some blackbirds observe

my impression
the walls are not
mineral vegetable animal

a game
the noumenon

that there’s a prison
at the heart of everything
I’m afraid that I’m afraid

that I’m afraid
that there’s a prison
at the heart of everything

When you have reached
the center you are


Paula Cisewski’s second collection, Ghost Fargo, was selected by Franz Wright for the Nightboat Poetry Prize and published in 2010. She also authored Upon Arrival (Black Ocean, 2006) and three chapbooks.  Her work has appeared most recently on the Knox Writers’ House website and the BOMBlog, in failbetter, So & So, H_NGM_N, and Poetry City, USA. She lives in Minneapolis.

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