Emily Skaja


Elegy without a Single Tree I Can Save

I’ve been standing all night in the woods near Necedah with your name etched in red on my tongue like a boxelder wing. Loss of life occurred at a specific hour, a certain day, we are told. No one was with you—how that weighs on me. That there can be no untwisting of the tree back into its seed. Innocent of all charges. Granted just one reprieve. Has there ever been anyone more false than I am, pretending I know which one is a white pine against white stars? Shouldn’t I remember which of these is the tree you climbed, which of these you were too afraid to come down from? I think you were the first person to say Cassiopeia to me. As young as we were, we could not carry a ladder out here by ourselves. Alone, I watch the water move now like a clock someone is winding with a knife. I am starved for that easy taxonomy of Things Before. For the years not likely to be cut open with scissors only to find proof of disease. Black hair spooling from the lungs of each month since. You’re gone & I collect fox fur by myself in every direction. You’re gone & I misname the trees.



Elegy with Rabbits

I need to remember how to be a body, more than a chalk outline filled in with cedar shavings, doubt. I am not buried with you in the winter ground. Observe the lifeline on my left palm, how it wings out, how it bifurcates. The cadence of my body walking forward could be To Prove To Prove To Prove. All the mold I remember in hindsight. Fragile as I am, I feel divided by the shadow of a windmill rolling over a cornfield. To stand up & leave behind a life. Imagine how the match strikes, how a trashpile of blackbirds is consumed in paper & ashes, paper ashes. To explain: I can’t explain. I am paranoid about how much grief a tree can witness. That these woods grow older & never break their silence seems unfeeling. When I look back I see my skin shedding gray & red as it tunnels behind me. I don’t want anyone to cut it away from my heel. Rabbits on the lake road hold still as I approach. Predator I have never been. I don’t know what to do with my hands. But I travel with a wrongness any animal can see coming. If I startle these rabbits, I could stop their hearts—they could die of that shock. Or I may disappear the moment they stop looking. I’m breathing still. I wait for them to blink.






Emily Skaja grew up next to a cemetery in northern Illinois. Her poems have been published by or are forthcoming from Best New Poets 2015, Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Devil’s Lake, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, The Journal, jubilat, Linebreak, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, PANK, The Pinch, Pleiades, Poets.org, Southern Indiana Review, and Vinyl Poetry. Emily was the winner of the 2015 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, The Russell Prize for emerging poets, an Academy of American Poets College Prize, and an AWP Intro Award. She is a recent alum of the Purdue MFA program, and she is currently a PhD student in Poetry at the University of Cincinnati.