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ISBN: 978-1-62557-837-2
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Categories Poetry

City of Skypapers

Publication Date: May 2021

About

MARCELA SULAK READS FROM CITY OF SKYPAPERS FOR THE BLACK LAWRENCE PRESS VIRTUAL READING SERIES

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.

 

Praise

The title of Marcela Sulak’s fifth collection of poems, City of Skypapers, feels apt for its deliciously long lines hang suspended between the holy and the home, between the rituals that “elevate the loaf” and those of Shabbat that “place roses in their vase, candles in their stick.” This American Israeli poet, teaching and raising a daughter in the Middle East, acknowledges both the “wreckage of the Byzantine villages” as well as the peril of living in a place where “the antennae at the  military base quiver” and where “no one knows what time our daily missile will appear.” At the same time, this poet embraces Tel Aviv’s quotidian humor writing an ode to the city’s garbage collectors whose “clarity” she craves and praising “the season for shedding shoes…every last one of them black.” The brilliant cadence of Sulak’s poems, “keeping pace with the current” of the Yarkon River along which the poet runs, not only enact, but also celebrate what it means to be alive “in a place where the flowers are old enough to have stories.” These poems should be read, perhaps even sung.

–Sarah Wetzel

If I were making the soundtrack to Marcela Sulak’s fourth collection of poetry, City of Skyscrapers, it would feature layer after layer of birdsong, punctuated by the distant howl of sirens warning of incoming missiles. After years of adventurous travel—from Texas to Tubingen, from Chile to the Czech Republic via Vilnius, Paris, Caracas and (God help her) South Bend, Indiana—Sulak has made her home in Tel Aviv, a city of skyscrapers, to be sure, but also of unlikely street scenes, birds singing in gardens, and the never-absent fear of coming war. Describing the work of a poet in Gaza, she says his poetry reminds her of “people or plants that had been/uprooted, and washed ashore somewhere else.” Sulak’s poems often give a sense of uprootedness as well: The phrase “To get here today…” runs like a refrain through several poems, each detailing both the daily struggles of city life and the unlikely histories—personal or grand in scale—that bring us to each moment of our days.  Perhaps it is because of her peripatetic life that Sulak finds her source of consolation in growing things, in plant-life, children, and memories. In this, our world of troubles, listen to her songs.

–Robert Archembeau

“I’ve grown/ very strong carrying around what I have lost,” writes Marcela Sulak in her watchful and multitudinous new book. The pages of City Of Skyscrapers embrace cast-off shoes, ripe figs, salvaged teacups, the jackals on the outskirts of Tel-Aviv, all the while exploring the unexpected ways we allow ourselves to talk to god. Sulak’s poems map psychological and emotional journeys, traversing religious, spiritual, agrarian and lunar cycles. They weave fig and citrus, salt and oil, the fragility of peace and the threat of violence. “I am watching as time ripens,” writes Sulak, and we watch too, “thinking of all/ the things that didn’t go wrong”, feeling like Sulak that  “there is good in the world in which I wish to live.” This book may hold “inadvisable faith” but, in its way,  it also affirms it.

–Tess Taylor 

What’s it like to be Marcela Sulak in her City of Sky? What do her papers reveal? They show an irony, a tenderness, a way of reaching for others, for her daughter, for her sunlit, conflicted, demanding Israeli landscape, from “pomegranate season” into the heavens beyond the wars. They are populous papers, generous poems: they celebrate “stars, not planes,” and they lift up real people, famous, semi-famous and known only to themselves. They leap from jackals to jealousy, from voting booths to veils over Heaven, worldwide nets of friends and long-lined reachings-out to single sentences of loneliness. They record the holy, the everyday, the errors and the rightness in “other people’s scripts”; they have the rightness of journalism and the rightness of visions. They tolerate and sometimes love their Jerusalem, “full of inadvisable faith,” even as they reach out to Tel Aviv in sonnets, to America in letters, to Gaza, to the clouds. They can help, now. And there is nothing much like them.

–Stephanie Burt

About the Author

Marcela Sulak

Marcela Sulak has published three titles with Black Lawrence Press–two poetry collections, Decency (2015) and Immigrant (2010), as well as her lyric memoir, Mouth Full of Seeds (2020). Her third poetry collection City of Skypapers is forthcoming. 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 Translation (University of Texas Press). Her essays have appeared in The Boston Review, The Iowa Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Asymptote, and Gulf Coast online, 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. She also edits The Ilanot Review and hosts the TLV.1 Radio podcast, Israel in Translation.

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