Ragged Red Line
after “Ballroom in an air raid” by William Nicholson

If I had more rodent in me, I could feel safe underground
shielded from hawks. My birds of prey are not bomb
droppers, but my broken immune system clawing
and pecking inside my body’s basement.

I see the ragged red line on the floor in Nicholson’s painting
as my bleeding colon. Hard for me to write this—maybe hard
for you to read as well?—but there
it is.

I can’t figure out what it is—that drapes like cloth,
yet a woman sits, soothing her child, as if the surface
is stable. This room is a Masonic Temple.
Freemasonry requires belief in a Scripture God

that bans women from their premises. Rules bend
during war. Here, women have the foreground,
in chairs lined up against the wall, tending babies.
The only optimist is a small white dog.

Men stand and talk near a dark and distant hellmouth.
Chandeliers lit—but walls and floor are grubby
mushroom colored. Though spacious, this painting reminds me
of a creaky elevator somewhere in Worcester that stuck

between floors for what felt like hours. Of underground
stations in Japan, a maze of stores with plastic-looking food
under buzzing lights. Of catacombs in Ostia—human bones
on shelves, the lack of oxygen. Wars that last a lifetime.





Sara Backer’s first book of poetry, Such Luck, follows two chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt and Bicycle Lotus, which won the Turtle Island Chapbook Award. Her honors include a prize in the Plough Poetry Competition, ten Pushcart nominations, and fellowships from the Norton Island and Djerassi resident artist programs. Recent publications include Lake Effect, Slant, Kenyon Review, Poetry Northwest, and Poetry Ireland. She lives in New Hampshire and reads for The Maine Review.