Theodora Ziolkowski

Kraków, Poland

In the salt cathedral below ground,
our guide tells us couples say their vows
before the salt virgin,
in view of the salt Pope John Paul II.

Above ground, I ate zapiekankas in the Rynek Główny,
thought I tasted ghosts in the raspberry syrup
the barman pumped in my beer.
My cousin Anna gave me an amber necklace,
stories her daughter Gosia translated
into English from her mother’s native tongue.

Crammed into the Wieliczka elevator
with the other tourists and their cameras,
souvenir salt lamps and maps,
I try not to look down
as we rattle to the surface:
the ground everywhere and nowhere,
arm to arm and waist to waist,
drawn by my ancestors’ hands —
vacationers peopling the bucket.


I believe in the impression
              the moon left on my makeup,

              the narrow gap in October
              that makes my sister a Scorpio

              and me a Libra, but I do not
              believe in the cookie that said

              Time heals all wounds
              Keep your chin up

And to think I felt sorry the cookie
              was already cracked when the waitress

              left it, which is why I gave my husband
              the whole one and saved the broken one

              for myself. My husband and I differ
              in the following ritual: He believes

              we must finish the cookie before
              reading its contents, whereas I know

              we are not the first to accept what
              is freely offered — a worm can tap

              out the heart of a fruit — and so I will
              not indulge in what could be rotting within.

When I say it is only in photographs
              that a woman is able to measure

              her own transformation,
              I am speaking hypothetically.

              Because to behold a body at its breaking
              point is as comfortless as the fortune implying

              this woman has all the time in the world,
              when the woman in this story is not the woman

              in every story. Of what we offer this woman
              to destroy, may this presumption be among them.


Excuseless, to repeatedly pass
through revolving glass doors,

the whoosh of my entrance
and exit magnificent. Call it

magic. I curate my shopping
to nude-colored clothing,

picture the witch’s legs
swallowed by a fallen house

when I flick off the fitting
room lights. I drive daily past

cemeteries. Put pressure
on the gas while holding

my breath, refusing to
exhale before I skirt past.

I am most aware
of how time flies in

the morning to the extent
it takes me to dress,

wait for my mirror to blow
me a kiss before I show it

my trick: Now watch me
pull a corpse from my hat.


Theodora Ziolkowski’s poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Arts & Letters, Prairie Schooner, and Short FICTION (England), among other journals, anthologies, and exhibits. A chapbook of her prose, Mother Tongues, won The Cupboard’s 2015 contest (judged by Matt Bell); Finishing Line Press published a chapbook of her poems, A Place Made Red, also in 2015.