• Chloë Gottlieb

Semester Abroad

By Chloë Gottlieb


In this new place, Brent controls the weather. That isn’t our name for God,

it’s the landlord.

We’ve begun wearing winter coats to the breakfast table.

Above us, Brent’s kid plays percussion all day.

Sometimes the bass or guitar instead, but usually drums. I write essays

to his beat. Maybe he’s Jesus, making thunder for us.


Little handprints appear in the mirror’s mist when my roommate showers.

He asks if they’re mine and they’re not, so we introduce ourselves to the baby ghost

living in the bathroom. Are you warm enough down here with us,

or should we text Brent to buy us a space heater? We name her Margaret.

Haunting is a kind of love, too.


The fog from the bathroom mirror rolls into the living room and, soon, down

all the hills in San Francisco. Sometimes it feels like breathing in Hawaii,

only it’s 50 degrees out and I’m not allowed to call the beach the beach, it’s “the coast” here.

My professor says his professor drank himself to death

but first taught him to play whale sounds in office hours,

his desk another home for salt and sea mist,

and it’s odd picturing him a student, sort of like imagining your parents before they had you.

Illustration by Amelie Scheil

And my friend’s grandmother is moving backwards through time. Not in her body but

her brain is losing memories, living through them each once more until they’re gone forever.

She worries what will happen when Gram winds up back in Auschwitz and I tell her the truth

which is her time there too will disappear after. After is a horrible qualifier, but

forgetting is more potent than trauma. It is a relief, and also terrible.


I make pounds of pasta after confusing loneliness for hunger.

I am like the small magic Italian woman in that children’s book

who has spaghetti pouring out of her house.

They call her witch when really I think she is just a doctor.

Like how Circe was a doctor.


Can you believe what they’re writing in the newspaper?

No, not the newspaper, I meant the works of great dead poets. How they can say something that still translates thousands

of years in the future, regardless of how the past is a foreign country

with a different language.

Even those old poets wondered what would be said after their death,

curious if we would recite their own words back to them.


I fall asleep reading and

wake up speaking in iambic pentameter.

I do pliés at the kitchen countertop.

Son of Brent is starting to take our song requests.

He plays into the floorboards and we hear

reverberations as we scramble eggs.


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