Seen/ Unseen, a Collection | The New Engagement

Seen/ Unseen, a Collection

By Luba Ostashevsky
Seen Unseen art



When I learned that water molecules join

by making one side negative and the other positive

so that the tension in the difference in charge

was enough to attract them, I envied their reliability:

what person wouldn’t apply that to people.


I showed up, ready to not touch,

only to stand beside you on the low bank

between the rusted train tracks and the flat grey river,

as people, who had been close to your father, recalled his life,

and offered lessons on how a beautiful bond can form.


There was a steady wind pressing at the back of your shirt

and the light felt like a wind too, streaming

to where we stood in a candled spot -- my hoping

something would hatch there. And now I can’t

stop wondering why not. I learned that too is chemistry.



Toenail Cleaning


After a bath, the flesh part of the big toe

is pink and pliant, whitening

as I press on it with one thumb.  

The other, slipped through the giant

finger holes of my grandmother’s

pedicure scissors, steers the bent blade

into the corner, to root out the black fuzz.


Pressed behind the nail edge,

the blade’s hatched side scrapes up

the granules of sand and dead skin cells,

balled into dirt via droplets of sweat,

and walks them up to the corner

where the nail meets the puffy skin,

making another groove to conceal the specks.   


When I could get a piece

lodged far under the plate, then,

when it came unstuck,

the flesh outside my reach felt touched

and distant ends of me were tied together

for a long short second: a feeling

of togetherness one keenly feels alone.



Aeneas in Queens


His city was wasted, not by Greeks,

but by erratic water flow.

He’d get a call that it was on and run home to bathe.

Ditto for the lights. But you wouldn’t run home to see.  


The story told, stuck in traffic,

on the circular highway in Queens,

driving back from what for the contractor

is regular work: choosing closet fillings – funny phrase, like pie –

at Home Depot. His broad fingers,

curled on the steering wheel, maneuver the car

into any spot opened up by a spaced-out driver,

as Latino men run between the lanes,

holding up three bottles of water in each hand,

like they’ve just tackled them at the Coliseum.


Back to him: Two young children at home

an irritated wife,

and his engineering degree couldn’t hold up

under the crumbling Empire’s weight. 

We used to be ten fingers in one fist, he says,

meaning the former Soviet republics.

(The Georgian contractor without a home

building homes is too ironic.)


Making homes for those ambivalent about theirs,

those who stiffen when having to say if “Catching light”

is a better color than “Himalayan mist” for their walls;

who’ve committed to their homes by dint of not leaving,

who get used to the wall colors looking the same at night,

but don’t tire of finding, deep in the couch,

missing pens that still write.

Luba Ostashevsky teaches chemistry at the Bronx Preparatory High School. Her verse has been published in Orbis, Newtown Literary Review, and (forthcoming) Broad River Review; and fiction in the Cortland Review. She lives in Queens.

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Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

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