Slam at the Benton: “The Anthem”

by Mary Kozan

The Anthem
by Mary Kozan

i.
The bungalow colony was in its heydey. Blondes unfurled
Their legs on plastic deck chairs, laughing like advertisements
Over bottles of Coca-Cola. Their children pissed in the pool and shrieked
With joy. Tits sagged in one-piece floral bathing suits.

My grandmother (then, in the throes of beauty) waded in the shallow end, her arms suspended
Over the water like a marionette.
“Don’t splash me!” she mouthed around her Marlboro.

(They removed a lump from her neck last month. She’s not doing well.)

I never knew why they called her Cookie. Perhaps, in the bungalow days, she was warm enough
For the name. The last time I saw her, she hugged me with blue eyes open and staring
Over my shoulder, glimmering in chill metallic eyeshadow.

ii.
America, embodied:

On summer weekends, men emancipated themselves from grey New York City apartments in a mass migration up the countryside. They drove to the Catskills where their wives and children waited, trunks rattling with stashed scotch and Chopin. What a celebration! Mink coats wore red-lipped ladies on Saturday nights in the casino. They toasted (staining the rim of their glasses pink) to freedom, to Irwin in his mansion across the street, to Rosie, the black cook—she makes the best ribs, you know—and to three foot long challos. The food arrived at midnight: bagels and lox, an egg salad plate. A man steps down from the wooden stage in the front of the room. “Sing some more, Al Sedlitz,” they cry. “Sing the anthem.” He obliges, warbling along to his ukulele—

…to kozan’s colony.
oh you’ll be so happy here at kozan’s colony
all i need is one hot toddy and of course a little potty
oh it’s great to be with the family at kozan’s colony.
yessiree, yessiree. yessiree

They became white, here in the Jewish Alps, the Borscht Belt of the United States!
Slather me between two slices of rye—I want to die between the molars of my rabbi.

iii.
Across from the bungalows, there is a cemetery filled with entropy. Sixty years ago, the bones beneath my feet plucked the cacophony of the Saturday night cocktails from the air. Hungering, they fill their hollows with sound, stuffing noise in their coffins like a magpies hoard.

Standing in the boneyard with my father, I can hear the mausoleum reverberate with that music, echoing across the stillness of generations like a scratchy record:

…you’ll be so happy here at kozan’s colony.
she has teeth so white and pearly.

Are her teeth still grinning beneath my feet? We peer down at the headstone:

K O Z A N
FRANK                                            ANNA
September 15, 1899-                          July 17, 1897-
March 1, 1980                             October 6, 1983

On top of the grave, stones are stacked in a cairn.
My father places another rock on top of the grave, his chin crumpling.
“I don’t know why we do rocks.”
He does. So do I.

The thirsty bones snatched words from my throat. Silent, we departed.

iv.
My father stands at the back of the room, listening to the show. It’s two in the morning.

it’s so great to be here at kozan’s colony
oh you’ll be so happy here at kozan’s colony
now the season it is ending and the curtain is descending
oh its great to be with the family at kozan’s colony 
yessiree, yessiree
yessiree, yessiree…

He’s waiting to clean the tables, his eyes puffed with stupor. He doesn’t mind (at least, not yet); when he walks back home, the stars will be waiting for him, bright and clear in the Catskills.

v.
Later, when my grandfather offers my father the colony, he will say no.

~

Mary Kozan reading her poem, “The Anthem” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Brandon Marquis – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio

~

Meet the Poet: Mary Kozan

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto and Creative Nonfiction Panelist Brandon Marquis sat down with Mary to talk about her work and some of her influences.

Brandon Marquis: Alright, so, just giving your name, introduce yourself.

Mary Kozan: Hi! I’m Mary Kozan. I’m a junior at UConn, and I write poetry for fun.

Nicholas DiBenedetto: Tell us a bit about what you like to write about, and why you write it.

MK: A lot of my writing is going through my memories, so I write a lot about my family. When I was growing up my parents had a garden, and that was a big part of my life; I would always have to work out there and I’d complain about it a lot, but it kinda became a part of me. So, I write about kinda nature and gardening.

BM: What in that garden was special to you growing up?

MK: Oh (chuckles) it was a lot of hard work, and I didn’t really enjoy doing it, but it was something that I had to do. My mom really loves it, and I think, after a while, I kinda started to enjoy it too, even though like, I hate bugs. Like I have this giant fear of bees and everything that flies around, but through the process of living with the garden, which was not a place that I really enjoyed, I started growing to appreciate it and knowing what it meant to my family.

ND: What do you think draws you to poetry, as opposed to more of a prose-type of writing style?

MK: I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know how to write plot. With poetry, I feel like you can get really precise, like if you use really specific imagery or verbs or something. I’d rather just concentrate on the meanings of small, individual words than try and construct a whole story. Because you can have the same characterization and stuff, but in a much smaller, more precise way.

ND: Like each individual word choice becomes that much more crucial in a poem, just because it’s a much smaller space.

MK: Yeah! Yeah.

ND: Who, or what, are some of your biggest inspirations when you write? It could be like another writer you look up to, it could be a personal figure, or anything.

MK: That’s a tough question. I think… I don’t know if this is really answering the question, but I have a lot of people that I look up to. Especially as someone who’s English and Secondary Ed, I feel like I have a lot of the classics and a lot of these famous poets in my head, and I think a lot of it is actually, rather than looking up to them, I’m trying to find where I fit in with them. So like, maybe pulling on some of Elizabeth Bishop’s imagery, but also finding my voice, which sounds super cheesy.

BM: So, say that I’m not into poetry, or I haven’t written poetry and I really want to try it. What advice would you have for me?

MK: Just start writing. Write about what you think is interesting. That can be really intimidating, especially if you’ve never written creatively before; like where do you even start? I had this project in high school, it was kind of a ‘Why I Write’ project, and I think that was the thing that kind of started the creative writing for me. And what made me start getting creative again was really exploring why do people write in general, what matters to me and what ideas do I want to explore in my writing? So, just find what matters to you.

~

Mary Kozan is a junior pursuing a dual degree in English and English Secondary Education, because writing isn’t going to pay for the amount of cats she aspires to own.