Larissa's Blog

My Dead

My husband lost his shirt at cards; insolvent, he then drownedin slick Cancun on our honeymoon; years now, it still astounds              how fast, how fast, a living hell can turn a life around.  My godchild told me pointedly if she were to attemptto die that she'd succeed at once; her word she promptly kept,and took a hundred opiates and drifted to her death.                              
 My punk rock pimp, a crush of mine, loved theater and art.He sodomized and strangled a young man who broke his heart.He packed a bag of bondage toys and left for foreign parts.                  
Before her death, my mother called and calmly sat me down;if she could do it all again, she'd have no children, none.She lived her life in anger and, despite us, all alone.       
My father drank and slept around; he was a well-liked guy.                  .He said I love you once to me the night before he diedWas that a feeling come too late, or panic in his eyes?  

Mad Feathered Tree - A Poetry Reading March 31

MadHat Press, White Pine Press and Plume Poetry Journal invite you to join us for Mad Feathered Tree: A Poetry Reading at the Library Bar, downtown Los Angeles, Thursday, March 31. 

What readers are saying about Patient Women!

What readers are saying about Patient Women:

Dive into the deep end: read this novel! Unforgettable and mesmerizing!

There are many categories of writing, but as readers there are two distinct places we tend to go: either `escape from reality' mode or `dive into the deep end' through writing that unnerves us on a personal level. The poems/stories or novels may be situated in different continents, cultures, even species, and yet they confront us with fragments of ourselves that defy diversity.
Shmailo's work takes me to places in my life that I am both afraid and compelled by. There is no escape here. It is about recognition and a fortitude that didn't exist before. It is about finding oneself again, in amazement and thankfulness, through another writer's words.
Here are some quotes from Shmailo's novel, Patient Women.
"There was anger in the house, anger in the very walls."
"Home life acquired a dangerous sameness."
"Nora had learned to detect the subtlest shifts in the affective atmosphere of her home: she became expert in detecting and defusing the charges, like a teenage bomb squad."
"Nora kept rattling him like a jammed door she was sure she had the right to enter."
"God writes straight with crooked lines, Nora..."
Shmailo takes the reader into the world of a strong, sensitive, acute protagonist, Nora, who moves through many lives in this novel. She is a sex worker, a brilliant woman, an incest survivor, a woman who takes us into the streets and wrestles with her/our inner/outer demons. Patient Womenis a novel everyone should read. There is no shrinking back from the violence Nora experiences and witnesses and the power of Shmailo's brilliant writing that takes us inside all of it.
Don't miss out on this! Get a copy and find yourself mesmerized and changed by Patient Women. WOW!!! Unforgettable!

—Meg  Tuite

If you are in any type of recovery program, you will recognize the characters in this book as people you know. I read the erudite blurbs on the back, which would scare away most of the people I know [who] would find it a fascinating and compelling read. It may be a 'literary novel', but it reads like real life, reads like the lives of the people I know. Recovery friends, we are in this book! Great job award goes to the author!
—Yoby Henthorn

Christ-figures are likely to be cross-dressers in this engaging bildungsroman, which takes us on a wild ride through NYC nightclubs of the 1970's, rock-bottom blackouts, a whorehouse, and the slogan-filled rooms of recovery. Surreal and lyrical, then bawdy and riotous, then plainspoken and tragic, Patient Women had me rooting hard for its lovable, drowning heroine to keep her head above water and let in grace. —Anne Elliott, author of The Beginning of the End of the Beginning
Nora, born to a holocaust survivor mother, finds herself, at the threshold of adolescence in “boring Queens.” Lying about her age, her first transgression from her mother’s iron rule, she begins a series of ill-fated attempts to put distance between herself and the familial web she so desperately wants to disentangle from. She reels from one dysfunctional relationship to another, druggies, pimps, losers, and masochists, searching for her lovable self. This novel unfolds in a whirlwind that is sometimes her present. Be ready to have your heart broken and then made whole.
—Bonny Finberg Larissa Shmailo’s newest work, Patient Women, is an unflinching exploration of the lasting damage some people can inflict on their children. Nora, Shmailo’s protagonist, evolves as she struggles to understand and heal her own self-hatred and her on-going self-destructive choices. Slogging one's way through a morass of denial and repression is a strong trope throughout this raw, honest book. Nora is fiercely vulnerable and the sympathetic hero of her own salvation. This novel is dark, but there is hope that even the pain one lives through can cause one to create, finally, lasting and beautiful art. —Joani Reese
Patient Women on Amazon


My autobiography will read: I am hired. But no: I am still here, in this little office, where
the fluorescent light surrounds me like cloacal fluid. The personnel manager’s eyes are dark
and dilated, without visible irises, whether from the peculiar quanta of the overhead light or
the cocaine of my need, I don’t know.
She is self-satisfied and content now, self-consciously busy, and she preens herself with
papers on her desk. She is almost ready to talk to me. I wait like a dog who has not been
walked for a long time.
Finally, she turns her attention to me. Why do you want this job? she asks.
I'm desperate, I reply. My unemployment checks ran out two weeks ago and I have no
money. I've been on unemployment a lot these last few years and I have no reserves; in all
senses of the word, I have no reserves left. You see, I have a manic-depressive illness, a
very severe one, not just a few moodswings here or there, or a common cold-type
depression, but grand mal mania with delusions, and I've lost a lot of jobs. I don't get
fired per se — they just eliminate my position and this way, they don’t get sued. But I did
sue one place, not for firing me because I was a manic-depressive, but because I was a
manic-depressive. Is there a difference? I don’t know.
I got unemployment that time, and then again when I danced over where the AIDS
orphans were buried. I was coming late because I had to dervish over their corpses, the
corpses of the unburied dead. I was dancing to mark the spot. Perhaps, I thought,
perhaps, they would see and understand, but they fired me. I was coming late a lot. They
eliminated my position — they were glad to give me unemployment. Really, they would
have done a lot more just to be rid of me, I was a disturbance after all.
I take medication now. It makes me slow, but I can still do this work. Not with any
enthusiasm — I am no longer sharp. I'm burnt out, as you can imagine, from so many
illnesses. Sometimes my thinking is fuzzy, and I simply don’t have the fire any more. I
used to be quite good, quite an overachiever. I worked long hours and slaved to make
everything perfect. Now, I just rewrite the old. It’s all old.
With supervision, I know I will be okay. I'm hoping for a boss who is indecisive and a
little lazy, and if we can pass letters back and forth for endless time-consuming corrections,
it wouldn’t bother me at all. That would be just fine. Bureaucracy and indecision used to
bother me; I worried about my brilliant career and how the slowness and incompetence and
stupidity of my boss would hold me back, but then I became a poet and didn’t give a shit
anymore. I once cared passionately about poetry, too, but now I don’t worry about that
much, either. I just want a paycheck and a place to go during the day so I don’t crawl into
bed and piss on the sheets. The only thing I have to keep me occupied right now is walking
my dog and interviews like these.
You know, a job like this one wasn’t good enough for me once, but now this really is the
best I can do. I would be delighted if I got this job. If I could do it. If I could show up. If
I don’t just crawl back into bed. But, you see, the alimony runs out soon. It's a shitty agreement but I was nuts, and signed, you see. Because then, I was confident. I was always so confident, confident in my ability to take care of myself, to come back from any disaster. That's gone now, you understand, completely, utterly gone ... I used to think I could change the world; now, I don’t think I can change my sheets.
But I'm pretty sure I can still do this job, as long as I don't have to create anything. If I can
copy a template, I know I’ll do fine. I was once creative; I was a bright, no, brilliant kid,
but I drank a lot, spent a lot of time on psych wards, and it started to catch up with me.
There’s only so many times you can get really manic before the permanent damage sets in.
Anyway, my psychiatrist says I need some structure, and I agree, and a job would really
Does that answer your question? You know, your pupils are so dilated. It’s an interview, a
two-way street. Have you seen into me? I can't see into you. Maybe you're a manic depressive,
too. Maybe you rush out from here every day to the office of a waiting shrink
to weep and scream your despair, to say, I can't go on, it hurts too much ....
I see your irises now, blue like mine, and know you have lived without sickness and without
despair, and your normal life of normal frustrations and no huge events looks at me without
a trace of pity. This interview and our interaction is the worst thing that will happen to you
this month. I know you've had your troubles, too. It’s just that I have to come back from a
place that doesn't even exist to sit here today, and I'm so tired I could just die.
If this were the thirties, you would give me a break. Back then, no one pretended that
things were just fine. People liked homeless people, called them hobos, gave them jobs. I
gave my diamond engagement ring to a homeless man last year, I gave all my clothes away
to the poor, because I was confident back then. Do you know what I would do for one
ounce of confidence today?
I stopped, and the fluorescence ate my words. The papers on her desk absorbed the
sounds, and around me like sewage my cheerful interview self returned, and I answered the
other questions as anybody would, and she pretended that she hadn’t heard a word of what
I had said.

Vacana in the voice of Mahadevi-akka

A vacana in the voice of Mahadevi-akka, homeless wanderer, poet, patroness of women, and bride of Siva. Om namah shivayah!

Nataraja, white as jasmine, fill me.
Lord, hair matted from love, still me.
Indra Deva of the meeting rivers, kill me.
Let eight hundred forty thousand deaths now take me,
As you, Bhadra-Bhima, won't forsake me.
Laugh, brother Blue Throat, for the poison we will drink.
Brother-lover-husband-son, I'll sing and will not think.
Shakra, Lord Asura, take the burden of my tears.
Now, Indra Deva, take the tribute of my years.


Dawn: I wake in the park, face puffy and red;Liquid, brown tallboys, broken glass, at my head. The bench is cool, my shoes are gone, my fishnet stockings torn;I wish I were elsewhere, lived differently, was safe, or never born.  
Policemen tell me, broke and blackly bruised, to move along;I find cardboard in the garbage, make a sign, sing a song. A teenager stops, sings with me, and blushing. averts his eyes; Women pass, scorn me, prouder than they might be otherwise.
A businessman winks, gives nothing; a serviceman gives a buck. Men hang out windows; one screams obscenities from his truck. What some men will hit on, eagerly, still astonishes me; You are never too sick, too dirty, or too old, apparently.

List of Words Never To Be Used in Poems

 … Soul, being, essence, fire, dream, auburn, scent, inhumanity, starry, ripe, free, heaven, transcend, memory, butterfly, chrysalis, please, mad, ecology, teach, tear, lachrymose, cry, frown, smile, love, thought, potential, season, poetry, verse. Transubstantiate, transform, ascend, breathe, breath, usurp, sing, shudder, genius, antihero, thrush, lark birdsong, exaltation, maid, woman, man, men, attempt, right, am, word, tresses, thrill, form. Character, said, desire, longing, elm, oak, tree, flame, yearn, burn, consume, new, human, bow, warrior, want, page, blank. And so far, you agree. Well, then…
Understanding, unique, déluge, dacha, manqué, mensch, wheelbarrow, manifest, palimpsest, avatar, sight, seer, samovar, light, ingredient, save, Oprah, Jerry, nothing, but, yet. The, a, loneliness, mélange, sea, lighthouse, tower, healing, light, use, underscore, trial, Kafka, yes, shop, radiant, garden, fore, yore, music, recollection, last, addiction, evolution. First, over, in, DNA, Darwinian, medicate, pharmacology, software, star, hardwired, stellar, bang, relate. Relationship, query, queer, think, survivor, mine, pain, sorrow, tragedy, woe, enter, laughing, mope, still. Still with me? How about…?
Life, live, living, hope, horror, help, one, singularity, Buddha, art, bomb, arms, lines, marital, Broadway, show, tell, ask, mission, missive, missile, realm, wonder, wander, know, knowledge, reify, epistemological, portent, magic, magical, many, omnipotent, avuncular, very, theme, adjective, parse, nun, father, mother, brother, we, our, us, I. Eye,  omnibus, rarity, time, past, future, date, number, year, one, abstract, narrative, native,  experiment, fusion, phrase, quote, café. Random (or mad), insight, learned, spirit, well, fine, good, thanks, fine, good. You?


The more you leave, the more I want you back;
When you return, our love life seems to lack.
Believing you are unassailable
I yearn for you to be available.
And then you come; I cannot be more bored:
I like your leave, but not your coming toward.
Your distance charms, disarms my eager heart.
But close, I wish we were again apart.
Do stay away, and I'm forever rapt,
But now, you leave me empty, dull, and sapped.
So go away; I'll love you as before.
Love's ebb and flow is tricky as a whore.

A fragment from The Ilatease of Homey, from a recently discovered Mycenaean text

. . . Cythera of the white and widening arse who stalked
strong Lactid on the Bluvian Isles; ah, strong-latted Lactid,
of the swaying sword whose droop in battle was legend
from the Bluvias to the Effluvias to the damp and puddly
Lluvias; a legend, god-written, and of Elera smitten (to whit,
her Attic tits), clad of Hephaestus’s mittens.
Ah, Bluvias, where the gold and green and pink and silver
and ivory and indigo and carmine and slightly beige-ish-off-
mauve-ish fishes fall to the net and the bent, spent trident
of Poseidon, who, green-maned, sea-stained, and a tad
weight-gained, also wore Hephaestus’s mittens as he
made love to Cythera, who looked a bit like Elera,
except fatter in the arse.
Unlike Myrcon the Dorkan, unmittened and unbitten,
on the shores of Elephantinople, where the nasty biting
ponies play in spent, bent Poseiden’s spray . . .
(Here the fragment of The Ilatease ends.)

The Searchers

Curled and inert, an El Greco Christ:death has pulled your form so long, forlorn.  What church father said we were urinum and feces, urinum, sputum, and phlegm? As if these last moments of wet last release, the bloody catheter and the mucosed lung, could take from me, my bicameral mind, with a chamber owned solely by you; with a net of live neurons, a billion or more imprinted on your face alone,on the sight of you, bending, tall at the door smiling and coming home.On the memory of your strong arms, young and hard, lifting me up when I fell, like John Wayne in The Searchers lifted Natalie Wood, when a nail pierced my foot through my shoe. As rusty we became, as foreign to each other, till this parting, in your arms, in this embrace. Proschai.


A razor cuts your wrists, but
what cut you off from me?
Is true love quart'red below?

When (blew) an azure sky
separates the chambered clouds,
which Earth will you then save,
which elements recycle?

These eclipses should portend,
but I would always be
the bastard that I am,
had the maidlienest, brightest star
eclipsed upon this gesture.


* To Harrow Marrow: Whatever these eclipses portend, what saves you is not salvation with its grace, but the grace of no salvation.

Translation of Mayakovsky's last poem, edited

Still fiddling with this, Mayakovsky's last poem, after so many years. "Milkway" and "cloved" are new to match the Russian abbreviation and pepper pun. Like poems, translations are never finished, only abandoned.

It's after one. You've likely gone to sleep.
The Milkway streams silver, an Oka through the night.
I don't hurry, I don't need to wake you
Or bother you with lightning telegrams.
Like they say, the incident is cloved.
Love's little boat has crashed on daily life.
We're even, you and I. No need to account
For mutual sorrows, mutual pains and wrongs.
Look: How quiet the world is.
Night cloaks the sky with the tribute of the stars.
At times like these, you can rise, stand, and speak
To history, eternity, and all creation.

Telo ("Body, Corpse")

Note: The Russian refrains are individual prayers for forgiveness and mercy.

The hands that lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God,as they appeared to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands;a student, earnest; an old nurse's aide.
My niece, moya krestnitsa, whom I raised and let down, is dead. Her sofas, sardonic, delivered as she stiffens, stiffens, mens, mens not sana. Pray,dear God,pray God, pray God,not in fear.
Forgive me, Irochka; Irochka, prosti. Ta budet volya Tvoya. Pomilyu, Gospodi; pomilyu, ty.

     The hands that lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God, 
as they appeared to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands; 
a student, earnest; an old nurse's aide.The cemetery, Whites and birch trees; black monashki tending mad Orthodox graves,the old age home there, elders without fear.
The woods where my father showed me tadpoles, life:Parents of camps and daughter-strife,
Ancestors, woods, I:would you lived
Forgive the girl who left to live.
Ta budet volya Tvoya.
Gospodi, pomilyu; Papa, Mama, prosti.

The hands that will lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God, 
as they appeared to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands, 
a student, earnest; an old nurse's aide:
They tell the other residents of my home: “That lady wrote a book.” I have no Alzheimer's. My face, without tonus, big as the Ukraine.
I loved a few, ignored the many.
Forgive the woman who was so silly.
Ta budet volya Tvoya.
Gospodi, pomilyu; gospoda, prosti.

The hands that will lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God, 
as they appeared  to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands, 
 an earnest graduate student, an old nurse's aide:
With a chess king in Queens, “Thanks for the laughter, 1985.” Unorthodox Jew, took  a honeymoon dive in dreadful Cancun.

Vegas bones and manic ride:
Forgive me, Steven, I was still alive.
Ta budet volya Tvoya.
Gospodi, pomilyu. Stiva, prosti.

Steven's old bones, his fine strong teeth, welcome me: Forgiveness is here, immortal, see?
We host starlings, squirrels, a tough, unkempt bush: I am not forgot
by teenagers fucking, looking at tadpoles, anguishing their parents, smoking pot.

Ta budet volya Tvoya. Gospodi, pomilyu. Deti, prosti.


Be careful, you who straddle
science and inner sooth:
giants collapse, learning
that we cannot reach the sun, and
sages are struck blind,
their heads spun full around; they
turn into prescient hermaphrodites
to plumb the Oedipal truths.

Can truth be done, without the sun?
Can you live without its light?
Can you blindly follow Apollo
with Tiresias through each doubt?
Can you live without your cherished truths,
can you learn to live without?


I haven’t passed that dream of wisdom,
the borders you crossed through.

I can’t translate the language I thought I thought I knew.
I see a meaning, watching you die,
hold it in my hands like a graying sigh,
this lock of hair which I comb and tie.
I kiss the head which hears my no,
and meet your eyes, and say: Don’t go.and leave you to this tongue of dread:
This is me, it cries, this is me and I die.We will all speak these words in this way  and then, and till then, what shall I say?

The Girl @theParisReview Says Uncool

The idiot girl @theParisReview says uncool:
that, to critique, the phrase, the trappings of,
is used by “100% pretentious hacks.” And     the editor @PoetryFound retweets her crap,
and an article on pooping, besides. I was                 
going to tweet a Baudelaire, from “Beauty,” line,
line by displaced line:
I am beautiful, o mortals, like a dream of stone
But thought better of it (a proscribed phrase?)
 —an unpretentious #Stalinist might
tell me not to translate, or Baudelaire not to write.
(But what does this mean:
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes?
Is the idiot girl @ParisCool right?) No, she is
an idiot, disliking a history without her part,
as I dislike the way the young are heartless, mean,
calling it honest (and I was different @18?)

This poem appeared in Gargoyle.

I am not your insect

Your underfoot, your exterminated, your bug. My unabashedly hairy legs, whose gymnopédies twitch like a chorus for a fatal Sharon Stone, delight in ces mouvements qui déplace les lignes, in the motion, the quiver, the mort, the catch. Mother Kali, you have made me what I am: feminine, brilliant, entirely without fear. Like my mother, I watch and pray for  prey—that it be there, that it give gore, that I feel it die, that there be more

Vive L’Égypte

A man, beaten — face the color of a burkha dragged through the mud — is lifted by Isis with her rose and her tiet.
Isis, who loves mothers, the downtrodden, slaves —who is friend to the Nile and the dead —who listens
even to the prayers of the rich —  lifts his frame — trampled and broken —  from her mud.Allahu ahkbar! he cries.
She cries. Cairo —  Sharm El-Sheikh — Alexandria — Hurghada —  Luxor —  Aswan — the blood of the goddesscalls from Philae.

In Paran

I grew up wild and reckless in the land of desert nomads,
In the arid lands that lie near the promised land and Egypt,
That land of milk and honey they were saving for my brother
And the land of Pharaoh’s bondage where my mother’s kin were born.
I lived my youth near Canaan and the slaving lands of Egypt,
I lived my life an outcast in the desert of Paran.

I grew up wild and stubborn: my hand against my father
At war with all my kinfolk; my kin at war with me.
I grew up wild and skittish, like a scared colt in a sandstorm
I laughed at mules and camels that never could break free.

But I learned to run in sandstorms, and how to eat my water,
And how to find oases, and how to take the heat.
I learned to talk to demons, to tempters and to genies.
I learned to talk to devils, to outcasts just like me.

I learned to love and pity my younger brother Isaac
When they took him to the slaughter, not even asking why.
God bade me make the manna for Isaac and his children.
My demons said they’d be here, twelve tribes of them someday.
In this land of desert nomads near the promised land and Egypt
Near the land of milk and honey in the desert of Paran.

"In Paran" has appeared in The New Press Literary Quarterly, FULCRUM, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, and in Measure for Measure: An Anthology of  Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House).