Freud’s Cabinet/ poem by Stephanie JT Russell

a virtual tour

‘I cannot let myself be stared at for eight hours daily.’
—Sigmund Freud, to Hanns Sachs 

Small wonder it seems so petite,
first time you walk into the room. 
Imagine the genteel women 
who lay there long before you, 
heads angled just so, raising their 
inner tides only high enough 
to where they might be seen.

Kilim, kilim everywhere, 
to rival a fakir’s reception tent—
a silky Shekarlu 
draped end to end on the chaise.
A wind-worn Kirsehir 
tacked humbly to the wall,
cradle of ancient bedclothes.
And blanketing half the floor,
a grand Khorasan, 
bayou of silent incantation. 

Lying down for the first time here,
you do not need to know 
the rugs were patterned 
from memory, under barest sun,
to deflect hostile demons 
and attract benevolent kin.
Or that woven birds 
gliding on invisible lakes 
are underworld intercessors
between you
and the man in silent listening
seated just beyond reach 
of your inward-turning gaze.

The rugs pacify you. 
Make you want to dance naked,
eyelids half-closed,
under canopies of empty light. 
Sharp wings unfold in your marrow
to penetrate carpet’s cryptogram,
surrogate for a faraway motherly lap. 
The blood and pink of parturition
—insistent, vermilion desert yarn—
exhaust a field of deep night basins 
sewn into the weft of soul. 

Like pilgrims to Imam Reza’s shrine
you travel long and hard, 
pursuing something like oasis
in arid cupfuls of loss. 
Shards of evening sky draw you
to the weavers 
as they pull up tent stakes, 
embarking for winter’s pasture.
It takes them under an hour 
to pack an entire nomad city,
then trudge steady over alpine crags 
to palmy sweetgrass and sage.

It takes you a lifetime or more
to walk across the room
and lie here, just lie here
without looking at the man
who sits still as a loom
under the Turkmeni sun,
waiting for you to rise.


Stephanie JT Russell's poetry is a meditation on the pathos of ephemeral experience.  She treats realms of human experience as fleeting works of art in and of themselves, amplifying the subtle impacts of people, places, and memory. A prolific interdisciplinary artist, published author, editor, essayist, and cultural worker, the most recent of her nine creative nonfiction books is One Flash of Lightning, a poetic treatment of the classical samurai code (Andrews McMeel). Russell’s poetry is anthologized in books and journals such as Words Upon the Water, Oakland Out Loud, Xavier Review,The Winter Anthology, Silver Birch, and Sequestrum. Russell’s full-length poetry manuscript was shortlisted for the 2019 Word Works Washington Prize. Her visual art, poetry, and performance works have been presented at venues such as The Griffin Museum of Photography, The New Museum, The Albright Knox Gallery, The Ampex American Music Festival, Bowery Poetry Club, and numerous other venues. 

One thought

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s