Vanessa Blakeslee

To Tolstoy


How did I let so many years pass before falling upon your words?
Could it be possible that I spent the two months of summer vacation
before the beginning of ninth grade,
upstairs in my grandmother’s farmhouse
with a copy of Gone with the Wind straddled across my knees,
rather than Anna Karenina?

I hope I will not offend you when I confess
that I felt sheer delight when I (finally) took up the journey
across those pages,
delight that Levin made such a more fascinating character than Anna.
You set a new bar for me as your would-be apprentice.

Delight in your ability to bring me beside Levin
and the peasants as they work their sickles across the fields,
delight because I don’t mind the hard labor,
but rather enjoy the scythe along with them.

And while the racetrack scene makes a grand impression, and
I’ve marveled at the Italian artist with his pithy analogy of the wax dolls,
as well as cheered Anna throwing herself in front of the train
because by the end,
I’m as sick of the bitch as you must have been.

When I tell others to read your masterpiece,
I grip their eyes and hold my breath.
“Anna Karenina, isn’t that like War and Peace?” they quiver and whine.

But I do not reply, because at mere mention of it,
I have already been pulled back into the fields at harvest,
with the sun on my back and sweat creasing my palms,
the gentle scent of rye in the air,
and it has been a good day.


On Love


“There is always something to be made of pain…”
~Louise Glück

Learn to say no out of love instead of yes.
A father shops.
He gives jeans in varied cuts of denim.
Jeans were for good grades, and pairs grew you up
while he fired waitresses night after night, casting you
aside. How might he see,
when he hauled take-out boxes, six-packs, kegs—
always a new bar, as if love might rush in the door.
No question you say yes out of fear,
wary of sex, your lovers
like one thick yoke on top of the last.


While You Were on Set


While you were on set
in the make-up chair
next to Christopher Plummer
I was feeding the dogs,
brewing our favorite tea,
watching my inbox fill
with rejection.
While you were on set
in the white pinstripe suit
jostling into Steve Buscemi,
I was poolside, reading Dostoevsky,
waiting for my period,
as my bank account bounced
another check.
While you were on set
in the whorehouse scene,
topless actress grinding your lap,
I was short-listed for the fellowship
during lunch with our neighbor,
before dashing to another rehearsal.
While you were on set
(another bedroom scene)
nothing but the sock
between your nakedness and Marion Cotillard,
I renewed my passport,
lost the fellowship,
walked home from a bar in the rain.
While you were on set,
sharing the elevator with Joaquin Phoenix
I picked up my watch,
flirted with the jeweler’s son.
Crossing the tracks, I thought of death.
Went home and shut time in a box.

      return to poetry

Vanessa Blakeslee’s prose and poetry has been published in The Paris Review Daily, The Southern Review, The Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Review, and Green Mountains Review, among many others throughout the US, Canada, and Australia. Her short story “Shadow Boxes” won the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize. She has been awarded grants and fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Banff Centre, and the Ragdale Foundation, and was named a 2013 Fellow in Literature by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Find her online at