2023 Ekphrastic Poetry Prize Second Place Winner: “Tokyo Prepartum” by Olga Maslova

It’s time to congratulate Frontier Poetry‘s Ekphrastic Poetry Prize Second Place winner, Olga Maslova. Dive into her impeccable poem, selected by guest judge Steve Bellin-Oka, “Tokyo Prepartum.” 

In this poem, Maslova effortlessly connects the narrative with the lyrical while keeping the reader so intimately close to the words.

Please note: this poem depicts themes of depression, suicide, and bodily harm.

Tokyo Prepartum 

                                                        To Jusaburo Tsujimura, with gratitude

Then there was the bad weather

Except here, in Tokyo, it wasn’t

The windows were still wide open 

the rain mild, maple leaves clung to the trees  

A faint smell of burning wood everywhere


I went by myself to see a movie, at its opening credits  

54 schoolgirls stood on a platform

during the usual afternoon rush at Shinjuku station

The girls held hands, looked ahead, and on the count of three 

jumped together:

A giant wave of blood, horror, screeching brakes, blackout


I was pregnant, first months, strong and happy

basking in the colorless light of late October

It changed overnight, 

like the weather in a Hemingway’s novel

I stopped going out


In the middle of that fluorescent autumn 

I cocooned myself in the bedroom,

straining to hold off the approaching darkness 

the way the shocked subway car driver in the movie 

was pushing the brakes at the Shinjuku Station

                                         * * * * * *

A colleague’s brother jumped from a balcony in Paris

after finally getting the job he had always wanted

                                          * * * * * * 

The first snow fell on December 2nd

I took a train with three changeovers to the suburbs

to the basement of Takashimaya 

for a Jusaburo Tsujimura exhibit

a famous puppet maker: dollhouse-sized scenes 

from The Tale of Genji. There


pink and orange fabric bunnies

hopped among visitors, making a ruckus

Instead of koto and shakuhachi  

the background music was French, Piaf and Dalida

lamenting the loss of love, new love, rain over Paris


In the store’s rooftop café, I sat by the window

sharing a table with a green polka-dot rabbit

While the waiter took his time bringing the order

I looked out at the falling snow and breathed deeply:


I was again a child

tasting this planet’s air 

for the first time

while a child growing inside me 

had finally loosened its grip 

on the heart valve


The prix fixe meal was the canon in Tokyo back then, 

appetizer, main course, dessert, espresso

My favorite was always the amuse bouche

a small pebble that can stop the train 

before it reaches the Shinjuku Station


Note from the poet: 

Prenatal Depression affects 5 % of all pregnant women, especially in the first trimester. It can be so severe that can cause women to harm themselves or their unborn baby 

Olga Maslova

Olga Maslova is a Ukrainian-American writer and theater designer. Born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine, she holds a BFA in directing from Ukraine, an MFA in dramaturgy from SUNY at Stony Brook, and an MFA in costume and set design from NYU, and she is a 2021/2022 Fulbright Fellow. Olga is the librettist of several large-scale vocal works: an opera, Black Square, an oratorio, The Last Day of the Eternal City, an art song cycle, Venetian Cycle. Olga’s poetry has appeared and is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, New American Writing, Plume Poetry, The Coachella Review, Strange Horizons, ONE ART, Passengers, and others. Back in Ukraine, Olga worked as a metal turner of the 3rd rank, a theatre instructor and acting coach at the Kharkiv Juvenile Detention Center for Girls, and a theatre instructor in one of the first Russian Waldorf schools. She now teaches costume design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, https://olgamaslova.com/

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