Sixfold Poetry Winter 2017 By Sixfold

Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
The young mother peels

potatoes in the playroom, surrounded

by her four boys. Their stories

compete as she fingers

the kennebecs in the bowl. She takes in

all their voices at once, yet listens to each—

postpones silence until there is silence

to be found. Her own thoughts surface then,

and she’ll know what she knows

about love—to keep a part for herself:

a few fumbling notes

on the cello she is just beginning to learn,

a lesson she embraces one hour

each week. She does not choose scales

nor the rasp of simple tunes, selects instead

Bach’s solo suites, their ravenous

scope and sweep. She guides the bow

with fierce attention, crosses strings

with singular care. Just one note,

then another—

the press of each measure ongoing,

insatiable.
Sixfold Poetry Winter 2017
Sixfold Poetry Winter 2017 By Sixfold



On my Fiftieth Birthday, I Return

The street, the market,

the church on the corner—how can I turn back

the trees? There would have been

leaves, this yellow, and light, and the same

October air. A woman rose that day, felt

the stretch of her skin and a baby’s kick,

breasts tender, back swayed. These motes in the air:

is this all that remains? The body that held me

is gone; brick-solid, the garage apartment

where she slept and woke. These sills

hold that morning: her breath at the window,

her bent-double prayers. The stoop

where she stood, the stained concrete steps—

how can I turn back the sky?


Roots


You phoned Sunday

to say your younger brother had died.


I tried to read your voice the way I read the river,


heard underneath

a story you’d told me last summer

—how, as a child you studied the roads

when your family went for a drive, learning

the landmarks so that if your parents left you,

you could find the way back.


You were the firstborn.

It would be up to you to lead the others home.


Today your family will gather once more—

dark suits, white roses. For me, you have laid out

the family tree: great uncles, second cousins,

a tangle of generations.


But I see only that backseat boy

who watched out the Buick’s side window,

thinking about routes,


knelt for first communion at the rail at St. Bart’s

wearing the welt of the razor strop,


who in a few hours will cross himself, kneel again

before something he no longer believes, lay to rest

a hope he can no longer carry


—a boy who never will make his way home.


Seven Years On

The mole the calico brought home

seeps blood, a heart-shaped

stain on the step. I search

the grass for the finch

that hit the bedroom

glass. Such a fascination

with endings: the way the dog

rushes each morning to learn

whether what has died in the woods

is still dead. The way in France,

a whole town gathered around

a piece of star that fell to a field. And how,

with coffee, we look across the rising

Grand—trees, white apparitions

against autumn grey. We wonder

if there’s something wrong,

what is able to survive.

How much, really, do we wish:

bleached skeletons

without bark, limbs empty

and inviting—place, now, for the river hawk to roost.


Light, Water, Bones


On the far bank, a willow weeps,

while in the river, its mirror

ripples with light. The cloud-blemished sky

meets a perfect dappling beneath.


Here are Plato’s images in reverse,

the ideal in the darkening current:


a leaf, a branch, an evening bat.

Even the heron steps gently,

afraid to startle the flawless

heron at its feet.


Along the lane, the deer carcass

does not teach me about life or death,

but about the curve of ribs

whitening under the moon.


The lessons I learn

are soundless: the light, the water,

the delicate bleach of bones.


After years of listening,

perhaps in my next life

I will not need to learn to trust—


will come back faithful

to my own sense of smell,

wander like the possum, solitary

through the night brush and broken limbs,

burrow fearless as the sleek black mole,

far from this world’s polished

surface, intimate with the wet

roots of things.





Jihyun Yun





Aubade





So warm the nights

of plum wine and fruit

on your disrobed bed,

mattress shucked bare

but for our bodies

and the wool whiskered

blanket you cherished because

I’d bled on it once.





I said I’ll never understand,

which remains true

but I still miss the moment

arrested. Your walls awash with blues

your wide windows opened to crushes

of milkweed, sage, morning glories

bittersweet as your tongue





in love. Unhusked, I couldn’t bear

to look at you. Your mouth enveloping

the bottle’s lip entirely, your jaw

when you chewed, the muscle there.

The way you tore into clementines

with your thumbs pushing pungent pith

in and apart.





I covered my breasts

with a sheet, but you pulled it away,

bared everything.

Outside, the night swelled

and lulled, livid with cicadas.

Back then, we weren’t made

for tenderness,

though swathed in summer

we fooled ourselves.





Jamie Ross





Stationary Front





—Rio Arriba, New Mexico





The men ahead herd cattle

in front of a truck, horse

trailer behind. Rain, early; much

too early, early March; a heat

from California, heat

that feels like anger spreading

in the belly, or a sadness

for the future, for these heifers

huddle-packing one another

in a block of undulating mud, two

hundred legs across the asphalt

pushed against the shoulder.

I’m looking for an intuition.

My hands around a memory—

a wheel that turns the wheels

around this curve, covered

with dung, dogs, cows; men

who need to move, fast, move

large, put parts together; the way

you’d pick up hamburger

and slap it into shape: hand,

heart, man, moon, a cake

of compressed longing

forced across a pan. A dark

hand from Sonora, slick

rope, smeared chaps, saddled

on a roan. A woman

in the pickup, hair pulled-back,

sucking on a cigarette, smoke

against the glass. A fog

that cuts the vision

to shredded lengths of road, meat

pressed into meat, hooves,

barks, brakes, pistons, dirt.

Is this what you prayed for?

All the signs are brown.





Red Jetta





—Rio Arriba, New Mexico





In the breach a man waits, holding,

not sure of the line, not aware

of where or why a water pipe

has broken, under the bathroom





or under the house, he dreams

of rain often, and his ex still

in bed, her freckled forehead glowing,

her closed Irish eyes; it’s July





in two locations, one year

by the river in the house of crossing

willows, rented at the bridge

from the Tewa reservation, just below





a highway to the Hiroshima bomb,

between a proposal and an incompleted

marriage, between two paintings

for a failed exhibition, hardpack road





splitting two directions, hers in retreat

south along the Rio, his into the mesas

north near Tres Piedras, sleeping bag

and easel in a green Dodge Aspen





that would soon lose its drive-shaft,

U-joints, alternator ruptured

in a sluice-rock arroyo, two trucks

to follow, decades of repair, though





now he hardly hears the leaking

fissure, rust-cracked iron; he swears

it’s the whisper in her long red hair,

loose and restless as the day they met





at the Pink Adobe bar, with a pint

of Bushmill’s, her scarlet Jetta;

archeology is history buried

and unearthed, or broken





and scattered, like the Neolithic

birdpoints that surface in the dirt

after monsoon flood—a sudden

heavy deluge that turns each rut





to a sea of sucking muck. You don’t

go far without sinking down. And I don’t

want a guy, Fiona once said, who hasn’t

been run over at least a time or two.





Aluna’s Puzzle





—San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato





When I arrived, Aluna was watching the baby.





The baby’s name was Aldo. Perched on a cushion

in his pillowed port-a-seat, Aldo was so recent

he barely reached the table with the top of his head.





Aluna had to stand on her wooden chair, crane

her neck over the back, just to see his face.





Since she now was grown, Aldo was a puzzle,

as she remembered once being to herself. For sure,

she still was a puzzle, but a different one. Almost





six, and even more, three months now in Mexico:

that was something to really think about.





As she looked at Aldo, strapped in that strange bag,

all he did, without a blink or move of his head, was

stare—directly at her eyes. Once in a while





he wiggled his hands. So that’s how it was, she thought,

how she was, when she was just like Aldo. She just





observed. It wasn’t a puzzle that asked you to think.

She just looked around. And now that she remembered,

she couldn’t remember thinking at all.





Burri-Carmina, Family Style Buffet





—San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato





When you walk in

to this open concrete room

with its white tiled walls, steel beam girders

a line of press-block windows

with industrial glass, you will not





feel nostalgia. You’ll feel the rumble

of traffic, gravel trucks and tankers, a Flecha Amarilla

with sixty all-night seats

screeching-in, packed,

to the depot next door. Feel squeal-shot





Suzukis, spitting cracked rock, the spew

of smoking Harleys—catcalls, whistles,

the shouts of passing bloods

as they hawk their chicks. You’ll hear sizzling





Cuban Salsa, Pop Latino Rap, whooping Janis

Joplin, bootleg Leonard Cohen and Bad Moon Rising

from the max-amp corner speakers

next to Jesus on a cross. Jesus with his hands out

above you as you sit





at a red formica table,

on a candy red molded plywood chair,

with a half-wilted corn-palm in a pastel

plastic pot, a lone salt shaker, a quart

squeeze bottle of orange hot sauce

from a plant in Mazatlán,





across from a steam line, register and counter;

across from two young women

in pink sequined polos

serving the entrees—two señoritas

with hot-pink winks and watermelon grins





asking your pleasure, stirring guisados,

spooning your selection, passing dish to dish,

lifting each lid, putting it back.

A simple play, a light one: Which rice or beans,

stew or meat, which garnish

do you choose?





In a Samuel Beckett play, the props are just two chairs.





This isn’t Samuel Beckett. It’s an old warehouse

one door from a depot.

And it’s Valentine’s Day—





with giant, inflated, spinning

rose-red hearts; dozens

of flame-glass spheres

strung like Christmas from the girders

in a shimmer of nylon strings;





It’s New Year’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, it’s 4th of July—

It’s any day you want





when you’re just off a bus

in this other country,

with a song in your head, a story

to write, a painting on your mind;

and these two sparkling girls

smiling, wide-eyed, staring, for the moment

just at you.





He Has Not Picked Up a Magazine





—Rio Arriba, New Mexico





There are dozens on the table. He’s spent

all spring in Mexico. Now he lifts up one.





Most have riveting photos, moving stories—the

dwarf elk of Maui, steaming Reykjavik, the newly





published diaries of Khalil Gibran. Not one

carries one of his poems. There is nothing here





in Spanish. He will not taste pollo en adobada

or cochinita con pasilla for another nine months.





Or be with Araceli—her laughter in the kitchen,

her hair swept in a bun, as she hugs his chest and





shoulders with her yellow rubber gloves. The bells

won’t chime each morning over the hillside city,





every rooftop garden bursting into color. Nine

Months. Nine Months. Gorgeous Araceli. He





lets the magazine drop. He hasn’t opened a page.





Sarah Blanchard





Carolina Clay





All I wanted was to sink a new fencepost,

to replant what the chestnut filly took down last evening

when she bolted at the crack of lightning.

But this red soil bakes hard and dry in the kiln of a southern summer.

My shovel stubs the terracotta earth and bounces off.





My father the farmer would say, So. Use the right tools.

I fetch his hand auger, the brace and bit he used a hundred years ago

to tap the sugar maples in a softer Connecticut climate.

And his 24-pound crowbar, shaped from the front axle

of an ancient Massey Harris tractor.





Before he died, my father showed me how to use a foot-powered grindstone

to sharpen the crowbar’s tapered end.

But I was only thirteen, and alone.

So the steel still bears the marks from the last time he sharpened it for me.

First, the auger.

Sliding my fingers onto the oak spindle and leaning into the earth,

I drill five neat holes into redbrick clay.





Next, the crowbar.

Wrapping my hands over his palmprints and hefting its good balance,

I let the weight drop straight into each hole.

The clay chips and curls away in red-earth flakes.

When the hole is six inches down, I pour in water and let it seep.

A red-shouldered hawk glides above the pines, riding an unseen thermal.

I watch the hawk until the clay softens and melts, terracotta turning to potter’s slip.

I scoop it by handfuls into a sloppy mound.

I wear the clay: my hands and arms are slick.

Ochre presses into pores, smears into sweat.

As they dry, flakes of clay peel off like flayed skin.

My brother the potter would say, The clay lives! You can create beautiful things.

Before he died my brother showed me how to work clay on his wheel,

to turn and shape common earth into elegant vessels.

But I was clumsy and impatient. My pots cracked in the kiln, so I threw them away.





If I can remember what I am made from,

perhaps I can rebuild the broken bits from this red Carolina clay.

Perhaps I can fire this earth into hard red bricks,

trowel my tears into ashes,

and make the mortar to point up what has crumbled.





lauren a. boisvert





Save A Seat for Me in the Void





For two consecutive years

I have seen a dead cat on my birthday.

This has to be an omen, I say to no one, to myself

there is no other answer

except that there are cats in the world

and there are cars in the world

and sometimes they meet and don’t get along

sometimes things just happen.





One year before the cats

I started believing you might be dead

because no one had seen you in five years

or at least I hadn’t

and I like to base all decisions on the probability of death.

The probability of death was high

so I decided you were dead

and thought

sometimes things just happen.





The thing about Boisverts is we love hard

but our secret is we hate even harder

but our solution to this is we are terrible at remembering.

I go out in the woods and carve your name in a slab of ice

and watch my letters melt into girl tears

lusty with glitter and salt

and they are not in the ice but in my body

shaking the cage of me

and there are cats in the woods sharpening the trees.





Stand your back against red clapboards

so I can throw my knives between all your spaces.

The probability of death is low

you are alive in my grandfather’s house

with my knives jutting through the walls

we use them to hang our house keys on.

We have the frozen lake behind us

that I stood on once and never again after that

so I am not accustomed to walking on water

and neither are you

I would not like you as much if you were.





The ghosts of two dead cats walk the water

black and white and whole

clean fur

mouths pink as Jackie Kennedy’s death suit.

I read that somewhere

she wore “muted pink as the inside of a cat’s mouth”

and I think yes, that’s true, I have seen that pink

and I sit you down in a chair draped with a bear pelt

and make you open your mouth.

My grandfather lived in the woods

but I am probably misremembering the bear pelt

sometimes things just happen.





I take the omen of the dead cats

ball it up like tissue paper

and press it into your sternum like planting a seed

cup my hands over it and pull out the ghosts.

The cats settle into my grandfather’s house

sneezing in the dust of years

licking the old glue that holds together his French novels

rubbing their cold bodies against our legs.

They pick their teeth on the knives in the wall

and so do I

and so do you

scraping away the plaque of false memories

until the tragic real gleams in the thick yellow light.





Frida Kahlo On Display at the Dalí





I’ve been having dreams

of howling and gold glitter burst from a package

spilling across my body I am naked I am pale and red

as pomegranate flesh.





Nothing is good enough for a speeding train

I tell it that I am here howling my presence to the fast metal

but everything is gold everything stars.

A hand passes before my eyes I will not dream

take this howling and give it back to the wolves.





I am not sweet not even in my blood am I sweet

see how it moves filling the train mixing gold

crawling from my shattered pelvis my twisted spine see how it moves.





A white paper package bursts like a membrane

later I will pluck stars from my skin keep them in a glass jar

or maybe I will be buried with my body gilded like a relic.





David Foster Wallace Explains Default Settings





This morning was a sweet cling peach

until I drove past a construction site

and remnants of rejection gripped my insides

like a frozen hand

squeezing my stomach

like an overripe fig.





Picture a man standing at a motel mirror

swigging gin from a plastic pint bottle

cheap stuff

just the back of him in a plaid shirt

radiating disgust like a visible aura.





Disgust as default (this is water)

David Foster Wallace tells me to choose.





Compliance as default obedience as default

lying cheating getting fucked over as default

but mostly complaint as default

center of the universe narcissism

like love is narcissism

and procreation is narcissism

as default.





God as scientist was reading Frankenstein

when he made us

and he modelled this man after the good doctor

(from Mary’s own mouth: the monster’s name is Frankenstein.)





I am getting ahead of my default setting:

not everything is about me

but this time it was.

This time my default was not a farce

but a reckoning fact biblical rendering

of what it means to be used and tossed for scrap.





David Foster Wallace says you get to decide

but how can I

when bad memories are scattered like pollen

in my frontal lobes blooming and becoming

without my consent?





The best I can do is walk slowly

and try not to complain.





Faith Shearin





Jonestown





I was a child, so it was the children I thought of,

in a remote commune, off the coast of South America,

forced to call Jim Jones father. Evenings,





when my own father took off his business suit to drink

scotch and watch the news, I listened to the stories

of disobedient Jonestown children, forced





to spend the night at the bottom

of wells, or locked in plywood boxes;

I knew they were learning to be compliant.





Anyone who tried to escape the cult

was drugged; the Jonestown children lived in huts

woven from Troolie Palm and many





suffered fevers; before they drank

the Kool-Aid laced with cyanide they were called

from bed, during an exercise called white nights,





asked to line up and swallow a cup

of juice without asking questions.

I was asked to line up too, all the time, at school.





I was a child, so it was the children I thought of,

and they were the first to die, opening their mouths

for parents or nurses, in a pavilion, in the middle





of a jungle, in the trembling tropical afternoon.





A Pirate at Midlife





At midlife, Stede Bonnet grew tired of his wife

and children so he built a ship with a library,

named it Revenge. He left behind





his sugar plantation in Barbados, swaying

under the sun, and became a pirate

though he knew nothing of sailing.





This is midlife: the nagging wife, the plantation

growing thirsty at noon. Bonnet was a terrible

pirate but he did meet Blackbeard





and, for a moment, was his partner,

which involved walking around

his hero’s deck in a nightshirt, recovering





from a lost battle by reading a book.

Bonnet died two years after he went to sea

but, before he was hanged, he learned





to fire cannons, quit paying his crew,

realizing, finally, that money made them lazy.

He was pardoned for awhile by Governor Eden





who lived in the town beside my grandfather’s cottage,

just beyond the river of my childhood, and I

liked the drawings of Bonnet in my storybook of pirates





with his fancy jacket and powdered wig. I knew

nothing yet of middle age, of the desire

for excitement before death. I used my crayons





to decorate a picture of Bonnet’s children:

waving to him from fields of sugar, while he

raised a Jolly Roger and floated away.





1901 Mourning Portrait of Michael Fitzgibbons





after the daguerreotype





I can make out a fence and two bare trees behind

the coffin which has been opened and propped upright

so the man inside stands, one last time,





beside his wife who is still young, squinting

into the future, with her hair tied in a knot,

a baby in her arms. The older children





are windblown and one turns her face

towards something unseen, outside the frame,

while her brother looks steadily into the distance,





unsmiling, choked by a tie. There is white

behind the dead man’s head, and white

on the collars of his children; the baby’s dress





is so white her mother holds her tightly

to keep her from floating away.





In 18th Century Britain





It was fashionable for owners of country estates

to have a hermit reside in their garden grotto:





unwashed, hair long. He was paid

to go barefoot, or recite poetry for party guests,





asked to sit in silence at a desk in a hut

with a skull, a book, an hourglass. The hermit





was supposed to embody melancholy

in his druid costume, with his unclipped





fingernails, and he lived in solitude among

ponds and flower beds, his presence unmanicured.





Gardens became less geometric, more free-form,

and a hermit was hired to live in a state





of contemplation, at the edge of a deep woods,

near the shed with its rakes and spades,





beyond ladies in pale silk gowns, taking tea.





Deceased Child With Flowers





after a memento mori





In this nineteenth century mourning portrait a child

has died and now lies in a formal bedroom beneath

wreaths of flowers. What we see is a face





on a pillow—brown hair, long eyelashes—

and it is as if the tiny body is becoming a garden

of white irises and baby’s breath, as if grief





has erupted in blossoms and climbed the headboard,

as if the flowers in a nearby meadow

blew through a window and took root in this





mattress which is as soft as earth. There is

no sign, anymore, of fever or infection,

worry or doctors. The medicines, whatever





they were, vanished from the bedside table,

and now the child is becoming the flowers

which are also temporary: cut,





unable to drink, their petals tender.





Helen Yeoman-Shaw





The Mug My Aunt Made





Tonight I sip tea from a mug

my aunt threw on a wheel. Tree rings





of brown clay stretch up, curve into

the lip. Below, waves of sky blue





melt into olive as if they

hug the mountain range at whose feet





my aunt built her dream house with her

lover. Further down, colors blend:





rose, mauve, indigo, sienna

streaking across the bottom like





the Painted Desert. I fit three

fingers through the thick handle. There’s





a pressed platform on which to rest

my thumb. I look like my aunt. That’s





why she sent her mug home with me.

Or maybe it’s her secret way





of telling me that she also

knows how it feels to have your heart





pulled apart then gloriously

reattached, but only after





years of scoring and slipping. As

I enfold the same piece of earth





my aunt embraced, I replay the

message from my mother, study





the mug’s glazed palette, wonder if

these particular shades exist





in the Mediterranean

where my aunt was celebrating





her ten year anniversary

and if the hues bled together





when the blood vessel in her brain

burst.





Calling Long Distance





When I call you today

I’ll imagine you sitting

at your kitchen table

hillsides of your beloved

Heidelberg wrapping around you

sea pinks blooming on your balcony

as they do in May.





I’m sure Uncle Johnny will answer

neither of us surprised by the other’s voice

after all, it is your birthday.





We’ll talk for an hour or so

without mentioning your name

but you’ll hang between us like a sheet

draped over a clothesline

a lifetime of memories flapping softly

brushing against us as we reach for pins

to keep you from blowing away.





When I Leave





I will leave the moon with you.

She will be your night-light

pushing darkness away

so you may sink safely into slumber.





She will be your keeper of time.

You may count the days

through her opening and closing eye

your grief gradually waning.





She will be your shield

deflecting the sun’s blazing revelations

softening his sharp glare so you may

gaze into the heavens unblinded.





She will be your balloon

her beam a silken string.

Whenever you ache, reach high

and she will lift you up to me.





Persephone





Each spring, I bring my

mom daffodils, embrace her,

palms spilling sunlight.





Night Blooming Jasmine





Your hands, two wings

shivering with summer heat

spread like a butterfly across my back, and I

unfold

arch my opalescent face toward the waxing moon

open my mouth, pour my delirious sweetness

into the sticky night.





Sarah B. Sullivan





Iris





—after Audre Lorde’s Coal





The indigo between violet and blue,

a setting on the field’s table.

There are many kinds of births.

How a bulb sprouts wings.

How a bee gathers pollen from the stamen.





Pollen births honey.

Like a bulb planted upside-down

curling itself around and toward the sun.

There are births wanted and unwanted,

in the middle of a field, under a table,

in whatever corner the queen is forced to squat.





Some births live in her belly,

bubbling like drowning fish. Others grow

beneath her feet, throw her off her heels,

like wild horses tired of their passengers.

Tired of being passengers.





A bulb is another kind of birth:

an iris blossoms into a bouquet.

She is indigo because she is an iris.

Take the pollen from the stamen for your queen.





Our Stone Wall





Froot Loops spatter the table—red orange yellow.

My grandson created the art when he raised his arms,

exclaimed, “Look, Bambi!” while pointing out the window.





I am lost in the kitchen sink, in this house with my family,

washing the same pans and mixing bowls

over and over again.





My Uncle, too, is lost. In shadowy solitude. Memory

has betrayed him. The words no longer emerge

in those seven jumbled tiles he once placed strategically.





Did it all start when we buried the dog, the cat,

our childhood loves, by the stone wall

where our home ended and our imaginations began?





My solitude a sapling rooted in a crack of the dilapidated wall.

My uncle’s loneliness: crumbling mortar.

My grandson never knew the dog, the cat.





He misses nothing, yet. He runs

out the door, into his yard, his imagination, to find Bambi.

The Froot Loop mess is left for us to wipe away.





With My Luck





Is anyone so special—

to suffer the worst outcome

in every given situation?





Is there a lily in the field

whose good fortune is less than its neighbors’

even if the shade shines darker upon it?





Life isn’t fair, my mother told me

when I was six, or maybe three—

A terrible wonderful truth.





—A tantrum.

—A turning away





to lie on the lawn and watch some ants

march by, lugging their loads

while others seemed to stroll.





So many lilies in the field.

A child wondering in the grass.

An ancient man wandering vacant streets.





Boston





after Joy Harjo’s Juno





This city is made of bricks, boats, boxes of tea.

The Atlantic to the east, the curling Cape.

The suburbs to the west.

It’s always been this way, since 1630,

because pilgrims who were rebels,

fleeing and invading, claimed this land,

molded it with cobblestones and puritans.





Once, a well-dressed silversmith

rode through the streets, hollering.

The bells tolled. They still do,

hourly. The dead

buried beneath their headstones—

which is a world below this world—

watch, judge, murmur of our ignorant follies, sins.





I follow my Freedom Trail,

past chic cafes, up Beacon Hill,

toward the gold-domed capital.

In the Gardens I see No-one’s native

son, head against the rough damp bark.

Too dark to see who he might be.

He does not open his eyes.





I keep staring as I walk, my head

turned back. The grass a muddy carpet.

The swans paddle by without looking.

Should I touch his shoulder—him

at the foot of the tree? Say I’m sorry

for those racist remarks yelled out at Fenway Park,

where our city’s hopes and spirits rally round?





And I think of all I barely know:

a barber’s dealings in a back room in Little Italy,

a fisherman scrubbing the wharf’s film from his skin,

a forgotten toddler staring at a broken TV,

the plucked-chicken smell of Chinatown sidewalks,

the violent violations of the Combat Zone,

the Irish pubs bursting with

false glee.





Disclosure





I want to tell you—my body,

how it looks to me,

how much I ate or didn’t,

how much I exercised or didn’t.

I did not not eat, or eat, to draw attention.

(I did not want you to notice.)

I needed to eat nothing. to eat everything.

To get rid of it all in any way possible.

This body is my loneliness,

a shameful secret.

But I want to share these fears

which have haunted me for years.

I cannot hold them alone.





I want to admit to you—my drinking,

now that it has stopped,

or I have stopped, or both.

I did not drink to draw attention.

(I did not want you to notice.)

I drank to be free to be me, to escape me.

Neither worked.

The drinking was more loneliness,

a shameful secret.

I dare not say how much I drank,

what I did and where and when.

But I need to share these secrets.

I cannot hold them alone.





I want to show you—my scars,

now that they have healed.

I did not carve them to draw attention.

(I did not want you to notice.)

I needed those cuts

those wounds that blood

to say what I could not say.

But they are my loneliness,

a shameful secret I regret

and do not regret.

I need these scars to remember.

I need to share these memories.

I cannot hold them alone.





Timothy Walsh





The Girl from Perth Amboy





All that summer, it was as if my motorcycle

knew the way—

Schraalenburg to Old Hook Road to Kinderkamack.

She was new in town, joked that she’d always wondered

what things were like north of the G.W. bridge.





Her eyes froze you, pinned you like daggers,

invited you in to wander, lost.





Whenever she spoke of Perth Amboy, she shook her head.

A nothing town, she said. Rusted-out and crumbling,

a place of has-beens and lost causes.





We rode everywhere together—me and that girl

from Perth Amboy.

She clung to me as if I were her lifejacket,

her last chance—

legs wrapped tightly around mine,

hands tight around my waist as we leaned into turns,

accelerated down freeways.





She thought she was tough, always wore black,

thought she could maybe play bass in a punk band

or one day go to art school.

But that summer we mostly just rode—

up to Bear Mountain, down to Sandy Hook,

west to Lake Hopatcong, the Poconos.





She said she’d maybe like to go out to the west coast—

move to Seattle or Frisco or someplace—

switch oceans for a while,

watch the sun set in the Pacific.





Once, we rode all the way down to Cape May,

took the ferry across to Delaware,

fed the seagulls gliding alongside the boat

from our hands,

the seagulls like emissaries from another world,

like souls, she said, like souls.





Later, I heard she’d gone back to Perth Amboy,

got married, lives not far from her old place

near the Outerbridge.





And I was left wondering what if

we had hit the road to Frisco?

What if I didn’t crash the bike,

then head up to Boston?

What if I’d followed that road deep into her eyes,

disappearing in the haze of infinity?





Metro Messenger





It was a delivery truck, of that we were sure,

but what we were delivering we never actually knew.

Rugs mostly—a single Persian rug picked up

at a deserted warehouse on the lower East Side,

dropped off at a gas station in Jamaica Plain—

three rugs picked up at a Teamster’s loading dock in Hoboken—

all the union guys studiously not noticing us—

delivered to a ramshackle townhouse in Bensonhurst.





So yes, it was rugs mostly, but what was in those rugs

we never knew—

were smart enough not to look,

knowing that, in this case, curiosity would surely

kill the cat.





It was my brother’s job—first job out of college—

but over winter break, I was hired to ride shotgun

(no gun actually, just a stack of New York metro maps).

Metro Messenger, the van said with swoosh marks

to emphasize its speed. Phone Dispatched.





We were paid ridiculously well, had more down time than up,

phoned in after each job for instructions,

sat around a lot in burger joints and bars,

waiting for our next pickup,

the black van out in the parking lot looking like

an avenging angel, a dark messenger.





Our base was an old stainless steel art deco diner

by the Holland Tunnel—Jersey side—

its circular counter where everyone faced the grill man,

who moved the mountain of golden onions

flipped the burgers,

everyone sipping coffee, reading newspapers,

the frying-onion-and-sizzling-meat smell intoxicating

while trucks and busses dieseled by outside,

the incessant internal combustion seeping in from the streets,

setting the counter and coffee cups vibrating,

the roar of traffic deafening yet unnoticed,

like cicadas on a hot summer day.





I was reading the Russians then—Dostoevsky,

Turgenev, Tolstoi, Chekhov—

dog-eared copies of The Brothers Karamazov

and Ward Number Six on the dashboard,

our conversations about Raskolnikov, Bazarov, Pechorin,

my head full of samovars, kvass, roubles, and serfs,

my heart hungry for the steppe . . . .





So yes, we were delivering rugs that were most likely

not just rugs,

but sometimes perhaps they were—a set of braided rugs

delivered to someone’s grandmother in Queens,

a pyramid of stairway runners delivered to a hotel in Yonkers.





No matter. Whatever the cargo, we were cool with it.

As long as someone would pay us to cruise the canyoned avenues,

race along labyrinthine bridges,

ghost through tunnels under dark rivers,

radio blaring,

brothers seatbelted side-by-side, the curve of the windshield

our common eye,

onion-and-hamburger diners waiting to replenish our coffee,

caffeine lighting our eyes from within like midnight dashboards—

hell, it was maybe the best job we ever had.





Aunt Zosha’s Sky Blue Skylark





White-walled tires, white vinyl fastback roof,

bucket seats and stick shift—

Aunt Zosha worked the clutch in a miniskirt

and black boots,

the cigarette butts in the crowded ashtray

all with a kiss of lipstick.





She had us kids sit four across in the backseat,

told us not to put our sneakers on the white vinyl upholstery,

blared the radio, singing along, eyes hidden

behind huge sunglasses,

always incognito in mascara and eye shadow.





These boots are made for walking, she’d sing,

lighting her cigarette,

the dashboard lighter glowing like a ray gun—

revving the motor, working the stick shift and clutch,

peeling out just to give us kids a thrill.





We’d drive to the old neighborhood in Greenpoint—

to Uncle Stanley’s Laundromat by the old trolley car barn

or—if we promised to keep it secret—

her gypsy grandmother on Ash Street

(our great-grandmother, we’d whisper).





While the old woman eyed us across the table,

serving tea or vodka, asking which we’d have,

legions of faintly remembered relatives came and went—

Ziggy, Stachu, Pavel, and old Bolek,

Rachel, Bonnie, Agnieska, and Chloé—

playing cards, dancing, the record player blaring,

everyone drinking cups of tea or vodka or both,

Aunt Zosha speaking Polish or gypsy to the old ones,

till inevitably we adjourned to admire her sky blue Skylark

parked outside—

took some cousin or friend for a ride,

cruising down Manhattan Ave to McCarren Park. . . .





Back at our grandmother’s in Auburndale, we’d say

we stopped at the Horn and Hardart’s or Baskin Robbins,

felt our lie flush our faces like vodka,

exhilarated,

hearing that gypsy music start up in our hearts,

pulsing through our reddening ears.





Dreaming of White Castle on the Pulaski Skyway





We’d cruised beneath the skyway often enough,

tooling around on the boat,

a couple of quarts of beer, playing guitars in the stern,

Monica’s sax cutting through the whoosh of traffic,

cruising along the chemical coast,

up through Arthur Kill into Newark Bay,

gliding across the gunmetal calm surface,

oil slicks along the shore making rainbows in the twilight,

the Pulaski Skyway looming gigantically ahead,

its maze of girders and struts arching high

above the water

like the exposed skeleton of some dinosaur or dragon—

gargantuan spine, massive ribcage, lashing tail—

the lines of cars moving along the roadbed

like frenzied ants devouring the last morsels of flesh

from the bones.





So after our last drop-off of the day in the delivery van,

my brother and I decided to take the Pulaski Skyway

back from Queens

even though the Lincoln Tunnel was faster—

take the Pulaski Skyway just for the hell of it

after delivering a couple of Persian rugs to a drugstore

in Flushing,

thinking we’d head over to our cousin’s house, make a run

to White Castle around the corner,

shoot the shit. . . .





We could almost smell those burgers as the skyway rose higher

and higher in the air,

those little square hamburgers with finely chopped onions,

small enough you could maybe eat a dozen yourself,

the warm bagful of burgers hanging from one hand

while you reached in and devoured them

one by one

in three bites. . . .





Hurtling homeward on the Pulaski Skyway,

the sunset and the fires of Elizabeth spread out before us,

making it seem that all New Jersey was on fire—

an inferno of smokestacks, gas jets, and chemical tanks

charbroiling the sky—

we listened to the radio’s electric guitars reverberating

off the windshield,

someone singing about love in a dark time,

the tantalizing whiff of those White Castle burgers

beckoning us onward

to this conflagration we called home.





Gabriel Spera





Scratch





They flock to me, the finches, when I go

outside to scatter seed like the grace

of angels on the stubbled lawn, erased

like most of yesterday by snow





and age, amazed, confused—as I’ve been, too—

to find, when they expect it least,

the black ice strewn with summer’s feast,

a miracle too perfect to be untrue.





They dash and peck, as though they, too, had found

what love provides is apt to melt away

and that same heart that fills our bowl today

tomorrow leaves us scratching frozen ground.





Freeway





Hemmed in by a six-lane traffic jam

on a weekend afternoon, I’m suddenly struck,

blindsided, by the thought, the realization,

that you are gone. Really, truly,

irrevocably gone. And, typical,

you didn’t have the courtesy

to mention you were leaving, but slipped away

like faith in miracles, leaving this decoy,

this imposter, in the shotgun seat,

looking for all the world like the one

I vowed to have and hold, absorbed

in work, jabbing at a thin screen, indifferent

to the stream of tail lights keeping us

from being where and when we planned to be.

And for once, I am not cursing

the traffic, which makes it easy to believe

the world’s stopped dead, moved to unmoving

by my loss. And almost I don’t feel

truly alone and irrevocably free,

the way a soul must feel wafting up

from the tangled wreck—though of course,

there is no wreck, just a bloodless

fender-bender, pulled to the shoulder,

the rubber-neckers at once relieved

and disappointed to find nothing

they haven’t seen a thousand times,

their sympathy tempered by the thought,

the realization, they could be home by now

if one or both had only checked their mirrors,

focused on their blind spots, understood

the person right in front of them

might slow, or swerve, or stop for no good reason.





Opportunity





It never rains here, the perfect spot

for an invasion, though of course,

there’s not a soul here to surrender,

no square or post to occupy. From where

I stare toward the horizon, nothing stirs

except the nebulas of dust, the motes

clinging to my panels like the pollen

on a drone. I’m left alone

to my devices, which I minister

with the gravity of a child with pail

and shovel shaping ziggurats

for the tide to sweep away. Though of course

there is no tide, no teeming sea.

Nor does the landscape even need one,

evidently, to gather rust, the stones

and crags, like random memory, steeped

in hues of rouge and blush. And like

a sapper through a minefield, preassessing

every inch, I tread deliberately,

obliquely, though in retrospect,

my course seems almost straight,

my state improbable and strangely

preordained. My days are long,

my hours numbered, my fate

to populate a vista so forbidding

even death, if ever he came,

no longer visits. And as the sunset

drains my tired cells, I recite

my litany of wonder, send

my missive, bit by bit, beyond the sky—

as though it mattered, as though

any power beyond my own

could ever reach me, right me, if I scarred

the soft lip of a crater, cascaded

down the talus like a turtle

on its back to rest helpless in shadow,

an instant fossil, fastidious wishbone

lodged within eternity’s dry throat.





Blood Moon





The shadow crept like doubt from a sinister

quarter of the moon, a malignant tincture

that would bathe it in mercurochrome and flare

the nearest stars, an event more curious and rare

than honest love. I splayed the tripod, set to capture

on film the partial phases of erasure.

And as I glanced starward from the aperture—

a swoop, a shape, a cloak of wings, twin craters

laked with eyes. Before I could even think to duck

it vanished beyond the roofline, leaving me

much where I’ve always been: humbled, dumbstruck,

between the dull pull of Earth and all heavenly

machinations, wondering just how many

miracles, how many missives from eternity,

I may have missed because I failed, in ignorance,

to lift my eyes and face the coming silence.





Roots





It’s hard not to view

a clogged toilet as a statement

on your life. But though I threw





both shoulders to the tank,

rocking to the plunger’s

squelch and suck, nothing sank





but my heart. It was evident

my issue went deeper,

like desire or discontent.





So I slogged out to the source,

uncapped the cleanout port and watched

ooze well up like hope divorced





from history and just as fast

slosh back. I force-fed a spasm

of metal coil down its shaft





and reeled it back, further irked

by the splash of failure. I kissed

its rubber to the lip and worked





my plunger till the pressure

grew too great, a fracking

disaster that sent a gusher





of thin black crude up and out

the backflow valve, swamping

the soil beside the house,





infecting the air. Kind fate

has graced me with sense enough

to know when I’ve been beat.





I phoned a pro, who passed

a naked blender through the pipe,

pureeing the roots that massed





like dendrites in a gangled

neural net. With one stroke, the knot

was solved, my life untangled.





The sun soon catalyzed

the malodorous muck,

made rich the earth that gave rise





to a carpetbomb of grass

that begged to get cut. And as I

bullied the mower past





there it was: a tomato shoot

where none had been sown, meaning

it had to have taken root





from seeds that plumbed the byzantine

maze of human gut, sclerotic

flume of sewer line





before lodging in the fetid

bog of excrement I’d

unwittingly created.





Was there a right way to react

to such aplomb?

Was I wrong to feel mocked





in my petty disgrace?

Or should I have known nature

would tell me to embrace





even the shit, to throw

my whole soul into it,

because who can know





what we’ll be when we’ve committed

to rise at last up out of it,

self-tried and self-acquitted,





what tender blooms we might

break into when we stand

clean and naked in the light.





Zoë Harrison





Pattee Creek





A week after you died, a fox, hungry white

laid flat in knapweed’s purple flowers his ears

strained towards the criss crossed wires you’d strung

with rattlesnake hides, brass washers.





Beyond the mesh

were the chickens and below the chickens

rust, late watermelon rinds,

straw strangled with feathers.





Will I rot, my body tucked under sanded clay

my bones another stone beneath the yard’s fruit tree

fallen apple war drums

against my ribs?





As he crept across nude roots

the flock’s clucks were

low warning

their plumage raising like parasols.



The cerulean shoelace you hung

danced from the wooden coop

as paws scraped the soil.





When the wire gave there was nowhere to flee,

beaks twittered and cracked like June bug wings,

their feathered heads limp.





Inside the kitchen walls were ledger, the corners sellotaped

seams, curved like origami balloons. Your shotgun was hung

in the wardrobe, you’d never shown me how to shoot.





AJ Powell





Shatter





I sit in a glass chair wearing a glass dress,

holding a glass pencil, breathing glass breaths,

waiting for everything to shatter.





My fingers clink against paper in a minor key;

words fall on the page, sword-strikes

ringing out amid silence.





Light flashes, burnishing dreams both

bright and terrible, and exposing

a million flickering thoughts,





And the glass slivers and flies through the air

to waiting imaginations, embedding itself

where it lands, leaving me flesh again.





Blanket





“This is nowhere,” she whispers in his ear,

“and nothing happens here.”

Then he pulls up her blouse and

ripples her skin beneath his fingers.

Together they spin a blanket

of blissful self-forgetting

threaded with sighs, moans, laughter.

Hide under it for hours

chasing down new shivers

then fall asleep like sated babies.

Wake up startled in the morning,

wide and bleary eyes falling on each other

in daylight.





The myth of meaninglessness

hangs in the air like

dust motes in sunbeams.

She shifts a shoulder and holds the sheet tight.

He brushes away sleep in his eye.

She waits and wonders

if bolting or breakfast is on his mind

and readies herself to be stoic either way.

He doubts his courage to risk what he wants

but, gazing at the lift of her breath under covers,

the want remains.





Sunlight butters across sheets

dappling skin, illuminating freckles

and hair standing on end.

Whatever they’ve woven in moments last night

awaits the morning’s quilting,

still could be cast aside threadbare or

stitched whole,

Time at hand

ready to knit a tryst

into shelter,

as pillows pull magnetic

on drowsy, awestruck heads.





Witch’s Work





I sit and stir at fate’s cauldron,

toil to stew new trouble,

brew bright and terrible concoctions

for the world from a wise and wizened hag—

one wart on my nose for every

bewitched millennia I’ve stared down.





I rage today at pretty images, counterfeit and cheap:

tedious portraits of perfection

fit only for thirty-foot-tall screens of silver,

slivering my sisters’ instincts into nothing

till they hate mirrors and their

own magic selves.





I choke on strange poison in the air;

a toxic atmosphere has unleashed

a sickening, a standard view

that age and imperfection have

no deep and particular beauty, though they do.

I brew a tonic for modern toxins.





I cackle and curse at faked models—

touched by false prophets who spellbind absent

every time-worn, life-earned wrinkle,

every bit of a body’s bump and curve cut—

sacrificed to cellulose tyrants who

demand mannequins of their females.





I cast my hex at the madness of enhancements,

surgical monstrosities papering psyches

till even closed eyelids can’t block them out—

my sisters marred by imaginary failings.

What sorcery is this? and who is guilty of

inducing the poisonous deception?





As if marble is what women are made of,

as if fake is how women should feel,

as though holding a warm breast should be less than it is;

as if a heartbeat speeding and thudding through a chest

with love and lust and ready openness

should split from flesh and choose plastic?





Try hovering in love instead.

Hold an eye for human bodies

walking down the road with bottoms

which are double-cupped,

bellies full with a solid sorcery

while illusions of perfection are moving mists.

For we are for cleaving to for life

like a preserver that rides wild waves and stays

afloat in every storm-tossed ocean.





Let us conjure away the ugliness they’re teaching,

the curse of magazines and billboards

tossing our sisters in jail-cell expectations,

accosting even our youngest daughters.

Stir the cauldron with me;

banish the bullshit.





Find visions of beauty which follow nature’s lead;

let time’s travails and treats

build up softly on hips.

Actual is an attribute worthily embraced

with the capacity to embrace back.

Wander then into bedrooms with real women

for potent wizardry, for joyful spells.





Seeds





I will

Eat pomegranate seeds by the handful—

sweet trill on the tongue, tart pull in the jaw—

till lips and fingers stick with juice,

tentative tasting abandoned for honest hunger.





I will

Slip underwater and silence the world,

let nothing approach but bubbles,

which trace skin with lovely skimming

on their way across, around, between, along.





I will

Listen in my car to favorite songs and

remember the stories behind them,

taking a tour of the past, discovering dwindled spaces—

former homes and hangouts gone small with time.





I will

Watch something funny and laugh,

fall into a forgetful hilarity that cracks open

a life of guarded impressions and best behaviors,

guffaw and snort and hee-haw at nothing, everything.





I will

Dance alone to a sad song,

rock and sway in a room of candlelight,

hum along bluesy and true,

welcoming need as a gift.





I will

Stand breathless, cheeks aflame,

hauling in air halfway up a mountainside,

follow the trail to the summit above

as a zephyr quakes a stadium of aspen leaves.





Countdown





Five times she held her breath

Walked five slow roads to nowhere

Wished five wishes into the wind

Watched them catch a gust and flee headlong

Toward anywhere-elses





Four times she skipped a beat

Glanced four backward glances

Missed four passing chances

Lost them without notice so without grief

But still felt absences





Three times she forged ahead

Pushed three burdens through a day

Won three closures in an open-ended world

Clenched them, claimed them, held them fast

In otherwise empty hands





Two times she gave grand gifts

Grew two perfect presences

Loved two new beings with her eternity

Understood them to be hers briefly

Despite otherwise yearnings





One time she died

Loosed one full soul to the ether

Slew one last dragon stalking her

Laid it down to rest with her body then left

For limitless shores





Alexa Poteet





Have You Seen Me?





At once, I am everywhere

and nowhere.

You think you glimpse me





admiring candies like gems

in the halogen glow

of the gas station.





I am an apparition,

selling magazines or gum,

school supplies.





The eyes could be mine

anywhere. At the end

of the jet bridge, clutching





the cuff of a stranger. Flyers

are my paper tombstones,

pinned like corsages to telephone





poles. A leaf, I

float through holes

in the jungle gym, in you.





Time is my plaything. Age progressed,

I am taffy. Stretch forward,

pull back.





Look at me,

and I disappear.





Skywriter on the Radio





Like locksmiths, skywriters

absorb their fair share of abuse

from poets. I’m surprised





to hear the last one in New York

live on the radio. (Though perhaps not.

The vestigial tails of their crafts, wagging





one another. Thump

thump. Heaven-made

bedfellows. The skywriter





and the radio. The three of us implausible

as ever: The poet writing

about the skywriter on the radio.





Did you know we are an incantation?

It’s true; If you say, “A poet hears a skywriter

on the radio” three times in the mirror, a Romantic





appears: Shelley, with his pussy-bow

blouse soaked from drowning

in the Golfo dei Poeti. He will pour





out his shoe like in the movies,

and a small silver sardine will dance

in the light at his feet.)





The skywriter speaks of slicers, which blitz

the imagined fingers of God

and faces in the clouds for his celestial





vandalism. The hot, smoked paraffin

and oozing exhaust he leaks

to write love on a blue sky day.





The messages are needy, force him

to fly backwards while holding

a cracked button for smoke with his thumb.





A pocket mirror taped

to the dash reads the hazy

plumes back to him as he hangs,





a bat in the cockpit,

upside down. Mid-scrawl he checks

his work like a schoolboy who stops,





halfway through a B

for the presence of the dotted line,

but this craft is limitless, un-college ruled.





The M’s and the R’s are the impossibles.

Ask for double-backs to ward off

W, when the world is inverted.





The alchemy of the R,

at once yearning

for bent and straight.





And yet, the skywriter

on the radio written

about by the poet is undeterred





by the earth as a ceiling

and not a floor.

He writes it, difficult and forever,





MARRY ME





Improbable every time.





The Man Who Got off the Train Between Madrid and Valencia





I had been on the train for

two hours. The cliffs of Cuenca

and their small bird-nest houses blurred

into arid bramble for miles.





Along the embankment, hundreds

of brown rabbits pulled their bodies

back into burrows

to elude a metallic beheading.





A small wave of life,

brown on brown in the desert

where no one lives.

(Years earlier in Spain, I lived





with a familia. Horrified

when I went to peel a mandarina

and two rabbit ears,

white inner hairs still pert,





stood straight up in the trashcan.

I politely spooned

rabbit stew for lunch that day,

hoping my voodoo was reversible.)





Slowing, the train rolled into a station,

deserted but for a dirty sign

ventas with no teller

and a film of dust.





Through the window, I saw him

step off the train.

Jeans, brown briefcase in hand. A weary

walk. The walk of a man who at the end





of his working days

lays down in his clothes

at the edge of the ocean.

Lets the small waves sink him into the sand.





There, he ambled out,

straight into the campo.

No homes or fences for miles.

Just the rabbits and me.





For years, he was my talisman.

A patron saint

of loneliness. The man

who walked into uncertainty.





A magician of memory.

Did he vanish? Die?

Had I witnessed him

walking into the desert or





imagined it? The way

a grenade aches

for a man. Or a film, spools silent,

without a reel.





I told only one man

about the man

who got off the train between

Madrid and Valencia. The man





I’d made a myth about toeing

the line between nothing

and everything.





He said he could love us both.





I married him, knowing

that the stations and all the spaces

in between

belonged to us.





Dreaming of Tomatoes in Antarctica





They train for Mars

here, that red planet’s

ghost. A twin separated





at birth, no, stillborn,

icy with rigor mortis

in the joints. But





somewhere in Lombardy

There is a field, intraversible

with green, humming





with flies. A casita with earthen walls

and a clay roof. A terrazzo

where hot hay and manure fill





the nose. A terrazzo where skin

goes dusty with pollen. A terrazzo

where one becomes a flower.





There, a lacquered pot

sits split by the growth

of roots, creeping from the cracks

like garden snakes.





There, a tomato plant hangs

bent with fruit. Large,

heavy with fertility.





That red globe waits

dewy

with 1,000 seeds.





Marcie McGuire





Saying Goodbye





— for Bill Worley





Those summer nights

he lay at the window,

chin cupped in his hand,

and watched the stars go out,

the only one awake,

when even the bars

were closed, knowing then

how it was to be.





His friends refused to

understand, and merely

repeated his words,

“inoperable, chemotherapy,”

hopefully, beneath the slow

irregular rhythm of the fan.





Down the street

a screen door slammed.

His wife leaned her head

against his knees.

They tried again to tell us

what we did not want to hear.





Later they brought

slices of lemon pound cake

on clear glass plates

and iced tea with mint, and

he talked of going

to the Texas State Fair

before he died.





And after they had said

everything they could,

we sat on the floor,

our knees almost touching,

between us a half bushel

of lima beans to shell.





Still Birth





— for Megan Sleadd





As if I had actually died in that dream and

woke up dead in a garden in late summer

where a child was swinging

in the shade of a weeping willow.

Across the lawn another child

chanted the roses’ names: King’s

Ransom, Crimson Glory, Sheer Bliss,

while a woman wheeled her chair

among the beds and tilted her face

toward the sun.





As if that garden were real, the path

wide and smooth before it

narrowed and took unexpected turns,

and where there had been roses, suddenly

were ferns and mosses. Hosta dark and

striped, pale blooms on slender

stalks upraised against the sky.

Shadows of tangled vines beneath

a canopy of leaves.





As if for three seasons I had not

carried the weight of her life in mine

and had not seen bare branches blossoming

after a long winter, and had not heard

migrating Canadas returning to green waters.

As if I had never known the one who

grew for a time beneath my heart

kicking and turning in her watery world,

who was delivered into silence

one spring day.





Negative Space





I am letting these empty fields in mid-December

stand for all the places I have traveled through,

the men I might have loved, the women

I could have been, with the sun slanting across

the stubble of last year’s crops, dried seed pods

rattling in the wind. I am letting the branches

against the sky and the spaces between the branches

stand for all the time we never had.





Fear





Long after the light has moved

across her bedroom wall and out

into the night, years after the stationmaster

has pocketed his watch and turned away,

she can still hear the dogs howling

behind her house and across the fields,

just before the fast freight

rounds the bend, and her windows

rattle her awake, sensing disaster—

a pick-up truck stalled at the unmarked

crossing, a loose rail, something

abandoned in the shadows along

the tracks, her father driving home

drunk after a late night of cards.





Coming Home





i





Christmas day, driving into thick fog

among black cedars that appear

briefly, then dissolve around us.

Near the edges, fringes of fog like gauze

curtains moving across the trees, lifting

momentarily. A ribbon of brighter fog

floats like silk above the plowed fields and

weaves among the trees. In the distance,

wispy gray branches brush against the

sky’s pink scalp. As soft colors dissolve,

I doze in the moving car, the highway

humming beneath my feet, then wake

to a clear black sky and piercing stars.





ii





While we slept, night hardened into crystals

that stung our fingertips as we moved hands

along the metal rail that led from our room

down the wire mesh steps to the parking lot

where a few cars glistened in the morning sun.

Later, driving through Illinois on I-64

past Burnt Prairie and Grayville,

beneath a thin, cornflower blue sky,

a haze of trees circling the open fields,

something glinting in deep furrows,

quartz veins against black earth, icy pools

between plowed rows. We cross the narrow

Black River, and the road curves around the few

isolated hills. A cow stretches her neck toward

distant fields. A pick-up truck has stopped

beside a pond. White smoke rises from the trees.





iii





After miles of dead grasses and leafless trees,

we come across a few startling green fields. A flock

of small birds descending. Near the fence row

two trees grown so close they have become

a single tree, each branching out on the side

farthest away. There is no separating their roots,

deeply tangled beneath the earth.





iv





An hour from home, fingers of fog curl among

the upper branches, smooth the soft gray backs of

hills, slip among the trees. The road narrows,

following the curve of the land, and we begin

a slow descent to the river valley, the sky reduced

to a wedge of gray between the hills, rain on the river,

then open fields again and black rail fences marking off

irregular hill-shaped pastures. We drive beneath

a canopy of branches, following limestone walls

built by slaves a hundred years ago.





v





My mother’s living room is dark and quiet,

lit only by a table lamp and the colored

lights of the Christmas tree in the corner.

The walls hold paintings done by former students

in shades of green and blue, abstract seascapes

and clouds, a footbridge over rushing waters.

A rocking chair with arms carved into

dark swans glides through this room. An angel

rises out of a single piece of wood, her face pale

and featureless, her arms lifted and held

slightly back, revealing the hollow

blackened space between her wings.





vi





Late afternoon, I walk along streets

named Pocahontas, Shoshoni, Hiawatha,

Mojave, past tidy yards and neat brick

houses where yellow lights are coming on

in windows facing the street. Two men

lean against a truck and smoke, while

girls jump on a trampoline behind a house.

A young couple strolls down the middle of

the blacktopped street, holding hands. The

houses here are smaller than memory,

one-story brick with contrasting shutters,

modest Christmas trees in front windows,

red ribbons on the doors.

Even those places I went with my lover

now seem formal and quiet, and not

part of my past at all. The evergreens

tower over the eaves like childish drawings of

Christmas trees taped to the windows at school.

By the time I turn back, night is moving in

over the farm beyond the last houses,

roaming through back yards and

along the empty streets.





vii





Two days after Christmas, fog has frozen

on all the trees, encasing branches and twigs.

We enter through a door that has been wired

to notify the nurses if the old ones

try to leave to buy milk for their long-grown

children. We walk past the visiting room with its

red floral couches upholstered in plastic,

past angels made of linen handkerchiefs

fluttering among dark branches while

larger angels robed in silver guard the red

poinsettias. Along the hall, we read names

of shop-owners and teachers from another

time. The one we have come to see

is inching his wheeled chair forward

with his toes, singing under his breath,

“Just Molly and me and baby makes three.”





viii





Near campus on an overcast day,

we head east on Clayton, following the path

I used to walk the year I was thirteen,

past the empty lot where our house once stood,

past the Nazarene Church where my best friend

sang “How Great Thou Art” in a breathy soprano

while I played piano, where the youth

played kissing games in the basement after

Bible study. Then down a couple blocks and

left on Avondale, where my friend once

whispered that it was wrong for girls

to beat a boy at any game. Another left turn

and we are heading west on Jackson Street,

where I am suddenly eight years old, playing

beneath the evergreen in secret rooms

where the dark branches touch the ground

in my grandmother’s yard, or roller skating

over rough brick sidewalks and tree roots

to the corner store to get bread for sandwiches.





Just past the college football field, we park

in the circle drive before Pawling Hall,

where mom’s new office is located, the same

building where her father lived as a student

in the nineteen twenties, where fifty years later

I sat in philosophy class, debating what was real,

while Dr. Gragg stood on his desk, swatting

wasps that flew in the tall, narrow windows.

We enter through the door facing the street,

and my mother uses her master key to let us into

offices, classrooms, seminar rooms. We walk

the length of the building accompanied by

ghosts from our past, then exit out the back,

hoping the superstitions about doors aren’t true.





Kim Drew Wright





Spilt Ice





You said meet me at a motel room by the airport. You said it should be cheap. Carpet worn thin as your hair and my smile, walls stained a pattern like defunct Martha Stewart, crafty intelligence plastered over with decoys. I walked to the ice machine and saw a trucker, belt that should be demoted for jeans too low under a belly awning. He wanted to talk about the motorcycle trip he took from Key West to Miami back when his belt was top-notch job performance. Yawning, I wanted to reach my arm in the ice machine and freeze it off, slap it on his face till it fractured, shattered on the ground, and the maid mistook it for spilt ice. I





said, “That sounds nice,”

then walked back toward our room,

carrying my plastic bucket.

A jet cast its line down to me, wanting

to reel me up

with speculations of other





possibilities. I shook them off. Slammed

our rented door

shut. We





had sex like porn stars, until I hurt

and cried out for you to

come.





Afterwards, you

left before I did,

leaving my body

as evidence. I held

my face in the hot

shower spray,

splayed my hand

in your print, convincing

myself

of home.





Sitting in the Parking Lot of Wegmans Crying Over My Imaginary Breast Cancer Diagnosis





that I have been waiting for since I was nine years old. Now,

my youngest that age, and I can barely hold

my breath long enough for the mammogram tech to say





stay still, you can breathe later. I’ve had enough

scares to be nonchalant, but something about how

that letter was phrased, a casual washing

of hands, we recommend an MRI but find out





first, if your insurance covers it. So, I call—punch

numbers until a young man who sounds nice, like he might

live with his grandmother, kiss her cheek before getting

in his dented Camry and heading to work. He gets on





and says this call may be monitored for training purposes

and I’m just satisfied I’ve found a human voice, as I try to explain

my noncondition and he says that what I need to do is find

the procedure code, but he’ll warn me it’s likely not considered





preventative, even though the letter said no reason

for concern, enough dense tissue for radiologists to throw

their hands up, like saying don’t blame us if there’s a landmine

here—you’re too thick to see clearly. Go back in time,





your aunt’s black hair making silky carpets over heartpine.





Mistook





1.

a lifetime

ago, Georgetown, S.C.

a boy scrawls on a friend’s

work and I run, tattling

or seeking justice (however

you want to look at it)

end-of-the-day bell clanging,

teacher snapping at me to get in line

confusion of untied

feet and grubby back-

packs, order by bus routes





2.

later mama explains

she wasn’t angry at you, she knew

you didn’t do it

next day Miss I-forget-her-name

leans diplomatically, Empress of First Grade

soothes missed under-





3.

standing—then

a boy, hair summer corn silk

wrestles between bus aisles,

holds another, yanks

down pants of one who could have

lain in the soil of my granddad’s farm

(camouflage is not only a device for prey

animals) I turn, press my face to smeared glass,

driver oblivious while the air crackles like autumn husks





4.

or maybe it’s not so obvious, only a pale

nightgown given, fringed

neck, served in a white box

that year I learned to snap

she learned privilege has hierarchies

when my mom told me send it back





5.

a mobbed Eritrean man, only

standing at the worst bus stop—

shot, accused, bench-rammed—waiting

for justice that never stops, lured

to sleep by motion—a passenger losing her way





— after Haptom Zerhom was killed by Israeli guards and bystanders who mistook him for an assailant in a bus station attack October 18, 2015





Touched





—With thanks to James Tate’s “The Radish” and Terrance Hayes’ Golden Shovel technique.





AOL tells me 453 pilgrims died, trampled, when I

turn on my Mac. You can’t

believe how many junk emails accumulate even

overnight. I’m a touch ADD so I click on the death link and see

Mecca, or no, Mina, a dusty somewhere—god who

knows where—a middle east street where faceless faithful herd the

past breathlessly to toss pebbles at devils, actually now just 3 columns represent that enemy

and I recall crowds yesterday in DC for Pope Francis and wonder what being crushed is.





Elephants Standing





—for Richmond, VA





The moon is a white elephant.





I reach—pinch it between my forefinger

and thumb to pop it on my tongue,





where it dissolves like a melatonin tablet

you purchase at Walgreens—500 for $8.99.

The melting sounds like the sigh of 1,000

babies in their wombs and tastes

like protest chants at Standing Rock, sliding

down my dry throat, leaving cracks.





Lightning bugs think

they can illuminate the entire universe,

5 millimeters at a time. A multitude of insects

roar like we are on the Mother

Continent, remind us to be fearful

of clawed predators.





The moonlight tastes protest chants

at Standing Rock leaves crack.

Chief Seattle says,





If we do not own the freshness of the air

and the sparkle of the water, how

can you buy them?





The moon is an elephant—stranded.





Michael Jenkins





Namaste





If when I

make of my

hands a temple





you’re thinking gentle

palm to palm

to open heart





showing in part

how in you I

see the divine





know my bodymind

is posed sometimes

behind the symbol





my focus going

from feeling touched

to wanting to.





Among Birdsong and Bee Hum





1.

Now that I’m less

should I say desperate

to populate the planet





I’m better able to detect

that feminine animal signal

once lost in the static





back when I dialed

with the rubber end

of a blunt-tipped pencil





the late night AM

radio request line

clueless what to ask for





my numb ear cupped

to the plastic receiver’s

busy busy busy song





while south of town

on a guy-wired tower

a red beacon pulsed





in a code I felt

I alone was tuned to

urging me on and on and





2.

on the subject of her

blouse if you’ll allow

it was doing its duty





to conceal and reveal

as any magician knows

the breathless audience wants





and with a flourish of fabric

floral and lavender and sheer

as the bounty of iris around us





feathering and filtering the light

floating over the garden’s

dark saber-shaped leaves





thrust up like some threat

as if spring were all conquest

or anything less than delights





and shadows at weightless play

among birdsong and bee hum

as petals unbutton themselves





3.

which begs the question why

man ever averted his eyes

to search among the stars





when the gods were burning

here in broad daylight

in the steam off her coffee





her eyes flashing bright

as the green-backed beetle

in the beak of the crow





who nodded and let go

from atop the half fence

a laugh so fresh and raw





I swear I couldn’t tell

if I’d been freed

or I’d been caught.





The Garden Next Door





I make up for my ordinary good morning

by praising her peonies.





She makes up for her grass green eyes

by casting them down as if she’s shy.





I make up for the half fence between us

by half-leaning into it.





She makes up for no makeup

by letting her freckles shine.





I apologize for ivy on her side.

She admits she’s over-fertilized.





The mind has a mind of its own sometimes.

You can’t make up for that.





Not in the way she makes up for her blouse

by wearing no bra.





Nor how my hand has smudged

a pledge on my polyester heart.





But she makes up for my marital status

with her marital status.





Honeysuckle writes in the lattice

its own tangled story.





We make up for what we don’t say

by what we don’t say.





Nicky Nicholson-Klingerman





Black Summers





RIP, Kathlean Hamilton, Jan. 26, 1924 – Jan. 16, 2018





Faces pressed

against thick thighs,

hands held high

and mouths agape

to wait

for thick slabs of jowl bacon,

salty rice

and fried eggs.

Lines of chili peppers

hang on the wall;

peaches pop

into hot waiting mouths.

Strings of beans

running around Grandma’s garden;

we dig for red and white sweet potatoes

like we’re diggin’ for gold.

Summer is

my memory of you

standing at a stove

held closed by a stick

and an old leather belt,

lit by matches

and burnt fingers.





Nicholson Hill





Deep, deep

in the forest of Mississippi

where the real Mississippi lives

is a cemetery,

its lines erased by trees

and blackness,

filled with decaying bones

and teeth

and sinew.





A girl walks by,

seventeen and almost married,

dirt poor and no shoes.

She comes to the plantation

where her ancestors

lived and died and never left.





She digs through the earth with her hands

and plucks out eyes—

Brown, sharp eyes—

a curved nose with wide nostrils,

straight, white teeth,

black, black hair with a hint of injun,

a backbone threaded with steel, strengthened by the lash

and calloused feet that would never go bare.

She eats the red, graveyard dirt

drenched in our blood.

She chews and swallows

then licks her teeth.

With her hands, she forms this child in her womb

so she can take her family with her.

She is the first to leave this plantation,

the only home they’ve known since—





She stands up and carries

a child with a chance to survive.





Chalk Lines





Let us draw ourselves

outside the lines that limit us,

outside the chalk lines

that display us

laid out on the pavement

shot down by the truth

that our lives don’t matter.





Old Gods





We rolled over our gods,

first with wagons

and scythes to the grain.

Then we dug into the earth

for black gold

and coughed up black smoke.

We threw garbage into river mouths

choked their air

and clogged their veins of clay.





Costume





My culture is not a coat

or a hat

that you can try on.

It is not a tan that fades over time.

It is not a fun new eyeshadow.

It is not a phase

or a tool for rebellion.





It is blood

and bone,

chains on my wrists

and a rope around my neck.

It is ritualistic dances

and worship of our mothers.

It is everything

and nothing to you.





Doni Faber





Man Moth





You call at 4 am

looking for someone,

finding me.

Yet my sleep-thickened skull

doesn’t let in the realization

that I’m the someone you’re looking for.





We forget to exchange names

as though the intimate folds of night

have jettisoned us past our status as strangers.





“Do you know what time it is?” I ask

not upset, just tired.

“No,” you say.

The word splinters into awkward silence,

waiting for contrails

to lead us back

into friendlier skies.





Maybe you need to hear that I hear

the pain edged in your silence,

that I didn’t mean to be

its bearer.





I fumble for an apology,

a key that won’t turn in the door

without another hand

to coax it into relenting

its flat denial of my entry





like the I’m-sorry’s

we say too often to ourselves

and not to the people

who have no idea we need

their forgiveness.





Please forgive the edge of my sword.

I meant only to knight you,

but I see I have drawn blood.





Imagine, we mourn the death of a moth,

even when it is we ourselves

who have crushed its ordinary wings.

No longer capable of flight,

all that remains

is its body-dust imprint

against the glass.





I will brush the dust

into the indentations of my fingerprint

if only this would soothe you into believing

that I will remember you

not as ordinary,

but as a vibrant, trembling being,

one whose like

will never pass this way again,





that I would not relinquish you

to someone else

who slept through your crisis call

and is no more qualified than I

to respond to someone in need,

that it is late

and I know how lonely 4ams can be.





If I inhale long enough,

can I take back those words

that sent us spinning to the precipice

of awkwardness?





“Tell me,”

I would like the opportunity to say,

sending this man moth back to you.





An Attempted Thank You





I ring your doorbell

and hear you yell at your dogs to relax.

I smile as you open the door

and I hand you your gift.





“What is this for?”

“Just because,” I say

not willing to finish with, “you’re great.”





“Where did you find this paper?”

“I made it myself,” not speaking of the long hours

shaking the pulp and leaves onto a frame,

then compressing it between layers of cloth

until it adhered together

and how it turned out all gloopy the first few times.





You carefully slit open the paper to reveal

a framed photo of a clump of dark weeds growing in a field.

And you don’t know what to say.





I speak into the silence.

“I like it because it doesn’t seem

like the sort of thing most people would notice,

let alone take a picture of.”





What I don’t say is

those overlooked weeds remind me of you:

The “I love you’s,” you’ve said plain and simple

without receiving anything in return.





I settle for,

“I hope you like it,”

but even this sounds too demanding,

like I expect to see it hanging in a place of prominence.





I want you to know

that all the times you’ve continued to care

for those whom no one else cares for,

each time you sat with a loner at lunch—

that has been a gift to me.





Maybe if I tell you how you give of yourself

each time you play intensely with your daughter,

the way you bring me into your experience of reading with every new book

and always greet passersby with a friendly hello,

you would know

that I see you

as the remarkable being you are.





To you, these habits may just seem

like the weeds of day-to-day living,

but to me, they are memorable.

Memorable enough to photograph.





Keeping Watch





As day slips behind mountains on tiptoe

and the distant blue beacon of the weather tower

blinks its cloudy forecast

through a window too easy to break,

my joey nestles in the pouch of my arm.

She does not notice the blinking light

nor the crack in the glass,

threatening to grow bigger.





She will not be snatched by a fanatic

through a broken window pane and taken to worship in the foothills

nor be threatened by the stillness that seeps

into bodies raised in incubators instead of with human touch.





I serve as her platoon mate,

keeping watch for snipers who wait in the dark

so she doesn’t have to.

She will never hear gun fire,

only the calming break of waves,

as an electronic turtle simulates the sea.





I can still see the slivers of blue

through her gently pressed eyelids.

Her feet prod me to make sure

I am at her side,

knees worn from intrepid exploring,

and toes curled as if clinging

to invisible tree branches.





Just now, she whimpers

and I soothe her with a stroke across her arm.

Her chest rises and falls

and rises again, each breath reinforcing

her arrival as the apex of my life.

Her breath steadies into sleep,

wrapping every jeweled moment between now and her birth

into an unbreakable ligament of peace.





I wait for years to procure words

for her to tell of moondreams washing the day

from the back of her eyelids.

Sleep without fear, little one.

I will keep watch till then.





Holes With a Few Roses Tossed In





If the turtle could break out of its shell,

allow its rib cage to recede back into its chest

to embrace a slumbering heart

would it still be exposed to idly prodding fingers?





If Michaelangelo weren’t a mere painter,

encasing the small but infinite gap

between God’s and Adam’s fingertips

in a static scene,

could they some day touch?





Instead of waiting for an invitation,

the vagabond would break through his self-appointed isolation

and grasp hands in a now-electrified circle

whose circuit would be incomplete without his pulse.

Someone would smile at him across the circle.

And that would be enough.





The widow would no longer kneel by the side of an empty hole,

staring into its unfilled grey.

She would know that God has reached him.

She would cast off her wilting roses

and fill the hole in,

treading softly atop the dirt

so it wouldn’t collapse.





When she thinks about the circles upon circles of pulses she has yet to touch

and recognizes that each pulse she has already reached

is still a part of her heart beat,

she would no longer have need to bury them

for their memory is not yet dead.





Barrier





Laughter stumbles across my threshold.

I want to know the joke, so I can laugh too.

But he’s too drunk to see my reflection,

though the lights inside are blazing

and he is submerged in darkness.





I switch off the light and peep out the window

as though I’m peeping in, violating someone’s sanctum

when really, I’m looking at my own yard.





A throng of college kids toss beer cans

into my yard, one pissing on my lawn.

The laughter crashes raucous around me,

every racist one-liner leaving me tamping down dynamite.





I explode outside, with phone held high in defense

though any image captured would be uselessly blurred.

If getting drunk, smoking, and having sex

is what it means to belong,

I’ll fail the captcha test.





Belonging is knowing that others

accept the smallness of you,

that you can be fragile

without the fear of breaking.





I want laughter

to hold my hand

in the dimness of a movie theater,

even if he is silent.





I want him to wrap me in his arms

in the midst of a party

where my hearing aid is useless.





But so far, the light inside is too bright.

I’ve tried to find him by switching it off.

But then no one can see me at all.





M. Underwood





My Small Song to Your Great Heart





(Chinese Dissident Who Won Nobel While Jailed, Dies at 61. “New York Times,” July 13, 2017)





You’re going somewhere new. Don’t be afraid of getting lost. . . . The dark is something to sound out too. —Colum McCann





You have gone somewhere new, Liu Xiaobo,

though we still need you, with your rare

courage, in these dark times. Your prison cell

and your hospital bed, where your cancer’s care

came too late to pretend to make you well,

are now as empty as your Nobel chair.

(And we, unprisoned as we are, face that fate

bestowed by senators who have said—to our faces—

that “no one’s died for lack of healthcare.”)

To that end they bound your mouth

and your body in medical parole—

kept from speaking and in pain—

in a hospital in Shenyang,

a shoddy pretense meant to fool

the world now watching, which also heard

your wife’s video to a friend:

there is nothing left to do. Your wife, who was kept

an imprisoned cricket in a bamboo cage,

in the home you’d shared, and there she wept,

the wedding photo in her hands, your smiles with no end.

You wrote to her, when allowed, and without rage:

Even if I am crushed into powder,

I will embrace you with ashes.





And so it is and you are gone,

but your name and face are known

to the world, another martyr to the cause of peace,

who vowed to stay in place, to earn the right to speak,

and shared the terror of staring down tanks—

with matching flags unfurled—with young idealists from whose ranks

was written the charter which showed the way

toward democracy and change.

Thank you, Liu Xiaobo,

for your courage and your light,

and the model to try our own,

to honor you by standing firm,

in the face of fear, for what is right,

and to vow to keep the voice of hate

from poisoning the very fight.





Whistle and Rasp





For Sally, in gratitude





Don’t waste a moment in dread,

Feeling the burn of the rope

As it passes through your palms

As you grip it tight to hold

The ship fast, the whole tipping world

From slipping on its axis. You know

What to do: Stop. Listen to the whistle

Of your breath as it enters your body

And the rasp of it as it leaves. Then hear

The sound of fledging sparrows—

Think how hard it is to learn to fly!

Sit outside—it is only July,

Though your mind leaps ahead

To what is coming. Right now, it is July.

And look: there are hummingbirds, two,

So tiny, they are minute

Because they are new

And even they are learning how

To deftly maneuver in time and space

And in all directions. But they are trapped,

Having mistaken porch blue for sky

And the light for sun—grasp each one

Loosely in your opened fists—

Then release, into true sky.





The Seal on the Sardine Tin





The word stench—

think canning factory,

conveyor belt of sardines,

a steadily rolling mercury

silver on matte black, flashing slivers

of former life with bones too thin to ossify—

stench is like the clinch

of an unwanted hug—there is music,

but not the music you like; it is work

to be here now, to grip

the slippery fish with thin-gloved fingers

and tip them head to tail into the tin

which, sealed, vanishes, a kind of magic,

into the empty next, which is where

you want to be, want to know,

to scissor a paper square of blue and white

and carefully wrap each tin,

your life within it, the gift,

and on it the small seal centered,

silently barking in the snow.





In Other Words





It’s opening mail with either industry

or indifference that distracts from the danger—

not of heartache or news

of debt or sudden and unexpected loss

that serves to sucker punch the thoughtless breath—

but that other danger that with as swift a kick

aligns our past and future with now

the way pain and fear can do with ease.





Either way we are distracted when it happens—

in a flash, as sharp as a shard of broken glass,

followed by a disbelieving pause . . .

Then pain that briefly sears like flame.





A tree can kill or maim with falling limbs

or crushing trunks, with massive splinters and with fire,

but this, this thin edge of pulp refined to fiber,

cut from starched white rolls,

folded, gummed, and sealed

with the stuff of life: bills

for phone, heat, house, and health,

a condolence note or birthday card.

It’s these we nick our fingers on,

under the nail or along the length

of the thumb’s soft pad.

And though it happens again

and again the ebony giraffe

stands unused and penned

in the chipped ceramic corral of pens,

leans long neck forward,

legs and ears canted back

against an invisible sirocco,

its soft blade ready to pierce or bless,

or simply bear the role of witness.





Litany: And We Will





For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost,

something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.

—Mary Oliver





We are an army of poets

with holes in our socks

and sorrow in our hearts

and we will take you on

and we will match you

and like samurai use syllables

to slice through deception;

the volume of our outcry

will be like bagpipes

on the clifftops,

keening for the fallen

and reminding the standing

of the meaning of fortitude;

and we will march forth

emerging from solitude

bearing banners and pennants

and we will not be daunted

by sly stratagems or guns;

we will not cower or cover

our words with our hands

but proclaim them with courage

and hear each other out

and have each other’s backs

and persevere in the darkness

lighting our way with our words.





Carson Pynes





Diet Coke





For Ruth





She wakes,

too early each morning.

Drinks a cloud of cigarette

smoke,

a silver-lined

can of Coke.

No sugar,

just Aspartame,

the chemical name

of withdrawal,

headache,

craving.





Her once-blonde hair

is spiked gunmetal,

An ex-Marine-

turned-schoolteacher

with solder in her voice,

her mani-pedi,

her Oklahoma manners,

cursing

battery-acid blue

over imperfect

pancakes.





I’m awake,

too early

on a Saturday

hungover,

headache,

craving.

She’s lost one

breast to cancer,

an Amazon,

my best friend’s mother

is the sunrise

at the end of the world.





Honey, she says,





when life hands you lemons,

you paint that shit gold.





I Was a Teenage Mean Girl





For L, and for who we used to be





I don’t need your malicious charity,

a vile and multipurpose contraption

fake like the holographic portrait of Jesus Christ

for sale at a kiosk in the mall where we meet boys.





It’s hard to forget your face,

Sloppy, bland, (I fix your mascara)

violent and slick as you call me “whore”

a banshee screaming at a Halloween house party.

You: a bare-midriff baseball player,

me in booty shorts and butterfly wings.





How could I forget our years spent

living in, like, the high-school language ghetto?

The empty bottles of Bombay Sapphire,

your fake fingernails endlessly flashing like

witch-lights in the desert.





Then there was lunch at the Wildflower Cafe,

salmon caesar salad with capers and a lavender-peach smoothie,

while outside it was snowing and you offered me a cigarette

from a crumpled pack of 27’s. I inhaled,

and thought about the rhythm and blues of malfunctioning lungs.





Moonlighting





For Mom





When I was very small

you took me outside, at night,

to photograph the moon.





I wore duct-tape shoes,

you carried a tripod.





I have never told you this,

but with your lens pointed to the sky,

I thought you were taking a self-portrait.





I still believe that.





Bucky Ignatius





Rear View





Dandridge Drive-Thru Beverage

is gone, love child of a general

store and covered bridge,

choked by convenience

chains, economy of scale:

gone, soon forgotten.





No more crony clubhouse

for jokers and smokers

to pass hot nights staring

into the slow parade,

grading the trade, hoping

to catch some thigh.





A species born endangered,

vanishing breed thinner

by one. Its skeleton stands

time-worn, forlorn, most

of the parts still good

for something—maybe





a museum on the outskirts

of town, oil drum around

back for pitched empties

and spit, neon sign starting

to stutter, hot rod dreams

up on blocks somewhere.





Sonnet with Reptiles





Before the Chianti

is opened, before

the pesto is ground,

I’m already high





on basil oiled fingers,

gush of tomato

juice on my chin,

dazzled by darting





Lazarus lizards,

captured and brought

to Ohio from Italy,

who rule the rocks





in my garden, their own

Mediterranean dream.





Hide and Seek





My kitchen is a clutter of purloined

letters hiding in plain sight. Odd

shaped things—Cuisinart blade,

French press plunger—come to mind,

but not to hand without a search.

Eyes methodically scan the surfaces:

counter, three sinks, two tables,

the dishrack. Repeat. Add the floor,

look behind and under, more slowly,

with a curse this time. That vegetable

knife is too large, too brown to hide

in familiar stacks and scatters of glass

and silver where every meal starts

with a prayer to Saint Anthony.





“Something Old, . . .”





A gentle joke mingled

at my second wedding,

“They’re registered at Seven Hills Resale.”





True enough, things I like best

have often been discarded

in the common market.





Home-made, well worn

things, not wallflowers,

participants in the fray.





Companions for hand and eye,

things someone might find

worth trying to mend.





End of September





for Carl Sagan





waning fire down

to quivering lumps

of light, furnace

orange and charcoal





one triangle tongue

of flame in the corner

of the bed flickers out





comfort, warmth, wisps

of smoke, brush of hair

from the crown

of a lover’s head





these things and more,

everything emanating

from ashes of dead stars





Violet Mitchell





No One Lives at 1962 McCollum Road





wraparound





porch ties up the





stench of smoke





and 8x10s of me

and my brother

and cousin Kevin,





one from every





year but now





upstairs—





a ghost smoking Marlboros





next to the lady who





rented the top floor,





gone since August





and fled the Ohio farmhouse—





brought some whiskey to





the attic washed-out lemon





party—sour but real—





for Grandfather Rusty’s strict mother:





sworn Catholic, first





owner of the house,





rudely sat on his lighter

forgetting things could still





be solid—





doorknob spins, Kevin





crashes with





extra meds in hand





Rusty tells his life story





ends different





every time I ask





Deleting Emails the Week After Kevin Died





Sympathy note from a distant

great uncle who plays bass:

Know that I am thinking about you

and playing as much music as I can





for you right now. I can hear his

strings stretch and swirl in notes

I don’t know how to read. In his

hands, there’s a blueberry smoothie





with lavender foam the same shade

as my hair. The straw is too small,

but he’s trying hard to balance his

breath with the ground-up plants.





I wish I could draw on the bricks

of my building the way he can play.

I could remember the sound of just,

and forget the piercings in the crux.





[worked hard]





Remington





I sit with my inherited

typewriter under rainbow

strung lights framing a frost-bitten

window. My fingernails chip

and rip when they catch

between the dusty keys.

The number 1 is missing

and at first I thought I broke it

but then I learned old Remingtons

don’t have 1s, so people

just used a lowercase “L”

instead. The stains on my fingers

from the ribbon smudge everything

I touch and I wonder if like

Midas I can turn the cat into

ink. The jags in the ribbon

older than my mother remind me

of teeth: baby teeth riding

the subway, yellowing teeth

hooked in my clenched jaw,

a baby tooth I found in a creaky

chest from McCollum Road that

I flung away because who

even knows whose it was.





A Wednesday I Can’t Remember





“The heart lies to itself because it must.” —Jack Gilbert





The sale

sticker on

the shampoo bottle is crinkled from

water-dry-water-dry and

reminds me of a sun if it had





a big

“1.99”

painted on it. The last of bacon

is a puddle of grease

and unhealthy burnt fat bits swimming





in the

American

Dream. At work, a ghost scrap of lint has its

toes trapped in the black frame

of the window. It shakes in the breeze,





forcib-

ly dancing.

Some sort of machine hiding in the

walls regulates the air

and washes the silence over with





an on-

going wave

that we filter into as silence.

When I looked down at my therapist’s

shoes, trying to avoid





her eyes

as mine dripped,

I said we have the same water bottle.

There’s glitter on the floor

from a dollar-store hat that





shed its

skin once the

cake was all gone. Dark brown lipstick on

a girl’s lips are perfect

until she opens her mouth, when you





can see

where the pen-

cil ends and her skin that hardly spends any time in the

light begins. A dryer

sheet fell out of my clean





clothes, and

a tangled

grayed silver USB cord is there

with a thin black sock that isn’t mine.





Sam Collier





Sanctuary for the Chosen Lost





We buried our fingers in fleece

until our skin shone.

Lanolin. Warm sheep faces

rubbing our shins. Dirt

packed so hard only hard rain

could ease it. Jacketed,

we closed our throats, scattered

geese, penned sly-eyed goats

gave blind ponies, broken ducks,

a feast of sun. In gravel dawns

we soaked our shoes in grass

and shoveled shit. The sky opened us

with its blade of wind.

Your body a ladder of light. Mine

a pillar of salt. Dozens

of birds between us, their chests

too swollen for their hearts

to fill. One time a pig fell over,

couldn’t get up. Bad hip.

Huge. We strained to lift him,

a sling around his belly, his eyes rolling,

his bristle-bare skin so human

I looked away. Strange

intimates. He shuddered, shrieked:

indignity of the treacherous body. I

saw. I saw. Sometimes my hands

betrayed me. Sometimes I sang

then thinking, caught myself,

covered it, turning my mouth

to the open mouth of the fan,

generous gale of its silence.





Nocturne In An Empty Sea





In 2007 a bowhead whale was caught off the coast of Alaska with fragments of a harpoon in its shoulder bone. The harpoon dated back to the late 1800s, indicating that the whale was at least 115 years old.





Salt in your mouth and your eyes clouds, you scrape crustaceans

and drift through winters, calling to the secret wells of water





in vowels shaped for love. There were years

when no one came. There were long years





when you thought you might be last. Might be final.

But sometimes from the liquid deep, a beautiful dark shape,





and then sometimes a calf, pressed shining

to the surface, swelled fat on milk and strong enough





to leave you. Nothing lasts. The world is warming and that old ache

still grumbles at your back—a spear carved in a lost century,





so men could read of plagues and angels by the blaze

of your lit fat, or split and steam your bristled teeth





to bind their daughters’ ribs. They struck you, but you sank away,

blood darkening the sea. You healed. You’ve carried the iron





hooked in your bone for so long now it’s part of you,

driving you on. You have no word for loneliness. You have no words





for summer. Yours is the kingdom of ice and wind. You swim

and the world spills before you into songs of blue and grey,





you crack the ice and the air is a rush of sweet cold, you breathe

and midnight comes again with its purple dust of stars.





Meryl Natchez





Equivocal Activist





It’s Friday. We pull out of the Paris climate accord

and I get my hair cut while Aretha bridges

troubled water. I could lay me down,

but I doubt that would accomplish anything.

Would anything accomplish anything?

Still, I’m uncomfortable doing nothing,

an equivocal activist, pretty sure

I can’t count on my teammates,

jumpy as a handful of BBs

dropped on stone.





I can see how restful it would be

to believe in the simple solution.

Instead, heavy-footed,

I tread the Earth, while the sun rises

and sets without comment,

and the chickens, remorseless,

search out any protein around,

even if it’s the last Doloff cave spider,

as dragonflies ricochet above us

endlessly stitching

the tattered sky

and I do what passes for the best I can.





Beginning of an incomplete list





Worry prevents harm. You have to worry x7 minutes to prevent each bad thing from happening.

Thinking it will happen will jinx it. Thinking it won’t happen will make it happen. If you tell another person it will happen, it definitely won’t happen.

If you tell someone how much money you have, you will lose it all immediately.

You can’t play the car radio when you’re driving around looking for your lost kid.

If the sticky, erratic key turns easily, you’re going to have a good day.

If you change the sheets, you get well faster.

If you have two flashlights, you’ll have them forever. If you have one, it will lost constantly. (This also applies to scissors.)

Cancellation of insurance causes disaster specific to your policy.

Yelling makes the cake fall.

It’s lucky to see a snake.

There is a complicated and ever changing set of items you shouldn’t eat. Eating them causes cancer to start growing in your body. This can be stopped by not eating them.

Breast examination causes lumps.

It’s a sin to eat super expensive food in a restaurant.

You have to change your earrings after something bad happens.

Right thinking makes seeds grow. Seeds know what right thinking is.

Seeing a beautiful bird is a good omen.

Visual contact with loved ones prevents harm.

The earthquake will happen when your loved ones are on the other side of the bridge.

You have to wash new clothes before you wear them.

If someone’s dog rejects you it’s because you are a fundamentally bad person.

Leaving home is fraught with insurmountable obstacles.

If God exists, he is not a woman.





Cheese Ball





Whole factories are dedicated to this,

pillars of cheddar large enough

to bear a second story, and wire

that cuts the slabs. Machines

add the precise measure of port wine,

according to Michele Bean, Cheese Ball Expert.





The process takes a long time.

Great steel vats churn and burble,

a conveyer trundles nuts, paddles

spin the balls along till not a scintilla of cheese shows,

all glossed with nutty skin. This must

be a metaphor for something: children

moving through the school system,

or what happens when primitive tribes

encounter matches and carbon steel.





Maybe we’re all just cheese balls,

starting from something simple, like milk,

pummeled and slashed

and adulterated and finally extruded

in a shape of use to someone

with a sense of humor

and an insatiable appetite.





Sleepwalking





Each night sleep asserts its mysterious imperative

as the mind ceases to brace itself

against its own undoing, against what lurks in the back

of the dark, the bad luck

and cryptic privilege

of human being: water protein marrow fat, those

convolutes of DNA that say

bleary blue bright brown iris

say barrel legs willow stalks, hair that never grays

or drifts off, the dickey or unflappable heart,

the canny fingers and tricky intelligence

I rely on

because what else have I got?





And even though it doesn’t feel like I am merely plasma

in a permeable membrane interacting with air and water

and prejudice and language into which mist

I find myself plunked,

occasionally I glimpse

that it’s true, everything fluid,

everything affecting everything else

so that the racist rants of the attacker in Portland

infuse a gritty particulate into the common air,

cold bone fragments make it hard to breathe,

many small knives press against the very flesh of my very neck,

and everywhere clamor, the scrabble for or against

and I am smack in the middle of it:

rage, righteousness, acts later analyzed and repudiated,

but here and now

before sleep comes to claim me

with its car wrecks and crumbling teeth, I acknowledge

that I understand nothing,

not on any team

and on every team at once, connected,

for better and worse

to everything.





William Godbey





Manuscript





Our last great American novel has been broken

across thousands of ragged pieces of cardboard.

Scribbled on by invisible men and women

with no welcome mats, surrounded by the red glare

of neon liquor storefronts and styrofoam cup wallets.





These black marker fragments of spent time,

ripped from moving boxes and orange crates,

blow across hazy bus stops and concrete islands.

They litter beneath our smoldering purple mountains.





Phrases, pleas, prayers slouch unread by the people

white-knuckling their steering wheels

with doors locked and windows sealed, frightened

to make eye contact with anything but the broad stripes

of yellow on the spacious highways.





Rescuing these signs,

your arms full, almost bursting,

is too brave for a young heart freshly strung

on the flagpole. They’ll only become heavier

the more you lift.





Let them rest, decay.

Turn the key to your engine.

Roll over this vulnerable kindling,

the way wildfire is blind to poppies.





hide & seek





I found my voice in the bottom of a Scottish well.

Grunting the wooden cover ajar, I peered

through the gooey darkness that was muffling him.

He was draped in gray moss & crumbling poker chips,

shaking how a mouse in my palm would after a moonless night

spent in a cat’s alley.

No sunlight had turned his skin seashell white,

a stern look or warm gaze would’ve cracked him open

& loosed the stench of a rotting jack-o’-lantern.

I spotted his toes, curling black from the soggy cold

that was sucking the teaspoons of air

out of his raisin lungs.

He squinted up at me with navy red eyes, his fear a barb

into the liferaft I had scribbled his name on years ago

& kept chained to my daydreams.

His arms were constellations of pinprick bruises

contouring towards nails scraped raw from desperation

to scale this drainpipe of bricks, away from this quiet prison.

My voice opened & closed his mouth, his dissolving tongue

unable to pick the words between his crowded teeth

that wouldn’t melt from a whisper’s heat.

The goosebumps that rippled around my chest

as I had imagined our reunion, were now caught in my throat.

We stared into each other, love & repulsion thickening

into a yellow cough syrup that time refused to swallow.

The sound of a crow pierced the distance, shattering

the pink Scotland dawn around my hesitation.

I grabbed the cover & yanked

it back across the well’s grim opening.

My voice’s O of betrayal rang louder than his silence,

but I had been searching for too long, the well was deep

& it was my turn to hide.





A Corn Field in Los Angeles





I strung up my skeleton

on the front lawn sycamore,

the trunk dangling rotten bark.

my neighbors asked me what it’s for





it’s my scarecrow for the dark.





when night streaks across the 605,

his wings smother the horizon

strafing Eichlers with midnight napalm,

and while you quiver under your bed sheets

my skeleton jangles and sways,

but will not snap.





just how lamb’s blood dries, evening

passes over my skeleton

but will crash through your houses,

your bones, pecking at what eats away at you.

a lunar spotlight on whatever insecurities

you squeeze beneath your mattress,

as he drags the husk that’s left of you

out with the stalks of sunrise.





my neighbors gape as I hobble back inside

to slump on my kitchen floor, wait

to welcome my old friend,

with a bottle of gin wrapped in a brown bag,

spineless and safe.





Don Hogle





Austin Wallson Confesses





I had a Known Traveler Number with TSA Pre-Check from the Department of Homeland Security. I’d received the Latin Award in junior high school. Certainly, I was up to the task.





My mentor was a scion of the Scranton Lace Company. He advised I wear a hand-tied wig to disguise myself. We chose a holiday when the staff flew kites in the park and the Marsh of Epidemics was uncharacteristically illness-free.





Once inside the reception hall, I located the Fragonard that hid the safe where the Compendium was kept. The adjoining rooms were filled with enamelware, mostly from the Middle Ages.





As I began to spin the tumblers, I noticed the tessellated floor had been mathematically tiled by a pattern-burring machine. It could mean only one thing: metaphorically, the music was about to stop, and I was without a chair.





Qui gladio ferit, gladio perit. I sat cross-legged on a tufted velvet settee and reviewed my Miranda rights, as lasers striated the gallery and alarms began to shriek.





The Marquis de Levallois Dishes the Neighbors after Dinner





They act like they’re in love in public, but there’s nothing dove-like about them. They’re particles in the Hadron Collider, dressed up in evening clothes. It’s said when they first ran into each other at the Dutch embassy in Paris, it was nearly tectonic—the Himalayas forming over pheasant, purée and a mediocre red.





Her people are the Charbonneaus, and that black line has left its mark on her beauty—she has the mouth of a monkfish. His father was the monarch of a principality absorbed into Nice, and he is now, more or less, the king of all those nice Niçois.





I rarely have them over; they’re too volatile for bridge, and they frighten the dogs. May I offer you another digestif?





Death Comes with Luggage





When Death arrived at the door, it was not as a hooded figure shrouded in black, but rather a dark, shapeless mass with hands. The hands clutched the retractable handle of a large black suitcase, the kind too many people check on overseas flights.





All she said was—Time to go. Previously, on similar occasions, I’d tried to cry out but could produce only a faint rasping sound. This time, I yelled as loudly as I could—No! No!





I woke, certain I’d actually shouted. But no one came running to my room to see if I were all right. The old house remained silent, and beyond the bedroom window, the darkness was all around us.





Contributor Notes





Laura Apol teaches creative writing and literature at Michigan State University. Her poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies, and she is the author of several award-winning collections of her own poems: Falling into Grace; Crossing the Ladder of Sun; Requiem, Rwanda; Celestial Bodies; With a Gift for Burning (forthcoming); and Nothing but the Blood (forthcoming).





Sarah Blanchard has recently returned to writing poetry and short fiction after spending several decades as a business teacher, corporate marketer, non-fiction writer, and facility manager for an astronomical observatory in Hawai’i. Several of her early poems were published in Calyx, Welter, Conscience, The Planetary Report, and The Red Fox Review. She currently works as a real estate agent and lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband, three horses, three dogs and several chickens.





lauren a. boisvert is a poet and a pisces from Florida. Her work has been published in Spy Kids Review, Mochila Review, Coffin Corner, and elsewhere. She tweets @myldstallyns.





Sam Collier is a poet, playwright, and theater artist. Her poems have been published in Iron Horse, Mortar Magazine, The Puritan, Liminal Stories, Guernica, and elsewhere. Her plays have been developed and/or produced by the Chicago Theatre Marathon, PTP/NYC, New Ground Theater, and Theater Nyx. Sam holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and is a 2017-18 member of the Goodman Theatre Playwrights Unit. She teaches with the National Writers Series of Traverse City.





Doni Faber enjoys libraries, singing in a band, and emergent homeschooling. She is a retired slam poet, boothie, and third grade teacher. She has written a biography of her grandpa who dedicated his life to making people laugh. This is her first publication. You can find her book reviews at foldedpages distillery.com





William Godbey’s work has appeared in several publications, including the Chiron Review, Misfit Magazine, and Slipstream Press. He is currently pursuing a BA in English from California State University Long Beach, where he currently lives. He is 22 years old.





Zoë Harrison, a twenty-year-old Montanan who has only seen a Broad-leaved forest once and found it quite too short. Though she would go back in a second if it meant escaping the gray slush of a February rain.





Don Hogle was the winner of the 2016 Hayden’s Ferry Review poetry contest as selected by Alberto Rios among other awards. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Chautauqua, The Hartskill Review, The Inquisitive Eater (The New School), Jenny (Youngstown State University), Stone Canoe, South Florida Poetry Journal, Pocket Change and Shooter and A3 Review in the U.K. among others. He lives in Manhattan. www.donhoglepoet.com





Bucky Ignatius is a semi-reformed hippie who has spent most of his 70-plus years in or near Cincinnati, where he now tends a large eccentric garden and a small comically curious cat. A chapbook of fifty short poems, Fifty Under Fifty was published by Finishing Line Press in 2015. For meager wages and inspiration, he operates a century-old elevator in a former factory that now houses more than a hundred working artists.

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