Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets will run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.
To read more about the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, including a complete list of our wonderful volunteer poets and to read their poems, please click here.
The nine volunteers for September 2014 are Heather Bourbeau, Harmony Button, Sam Cha, Merie Kirby, Lisa Ludden, David Rawson, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Emily Van Kley, and Jessica L. Walsh. Read their full bios by clicking here.
Please follow their work (by clicking “Follow” on the bottom of the page), and feel free to acknowledge their generosity and creativity with a show of your admiration and support by donating on their behalf to Tupelo Press. (Click here to donate, scroll down to the form at the bottom, and put a contributor’s name in the “honor” field.) Just imagine what a challenge it is to write 30 new poems in 30 days!
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your offer, a brief bio, and three sample poems and warm up your pen!
Day 19 / Poems 19
Shifting Gears / by Heather Bourbeau
the days are shortening
and the work feels long
shoulders round as if
to meet in Maori welcome
ride home/ remnants
of morning rain
late summer baptism,
birds feasting on snails
tires on wet asphalt
muscle memories of
floating between two hills—
three-speeds, one friend—
without pause, without awareness
of cars at crossroads,
small town logic and
the confidence of eight-year-olds
tonight, through Berkeley hills
down slope accelerations
hair lift, breath deep
lips part, throaty almost laugh release
back arch, invite blades to kiss
savor the long set of the sun
Before Me, She / by Harmony Button
(with thanks to Kathryn Cowles for her Eleanor poems)
1. was born-again, louder this time
2. born with too much blood
3. three hearts: one for past and future, one to fill the gap inside her chest
4. no prongs or holes, not a single one
5. just one big silent eye
6. (how can we not be seeing, all the time?)
7. could spread herself so thin, not even maps would mean a single thing
8. not a reader, but could see; superior word-looker
9. in winter when the world was tied too tight in pajamas, would press her forehead to the floorboards and believe in wormholes; fell though wormholes to the future; found the future much the same as me
10. needless to say
11. was prone to small addictions; leaned away from meat
12. was not shy
13. not shy but often remained silent so’s to keep
14. her body in one piece: knives and fire were inherently off limits
15. as was sleep. Too many people could have seen: internal flickers, cosmos dust –
16. ate the crusts off bread, gave the squishy centers to her friends
17. had one friend, at least
18. one friend at a time
19. believed in destiny; saw things differently
20. failed to warn me of impending being
21. failed to survive herself (a cosmic event) beyond me
Radio / by Sam Cha
Please click here to read the poem.
Getting ready for school / by Merie Kirby
You will get your first tardy slip of the year because
you had to finish drawing a portrait of a stuffed animal,
Lambie, who has just graduated from medical school,
despite being only 12 years old. Where are your shoes?
Have you brushed your teeth? Let’s get to school so you can learn.
Isn’t it ridiculous that you can wake up so early in the morning,
and still be late to school? No more drawing in the morning.
No more portraits or TV or anything that makes us late, because
we need to get to school on time. You did not learn
your early bird habits from me. I crave sleep, like an animal
in winter. I prefer to hibernate and go without shoes.
But, yes, you must wear your shoes to school
because that is a rule that the school made and the school
gets to make those rules. Yes, this morning
you can bring Lambie, if you would just put your shoes
on your feet. You can bring her because
I know being late makes you anxious and an animal
under your arm can cut through that. One day you will learn
this about yourself, you will learn
that it is better for you to be early to school,
to the meeting, to the party, places a stuffed animal
cannot go. But for now, for this morning,
I am letting you take Lambie because
I have learned that you need her. Here are your shoes,
I’ve untied the laces, dumped out the sand, your shoes
are ready to go on your feet. I hope you will learn
something today. I hope you will not be bored. Because
I was once the girl who was bored at school,
who slipped into daydreams to get through a morning
of repetition, who read ahead and worked ahead, an animal
fettered by the pace of learning, impatient with all the other animals,
and I’m sorry you feel that way, too. Now that your shoes
are tied, here’s your backpack, inside is your snack for the morning.
And yes, today I will order the owl pellets and at home we will learn
about what owls eat, we will be our very own school.
And, yes, next month I will order the pig heart because,
yes, the pig is the animal whose heart is most like ours, because
you are more than a girl tying her shoes. Yes, it is true that school
is where we go in the morning, but it is not the only place we learn.
Collected / by Emily Van Kley
sentinal maples the first to turn:
bruise-purple, russet, cerise
black rock loaved in a bristle
garter snake pouring
itself from path to grass
ore pellet precipitate
under the train bridge
sand and stone plowed
from Lakeshore Drive
after last week’s fury
wind, pitcher-plant, understory
near the Yellow Dog river
the new mine will run
for nine years then loll
its sour tongue
As Far As I Go / by Jessica L. Walsh
–for Robert and Stella
Upon admitting that I love you
I am placed under orders
to live. I hereby relinquish
all the loose talk of calling it a day
throwing in the towel
retiring to the body farm.
I promise to refrain
from chasing the long gone dogs
of my dogged youth
into a field I know isn’t real.
I will stay and keep staying.
Someone will keep record
that I lived until I couldn’t anymore
and that will be the proof of love.
Day 18 / Poems 18
A Response to Andrew Dugas’s Coconut Haiku / by Heather Bourbeau
idyll sand not white
Madagascar red rock lush
first taste, roadside milk
coconut cut fresh
by woman with machete,
me, young, like fruit green
inviting, aware luster
fades like memory
“A response to:” Facebook statuses. (Also, Wittgenstein.) / by Sam Cha
Sir, I refuse to be silent.
Yesterday I was animal
I was the food of shamans
a knock-knock joke from God.
Today I’m a failed telemarketer
trying to remember the word
paraclete. But we are all culinary
histories of deliberate mistakes,
cover letters of sweet tea.
Help me compile a white
space of spindly weaving
dance. My opening lines
are always commiting ritual
suicide. I’m buying a pedagogy
statement of failure. I watch
my back to give context
to doubt. Is this flesh a little
uncanny? I can’t remember
why I was thinking.
Who knows the true name
of the mad Arab Abdul AlHazred,
the breakfast habits of the mouse,
how to whistle a German Lewis
Carroll, the shapes of the fossils
embedded in our summers,
the rage of the metaphysicians
of Beirut. Did Ulysses have enough
middle fingers? The language
stares back, disappointed.
Far away, on a machine yet
to be, we’re downloading
the thinking. No words,
no no words, not the words
themselves, but a babel
of glass. We overhear them
from equal distances,
between dust and dust.
A response to Robert Burns / by Merie Kirby
I have kept mice as pets, soft thin-toed creatures that ran up my arm
and chattered and crouched in my hand to hold and nibble diced carrots.
Mice that fought each other by the water bottle, biting and scratching and squeaking.
Mice that ate their babies because the cage was too small, the food too little,
without waiting to see if a bigger cage waited, if greater numbers
would equal more food let down from above by their god, who has five fingers like them,
but is nearly hairless and cannot squeak. And, yes, I have felt myself
to be a mouse alone, helpless in the face of pain and need,
felt safety and joy in nesting with my tribe, anxiety of nearly empty cupboards.
Fear and grief have hunted me. Still, all morning the white cat has stalked
the kitchen bookcase, sometimes silently, sometimes chattering to herself,
and I have laid down traps baited with peanut butter, and we are waiting.
Tread Water, Please / by Lisa Ludden
Submerge. It’s better than seeing.
Stripped bare and wading knee-deep in the
shudder of anticipation. After time, she confesses,
I only see in flashes. The rest is drawn out of focus
as the static rises in my ears.
Focus – find it to maintain a rhythm
outside of yourself, she instructs.
One stroke, two strokes, three strokes, four-
breathe one, two, convulse – air.
Swim faster, beat the time, hold the breath:
don’t panic- recoil, release.
We alter, she states, the stories of our lives;
we rewrite in order to work back to something
quieter in our minds.
It is the abundance of what is allowed!
What people are drawn to hits hard, she spat.
I don’t feel fit for permanent space.
Hold still, she reminds, slowly move your arms
and count: one, two, three. Steady now.
Stop the Pressure / by David Rawson
When The Frog transferred to the Daily Planet, he was paired with Clark. Two small-town boys far away from home. Clark always got paired with the freaks, ever since his piece on the Bat of Gotham. But that was years ago, back when men wore capes. Clark and The Frog were both assigned to The Pond stories. Clark cringed every time he read “pond-emic” in the paper. The term always made it into his articles, written in by someone else before going to press. Clark’s stories focused on what politicians, doctors, scientists, and the like were saying. The Frog’s expertise was human interest, pulling on the heart. Over coffee, he told Clark his most famous piece: about the man sitting on a brick wall who dropped like glass. In the end, the man was nothing but edges. But this story, the one they were doing together, went like this: At the edge of Metropolis, a generation of children was born with imperforated anuses. No buttholes. The Frog looked at photographs and wondered at how perfect they looked. 80 percent of the children in a five mile radius, all with colostomy bags, with no way to eliminate their body’s waste, all on waiting lists for surgeries, for perforation. Some thought it was the pond, that the pond was dirty. The Frog itched every time someone blamed the pond. His tongue would dry, and he’d flick it out. Some blamed the perfect man, the one dressed in the American flag, the one who mocked them from the sky. He had taken from their sun, consumed its energy, and then had left when he’d had enough. It was as if in his leaving, he’d left the city a little more broken. One day it may be all edges. Over coffee, Clark said, “Yes. Once. But she’s long-gone. She was a reporter too. She wanted me to cover a story, but she knew I couldn’t. I was too close to be objective. She wanted me to see something, but I was sick of seeing, and sick of being seen.”
The Frog said, “It’s not that easy being seen.” And then: “The first girl I met when I left home. She’s a thick girl. Money hungry. Petty. But I can’t leave her. She keeps threatening to leave for France, and I keep waiting for her to finally go. I guess deep down we both know the truth.”
A Response to the Impossible / by Emily Van Kley
—for Michael Henson, 1982-2012
Yes to the fainting
spell just out of the shower,
but stop there.
Your younger brother gone
two years earlier. Impossible
that you should follow.
Instead yes to a welt
that weeps more blood
than necessary—head wounds
are like that and you are tall,
young, have plenty to spare.
Yes to aching temples,
an ice-cradled forehead
a day spent home from work,
the dogs with their noses
tucked under fluffed paws
beside you. Yes
to an ambulance ride
if necessary, a hospital visit
which does or does not
reveal illness strung
through your cells
since birth. Yes to
walks, foods carefully
chosen. Friend, I’m afraid
I have not given up
arguing with the ineludible.
Whatever peace there is
to be made with death,
you have made it. But I
am still angling for reprieve.
At my bargaining table
with its a single chair,
I send offers into a great
silence that neither echoes
nor alters. I wait
and do not tire.
“May the Holy Spirit Work Within [Name]” / by Jessica L. Walsh
–A Response to Baptism
That year she wore pink.
She tried the type of girlhood she’d heard about
from popular blonde Nickis.
She took up aerobics and hunger–
and then because of the Nicki with two hearts
she took up Sunday school.
Church was her sad rebellion
against parents whose younger years
had been a series of spectacular nighttime fires.
Next to the Nicki with two hearts
who had promised her a personal Jesus moment
she knelt and gave response. She waited.
Jesus never came. The water was water—
dumped, not blessedly sprinkled—
and she trembled afraid not of God
but of embarrassment,
her pink dress wet and translucent.
That alone was her moment:
She was still twelve and a girl,
horrified to be herself in a world of girls
who seemed to do better.
Day 17 / Poems 17
The Faces of Abu-Ghraib / by Heather Bourbeau
ten years since
name still evokes
once chained naked beaten
torturers’ delight documented
a digital point, shoot, shame
means of torment
in the name of our security
now in black and white
chosen clothes, direct gaze
their humanity (not humiliation)
honored, dignity restored
one image stands apart
mother of seven, accountant
held months without charges,
rape threatened, son caged
now stares into camera, head covered,
mona lisa enigma
face a canvas of contempt
or perhaps repression of a smile
but with her children, i think,
in spite of what was done
and lack of retribution,
she might instinctively laugh
and crinkle the corners
of her dark brown eyes
that have seen too much
Before the Dreamtime / by Harmony Button
Once upon a time there was an ocean so wide
it wasn’t called an ocean it was just the world.
The world was made of air and motion, which
meant time was always present tense. There was
no waved or will wave. There was no need
for waving. We only wave: hello, hello.
The world was made of perpetual greetings. Then
one day — which wasn’t day, it wasn’t anything
(hello, hello) — a girl who was a boat named Boy
comes bobbing up and asks where are you, world?
and the world which was just water says
hello, hello and the girl who was a boat named Boy
smacks her little tail and says I’m starting now
and so now starts, and then the waves that had been
waving in the memories of all the other oceans
came alive, and all the oceans exhaled
heavy sighs (it is quite exhausting, all of those hellos)
and then the little girl who was a boat named Boy
turned herself right upside down and looked up
at the sun and looked down at the dirt beneath
her and said if I must and so stayed stuck
in the in between to hold up space into before
Haiku on poets and fame / by Sam Cha
What’s a poet some
sort of animal eats what
does it eat itself
it lives in Cambridge:
it’s its own Attenborough
hides, narrates the hiding—
but is it smart as
a human yes no maybe
like sticklebacks do
in aquariums lunging
at their reflections:
kill it kill it kill
most authorities agree
poets eat poets
and most poets die
mistaking their reflections
for more solid stuff
Li Po took the moon
for a face tried to kiss it
drowned in falseface moon
Lorca’s books were not
bulletproof. Berryman walked
stopped half-way and jumped—
Google “Li Po dead”:
dead lithium polymer
cells are what you get:
oh self, poetry,
temporary gauze, oil-slick
how your colors fade.
Duckweed / by Merie Kirby
How surprising to learn
that the smallest flowering plant
in the world is one so easy
to dismiss: duckweed.
That plant you see floating
in clusters on lakes and
the elbows of slow rivers,
in botanical gardens
over shadowed by
At the nursery
up the highway
there is a small pond
whose surface in summer
is verdant with duckweed.
Not one mass or carpet,
but each unassuming
kernel of green
is a single plant,
a pinprick of green
individuality, yet still a weed.
A plant in the wrong place.
Show it no kindness,
the landscape magazines exhort,
it depletes oxygen,
and other aquatic plants.
in a botanical garden in Japan,
the duckweed in their ponds
blossomed. Not that you can tell
by looking – a flowering duckweed
has no petals, just one pistil,
one stamen, one small depression
with a pale oval inside.
But the curators were moved
because the duckweed
for the first time
in fifteen years,
and to blossom
is to bring forth
What Day is Today? / by Lisa Ludden
We begin softly, telling those around us to be calm,
relax, let the thought go.
It’s a common as lying in bed, but not sleeping.
No one is sleeping; children are dead.
So off we go, on to something else. Go.
And its difficult to move beyond the weight
because should you be able to, you tell yourself, and ignore
and the feeling. That guilt of being alive when you’ve done nothing
wrong goes-it goes against everything everyone says is true.
You not wanting it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
How do we say stop and have that mean more than a hollowed out consonant
screaming in the background. When the words are bastardized, they means less.
It isn’t about what is fair or right. It isn’t fair. Nothing is right.
What you know to be true-there in lies all the differences in world.
It’s about opportunity to seize go about your day and not be afraid of the outside
and the people you never know you’re about to meet.
Normal / by David Rawson
Tucson is kneeling for impending rain- you are explaining the religious politics of Relient K
to someone, dissolving into a story of your first girlfriend putting MMHMM on mute
the entire trip to the open house for the college she ditched at the last minute.
Pulling back into her step-father’s driveway, her saying, No, we listened. We listened
all the way up. Somewhere you have saved a Zip-lock bag of Christian band buttons.
The shirts are long gone – the post-college 15 and so on. You are the opposite of freshman.
You are the staleman. No, it’s more complicated than that you say to the wrong person, years too late. The
Mewithoutyou, the Matisyahu: it was never about God. Which was the band from Normal, Illinois?
Remember driving after your shift at the taco shop at the beginning of spring break,
knowing the water tower reading Normal was halfway? You gave her your 1973 Tokyo guidebook
for hitchhikers you found on a park bench in St. Louis. Her dog eating it page by page
like it was homework. You lied to your family like it was homework. Away from home, 19:
they worried you would lose your religion in a classroom. You lost your religion in a phone booth
six weeks in. Remember scouting out an innocuous church, attending service once,
then pretending you were there every Sunday? Your mother calling you half past Normal,
you saying you were going to have a quiet night and eat some free tacos. Some former alderman
hearing all the wrong voices walks into the tabernacle, something black catching light
against stained church windows. He was some Bizarro Esther, some perversion of a higher priest.
Remember reading the high priest would tie a rope around his leg with a tiny bell attached, so if he was
overwhelmed by the spirit, the lower priests could drag him out? You’d met the pastor.
The other four names your brother recites from the other side of the phone
mean nothing to you. When your brother says, We called to make sure you’re ok, you know he knows.
This was never your church. Your church is rolling up your jeans and stepping into Lake Michigan.
Your church is ducking under the Bean just as it begins to rain. 7 years later, you will remind yourself
you didn’t do it. You didn’t even know them. You’ve heard meditation is writing down the names
of the dead and letting your friend’s dog eat it all page by page: the gospel of dog.
Your church is your family giving up on you. It is about to rain in Tucson,
and you are missing that part of the path walking back from Lake Michigan
where the sand goes from wet to dry, just like that. When you meditate, picture yourself
in a Mewithoutyou T-shirt that’s only a bit snug, in the heart of the Normal water tower.
This is your 2001. You are the Star Child. Do you feel it? Can you feel me?
Flight Path / by Emily Van Kley
O digital throwing star, O
white bird claw—our double
creeping across the screen.
You are allowed no other
journey but this perforated path
over state borders tidily
inscribed, over green wash
of forest, over mountains’
beige rumple, the brash blemish
of cities—Minneapolis, Chicago,
Detroit—where awaits a towering
red pin, stripeless, unfestive,
your only prize. To you I am
just the spark of electricity
one row behind
your herringbone wing.
I ride my particulate chair
from one dot to the next,
miniscule thump never
upsetting my infinitesimal
drink. Soon, we will land
in a city no more maligned
than any other. The flanks
of this plane, the frames of cars
flashing below, not extracted
from dirt up north nor
smelted and assembled
here or anyplace else
with different ways
of disrespecting labor,
the digital me gliding
unaffected over Great Lakes
branching blue, neither coming
home nor arriving from it,
no outward change in the image
when we touch ground.
What We Need for Survival / by Jessica L. Walsh
I agree that we are fucked.
We treat war like the cheesecake in the fridge:
I won’t have any. Ok, maybe a bite. Just this one piece. Where did it go?
We put the globe on the shelf with America showing;
the bombs and diseases face the wall, out of sight.
We are dinosaurs and ostriches. We are bad animals.
At night I make impossible bunker lists:
water enough for some new great lakes;
a buffet of foods that last and pass the day, maybe
saffron rice or lollipops, flat breads easy to tear;
fresh coffee in the purple mug to help me stay awake through the panic;
the full bottle of ambien to help me sleep it off.
But I get stuck when it comes to stuff. Books, paper,
the right kind of pen? Will I need poetry more
when I surface to survey the remains of our failure?
Or will I look back and wonder why,
while the world ended, I leaned on words
instead of trying anything at all?
Day 16 / Poems 16
Enough / by Heather Bourbeau
I come not to tell you how to raise your sons
(or your daughters)
I come to ask us, the by-standers,
“How many, how much will be enough?”
Enough brutality masked as protection
Enough young Black men cuffed on the roadside for being young Black men
Enough hoodies being code for hoodlum
(I am not ready to give up mine,
San Francisco fog rolls nipping at my nape)
Enough memorials for men killed by over-eager, over-militarized police
Enough telling me that we are “post-racism,”
(as if a Black President was enough to end those ills)
Enough Kim, Kanye, Miley, Prince George numbing us, passing off as news
Enough wars in other countries distracting us from the wars at home
Enough Ezell Fords, Michael Browns, Trayvon Martins,
Oscar Grants, Sean Bells, and Eric Garners.
How many must die before we see this is real,
This is systematic,
Before we all stand up and demand
A re-evaluation, a search for justice
Not only for the men we have lost,
But also for those who are still alive?
I come to say,
We must come together
In anger and in hope
With our minds, our hearts, our dreams
Bring ideas, make lasting changes—
Education, representation, de-militarization—
So that we are taught to engage rather than react,
So respect and trust cut all ways,
So that today’s young men can die of old age,
Surrounded by those they love.
Trataka / by Harmony Button
A fire in the forest
loves the color
orange, loves the
smoke off damp receipts
and dewy wood. At home,
wish they could still remember
the smell of the mulch and earth,
the splash of cold creek water
on their ash and ember. The burner
on the stove still whines
to the tea kettle — all I wanted
was a good matchstick, maybe
a few logs. I’ve always
hoped to travel. Poor
little gas-pipe genie –
there and gone without a wisp
of smoke or thankfulness. Make me
pasta! Grant my wish! All fire
knows it still exists
beyond the flame — all fire
still believes in alchemy.
Watch it in the deep stone pit: see
it slouch and readjust, a comfortable
old man on his old couch. I think
this and I look at you and
say please remember to burn me
when I die, plant me
with some kind of tree and tell my
people to please eat my fruit. And you,
because you love me, stoke
the flames and tell me you would make
the most delicious peaches.
Note on Beckett, in the historical moment defined by drone / by Sam Cha
“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence
The objects acted to restore silence.
The radio sat in a corner and sulked.
The radio was full of malice.
What silence was the radio restoring.
I don’t want you I hate to lose you
it sang in Ella Fitzgerald’s voice.
A be doo ba—dee ba doo be—sh-bop
a doop bop ba sang Ella. The wineglasses
hummed along. It was a joyful buzz,
droning like the queen of drones
somewhere high over, oh, who knows—
but there was the other, hidden song,
which was composed of bomb-
astic silence. The burnt-out places
between the blue notes. They stained.
Self-Directed Love Story / by Lisa Ludden
The blueness of the morning isn’t related to anything directly, that I can see.
New love, with age, becomes conscious of time, so it moves with caution
taking note of the perimeter and the baggage and the hesitancy.
In blue and love, I see perspective longing alongside itself
and I want to talk to it, to ask how to enter the haze.
The inability to admit love often highlights the ability to endure-is that comfort?
Out of the moment, if I can let myself be in it,
something with emerge and begin.
One Last Hologram for the Children We Deserve / by David Rawson
There are multiple infinities, dear aftermath. We worship
a god who became finite, who divided by zero until he was
soaked in bones.
I am flickering more, lately.
We are all zeroes. I don’t have much time,
& God knows how I must look. My sweet aftermath:
cover yourself in mud, & count down from your highest number.
God knows how long your battery will last. We said,
A penny for your thoughts, and he gave us ten. We broke them into dust,
but then walked back up that mountain and asked again.
We are in our shelters. We are counting down from the number
of years we have waited for another set of tablets,
for an equal sign, a remainder we could handle.
Aftermath: do not tell them about us. Build over our shelters.
We are all zeroes, and he is your one. We are that space between
your movements and your mind.
He made us to make, so you too are his creation.
I am flickering into zeroes, into a beginning, into a mud whisper.
I am soaked in bones.
The Rosetta Probe Aims for Site J / by Jessica L. Walsh
So we thought we were dealing with a potato
but up close it’s more of a rubber duck shape.
We’ll land on the head. Or the body. See?
We even have a backup plan. We are smart
enough to improvise courses and metaphors.
We hold advantage over the universe,
we with our giant brains, our fancy hands.
Surely our little probe can decode
how you felt when you learned that Mark Twain
was born and died in sync with the spectacle,
how you knew that to be a blessed life.
We can demystify your terrified ancestors
who thought the sky was flagged with wrath,
who knew the universe to wield sublime justice,
the kind of furious fairness you long for
as you try to stay on the right side of the portents.
We can replace the awe you felt as a child–
watching through a cold Michigan night
for a firey dragon in the northern sky
that would not return until you had died,
a dragon that would greet your descendants
and carry with it your chilled mortal wonder–
with an understanding of dirty snowballs
and pitted small rocks.
We have all voted here at mission control
and we are aiming for the rubber duck.
Day 15 / Poems 15
Apothecary / by Heather Bourbeau
This morning, I went through your medicine cabinet
aspirin offered, I carefully lifted bottles, read indications,
smelled pomades, maybe tested a bit here and there
searched for proof my running legs were right
This morning, I learned you breathe, have flaws
to be flossed, subdued, neutralized, hidden (barely)
behind white box; tore down the teetering pedastal I built,
met you as we are, (scared, relieved) offered my cabinet to explore
An Understandable Mistake / by Harmony Button
You’re kind of a little thing, he said
but I said I was not — I said
I am the world’s most muscular
butterfly I can
flex your mountains down,
can crumble them
inside my tiny
flutter-heart. I am one
tough little cootie, body
designed to be a
living creature who keeps
living, through this late-season heat,
this hibernation, this seclusion
in the petrie dish we call
career path. Meanwhile, I feel
my own migration, in the dark,
tugging at the scaly, iridescent wings
that flap their pretty faces
all the way from here to
somewhere broader than myself.
And then’s when I am multitudes, I say,
I am flocks and flocks of me.
And he said yes I see
and yes of course, how silly
of me to mistake small for
delicate and then I stuck my
long mouth in his heart
and drank, and drank,
till I was love-drunk and we both
sank heavy to the ground.
The Sound Mange / by Sam Cha
(an n+7* manipulation of “The Snow Man,” by Wallace Stevens)
*actual number may not be 7.
One must have a mineral of wisecrack
To regiment the frustration and the boundaries
Of the pin-up-triads crusted with snuggle;
And have been collapse a long tingle
To behold the juxtapositions shagged with idiom,
The squares rough in the distant glossary
Of the January sunflower; and not to think
Of any misogynist in the sounding of the windbag,
In the sounding of a few leakages
Which is the soviet of the language
Full of the same windbag
That is blowing in the same bare plagiarist
For the literature, who listens in the sounding
And, noun himself, beholds
Noun that is not there and the noun that is.
Morning coffee / by Merie Kirby
It’s one of those fall mornings when everyone is talking
about coffee. Everyone is grateful for coffee, wonders
how they could ever get through the morning without it,
is cranky because they haven’t had it yet,
or is double-clutching a hot mug, holding it to their noses,
eyes closed with anticipation. It is easier
to say to each other, I don’t know how
I’d make it through Monday without my coffee
than to say, I’m afraid to read the paper or watch the news.
I’m afraid to think about beheadings and race
and economics and Ebola and drunk driving
and failing farms and high speed chases and
kidnappings and enterovirus-68 and brutality
and rape culture and when I say I love my morning coffee
I am saying I love that isolated moment of sensory experience
when the rich scent fills my nose, my skull, and briefly
stops the world, the way sugar cuts through bitterness
and the way cream swirls in and can’t be taken out.
I may no longer pray, I may no longer salute the sun,
but I still want kindness to enter the world like that,
to be inextricable, attached to every particle.
Facts, Interpreted: Part II / by Lisa Ludden
In the evening the air is still, like a paper bag on the kitchen counter, waiting. Waiting for someone to grab hold in the early morning, without thinking, without thanks. I imagine just how not new my thoughts are. I see men and women, beautiful men and women, in their ease, sipping coffee or wine, talking about this night without movement. In my fruitless attempts, I drink my wine out a mason jar, sitting on the porch, knowing I still have some time left. Some time in before the darkness settles in my arms, before my jar is empty. Before new words have left my mind for someone else’s.
Block / by David Rawson
This is the moment I realize I’ve confused Denis Leary for Danny Bonaduce for a good ten years.
Is this the poem you meant, years ago, the one where John Ashberry name-drops Donald Duck?
Is this the first episode of Perfect Strangers that Balki wears his Spider-Man pajamas?
In this dream, the goat and the dog that groomed each other in downtown Tucson are reduced
to their living heads with tubes flowing out of their necks into separate water-filled tanks teaming
with nanobots painted yellow with black ink meticulously placed for smiley faces. But you can only see
their smiles under a microscope. There is an unanswered ding, a text message brightening up a screen
somewhere. You’re always losing that phone. We could take the streetcar. I hear the windows
are just dim enough for us to bathe in our reflections.
How could I possibly love you when there are seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on Netflix?
There is a woman in a coffee shop – this part is not the dream – who says she cannot watch Jaws
because she was eaten by a shark in another life. Reducing that atavistic worm-spark inside her
to surround-sound digital shark chum. Pinsky said, What is a myth but something that seems to happen
always for the first time over and over again? We could watch the man from another place jitter-dance
ad infinitum, or until our gum comes back in style.
I want to go where everyone knows my name, where my love-life is DOA. I want to know
what happened to predictability, to smothering the blues in tenderness.
I want to know what happened to us. We used to be so happy. Again & again & again.
2+2=5 / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
that lead only to yourself,
a fat wallet of self.
Even family is your
self multiplied. No reason
except to give out dollars
through clicks, and button
punching, only action
a green glow which flickers.
Everything is funny,
And why should it not be,
Wrapped up and cellaphaned,
your feelings are kept
at the same sum. No one
Selfie / by Emily Van Kley
Not the same city, but by now
who could mistake the young man
poured over the sidewalk, shirt
smoked open here & here, red
reaching from arm & skull, limbs
dark against grey concrete, breath
arrested behind yellow plastic
that flutters the line between the quick
& the dead? True, the youth
in Philadelphia is an artist, alive
by the grace of unnamable
good graces. True, he’s steeled
his grief for one still hour, has readied
a sign and a friend to hold it, true
at the appointed time he will instruct
his legs to rise and they will creakily
oblige him. But what shroud drawn
in the minds of tourists who glint
their smiles in a half-moon before
him, filing proof of their presence
at the city’s famous statue. LOVE
it says & the tourists grin, reshuffle.
LOVE the young man’s jaw gravels.
LOVE LOVE the sound of the camera
that holds what dismantles us,
no matter how some of us refuse it.
Visit the Irish Wake Tent / by Jessica L. Walsh
Come celebrate death the Irish way!
Bring your whole family together
to hear “Grandpa Lumpy” tell bittersweet tales
of his dear late beloved wife, God rest her.
As you gather around her humble coffin,
join the prayer for her twelve imaginary surviving children
and the two, God bless them, who went first.
Drink pints and tell jokes as the Irish do,
all while your children play games
and learn about this proud tradition!
Note: you might have a bit of trouble
when the music breaks sad and Danny Boy
(some songs some can’t be outsmarted)
brings stoic, half-drunk men to tears
and grim admissions of suffering. Stay to
hear Grandpa Lumpy break character,
his accent sliding from Sligo to Michigan
as he puts a hand on another man’s shoulder
and tells a story about his father.
Listen as you discover that the strangers’ fathers
were much alike: just barely Irish,
sometimes real bastards,
mortal, never honored at a wake.
Join us any time before 8.
Day 14 / Poems 14
Music to Love Young By / by Heather Bourbeau
first memory, learning lyrics
to Needle and the Damage Done
from 20-something actresses
in downtown production of
The Children’s Hour,
my first public performance
age 10, newly moved,
reciting Latin, exuding timidity
while another young performer
tore through lines angrily, hungry.
backstage, handsome lead
would talk with me like peer,
recite playfully, “there once
was a girl, who had a little curl,
right in the middle of her forehead”
I would blush, wonder
if hair should be pulled back
driving to family cabins—
Siskiyou lush, tight turns
no running water, evergreens
swimming holes, gold claims
cousins, hikes and rocks—
learning words to Old Man
as brother drove
small Ghia, big heart
staring at Decade’s cover
friend’s basement bedroom
admiring desert androgyny.
Like a Hurricane basic chord
lessons on piano from brother
on bench shared,
a warmth natural
getting lost on city simple grid,
numbers and letters clouded
by learning you after one year—
shared Neil love and desire
to push and explore.
when courting, falling, opening
you drove miles out of way
to leave me breakfast,
write me letters,
paint me portrait of man who
brought us together—
waiting for tow truck
car broke near Harbor
after last trip to SF together,
you wrote lyrics to Powderfinger,
drew abstract figures,
carved this moment
before my heart broke,
before we drifted miles
from each other, unaware
how to love without fear
reading letter two years later
from you in England,
me in France.
you called me “sweetie,”
signed off with the misheard
but better and still quoted
“Keep on rockin’ out to Free Bird”
moving on to different continents,
different loves, similar longing,
acting eclipsed long ago by writing
and the processing of other people’s pain
that I had trained for so early.
but tonight, I cannot stop smiling—
woman-led Neil cover band,
de Young fog rolling in,
flanked by Asawa, Thiebaud, Diebenkorn,
four-year-old girls leap and twirl
to Cinnamon Girl,
all silver Converse and ruffled skirts,
and I am flooded by
memories of goodness, of being loved,
of discovering ‘new music’
and growing up more slowly
than I remembered
Petting Zoo / by Harmony Button
This is what llama lips feel like
against your palm: sideways grandma
faces, whiskery and dry, each lip
its own odd kind of dexterous, its own
opposable thumb. This is donkey.
This is horse. This is how the dust
diffuses upward in the sun of the
gas station gravel lot, in Scipio,
nowhere-west, middle of this unknown
state, not red rock not polygamous
not preaching anything at the current
moment except Chevron with a side
of petting zoo: a camel sleeping
in the shade, a set of zebra donkeys
so, so bored of stripes. A couple
of nonchalant cows chewing cud
are like, you know, I feel like I don’t
even see race, really. We all like to think
we’d embrace diversity. At the center
of it all, a tiny tiny horse stands
on the roof of a small slumping
shed, as if to say — remember, even
now there are such incongruities
to make you wonder how the hell
you got here, but now here
you are, so might as well
take a few deep breaths out
of the dust, out of the reach
of tiny hands that pet and wonder at
the soft and thickness of your coat,
the belly-tickle feel of your one mouth.
Spoilers / by Sam Cha
If a father is introduced at the beginning of an action movie
he’s dead inside of ten minutes. Same with mothers.
A lover? Depends on the focus, depends on the music.
Vaseline-filter, strings? Forget her. She’s already in a fridge.
Love’s a death sentence.
……………………The good news: children are usually
immune. The bad news: children stop being children.
The velociraptors catch up. The blood stops smelling
like ketchup. You grow up and you get married
like everybody else and you get divorced
like everybody else. Stories are shapes
and there are only a few shapes.
But wait! If you save your ex-wife’s life,
she will magically forget everything you fucked up
(because you fucked up) and kiss you. It won’t matter
that you didn’t go to your daughter’s piano recital. All
the school plays were just school plays. There will be
more piano. There will be an inappropriate boyfriend
you can beat up with a poker and your daughter will
see it and suddenly realize that you are a Real Man
and of course Real Men can be forgiven
for being absent and violent, can’t they?
That’s practically the definition.
……………..And there will come a soft rain.
Your ex’s hair will deepen to bloodstained
honeysuckle, and a passionate wind
will lash honeysuckle tendrils
across your chiseled features.
When did you grow a jaw?
What’s up with your nose?
What bottle bottled your hair?
………….Now there’s a sunset. It’s raining
and also there’s a beautiful sunset.
In fact, there’s a sunset and there’s rain
and so there’s rainbow. There’s rainbow
and there are rainbows of macaws
flying across the rainbow and also
overhead there are the northern lights.
And a full moon. It is the biggest moon
in a thousand years. The air is heavy
with moonlight and northern light
and rainbow and sunset and the shrill
harsh cry of a thousand macaws.
But you have no time for such things.
You are bleeding and she is bleeding,
and probably you are bleeding also
inside, actual non-figurative bleeding
from when you jumped on the fighter-jet
or punched a rabid tiger in the esophagus
from the inside of the tiger and all
you want to do is ignore the sunset,
the macaws, the northern lights,
the tree frog chorus, the fireflies,
the helicopter blasting Han Zimmer
and lean into the kiss
and won’t you be happy then,
that you didn’t want to know
what was going to happen next?
Sewn In Memory / by Lisa Ludden
Sewn in memory, family tragedies are eternal. The unending, constant rewriting of itself,
as the different versions of what did and did not occur play out within.
No one ever forgets their own; the story and people weave into the everyday, as if blood
and breath alike. Aren’t they?
Even in nostalgic moments, truth intersects, and memory delves into agitated states, causing
the body to relive the past.
Wishing and tucking away the trauma do nothing to release the body from the muscle memory
of what was and what is ever so present.
But that’s why you do it. You think it honors the dead.
Mondegreene / by David Rawson
My purposes are intense (I am a deep-rooted sum, buddy)
the splitting image (one in the same) of a blessing in the skies.
in my most animalistic moments, I have paws for effect (I pause for affection).
At my most eruditenamic, I am a noir-do well, a detective lover charging by the our.
My surfaces are condensed, a compact mere, & (yet) consequential!
In your Cummings and goings, you are whatever a moon has always meant.
We are playing out Hannah (and her sisters) Barbara, me chasing you with a book
of poems in my hands across the same returning backdrop.
Cummings said, i carry your heart with me (a stowaway-icism): we make our own fate.
If we could monetize our love, we would never be poor. If we could monetize
our love, I wouldn’t mind the green. You and I will coin new phrases for love
(an irrational meant)(the story of our luff). We will make much adieu about nothing:
speak low if you speak of nothing. We will speak so low, like Jigsaw: Would you like
to play a game? (I fear of no fate. I fear no fate will keep us together.)
Open / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
Milk pours in footsteps
stepping into an open field.
Even the windows
seem unsilled, hands upon hands
holding into ledges.
All of it offering
herself. An abundance
she never saw before.
Initiation / by Emily Van Kley
For the new chickens
dusk is an emergency.
At four months
lank-necked with splayed
leathery feet they have yet
to grow into.
Their separate pen
removed this morning,
their mother already ascended
to the coop’s high roost
to trade jabs
with the other grown hens,
reclaim her rank. The new
the fenceline, calling her
with voices too small
for their stature. They test
their wings, flap up
to the yard’s corrugated
ceiling, crash down
in feather-flayed panic.
I want to intervene,
scoop them into the secure
dark of the coop, banish
any hen who would threaten,
but Allison says to wait,
we’ll only terrify them further.
So we lie on the grass slope
beside the chickenyard
like fans at a strange
our view worsening
as dark fulfills. We offer
when one or the other stumbles
up the ladder, groaning
when she lurches
back down, spooked
by the door’s wool flap.
Finally, just as sight
is beginning to lose
significance, the black
chicken tenses, dips
her tailfeathers, and leaps
into the wood entry
where she perches on its edge,
no challenge to the
social order and yet safer
in numbers. The smaller
red chicken, the one
we call Hairpiece for her
incautious headfeathers sees
her and follows. Above,
the hens shuffle and mutter
but none come down
to harangue the newcomers,
shatter their fragile calm.
Allison and I take hands
and walk inside, comfortably
irrelevant, talk until eventually
we invite our own dark in.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: A Case Study / by Jessica L. Walsh
History reveals she trusted anything laminated
and satisfaction guarantees.
She believed that the students who cried
were going to try harder.
She took advice from colleagues
who wanted what she wanted
when there was not enough to go around.
She followed the directions
of surgeons general and specific.
She anticipated the police would help her
should she need it, and that she never would.
She thought her voice could matter.
She voted for presidents and ordinances
and local library boards.
She loved and loved and loved.
she took no measures
to prevent repeated injury.
Day 13 / Poems 13
Arches fall / by Heather Bourbeau
our first night together,
you held my feet
………..(she must have liked that)
rubbed the arches until they relaxed,
until an intimacy arose between
………..(she taught you well, broke your heart)
i saw only your pain of child lost,
your smile warm,
your body welcoming
i did not see her sliding in between
the sheets, holding you
closer, quieter than before
our first night,
you held my feet
and i thought
how kind, how tender
i did not see it was an echo
of what had left you behind
did not see it was the beginning
of our end
What if there were someone to drive the car / by Sam Cha
what they’re a bad driver.
How will it come then.
A car. A slip on the ice.
Bloody pineknot in the lung.
Oh but pure death isn’t interesting
don’t drink so much you’ll die.
Don’t smoke so much you’ll die.
Don’t walk you’ll die.
Don’t love you’ll die.
Don’t breathe you’ll die.
Don’t write you’ll die.
Don’t eat you’ll die.
Don’t talk the soldiers are coming for us.
Don’t run the soldiers are coming for us.
Don’t stop the soldiers are coming for us.
Don’t quiet the soldiers are coming for us.
They’re coming for us.
We are all waiting
for something to come to us.
Who thinks that we can’t know it.
Who thinks that we can’t.
All our sentences broken and heavy.
But saying nothing.
Isn’t there a way
to get beyond nothing.
Isn’t there a way.
Stop making sense.
Sense makes you stop.
ice follows car follows soldiers follow
pink pineknot follows it follows
graves open there.
What I’d give
to be senseless
to be automatic
continuous and free
like folding air.
I’m your new best word all wrong.
My computer smells a bit like me.
This is the sea which is already
so relieved to be seen.
And sometimes I want to lie down
sometimes I want to lie down and
it’s not the weight it’s not the
it’s not the
God how do you keep being
Say once the light. Say unbearable
Say balloon in the light of sky.
Say once the red round balloon floating
into the sky out of reach
smaller and smaller till
there is room .
there is room enough
there is room enough
to let the world in.
What I learned from my dinner party / by Merie Kirby
We have 18 forks, just enough for 18 people
to twirl spaghetti around, but we do not have 10 kid plates,
and so they had to use paper bowls. We do not have 8
salad plates, or we do, but some are in storage.
We have 8 wineglasses, which it turns out can hold
5 bottles of wine and 1 of smooth rye whiskey.
We should have boiled 3 lbs of spaghetti to start with,
not 2, and we should have used the big steel pot
usually reserved for beer wort. We also should have
used 3 lbs of ground beef to make the meatballs,
not 2. We have lived here nearly 4 years, but
have just started putting our art on the walls.
10 kids will happily eat buttered noodles with cheese
using boxes for tables, they will roam from room
to room, they will dress up, they will watch Star Wars,
they will all talk at once. Conversation at the adult table
is like quicksilver, sliding from one end to the other, separating
and then flowing back together, volume rising and falling
like a seismographer’s printout. And once the sky
is long since dark and everyone has left,
my husband and daughter go outside to try
to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, which
are not visible to them, but still they sit on the chilly porch,
watch the moon rise over the tall trees, and talk
about space and time and light and what a good night this is.
Magnolia / by Lisa Ludden
A lifted arm, a sigh.
The image of the girl – unusual, buried and full,
the tailored way she sits in silent screams.
The constancy of this work isn’t new, but weary.
The arm again and the question:
What flower doesn’t wilt?
And what woman isn’t compared to a flower?
Objects of bloom and fade.
Death isn’t the fear.
It’s the shift to the background, to
exist on the edge.
The image of body and the mind are always
entangled the ripeness of anatomy.
The fear is use. To be no longer useful and
beheld. The fear that the eyes are looking past you.
Attraction fades, yes, but instead of disappearing,
it’s supposed to deepen. The flower wilts,
decomposes, but that’s another type of nurture
for the soil, one that lasts indefinitely.
Night Travel / by David Rawson
Six: my father sends me to the garage to wait
until the spirit is gone. They call them demonic interventions.
Whispers of spirit of homosexuality—using the anointing oil
they sent away for in the mail. My father sneaking out to the driveway
to plant anointed handkerchiefs under the driver’s side seat
of the gay man’s car. Later I am told this spirit will hide deep down in the bowels
until a person mistakes it for a fundamental part of themselves, unable to imagine
themselves without it. The spirit only responding to the name of a carpenter’s son.
Sometimes it will attempt to slip into another vessel as it is being cast out.
I am anointed in holy oil, tying and untying Snoopy’s laces for hours.
Before I lose my religion in a record store thirteen years later, I wonder where spirits go.
Looking out across ten acres, I see nothing but opportunities to become snagged to earth,
baby thorns and branches. Eight years after that, I am attempting to explain this to a girlfriend at a bar
on the roof a hotel: she giving me that look everyone gives me, as if I am trying to forgive
institutionalized homophobia. Me, attempting to explain how normal it all sounded back then.
Me, swiping away the politics of organized religion and exorcism, to get to the real meat of the issue:
where would the spirits go? How do they travel? If cancer is a spirit, if anorexia is a spirit,
if domestic abuse is a spirit, if wanting to dye your hair blue is a spirit, do they just slowly walk
into the woods, some Bizarro Pilgrim’s Progress?
In the early days of Plymouth, the Mathers family debated who was a man who
was a demon in human skin—it does not seem that long ago that we believed spirits
took the image of man, walked free on the earth, that every vice, that every action
not warranted as normal, was fodder for fire. Remember when your own mother
looked at you and called out the spirit of rebellion because you wanted to go
to an 11pm movie? Seven: There is an invisible rope behind me, an endless elastic anchor
to my beginning- At any moment, I could snap back into nothingness. I run in between trees for hours
so that I may be tethered between, some immortal hammock. In the middle
of a two-sick-for-school day, I watch a made-for-public-television special about a man
who catches death in a burlap sack and hangs him from the tallest tree
so that no one can ever die. A friend brings over my missed Bible class assignment:
to draw Jesus casting Legion into swine. Loren Eiseley wrote, something is loose and prowling
in the fierce wood. . . Dante saw it long ago when he encountered himself. I saw it as a child
under the bed. If I were God, I would be young Hal, among my men before war, rallying troops
in disguise, then off to the bar with Falstaff. I would walk between two trees, then never stop.
Ruth Leaves Her Mother / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
As I walked away, swaying
toward some land I had never seen,
I cried not for the welts on my back,
the metallic taste of blood,
but for my brother who had to stay.
When I arrived, I stood in the field for a long time, watching the sun
cross-hatch the corn.
For this peace: beg, steal, even marry
my dead husband’s relative,
anything that would save me
from that famine, that drought.
You said never come back,
but I will, because when I die I will return as a sparrow, eating the seeds on your grave.
Entropy / by Emily Van Kley
All systems tend toward
disorder—the silks at rest,
though to the eye serenely
tented from their ceiling hitch ,
are in a state of molecular
upheaval. It takes the weight
of the body to pull them taut,
the hip wrapped in fabric
pivoting and unfolding simultaneously
into arabesque, to teach
a steady particulate kilter.
Not ease but struggle:
the muscle heats, and so the fiber—
energy wasted, unless caught
for another purpose,
as with those Scandinavian
houses whose walls are so thick
they hold a full day’s heat
from the hair dryer’s blast,
the pot of water boiled for tea.
No wonder it’s such work
to flex the foot over the trapeze
and withstand the bruise
that extends like cloud
cover over the tendons’ crests
and valleys. No wonder the pen
tidied in its tin is so soon
strewn with its brethren
across each flat surface.
At the grocery store the list
lost, at the desk yesterday’s
words knocked into senseless
clamor. Even the purring cat
who licks a sweat-salted finger
forgets herself and begins to bite.
Where I Was When It Happened / by Jessica L. Walsh
I was no place that mattered
and while it’s true that I cried
while it’s true I broke apart
it’s also true that I reassembled.
My loved ones came home unhurt.
..My cities went on undestroyed.
I am not boasting but resolving:
in the absence of a story
I will stop talking.
Day 12 / Poems 12
Five notes to my seven-year-old self / by Heather Bourbeau
First things first—
play more kickball,
jump rope and hopscotch.
They are awesome,
and adults generally don’t do them.
Maybe play less dodgeball.
We are learning a lot about concussions
and it doesn’t seem worth it,
and Mary Liz McGee
throws way too hard when she’s It.
Appreciate Kurt Cornell—
he will protect you in a way
that you will learn never to expect,
guide you through dark streets
two miles, at age eight
to the safety of your house, not his
when your mother forgets
to pick you both up from
after school Spanish class,
(to this day, I do not know
if I learned the Spanish names
for colors there or
from Sesame Street, but they stuck—
like the feeling of complete trust
in Kurt that night—
when so much else has faded away)
Do not fear your imagination—
the devils and demons that terrify
you at night might seem real,
but they aren’t, and as such,
they can be transformed
into beautiful beasts.
Do not berate yourself your fear;
it is natural, it is human.
But know that your imagination
will push you to explore this world
and give you more joy
than you understand right now.
Don’t forget that you can do anything—
your parents will do right by saying OK
when you want to be the first
female Major League pitcher,
first female president,
or a writer and veterinarian
who happens to be a woman.
(It does seem unlikely, however,
the whole female pope ambition—
but try! If that is your dream—try!)
You can compete with a little practice.
You can govern with a bit of support.
You can write words that provoke and please.
You are gifted and determined, and
you don’t need to hold back—
glass ceilings and cultural norms
need to catch up.
You are beautiful and lovable
just as you are—
freckled and gap-toothed and
loud-laughed, curious and scared.
Adults can be ridiculous;
this is not a reflection on you.
You, too, will someday be
a ridiculous adult.
But now, please know
you are beautiful
Please Describe The Damage / by Harmony Button
………..Grendel has bitten my house, or else
his mother has swung
………..the claw end of her arm
and shattered my siding
………..into a thousand smithereens.
………..I have pissed off Indra.
I have made Zeus mad. Somehow I
………..have ticked off Thor and now all three
are getting zappy with the lightening.
………..It was an enormous blast. The bolt
entered the old oak tree from the top
………..and was too much for wood
to hold. The bark first scorched,
………..then burst. Let me say it plain
as day: the whole tree
………..blew up. Ka-pow.
Entropy took one look my way
………..and patted herself on the back.
Ka-POW! Now my current dryad
………..is all “where’s my 30 days notice,
bitch?” as he picks bits of his home
………..out of the side of my house
where they are stuck
………..all pointy and projectile-d
and I’m like, “sorry, dude, not really
………..my fault.” And he’s like
“yeah, yeah” and Grendel shrugs
………..and Mother Nature laughs
her rolling thunder laugh
………..and on the phone, my
claims adjuster is a demon gecko
………..who keeps saying, “Act
of God! It was an Act of God.”
A fable, sans moral / by Sam Cha
I was walking along when I tripped.
I tripped and landed on a crack in the sidewalk and my head cracked open.
Out came tumbling a little tiny man.
He looked kind of like me, and also maybe a little bit like Jesus.
He was very angry.
“How do you expect me to do my job,” he said, “If all you do is fall and fall and fall?” I said: “Oh god, I’m so sorry! I had no idea I had a passenger.”
And I was afraid.
“Are you my… soul?” I said.
“Soul’s maybe a strong word.”
“And how come I never knew you were there?”
“Dumbass, you’re not supposed to know, see? Normal folks go their whole lives without falling all over themselves and making a mess.”
“And what is it you do exactly?”
“Mostly I sit around,” he said. “I move around and sit on your kidneys. I punch you in the liver when you’re not looking. I sit in your head, and watch what you do. You spend so much time typing. You don’t even know why you’re doing it, most of the time. You use too many adjectives. You think you’re making art, when all you’re doing is making a rickety chair.”
“Well, fuck you very much,” I said, and squashed him with a rock. It was a big rock.
So here I am. Finally I am free. No one inside can see me. I don’t need to make sense. Everything makes so much sense now. The walking people, the mail truck, the blue and white mural of a schooner painted on the side of the Harvard Square American Apparel, the old red brick, the creaky table at Algiers, the mirrored sunglasses of the practitioners of high finance, the movement of the brush of the street sweep, the elderly man polishing the rounded top of the trash can on Church Street, the movement of the eye—everything held together in some great invisible curve, ringing like a bell.
What happens in this story / by Merie Kirby
This is not the story you think it is, the one about
the girl who touches the spindle and drops to the floor.
This is not the one about the girl sentenced to death
by a looking glass. This is not the one where
the mother is buried under a tree and white birds
peck themselves to death to make the daughter
a dress. This is not the one about blood red shoes
spinning endlessly in the dark forest, still holding
the feet of another victim of longing, who must
continue to suffer to earn grace.
This is the one about a woman in a boat shaped
like the thin seed of a marigold flower, about how she
drops her oars, slipping into the surface of the water,
ruffling the looking glass surface. At the finish
of each stroke the oar lifts up through the water
back into air, a drop of water spinning sunlight
off the blade in a moment of lingering,and the boat
slides, glides. In this story the symbols of longing
are callouses, muscles, sweat, alarm clocks.
In this story, grace is on the water.
Inherited Melancholy / by Lisa Ludden
In the morning, tea and toast and the crossword at the kitchen table;
the hues of the day still undecided.
The silent surround ignites the familiar mechanics as they work the
periphery of the brain, awakening synapses in memory.
And the words materialize, and the tick of the pen, box by box by box.
Walking through the house, mid-morning, adjusting nervously, a daily pattern of fuss
slowly shifting, for the soft ferns need tending to now. And they listen.
Frail is the word for weak and delicate, damaged and broken.
It is not lithe, nervous energy. They are not interchangeable terms.
You may be slipping from you, to where memory exists in fragments,
the current narrative fading, as the past becomes more vivid.
So what. That too is truth, the pain as you define what is home.
And the outsiders watch and scold and sympathize and are hated all the more for their care.
So they seek comfortability in a nearby task, or else retreat.
No Evil But What We See / by David Rawson
Little shudders print all day a pope cut in wide soles and gracious white.
Noon and nearer, out a peaceful window. A wedding? Count thicker.
Cough out loud. I hope she has a wedding, a widening little nothing,
a white cough-dress made of moon-cold, a tight thick white.
She is cutting pope after pope, each one with arms attached, a fluttering banner
hanging out the window. Perhaps he will see if he comes today.
He will sign sounds. Her mouth is the graveyard. Before the sounds went away
Completely, he would play her that record where the man in an ancient voice
asked where someone had been. She shudders at the thought of ten thousand
whispers, of constant dripping, of almost hearing. Not hearing
is so much more agreeably certain.
She is waiting for him still. What would she do if a highway broke his hands,
if she was left with only his flickering tongue. Sometimes, she thinks she hears
individual sounds, divorced from words, a shudder-mountain whisper. Someone once
told her to put salt in her ears for good luck – cough up the rest of your evil.
Remember when a man kept biting til seeds filled his mouth.
He is inevitable, if not infinite. She is cutting pope after pope, their tall white hats
pointing in parallel to a way out. She counts each pope until his return.
Numbers repeat themselves, but she pretends she does not hear.
Erasure Poem from “Rococo,” Arcade Fire / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
great big words
sing build it burn it
wind horrible song
So tame, colors
build it burn it back
colors, all the same
The Power of Precipitation, or
Why Autumn in the Northwest Fills Me With Regret / by Emily Van Kley
Snow that layer-cakes the front lawn: sugar-stripe of near-rain in iced
granules above airy white of below-zero specks & thick cream that falls
near freezing, holds together for snowballs, angels, & the like.
Snow that builds to arrogant heights, must be topped by means
of stepstools carved along the sidewalk & shovels thrust
again & again at shoulder-level so the snowblower has someplace
to deposit its prize. Snow that feathers in the willing air but vise-
clamps the flat garage roof, which must be shoveled monthly
to prevent collapse. Snow banked by wind or plow which children
love to dissect, despite reports of crushings & collapses. Remember
creeping into teetering sheds for trowels & assorted hand-tools,
scooping & slithering until the kid with her feet just visible from the alley
& the kid hip-deep yardside meet cheek to cold-chapped cheek.
Someone has to be the first all the way through, so the oldest,
who is also one of the smallest, engineers her entry, elbows braced
in the tunnel’s soft floor, torso pulled along in a graceless breast-stoke,
legs lax & toes striving for purchase & thrust. When her hips
catch in the center—even now she has hips, though she has not
yet learned to mistrust them—her mind goes white-hot. For a moment
she is kept there forever, pressed until empty or stiff & unyielding
as the snowsuit left on a peg outside the breezeway door.
But then she breathes & is moving: muscles claiming incident command,
reptiling her forward to the wide cold of the channel’s opening.
This one day in a winter that coaxes & blusters ahead.
Variorum / by Jessica L. Walsh
You are old enough for the versions,
and I am scholar enough to give them.
Your cartoon came from elsewhere
and though the specifics are lacking,
elsewhere is always worse: no lyrical birds,
no chubby amicable helper mice.
Your girl was a reject. She befriended a fish,
so thoroughly did humans hate her.
When the fish was killed,
as friends are sometimes,
she clutched the bones to her breast
as she roamed in search of revenge.
Later she made a lantern of the killer’s skull
to light her lonely wanderings.
Or your girl was banished
when her mother died,
as mothers do sometimes,
and she was put up for auction at the slave market.
For her ugliness she was thrown into fires.
Scar-tissue webbed her arms and legs.
Or your girl tried for those famous slippers—gold,
not glass, either way a punishment —
but first she had to wash them out,
for on them clung the bloody flesh of step-sisters
who cut off their heels and toes to fit the perfect shoe.
Your girl got her happily ever, the ending you wanted.
But you get a month of nightmares
bred in contested text:
a mother raising an axe to help her daughters get ahead,
birds diving through the open window to peck at their wounds,
mice waiting below for what scraps may fall,
a hideous woman at the edge of the village,
her path lit with hollow burning eyes.
Day 11 / Poems 11
Russian sex geckos / by Heather Bourbeau
the Russians are at it again—
pushing boundaries like it’s
Brezhnev and Czechoslovakia,
extending presidential terms and
making animals cosmonauts
I watched that Wall come down,
that heaviness of red button mishaps
lift from our collective shoulders,
apocalyptic nightmares mute momentarily
but, now as we watch planes shot down,
borders crossed, rebels amassing
and lizards jettisoned into space
it seems so 1968,
it seems, as Ms. Bassey says,
“just a little bit of history repeating”
it’s all short skirts, flattened hair chic
and Bond villains seem slightly less ridiculous
as I imagine Vladimir stroking a white cat
after wrestling a bear, bare chested
with smothered laugh through dilated nostrils
and so many hands on so many buttons
but no need to think about the flash boom damn
when you have Laika’s legacy to distract
it was a straight male scientist dream
four girls, one guy, and space
who needs Barry White or Molly
when you have a view of Earth
and a world of nerds and hipsters
ready with the band name
rooting for your copulation
it’s all in the name—
Goldfinger and Pussy Galore knew that—
perfectly branded to help us forget
and as the five floated, maybe flirted, then froze
we did, we forgot,
forgot eastern Ukraine (and Ferguson),
forgot for a moment
that “the joke is rather sad,
that it’s all just a little bit of
Satellite / by Harmony Button
When the world changed
I was in an Irish bank
watching the value of my currency
implode. The whole transaction
shuddered, then began to
drop, the way the towers
hovered first, then fell
as if they were not quite sure,
in that moment, if gravity
would still apply. Oh
gravity, it did. Oh
grave transaction, even
then I didn’t understand. How
very heavy. Today, we pull
dead geckos from a
their frozen arms, their
missing legs. We ask
ourselves why they
would fail to procreate
in space. Is this the way?
Today, all the children in 8th grade
are 9/11 babies. Is this
the way we deal with that
horrible moment of shudder,
hover, fall? In between
the smoke and consequence:
an unbearable wait.
thing — a floating tower!
Real things are not real.
Oh world, today, we
curious and unkind:
Russian sex geckos
die in space. Must we
keep learning — our
weight is not the same as
weightless, we all fail
to feel the earth’s
strong itch, the desire
to continue, to bring
new blood into regenerating
all hearts freeze
tragedy is weightless.
Maybe grief is some
hot kind of love. All hearts
fall, are broken by the gravity
of yes — there was a moment
and it’s gone. Yes, this is
the world you live in now.
Gecko / by Sam Cha
Laika, lady, loneliest of all—
who, wired and muzzled
in a missile called Moon,
crossed the threshold
of careless air, to clatter
like chicken-bone in winter trash—
who rose red on fiery thistle,
to fall again as ice and ash:
look kindly upon us,
your echoes, who plunge
from hour to hour
and dark to dark.
Grant us now the gift
of wither. Send us
hiss and whistle
twist us to rags
of bone and gristle:
us, too, they sent
to show them how
to love and live.
The animals of outer space / by Merie Kirby
Any time the Russians send an animal into space
and it dies,
they must contend with the ghost of Laika,
that easy-going pert-eared street dog
into the first cosmonaut.
She was chosen for a mission they knew could only
end in death -
whether caused by lack of oxygen, a poisoned last meal,
or the malfunction of equipment – which is why they all kissed her
on her nose before closing the hatch on her capsule.
Laika’s only mission: to be alive until she wasn’t.
More was expected
this summer of the geckos, five small lichen-colored lizards
sent to space to procreate in weightlessness, aided, scientists believed,
by their sticky toes.
They died, it seems, before accomplishing their mission,
the apparatus meant to warm them malfunctioning. Now they too
outer space, clutching each other with their sticky toes,
while nearby Laika drowses, lulling herself to sleep with the memory
of the one evening,
right before the day of terrible heat and noise,
when she was taken home by one of the scientists and loved
by his children.
from Fibrosis / by Lisa Ludden
Across tables, a beautiful amount of longing
I think I want, but really want architecture.
Hands run the shape of a pelvis. Follow the line intestine,
pierce the belly and stip. These parameters are dying.
I see the view at 15 feet as no view at all.
Slip a hand on a warming radiator,
wasn’t sure they worked anymore.
How we dream life and how we live.
Too much faith in the landscape.
Where do the snakes go when they are not snakes? / by David Rawson
Thousands of men, children, and women woke up mute: you read this somewhere,
back when Russians beat us out of the atmosphere. Two radiation belts kept them from the moon-
the same radiation that gave The Fantastic Four their powers. Remember when
you would keep your copies at my house so your father would not find them? You and I both together
wanted to be the torch, losing ourselves in holy space fire. Our fathers would be The Things,
resting adamantine shoulders together. Our mothers, the Invisible Women who hand lost their voices
years before. You read somewhere the doctors did not know what caused it. I’d said Maybe they had
nothing to say. You said, Maybe they didn’t know how to say it. That winter you and I in snow fort
etched out new words on ice words that we could fill. Long words with 5 Xs and double Ls,
words our fathers would never say. And this year, you wrote me from some Russian city
full of consonants to tell me one day your lover stopped talking. He began walking around the house,
for hours, coming in after you pretended to sleep. You’d clipped out a story about a satellite
the Russians had filled with geckos, then shot into space. Geckos making love in zero gravity,
passing through holy space fire in a metal rocket. You joked that Putin wanted to know
what true love was, a true love outside of everything that pulled us down. Remember when Putin
said the Malaysian plane that had been shot down was a fake? That all those bodies
had already been dead? Silent witnesses meant to deafen. As if truth lies in whoever speaks loudest.
Remember when your father tried to convince us Moses was a superhero? I wanted to know
where the snake went when it wasn’t a snake, when Moses turned it back into a staff. To be and then
not to be. You would bring me the most crooked branches, and I would secretly pray
for them to slither. I wanted to hear words with long Ss. I wondered if Pinocchio was 100 snakes,
enchanted by Moses, carved into a boy, given life by a carpenter a few millennia too late.
Finally given a voice, just wanting to be real. Gepetto with a block of wood in his lap, slowly
molding a mouth. We will always be fantastic. You and I, the torches. Moses and Pinocchio.
The slithering snake branches. Our fathers made of stone. Your lover, the Circle Walker.
All fighting a shirtless Putin single-handedly rocketing sex geckos into space.
Our fathers were promised floating cars by now. At any moment, we could lose our voices.
We could be singing Auld Lang Syne at the same time,
continents apart, then nothing but silence.
July 4, 2001 / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
I stood in East Village and I saw
lights, each bursting star a house.
I followed them, since I had
none. Houses in the sky,
following bodegas, children and sparklers on the street saying Go
Go Go. I thought I saw houses
with their roofs taken off, so I walked
for miles until I was alone, only lights
blotting out my face, my body, my
brother’s, the cleaning crews at night,
The children just in bed, mothers
And fathers, lights through windows that reached limb and woke up the sleeping for just a second. Lit
the city, my brother turning in his bed.
How he told would hit imaginary home runs and I would cheer, his surprise that I always watched. I was watching. Lit, every single body
and foot fall as the children chased
Each other, no where to turn our face.
It Is Still Too Early to Talk
About The Geckos’ Cause of Death / by Emily Van Kley
—representative at the Institute of Biomedical Problem, Russia
For one, they were terribly
beautiful. Their gold skin
the color of celebrity eyelids
overlaid with plangent blue-green
& daubed red to match
the half-masks they wore
below their eyes—gestural
fine-art lizards, ornate day geckos
even science was obliged
to name them. Soft around the legs
and midsections, not a species
enamored of the appearance
of starvation, they preferred
to lick soft, sweet fruit, pollen &
nectar. We can’t yet bring ourselves
to discuss how they perished,
only to say that they gleamed
marching into that capsule
& of those sent up—the mice,
the flies, the fungus––only
the geckos were equal
to the dark jewel of space.
The Way of All Worlds / by Jessica L. Walsh
They had needed a vacation
…with its perfect conditions for sex
like free time and weightlessness
But alas they failed
…They couldn’t leave it all behind
couldn’t stop worrying about the kids
As the days passed and the heat went out
…neither one thought to embrace
and keep the cold at bay
We could be the mummified geckos
…their green mostly ceded
to a long future of brown
Or maybe we could be the fruit flies
…who barely noticed space
and how it was different from garbage
They are the drosophila
…the lovers of dew
happy to settle for condensation
because that too can serve
…to quench their thirst
as they resume survivors’ lusty work
Day 10 / Poems 10
The smell of stars / by Heather Bourbeau
it was cold the night we climbed the peak
to watch the moonrise and smell the stars
we wound scarves and pulled coats
cool release of fog that had held us
like we used to hold each other—
enfolding first, then timid
as our breath deepened, oxygen thinning
hearts quickening, we understood what happens
when the air is old and infinite,
when pain and beauty float between
like burned remnants from the first explosions
that created heavens above—
the eruptions happened long ago
but the light lives on as echoes
Upon Seeing The New 150th Anniversary Edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass / by Harmony Button
Some books look so good you wanna
…………..lick ‘em, like the good stuff on the pages
was an everlasting gobstopper, some kind of
…………..sweet and sour cheek-puckerin’ addiction
that kinda burns ya while you’re sucking at it but
…………..leaves you hankering for more, more more.
I like the ones with the not-glossy covers, ones
…………..with crinkle cut pages like Ruffles Have Ridges
potato chips (chomp chomp) — oh yes, I’d eat them up.
…………..I’d thumb through those good stories
by the bag and say suck it to cholesterol. Hell yes.
…………..I’ll always fight to stay awake to hear another
chapter, just one more, another page, just tell me
…………..in your lovely voice another sentence, feed me
one good word in your big gorgeous hands, one word
…………..in that good ink and while you mouth it let me
wallow, swallow, sleep.
Syphon Filter / by Sam Cha
Cale pulls the chain, hooks it onto the end
of a glass tube. The chain’s connected
to a spring. The spring’s connected
to a metal disk, holes drilled through it,
and covered with cheesecloth. The metal
disk blocks the opening of the tube,
which flares, blossoms into a vitreous
tulip, into which my friend now scoops
a cup of ground coffee. Then he fastens
the whole thing on top of a coffee pot
two thirds full of water, on top of the stove.
“Syphon filter,” Cale says. “How it works
is the water boils and the steam pushes
the water through the tube, up into the coffee.
Then there’s a partial vacuum in the pot,
which pulls the coffee back down. Watch.”
So we watch. The water bubbles, marches
up the tube, driven by the same force
that pushed Mark Twain up the Missisippi,
scalded his brother, brought guns to buffalos—
it murks, makes black coffee mud, roils, rises,
falls. Bloom of rust in the glass stem,
curl and spread of it through the coffee pot.
Darkens like rain. You can see the currents:
hair-thin striations folding like taffy.
All our sense are an extension of touch—
touch a neuron and fluid pressure forces
potassium out and sodium in. Seeing
is the touch of photons and hearing touch
of air. Memory, the touch of time,
which is the direction of world’s end.
“Perfect, isn’t it? Like a fairy tale or a bicycle.”
Sometimes it seems to me we’ve never
not been friends. I remember, but I don’t.
I’ve known Cale for thirteen years.
He’s moving to Seattle. I am sad.
Sadness is a perfect thing, though
words are not. In this world
there are still a few perfect things.
I am making a dress for my daughter / by Merie Kirby
She wants to know how history fits her; she knows
it must, but she can’t make sense of it. I pull it from its hanger
and show her her great-great-grandfather sleeping in a hotel
in San Francisco in 1906,
the great rattle, his leap from bed with only pants and wallet
and running out, helping pull people from rubble.
How often he has been running – from Michigan farm
and whippings, at 14
he ran to the circus, took to the wires and swing.
Two years later he returned to marry. But, like many,
she and the baby sickened and died;
he left for California.
Here is her great-great-grandmother, Swedish girl
at the Boston Cooking School, then traveling
alone to her new job in New Orleans,
cooking for a hotel.
Restless, she moves next to California, traveling by ship
through the Canal, standing in the back to watch squid
follow in the wake, then a train, L.A. to Oakland,
where they meet.
Here is the house they built, blacksmith and cook,
Here is their daughter, plucking a chicken.
Here is a happy childhood, full of stories
of cats who loved ducks,
chain-gang convicts who searched for and found
lost children, her brother shooting dead
the rattler at her feet, wine from elderberries
harvested beside new highways,
visits to Italian friends in the foothills,
where at dinner children were given wine
mixed with sugar water; all the years before
her parents died.
Here is her orphaned great-grandmother, a teenager
living in Los Angeles with a Jewish couple,
the Beloveds – oh, how they were! – and listening
to families gather
to share information on how to get relatives
out of Germany. Already I can tell she is worried
about this dress, about it being too big,
too difficult to wear.
The family stories are the lining, softening
history, that coarse fabric woven of immigration,
influenza, Depression, railroads, genocide, and
is a garment that never quite fits. My task:
to carefully sew the lining in, preserving the cloth,
the drape and hang of it, while making it
bearable to wear.
Some Kind of Eulogy / by Lisa Ludden
The consequences of inquiry are difficult to negotiate when you start to think about the
sacrifices involved and the strangeness that curiosity demands.
The headlines read: “Sex geckos die in orbit on Russian space project” (BBC News).
Even the lizards become objectified.
What was the initial question that launched these geckos: is reproduction possible in space, does
zero gravity increase sexual desire, or does the thrust into orbit damage the sex organs?
44 days in a capsule. Frozen in death, these five geckos. It’s unsettling, these outcomes,
for the dead are still the dead, the remaining flies left caked to the wall.
My Daughter Sees Clouds / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
She names the clouds: the thumb
pressed into the sky, a baby drifting
across the horizon, a breast
that feeds and feeds. Everybody’s hands
pull and push her
into seats and halls, into lines and restrooms,
down to sleep and wakefulness. Every
day is what will they do
to me; the food given, hands
closed and unclosed. There
are bodies that float and loosen
and she is not one of them.
Yet here is a horse with its mane
flushing the sky with gold, rose,
and crimson. Not the face pushed
into the gravel by the schoolboy,
the Stop That and the Now.
As we turn the corner and its gone,
she opens her mouth
and the wail is broad and deep.
Grey / by Emily Van Kley
Today the season rescinds
its aspirant sunrises,
its blown-glass shine
on blue water––even the pine
outside my window seems
to slump under its cape
of ivy, the sky hung
like an old shirt behind.
buildings settle into their usual
camouflage, draw & expel
people dressed in suits
like grim window treatments,
everything mute arterial,
anti-pulse. From here a gradual
acquiescence back to true
character. The air will cool
and then dampen, a dishrag
slowly unwrung. Even
the weeping, when it comes,
will be half-hearted: mist
to shower, fog, break,
mist again. Some of us
will refuse the obvious. Short
pants will persist through
the winter. There will be sandals
with socks, footless tights.
By the time we gorge the stove
with the season’s first fire
we will have been cold
so long we’ll glide
into immediate sleep:
she & I, the cat, the dog,
the friends invited
for the occasion, bodies
slung across various chairs
and couches, unable
to sustain such extravagant
comfort, forgetful of summer’s
brief strivings, windows
that opened, screens
Moribund / by Jessica L. Walsh
Picture the author
as a solid, world-struck child
surprised to learn she was failing
at this human business.
It turned out her clunky bursts of feeling
were not creating a thing
but disrupting a thing called
the process. She was bothering people.
She did as told: hid at the corner desk
with a pile of books, reading
stories of children with no parents
who never seemed to mourn or struggle or need.
These days I read myself to sleep on murder:
killers serial or snapped,
the quiet family man
with a stash of blood-soaked clothes
who came home to his wife
and slid into bed peacefully
as you are now.
You don’t know how I can take it,
why I would send off my day
with the brutal worst of this sinking world.
Neither do I.
I know I am afraid
of everything but paper,
even you sometimes with your
easy spoken words, your friendships
with the people outside this house
who I am not supposed to bother.
Day 9 / Poems 9
Sweet’s sorrow / by Heather Bourbeau
born one of ten on florida farm
grandson of a slave
was five when witness
to a young man burned by mob,
haunted by kerosene, screams
and memory of charred flesh
taken as souvenirs
left home at 13 for the north,
wanted to be a talented tenth,
at medical school witnessed
Washington race riots
five days, six dead, 150 wounded.
did not leave his fraternity
after gang pulled black passenger
out of streetcar, beat him brutally
came to speakeasy detroit
wanted to help black bottom poor
honeymooned with new wife
one year in paris, vienna
heard marie curie,
treated as almost equal
american hospital took his donation
but refused to let daughter
be born near whites
wanted better for his family
a workingman’s bungalow,
paid more than market
but was proud
two months before
ten thousands klansmen
rallied on the west side
he knew the risk
of owning outside the ghetto,
or so he thought
of waterworks park improvement association
of whites unwelcoming.
invited nine friends and family
to help protect this home
“we are not going to run,”
“we are not going to look for trouble,”
but will protect ourselves
if trouble arises
september 9, 1925
officers on corner did little
to stop angry neighbors,
stop crowd that grew to four or five
hundred, threw stones, broke windows
under the heat of a summer night
that, like the stones, wouldn’t quit
until shots fired from within
one man killed outside—white
all adults inside, including wife,
taken in, denied counsel, denied bail,
tried for murder
naacp brought in, darrow defended
cruelties, inequities documented,
all acquitted or charges dismissed
but ossian could not rest,
gladys had caught the cough in jail
passed it to daughter
and followed her to her death
thirty-five years later
he had seen too much
felt, perhaps, more sorrow than justice
and at a different home,
with a different gun
ended his pain with one shot
This Specific Humid Sadness / by Harmony Button
In this state, it is a sin
to resent the rain — but like all creatures
conditioned to expect certain schedules,
we would prefer our regular routines:
…………another dusty evening at the bus stop;
…………another round of sprinklers at dusk.
We can survive the desert, but this display of wealth
makes us uncomfortable — what do we do
to the AC? Around the city, everybody
turns it off, and on, and off again.
This moisture is
…………embarrassingly rich, the earth
an emperor, suddenly revealed
to be naked. All our clothes and bodies, in this close proximity –
we start to smell like skin.
……………….Avert your gaze! Call in
your children from the puddles gathering
in dirt so dry it has forgotten how
to drink. Don’t let them see
…………that neighbor-lady in her soggy
cotton pants and tank that has soaked itself
in the shape of her body –
…………the collarbones and breasts,
…………the tops of thighs, the curve of low
Even the dog can sense
…………this specific humid sadness, his wag
slunk sideways in uncertain circles. Inside,
the house, like latent compost, starts to mulch:
……………………the wall that weeps
……………………starts weeping; my stubborn streak
throws open windows,
sets up fans,
and says to hell with sadness — come on in.
“That we must eat again of the tree of knowledge” / by Sam Cha
After Heinrich von Kleist
The nine scintillant and sleepy movements
of Omar the falafel maker at Frankie
the Falafel and Schwarma King:
scoop / slap on wooden mold / slap / smooth
up / reverse spoon / smooth down / pat top /
and bottom / tip into yellow bubble grease
(hot fragrant with cumin sumac oregano) no
splatter hardly a ripple; dip rise darken crisp
like the skaters under the improbable curve
of the Manhattan Bridge, jump and fall
and glide, in some viscous heat shimmer
of motion—if there is god god’s floating
instant, twirl and flash of spoon. Crescent
street pigeon’s eddy of stoop and stop.
And So It Goes / by Lisa Ludden
Time in thought stops, becomes, out of body of out responsibility, a clock melting my brain and the molten thought becomes mercury, something heated, something cooled, something burning and so there is nothing holding me to the earth but the salt, something biblical, as if I journeyed here, but the truth is, I’ve stopped breathing for a moment, this halted awakening—I cannot seem to remember exactly what I am.
What I have is the idea of something as it slips down and, this collected salt, attached, coarse and flaking, preserves, keeps me in the constant wake of working something new, an uncertain placement.
Emerging through the draping fog the haze of walking, shedding, equally submerged in the cool morning sand, patches foamy and wet footprints are a momentary preservation what was held so tightly.
Moving in and out of time, gathering histories, as much as possible, to pocket for another day, another time in order to create an alternate map of the world. What is preservation is actually restoration, tender questions in place, wound part of the systematic routine and all that is piled is you.
The Baptism of John / by David Rawson
To say we are living in the land of milk & honey
is somehow worse than to say the land of cows & bees,
reducing an invisible equation to liquid, as if licking
my lips is my thirst.
See John, baptizing Pharisees. See the Son of Man,
asking, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”
The heavens open, & an electric dove with manna-mouth
dives onto his shoulder, then down into the Lake of Tiberius,
drowned by some invisible weight, & he asks again, “Who
is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
The wandering stars, a netherworld of darkness, how many
doves could crawl out of the earth, could give the names
of mothers, could crow louder than any stone? How many prophets
could crawl out, striking infinite stones, creating infinite rivers, infinite
thirst, who could part seas like your mother parts your hair.
John hesitates to drink water, to take a bath. He cringes when it rains,
when birds sing in the morning. He can cover and cover and cover,
speak the names of all his mothers to every cock,
wipe the moisture from every pore,
but naked is naked, and mud is mud.
Push / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
When it comes time, its only legs
that seem like mere twigs to herself.
How can she push when her hands
feel empty, and when she unclenches
her fists, out fall all of the Hail Marys,
every version of God she prayed. The
man she talked to on the subway
who kept telling her to move, move
Goddamnit, when she realized he was
talking to himself into a corner. But
even he must have been telling her to push, every run and fall, the bruised knee that
swelled like a heart that she
wanted to hide. But here, no cover,
only white walls and the push, the push to pull to
climb something she can’t see.
Push like she’s moving trains of
people, which she is really,
into a future full of bruised knees
shaped like hearts, voices speaking
to ourselves when sometimes,
a woman listens and speaks.
Love Poem / by Emily Van Kley
We are not for hers & hers
bath towels. Not for line-drawn
windshield families festooned
with triangle skirts & soccer balls.
We are not for celery, houseflies,
or skydiving. Not for grout,
seersucker, or rosé. One of us
is not for brash colors.
The other is not for films
in which someone is in danger
of dying. Together we are
for neither credit card debt
nor morning glory. We accept
the exigencies of, but are not
strictly for, menstruation.
Graph paper, shoulder pads,
Mars colonization: we are not
for them. Following recent
commentary, it’s possible
we are no longer for Elizabeth
Warren. Current living situation
notwithstanding, we are not
for houses with inadequate
porches. Neither of us is for
right-turn-only lanes or starlings.
About shoe size & email
providers, we have no opinion,
though regarding sales flyers,
football & broasted chicken,
we will have to agree to disagree.
Low-End Blessings / by Jessica L. Walsh
Last night the cicadas were raptured.
Their skeletons taunt us from fence posts
as if to say Even we have found favor enough
to be lifted from our bones.
Tonight we will sleep in the yard
under the cicadas’ favored tree.
We make opportunities for serendipity,
for minor grace from intern gods.
We cast a snag line of prayers
to the deities we can envision:
the cranky unpopular spirits
whose beat is decaf and hairy fruits;
the unwinged would-be angels
helping tiny fish through beaver dams;
the earth-stuck guru incarnations
returning sand from suitcase to beach;
the future saints waking up hungover,
wondering if they could still die holy.
Help us abandon these, our worthless bones,
we call out. We think we’re due some mercy
given this run of pranks.
Day 8 / Poems 8
Quench / by Heather Bourbeau
summer sun salutation, madrone peels,
sheds rough for young yellow green
to age into burnt sienna smoothness,
now dark green leaves shed in drought—
along the watershed
creek beds dry,
rocks ache to be covered, cooled,
colored by the rush of river
fir needles brown and curl along spines,
leathery laurel blades softly fragrant still
collect in piles where they should float
with first showers, dance between stones
to meet and mulch
as we wait for rain,
mud has become a memory
two weeks ago
the earth trembled, broke
bottles and buildings, cracked
open just enough
to release groundwater,
to slake our collective thirst
like an oasis
for a month or two
to end the parchment,
we may yet pray for a big one
Lessons from Mountains / by Harmony Button
The mountain doesn’t care how you are feeling.
The mountain is a mountain with wide teeth
and gentle tongue.
The mountain is a mouth that’s always teething,
molars cropping out from saddle jawbones,
The mountain is monastery full of cricket monks:
a frenzy of tranquility. At dusk they’re chanting up a storm
of frost and peace.
When the mountain lets you, look into its ribcage:
the thin bones of aspens rise and fall around the lungs
of steepest hillsides.
You’re never a real member of the mountain
until you make a little trickle in the dirt: just another
animal at night.
The mountain is a mouth that sucks the thumb
of the full moon. The moon is thick
as mountain in your mouth.
The mountain grows a fist of juniper and gives
the finger to the big dipper. The mountain’s finger
is your northern star.
That the door is a disguise / by Sam Cha
if I guesstimate
it is about seven pounds
depends on hardware-
chain sold by the yard
on the cotter pin
on the elbows of the steel
the wind behind the door gathers and leaks
the feral magnetic poles align
a chain for every
and a weight for each
a movement suspends
a thought or a thief
six fall haiku / by Merie Kirby
morning walk to school
sun just high enough to blind
pulling fall behind
late fall mosquitos
are desperate, have no finesse
will always be slapped
last orange nasturtium
basil dried up in the pot
pansies still blooming
pies, stews, roasts, and soups
fresh baked bread and casseroles
changing out cookbooks
school, soccer, choir
grading papers late at night
but soon – Halloween!
one yellow elm leaf
rocking in the chilly wind
laughing to itself
Holding Pattern / by Lisa Ludden
The current state of discontent is self-made, or at least man-made.
Slumped on the kitchen floor, seeking beautiful sentences,
I don’t want to be available. I want to be the delicate ache of beautiful sentences
as they latch on to something new. What happened to the solitary day,
the one that moved with sunlight as its gauge?
In trying to keep up, I stop listening to the part of my brain that
interprets in images, its edges yellowing sickly pale.
There is always a small aspect of self that dissipates, and absence deeply felt
but the regeneration comes in fits and starts if you let it.
Orion / by David Rawson
Once in Kentucky, you and her looking for the river front, you not telling her you’d been lost
for hours. Seeing a sign that read Name Your Price, you parked your F150 in someone’s lawn
and walked back half a mile. This was back when you gave meaning to the simplest of finds—
always a fortune cookie away from enlightenment, a crossword hint away from greater truth.
Years ago, you dug under the driver’s seat of your brother’s Honda, past his secret cigarettes,
to a book on tape. A man with a fake British accent explored the question Is Elvis alive?
by repeatedly asking, Well, is he? Citing a paperback copy of Orion by Gail Brewer Giorgio. Back when
you believed what you read if the writer seemed to believe it too. So plausible that Elvis had eaten
one last peanut butter and banana sandwich, then carved his name into a bathroom stall before boarding
his plane. The freedom of Waldo, the freedom of being your own parody, or Elvis becoming
an Elvis impersonator, hiding in plain sight. A man from a part of England not even God could name
asking, Well, is he? And all these years later, years of meaning to hunt down Orion, you find it
wedged between a cookbook and Trivial Pursuit some indeterminate distance away
from the Kentucky riverfront. You’ve heard of boats like in Tom Sawyer, of hula-hoops of fire,
of a long mural of a train painted as if it is driving right into you. Your grandfather,
the one you never met, said every good movie starts with a train. But maybe he just liked Westerns.
Somewhere your brother is healing a man in a Costa Rican hospital. Years later when he gets sick
himself, he will think of that man. Somewhere a river boat captain is giving a group of tired children
from Illinois the Twain tour. Somewhere Elvis Presley chews a sprig of wisteria. On the way back
to the car, you walked into an open garage with a sign written in the same hand as before that read
Pay Up the Hill. And finally, the house attached to the garage, the one with a two-by-four
propped against the handle, as if to keep something in instead of out. Into the living room,
you step into ash. Imprints of flickered flames crawl up the walls like centipedes, or what touch
would be without fingers. Despite heavy drawn curtains, a kind of light comes through, except
in the bathroom. You see a darkness you’ve only seen briefly, in the eyes of the truly gone,
or in looking straight up into night, forcing a prayer to the god of fortune cookies.
She took a button. You took a baseball. You both washed them methodically, not in the river,
but under a waterspout attached to her parents’ home. Weeks later, she says, The button
is so cold. Colder than it should be. You let the baseball roll in your truck for a month.
Then, with a glove, you took it out. Where did you put it? Can you reach back eight years
with certainty? Did you at least buy the book? Somewhere a river boat captain
tells a group of tired children His real name was Samuel Clemens. Mark Twain was his pseudonym.
Somewhere one of those tired children hears soda name, as if you can drink to the bottom
And take a new name, one not centipeded into the wall of your heart.
Nonsomnolent / by Emily Van Kley
We wake ardent, we wake
concave, open our eyes
in a snit of singularity.
We wake wily, wake
at the business end
of ongoing diminishment.
We wake after dreams
so arch, so full of twee
villainy it’s no wonder
we’re always getting up
to leave. Nightgowns
are errant around the legs
and torso, so we wake
without them. We wake
sweat saronged, latticeless.
We wake to a breast
as everyone has always
suspected. Our sleep
pends, diasporic. We sleep
unctuously in summer.
Our love is official
now. We are an institution
unto each other. When
she ships her legs
to the mattress’s farthest
admonition, it is breath
breaking. We wake
in brazen arrangements.
so I’ll tell you: we are
incredible in bed.
I Write the Ending / by Jessica L. Walsh
A girl orphaned during the depression
kept warm on charm and fury.
They say I got her wide smile
…..her addiction to words
…her flinty lasting rage.
She lived most of a century
clutching one pocketbook
stuffed with Psalms and grudges.
What this means is I am not done.
.My decades are waiting for me like a stockpile,
.but for you the years pulse irregular.
You should probably
take the bet against you.
Because I plan to jackknife my car
just behind your hearse
so the sad flagged masses can’t follow.
You will take your slow roll alone and wonder:
Where are those who loved me?
I’ll swing by your estate sale
where I’ll put my hands on what mattered most to you:
….the first edition Melville
.or the watch that came with a manly story.
I’ll steal what I can carry.
………….(Even if this happens now I am not young enough to be a thief.)
And I will throw your prizes,
your treasures turned junk, into the pond
you restored obsessively
to some mythical original,
like you were Jesus in waders.
When I’ve seen it through—and
I imagine I will know when I’m done—
I can let my focus slip
until I am a mix of childhood and anger
as is the family tradition.
In a home in my private room (does not do well with roommates)
I will hear the birds
whose task it is to sing the coming of early dawn,
the notes a soundtrack for
lovers parting with promise, or
bloody undiscovered crime scenes,
or me nearly gone, trying to hear
in their melody a sign
for where I will see you next.
Day 7 / Poems 7
The Last Passenger / by Heather Bourbeau
“pennies a piece” her family and friends
had clustered and climbed the skies
to their demise.
their flocks eclipsing the sun,
their numbers tempting the triggers
solitary was the key to longevity, she now understood
she was alone, caged
with only the name they gave her
as there was no one left who spoke her language.
the husband they gave her died
like everyone else she had actually loved
she understood, but did not want her celebrity,
her existence enough for bulbs and banter.
on good days, she hoped for a miracle—
if not another of her kind, at least a companion.
on bad days, she thought,
it would have been kinder to kill me as well
[A brother is a cistern and a bucket with a rope] / by Harmony Button
A brother is a cistern and a bucket with a rope. The care with which
the rope is tied is not the same as knitting, but knitting is also a kind
of love. There are many, many boots. Years of knowing and
not-knowing but at least being present result in some impenetrable
surface. Waves on waves, water in the tank. During winters, we all
knock the pipes, which is to say, we suffer. Which is to say, we’re
human. Which is to say, we have each other in a contract of always.
Cisterns function not by choice, but function. They are, as ropes
and buckets also. The simplicity of this arrangement makes for
sensible decisions and some excellent breakfast. The simplicity
of breakfast is to wake from sleeping, then to eat. In real life,
tea is not as strong as coffee, even though it is. People will say so.
Justice and deserving leave old tracks in dirt. Loose tea sticks in
teeth, an injustice in the craw. Who gives drinks to river mouths?
Underground, a buried source. Hand on hand to surface.
884 Main Street, Cambridge MA / by Sam Cha
Playlist / by Merie Kirby
music has crept
burrowing past ribs
nudging aside lungs
words as present
as my own thoughts
under my own
in the darkness
of my body
their own light
I don’t believe
at first sight
but I believe
have claimed me
would they live
Solace / by Lisa Ludden
He swings gently, a beer in hand, on the ski lift that hangs from the Oak in our backyard.
All the things I don’t know are sorted out there.
Unpacking the day, yes, but looking beyond the repetition as a matter of hope.
As we get older, we want less, but the cost is so much more.
The questions belong to me and the answers belong to him.
We cannot know each other unequivocally. Some aspects must be sacred and singular.
The rusted sky edges away, melts into the horizon like a wish or longing.
And the day is put to rest.
Breathalyzer / by David Rawson
The second time she blows into the breathalyzer,
the car will not start, even though she stopped drinking
hours ago, has eaten crackers and gulped down water
in a stranger’s house. One of them blames her for a hole
in the wall. She spreads her arms out in mock crucifixion.
Breathalyzer, as if it creates breath, a small little Big Bang.
Months ago, after a falling out of some kind of love,
she taped pictures of Joshua Jackson she cut out of Parade Magazine
to the dashboard of her car.
Marilyn vos Savant is answering a riddle about two trains in the night,
& one fly flickering off a window of Train 1, heading for Train 2.
In this example, the trains never stop, never slow down,
just arrive. The fly, too, never rests.
Joshua Jackson covers her dashboard, her glove compartment,
the same portrait reproduced over and over.
Remember when Pacey bought Joey that wall on Dawson’s Creek,
& she just stood there, paint roller in hand?
She calculates how long it will take to walk home,
if it is better to start out fast, knowing she will need to slow
in the middle. If she leaves now. Or right now. If she pretends
this neighborhood is a stranger’s house.
If she takes one deep breath that lasts hours of walking.
She is the Breathalyzer. Her body is breath.
It’s a Fine Reason / by Emily Van Kley
to travel by bicycle,
the black seat that heats
in the sun & holds her unsaid
self pressed close, the personal
furniture of it, the thrum
over cracked asphalt to conjure
Day 6 / Poems 6
Before Ford / by Heather Bourbeau
Before Ford and Gaye,
before Hoffa and Kilpatrick
there were the People of the Three Fires,
the Anishinabeg, “spontaneous beings”
created by divine breath
who chose to gather not settle
at the bending river
to hunt, fish, trade news and goods
Before Renaissance Towers and River Rouge
before factories thriving or empty
before homes built or burned
there were corn and sweet grass
crabapple and black cherry
beaver, swan and bear
Before the settling and sacraments
there were Dollier and Bréhant,
missionaries who saw stone sculpture,
felt duty as they mapped the region
(to better find and convert locals,
furriers and petulant Huguenots
like my family),
duty to cut with axe,
to desecrate the consecrated,
to throw stone pieces into river,
a river that had claimed
their own canoe, altar and icons
Before his name was class cliché
before the British, then the US
there was Cadillac, the fort maker
offered shelter to native allies,
built Sainte Anne’s Church—only witness
to the ebb and flow of man on this land—
had a decade of new world profiteering,
until declared corrupt, sent south
(Kwame was a just a traditionalist)
Before the American Indian Movement
there was a plaque on Capitol Park Building
to mark “Detroit’s Last Indian Massacre”
in 1814, when four or five Chippewa
killed and scalped a white farmer,
captured his son for ransom.
the plaque now gone, the lesson remains:
one white man murdered is a “massacre”
And years before the first European,
before the treaties and tear downs
there was the second fire prophecy
when the Anishinabeg would camp
by large water, direction
of the sacred shell lost,
tribe split and separated
until a young Potawatomi
pointed the way back
to tradition, to the whole,
showed the path across islands,
the stepping stones to a future north,
away from this land
Word Problem on D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths / by Sam Cha
Mutter Paneer / by Merie Kirby
a gallon of bright white milk in the dented old soup pot over a medium blue flame
still cold moon growing warmer, cratered around the edges 40 minutes in
small bowl of vinegar patiently, pungently waiting for the skin forming on top
to pucker, pull in, the edge-bubbles to grow and roil under the opaque surface
in a faster-faster pattern that says it is time. When poured in – immediate separation.
Curds and whey pull apart, junior high dance floors when the slow song starts.
Strained through cheesecloth, pressed under a bowl weighted by cans,
in four hours it will be a thick white cake of cheese, ready to be cubed and fried.
ii. garam masala
coriander: papery seed coverings whispering
cumin seeds: tell them from caraway by their earthier smell
Tellicherry peppercorns: wizened spheres, darkest spice in the cup
whole cloves: winter scepters bereft of their hams, rum, oranges, cider
cardamom seeds: popped from their pods with the scent of anise
bay leaves: mossy green and cracked
dried chiles: brick red gift from a friend
wear an apron
use more ginger than is called for
stand back when you add the cumin seeds to the hot oil
whirr the onion, ginger, garlic, green chile to purplish paste
use half a teaspoon more of the garam masala
stand back again when you pour in the tomato sauce
if you saved some of the whey, add that instead of water with the peas
add the cream slowly, watch the white rose blossom in the red sauce
your cool water bath
clouded each time
loosened starch dissolving
now in your steel cocoon
you begin your transformation
you absorb, plump, grow,
wait to be unveiled in a cloud of steam,
to be the shore the curry laps,
cubes of cheese, globes of peas,
plankton scatter of cilantro,
and in the distance
a raft of naan waits
to scrub the world clean.
Talking Politics / by Lisa Ludden
-for my Uncle Dave
Reagan is to Kennedy in fondness of memory says the democrat to the republican.
He laughs gently while I continue.
In the absence of bold action and rhetoric that enacts change, we look to the past.
It’s easier to speculate (I, equally guilty) than to act judiciously.
It isn’t a fear of action, though; our reflexive nature is to pick up a weapon and shoot
before listening. But I’m not trying to place blame; there is too much of that already,
as we develop our allegiances instantaneously, or more often, enter the room
already knowing the answer we were brought up with.
Consider the national arguments, the pissing matches on the floors of Congress,
the talking heads on all sides making a mockery of themselves, each other and
I laugh and wince and throw my hands up. I am no better. I don’t know where to begin.
I’m waiting for the rallying cry that we will never be able to hear over the rhetoric of politicians.
Political. A word used as if it were to apply to everything, it’s broad definition fostering
duplicitousness. We will never always be right. Look back and see.
We are no longer tearing down visible walls, watching bricks crumble at the feet of grateful men,
for that would be something we could get behind, a visceral accomplishment, even if only
through our televisions. It’s the invisible threat that haunts us now.
So this is what I know.
My Uncle Dave and I can discuss (albeit passionately) the strengths and flaws of our politics
(there are many, equally) and counter each other point by point, but still acknowledge
that something must be settled upon.
Something must be settled upon.
And we’re still kind to each other, even though all that we decided on was whose turn it was to
grab the next beer (mine). It goes beyond familial, this kindness, it’s a humanness we all possess.
Crystal Clear / by David Rawson
I broke up with him after his son stepped on my foot. If I’d married him,
I’d be dead by now. It would have worked if he hadn’t been such a shit.
When they end, they end. I do so much better when everything is terminal.
Do you think we’ll have to flirt when we’re past fifty? God forbid. Who knows
how much flirting we’ll have to do before we die. He has a stone in his pocket –
he changes it every day. Super-duper minerals, little crystals organized by mood.
His son touches them when he’s not looking. I could never have a kid, constant touching,
everything in the mouth, always moving. I have a crush on his son’s beard, but everything
would be perfect if no one ever moved. The way you talk about it, I don’t think I’ve had one.
Not the way you talk about it. The closest must have been years ago. Like a Pulp Fiction briefcase.
If the crystal cracks straight down the middle, someone is trying to hex you.
If part breaks off in your hand, take a shower immediately. Paint your doorways red—
never accept her apology. Half-read books on yoga. Mapquest directions to meditation.
You won’t go. You bought the blue ones in a Tucson head-shop. The red ones came by mail,
college friends who you half remember. Steal any mythology that sticks—your phone is a kind
of crystal, maybe. Remember when she called, and the screen cracked? Remember when you
didn’t raise your voice for a week. Remember when you drove through Colorado mountains
to try it one more time. She talks about becoming, about two spirits drawn together.
But I am hopelessly Western. Hopelessly Midwestern. People hear an accent, some variation
in a vowel sound- is that the scariest? To not hear what others hear? To not know your own voice?
The way you talk about, I don’t think I’ve had one. Not the way you talk about it. The closest
must have been lives ago, but only when I remember to believe in something.
Not the way my dad does, no. I’d like to think there is an in-between,
past acceptance or rebellion. That I’m not asking the right questions. Toward the red ones,
I guess. But nothing has ever changed by putting crystals in your pocket. He can forgive for moments,
for weeks sometimes. To be the person he hopes he is. I joke that I like my knuckles
like I like my crystals. That everything I do affects some decision, that mistakes others make
define me. That two spirits can be drawn together. That being wrong with conviction is the same
as being right. That people listen too closely to my vowels. That she would ever call me her son.
That she won’t. That love is a death angel. I sucked the blue ones when no one was looking.
I read somewhere the mouth is key. I read somewhere no one ever truly forgives.
The way you talk about it, I’d say not yet. Maybe never. Not sure what that would be.
Sometimes when I am still, in a red doorframe, I think I could try.
Yes yes yes. Every day yes. Right now yes. Leaving was the best I ever did. I can see them
in a haze. Everything is better from outside. Everything is better in the leaving.
This Is Not a Woman / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
This is not
a woman, sitting in a room
writing. It is a woman
whose hair has grown
wild fire, melting every
frozen moment in her house.
Birds titter at the window,
as if to see the commotion. But
it is themselves they see, small
bodies wanting to fly into
themselves, becoming one
thing. Like the woman, who is
not one woman, but another,
and a man, and a child, and
another. So many to carry
and it rains out of her, fuego,
tongues and limbs,
The body alive all at once.
Lake St. Clair / by Emily Van Kley
Far past seedy, the dock
has gone half to lawn.
Boards split & absent,
four humped sections
that bump & rake
at the slightest wave.
We tie up at a dead
flower basket, make
an afternoon of it:
Uno, beer with cozies,
swim in water thick
through our arms
as if summer has harvested
its surplus wetness.
We dry slowly, change
into shirts with sleeves.
A pontoon approaches,
later some kayaks.
We are never evicted.
Still we prevent
the dog from sniffing
too near the moss-roofed
house with its dim
windows, a bird-feeder
inexplicably full at its eave.
The Symmetrical Life of Pablo Escobar, Part 1 / by Jessica L. Walsh
He had honest-looking boots
stuccoed with dirt and toil.
But his first farm was the cemetery
where he stole gravestones,
and you would like to think
he chose from the grassy neglected rows,
those unlikely to be missed by family who no longer came.
But business: He took whatever was closest to his truck.
If he saw a mother arrive at a grave he had stripped,
saw her search the earth for a name—
if he ever reconsidered, he told no one.
You want him to have had that moment,
don’t you, when he knew himself to be awful.
You are unrewarded.
He sanded the gravestones blank for resale
in dark markets someone like you could not imagine,
where buyers pick through clothes still flecked with flesh,
glasses broken to another face,
boots that come with bits of feet.
It’s a dirty job, raising profits from the dead
who in their own lives had nothing new.
Their grandchildren will thank him
for the ice cream socials and the zoo
even though they know his fortune came from
taking and giving the terms of death.
You want these descendants to rise up resentful,
at least to refuse his tokens.
But there again you are wrong.
He has a monumental stone, a tomb even,
the marble mined abroad for him alone.
Beside it is an armed guard
and a vendor who sells chips and candy
to villagers paying respects.
Day 5 / Poems 5
Habits / by Heather Bourbeau
I had a cigarette habit when I was 13.
My friend, Nancy, and I split a pack of cloves,
savored the sweetly numbing tips
without inhaling, for a moment
we felt cool, Vans and Gudang Garam—
passports to skate punks we called friends
and whose kisses we craved.
After two, maybe three, weeks, we each gave up
felt too awful physically, couldn’t commit to pain
(though the temporary rebellion was delicious)
I was never good at visible self-destruction
(I brought almonds and mineral water
to the high school smoking wall)
My survival instinct too strong
perhaps from hospital stays
too familiar, too young that created
a need to squeeze the juice out of life,
a need to have my auto-ruination so deceptive
that I could not recognize the machinations
No, my weapon of choice was not the heroin, downers,
booze or daredeviling that tempted and tore my loved ones—
it was more opaque, with no poster children and
fewer interventions and twelve-step programs.
I sought the love of those unwilling to be imperfect,
who were more demonstrative with their self-hate,
who painted or sung or wrote or danced in flourishes
that belied this pattern, that had me hoping
this one would be different
(though I knew my addiction and its slippery tongue)
My health is strong, my lungs are grateful,
but I wonder if I had stuck with cloves a bit longer
would I have seen and accepted my own imperfections sooner,
would I have chosen better partners,
would I have turned that temporary swagger into genuine moxie
or would I have suffered a brutal destruction of organs
never to know the beauty of my ever-whitening hair
in the sunset over the Indian Ocean
(or worse, suffered just the same)
Metamorphosis / by Sam Cha
Sleeplessness turned me
into a kind of velvet,
my palms a luxury
of sweat. It was so dark
I was inside-out. At night
I still believe the world
is only a part of me. I breathed
and in hidden branches,
heavier than black, the wind
rustled leaf and leaf—
Then came a crash, clatter. A shriek
almost human. A fluid chitter, alien
and familiar as my own face in dreams—
raccoons, fighting in the trees.
Ancient roads / by Merie Kirby
The mustard highways of California
run north-south, from mission to mission,
road where there were no roads,
but now the plant is widespread,
smear of yellow on the hillside
visible from any vehicle moving
fast on the concrete ribbons,
from the coast to the Sierras,
where mustard grows in the chaparral,
beneath the mountain mahogany.
Which is not a true mahogany,
not the kind of tree that grows in Brazil
to heights of 75 feet, no, mountain mahogany
is a member of the rose family, a shrub
whose flowers look more like honeysuckle.
The mustard flower is small and yellow
and you can easily make
your own mustard by grinding the tiny seeds,
mixing them with water, vinegar, and salt,
to draw out the pungent sharpness.
The product hews close to its source,
unlike, say, the marshmallow,
that extruded pillow of air and sugar,
which began its history as mucous-like sap
drawn from the stems of a pale pink flower
to ease sore throats. Long ago, Egyptians
mixed the sap with nuts and honey,
Roman gladiators rubbed it on their bodies.
Now Althaea officinalis has as much
to do with marshmallows as the serrated
green leaves of peppermint have to do
with the red and white stripes of a candy cane.
Sometimes it seems like everything
ends up far from its origins,
but the ancient roads, the ones worn
through forests, those necropolis-marked,
paths that trace the earth’s hardened ridgeways,
or that burst into bloom every year,
still run beneath everything, history’s ley lines
constantly, unknowingly connecting.
The Ease of Diagnosis / by Lisa Ludden
-after Melancholy Woman, 1902 by Pablo Picasso
The hues of blue are remarkable, the cool cement shade
contrasts with royal saturation of her dress.
Arms knit, neck and shoulders rounded, she sits.
Legs crossed, gaze lowered, but her eyes,
open, locked in on her knees.
It’s the mouth that gives her away.
Lips pressed thin and tight, body bundled,
tucked just so between the blue smeared walls
where she waits out the fury as it erodes her insides.
She isn’t melancholy, this woman.
Even in 1902 she knew progress would loom before her
only to step back, out of the way of men.
Passion Play / by David Rawson
I am nine. I am always nine.
My brother is Satan. We paint each other’s faces
all three nights – Everyone in the church auditorium applauds
loudly for my brother, the morning light, the charismatic villain.
Jesus, a meek balding man with sour breath, takes the keys
to death, hell, and the grave to much softer applause.
My brother, a vaudevillian West-Side-storied Satan,
snap-crackle-popper, wearing every emotion in white makeup.
We gradually forget horns- we are hypnotized by electric spit,
the fury of a Gandalfed praise leader – Lucifer’s entire body was music.
My brother is singing, vibrating, oscillating between
two things I do not have words for. I am nine. I am a minion
demon, voiceless, pawing at the air and grinning wildly, shouting
when my brother shouts. I am in agreement.
I have not yet read Milton. I do not question the standing ovation
for the fourteen-year-old boy who stampedes heaven.
My face still painted, after each performance, the demons
stand together in a back room of this church and hold hands,
asking the God of Acts to take us by the tongue. We are anointed,
I think. We worship a God who understands context, understands
the subversion of his own history. God applauds for passion plays,
or his creation to reenact the loss of a third
of the angels, of the day Adam bit and kept biting.
I am nine, somewhere. I am painting my brother’s face. He says, “Selah.”
And I do too.
Bedtime / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
She is afraid of fire,
she says, as I tuck her
into bed for night. What if
fire licks into her curtains,
onto the floor. What if
the door won’t open, the window
just a clear closed mirror of ember.
Stay with me, she says. You
are here now, the room stays
Still. My palm on her head, I stay
and stay. Sirens all night, keeps me
awake, ones I never heard before.
Birches / by Emily Van Kley
–for Arlene & Dave VK
Bones in the dark woods.
Lamplight when the moon
rises. You proffer
leaves, ovate, nutritious,
to the many-stomached
deer. On the ice-edge
of starvation, moose
peel your paper, gain
what hours they may.
O possessors of ament,
catkin, bracht, lovers
of muskeg, boreal, loess,
survivors among the droughty,
the wind-thrown & scarified,
you are no stranger to intimate
mixtures with long-lasting types
like White Pine and Maple,
stark supermodels of the forest
though you may be.
In your yearbook of shed
pages with their peach flush
& curled edges, I say
I hope you never succumb
to the birch skeletonizer,
the leafminer, to rot
or lightening strike.
When I pitch my tent
among you I feel other
than my noisesome
arrival. Still myself
for the germinative fire.
Note: Phrases in italics are from Paper Birch: Betulaceae — Birch family, by L. 0. Safford, John C. Bjorkbom, and John C. Zasada.
The First of Her Elegies / by Jessica L. Walsh
She begs: I need ten minutes
of you telling me what to do.
Nothing she should do is possible now.
My advice bounces off the bolted door
of a motel in a meaningless town
where she is hiding her child
from enemies unverified.
She is one paycheck from her next bad idea
but five states away from her job,
holed up with notebooks
and one change of underwear
for her daughter who she won’t let outside.
For twenty years we locked our door and laughed
until unpretty heaving laughter
birthed a third good woman
we both wanted to be.
I am likely the only one surprised
that we at long last fail
to find our secret room,
that the good woman split up.
I have to make another call
when I hang up with her,
and for that she will not forgive me.
But first I need ten minutes
of hearing her breathe
so I can pause
on the many ways I loved her.
Day 4 / Poems 4
Liberdade / by Heather Bourbeau
The warp and weft of roads
up hills steep and lush,
made for goats and gods not man
woven by homes assembled and patched,
so close, shadows dominate sun.
we are not unaware
of our vulnerabilities
Here the soft blades on our backs,
the ache whenever we see flocks
gather in forms for voyages south or north,
the dreams we have together and alone
We should all have wings, like a bird,
to fly above neighbors,
to see beyond these hills,
to feel the speed of air pushing against our skin
But since our wings will not return,
since we are bound to this earth,
bound to tilt our heads back and yearn,
we press wood to paper, silk, or plastic,
we add string and cry to friends
and make our kites dance and fight
in the blue that cuts the skyline
In Flight / by Harmony Button
Taut little body, denser than meat:
what’s in a species? Frayed denim
shorts, a pool of uncoagulated blood –
some sad sack of taxiderm-ed posterity, or else
an adolescent’s sense of gluttony & fat:
a dinner roll, real butter, dipped in bisque –
peck it, little pigeon. Make it last.
A fast boat is a flock of birds. A fast
is before breakfast. The oars, long feathers.
Pop them out. Pry them in.
At the restaurant, late at night: I worked the swamp,
washing tray on tray of Friday Chicken Fry –
a whole house of meat. After closing, I rode home
by bike. I needed it, the good hard ride,
the smell of chicken sweating out my skin. I needed
to feel complete in that grease, needed to be
forgiven. How many birds had I halved
(drumstick / drumstick / rib & breast)? How long
since I had eaten any flesh? Two years,
maybe three. Still, I felt it in me: hunger, hungry.
Who wouldn’t crave that wingless speed,
that anonymity in flight?
Along the tow-path, moonlight made me
clean. I pedaled like someone was watching,
as if I had something to prove. I rode
myself hard, a passenger inside my body, carrying a message
tied tightly to my inner thigh with twine, addressed
Dear Future Yourself [CONFIDENTIAL] –
but me, being the good little pigeon
that I was, failed to see the flock around me
dying, failed to ever peek, to ever think
that could be me.
The Ambiguity of the Passenger Pigeon / by Sam Cha
They’re all dead.
is unambiguous. …
Read the entire poem by clicking here.
I am a kite / by Merie Kirby
I am thin strong paper tacked
to the bamboo spars of time.
Generations of names scrawled on me;
fresh ones appear constantly,
crowd and fade the old ones.
The line that ties me
to common ground is cotton
toughened with a glue
made thick with finely ground glass.
It is possible I cut the fingers
of the one who made me.
I fly higher and higher.
I cut the lines of other kites.
They fall to the ground
and their names are Society Parakeet,
Lord Howe Swamphen, Mysterious Starling,
Atlas Bear, Passenger Pigeon,
Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse,
Turgid-blossom Pearly Mussel,
Pinta Island Tortoise,
and many, many, many others.
How can I remember them all?
There are eight species of wolf alone,
all on the ground far beneath me.
Every year I own more of the darkening sky.
Rapture / by Lisa Ludden
When I think of flight and extinction, I see my father-in-law.
His magnitude, his possibility far exceeded his body, that human realm.
And I look not so far back to piece together the man I only partly knew,
for the truth of man lies in his secrets.
I see that now, as he, sidling up to his fighter plane, looks out with sharp eyes
and that sagacious smile of experience.
What he must have understood about adaptability and survival.
It’s not happiness, but something close. The control of the soar across constant sky.
The evolving of our being shouldn’t extinguish another.
But it does.
Love is for the birds / by David Rawson
In 1957, Loren Eiseley looked up at two pigeons making love
at the top of a New York sky-rise, thrusting into air, falling from the force
of wind under a lovers wings. They would fall, then slowly remember themselves,
recover, and return to the edge. He wrote, “There was but the sun and the eye
from the first.” He wrote, “Use this for start of nature book.” He wrote,
“Diary of a Suicide Year.” You were there, at the top of that sky-rise,
typing copy about a youth cream that would wash away the years.
Somewhere you are playing Bubble Bobble with a new lover, blowing bubbles
as a little blue dinosaur. You are always the blue one, and he is the green one.
He is so much better at blowing bubbles, at bouncing up, one bubble at a time.
Like a kind of flying, bouncing– sometimes you bounce so high, out of frame.
Sometimes you think you are the green one, and you follow his every move.
Sometimes you do not move at all, your bubbles breaking before you can jump.
Centuries ago, in Athens, you took five raven’s eggs, like David’s stones, impossible small
life in your open palm. You raised the eggs above your head, as if to the sun, an offering of sorts,
a kind of flying, then pressed them against your peppered hair until they broke.
An inky almost seeped through your hair, down past roots, through bone, until they stopped
at the tip of your teeth. There is chaos in being unborn.
A black-tooth scream that flies through a city.
You read somewhere there were no brontosauruses, that Land Before Time got it wrong.
You read raptors had bright blue feathers, that Jurassic Park was a lie.
You read that five couples became engaged this past Sunday. You always said you could tell
which ones would not stay together: the ones with raven-black hair,
the ones with too much ledge, the ones with closed-lipped smiles.
Starve / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
The body is
a language, sometimes
our only one. To hold
the food away from
your own mouth
so you can feel hunger,
the other kind now
So few to listen,
a gesture, a hand on hand,
all we need.
After 100 Years the Passenger Pigeon Returns / by Emily Van Kley
Not just Martha or her barren
love George gone four years
hence in an Ohio zoo, but all
of them, a billion bodies
blanking the horizon, manufactured
wind pouring through the streets,
a storm of shit—limp hail
against car windows, paint
to Pollock tended lawns.
What to do with a sky gone
bird-black for sixteen hours,
eggs in the frypan too bright
against murky morning windows?
We need a ritual for this.
The body tricked back to drowsing
as with night that barely cedes
in the far north winter.
It was the telegraph that told
hunters where to find red-breasted
flocks heavy enough to snap
branches. Now instagram
frustrates with its blurred
confusion of feathers in
Do we stay at home, blue
our faces at this screen
or that one? Do we leave
ruined umbrellas outside
for someone with more sense
to restring as shelter or kite?
In other words could it be said
we are at all stout-hearted,
qualified for awe?
Martha Cuts the String / by Jessica L. Walsh
The truth is she hated the others.
All her life she had heard how the flocks blocked the sun,
how the airborne stampede broke babies from mothers,
never to be reunited, how the rear guard starved
while the leaders grew fat. These birds
stayed stuck in their stories.
In her youth she built herself a private story
about an egg stolen from its rightful nest,
and though she came to accept
that she looked like her parents
she knew herself to be a changeling.
Her flight was not “arrowy” for one,
not like the others. She flew like a razor-edged
kite looking to cut someone down.
Every flight was a battle, and not a playful one.
She wanted them to drop hard
and make a child cry. She was sure
the others mocked her jittery landings, the fat
rolls below her wings,
the slight asymmetry of her eyes.
Not that she wanted their approval anyway.
Sneering as mates paired off
and paraded their attachments past her,
she puzzled at how that could be happiness.
A night at home with snacks seemed better.
When the cage door closed on her and George,
though, they had to make it work. Perched
in the far corner, he adjusted to her furious bewilderment
and she to his noisy breathing.
But she was content when he passed
and even happier to learn
that her kind was nearly done.
The outbreak had ended,
as outbreaks do. So
one mild afternoon, feeling merciful
to the world she had hated,
she made the promise
that she would never be again.
Day 3 / Poems 3
The end of summer / by Heather Bourbeau
he smelled of kerosene and burnt marshmallows—
gone the days of cheap whiskey and stale cigarettes
though regret still seeped out of his pores,
frightening his children who did not yet understand
that with height and homes came remorse
she took in the pine, cocoa, and sour wool smiling
before her was land to explore and paint,
cold air to fill the lungs and fuel her legs.
she felt ruddy, playful, vital, if no longer young—
this, she inhaled, was what survival meant
Back to School / by Harmony Button
Welcome, wild creatures. While this
is certainly not your first time back-to-school,
I understand how much you still must itch
your summer skins –
really, I do. Had you come in here –
this odd cage with that one window, these hard chairs –
just a little earlier, you’d have
caught me in a moment
of confusion: mouth still fighting
for some oxygen,
some toe-room in these shiny shoes,
some space to rub
my face into the earth.
But now that we’re all
all lined up in shirt-tucked rows
with new backpacks,
I want to tell you what I most expect from you:
I want you to be wild in your minds. Wild! –
but aware of what a tremendous
this whole school thing is.
No longer are we furry hearts,
a howling pack of August.
No longer am I just a woman
in the crowd you may have seen
at the farmer’s market, at the water park,
at the movies waiting
in line to see Spider Man 2 in 3D .
Now, I am your cat-mother,
aware but cool, almost aloof. Now,
there are a thousand things I’ll never
say to you because they would ruin
this sweet pretense of me,
teacher; you, student:
How’s your mother? Have you
stopped hurting your own self?
How’s it going with
the boy who did
that awful thing
to you last spring,
have you seen him?
On a scale of one to ten, how much
do you wish you were anybody else?
Goodbye, anonymity. Goodbye
summersaults, so long sun. Now,
I am your conscience and your
yes you can pep talk. I am
the nail in the wall that holds
the mirror of your best self.
I am swimming laps and laps
in the long pool of your
best interests but I will
never be part of this race,
because that’s yours: the start, the haul,
the finish-hard, the win or loss
or in between. Sometimes, in this sweet
beginning, I forget what winning looks like, and all
I want to do is tell you — hello, students. Welcome
to deep waters. We are now howling
through gills, running on brain-fins. Now
is time for swimming. Jump right in.
* * * / by Sam Cha
Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 in E flat major / by Merie Kirby
Some music seems at first like a too big house,
one you have no place in, too fancy and expensive,
the kind you drive by and gaze at and console yourself
by reflecting you would never want to have to clean so many rooms.
A symphony is a mansion and you can pass it by
a hundred times without ever meeting the people who live there.
But one day, a day like any other, suddenly
you are invited in. The door swings open, the hinges
like horns announcing you, and the first room is big, so big,
so wide, no where to settle, people keep wheeling through, is it a dance?
The next room is smaller, filled with bird cages,
doors opening out onto more rooms, the peek you have of each
pleasant enough, but you were looking, you remember,
for some place comfortable, wondering if there were a space
where you belonged. Maybe not. Perhaps this never was a
place where just anyone could come; not enough to be invited in.
Through the last door a breeze and the scent of violets
lead into a garden. The garden, too, is formal, manicured, paths groomed,
this is hopeless, but when you follow the path you find a corner garden
that you remember. Milky gardenia blossoms within glossy leaves
beside a knee-high statue of a girl, with figs in her apron.
She’s stood here generations, worn by a life in rain and sun and salt air,
her nose just a rough patch, a curl on her forehead chipped away,
the folds of her dress, sleeves, apron lined with grime.
Looking at her you hear the music differently – what seemed at first
majestic and towering is crashing and tumbling and being rebuilt all the time,
under the strings, despite the strings, a chambered heart swells
watching sixteen swans rise from lake to sky together,
bass wing beats and horn throat calls together, leaving behind
a silence stretched wide by their passing. The fig girl,
she’s heard it too, out here, in your childhood’s garden.
Facts, Interpreted: Part I / by Lisa Ludden
From 10 to 2, while her children are in school, learning to count and share and paint family portraits, Alice can feel the energy of herself. One item after another placed in neat rows along her line of vision. Today, stocking paint brushes, their plastic coating slick in her hand as she moves them from the box to the pegs, and in this time her mind goes soft. The family tether, loosened, she doesn’t belong to anyone. Even herself. Just unpacking and shelving, never looking past the art section, only at what is next in the box. It becomes about nothing and that nothing is everything and here, in the space of 10 to 2, Alice can breathe.
Gardening / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
There is too much work:
the turning of soil,
the watering, and pulling
the bright green weeds that choke
and curl the fruit. I want only
the joy, the taste of tomatoes
pouring down my lips,
the sun on my throat.
I like the soil under my nails
but I feel forsaken, tricked.
I watch the garden fester
and dry out, the tomatoes
small and weakening in
the cracked bed. It is like my daughter,
who one day draws picture after picture
of rainbows, bursting hearts, spells “love”
backwards, sideways, forward, then
for days lies on the couch blinking
at television or just talking to herself,
her sister. Too much work, this joy,
the colors of fruit, the frothy soil,
too much sun and magic. We all
need retreat, to rest, to feel
sometimes that it will come to us
by itself, a heavy plate that
says “this is all yours.”
The Inevitable / by Emily Van Kley
-for Peggy & Juanita
I have not earned any authority
on the subject of growing old,
though grey creeps my dark
curls, startles when caught singly
against the shoulder of my favorite
sweater. In a rare moment
of self-regard my grandmother
assures me I will flush enviably
silver, like her. My grandmother,
responsible for childhood JcPenney
portraits like this one in which Nick
& I wear cloud’s-breath blue,
he soft-kneed and smiling, my head
pitched forward, mouth slack
& eyes too wide at the camera,
which I have been clearly instructed
to look into. Already that horror
of mistakes—I can attend
to nothing else. When I am old
I expect to have learned better.
By then I’m sure to understand
how to celebrate the uncertain,
the inexact. I’ll unwind
by purposefully forgetting
what I could easily recall.
Will cultivate rueful delight
when applying face cream
to my hair & spreading hair gel
on my toothbrush as happens
already more than I care to admit.
La tercera edad, Arturo calls it,
& anticipates half-price films,
bus passes. Heaven, says Carol,
retired to watch football & write.
When I am old, I am unlikely
to wear purple, a color I’ve long
shunned, but red, certainly,
with gold-spangled house slippers,
another thing my grandmother
& I share. It’s not old age I fear
but what inevitably comes after,
or else too soon for such imaginings:
the great decontextualization
of all our convictions, our stirrings,
& notions of personal style.
Come time, if I’m lucky,
I’ll require less from the hereafter.
Lush rest, a blank yielding,
blessed incoherence enough,
Othello Finds His Audience / by Jessica L. Walsh
He is used to failure. He tries to build
a connection with his listeners,
revises that one transition. But
he always loses them right at the part
where he introduces the cannibals:
…………………………………What do you
take us for, you with your anthropophagi,
your heads below shoulders? Impossible.
Eyes don’t grow in ribs. How could they kiss?
Why are any cannibals alive at all?
Seems like they would all eat each other.
And who can hunt with their eyes stuck forward?
Wait–are the cannibals the same as the no-necks?
Not that it matters. They’re all made up.
You’re just full of it. Get back to fighting.
He is not ashamed to admit that it’s
nice, having people pay attention
when he is not brandishing a sword,
even though they scoff and huff at the end.
He tells the story again from the start
because he has nothing else to do. And
he has kind of started to believe it.
Desdemona has travelled a sphere:
She is a woman who knows what’s what. Those
lies are ridiculous indeed, and she
decides to leave as soon as he stops for
a drink of whatever. But by then,
particular lies in his particular voice…
She stays for the story
………………………………………and decides it’s true.
Love works like that, smashing two people
together in a myth they both like, then
tossing them into a strange, pitiful land
where they try (and fail) to build a house
beside all the others who never lived.
Day 2 / Poems 2
Ebola’s edge / by Heather Bourbeau
It was a large funeral,
her body was cleansed and cared for
by a dozen women she treated,
lived among, as is the custom.
There were tears of mourning
and fear as the blood was washed away—
so powerful a woman,
who could not escape
so horrible a death.
Her attendants—nearly all—
A town on the edge
between three countries,
between memories of diamonds
mined for warlords who took
children and limbs
and the need for a better future.
Ruins of homes and schools,
burned out and pock marked by bullets,
echo the pain.
Women sell fruits and vegetables;
men and boys upturn roads
for gold and gems and options.
For five months, the virus moved
slow, from person to person
so cautiously as to be undetected,
unrecognizable as a pattern
to the herbalists and local doctors.
And then she died.
Tracing back genes, events
Mbalu Fonnie, Alex Moigboi, Alice Kovoma,
Mohamed Fullah and Sheik Umar Khan
wanted to understand the origins,
to prevent a further spread,
to spare the world this suffering.
They understood the risks,
more than most, more than she did
as she tried, desperately
to save lives, including her own.
Khan said, “I am afraid.”
He said, “I cherish my life.”
And yet, as the fever spread
beyond our collective nightmares,
as they narrowed in on her last rites,
they too succumbed.
And now we truly know
the guile of this virus,
the bravery of these researchers,
and the onus to find a way
away from the edge,
back to health,
back to a place
where we can bury our loved ones
Tree-Of-Heaven / by Harmony Button
Stinking quassia, you wicked weed tree,
why I let you grow for these long years is
such a mystery. Yes it’s me who
pulls up all your pups, prying
them all slow and careful-like
so’s to pucker out the long, white root. Ha –
you sucker, you sprout, you desert-thing
that grows out of grout on sidewalks,
look at your luxurious leaves, your shiny
shiny skin, the sheen of sun all dappled
and delicate through the mist of an
oily pitch that residues around
your entire drip-line radius. Sweet
tree-bitch, trunk like a fist, when I slung
my hammock under your odd tallness,
you were the only thing to shiver, to shield
me from a sun which, at these altitudes,
wants to speak a ruthless kind of truth
and I won’t hear it: weed, you and me,
we’re not supposed to be
like this, but we are young and supple in
the wind, the earth, the scorching mouth
of sun — so if they call the city on us, let them
shun us, let them come.
Eleven / by Sam Cha
What the spider knows about mothering / by Merie Kirby
On the first day of third grade, I walk her to school,
snapping pictures along the way,
my girl and her friend walking ahead, excited and laughing,
the friend’s little brother following my girl’s
Spiderman backpack, because with every step she takes,
Spiderman’s great eyes light up.
But we could also talk about the jumping spider
in a friend’s photo, the one who has battened her egg sac
to the cover of their backyard grill,
spun a tent over the sac and aggressively
guards her eggs from interference,
ending their summer cookouts.
The first’s day’s outfit is a talisman for the year:
coral sundress, cheetah leggings, glow-in-the-dark sneakers,
her new Spiderman watch red on her slim wrist.
She is not interested in origin stories.
She relishes her act of defiance, liking the thing
the store tells her she should not,
her burning indignation that Spiderman,
sharks, and dinosaurs are kept from her
by people who clearly do not know what girls like.
The spider’s dark legs bristle with fine hairs,
light and touched with pale green.
Her pedipalps rest, quiet, beneath
her two largest eyes, the ones that face front,
iridescent. The other six are smaller,
on the sides and back of her head.
Walking back home alone I pass a boy
who greets me happily. His mother eyes me warily.
How can her son know me if she doesn’t?
She’s watchful, nothing will keep her
from seeing her hatchlings safe into the bright world.
These are the eyes that will watch them emerge,
the eyes that have not been hunting, the eyes that tracked
a male’s movements through a courtship dance,
the eyes that dominate the face her babies will know.
When I call her Peter Parker, she makes a face at me,
but she likes it, too. When her dad intones,
“With great power comes great responsibility”
she rolls her eyes, but she also swarms into his lap
to watch a movie. She holds my hand as we enter
her classroom, then waves me off with a smile.
Public/Private / by Lisa Ludden
after a day of teaching “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath
So much of what happens in life is complicated by the internalization of actions.
Consider the gesture of flowers: a gift out of love, a gift of apology,
a default, an admission of “I don’t know what else to do”.
These gestures manifest into something beyond act or gift,
there is this whole life and mythology breathed into it,
a being not quite discernible in time and space,
but in the mind it flourishes and in the body it nests.
The nature of intention as healer is broken glass,
a cut, a slip, the petals as they fall back.
The myth rips through the self repeatedly, telling it to stop does no good.
There is a skepticism deeply rooted in the gaze of modern man.
It’s there to protect the heart.
I will make you a Fischer of men / by David Rawson
Once, lying on my stomach in front of a lukewarm fireplace.
My knees burn-scraped against the small teeth at the bottom
of each handfull of carpet. Some small prey, drinking, or rather one
of Gideon’s 300, picking up a bishop like water.
Once, at a reunion where my father scorned a pitcher of sangria,
as if to turn it back into water. He did not learn how to make blueprints
for this, to build his own house for this, to incinerate his Beatles records for this.
A line of ancestors lick their lips, saints dressed in white, on parade
against an army of darkness. It must feel so good to know what evil is,
to mark everything you don’t trust with deep black.
Somewhere long ago, my father is driving up tall white mountains with the snowchains on,
drinking sunshine from cold metal. My mother is kissing his cheek, then flicks
his wet mustache with her middle finger.
Only twice did I ever beat my father at chess, but I cannot count either.
Once, he was yawning next to a fire, thumbing the top of a glass of water,
waiting for me to fall asleep first.
Once, he was squinting at a niece’s son he couldn’t quite name,
whispering prayers after a tall sip of water, his wet mustache slowly dripping,
baptizing one of my pawns.
The Buffalo / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
A bayou is not
A river, or a stream
But a city set still on
A surface, reluctant
To move should it fall
Away into soil. Branches of oak, hands and arms entangled in shadow
As a heron breaks them and
Breaks them again, only
searching for food, only
Making its own lighter silhouette
Against a background of charcoal
and crushed greens.
Video Archive / by Emily Van Kley
Another man arrives.
The first man is lithe,
concerned about the mess.
He moves the woman’s ankles
together, makes various
handles of her waist
and ribs. He lifts
her to sitting. Her arms loll.
What do the men say
to each other beneath
the security camera’s
sober, clouded eye?
There is negotiation.
The woman’s body
arranged and rearranged,
as if the first man has been caught
flying with unapproved luggage.
No sound, the footage
bleary—for all I know one man
is saying he’s called the police,
for all I know the other is crying.
Propped against the elevator’s
stalled doors, the woman
arches her neck, begins
to reinhabit her limbs.
She does not consent to any
of this—the dragging,
the camera, dispassionate
stardom of the morning
news. She does not need
my flash of fury,
my lurch back against
the refrigerator, the oven clock
blurring. Or even this poem
by someone who knows nothing
about it, after all.
Ordinary Small Being / by Jessica L. Walsh
I have met with men,
met with people,
tied off for slides, tubes, and specimens.
I have had the water unfit for drinking,
dipped my knotted toes
in boxes of invisible light.
The answer is Latin for hmmm…
The question returned to sender:
Indeed, what could possibly be wrong?
All this could be allergies,
the young one shrugs. Or stress.
But yours is not exceptional.
And I agree: mine is no exception.
Shouldn’t someone with a clipboard
worry about that?
Meanwhile I am over here
screaming like razor blades on metal,
same as everyone.
Day 1 / Poems 1
Along the Nile / by Heather Bourbeau
Ten years ago,
before the protests,
before the disguised military takeover,
I bought a used photo album
at a bouquiniste along the Nile
From the 40s, maybe earlier—
skirt lengths and propriety
said it could not later—
it had a puffed cover
with hand-tinted antique photo
of the banks of the great river,
and black and white images
tenderly held in place
with pasted corner stickers
of faded grey
posing with drinks in gardens,
on holiday at swimming holes,
in pressed suits and hand-sewn dresses,
in a Cairo unrecognizable,
before the coup, the Free Officers Movement,
before these men and women
—family or friends or comrades in exile—
chose to return
to the comfort of their culture,
or were forced to flee
and leave sentimentality behind.
I wanted to research,
to dive into their world
—foreign and familiar—
to glimpse more directly
into another time, same place,
within a culture,
to write their collective story
that seemed so unique—
so foolishly discarded
Two months after our mother died,
my brother and I sifted
through decades of albums, loose photos,
memories—some grand, some banal,
some unknown to us.
In one afternoon,
we divided the stacks between us—
our family captured in emulsion and paper,
tucked behind yellowing cellophane
from corner drugstores,
concerned only with our memories,
with what we wanted to pass
down to friends, children,
Images of laughter, pride,
transitions from child to adult,
from house to house,
from young to old.
Snapshots of the goodness that was there,
that was overwhelmed
(after or in the moment)
by the pain and longing
dominating our family’s small narrative
We do not photograph the hardness,
the tension between son and father,
mother and self—
there is no need.
Just as we do not document waking
or brushing one’s teeth
or how your skin breathes.
Perhaps, when my British left,
they did not want a memory—
too painful, too beautiful—
of a life they did not really live,
a glorification of a world
that would never exist again.
Tornado warning / by Sam Cha
Tonight the air isn’t only air. How many
drops of water dot my clavicle.
What is the key of my body. What room
does it unlock. What lives there.
I sit under the umbrella and wait for thunder.
I am small and dense and mostly only
what I am. Still sometimes the world
speaks through me. The world is things
and the movement of things. Rattle truck
and subway sigh. Heft of brick and air
and rust. Here, where starlings huddle under
bare metal tables, pick at the remnants
of the day. Crackercrumbs, ash, acorns.
I should be the ponytail and beard scuttling
over the sidewalk singing a little bit stranger,
a little bit harder, voice angled against
the rain. But how strange to be anything
at all, a thing that knows the names of things.
Dear Vincent / by Merie Kirby
I came back three times to that corner
of the National Gallery in London,
to A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, 1889.
I was with my mother, who stood
similarly transfixed by the Monets.
Oh, we looked at everything that day,
but the room your paintings hung in –
your famous bedroom with chair,
the Two Crabs with their revelation
of blue-greens and red-oranges,
sharing space with the waterlilies,
the train station, and other works
from the last third of the 1800s,
that time when light and color
seemed to fracture,
glisten, pixellate, and surge before
the new century –
that room bristled and hummed.
And the wheat field was no exception,
meringue clouds being whipped in the sky,
the golden stalks about to crash like waves,
and the cypresses, deep fir-green lit with blues,
reaching up and up above everything else,
tumult and strength and effort
is what I felt, whether it came
from the painting or my viewing
or some arrangement between us.
I read your letters,
the ones you wrote to Theo
and to others. I read them for a class,
years ago. We sat around a table,
talking about you and your art
and the things you said.
I could have stood up, left the classroom,
the building, the campus, and walked,
my feet already bare,
and in 15 minutes been standing
at the ocean, smelling
of the eucalyptus trees
I walked through to get there,
soles bruised from the hard buttons
they throw on the ground,
hair blown, ears filled
with surf and gulls, and surely
it would have felt like this,
like standing in a field of ripe wheat
in 1889 watching a cypress
resist the wind.
Continuation / by Lisa Ludden
In the intimate mind of morning, the distance between you and the task isn’t far,
nor the heaviness of reality. Pressing, constant pressing.
A lean shift between asleep and awake, what begins as a slight translucent glow
overwhelms, unfurling the sky.
In the stillness, the quiet isn’t silence. The brain is always talking.
A halt in the breath, a lull in words, perhaps, but the brain is talking.
It isn’t easy to sit and believe in your thoughts. Wariness often undoes your strength.
The question of comfort, and the luxury of time is really the task of acknowledging
what is present and must be spoken of.
The world is brutal and beautiful and has always been the will of mankind.
Still, albeit in the safety of observation, something must be said.
28 / by David Rawson
In this state, your license is good until 2051.
In 2051, you will be 65, handing a girl in cut-offs a picture of a young man
who could be your grandson. In 2051, you will be Bizarro Dorian Gray,
which is to say in 2051, you will be nothing but yourself.
In this state, bars can demand your license instead of a passport.
In this state, bars can demand your license be the new license,
some vertical thing, you gather from the bartender who says she’ll let it slide
this one time.
In this state, 100 dollar bills are blue, with long vertical strips running parallel
to Benjamin Franklin’s face. In this state, Benjamin Franklin’s smile is up to something.
In this state, you and your girlfriend trace hearts on each other’s bodies while you both
try to remember who is on the 10. In this state, all the Alexander Hamiltons have been folded,
each with one long crease along the bill, masking Hamilton’s mouth.
Someone on the street should shout, Money should not have mouths.
This to you seems like the kind of thing someone on the street should say.
A list is circulating your newsfeed about books to read in your 20s.
In 2 years, you will be one Andrew Jackson and one Alexander Hamilton. In 2 years,
there will be a new list of new books. There will be so many new Buzzfeed tests to take.
You have stopped correcting people who ask your major. When people ask
how your summer was, you respond as if this is a normal thing to ask.
While the students were gone, everything closed by 8. Now you can stay out til 2.
Remember when you contemplated China with a fire in your brain?
Remember when you refused to call this city a city? By this time next year,
there will be 5 more pizza places in this city. You will never go without pizza.
Remember that culture means pizza, that culture means tattoo shops and a bar
for every mood. Remember that you are a killjoy, that you made the same complaints
about the last city, that you could spend the next Hamilton unfolding maps and tracing creases.
Snap out of it. Someone on the street should say, Snap out of it.
In this state, you’ll never enjoy this city. Remember when you were just 25 cents?
Remember when you could balance on edge, perfectly vertical, like a cactus in some hot desert?
Someone on the street should say, Keep the change. I liked things the way they were.
Someone on the street is a liar with a folded picture in his pocket. Someone just won’t learn.
Sent For / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz
In the bed of trucks under cartons,
In the back of eighteen-wheelers
rattling teeth and dark
heat, no water but sweat
laying on top of
laying under other
bodies and hoping that
they are somebodies bodies
who don’t slit
her throat when she crawls
out into the giant window of sun
Afraid to close her eyes
to the dark – it blooms
as the road lengthens
If they close, she might
Up. Never for herself –
to stay in a house made of sticks.
There is her son who she sent
ahead, already the sunken eyes,
soil pouring out of his
mouth, even before the 5,000
dollars she spent to save him, the
ashen, soil scattered with bone chips
and tar. It will eat everyone’s teeth
like honey, gold as the sun she steps
out into, those eyes she keeps open
Lakes of darkness
sticks skimming the surface
As she walks, she is swimming
beneath a skein of other bodies
mouth, every part open
she cannot but help taste
sweetness of surviving
Aurora / by Emily Van Kley
The road demanded focus—
blacktop gnawed by snow & thaw,
nonsensical seams of bedrock,
eruptions of maple root
so sudden they could launch
a station wagon, wreck its rims.
It was always dark. We always
sped. So the lights were a problem
when they came—snaked the sky
alien green, sharpened
the torn-paper pines black
at the edges, pulsed with mottled
violet if at the hest
of a technician’s knob.
I watched as if I was leaving.
I was always leaving.
So I craned the windshield,
swerved & neglected
to swerve. I let the road
rattle my jaw until my tongue
bled. Leave long enough
& you may no longer
be from anywhere.
Some people like to watch
the dark flare behind
their eyelids. That is one way.
The Tantalus Asterisk / by Jessica L. Walsh
The punishment of Tantalus is
the limit of his reach. Pity him:
working odds, drilling fast twitch
muscles, squatting and stretching,
choosing the cream or the clear
with no calendar handy,
believing he can beat
whatever strange machine
the gods have crafted.
He practices to become
the first different one.
The punishment of Tantalus
is the hope he brought with him.