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 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 August 2016 are Shaindel Beers, Nina Clements, Gail C. DiMaggio, Nancy Flynn, Catherine Abbey Hodges, Josh Medsker, Robert Okaji, Rosanne Osborne, and Vivian Wagner. 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 and choose their name from the 30/30 dropdown menu.) 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 27 / Poems 27
I Was Rose Red When Everyone Wanted Me To Be Snow White / by Shaindel Beers
“…Snow White was more quiet and gentle than Rose Red, who preferred to run around in the meadows and fields, look for flowers, and catch butterflies.” – The Brothers Grimm
My father sat me in front of Grace Kelly movies, said, This is an Ice
Princess, the same way one might say, This is the gas pedal. This, the brake.
But no matter what, I was the girl who always went full force. Couldn’t
slow down. Wouldn’t shut up. My grandma said, No one will marry you
if you can’t cut a pie evenly. But I knew it was all in who you served
the biggest slice. My mother scolded, Young ladies don’t do this.
Young ladies don’t do that. Great Grandma said, If you sing at the table
you’ll marry a fool, but fools were the only people I saw getting married.
On my first wedding day, a woman said, Why, you look like a fairy princess!
Another said, You’re going to make beautiful babies. I had thought I was headed
into the world to do great things, and marriage was just another stop
along the way. No big deal, but in Alabama, 1999, this was supposed to be
the most important day of my life. Then, why is our life expectancy so long,
I wondered? My second wedding was in the woods, where I hiked past
a cabin, past all the clearings, waited for The Beast to show up and put
a ring on my finger. None of the enchanted objects in our castle remembered
how to clean themselves, and this is why he roared all the time. Now,
I’m preparing to be the crone in the woods. Purging like I’m moving
to the tiniest cottage. I’m only going to speak to animals. When Snow White
finds her prince, and I’m offered his brother, I’ll say No thanks.
Third time’s a curse. I’m keeping house by myself.
Walking Home / by Nina Clements
On the way, I stopped
to pet the cactus, to caress
it, to caress my hand
with its spines. I push
hard and suddenly
my hand is the cactus,
and I wave it through
the pain, spines standing
out like antennae,
telling me the direction,
how far I am from home,
how lonely it is there.
Blue Minded / by Gail C. DiMaggio
When I’m an old woman tethered
. . . . . . . to the silvery length of the saline drip, I’ll imagine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . my every ocean. Thank them, for the days
I carried sadness to the sand, the long horizon, and
. . . . . . . left it behind. Last year’s blue afternoons spent
. . . . . . . . . . . . . where sharp-elbowed pelicans lifted up over the Gordon River,
headed for the Gulf. Before that, the Outer Banks, the salt taste of tears for what—
. . . . . . . my daughter’s wandering? I don’t remember. But I took away the raucous sound
. . . . . . . . . . . . . of terns fighting for scraps. Then further back—the black sand
at San Simeon, an icy plunge off Hampton where even in August,
. . . . . . . the cold punched the breath from my lungs. And those young summers,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . walking the foaming edge of surf at Eastern Point,
coarse, brown sand coating my fingers, the slate blue of the Sound
. . . . . . . where it drew a line around the sky, the smell of estuary mud,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . my mother’s voice—not too far, not too far—and
all the while the gull’s crying.
. . . . . . . The blue and salt-sea pulse of an ocean.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . First and last.
That Long, Hot Summer / by Nancy Flynn
There was nothing
victorious or woebegone
in all the daytime
nightmares we tuned in,
statistics of apathy
reaching for the higher hills.
Most wanted to root out
the individual, lance each finger’s tip,
and skip the pesky inquisitions
to make a cautionary
tale of those who would seek
hires made to stoop, to lord it over
heirs made to slave for the now many
Where we huddled,
filled every staircase
in a lost gold laughter while ever
more greed gods laugh.
Zenith was a raid, the raised degree,
an intractable, cult-bound
after a border of fists.
Nadir was a fire of books.
This poem grew out of an exercise called The N+7 procedure, invented by Jean Lescure of Oulipo. It involves replacing each noun in a text with the seventh one following it in a dictionary. You can find the N+7 Machine text generator here: http://www.spoonbill.org/n+7/. Oulipo (an acronym for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) is a loose gathering of mathematicians and writers who create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in France in 1960 by François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau.
Supple Strand / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Every moment a new world
and each world a bead on a strand
and anonymous through time.
to find and speak its name
but soon turn instead
to philosophy and groceries.
What if it’s etched
into bannisters of DNA,
pronounced by mold that blooms
on the sauce at the back of the fridge?
What we know: they keep coming,
one lustrous bead, then the next.
Times Square Starbucks, 2004 / by Josh Medsker
D train windows flash like film framed
and the eyes pattern on the tunnel wall watch me, flicking like fat rat-tails, greenge
and I’m the one inside the movie, nodding
stumbling, buzzing through Atlantic Ave. to my connection, 42nd street, I’m flopping up
into the dusk, and Times Square dead quiet.
Rub my sleepy eyes and smile at my aloneness
Manholes hiss with steam but I’m the only one who hears, save for a few garbagemen, actor waiters home-bound after last call, and sleeping bums, warm on metal grates. Even the rats snore, as I cross flashing Cats and Phantom billboards, the NASDAQ rolling by
just for me…
McDonald’s girl smiles knowingly as I mumble inside, desperate for java.
I sit on the Village Voice box, waking up
sip by sip, slowly put on my apron,
and walk over to unlock another day.
As the Gravy Flows / by Robert Okaji
Viscosity is always a consideration, as is definition:
traditionally a sauce composed of meat juices and
thickeners, or, a sediment of melted tallow, which
somehow brings to mind a laborer rising early after
a hard night, eating red-eye, made of fried ham
drippings and coffee, served over grits. Or perhaps
an egg gravy — a béchamel sauce flavored by bacon,
with water and milk, and an egg — ladled over butter-
rubbed biscuits. But then I picture my vegetarian
friends pushing away from plates of this fine repast,
and not wishing to deny them or those following a vegan
lifestyle, we turn to roasted vegetables with broth, oils
and wine and a savory yeast extract. But I can’t fathom
a life without giblet gravy, which features the neck and
offal of fowl, including the liver, the taste of which may
be too strong for other recipes using giblets, an interesting
word in itself, from the Old French for a game-bird stew,
and the Middle English meaning of an inessential
appendage, or entrails, morphing to garbage. I would
never throw out an onion gravy, essentially a thick sauce
of slow-cooked onion and stock or wine, and admit to
having tasted a cream version with the consistency and
flavor of diluted paste, indicating a lack of balance in
flavor and poor roux-making technique. My favorite
would be an Italian-American buddy’s gravy, his word
for a rich ragù of sausage, braised beef and shredded
pork, red wine, tomatoes and herbs, served over pasta.
This of course stretches the definition of the word, but
isn’t language elastic? So it flows, as does the gravy.
Many thanks to Lady Phoenix for sponsoring the title.
The Tempo of Grief / by Rosanne Osborne
“…the more time elapsed, the more fixed
we became in our gloomy ways.”
—His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
Kübler-Ross gave us a tree to hang our understanding
of grief, branches to interpret denial and anger,
bargaining and acceptance, but we didn’t hear
the rustle of the leaves of gloom when she named
depression. Those leaves lush when they were new
cling to the tree they’ve known all their lives.
Their photosynthesis proudly struts through funeral
and wake to encouraging words, “He’s handling
his mother’s death with such grace and style,
the measure of the man.” The newness of it all,
even death is tender when young emotions wave
in the breeze, but they toughen as summer sun
burns their gloss, stomatas become clogged,
gases cease to flow in their undersides. “It’s time
for him to get on with his life,” they say walking
beneath the shade, picnicking in the park.
Nights grow longer and chlorophyll misses it light,
grief grows old and stale. Corky cells block
needed minerals, but the leaf clings to its tree
not wanting what life it has to depart. Friends
accept the new normal. “Don’t call him. He’s
a downer for any party,” they say as guest
lists are revised, groups reform, life goes on.
Fluttering to the ground, dead leafs cluster
and blow. Most will be raked and burned,
but one or two will wedge themselves
in cracks or crevices, decaying on schedules
they select, finding their way to life again.
Growing Over / by Vivian Wagner
The ivy’s reclaiming the porch,
and a maple’s rooted
in the living room,
the roof to light and sky.
Maybe this space
belonged to the
blackberries and jays
all along, the house
a temporary fiction
in the wilderness.
Or maybe the vines
and trees just have
better stories to tell.
Please scroll past comments form to read previous days’ poems.
Day 26 / Poems 26
Finding Place / by Shaindel Beers
I always watched as my grandfather opened the needle.
Sometimes he offered to let me push its point under
his skin, but I never said yes. My sister was always the brave one.
But now when I wonder about her, I’m not sure how this works.
How many years has it been since she has left the basement,
the house? She was the one who rode my friends’ horses.
I was always the coward, the most useless girl on a farm.
Unable to dock puppies’ tails, give injections, butchering
wasn’t even an option. The first time I swore, I was pilling
a calf, but I could never do anything that would break the skin.
Even cranking the meat grinder was too much, knowing that
I might once have loved what was being reduced to fibers
of muscle. When that calf died, I asked where we would bury it,
and when my uncle and grandpa laughed, said it would go
to the fertilizer plant, something in me broke. But I’ll always love
a farm. I am the goddess of bicycle rides to waterlily covered lakes.
Lover of every wildflower in the field. I’ll give up anything
to capture a ray of sunlight shining through the Queen Anne’s lace.
Snow Day / by Nina Clements
When the ice came, he put them into the car,
his wife, the three girls. It was not difficult.
His wife had wound the girls in scarves,
had slipped on mittens. And then they were
away, skidding in the silence. His wife had no
confidence and gripped the handle of the door
and sighed and muttered, but he would not turn
around even though he could taste how much she
wanted him to. But no one was about to smash into—
everyone had stayed home. He was out of work
and could barely afford the gasoline in the car,
but he was taking his family to buy the Christmas
ham, the sausage, all made fresh at Silver Star
in Pittsburgh. It was a journey, but it needed to be
done. “No traffic,” he told his wife. He could see
her jaw pulsing in the periphery. The girls squirmed
in the overheated car, unwinding scarves, tossing mittens.
“It’s a roller coaster,” the oldest said as they slid down the hill.
And he was jealous of her happiness, for a moment. He tried
to touch his wife’s other hand, but she snatched it back
onto her lap, the story of their marriage.
The metallic smell of blood as he got them out of the car,
one, two, three. The youngest slipped and fell down, too shocked
to cry. The place was open, he told his wife. “Not everyone gets
to stay home.” All the sausages hung up, cured. The oldest pointed
at the meat grinder. “That’s how they make the meat,” she told
her sister. He did not correct her. No death or dying on their
day off. The ham came wrapped in butcher paper, the price too
much, scrolling in grease pencil on the side. The sausages
were the same. But he paid for it somehow, with cash he’d
earned standing on a roof, trying not to pass out from vertigo.
“This is where we used to live,” he told them. It wasn’t much—
a brick box with a fire escape that was encased in ice. But it had
been warm in the summers, when they sat outside together,
drinking beer so easily. He had steady work and she was pregnant,
but they didn’t know it yet. They had lived there when they buried
the baby, and they left. His wife took his hand and held it
and he drove off, into the next skid.
Self-Portrait with Dog in Winter / by Gail C. DiMaggio
After Adam Zagjewski
At 12, I believed I was a child
of the summer and almost drowned
trying to swim the Miramichi River,
Now I have lived so long
I can no longer
rise from the floor without thought.
But even so, the beautiful, brown dog comes
when I call her, and lays her long head
on my knee. I admit, morning snowfall
harasses my mood, also
calorie counts, also the memory
of my father’s death though it was
no sadder than most. No lonelier.
Lately as I fall asleep,
pictures slide in:
splintering gray porch boards,
Rose of Sharon
in an old garden. A child in a sundress
jumping rope on white sidewalks.
Is this my own life unreeling
on the screen of my almost sleep?
Have I forgotten all this beauty?
I admit I’ve failed
to understand the past,
though now sometimes I wonder,
was that more important
than the old Rubik’s cube
a riot of color in some basement box?
I’m tempted to touch the women’s faces
in the portraits at the MFA. I’d like
to share with them the moment
when I unsnap the leash,
and let the big dog loose,
watch her stampede the river bank,
lap between the ice shards
scramble back to me.
I’m proud of her grace,
her talent for ecstasy.
She’s the child of summer.
I’m more like a clutch of rhododendron leaf,
stiff as old fingers. I would like
to stay. Now. Here.
But we are all children of the river.
Creation Myth / by Nancy Flynn
We are dead stars, looking back up at the sky.
there was once
a solitary who lived in the rain forest
worried about the scooping of wet, fallen leaves
as day sped swift to night, a candle
would flame her skeleton
key brash in its lock, her waiting
all stasis beyond verve
beyond a river gone stony
from gravel making a terminal
moraine that filled in many
an island unable to reveal
what was known
before arc and splash
how a comet might crave
language to speak its fire
how many stars rubbed out suns
waiting for the elixir
or maybe an ellipsis —
the trick was to summer along
coast into another mooring
make friends with the low, low light
all was edge not emergency in spite of
going up-chimney to the vast
leaving behind caverns of root
where leaps seemed bound and tied with twine
to ice caps disappearing, even leaning
towers of mud where once there was
a solitary who lived in the rain forest
still there is
Farther Out Their Glow / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Something is in charge, an entity we loosely call “mind.”
Combine all the spices in a bowl.
O Almighty God, the supreme Governor of all things, whose power no creature
is able to resist
We have little understanding of how this neuronal choreography
engenders us with a sense of being.
Drizzle the oil over the spices and mix well.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who declarest thy glory
and showest forth thy handiwork in the heavens and in the earth
If large portions of the world remain unseen or inaccessible to us, we must consider the meaning of the word “reality” with great care.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.
O Eternal God, who alone spreadest out the heavens, and rules the raging of the sea
Here is another way of thinking about this:
I have loved this recipe from Raghavan Iyer’s 600 Curries from the moment I tried it.
O Almighty God, the supreme Governor of all things, whose power no creature is able to resist
New discoveries throw light here and there, but farther out their glow fades into darkness.
Note: The text of this collage poem is sourced from the following works: The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning (Marcelo Gleiser); The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes (Anupy Singla); and The Book of Common Prayer, 1952 edition.
Dark Curtain / by Josh Medsker
The ending of the bright season has come
the order, dark curtained again, has come
and to defy the sun-gods, we come
we dancers want to glow, flow
in this season most glorious
Light the path, light the path, you dervishes!
Let us, let us,
dance among us, among us.
It was 10 A.M. When the Angel Said You Have to Go Now / by Robert Okaji
Forgive me for seeking clarity, but do you have a specific
destination in mind, or are you saying, with a little less
force, get lost, go away, I’m done with you, or might you
merely be suggesting that I go forth? And what exactly is
your position on, oh, let’s just say the afterlife and the
journey there? As for turning, you certainly did,
offering both in sequence, again and yet again, to my
great appreciation. Butter. You must explain your fetish
and how the room exuded pale gold and sweet after
one little death, as if a honeyed light had oozed in beneath
the door, and, in kissing the carpet, released endorphins
and cool warmth, and love-moths frantically flapping
to dry our sweat without the slightest chill. It’s the little
things, my mother always said, never considering size,
but meaning those thoughtful touches, the fresh flowers,
a plate of cheese and fruit, and yes, the tenor sax moaning
in the alcove. I’ll go, but you know this is my apartment.
With gratitude and Happy Birthday to D. Ellis Phelps, who sponsored this poem!
Jonathan Edwards Comes to Town / by Rosanne Osborne
“He speaks in a sonorous, rhythmical voice
and although his sermons were frequently beyond
my understanding, they were not unpleasant to hear.”
—His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
buzzing fly zinged, zagged
preacher’s head lifted above
hell opened below
fire flamed through the words
feet flinched in sawdust shoes
tent flaps echoed sound
sweat on the forehead
night air close, artificial light
spiders lace the night
revival scorched ears
bend to hear angels on high
redemption draws nigh
altar call rings out
emotion catches the spirit
women sway, men fall
the old familiar song
sinners coming home
bodies twitch, quiver
a snake crawls beyond the dust
light receives its own
To My Children’s Paternal Grandmother / by Vivian Wagner
I want to write something to you,
since it’s your birthday, and it’s late summer.
The cicadas sing in my oak trees,
the morning sun hangs low in the sky.
But I don’t know what to say.
I don’t know how to speak of
your fierce, abiding love.
I don’t know how to thank you
for the meals and presents,
the late-night calls,
the trips to emergency rooms,
the many and various
moments of forgiveness and grace.
I’m small and human and flawed,
so all I can give is this:
there’s a nuthatch on my
birdfeeder, waiting for seeds.
The sun’s radiating its
And a young buck and doe
just strode by my yard,
grateful, though they didn’t know it,
for the earth cradling them,
for the ground giving them passage,
for the bright, clear abundance of sky.
This poem was sponsored by Sherry Lekan, who donated to Tupelo Press and gave me the prompt “grandmother.” If you’d like me to write a poem for you, visit this site: https://tupelopress.networkforgood.com/projects/16090-vivian-wagner-s-fundraiser.
Day 25 / Poems 25
Upon Discovering that I Can’t See Winona Ryder Cry Without Crying Myself / by Shaindel Beers
In Stranger Things when Joyce Byers calls for her son, pulls the sheet back
on his makeshift blanket fort in the woods, Castle Byers, I was overcome—
couldn’t believe I was crying. Every time, my own son asked what was wrong,
and I had to explain, It’s just a story, but her little boy is missing, and she has
to find him. Episode after episode, I cried with Joyce/Winona, tried to figure out
what was wrong with me. Some Gen-X biological response I hadn’t known
I was wired for. Then, I remembered, with Winona, it’s been this way all along.
When I was twelve, watching her play the 13-year-old cousin/wife in Great Balls
of Fire made me ill, and my parents laughed when I got up, left the room, when
Jerry Lee Lewis tells Myra, You don’t move like no virgin, shames her, makes
her cry. In Beetlejuice her palpable loneliness, her otherness, her joy at finally
finding a friend, dancing to Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O.” Her revenge in Heathers,
her longing for love in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. Girls my age wanted
to be her, The It Girl, Clara Bow reincarnated. We wanted tragic fairytale
love with Edward Scissorhands, to have a mom like Cher in Mermaids,
dance parties in the kitchen, falling down laughing, fully-clothed in the bathtub.
I wanted to be Mina, Susanna, wanted to find my Lisa, was always afraid
that I would—find that friend who would lead me, unasking into destruction.
And then, in Black Swan, watching her be replaced the way we had all seen
Natalie Portman replace her in real life. Another nervous, fragile Jewish girl
just ten years younger. The way we’re all traded in eventually for a newer model.
I sat in the theatre, my pregnant body the only thing making it possible for me
to watch the film without hating myself for abandoning ballet, leaving it fully
after seventeen years. I could feel every move that Beth did, dancing the dying
swan, last performance, dead in dancer years at forty. And here we are,
when we realize that so many of us are Winona Laura Horowitz, hiding
our Jewishness, never fitting in in the Midwest or anywhere, asking for the pills
that might make everything right. All of us playing single moms in some show
we still don’t understand how we’ve been cast in, only getting the script before
each episode—this new thing, “streaming series” as unpredictable as “real life,”
where it’s unheard of to ask for a two week advance, to expect a little kindness,
to believe that Johnny or any man can really mean forever—
Driving Home / by Nina Clements
My dad once flew to Newark
to drive me back to Pittsburgh,
but I did the driving through water
and wind with precisely positioned
hands on the wheel. It felt so impossible,
like we would drive into Noah’s ark
at any moment. But we drove on,
through waves of water the semis left
as they sped past us. I did it on my own,
but he was with me as he always used to be.
The Big Hunt / by Gail C. DiMaggio
By six am she’s scrolling
BuzzFeed and the Times, racing down
through headlines, pictures,
hunting Him, the sight
of Him grinning, fist like a hammer
above his own palm. Isn’t his hair
paler? Has the Post weighed in
on the impact of the color of his hair?
Morning and He might have tweeted
something incendiary. She needs to know
if He’s stalling out, if He’s
turning it around,
if Armageddon’s crept closer. Survey
Monkey, oh, please, Rasmussen, tell her
which lead’s expanded by
a tenth of a thousandth of a point, who
are white, unemployed forty-something’s
going with in Ohio
where a CNN reporter’s offering his mike
to a millennial who won’t be voting
or not for Him, to a guy who would like
to finish his coffee thank you (hasn’t he heard—
so she taps Politico
but no new tweet-storm.
What if He stops? What if He quits? What if
He finally pivots, and she’s following
the wrong Twitter account?
She tries Slate and FiveThirtyEight.
Her daughter calls but she
can’t chat now,
and in order to get off the phone—
Huff Post, she hasn’t checked Huff Post—
she promises she’ll take a shower, go out
to shop. Yes. Yes. Vegetables.
Cart empty in the cereal aisle,
she mutters at the two-bar reception.
There’s breaking news—
a report, a rally, a rumor.
She keeps hitting refresh.
Souvenir / by Nancy Flynn
They remain in a bowl,
those cotton bolls I picked
from that roadside field in
At the time, how it seemed
pressing to stop the car,
step into a row, pluck
dry, white tufts. As if one
nest of splayed & twisted
seeds displayed could ever
call back, contain the heat
of a whipping, the weep,
the countless hammers cocked.
Whereas the World is a House on Fire / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
After Kim Stafford
Whereas the streets run with tears
Whereas love seems dim
. . . . . . a star that flickers through smoke
Whereas the church of bombast grows and grows
. . . . . . the quiet voice derided
. . . . . . a child’s question loudly hushed
Whereas overhead the aspens quake
. . . . . . their river of golden counsel: look around
. . . . . . look hard
Whereas looking hard around I am appalled
. . . . . . by my kind
. . . . . . by my own shoulders, shrugging
Whereas I am free to resist my torpor
Be it therefore resolved a different silence
. . . . . . shall be my psalm, silence
. . . . . . awake and alive as aspen gold
. . . . . . silence and the stories that run beneath
. . . . . . cool, clear, headed straight for the flames.
The Artist / by Josh Medsker
(after Henry Fuseli)
That Roman arm
broken at the wrist
That golden leg
broken at the ankle
Those remnant hands
and feet, deposited like
so much rubble, index finger
up in accusation, the artist’s
body, crumpled, arm draped
across his heroic foot’s top.
Prize money shall be equally divided between the Sunset Sisters even though Buddhism can be more accurately called non-theistic than atheistic and Kepler is now aimed at the Pleiades / by Robert Okaji
What is direction to a sphere’s center where
all points lead up or down, left to right, or
nowhere. While resting there, do I pray to myself?
To one god, to many? I brew tea and pour some
into the air, contemplate evaporation and the birth
of stars and exoplanets, and those drifting
in the zones containing the proper mix of hydrogen
and oxygen, gravity and warmth. One morning
the Sisters will awaken to the sun’s glow, the
realization of the circle’s draw and the beauty of
truth bound to matter, extending past each
successive boundary, a line drawn to hope or
a cup awaiting condensation. Does each planet
claim its own diety, or do they share? Or are
gods peculiar to our little node of the galaxy.
I know little, doubt much, question everything.
Many thanks to someone who wishes to be known only as “an admirer of Okaji poetry.”
The New York Public Library / by Rosanne Osborne
“One man can no more see into the mind
of another than he can see inside a stone.”
—His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
Patience and Fortitude might agree. A century
of watching readers come and go has embedded
wisdom in their stoney brains. Seemingly stoic,
they know what they know. But they can only guess
what’s in mortal minds, whether a man in a plaid
coat, three decades old, will choose a book
on progressive politics or a biography of Geordio
Armani. Or whether the soccer mom with twins
in striped jerseys will emerge with a stack
of mysteries or a tome on quantum physics.
They’ve seen it all. The grandmother who chooses
Richard Petty’s King of the Road and the nun
who hides The Sex Tourist beneath her wimple.
There’s no way to sense what those feet striding
up the granite steps are after, what will speak
brain to brain from the books lions guard.
Thickethouse / by Vivian Wagner
My dog and I find an opening
in a blackberry thicket,
an entrance made of sticks,
a pathway of grass clippings.
Inside, there’s a log bench,
rooms branching to the sides,
windows looking out through leaves
at the world beyond.
We crouch for a moment
in this refuge,
this bit of meaning
composed of undergrowth,
and continue on our walk,
wondering, now, about all the
thickets, about all the
about all the houses
that could be built.
Day 24 / Poems 24
The Sin Eater / by Shaindel Beers
Always the misfit, the outcast. Cast out of the village
when I was twelve, when my parents both died
of the fever. My red hair, mismatched eyes.
One grey. One green. You never knew what
to make of me. Odd boy. I can feel him looking
through me, you’d all say. What if one of his eyes
sees the future; the other, the past? What if
the dead eye, the grey one, foresees death?
So now, you need me. When someone’s died
before last rites, when you don’t know if Ma
or Da had remembered every middling sin,
every little white lie, you send someone to knock
on my door. Usually, it’s a nervous, breathless
boy like I was when I was sent from the village.
I grab my good hat, my cane, my black dog
Judas follows. And then, the object of our journey—
your loved one laid out, a bowl of ale, a bit
of bread on their chest. I eat my meal, take
your sixpence, roll my wild eyes—a part
of the act I developed ten years in. I say something
soothing. Your Ma is at peace. Or, The Gates
of Heaven are now opened to your Da.
I always tuck a bit of bread into my pocket
for the crows. It’s just bread. Gives me a chuckle
you pay me to eat your beer and bread. There’s
no Heaven, no Hell, other than what we make
for each other on Earth—
Careless / by Nina Clements
The worst sort of destruction,
walking through a spider web.
All that labor undone and
in your hair. A home, with meals
waiting, and the spider, snug
and hanging in the air. The sticky
residue of effort all over you,
but you have done nothing to earn it.
In the Cellar of Night / by Gail C. DiMaggio
I am always
in motion, and dragging
my hand along the walls
in the half-light. The house is always
contorted, rooms off a long hall,
each one danker more
these rooms, how they ramble,
doors rotting, jams twisted, floors
of roots shatter joists
and the sound of water
darkens step by step. Why
haven’t I taken better care of things?
Prevented this decay. They have sent me
to turn off the water, but the stairs twist
and descend, become an alley, an icy
highway and the brakes
The man beside me looks past me
out the window
He doesn’t care
that I can’t keep the car on a road
that’s filled suddenly
with reckless trucks and a river
I know this man’s name, but my throat
convulses around it when I ask him
my single question.
For answer, he leaves me
to the waking walls, the pictures
I took in Rome—
Medusa, a door, another door—
and the blinded window,
light squaring itself
around the edges
Anomaly, Enemy, Anomie: White American Male, Ryan-Lochte-Style / by Nancy Flynn
A man ambushed a stone. Caught it. Made it a prisoner. Put it in a dark
Childhood dotted with bodies.
For three years, out of key with his time,
He climbed toward the blinding light.
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after.
It felt like the zero in brook ice
In Just-/spring when the world is mud.
Now in the suburbs and the falling light,
There is a train inside this iris.
[August] is the cruellest month, breeding
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
Lay down these words:
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
The rules break like a thermometer.
This poem is a cento created from first lines of fourteen poems (with one word-choice liberty taken and a few shifts in punctuation) by the following poets in The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove: Russell Edson; Gregory Orr; Hugh Selwyn Mauberly; Stephen Dunn; W.H. Auden; Norman Dubie; e.e.cummings; Stanley Kunitz; David St.John; T.S. Eliot; Robert Frost; Gary Snyder; John Berryman; and Adrienne Rich.
Loose / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Thinking today of early doorways
songs and stories I walked through
into new rooms and landscapes
The little white chest in the first kitchen I remember
top drawer filled with loose crayons
most without wrappers
some stubs, some almost new
in the next drawer down scratch paper
purple type on one side from the ditto machine
at my aunt’s school
The waxy scent that wafted out
the zazz of color
the doorway I stood in
then ran through
loose in a new country. . . . . .
every time I opened that drawer.
Me and You / by Josh Medsker
In my eyes I am dancing
I swing from here to there
floating just long enough,
on a word, then dipping away
behind you, my reader, my partner
popping up, grabbing your hand
Follow me! as I twirl you, go under
step, step, quick, quick, slow
Stroller melon / by Robert Okaji
In the summer I roll them from grocer to bus stop, little bonnets
affixed, cooing all the while – cantaloupe, watermelon, honey dew,
casaba, canary, sugar, you name it, they all come home with me,
in pairs or solo, snuggled tightly in blankets and ensuring
dropped-jaw, raised-eyebrow gapes from those who approach.
Don’t they look just like their mother, I ask, and no one ever disagrees.
Everybody is so nice, even the teen-age boys who no longer offer up
their seats. But Damon, who recently purchased new pants to impress
Wanda-I’m-An-Attorney, enjoys whispering secrets to us. Did you
know that they’re actually berries? And that some are called fruit,
others, vegetables? They’re not much good for pies, I say. I just
call them “Mel,” which is funny because I know that you’re not
supposed to name something you’re going to eat, and really, I do
recognize the difference between sentient beings and plants, but
then candidate Harumph comes to mind, and how do you explain
him and his followers? When cool weather approaches, I turn to
squash. Happy acorn, the elongated, sad butternut, pumpkin. Each
holds a niche in my heart, and I love strolling down the sidewalk
with them, humming tunes, adjusting stems, planning meals.
With thanks again to Plain Jane, who provided the title.
Growth / by Rosanne Osborne
“The trees were just beginning to change, not in color
but in the tenseness of the leaves, a loosening at the stems.”
—Hystopia, David Means
Fingernails begin to thicken long
before fingers lose fine motor skills.
Eyelids begin to droop before
cataracts are declared, vision blurs.
Shoulders begin to stoop, backs hump,
before feet shuffle and balance departs.
Names recede in minds before words
defy spelling and events seek shadow.
Aging bodies signal change in reverse
order from the expectations of youth—
breasts flowering, curves shaping,
muscles hardening. voices deepening,
Newton’s Law leaves the physics class,
the world of force and field, to act
and react in the intimacy of flesh,
the shattering consciousness of being.
The gradual shift in image, changes in hue,
are seen from the outside, but trees
and tense bodies agonize inwardly
over the great loosening of the stems
At My Daughter’s Soccer Game / by Vivian Wagner
This game is all about
You dribble and kick
deftly across the field,
reminding me of my mom,
who taught me to crochet
because I couldn’t throw a ball.
But now here you are,
playing so naturally.
Maybe this is
how we inherit:
the late afternoon sun,
passing to others,
with fluid grace.
Day 23 / Poems 23
In the Meeting, I was the Only Living Human Being / by Shaindel Beers
The woman says, The silos are gone now; you can report to anyone.
I didn’t know I existed in a concrete tube. Could only communicate
up or down. My fantasies of being Keats’s Bright Star, my knowledge
that my dual nature meant I was the gothic monster and its creator
had never prepared me for this. Department Chair. Curriculum Committee.
Strategic Planning Online—SPOL. I take notes, There is no Shaindel,
only SPOL, wonder what sort of demigod SPOL is, what kind of negligee
I would wear when he possessed my body. I pondered if academia
had become my destroyer. A professor describes mechatronics.
I write about fake birds falling in love with real ones, the opposite of decoys.
I watch the flickering ceiling light, never quite making it to on—
consider what kind of message it is trying to send me.
Good-bye Home / by Nina Clements
To return home is to use
the imagination, is to remember
a cramped childhood filled
with smoke. The home was kept
so dirty, and none of the doors shut.
Why do we miss even the awful
bits? It seemed so permanent,
but it’s all gone. The house is
someone else’s cross to bear.
Oh, yellow bathroom, all
the scratches on the furniture,
blessings from children.
We never can go back.
Someday / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Someday. adv. 1. An unspecified time, esp.
that future when all the dreary details of this
day have vanished—no quarrels over his
drinking, no credit card blues, no squeal in
the rear axle. As in: At last, her father will
hold her close and weep for his blindness.
As in: out in the driveway, a shiny new car.
On the soundtrack: Beethoven’s Fifth. 2.
Occasionally refers to a day of reckoning.
As in: Someday he’ll get what’s coming to
him: black eye, eviction, a slow leak in a
heart valve. 3. More often, a reference to
that future moment of fulfillment when all
the children will return and sit at the table.
What a wonderful childhood, they will say.
And no one will mention the belt or the
shouting. 3a. Because someday is an adverb
associated with amnesia. 3b. Because
today’s misery is yesterday’s warmed up and
salted with tears. Philosophical corollary. In
an obscure paper, Kant observes that
someday can never arrive. Arrival is
reserved for other things. Tomorrow arrives
and a stage 4 diagnosis and the news that the
polar caps are melting faster than expected.
Old age arrives, but not someday though we
insist we can see it just beyond the orchard,
over the bridge. And all the while—these
birds fill our skies, carrying the past in their
talons like a charred branch.
Spiral Jetty Travelogue / by Nancy Flynn
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
~ Martin Buber
You have to want to see it. Bad.
The road not on most maps.
Roughshod gravel then dirt, hell
on the suspension of even a high-
riding car. Switchbacks,
washboards, single lanes often
every mile once you leave that last
manifest of civilization, the Golden
Spike. Of course, no signal by cell.
Just tiny signs, easy to miss, mark
the way. More than a few times,
turn around, go back. But
the American exceptional plus a tank
full of hi-octane means
destiny, forever to onward on—
long past sense as the sun shifts
into its own remote shallows, its fingers
of light inside clouds streaked as fields,
cotton long forgotten, never picked.
And there it is.
A fiddlehead of basalt
and salt jutting into the northeast
corner of the Great
Salt Lake, once a blood-sea red
then muck, black mud that swallowed
oil rigs and backhoes whole.
Now a white
salt desert thanks to
our new normal, water-
less breaking across
swathes of this U.S., this
era of extreme—monsoon,
500-year floods, triple-digits in
the west, southwest, the south, northeast
where the heat grows unbearable
to high-risk. You can walk. You can
sit. The only other people throw
their puppy a stick. They leave first.
You walk. You sit. You ask
the sky why have you come
all this way to stare
at 6650 tons of rock
hauled from Ogden, 68 miles
by dump truck, tractor, front-end
loader and a guy who said it has no
point? It is ego. It is arrogance. It is
gall. Revealed in times of drought.
Submerged in times of normal
rains. Long come up from the deep,
winding, a continuous curve
cautiously widening or tightening
around the now-cracked lips of Utah sand—
you can only drive within
a half-mile before
you have to pace
that final distance.
Then there, it is.
Dreaming of a Door / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
I stood before a big door. On the other side
was something good, something large.
I don’t know how I knew this, and I didn’t
know what it was, but this was a dream.
I wanted to open the door and walk
through, but there was no latch or handle.
As I stood wondering what to do next,
I found that the door was no longer a door
but a huge book, empty and standing upright.
Since I was dreaming, this development
made perfect sense to me, and I took the pen
I found in my hand and started writing.
I had to stand on tiptoe and reach high up
to start at the top of the page. I wrote all
the way to the bottom, lying on the ground
for the last line. Then I turned the page
to what was suddenly both a blank page
and a door. I walked through and, because
this was a dream, kept writing at the same
time. Then I woke up and kept on writing.
Grandada of po-mo born 100 years ago / by Josh Medsker
Dada began as a hat company
Dada was my first word
Dada was purchased by a Taiwanese
Dada businessman in 2015
Dada was my final word
Dada has the most outrageous sneaker
Dada 5000 collapsed and was rushed to the
Dada hospital after his match with Kimbo
Dada claims to have briefly lost his life
Dada began at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916
“People also ask ‘what is anti-art?'”
Take Another Piece of My Heart / by Robert Okaji
Perhaps the left ventricle, or the anterior descending
vein. No matter which you grab, I’ll not survive
the seizure, but is that not the point? And which coin
will you place in my mouth to ease the passage across
the river Acheron? Or will I remain on the banks,
neutral and overlooked, forgotten. If this river is woe,
I serve its pride. I wear its banner. Do you recall the
butcher’s bill from that last flight? Sixty innocents,
including children. How many more must we tally
before admitting to the futility of perpetual war?
An acquaintance on the ground that day saw the
flash and immediately thought there are no mistakes,
just as I, from my box in Nevada, admitted, too, that
no mistakes occur, a synchronicity joined in death
and its production. I no longer employ euphemism.
When my coworker’s eyes crinkle and he laughs
about weeding the lawn of fun-sized terrorists,
I see bloody children, mangled flesh, smoke and
flame. I kill from comfort and afar. This is my life.
With thanks to Tami Wright, who provided the title and these three words: Acheron, synchronicity, crinkle.
Instant / by Rosanne Osborne
“You’ll feel it in there and at some point
you’ll take comfort in knowing it’s there,
the ball of old memories.”
—Hystopia, David Means
The three-pointer, the free throw, the layup—they
all fit the hoop, give meaning to the game. Looping
in time, thoughts weave in and out of the past,
haunting the present with moments well lived
or seconds fracturing the stillness of a Sunday
afternoon. Like the time when we rode the back
roads, laughing at dirty jokes and smoking
forbidden Lucky Strikes, the ash falling
on Mother’s blue silk scarf that Great Aunt Sarah sent
from her mission station in Tokyo. The brown-rimmed
hole turned the old Chevy into a cavern
of fifteen-year-old anxiety, exaggerated the indiscretion
into a buzzer-beater dooming the whole game.
Meditation at the Beginning of my Son’s
Sophomore Year in College / by Vivian Wagner
When my son was a baby, we lived on a steep hill sloping
sharply to a busy road. When I pushed his stroller
down the hill I worried what would happen if it
slipped out of my grip, my son gurgling,
pointing at sky, while he careened in
front of an oncoming truck. Now,
he’s headed down a path of his
own creation, no longer
helpless, no longer
my ward. Yet I’m
still holding on,
still afraid of
Day 22 / Poems 22
Dream Journal Masquerading As Psychoanalysis Masquerading As Poem / by Shaindel Beers
“Art thou not of the dreamer tribe?” –John Keats, “Hyperion”
Once, my house was an Airstream trailer that stayed aloft only because I held the red ribbon
tied to a red balloon outside the window. I kept begging my husband, You hold onto it.
You’re stronger. He kept saying, You’re doing fine. Keep holding on tight. I woke up
before our house crashed. I shower in a luxury hotel. Giant taupe granite tiles. Shiny
chrome everywhere. But the water pressure is so strong, it ruptures my eardrum,
my head fills with water. It is pouring out of my mouth, my nose. I turn into water
before my head hits the porcelain sink. My husband keeps a box of board ends
for camping kindling. I discover he is making them into little dolls. Yarn hair,
googly eyes, red felt tongues. I close the door quietly. Never enter this room
again. I am part of a top secret time travel mission to stop the use of psychedelic
drugs. I report to “The Doctor.” I have never disagreed more with a mission,
but I’m dressed like Daphne from Scooby Doo, I drive a silver muscle car
with a big block engine coming out of the hood. “The Doctor” says, These worn-out
methods of doing the same thing the same way over and over again are what got
the Existentialists in trouble. I start dancing like Goldie Hawn in Laugh-In. Stop when
“The Doctor” shows me a video of my daughter playing with “subversive” toys. He says,
I knew you weren’t right for this assignment. I do the pony. The mashed potato.
I make sure to really prove him right. I enter a palace, a cathedral. I am ushered
down the red carpeted aisle to Beyoncé sitting on a throne. She is radiant,
dangerous, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The secret is that
I’m a vampire, she says. But you mustn’t tell anyone. I am already hyperventilating.
She motions for a woman to be brought to her. She arrives rolled in a carpet
like Cleopatra. Beyoncé drains her blood in front of me. Makes eye contact
as her canines pierce the woman’s jugular. Even now, I am afraid to commit
this poem to paper. I am in hospice. In a hospital bed in a living room. The cancer
has spread, and I am morphined out of my mind. All I want is for someone to read
The Little Prince to me. I want to know that in the end, there will be a snake that will
solve all my problems, a star to return to, you to read me my last bedtime tale.
The Hypnotist / by Nina Clements
tells me to relax but the body
clenches instead. More and more
relaxed, more and more,
he says, but it’s no good.
I can’t. I think of the pews
in a church, the huddled and hunched
man singing in a frail voice.
It was so intimate somehow, kneeling
in the pew behind him.
I used to pray, and so I thanked God
for sparing me that fate, for the moment.
One pew for every year of my life,
more and more relaxed.
We never know what we’re spared.
The Way Back Up from Down / by Gail C. DiMaggio
You’re right, you’re right
there’s a puritan in me
tumbling through the
which was dragging my hands along its belly.
I can sometimes make these scribbled artifacts.
My name in the dust on the pews.
And can I run
to the dark
from the slow honest tongues of horses
from my mother’s sadness
that’s been there forever?
My mother is not the wings
pulling me down and down.
You might rightly wonder what I’m doing here.
Who sits like this on the kitchen floor
trying to hear?
There in the yard a huge and beautiful peach tree.
A man sings
a small final song
and prays a wind
which today in the garden
and purslane and willows of sweet clover
makes us feel
in terms of joy
what forever otherwise would hurt.
And turn up the Nina Simone.
There’s a puritan in me
to whom this poem is prayer.
is what I call it)
Open the door.
Genesis, American Style / by Nancy Flynn
Planting the cross and the gallows,
men wearing clothes did come, dominate, kill
every gaiety that once warmed the blood.
In square gray houses, the women were condemned
to breed behind shutters. A barren land starved, scorched—
much misery in the years of the rule of greed.
The noonday sun made the stones smoke and medals flash.
One bat’s caress drew from a boy his last laugh,
yet few spirits expressed themselves by whistling.
Any who failed to wash absolution from their eyes?
Apprehended. Breathing grew violent, an effort.
Each casket of words held a body the size of a sigh.
Witness a world made empire, unfettering.
There is no flame at the festival of the new fires.
a found poem culled from lines in Eduardo Galeano’s Myth of Fire (Volume 1, Genesis)
Journal: August ?, 2016 / by Josh Medsker
Eyes tired, cannot sleep
Closed or open, I see Ahmad
little head nodding on mother’s chest
hands grasping her like dear life
I see him across the field of bodies, tents
bitter mocking untruth, impossibility
Head itches, flaking white
unshowered for weeks
long past disgrace and politesse
The frozen scared talk of
quarantine camps at Terezín
Can it be any worse than
desperation and filth,
covering the walking
I Chose My Dog Over You, And Now She’s Left Me, Too / by Robert Okaji
My bed is a twelve-bar blues song missing the four chord,
a BLT sandwich without bacon and bread, a Maserati
lacking tires, an odorless lily, a bikini in Antarctica.
I miss my baby but I don’t miss you. Which is not to say
that I don’t wonder whose pillow you driveled on last night,
but that I’m glad you won’t say I’ve used too many capers
in the roasted red pepper remoulade, or that my black
bean cakes give you gas (as if I couldn’t tell), or I didn’t
fold the towels to your standards and satisfaction. Tulip,
the bulldog you never liked, enjoyed my cooking, and
though she snored, never assumed more space than
needed. Furthermore, she drooled less than you.
Yes, I miss my baby but I don’t miss you. How does one
recover lost heat? And where do caresses go when the
body no longer receives? What is intent without purpose?
I lie here willing the phone to ring, and watch the fan oscillate
air across the room, pushing bits of our discarded lives against
the walls, piece by piece, dander and fluff, together, alone.
There is hurt, and then there’s hurt. Place your thumb
between hammer and nail. Fracture an ankle, break an arm.
Fall from a roof. Slice off your thumb tip. Herniate a disk
or two. Burn a hole in your wrist. I have survived these
pains, but now, feeling the cool space where warmth once
lingered, I think most fondly of my visible scars.
With thanks to Pleasant Street, who provided the title.
The Politics of Decoding / by Rosanne Osborne
“He would start speaking and she’d gather each phrase,
take in the scroll of meaning.”
—Hystopia, David Means
The rolling screen of the black and white TV
signaled its age. No longer able to control
time, it lost its footing, its place at the family
table. After all, when the image no longer holds,
life shifts and the heart flickers..
Goodwill was the first to bar the door. We do not
accept box-style TVs, its outdoor sign declared.
Body shape tipped the scales of authenticity, denied
resume its due. Technological profiling marginalized,
shackled the once acceptable analog.
The flat screen was all the rage, the mark on walls
of status. That it lacked depth was not a serious
objection. High definition lured the eye, titillated
public perception. The pixel had its day, gathered
colloquial phrases of dpi and meant what it said.
A Doodling Workshop in the Back Room
of the Public Library / by Vivian Wagner
You show us patterns, circles within circles,
sloping lines, overlapping arches,
scallops and leaves, dots and curlicues.
There’s no right way to do this, you say,
holding up a tree branched with swirls,
a landscape wilded with cross-hatching.
In the beginning we draw freeform squares,
windows facing what? We don’t know.
Stiff hands work slowly, at first,
carving out a curl here, a contour there.
But the smooth expectancy of paper
and the forgiving flow of ink
ease us into creation.
Gradually we give up our need to know
what and where and why
and draw toward the blank future,
whirling something out of nothing,
comets and moons,
nebulae and galaxies.
Maybe we have other things to do
this Wednesday evening,
but we’ve forgotten what they are.
We have universes to beget.
Day 21 / Poems 21
This Old House / by Shaindel Beers
It’s tempting to start over – a brand new life. There is a cabin
just off a hiking trail I’m in love with. I could take wildlife photos,
collect pine sap for my friend the herbalist. Still, it’s nothing
that will enable me to make a living. The house for sale
around the block is too expensive, is next to the woman
my second husband had an affair with. At what point
isn’t everything triggering? At what point might my life
be mine again? There are experts who help you throw away
everything connected with abuse—this sexy, one-shouldered
top, the rib brace hiding on the floor of my closet. But
at what point isn’t that everything? When do you decide
not to throw yourself away, too?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Leaving this house
after ten years would feel like letting them win–
my second husband, my son’s father. I love the sloped
A-line of the cottage front, the steep roof that sloughs
off the snow. I’ve filled out loan papers, looked at paint
colors—fun yellow, denim. Why does everything cost
so much money? Why do men always get to leave everything
behind and start over? Most days, I know that I’m wreckage,
debris. This is my summer of learning what it’s like to live
outside of survival mode. Still, there’s so much I don’t understand—
arranging things, decorating. I feel like those Holocaust survivors
who asked their children, Well, you aren’t a lampshade, are you?
whenever they would complain about something trivial. I’ve
never thought about cabinets and countertops. Only how not
to be beaten, how not to be killed. I used to think, Fuck you,
when my friends showed me paint swatches, their new bedding.
I didn’t even understand the point. Thinking about these things
still seems silly, but this is my house, and I want to fix it.
Besides, if I leave, how will my little birds find me?
At the Beach / by Nina Clements
Something is missing.
Is the water? And the feet
tucked into sand? The book,
bigger than her head? The sun
can’t catch her beneath the umbrella,
or so she thinks. It is not missing.
The parents are silent, eating
fruit. The mother is smoking, beached
in the sand. Children squeal
nearby. Is the peace?
She is what is missing,
but the longing is there.
To the Girl at Her Brother’s Wedding / by Gail C. DiMaggio
From this end of time, I can tell you that you’re prettier
than you know in your flowered dress, and that probably
everyone sees how hard you’re trying. The careful
smile is giving you away. You can’t know
that the couple at your table will divorce, or that you never will.
That tomorrow you will march off down a 2 a.m. highway
unable to admit he’s not coming after you. That now you’ll have to turn
and walk back alone. I could tell you how many years your daughter
will pick blackberries in East Lake Woods, that decades
will pass while you and he slam doors and make each other laugh.
And then you will take off that wedding band, put on four silver rings.
But, oh, dear young self, look out from your end of time
and remind me: how does it feel, there in your first apartment,
to wake early and watch the light find his sleeping face.
Birthright / by Nancy Flynn
In a guttering town
where the few
surviving shops stick
to their guns,
close Good Friday afternoon,
there’s still one
down the Flats—Vnuk’s,
you pronounce the V.
Where my father (86)
pilots his El Camino (’84)
Easter Saturday to turn its bed
into a crowded flower field.
Lilies that will Sunday gather,
fragrant, fanfares trumpeting
to brass the pulpit’s steps.
More plants than people
in the Plymouth Christian Church.
With their petals waving
“In Memory of… ”
pollen backtracks to a map
of bracken or maybe rings
on our hard-coal,
One last triumphal
a century past
flight, these tributes
to our never-forgotten
dead. . . . Once, my life
at eleven baptized
by immersion, wearing nothing
but my undies beneath
an ivory muslin gown
I was sure, when drenched,
all eyes in the pews
could see straight
emblem of suffering,
my shame, no old rugged
cross to bear, no sinners
my crowning world—
One day, soon, my own
bouquet will be my name
across the plane
of a plain white card.
Above, the Savior,
of the crook and robe,
with open palm.
Every lost lamb returns unto
Highway 99 Haiku / 3 / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Truck truck truck truck truck
hurtle past the stubbled fields.
Shirt flaps from barbed wire.
Medskerpedia Day 320: Cultural Studies and Poetry / by Josh Medsker
Poets on Poetry
Poetry is silent painting
asking a shadow to dance
With poetry, as in atoms,
we create images.
If reduced to prose
there can’t be much to it.
Poetry is dying
poetry is dead
long live poets
legislators of the word.
White Mules and a Column of Smoke / by Robert Okaji
I am thinking of a place I’ve never seen or visited,
much like Heaven or Jot ‘Em Down, Texas, but with better
beverages and the advantage of hindsight and seasoning,
a glance back or to the peripheral, with a side of memory
and sliced, pickled jalapeños topping a pile of imagination.
And how do we so clearly remember what never occurred?
That book I read in 1970 was first published three years
later. A drowned childhood acquaintance ordered a beer
and sat next to me at a party in college. The open fields
I recall from the garden walls in France, where homes stood.
If only we carried with us slide shows or grooved vinyl
to trace back our lives – photos and recordings of those daily
remembrances – detailed notes indexed on cards, or data
embedded in our palms and accessed by eye twitches.
Would such evidence improve our lives?
Which filters shutter moments and thoughts, twist them
into balloon animals we no longer recognize? False
accusations and convictions aside, can we trust what we
know to be true? That oak stands where it has for four
decades. I bleed when cut. The sky still leers above us.
With thanks to Nadia Butler, for sponsoring the poem.
Imperfect Creation / by Rosanne Osborne
“…like a long grey wave that has been gathering its force
and finally reaches the shore, a chilling flood of shame,”
—The North Water, Ian McGuire
They blamed Achan. He should have known
better, they said, flinging their stones
in concert, clatter of righteous hymn
bursting the silence of accusation.
They watched the pile of boulders grow
heaping a mound of the shards
of earth on the man shaped from dust,
the leftovers from form and void.
The aftershock of should haves
and would haves lingered in the crowd
gathered for tribal rite–family shamed,
clan humiliated, guilt a distant share.
Cross-country / by Vivian Wagner
You lay down two tracks
in the deep, new snow,
forging expertly across a field
bordered by shadowy woods.
I follow, trying stay
in your parallel grooves,
trailing behind your bright
pink vest, your crimson hat.
We talk about turning fifty,
something you’ve already done,
something I’ll do soon.
We talk about hot flashes,
gray hair, strength training,
children growing up,
the places we find ourselves,
the places we slide towards.
And sometimes, we simply
pause in the settling snow,
absorbing the midwinter sun’s
Day 20 / Poems 20
Goldilocks Planet / by Shaindel Beers
“Earth has been called the ‘Goldilocks planet.’ In the story of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ a little girl named Goldilocks liked everything just right.” – from NASA’s website for children.
I’m in love with the term Goldilocks Planet
because I’ve never found anything just right—
or maybe I’ve never been right for just anyone.
Always too much, too little, over-emotional,
too guarded. No one can seem to dial the lens
in enough to fit me into their heart. I want
Kepler 452b to be habitable. I want Asteroid B612
to house the Little Prince. I want to be like the rose
he kept under a glass globe, like Vladimir Lenin
in Red Square. I want to believe in something
that can exist forever, but even our sun
will extinguish in five billion years. First,
it will run out of hydrogen, then helium. Eventually,
it will collapse and burn itself out the way I seem
to have been doing all my life, only I’ve been
doing it so quickly—I’ve been an acetylene torch
taking everyone with me. But, please, hold me close—
don’t be afraid. We make such a lovely light.
Grogginess / by Nina Clements
Coffee is a simple drug,
nothing more, nothing less.
It speeds the heart and shifts
the mind-fog away—moving
a cloud with a puff of air.
It’s only temporary, though.
What happens when the fog
descends and blankets everything,
a layer of blue lint left from the dryer?
More and more coffee, more and more,
just to relax, to breathe clear and sharp.
To be present. The fog hides us from the world.
Landscape / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Low blue hills and a flickering sky. Nothing
has moved in the field
for a long time now. That fingernail shape
could be a house busy with laughter,
where lunch gets made
and shared hungrily, but
at this distance, it’s easier to believe
in pulled hair and bitter silences.
The only other work of human hands—
an unfinished fence.
Holding nothing in and keeping nothing out,
it zigzags sideways
till it stops. It’s as if some frowning
woman looked up
from days of splitting rails thinking
No safer inside than out
and let the post digger fall,
wading off across the biscuit yellow field,
toward that darker streak
at the bottom of the frame. Probably
a river. Maybe a ravine. Both
She was afraid
and she understood she’d have to
choose a direction and walk a long time
before there’d be any change.
How could she guess
what that might feel like?
Fiddle, Rome, Burn / by Nancy Flynn
There is the telling of what’s to come
in the old King James. I can still feel
that onionskin page slip between fore-
finger and thumb, the passages so
brilliant in red, each word Jesus said.
How revelations might come as heat,
a burning shrub, one feather that cleaves
to a bell, a dish that begs for white
peppering by dash while awaiting
resurrection’s sun. Yet the stormy
insists on seizing the upper hand
time and time again. No matter that
the light appears to blessedly pour
down. Porous, I leach. I leak. I tilt
then spill. After I wilt, become one
more in-a-corner violet, shrunk.
How many times can the son die in-
side a tomb before a myth dies out?
Shoot! Oh, Christ! My pen, it’s running out!
In the Photo / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
they are laughing, the woman
and the baby, looking into each
other’s faces and laughing
at a private joke from far away.
Note: this poem is for Susan and Ellie Hodges.
Never Planned / by Josh Medsker
The snow once glistened in my eye
the stars bright across your windshield
now you glisten at the seaside
a foaming grey against the white
rolling back and forth, me revealed
to the bone, broken, in our sky.
How many times have we been here,
kicking rocks, drinking wine, making fires
making plans, sometimes real, but
never planned for this. Why would we?
Why would we?
You Say Cicada / by Robert Okaji
I say cicada, the difference lurking in the middle,
like the shortest dancer in an off-Broadway musical,
or a note hidden between two reams of legal paper
in the supply room of a well-appointed dentist’s
office, where you find yourself, by accident, searching
for the exit. But think how our sap-sucking friend must
feel, a foot underground, during its final instar phase,
reversing course, leaving behind the darkness
and moist roots, burrowing up through the soil
towards light and the shrug into maturity. And after
that, squeezing through a crack in what had been
itself, emerging, soft and vulnerable, slouching to the
inevitable call. I think of ecdysis, how we, too, shed
ourselves, leaving behind remnants, old skin and
armor, and rising, on occasion, wiser, softer, more
complete. But sometimes we try to reenter those
discarded shells. My acquaintance searches through
the past for bits of himself, purchases toys – marbles,
pocket knives – stitching together a semblance of the
old comfort. He keeps, in one jar, three teeth from his
childhood, in another the exuviae of a half-dozen
scorpions. How delightful it would be, he says, to
abandon your hardened self and become someone
new. He looks to the ground and nods. I say cicada.
Many thanks to Sunshine Jansen, who sponsored the poem and offered these three words: sap-sucking, ecdysis, instar.
Pragmatic Intuition / by Rosanne Osborne
“…stares at Summer for a moment as if deciding
who he is and what he might be good for.”
—The North Water, Ian McGuire
The wild impulse in any man can be tamed
like the dandelion blossom, deep fried in crunchy
sweetness. My grandmother, her bent back humped
as she scanned a patch of weeds, knew the worth
of lamb’s quarters and dock, seasoned with bacon
grease for a mess of greens. She soothed burns
with plantain, treated our cuts with chickweed,
and kept my grandfather clear of the bottled rage
that bubbled just below the surface, wild amaranth
and malva steaming on the back of her wood stove.
She’d known him all her life, watched him flatten
smaller boys as schoolyard bullies will. Somehow
she knew that beneath that hard explosive temper
ambition was as soft as the juicy body of a molting
cicada in spring. She knew the cockroach that scurries
across the kitchen in surprised night can be toasted
as a delicacy by those who believe in the discrepancy
between appearance and reality. She looked
deep within his soul and concluded that he was
worth the risk. He’d do just fine to raise
the towhead boys in her inner eye, the girls
destined to inherit her idiosyncratic faith in nature.
Advice for My Daughter’s Best Friend
as She Leaves for College / by Vivian Wagner
Remember San Francisco,
when the two of you rode
off on rented bikes,
navigating a torrent of traffic
as if you owned the city,
while I watched, worried,
hoping you did?
And how in New York
you walked crowded streets,
exploring shops and cafés,
not getting lost,
while I waited, anxious,
on a grimy corner
until you returned?
How you paddleboarded the sound,
cutting through glassy water,
while I stood on shore, afraid you’d
fall off, even though
I knew you wouldn’t?
That’s you, now, and that’s me.
I don’t have any advice for you,
really, as you leave.
The advice is for me:
remember those times.
Remember how you laughed, kindly, at my fears.
Remember how avenues and clerks and
trails and waves greeted you as friends.
And remember, finally, how you always
manage to make the world your home.
Day 19 / Poems 19
The Poet as Hallucinogen / by Shaindel Beers
“I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” –Salvador Dalí
But the trees are always whispering—
that’s why we have the word susurrus,
and the moon always makes a path
it looks like you can walk on— You just
have to watch from the right angle.
Clouds are alpaca wool. Are cotton candy.
Wildflowers are cats’ whiskers, elfin pitchers.
Everything around us is always singing.
I feel the hum of the earth in each cell
every time I step outside. Feel my body
moving through space at 30 kilometers
per second. Each blade of grass exhales
a ripple of steam. The sun and wind
are always licking our bodies. Life itself
is orgiastic. Moss is a fairy carpet,
berry drupelets are tiny hearts we crush
on our tongues. Last night, the river
told me that no one knows what love is.
That’s why it keeps so many bodies for itself.
Yesterday, your sweat glistened gold-
sparkle. You were a Greek god of glitter
in the plastic tote aisle at Home Depot.
You keep asking, Nothing. Not yet? It’s like
the Twilight Zone episode with the doctor gasping,
No change! No change at all! I never knew
that mine wasn’t the world everyone lived in.
Prayer / by Nina Clements
Words written on the body,
nothing more, nothing less
one letter at a time
spells out desire, spells out
pray. Mantras on the body
chanted with fingers.
Oh, my sadness.
Oh, my heart.
Chant the mantras with fingers.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Under the Sign of Titan / by Gail C. DiMaggio
For a Woman Born on January 2.
You are Friday’s child, though some weeks not. Other
astrologists may insist on Capricorn, but there is also
Andromeda who had much to evade and a tether to
break. On the other hand, you would never tolerate
a rescue. To discover your totem animal, you would
need a griffin and a swan, creatures both fierce and
full of grace. Not Saturn ascendant, but Titan, out on
the rim, owning wind and slow silvery rain. From out
in space, passersby see a familiar surface: dunes
and rivers, lakes and seas. It takes the closest
passage to reveal the crystalline ground, and
the reverberant air. Your qualities come in pairs
and paradoxes: orderly and creative, limber and
capable of great stillness. Your color, green, your jewel,
the moonstone, your number will never be subtracted
from two, and the river of your hair makes demands
on the hearts of ordinary men. You turn your face
to the sky intent, waiting for the single word that
captures this sunrise shade of rose.
2 Degrees Celsius / by Nancy Flynn
Some days you count mere length and breadth.
No thickness, a superficial geometry, whatever remains—
The lake’s surface, once a mirror autographed by blades.
You pull the laces tight, loop hooks and double-knot.
Axel forward to icebound, a stranded oil-drum raft.
What makes you think you can outwit provenance, escape?
Impossible, in flux, fractures courtesy of centuries
Hollowing out. The world, it’s heating up. Still
You continue to glide, avoid ruts, the hairline cracks.
Pretending all will be well, survivable once junked.
Title Envy / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
when the big wind comes
. . . . . . like a soprano
the hour between dog and wolf
a hundred million years of nectar dances
. . . . . . bright dead things
. . . . . . after west
we almost disappear.
There’s a ghost in this machine of air
listening long and late
happy in an ordinary thing
. . . . . . given sugar, given salt.
Queen of a rainy country,
say this prayer into the past.
This poem, a cento inspired by Nancy Flynn’s “First Line Sonnet” (30/30 Project, Day 17), is built of titles of poetry collections on my shelves. The poets are, in the following order: Christopher Buckley, Enid Osborn, David Starkey, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Richard Jarrette, Ada Limón, James Harms, David Bottoms, Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Peter Everwine, John Ridland, Jane Hirshfield, Linda Pastan, Paul Willis.
The Good Critics / by Josh Medsker
Create the channels
through which our
Cut the paths
over which our
Mouth the shibboleths
to which our
Burn the canon
and those who
What Are You Going to Do (Cento) / by Robert Okaji
Not everything can be set to music,
you have to understand that.
If I went to the end of the street,
would I be at the center of myself?
Now ends. Now begins.
Still, we sing the same songs;
we live in the sound – no love
of miracle or numbers helps.
I wonder if my body
is outline. A far point rendevous,
a smoke plume taken, but not
into a hot, dark mouth.
Or perhaps it never had a name.
Bruising’s not the end of it.
This cento is composed of lines taken from various Tupelo Press publications by these authors: Maggie Smith, Michael Chitwood, Carol Frost, CM Burroughs, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Dan Beachy-Quick, Willis Barnstone, Lauren Camp, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Lawrence Raab, Natasha Sajé.
Many thanks to Barbara Carlson, who sponsored and provided the title.
Animal Farm / by Rosanne Osborne
“Behold the man.”
—The North Water, Ian McGuire
And what is his measure, this homo sapien who walks
upright? Will he melt like a hunk of ice in a tepid drink
when the party lingers into the night, conversations
loop upon themselves like a drunken Mobius strip?
Will he rise above the bloated waters of ceaseless rain,
effect the rescue of a drowning dog while children
tug their blankets over their heads and wish to go
home to mac and cheese and chicken nuggets?
Will he stoke his beard and voice unconventional
truths to a rarified audience twice his age,
denigrated apostles of orthodoxy who have lived
safely in the uncontested state of righteousness?
And what is his measure, this polished dude
who dares to flex his thumbs, shoot messages
across the synapses of the cerebral divide?
What exactly is the cost of walking upright?
To the Fake Buck in Front of
a House on Main Street / by Vivian Wagner
You’re proud, despite your fading, flaking self,
despite your manufactured musculature,
tense with immobile longing, as if you’re just about to
leap out of the yard, over the road and railroad tracks,
into the soft grass and mud and forest beyond.
You may seem a joke, with your painted antlers, the forced
splay of your legs, but you have something like a spirit.
In the factory, workers filled your mold, mixed your pigments,
shaped your face, briefly wondered what might become of you.
And here you are, now. Becoming.
Your kin run free, their white tails raised in lively alarm.
You try to look like you don’t care,
but in your plastic eyes there’s a wild glint of grief.
Day 18 / Poems 18
Riversongs / by Shaindel Beers
In the tent-quiet dark, when the fishermen give up their secrets,
I heard one old man tell another, I’m afraid of the Columbia;
I’m afraid of the ocean. He sounded like someone who had lost
more people to big water than I could imagine, so he’d resigned
himself to fishing only tributaries, though they, too, contain rapids
and rocks, pull people under each year. Last night, I sat on a blanket
next to the Columbia, watched the moonrise, listened to J—
play songs about moon and water. Moondance. Nightswimming.
I thought about the ways you can miss someone who is right
next to you. When parts of them are already gone. Some things
will always be a symbol of something that isn’t still there.
A clearing that used to be a cabin. A concrete slab that used
to be a grain silo. A single pelican passed overhead. The black fringe
of his wings looked like the eyelashes of the sky. The moonlight
formed a path on the water that looked like I could walk it.
The lapping of the river said, I love, I love, I love. I wanted
to wade in to hear the rest of the river’s song, knew I would
drown before I would ever find out what it was the river loved.
Being a Grownup / by Nina Clements
You break an egg into the wedding china
bowl and drink it down because you need
the light of the yolk inside you, bright orange.
They said adults don’t need the light in the dark,
but no one ever asked you. You chose the pattern
and he chose the stoneware, so easy to divide
these fragile symbols of togetherness. No one
told you how to be alone with your own possessions
or that you are the voices in your head. When you’re
grown, you automatically know how to be alone,
even if you can’t recognize this version of yourself.
Looking for the Original / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Someone—he may call himself
the family artist—
takes a photo of this girl
then makes it over
into a drawing.
In his pictures she is seven,
the season is summer, she’s
curled on a bright red rug,
which he uses to frame her. First,
the rug holds the girl, the original girl,
and then each picture in its turn
surrounds her, trains our eyes on her.
In the photo, her tan legs
are covered in the healing bruises
of someone who runs
after soccer balls,
rides her brother’s skateboard
faster than he can. The line of her face
may suggest the cheekbones
of a someday beautiful woman
but it’s hard to tell. She’s turned
half away from him, her face
shadowed, her eyes
fixed on her own hand.
She’s eating cherries out of a plastic bag.
Later making the sketch, the artist
wraps the photo girl
in haze, gives a pinker
red to the rug. Strips
the flaws from her legs, the shadows
from her face and gives her
a smile. Innocent and generic.
It’s no longer clear
that she is eating,
Somewhere, outside the reach of art,
the original girl escapes him,
drops to the summer lawn damp
from sweat or a swim, looks away into a future
where she will claim her own
hungers, her own light and
shadow. The true shape
of her moving hand.
Encore / by Nancy Flynn
I watch Billie Holiday sing
“Strange Fruit” in rare, live footage.
Crawl upside her cheek,
ride her every desperate
trickle of sweat, hungry to feel
her heartache quiver,
her lower jaw a cave,
offering you/me/her an opening
into the onrushing rains,
the suck, the rot, the drop,
every leaf on the ground
in its frenzy of wind
Clouds / by Josh Medsker
For the ride and the failing
the gleaming up the wall
and down into your cup
Drink! Dream! Ride!
Listen to that brilliant cloud
calling your name, and wrap
yourself in it. Reach up, grab it
and curl it around your head
a crown of white and thunder,
lightning desires ready to strike.
Vision in Far Infrared / by Robert Okaji
Considering the implications of dust and cold gas, the expanding
universe and cryostats, I climb the stairs and shiver.
Thermal infrared may propagate in a vacuum, but we require
oxygen and warmth. Pillows and a sense of humor help, too.
What will come of the images captured by the Herschel telescope
in the next eon and those following? These maelstroms, blossoming.
I look up from my front porch and see the streetlight’s glare
rather than stars. Yesterday, lizards coupled on my shack’s wall.
Nebulosity in vision, in politics. Look through this eyepiece to find
horseheads and archers, bright flames and clouds. Or nothing.
Red and yellow filaments could indicate newly forming low-mass
stars. The visible is only one component of perception.
Hubble observes in multiple spectra, but not the far infrared.
Even the long-reaching may be overcome by inadequacies.
Do not forget the body’s warmth. Remember black lights and purpose,
the tangible thought. Recall that we exist at rest, ever in motion.
Many thanks to Angela, who sponsored the title and offered these three words:
nebulosity, eon, maelstrom.
The Curtain Closes / by Rosanne Osborne
“It is extraordinarily painful to think
that there will be a day when he sees
her for the last time.”
—All that Man Is, David Szalay
When that casket closes, it’s over. The living
no longer see the dead. It’s not like the squirrel
in the road, unwilling to leave a fallen mate,
returning to the decomposition in fur and bone.
But this is not an epigraph from the perspective
of the seen. It’s the words of the seer. Neither
the words of life or of death, it’s the whimper
of the man partly dead, the man who senses
what’s ahead. The clairvoyant peering
into the crystal orb sees the wavering lines
he suspects to contain the future. Death
masks descend long before their time.
The pain is wholly self-oriented, ironically
as impersonal as the art connoisseur standing
in the Louvre gazing on the Mona Lisa
before he moves on. Ego in the demise.
Grounded / by Vivian Wagner
You dug your branching home
below my front porch.
We’re in this together now, sharing space,
your lumpy body moving with leaden grace,
your eyes burning with animal acumen.
Thoughts of gone coltsfoot and coming snow
furrow your bristly brow.
Soon you’ll curl close to frozen,
keeping lidded guard on the underworld,
tethering me to all you know
of whistle and breath,
burrow and earth.
Day 17 / Poems 17
After we make love, a crow tries to sing us to sleep / by Shaindel Beers
6 a.m. crow, jet songster of the oak tree,
cawing in the only voice he has.
Brake screech of the garbage truck,
whirr of the coffee grinder.
These are the weekday songs
of the suburbs. Outside, neighbors
argue over who has watered which parts
of the lawn, which sections still need watering
before the temperature climbs to one hundred.
Inside, our world is still morning cool, perfect—
Saying Good-bye to Gambier / by Nina Clements
The gravel of Middle Path
is what I miss, those tiny stones
in my shoes—pebbles.
And the arch of trees overhead,
swaying gently in the breeze,
making the air fresher.
And the benches where I wish
I’d eaten my lunch more than once,
people resting in the shade.
They are the luckiest people.
A Tolerance for Rain / by Gail C. DiMaggio
for walks with no
purpose, unsalted food, hemlocks
beautiful in their weeping,
the neighbor’s long stories—
what happened on the bus, things
the plumber said.
I’m learning to put up with it,
CNN a muted background to my life,
blister on my instep.
this lined face. And all day
a slate gray sky, almost
the color of the fears
that drive my midnight highway,
headlights blooming out of dark,
I wonder at it,
the idea that I can
settle for half-light,
drizzle on the window.
Admit that I still miss
slammed doors and raised voices,
tramping the hill—
rage and altitude burning my throat.
A female cardinal
hunches in the pine’s uncertain
canopy. Rain deepens everywhere
the late summer’s green—
on the linden,
on the grass.
Some days, rain is what I have.
And almost enough.
First-Line Sonnet / by Nancy Flynn
Some folks will tell you the blues is a woman
Satin luscious, amber Beauty center-stage
That sail which leans on light
The pure amnesia of her face
Abortions will not let you forget
To birth shape from the spill
For weeks the poem of your body
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All
One day when the Nouns were clustered in the street
Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter
Out of her own body she pushed
Seeds in a dry pod, tick tick tick
To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
So much depends
This poem is a cento created from first lines of poems in The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove. These fourteen (in order) are by the following poets: Cornelius Eady; Terrance Hayes; Derek Walcott; Carol Muske-Dukes; Gwendolyn Brooks; Alice Fulton; Denise Levertov; Randall Jarrell; Kenneth Koch; Philip Levine; Paula Gunn Allen; Edgar Lee Masters; Mark Strand; and William Carlos Williams.
Standing in the Street / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Twilight and bodies in flight:
mosquitoes, bats, the International
Space Station—the reason we’re
standing in the street, me with my
face to the sky, my neck
at an angle I can’t hold long, Rob
looking down at his phone, bringing
up the app that tracks such things
so he can point out where to look.
Three children on one skateboard
roll unsteadily by, arms extended,
giggling, speaking a language I don’t
know. I recognize their happiness,
though, and my own in this realm
of wonders, all of us in flight.
Loving Blade / by Josh Medsker
You, my lady and my sword
you, my divine reward
you, for whom I would throw
myself into a lake of fire and
battle darkness himself, light
my path and keep my thoughts
affixed on your loving blade,
which tears down falsehoods
Cleanse me in your flame.
Cleaning Out Closets in Anticipation of Moving Closer to Children / by Robert Okaji
She came with the house.
A skull, spinal column, ribcage, tibia,
scapula – the list goes on, not quite to 206,
even including an extra lumbar vertebra.
Edna (long story) attended Halloween parties
and convivial gatherings, dressed in Finery.
Silk suited her best, with linen falling just
behind. And hats! That green fedora,
like a parrot perched on a smiling egg,
never spoke, but stirred the conversation.
Old boots, worn left heel explaining the damaged meniscus.
Portable record player. Scratched vinyl.
Shopping bag of VHS tapes. Two empty scotch bottles.
The 30-year old suit that hasn’t been worn in 28 years.
Yellowed newspaper clippings of diet recipes.
The lost carton of wrapping paper.
A cheap guitar case, sans guitar.
If memory could speak, what would it not say?
Who else has rubbed this dust across his skin?
Only death is irrevocable.
In this darkness I Find you.
Fearing withdrawal, we grow closer.
Things, and more things.
Everything we need travels with us.
Harry Bailey and the Pardoner / by Rosanne Osborne
“This is the way Chaucer’s pilgrims went. Trotting horses.
Stories. Muddy lanes. And when it started to rain – a hood.
—All that Man Is, David Szalay
Time traveler that he is, that pardoner
gets around. He’s wagging that bag
of relics from doorjamb to overpass,
occasional nights at the salvation center.
There’s a wheel from a Walmart cart,
a silver shoe caught off the grid,
and a toy truck left in a park sandbox.
Every bone has its own story.
Coins for a cup of coffee, change
to trade for a moment of relief—
he’ll spin his web of words,
exoneration for hire.
Tattered quotes drop like the host
from the hand of a careless priest,
sacramental spoilage the order
of the day, the definition in time.
Day 16 / Poems 16
After John Milton / by Shaindel Beers
For someone special
When I consider how our time’s been spent,
that in just days you’ll be across the wide
world, and I’ll be free from trying to hide
my sadness that you’re gone. I’ll bend
over books at the same angle, I did to gent-
ly kiss you while you slept. Your side
of the bed will be cool and empty. I’ll glide
through life, doing all the same things. Rent-
ing movies, making dinner. Worlds don’t end
just because a love affair is over.
I’ll cry. Maybe for some days, I’ll sleep more.
It may be cliché, but memories and friend-
ship are what we’re left with. Life gets slower.
Bees don’t die from the loss of a single clover.
Dancing / by Nina Clements
Cancer in the leg,
what irony for a dancer.
And the doctor’s visits
have become a kind
a dance of radiation,
of ions and electrons
chasing out the cells
more than Martha Graham
ever could. And a father
who loves a daughter,
who remembers ballet
shoes and then toe shoes.
All he ever wanted
was to keep her dancing.
Dream House / by Gail C. DiMaggio
The oldest cousin dreams
Nanna’s house in the summer,
the iron bench like twisted lace,
the morning glory trellis. Nanna
in the garden, Nonno reading
on the patio, all the furniture
layered with paint Nanna mixed
from the latex leftovers—beige-rose,
she loves to keep things safe,
loves to keep things sorted, yarn
from old sweaters, jars of buttons, bolts
of fabric in the attic—
everything for use someday
like Sandy the dog who
someday will be allowed to come indoors
but just for now lives
in a garage painted circus pink. Every day
Nonno’s second breakfast, then Family
Feud, and the Price is Right. Every day
cat o nine tails in the woods.
Risen bread dough.
Nanna shows her knit two, purl two,
and her hands smell like
geranium cuttings in tiny pots.
They line the sill all winter long.
Easter snow, and the cars
can’t make it up the hill.
slump in the living room,
while in the kitchen
Nanna and the three cousins
sing Santa Lucia.
The oldest cousin dreams
and all around them, just outside
beyond the slider
and the big back window,
the storm tucks the garden
under pillows and a comforter.
Nanna’s house a snow globe,
and there they are,
One More Possible Scenario for the Impending Ruination / by Nancy Flynn
The country turns fire.
Because water, and the time—
both are running out.
we felled too many trees.
Such industrious carnies—the chokers
set, the logs skidding to the cemetery
while under the big top, Trapeze Marie
perfected her fingernail hang.
the fire-eaters ate
first, followed by the sword
swallowers, next up sideshow
freaks and, last of all, the clowns.
brimstone was the circus,
a circling of stakes, no
shortage of oh-so-righteous fingers
gunning you. No, you. No—You.
troupes of us grew
shifty, shiftless, shifting
one foot to another, helpless
hands under armpits
because we must keep up, we must—
payday came blizzard came swelter came levee breaching below
one more cracked one more drilled one more used-up, thieved
one more poisoned one more blown-off, blown back
desecrated hilltop above
the ruins of
a nation on fire.
Because water, because time
running away, over and out.
Papier Mâché Haiku / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Papier mâché bowls
newspaper strips layered wild
poems on the sill
Cabin in the Woods / by Josh Medsker
Your grounds are sublime. The
sticker bushes and bearberries
simply magnificent specimens.
The logs in your cabin, stacked
in perfect Euclidean formation.
Your neighbors the bear and wolf
howl and growl in appreciation of
your aristocratic bearing,and line
up in procession as you exit your
front door, as if to say:
“we submit oh master,
to your glory and obvious
A Herd of Watermelon / by Robert Okaji
My work tools include rubber boots, a hydraulic
jack and snake tongs. Prevention over cure, always.
A helicopter’s shadow crosses the yard.
I sweat in cold weather; today even the shade burns.
Ants swarm a dead bat on the crushed limestone.
No keys for these locks, no fire for that place.
Stepping inside, the city welcomes me.
We drain coffers for this grass, and hope for rain.
This morning two deer jumped the east fence while I
updated software. The significance eludes us.
A dream of watermelons rising from their viny beds,
lumbering through the field to the creek. Rebellion!
How many have sat at this desk before me, plotting
murders and rumors or rhymes. Die, mosquito. Die!
Many thanks to Plain Jane, who sponsored the poem and provided the title.
The Rains of 2016 / by Rosanne Osborne
“What am I doing here?”
—All that Man Is, David Szalay
Water rising! The snake zigzagging down
the flooded driveway knows he is in control
of nature’s overflow. Surfacing from the deep,
his slender ears hear the throb of life arrested.
The dog is bambozzled by the torrents
of the times. He can’t harmonize his laps
at the water dish with a world soaking
up more nutrients than it wants or needs.
Windows shake with thunder’s warning,
and we collect the things we can’t live
without—the oval frame of great-aunt
Gertie, the birth certificates, and the cat.
We ready our minds for the discomfort
of a wet ride in a stranger’s outboard.
We wistfully look at the sofa, popcorn
kernels from last movie, and shut the door.
Water rising! It’s at the porch, ready
to enter the door. It will rest in our beds
tonight while we sleep with unwashed
strangers on cots in a high school gym.
Shift / by Vivian Wagner
The old village train station’s now a hill of bricks and sand,
its cement foundation just visible below hard-caked mud.
There’s a street called Depot, but it’s mostly figurative.
One morning at the not-station,
I listened to a whistle approach,
watched a freight train pass:
green engine, black tankers, gray hoppers.
I remember these railcars from my son’s childhood.
He loved trains, so I did, too.
I stood that morning where we always find ourselves:
the precise point of the Doppler effect.
The place where sound waves traverse one way, then another.
The place where passengers board, and then don’t.
A fixed trackside observer can only watch
as Einstein’s raven flies its seemingly straight line,
as the train vanishes around a maple-hidden curve.
Day 15 / Poems 15
Question / by Shaindel Beers
“Someday somebody’s gonna ask you a question that you should say ‘yes’ to.” – “Question” Old 97’s
“Among the many things I envisioned in my deep sleep, that which comforted me most, was the image of a young man who came and set me free.” – “The Glass Coffin” by the Brothers Grimm
My mother started my imprisonment early. Subscribed me to bridal magazines,
said, “Maybe some nice boy will marry you,” like this was the solution
to everything—my father’s rages, my failure to comprehend algebra. Was thrilled
when I was fifteen and a nineteen year-old gave me a ring.
She answered the phone and told boys, “Yes, she’d be happy to,” without
even handing me the handset. I went. It didn’t matter that it was to drug deals
on the back of a motorcycle—He was tall with dark hair and blue-green
eyes. That I went with a twenty-five year-old and his daughter to see
The Lion King at the drive-in. That I rode on a moped with a man
who had had his license revoked for drunk driving. I was Lucy Westenra
of the trailer park. I was never told that my pretty mouth could shape
the word “No.” Did I always want to be a princess locked in a tower?
She needed to get rid of me. She had three other children to raise.
I was a doll with a painted-on face. Always being toted somewhere.
I’ve lost the last twenty years. Don’t remember who I was at the beginning
of the story—Once upon a time, In olden times when wishing still helped—
Before—There once was a young woman. Just once, I would like to read
a story where the prince hacks through the brambles, scales the tower,
finds the glass coffin, only to discover the door has been locked from the inside.
Ants in the Bed / by Nina Clements
The ants are in the bed now,
thanks to the cat. They’ve come
for her, because she is weak,
always in repose. She’s what I have
since you left me alone. You could
not kill the ants any more than
my sick cat, who laps one up
with her dinner now and then.
She looks almost wild—her fur
is matted and her wide eyes drip.
You would hardly know her,
hardly know either of us.
She is barely there but more real
than you have been this year.
When she goes, who will remind me of you?
The Flood the Night You Were Born / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Rivers have sources, destinations, but ground water
rises–no end in sight–through walls we thought
we’d proofed against invasion. That night the flood poured in,
found its stormy and overwhelming way. First,
licking at the window sill. Now, drenching the ceiling.
If I thought I could hold only so much or tried to make a bargain:
Take the first floor, leave me the second, I misunderstood.
When they tucked you beside me, I felt at my center
an inland sea. You brought your own storms, your surges and retreats.
Seabirds come, bearing proof of solid ground and life.
O, Oh: A Reminiscence / by Nancy Flynn
…things that you held high and told yourself were true
lost or changing as the days come down to you
I can turn it on now, I can be
dancing up a river in the dark, looking for
that time of beeswax
that time of blue books and English bluebells picked
narcissus forced to sweet the air
court and spark
sandalwood or patchouli
depending on which aspect the moon
lotus on a hard black cushion
fingertips to make a mudra-bowl
thumbs out on oh, those back
country roads, Cleveland a far cry from any
city of the fallen angels
cleaning hives at the Johnson House farm
planting peas, planting beans, pulling
weeds, loose-leaf peppermint
tea in a china diner mug
how it all fast-fast-forwarded to
this room with its Cream of Cauliflower
eggshell walls, where I sit with
O flowering cabbage, the creamiest of white when steamed
O dung heap of the pitchforked, compost extraordinare —
lost and changing isn’t even the half of it — oh
this is never how I imagined this future, that winter
picnic in Tappan Square, spurning one image
from a picture-card deck: wrinkled and clenched
(those I slandered old-lady) hands knocking
for you, constant stranger . . . identical . . mine . . now
Natural Fibers / by Josh Medsker
Under stress our bodies put out a certain
sweat and scent. It travels into everything
around it. The wood in the bedroom wall, the upholstery in the downstairs couch smells like you and me, when it’s hot it breathes out memories, rises and falls, expands and contracts, pressing out our fears and our reconciliations, a sharp musky smell of nature and sweet I’m sorries.
Transducer Ruin / by Robert Okaji
From bad to worse.
The hospital’s walls, shredded.
A turning back, the retrieval.
Frayed edges, unraveling, pulled down.
Conveyance and change, or, conversion.
Tying the knot, I think of home.
Things fallen apart.
She stands alone under the sky’s umbrella.
“Destroy infrastructure, destroy livelihood. Destroy.”
Water leaking from the cistern’s wounds.
Wind to voltage; passive to active.
My church is the sky, the earth below, and everything between.
The center of one, of two.
Rounds, piercing armor.
A spiritual hole, leakage.
“It was easier to view them as targets, not human.”
Sequences: from water to ice, to vapor and back again.
I will surrender to flame and be scattered.
Firewing, starbolt, tearmaker.
Guided from afar, they sense but cannot feel.
Counting graves, he considers relief.
The road to everywhere.
Looking back, I discover that I had already arrived.
With thanks to the blog Atomic Geography, for sponsoring the title and these three words:
spiritual, things, sequences.
Time Travel / by Rosanne Osborne
“I have preferred mornings, too, the way they forgive
a night’s indiscretion or a yesterday’s.”
—Work Like Any Other, Virginia Reeves
The trips we took out west when I was a child
were always skewed to my father’s sense
of time. He loved to cross the line
between night and day, to see the dawn
creep up on us from behind, stealing
the last of night’s non-time.
His schedule called for leaving
the motel before daybreak, motoring
for a couple of hours before stopping
at a roadside café for breakfast—eggs
and ham, hash browns, toast, and coffee—
gifts of the blessed day.
Maybe its delayed rebellion or some sort
of internal clock, but I love the throw-away
hours of night when time stops, the furred
pillow that pulls me into the hollow
of some tree where life moves as
imagined dream, celluloid images
on my inner eye. Morning is not
forgiveness of indiscretion—the new
beginning. It’s not the absolving of sin
at a tent revival. It’s the cold, clear reality
beyond the garden. It’s the grinding motor,
the suffering shame of the dammed.
Canis familiaris / by Vivian Wagner
He regards the village not as a village
but as a lavish collection of stench and perfume,
bluster and bird, sparkle and shade,
all the same as the day before,
all startlingly new.
A cardinal, flapping its wings!
An earthworm, smashed into asphalt!
A crow there, look!, calling!
Sun! Cicadas! Trail! Creek!
He lives in exclamation points,
pointing toward exclamations.
He sprints synesthetically to the next thing, and the next,
seeing animal spice, eavesdropping darkwoods,
always on the scalpel-edge of abandon.
At home, whorled on the futon,
subdued into ferocious calm,
he dreams of dusky rabbits,
their politic eyes daring him to sit, stay.
Day 14 / Poems 14
The Contortionist and the Ringmaster / by Shaindel Beers
His tongue is a whip that strips her at least one night a week.
He tells her she’s lucky to still be with the circus. She’s good,
but who wants to watch a forty year-old woman in spandex
fold herself into smaller and smaller boxes? What about you
is even real? he asks as he covers her body in kisses.
Fake eyelashes? Pancake makeup? He cups a soft breast,
a full thigh. Soon you’ll be using body shapers to fit
into the costumes. He tells her about Ukrainian twins
he’s met, laughs that she could be replaced in a minute—
maybe less. There are always lost girls looking for sequins
and a spotlight, who will do anything for the adoration
of the crowd. She knows this is true. This is how
he found her when she was sixteen. Her father had just
kicked her out, told her he was done paying for gymnastics.
He was sure she’d use the lessons to become someone’s
fantastic fuck toy. The next day, the circus came to town,
and twenty-four years later, this. Sometimes he brings
her flowers, pink moscato, says he’s sorry. He’s not
a young man anymore. He has to say these things
to get hard. Needs her to cry so he can make it better.
When she is numb and weeping, he comes, says,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry, as he cries into her neck.
She watches the wall, wishes he was a contortionist
so he could go fuck himself—
Garden Party / by Nina Clements
Of course, you were not
there, but the bees came.
One perched behind my ear
and crawled up and down my neck,
buzzing its love. Patient and kind
as I walked quickly here and there,
trying to be alone with myself.
The place was full of strong beer
and meat, so I simply drank
my dinner. The bees caressed
my hair, my throat, more real
than your fingers ever were.
At the Tate Modern / by Gail C. DiMaggio
I was excited
about Louise Bourgeois’
giant spider Maman, and you
were excited about the fabrics
at Liberty where that day
you’d picked up bolts,
laid them down,
and I’d trailed behind thinking we’d spent
the same morning
in New York a year ago
except there you’d bought raw silk
instead of linen.
But that afternoon at the Tate
I said I was sixty,
and you said, No,
fifty-nine. Recited my birth date, added
the current year. Do the math, you said,
and not surprised
that I couldn’t keep a simple thing
like my own age straight
since you’ve been picking up
what I scattered behind me
since we were 30.
In our mothers’ time they said
women couldn’t be friends. Law
of the jungle, zero sum game, only
enough spotlight for one. But on
the first day of the worst
five years of my life, it was you
I told and you
who got up out of your chair
and came around the desk
to hold me. I don’t remember
what we said, only
cadence of your voice. And everything
was still terrible,
but for that long moment
I wasn’t a rag doll
tossed to the cataract. You
with your perfect
memory for birthdays,
your beautiful voice,
your unfailing heart.
So now this autumn / by Nancy Flynn
Please click here to read the poem.
How I Trust the Hours / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Minding my own business, making a list
of things I trust, since Galway Kinnell wrote
Trust the hours and I’m not sure I do, listing
leaves, cinnamon, some dogs, most pencils,
few pens, and suddenly I’m thinking of those
fat ballpoints we’d buy in junior high, the ones
with 6 or 8 or 12 colors. We’d choose
the color we wanted—turquoise, fuchsia,
lemonade—and push down the little color-
coded catch that slid the right cartridge
into place. They lasted a week at most,
and we didn’t waste much sorrow
on them when they quit on us: we knew
where to get more. All the way until
we lost interest in those rinky-dink pens,
we took for granted the supply. It was just
a matter of sweeping the front walk enough
times to earn the cash we’d slide across
the glass counter.
Maybe the way I trust the hours is a little
like how I trusted those pens, only without
the sweeping, without the counter.
Medskerpedia Day 299: Cossante / by Josh Medsker
“Meet me over by the tree with the face”
I said to the boy, “we can leave this place”
Where the lights cover up the stars
I went to the clearing, slept on the ground
I woke in the morning, my heart remained bound
Where the lights cover up the stars
I said to the boy, “we can leave this place”
“feel new dirt under our toes, we’ll escape”
Where the lights cover up the stars
I woke in the morning, my heart remained bound
I went to find the boy, the air filled with my sounds
Where the lights cover up the stars
I went to find the boy, the air filled with my sounds
the clouds echo my cries, my tears flood the ground
Where the lights cover up the stars
Missing Loved Ones / by Robert Okaji
You marvel that a simple garment retains so much of a person’s
being. I watch the worm swinging on its long thread
from one side of the door frame to the other,
wondering how to avoid it should I go out, but a sparrow
solves that problem. In 365 BC, Gan De detected what was likely
Ganymede, but history records no other sightings until Galileo
in January, 1610. Thus an entity with twice the mass of our
moon went missing for 1,900 years, which helps explain
the parameters of oblivion. But nothing equals the heft
and gravitational pull of those we miss – the dead, the gone,
the lost, the never-coming-back – a friend’s laughter
still echoing twenty years later, a lover’s taste and smell
rekindled with each autumn’s first fire, or the dog’s warmth.
Small wonder that we ever exit the house, leaving these
companions behind. I watch the sparrow snatch another
snack, and consider the mechanics of loss. Ubiquitous, but
generated anew. Unique yet common, unfelt and devastating.
Late at night, you say, I draw comfort from cloth, stroke
the once inhabited trousers or the flannel sheets resting
in the drawer. This scarf, her love. That shirt, my heart.
With thanks to Emily Bailey for sponsoring the title, and to Tami Wright, who offered these three words:
Ganymede, ubiquitous and oblivion.
Standing Their Ground / by Rosanne Osborne
“Of all the crops on his wife’s land, corn was Roscoe’s least favorite,
something obscene in its size and growth, in its stalks and blades
and seeds—everything too big.”
—Work Like Any Other, Virginia Reeves
Stopping to buy tomatoes at the old barn, I was overwhelmed
by the squash piled around the entrance, under the tables
where tomatoes waited. Tomatoes bleached the squash in the spidery light
of too many years, too many vegetables coming and going
in that terminal of delight. All that was left was the pale yellow and green
stripes of those gargantuan Hubbards, emigrants from alien fields.
Those edible gourds threatened the serenity of the smaller fruit,
the succulent tomatoes sitting in their thin skins above it all.
I edged nearer to the prize I had envisioned from the freeway beyond,
wary of the bloated bodies of another kind. I imagined a gourdian revolt
as I selected the promise of ripening reds, the firm flesh of juice
I knew, seeds that daintily rested in tomatoey sacs of nutrition.
Clutched to my heart, five tomatoes in a white plastic bag gained
their freedom that day from the thick skins guarding their way.
Village Green / by Vivian Wagner
“All the roads in the village unite at the fountain.”
–Louise Glück, “Tributaries”
We don’t have a fountain in our village.
We have only creeks and reservoirs,
and our own faucets, turned on and off.
Our roads don’t unite in one place,
but rather square off the landscape,
practical and no-nonsense as pews.
Our occasional sidewalks trail dutifully,
their calciferous cement filled with
glittering bits of quartz and feldspar,
deposited by ancient winding glaciers
and quarried into usefulness.
We do have a park, a grassy rectangle
ordained by Scots-Irish Presbyterians
as a central gathering place,
and once a year, its tall, proud spruce
lights up in a show of
wild, almost unseemly
imagination and longing.
We gather around,
holding candles, singing hymns,
and if you blur your eyes
you might see something like water,
bright and chaotic
in the chill winter night.
Day 13 / Poems 13
I’ve Never Feared that I Will Cease to Be / by Shaindel Beers
With apologies to John Keats, my one true love.
I’ve never feared that I will cease to be,
though I’ll miss walking in the woods and rain,
I’ve never felt the world needed me.
Never gotten what it is I gain
by being here. So much sadness to face
seems to be the lot of life. No romance
can remedy that. If you have a trace
of compassion in your heart, chances
are the world will beat you down by the hour.
I’m not saying that I want to die. More,
that life’s a journey filled with pain. The power-
ful enjoy luxuries, while the poor
exist. When I was ill enough to be thinking
of death, I dreamt of beauty, peace, sinking.
Dreamscape / by Nina Clements
After Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
In the dream, you insist
I ride the bicycle. Is it a metaphor
for sex? Do you like to dominate
or be dominated? Or are you an acrobat
jumping from bicycle to bicycle, all
on the high wire? Suddenly,
my mother is there and tells me
these poems are unkind. Is it like
Dora’s mother, who misses every
point entirely? In Dora’s dream,
the mother would not leave
the burning house without
her jewel case. No one would wait
for her to retrieve it. I love the idea
that it was empty.
Threshold / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Daddy’s building us a new house,
my pregnant mother said. And soon
I’d have to set the table for one more
left handed brother.
All that seventh grade year
I hated her
because she said she liked
my braids, said my glasses were
sophisticated, and the girl
who made fun of me
was only jealous.
In English class, I sat with a book
in my lap and all day boys walked
past me in the hall—
their big-knuckled hands. My mother said: No,
you and Jimmy Easton stay out
of that old gardener’s shed. You can
help me cut the drapes
for your new room.
Afterwards, she bandaged my arm, her hands
rough and her mouth thinned out.
Which of you
stole the cigarette lighter? Which of you
thought fire was a toy? I remembered
the silvery walls—beautiful, abandoned—
how I’d dreamed myself
to count the trove of broken glass
all green and amber, sip rain water
from a chipped saucer, read
the rippled magazines where women
stroked the flanks of new cars. I would
wear a long, green dress,
my hair would be a dark cascade.
By my bed that night, my mother said,
You could have gotten
really hurt. Then: But you aren’t the one
who started that fire, are you?
I looked at her straight
and would not answer.
Liner Notes for Visiting an End of a World / by Nancy Flynn
Toroweap Overlook (Tuweep)
Grand Canyon National Park
Whose world? What end?
A bend in the river.
There’s a date-stamped register we have to sign before heading out.
And only three roads (more accurately, dirt tracks) through uninhabited land for 97, 64, or 61
Mobile phone coverage is spotty, at best.
Routes are impassable upon rain, subject to flashing floods.
A tow costs up to 2000 bucks.
We take the Sunshine, BLM Road #109.
Dust wallows are feet deep since it’s dry.
An Adams Leaning Wheel Grader, rusted in situ, is landmark, how many hours in?
Dangerous curves are never marked and the signposts unreliable.
The final stretch?
Washboards (near constant) distinguish the slickrock.
Then edge toward agape, sheer drop,
a gap that swallows the mesa top, the rock face split
An unfenced ledge to the Colorado, 3000 vertical feet below,
where a newlywed wife visiting disappeared mere afternoons before.
Did she jump? Was she pushed?
Lava flows under the underlying fault.
What world? Whose end?
And the words too end.
End to end to end.
What’s Clear / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
In the early light I pasted on my sequins
and joined the trout, also sequined, just in time.
The requisite small talk, then off we darted,
as one does. For trout, time is different
than it is for us. They keep a different kind of time,
or it keeps them. These things are hard to talk
about. Here’s what’s clear: time, for trout, is water.
Moi? I’m an embedded reporter, investigating
whether minutes are dimples on the surface.
I’m looking for funding and am told my proposal
stands a chance, my work having, as it does,
implications for tomorrow.
Face / by Josh Medsker
Dragging my eyes, my lips, my ears across the face of the day.
Working, through grinding, dirty labor to transform my visions, my words, and my life’s music into a coherent whole, and reassemble
the shards I made.
It’s Not with Us / by Robert Okaji
Don’t look back. You can never look back.
Remember how he smelled of tires
and every night you drew a new
card to place under the pillow –
aces and diamonds and royalty –
drifting away to a pretend
husband, a sister’s beau, and a
house with car and dog and
children. How years later,
cleaning out the workshop
you uncovered those peculiar
details – a box of loose pearls,
the perfumed thank you
from a woman you didn’t know
and never would. How easily
we believe the worst
over the best, that one’s
passage betrays only falsehood,
that red disappears into black
and the unspoken remains
unsaid, only to realize at last
that choices matter and pieces
don’t always fit as we hope,
that some strands break or
untangle, ending up in cartons
with other discarded bits, no
longer matching memory’s shelf,
but tracking instead to a separate
place, adding more pieces, new
texture, to our lives, our histories.
Many thanks to Debbie Fuller, who sponsored the title.
Hooked / by Rosanne Osborne
“Revolutionary music hurts the ears after a while. There’s no nostalgia
in it, no place for people to share their sorrows.”
—Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
The ears monitor
the music we hear,
but ears leave rhythms
to the brain,
tones of emotion
to the heart. Nostalgia,
on the other hand,
creeps in around
the corners of sorrow.
Nostalgia is the chipped paint
on your mother’s oak table
where your father
cleaned the fish
before he died.
Nostalgia is the sweater
he wore, its fishy smell
lingering on the hook
behind the door.
Nostalgia is tucked
beneath the clods
into his waiting
to the beat
of protest, danced
in silent wars.
Perseids / by Vivian Wagner
We watched meteors from the deck,
my son and his girlfriend and I,
warping our necks,
slant-squinting up at endless sky.
I saw one long trail,
streaking thinly north to south.
Together we glimpsed another,
shorter and flashier,
lighting up a far, dark corner
of the vast ceiling of stars.
These fragments sublimated
from Swift-Tuttle, itself broken free
from Oort Cloud.
All objects in the universe
exert a gravitational pull on
all other objects,
and even flying scraps of
find their trajectories influenced
by planets and sun.
Soon he’ll go back to college,
drawing ever further away,
but for the moment he’s here,
they’re both here,
pulled into my orbit,
as I am into theirs,
all of us approaching radiance.
Day 12 / Poems 12
After William Blake / by Shaindel Beers
Please click here for the attendant photo album.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” —William Blake
The six-spotted ladybug on the snow-white millefiori
of Queen Anne’s Lace, the obsidian glint in the eye
of a finch. The whistling wings of the dove, click-whistle
of starlings, tch tch tch of finches scolding each other over seeds.
I am learning to find the world in a grain of sand.
Heaven in a wildflower. Yellow bee plant, barely pink burdock,
the riotous purple and chartreuse spike of the bull thistle.
The sky reflected in the color of forget-me-nots at the cool
bend of the river. The Perseids shooting silk through last night’s sky.
Text Message Neurosis / by Nina Clements
After Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
The same old patterns,
waiting for words to flicker
across screens. What would
Dora have done with such explicit
words when she could not bear
an embrace, the shadow of the erect
member pressed against her
in the half dark of the warehouse?
Freud thought her repulsion
neurotic. But shouldn’t we get to choose
who touches us in daylight or night?
It doesn’t matter if the touch is real.
I refresh and refresh the screen,
touch it tenderly, while I wait
for you to send yourself to me.
Widowing Syndrome / by Gail C. DiMaggio
After Ross Gay
Sometimes called heartbreak, a constellation of symptoms associated with the loss of that someone who was there when the sufferer broke her leg or buried her mother or heard, for the first time, the call of a particular warbler in a particular wood. The one who knew her blood type and liked to stand beside her rubbing her back while they chatted with neighbors. The onset is typically abrupt: the tones of her favorite song flatten and sour, sunlight shifts toward red, and then a sudden, vicious eruption of ordinary memories: he’s in the grocery store reading the ingredients on a soup can. Coming up the stairs, calling the name of a dog they put down last December. She may also experience a reluctance to open doors or tell time. A need for bitter ceremony. As in: 2 a.m., she takes the cash left in his wallet and burns it in the back yard because he has no need of eighty-five dollars, or his glasses or a good beer. She has been promised an easing of the symptoms, even an eventual reunion, and so she allows herself to sleep sometimes on his side of the bed. But four years later, cleaning the cellar, she unearths an old boom box, pushes a button and hears his voice.
I am a murderer with a paring knife / by Nancy Flynn
at the Woodlawn Community Garden, splitting
the cauliflower creviced with slugs into florets,
flushing what must have been eleven or twelve,
cold-blooded to the ground under the full force,
water from a communal tap. Much as I’d like,
I could never be a Jain, principled to harm no
living thing. Even though last night, I tossed
three cross spiders out the upstairs window,
careful to trap them alive while they climbed
the walls, as if a tissue would deaden that two-
storied fall. Why was I (then) trying not to kill?
I can spin my defense. The lie that ethics must
be situationally checked until this world defaults
to merciful laced with regret. But this was supposed
to be a poem about the contradiction in simply exist,
not another meandering with babble before flit.
None of it matters arrives in the thought-bubble
next. The world shifts. Do people want poetry
of the homily and uplift? Or murder by paring
knife instead? Ah, yet (once again) I digress.
Prayer Almost Ending with a Line from Li-Young Lee / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
God of all things, what were you thinking?
We can be kind and good but often aren’t. We
can come up with libraries, wind turbines, corkscrews
but more often we can be found dreaming up
how to curry favor, get ahead, dominate. A few of us
sail around the world, but it looks like more of us
shoot each other in nightclubs and shopping malls.
God of all things, preserve us from ourselves
and our cartoon-version visions of you where
we’re always right. Bring us to our senses, the five
and all the rest. Bring it to pass, the prophecy
that says an intrepid perfume is waging
our rescue. In your mercy, strengthen us to break
that bottle, show us how to pour and pour.
–The bottle reference is to the story found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the woman of ill repute who poured costly perfume on the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair and tears. Those present scolded her, but Jesus defended her.
Always You / by Josh Medsker
Without you, we are frayed
unbound and shiftless
Without you, we are scared
listless and decayed
a room of strangers, together
for you, by you, always.
Nanukatukitsukatsu / by Robert Okaji
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
The Captain, in Cool Hand Luke
“Don’t you speak Ing-u-rish?”
How to explain the difference in knowing and
knowing. Observe your hand and the slipper in it.
Despite love, despite anger, accept the consequence
of misdeeds and careless action, of playing hooky
and getting caught, of tracking in mud and ignoring
requests regarding matters trivial to a teen.
We never knew the literal translation of the word,
incantation, curse or whatever it may have been,
and we certainly couldn’t spell it, but the sounds
most definitely said “you in a heap of trouble now,
boy,” but with a Japanese rather than southern accent.
Think Strother Martin, but smaller, feminine, Asian,
prettier, tougher and confident in her message. Apply
the slipper to the miscreant’s backside. Do this twice,
if not more. Say “Mata, mata.” Shake your head.
Acknowledge affection and dismay. Again, again.
Weather Fashion / by Rosanne Osborne
“That winter, Vancouver was even more grey
and wet than usual, as if the rain was a thick sweater
we couldn’t remove.”
—Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
In Kansas City, rain was the evenly spaced knots of a Dotted Swiss dress.
In Cheyenne, rain was the durable denim of dirty overalls in winter.
In Birmingham, rain was the gingham dress no one ironed.
In New Orleans, rain was the blue surge suit in a second line.
In Dallas, rain was the ten gallon hat tilted in the wind.
In Miami, rain was white linen slacks frayed at the cuffs.
In Little Rock, rain was the stretched out T-shirt discarded in a dumpster.
Here We Go ‘Round / by Vivian Wagner
The wisest of all trees,
Pliny called them,
because they put off budding
until after frost.
Their genus, Morus, bespeaks delay.
These sophic trees flourish
along Ohio creeks,
setting fruit every June,
even after long-lingering winters.
My mother planted a mulberry tree
in our sandy mountain soil,
and it, too, never failed in its
glad duty to bear, to yield.
We’d eat as many as we could
from the wild abundance,
and still have enough for jam.
Not many things
gave her such joy.
When I find the purpledark berries now,
I think of her and our predictable abandon.
She’s here with me, still,
as sure as the berries, ripening.
As sure as the trees, kenning.
As sure as the creek, flowing away.
Day 11 / Poems 11
The Sword Swallower and the Fire Eater Make Love / by Shaindel Beers
The sword swallower’s survival
hinges on making room—
becoming an opening.
Drinking a large carafe
before her act
so her stomach
She guides the sword
down her gullet slowly.
The fire-eater’s life
is a constant slow exhale
to keep from accidentally
A quick clasp
of the mouth
over the torch
to close off
In their small trailer
after the show,
Lock and key.
is a consummation.
Bicycles / by Nina Clements
Each man thinks
he will be the one
to show me how
to ride a bicycle.
After all these years
of being on two feet,
he thinks he can
set me upon two wheels
and I’ll spin upright.
It is not resistance
but fear and certainty.
I know I will fall down
and I will get up alone.
Poets Gather in the Boiler House to Read Their Work / by Gail C. DiMaggio
We’re hoping to live a week in this aura
of ornate eaves, rusting metal,
hoping to put words to it. What
is the role of the poet?
On Berkshire mornings
the boiler house once poured out
a practicality of steam, kept workers
from freezing at the looms.
My father spent forty years making nothing
but ball bearings. While children
dodged the huge plates
slamming out deafness and broken
arms. It can spin you naked, snap your elbows
out of joint. Women
aging young. Men they’d married,
full of hope. I stood
where the snake died
wearing an eyelet dress. And now
poets, fortunate citizens
of the quicksilver present
bringing our papers and iPads. Merge
this nervous tapping into 4/4 time.
The mill’s a steampunk temple
to ferocity—North Adams, Alabama.
On the docks in Frisco. In this dark, leaves
have blown against that door. The man
who hauled coal. The woman
who cared for another woman’s child
and wasn’t allowed
to eat off the family china. Laundress
and steeplejack. What it cost them,
even the one who charmed them,
swinging her lunch pail,
singing up the hill. How could she
not be crazy
the way they stole her songs?
Across the street, a sculptor’s raised shapes,
giant pink and absurd, tokens
for a game no one’s ever played. Tears
taught me Mahler.
Each of the italicized lines was written by one of the poets who read last October in the Boiler House at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA. They are—in the order their words appear in the poem—Donna Fleischer, Kyle Laws, Gail DiMaggio, Kay Morgan, Marilyn McCabe, Anne Dernier, James Sneed and Joanne Corey.
Stone Soup / by Nancy Flynn
rice the potatoes
until they smooth
paling to a slurry
no slurs just a bowl
along the rim chipped
potatoes boil without their skins
still the water blurs gray
once trickle becomes
always the women carrying
the water making the soup
find it simmering in some
manner of pot
over a fire in a hearth
over a ring of stones
below cirrus or wisp
the recollected sky
gone stone under war
under unkind lights
one more cornerstone of violence
not the knife that cut out the eyes
generally the gun, generally
a folded flag given to the family
President [Fill-in-the-Blank] thanks you
for his or her service
might have given her or him a star
while the blueberry
bucket stays empty
every berry unpicked
their Christian God, hell now
the unreasonable Greek ones too
desiring to split
after the six o’clock bells
calling to worship via bleat
faux devotional, unbroken
days—call it one’s life
barreling fast forward
then faster but no it’s all
energy no matter no
mass times the speed
of light equal to
waste not want
not a ladle full of nails or stone
General Patton called it
rock soup, gathering
ingredients for a disapproved attack
every one of us coming to
that sedimentary ledge
to wait, to starry-eyed stare
still we try
to singsong along
rosy around the ring
ages ago meant
a rash of black
we all fall down
Haiku with Beetles and Cat / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Scarab beetles flash
brilliant green in August air.
Grey cat learns to fly.
Full Circle / by Josh Medsker
(for Peter and Lisa)
Paper balls flying around my head
the lesson going untaught behind
shouts and laughs and curses fly
as my face hardens, stone, no win
I unfold my arms, re-place my mouth
by softening, and sit, on the floor and
until one by one, they turn, look and
wonder, open, ready.
I Danced with a Platypus Twenty Years Back / by Robert Okaji
Which is of course a metaphor pointing out
disparities in function and form, and the dangers
inherent in assumption: despite its cute appearance,
the male platypus delivers venom through an ankle
spur on a hind limb; samba with one at your own
peril. My friend wanted to build a catapult, but I
convinced him that trebuchets more efficiently
demolish walls. Instead, he experimented with atlatls,
before reverting to his favorite compound bow. The
fly swatter remains my weapon of choice, followed
closely by steel toe boots. I have yet to meet a scorpion
whose armor could withstand them, but I would never
stomp a platypus without first determining its intentions
and seeking mediation, perhaps through handwritten
correspondence. Pencils owe their origin to the lead
stylus, which eventually morphed into the wood-cased
graphite tool we now use. In his day, Thoreau was better
known for pencil-making than cabin-building. Arthritic
joints prevent me from writing by hand, but I cut lumber
when necessary. According to Ovid, Talos, nephew of
Daedalus, invented the saw, using either a fish jaw or spine
as the model. I look at my food before eating, but the
platypus dives with closed eyes, and locates meals by
detecting electric currents through its bill. In considering
form, I assume function. But we know what that means.
Many thanks to Kris, who sponsored the poem and provided the title.
Brick Semiotics / by Vivian Wagner
People in these parts collect bricks,
trading them like baseball cards,
displaying them at festivals.
running fingers along oxidized swirls
as distinct as fingerprints,
reading factory marks
embossed on vitrified clay:
Metropolitan, Athens, Peebles,
Nelsonville, Townsend, Trimble.
They speak of
bricks in the wild,
And they inspire me
to look for the first time
at my own pile of cast-off bricks,
heedlessly inherited from previous owners.
I use them to segment oregano from dill,
to direct the flow of water from a drainpipe,
practical uses befitting bricks.
Now, though, I study them for the first time.
CLAYCRAFT, they declare in blocky print,
referring, I learn, to factories long closed,
to beehive kilns in Gahanna and Shawnee razed,
to bricks scattered, returning to earth.
Not the most valuable, I learn,
but not valueless, either.
I find myself more reverential,
wondering at the alchemic blaze of their firing,
at the oracular history that carried them here.
Such is the power of a name, spoken.
A spirit, caught and released.
Day 10 / Poems 10
Temporal Directive / by Shaindel Beers
My sweet, sensitive son cries every night at tuck-in
because he didn’t get to be a kid with me in Indiana.
He’s done this since we visited family. Since he’s seen
my kindergarten picture. Since I took his smiling photo
next to the cornfields. I try to explain that this isn’t
how time works. That I had to be a grown-up to have
a baby. I tell him that it would have been fun to be kids
together, but that I like being his mom. He gets to do
things I never did. He’s “Adventure Kid.” We go hiking,
throw rocks in the creek, pick blackberries. I don’t tell him
about my life when I was his age—my father ripping
the phone out of the wall, my mother telling us
to put our favorite toys in laundry baskets and driving us
away—staying with strangers on the road. I don’t tell him
about my sister who is lost in time. Who is thirty-five
but believes she’s fifteen, who might not even remember
me. That he’ll probably have the luxury of being an only
child—have no one else to practice violence on or to have
practice it on him. That I’ve tried to create this bubble
just for us. That time, to me, is always tricky, too, even
at thirty-nine. It goes on forever, but it’s always running
out, and I’m still struggling to get everything just right—
At the market / by Nina Clements
Do the marketing with a basket
in your left hand, and heft
the peaches with your right.
Fruit comes from the sky, outer space,
and you try to count the years
it took to ripen.
The cat looks askance,
so you pick a different peach to please
it, but it can’t be done: there is only
appeasement. And that can’t be done.
Take your space fruit home
and put it on the windowsill to ripen
beneath this sun, our star, before it bursts
and blows us apart into the universe.
The cat leaves the peach alone,
and you start counting: one cat, one peach,
one you. The husband has flown to the moon
to start a commune, and you are as lonely
as the peach, waiting.
Ode to Lydia, Who I’ve Never Actually Met / by Gail C. DiMaggio
You are a girl who knows
the art of celebration
and has probably just announced
to everyone on Kamehameha Highway: This
is the best day ever. You are the girl
who hugs each gift,
and says, voice aching with gratitude,
I needed this. Outside the window,
Hawaii flies past and
your childhood too, but
you’re a girl with a gift for tasting
the colors of a brilliant day. Keep those colors
in mind. Point them out to the rest of us.
I’m guessing here, but I bet
if you liked green beans, you’d insist
on getting them poured over your ice cream.
If you hated the color orange,
you’d ask for it painted on your closet walls
so you could shut it in. So you could
slam the door. Before you leave Hawaii
for the ordinariness
of mainlands, may you meet
a pilot who asks you
if you’d like to help him
fly the plane. May you
stand at the top of the Pali
and sing into the sun dazzle.
And may every car window
roll itself down,
readyfor the Lydia I’ve seen in a picture:
eyes closed, mouth wide,
able to taste the world.
Let these others
obey the GPS and study their devices.
You were meant to sail the wind.
Cogito Ergo / by Nancy Flynn
cloud in a crowded
sky of swift-fleeing fleece.
of a switch,
a flicker at its streetlight
the tap where the water will
rapturously rush to let me
flush last night’s congregation—
slugs from their revival
under the root-bound
dahlias in their breakable pots.
most days how
only a matter of
time before the sum of such undeserved
ease bends to break
stage. Where the unjust
lies of a lifetime
lie in the wings in wait.
Start shiver. End quake.
I think I am.
Wax Paper / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
That garage was so small the station wagon barely
fit inside. And dark—it was dark in there, which is why
in the photo of the four of us standing in front of the rear
window, the car is framed in darkness.
But the reflected sky glows as if the back window is itself
a photo: light framed by leaves. It must be the first day
of school—we have that spit-and-polish look. And though
the photo’s grainy, our faces indistinct, I can see (as if
I were there now, as if I hadn’t learned, eight years
later, to drive that Country Squire, driven on into my own
life with my own dark garages and bright, worried
children) the peanut butter and honey sandwich in the bag
my brother grips in his right hand. It’s wrapped in wax
paper, the folds just so, preserving the flavor of childhood.
Yo Mama Thru Tha Agez / by Josh Medsker
Joram: “Do you come in peace?”
Jehu: “What peace can exist
with the fornications of your
and her many sorceries?
Yo mama so fat, I told her touch your toes
and she said “WHAT ARE THOSE!?”
Demetrius: “Villain, what hast thou done?”
Aaron: “That which thou canst not undo.”
Chiron: “Thou hast undone our mother.”
Aaron: “Villain, I have done thy mother.”
Yo mama so poor
I saw her kicking a tin can down the road.
I said “what you doin?”
she said “movin.”
I’m Not With Her / by Robert Okaji
Pointing out inequities, I admit
to having second thoughts – a piggy bank
on his dresser, really? And that tattoo,
not to mention the socks with sandals
or the sputtering Mazda that was last
washed when Bush held office. Why,
last week he brought me a bouquet
of wildflowers, and one was clearly
diseased, well on its way to flower
hell, speaking of which, his mother’s
accent reminded me that he’s not quite
white, which is okay, even endearing,
but she said she doesn’t believe in hell
or heaven or God or trickle-down
economics, when clearly they’ve helped
her circumstances. Last night he grilled red
snapper, served it with a jalapeno-lime-ginger
butter, an heirloom tomato salad
and a champagne vinaigrette. It was good,
but the wine he poured was a bit too chilled
for my taste. I don’t know if he’ll ever learn.
I’m sure it’s difficult to overcome that
upbringing, in that house, with those parents
and that school. He’s lucky I’m patient.
Many thanks to Stephanie Kaufman, who sponsored the title.
Connection / by Rosanne Osborne
“I never understood the concept of the sister city,
but I’d always been fascinated by it.”
—The Sellout, Paul Beatty
For twelve hours, bombs fell and the city
awakened to one/fourth of its original size.
Its cathedral was gone, but its priest remained.
Perhaps, devastation increases compassion
and priestly words are not needed to inspire
people to reach beyond themselves,
or perhaps, “Father forgive” chalked
on cathedral ruins sealed a message
to those who climbed from the rubble.
Regardless, the women of Covington
acknowledged a family plight when
Stalingrad fell. They saw a sister city,
who needed funds to rebuild and they
rallied support. They established a bond
that not even the Cold War would deny.
Orthography of the Everyday / by Vivian Wagner
Let us see to it that we remain students.
—William Rainey Harper, “Certainty & Uncertainty” (1904)
Beside the Circle K on Main Street, there’s a two-story cabin of squared, gray logs
hewn from oaks once growing in a wilderness that became a village.
Here a boy grew up reading a Bible heavy with story, each syllable a riddle.
He studied Semitic languages, orated about the power of words to create.
Sefer HaTemunah speaks of a letter missing from the Hebrew alphabet,
a four-pronged version of Shin engraved on tefillin,
its absence responsible for all the flaws in the universe.
Upon its return, everything will be repaired, made whole.
Now, pipeline workers pass the cabin to get coffee, lottery tickets, six-packs of Bud Light.
WIN A CAR, says a banner, bright and promising, a transliteration of hope.
And each morning, mist rises from the creek on the far side of the railroad tracks,
whispering the broken world into being once again: Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Dalet.
Day 9 / Poems 9
The Old Woman in the Forest / by Shaindel Beers
“You’ve saved me and set me free from the power of the old woman,” he said. –Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Don’t believe princes. Sometimes, they’re not even princes
He might be a robber who killed the royal family and dressed
in their finery. A swineherd who taught himself to read
by the light of the fire. Even a woodsman sent
to cut out the heart of your own cousin. The reason
you’ll believe the words that fall from his lips
is you want to believe that he is your future. I am
your future, and that is your biggest fear. You don’t
want to look in a mirror and see this lined face,
this softened body, but the truth is, I was just like you—
did all the things you do—Took a basket to my ailing
grandma in the wood, pricked my finger on a spindle
when I tried my hand at spinning straw into gold.
I even once danced at a ball and lost a shoe like
the lame horse I was. I am your future.
Some frogs are just frogs. Some trees are just trees.
Heed me, my child, don’t trust men who claim
to be princes, who claim to possess golden keys.
*The tale this poem is based on can be found at http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm123.html
Summer Cookout / by Nina Clements
Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.
Summer, meat, family. For a bookish child,
summer meant almost fall. A fresh start
at school. The possibility of a year without torment.
Where is your father?
Can’t you smell it? He’s at the grill,
disappearing into smoke, the way that summer
disappeared and years disappeared into smoke
by the grill. All gone. After childhood, there are
no more cookouts in the summer, no more fresh starts
in the fall. There is only work without windows.
Where is your father?
And your father is gone, has disappeared,
has gone into hiding with his hidden letters
from a new love. The oldfashionedness
of it all. Love after so many years of obligation—
cookouts and first communions, confirmations
and graduations. The occasional wedding or funeral.
But time passes, and the body must live on something.
Flesh calls to flesh even after years of fasting.
That Evening in Naples / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Tony and Rosalie welcomed me
and maybe a dozen others
into sunlit rooms where Rosalie’s art,
ruby red and forest-floor brown,
glowed a benediction from the walls.
Not really a Christmas party, they’d said.
Their windows looked down
twelve stories to where Naples Bay,
like a green diorama, offered us
a mangrove archipelago, a sunset.
A tall vase of bougainvillea held its pose
on the mantle, and I remember
prosecco, good, sharp manchego cheese
and someone explaining patiently
that the whole point to Alias Grace
was that we never know
who is to blame for loss and suffering.
Later people mentioned Mahler,
and Billy Strayhorn and then
a woman with bright grey eyes
recalled her camp in Shenandoah,
a summer filled
with Tennessee songbirds
Sunset began to slip away,
and as most of us drifted onto the lanai
a pale scarf of egrets
flew in from the Gulf to settle
in the mangroves where they roosted
on that same island every night, nests
built high because egrets
face so many predators.
And as we watched, the daylight world went on
diminishing, its sharp angles airbrushed
by distance. A man said
how fortunate we were—the perfect
sunset, the view, our hosts’ kindness.
And I remember
that moment with a peculiar clarity:
warm December evening,
scarlet bougainvillea against stark
white paneling, the egrets
coming home in the dark. The man
I didn’t know saying again
how fortunate we were.
Pokémon Gone, or a Newsflash from the United States of Late-Stage Disaster Capitalism during the Hot, Hot Summer of 2016 Filled with Daily Lunacy from the GOP Presidential Candidate / by Nancy Flynn
As of Tuesday [July 12, 2016], “Pokémon GO” attracted just under
21 million daily active users in the United States.
— CNBC, July 13, 2016
“Pokémon Go now the biggest mobile game in US history”
Just how we live.
Rooting in the narcissistic dark. Silent
but for the occasional attention-deficit whoop. Noiseless
all our blood, our gun-barreling certainties!
Our heads in conscious cumulus. Too,
sand. Invincible sophisticates, so sneaky, so
swipe-and-pay adept. Thieves supreme, thinking
we are the ones anointed. Thanks to chimerical lightness,
yet bespoke fouled. Every river rock of luck,
uncomprehending. Every duplicitous dodge
from seizure, from face
the truth — that
clairvoyance is called earthly
Take away sputter.
Maraud in precarious distress.
Survival comes greedy, comes (maybe)
for a siphoning few. After each sip, the arrogance
to wallow, then flee. So pedestrian, our monopoly-
lust for safe. Moral hazard is a glass of cowardice glass.
The black-and-white photograph leaches to bleach.
For yes, every craven image known as us will
end. . . . (Whimper, meet bang.) . . . Oh, let’s just
A Deconstructivist Poem / by Josh Medsker
We break ourselves upon the Catherine wheel of markets,
banking on a self-adjustment we are positive will come.
Cover your head with a ski-mask,
storm your local bank, and throwing the contents of your pockets into the air,
low mortgage interest rates
or give me
Lovely Darling, Hot and Fair / by Robert Okaji
I no longer compare but allow them
to multiply in each vowel I speak,
expanding through the night’s coat and its hem
of ghostly stars dotted through the oblique
view. Standing here, looking up through the trees,
I want to brush your hair and play old songs,
bake bread, read aloud and enjoy the breeze
cooling our skin. So let’s forget the wrongs
we suffered then, if only for a while.
Recall the first time you played Puccini
for us (but forget the spilled beer). Your smile,
then as now, unleashes lightning in me.
Package it in boxes, sell it in stores.
I would buy it all and go back for more.
Many thanks to Mary Tang, who sponsored the poem and provided the title
Primitive Impulse / by Rosanne Osborne
“But I think I really wore her clothes to mask
myself, as though if I walked around in such a costume,
nobody would really see me.”
–Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
The trick to wearing a mask
is making it seamless,
avoiding any crack that exposes
the face behind the veil.
It takes commitment, a willingness
to embrace the dictates of façade,
hiding the wood beneath veneer,
a willing pretense on stage.
Dancing in ritual frenzy seems
extreme, conjures notions
of tribal drums, community
declaration in totemic rites.
But the studied persona
is a device with sharper edges,
in a pragmatic world.
Besides, it’s portable, requires
few props. Like a wily
chameleon, it changes
in full view, barely noticed.
How to Drive Across the Country, from Oregon to Ohio / by Vivian Wagner
You might use a paper map, yellow-highlighting your route, noting it’s a reverse Oregon Trail. That’s a good sign. It means you’re going home. Crossing ranchlands, listen to Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa and pretend a forlorn black steer along the road is a kudu. In Idaho, look for Hemingway’s grave, but after wending ever higher on backroads through lodgepole pines, realize it’s getting late and stop by the Salmon River, or what you think is the Salmon River, since you only have a paper map, and your phone isn’t getting service. Put your feet in the cool, rushing water. Think, maybe, of your mother, lovely and strong, like my own mother, also lost. She’s there, you know, in the splashing light. Spend an afternoon at Yellowstone and boardwalk through geysers. That night, pull over outside Gillette and watch the stars and satellites circle, thinking about how nothing is fixed, not the earth, not yourself. Drive through the darknight hills, into South Dakota. Hike the next morning up the ‘76 Trail in Spearfish Canyon. That’s a good place to fall in love, if it’s relevant. If it’s not, fall in love anyway, maybe with the smell of piñon and granite and sky. At a cornbound gas station in western Iowa check your fuel lines for a leak because your gas gauge seems to be going down too quickly. Maybe your father taught you how to do this. Maybe you have to read the manual. Maybe both. Get bad Chinese food in Iowa City, cross the Mississippi River, and watch lightning strike distant cell towers in the long inky stretch that is Illinois and Indiana. Arrive so late it’s early at a campground in Yellow Springs and sleep for a couple of restless hours. Back on the interstate in the morning, pass through almost-home farmfields, listening to The Replacements. The horizon will beckon, the miles will hurtle by, and the sun will be at once radiant and blinding. Or something like that. You know this road as well as I do. Better, even. You’ll figure it out.
This piece was sponsored by Meryl Williams, who donated to Tupelo Press and asked me to write about cross-country travels home. Thank you, Meryl! Others can donate and offer prompts here: https://tupelopress.networkforgood.com/projects/16090-vivian-wagner-s-fundraiser.
Day 8 / Poems 8
When I Was Bluebeard’s Wife / by Shaindel Beers
I didn’t fear the murder room, didn’t loathe the bristle
of blue whiskers on my neck, my breasts. I didn’t even
flinch at the knife. I feared his finding a wife who
would be his equal. Her azure hair, her lily skin.
The love they would make. I practiced first cutting
on myself—my white thighs. Willed the servant girl
to hold the mirror so I could draw a knife across
my buttock. The blood was quite beautiful;
it looked like berry-stain I remembered from when
I was a girl. But when I held kittens, rabbits, piglets,
I knew I could never make the cut on someone other
than myself. He would find a girl to marry who was
not quite human. A selkie, a changeling. He would
make her a gold key to wear on a chain hidden
between her breasts. She would be able to slice
anyone’s throat while still smiling, looking them
in the eyes. She would be the one to put my head
on the wall.
Loneliness / by Nina Clements
Do ants get lonely
on their marches?
They seem so silent,
but who’s to say they’re
not gossiping about
this queen or that?
They touch. They
each other. It is pathetic
to be jealous of them
when I have cats
who eat them three
times a day. But there
it is: the ache of it.
A Litany of Gigs / by Gail C. DiMaggio
For the first, he was 18,
and the Miller bus picked him up
on 95 half way to Boston—this sturdy
kid by the side of the road,
that awkward trombone
dangling from one hand. And the gig
at Lenny’s, Ray Charles sitting in
on Let’s Go Get Stoned, and the time
he played with Bennett, Krupa
on the drums. Or Brandee’s Wharf,
a two story glass box on the river, filled
with light and brass. Eighteen of them
just in from London, and they’ve put away
four up-tempo charts in a row
when he reaches for that note
at the high peak of Someday,
and hits it so pure and clear, the reed
players turn together
and grin. Then that time the van got stolen,
and he played Basin Street East
with a borrowed horn. Or at Newport–
they followed Gillespie,
and when they came off the stage, Dizzie
rolled him a joint,
one brass player to another.
But there were other jobs, too.
No big names, no sound board,
one a.m. at some shabby hotel,
Ocean City, Newark, clubs
that should have been called
Last Gasp or Down the Drain. City greens
and boardwalks. Fourth of July
and New Year’s. Mercy Mercy and
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
The last gig’s a shabby bar and a thin crowd.
And the way he always does,
he nods into the beat just before
the solo, takes a breath, stands
and the line of notes
rises, mellow and pristine.
The other sidemen bow their heads
The Sky You Were Born Under / by Nancy Flynn
No steady iambic foot, no limitless heavenly expanse.
Expenses spared to silence interruptions, to register no wells of discontent.
Rather a vat of fermenting grapes, skins removed
To see if they would pulp.
A ladybug’s good luck between two placemats made of rags —
Strips of cast-off clothes after Dry Clean Only failed.
“Failure” — a beautiful word for something lousy.
“Gesture” — an inept word for something momentarily portentous.
How the birds sang that (near-) longest daylight day of the year.
Acceptance meant fence in the alley, chickens and a barking dog.
A prayer rug on the railing, the last life you touched before ascension
By way of rope. . . . And then the inevitable
Rains, their staggered arc across
Such kissable, soggy ground.
Math Magic / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
In memory of Hester Pfeil, my 6th grade math teacher
Once the sadness book
is full, no more lines left
to write on, take that total
and add to it a row
of geraniums, the ugly kind,
in pots. I’ll wait a minute
while you catch up.
Now, multiply that number
by your best day ever—
the birthday you got the yellow
plastic cash register
or when you beat the tall
popular girl with beautiful
teeth at the 50 yard dash
or that day everybody left
you alone to listen to the rain.
Take that answer and bury
a 1968 penny in it. Multiply
by the first phone number
you can remember. Now
Isn’t it wonderful? We’ll all
get the same answer,
Sir Gawain / by Josh Medsker
Note: The text of this poem is sourced from Paul Deane’s modern English translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Originally written and published anonymously.
No other eyes such
a lightning flash.
No rider so much
He raged against every
bullish at every turn,
and though discomfort
tries the flesh, he rose
after each wild wind,
Tupelo TripTik / by Robert Okaji
If we fold the map just so, the journey’s path
shortens considerably. Sacramento enters the Hudson
Valley, Toronto meets Santa Fe, and Lee County,
Mississippi merges with Tupelo, Texas, joining music
to fruitcakes in a celebratory feast. Walk down one
road and find a lost car, exit a theater to enter bliss
or a good bar with craft beer on tap, where no one
discusses mileage and you may eavesdrop on
conversations about ancient nautical battles, the
history of chili, and radiation. Open the map
slightly to find yourself in Swamp Angel, Kansas,
named after a Civil War field gun and not a spiritual
being, and wander to the next intersection near
Barstow, where Joshua trees tickle the sky’s belly
and I ate the best chili dog in my young life’s
experience in 1968. Look to the edges, where the
best places crowd and nowhere lives in a corner.
Jump from Busan to Venice, drive to Perth and
beyond. Slowly crease the page. Do this again.
Point blindly. There. Your destination waits.
Many thanks to Ken Gierke, who sponsored the title.
Honeypot / by Rosanne Osborne
“O’Hara’s was the town pub, which I’ll name
after the poet whose work I always felt shut
out of, even after I’d learned to read
like a grown-up.”
–Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
To read like a grown-up is to eschew Pooh,
that philosophical bear who knew
you don’t get poetry, it gets you.
But he was a bear of little brain,
bothered by the long word,
thought spelling absurd.
“Think it over, think it under,”
he advised. Concern for lunch
overpowered any hunch.
From the mind of Pooh,
The Floating Bear would emerge
and O’Hara, et al., would converge.
Rich / by Vivian Wagner
Fired, clay becomes stone.
organic matter burns off,
In southern Ohio
there’s a vein of clay so rich
people started backyard potteries,
digging the defrosting layer
as bluebirds returned each spring.
They made practical items,
bowls and plates and chamberpots,
their kilns fueled by
Later, Hull and Weller,
Roseville and McCoy
hired people off their land to make
gingerbread men cookie jars,
piggy banks, suited and tied.
In my own garden I dig clumps of soil
that dry to bricks in the kiln-hot sun.
It’s wealth that seems a burden, this clay.
It speaks of adamantine virtues.
It says, adapt to this kaoline earth.
It says, see what life you can create.
This poem was sponsored by an anonymous donor, who asked that I write about pottery. If you’d like me to write a poem for you, make a tax-deductible donation to Tupelo Press and give me a topic! I love getting prompts from my readers. http://bit.ly/2aRjhA4
Day 7 / Poems 7
After Mary Oliver / by Shaindel Beers
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” – Mary Oliver
I have become a lover of solitude.
Feeder of finches, savior of starlings
and sparrows. After you, I no longer
want to be human. I will be woodsprite.
River imp. I might believe in love
when I become a river otter, a dove.
All of the pressure of human relationships
is too much. It has been the one fantastic
failure of my life. The one puzzle piece
I’ve never been able to make fit.
Once, after a poetry reading, a past life
regressionist said to me, “We need
to find out what makes you attract
this type of man.” I didn’t go because
I’m rebuilding myself very deliberately.
I would have wanted her to tell me that
I’m still not fully human—that that’s why
I haven’t figured human love out.
That there’s been a terrible mistake.
That it will never have to happen again.
This Old House / by Nina Clements
I spent my childhood
thinking my father
was Bob Vila, but
unhappy. Handy, but
grumpy. He scoffed
at Bob Vila and preferred
Norm. But he fixed
our house, all the same,
as best he could.
I liked Bob Vila’s smile
and wanted my father’s mouth
to bend that way occasionally.
Hardware stores and Hechinger’s,
Bridgeville and Coraopolis,
he carted three girls here
and there, looking
for this part, that part. Some
thing he needed to fix
our tiny home. He could not
make it bigger, could not
do the thing we needed.
So, he tinkered and fished
things out of the sewer vent
when we dropped them.
“Your dad’s Mr. Wizard,”
our friend said. Maybe.
I was waiting for
I was waiting for Bob Vila
to make everything
new and wonderful for us.
Sky. Ocean. Rock. / by Gail C. DiMaggio
After Jock Macdonald, Pacific Coast Combers
Can we stop and take in
this seascape, three stormy bands—
first ocean and rock, then sky.
I’m thinking the artist
could’ve called it: three ways to live
with the aftermath. But you, of course,
will look at the sky and talk about
the one way to rise above it, pleased
with clouds like a shoal of dragons,
a drift of ghosts. I’ll bet
as a kid you wanted stories that led
to a shining quest with repentance at the end,
or at least a quiet room.
So, of course, for you it’s the pale beasts.
with a long view of things and hope.
But look at those waves–
exploding out of green turmoil.
It’s the release of it,
don’t you think? Isn’t that
what we all wish for? The gall to be treacherous
and never mind the ruckus. Scream
“bitch” at the woman, even if she is
your mother. You’re right, though,
about the scraps of shattered
wood. Trust you to notice
What was it, do you think,
the Pacific took in its paws
and crushed? We’ll call it
two ways to be deconstructed.
No, I mean two. Because
I’d rather not consider
the rocks. Half-drowned. Stodgy
and beetle-browed. I’ll admit
a certain stern courage, accepting
the shape they got when the world
heaved itself out of its own core. And OK,
they’ve survived magma. But they’re so
about wearing down and going under.
I can’t explain.
I’d rather be the waves.
Synonym / by Nancy Flynn
A hummingbird hovers
over one dying
the chariot of Helios
drags these afternoon
shadows to sea.
87 / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
For my father’s 87th birthday, I want to release 87 homing pigeons, stand with him as he was at 15 at his first job: running on the double when he got the call to the small-town railway station on a late spring morning in the San Joaquin Valley, puffing and sweating with his pal Jack Ryder and a handful of their other boys, pretending to listen to the familiar instructions, and then, on cue, as fast as he could, releasing the catches on his assigned baskets of homing pigeons, newly arrived from Los Angeles for the big race back over the mountain and home.
I want to stand with him and hear the flap and mutter of 87 released pigeons, blink with him and the birds in the light already turning to heat.
I want to watch the fabled chaos of takeoff and the rising, the legendary circling, higher each time, and then the choreographed exit, after three full circles, from the spiral—a band of dark bodies headed straight for the mountains.
I want to stand with him and watch them fade from view, 87 pigeons racing homeward.
I want to look him in the eyes and thank him, then disappear before he can ask who I am and what I have to thank him for.
We / by Josh Medsker
Systems grown sick
We will not sink
Systems devoid of soul
We the opportunity
Systems killing us slowly
as they themselves die
We will not buckle
Support life. Join us.
Greet the elect with
(Note: the text of this poem is sourced from the hacktivist group Anonymous’s website)
The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo / by Robert Okaji
The difficulty lies in denying the rest,
pretending the denouement remains unknotted
like that length of rope looped over the branch,
unable to serve its purpose. I regret nothing,
but wish that perhaps I had dangled my feet
in the stream more often and felt the trout
wriggle by in their fluency of motion. Last year
my daughter claimed that as a half-mortal
what pulsed through her heart was not blood
but ichor, the life-force of gods, and when I
stated that her mother was from Muleshoe and
not Olympus, and that I may have been the
product of divine intervention, but was neither
god nor blessed creature, she spat wine in my
face, laughed, grabbed my keys and chugged off
in the cherry-red Karmann Ghia I’d dubbed
La Gloria Roja. I’ve not seen that car again, but
I swear I’ve heard its custom klaxon ah-woo-gah
in strange small towns between train stops
and the lonely fields stretching out into the
blackness like memories losing traction. But
mostly I find myself in this house of books
and empty bottles, maintaining space and time,
herding shadows into their oblong boxes,
contemplating nooses and love, courage and
mortality, and the inability to step up, to swallow
what I most crave and do what must be done.
Many thanks to the poem’s two sponsors: Clyde Long
asked that I use three words – klaxon, ichor and denouement –
and Paul Vaughan provided the title.
Lear’s Lament / by Rosanne Osborne
“I’m too old to concern myself
with other people’s affairs.”
–Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
Age is the great separator,
leaving responsibility to find
its own level. The old dog
lying on its pallet barely wags
its tail. Let the pups bounce
and bay for family delight.
Visions of rabbits chased
through open fields no longer
flicker on the inner screen
of dream delights. Contentment
closes its eyes and drops
into the morass of silence.
Age withdraws within itself,
a Lear released from the folly
of duplicity. The inner child
returns to reign in its own
house beyond the blare
of unfulfilled necessity.
On Doing Yoga in the Basement
of the United Methodist Church
on High Street / by Vivian Wagner
The peeling Thomas Kinkade border,
with its fairy tale houses lit from within,
has a certain prana,
as does the on-and-off air conditioner,
the indoor-outdoor carpet,
the dust-smudged windows,
level with the parking lot.
Every day is a new day,
our instructor says,
and we thank God or whatever deity
or accident of physics made this so.
We Warrior II and Tree our way through
tiredness, through broken fuel pumps,
through student grade complaints
and unpaid bills.
Child’s Pose is always a relief,
with its admission of vulnerability,
of stiff muscles stretched beyond
We haven’t read The Bhagavad Gita,
but we understand this:
Curving back within myself
I create again and again.
When we finally get to Corpse Pose,
we lie supine,
trying to do as she says and
let it all go.
We consider the pockmarked ceiling tiles,
sloping yet functional,
like our own worn bodies.
We relax our foreheads and jaws
and fingertips and hamstrings.
Soon we’ll leave this space
beneath pews and hymnals
and drive back into the turbulent fray,
but for now we like not moving.
We like having nothing to do
but repose so close to death
we finally feel alive.
This poem was sponsored by an anonymous donor, who asked that I write about yoga. If you’d like me to write a poem for you, make a tax-deductible donation to Tupelo Press and give me a topic! I love getting prompts from my readers. http://bit.ly/2aRjhA4
Day 6 / Poems 6
Left and Leaving, 2016 / by Shaindel Beers
The crow that I wrapped in a shawl and drove to the sanctuary.
I had hoped it was just a broken wing, that they could set it.
When they told me that he had been shot, that there was still
a bullet lodged in his body, I tried to be thankful for feeling
what life was left as he scratched the side of the box
I had placed him in for the drive. The disabled puppy
that would never walk that we tried to save at the shelter.
I touched my nose to her nose when she was held up to me.
Breathed in her puppy breath. I wanted her to feel like
she was surrounded by mothers even though her own
had refused to feed her. Had chosen, instead, to keep the rest
of the litter alive. The maimed kitten a man brought in
to be euthanized. I gave him the forms for emergency assistance,
left the room while he filled them out. My own cat I held, forehead
to forehead, whispering, “You’ve been the best cat ever. I love you,
I love you, I love you,” until his body went limp. My best friend
whose summer has been telling her daughters goodbye, making
video letters of the advice she’ll give them each year, after she’s gone.
All this, and the lover who is moving to another continent,
who keeps saying he doesn’t want to hurt me. I want him to know
that that’s what love is—an inevitable entropy toward pain.
No matter the beginning or the middle, it is all a building
toward leaving. There is no happily ever after—the fairy tales
are lies. We only each have what we were able to cling to.
Nostalgia / by Nina Clements
Sandwiches cut in rectangles
wrapped like presents in waxed paper,
all before Ziploc. That was love.
Picnics under tables, under chairs
before Dad came home to discover
us in our unorthodoxy.
With him we sat in chairs over tables,
and I hid Brussels sprouts on the floor.
And then the grandparents came
for cake and ice cream Everybody
smoked so much I couldn’t breathe
but didn’t mind. They were so loud
and spoke with Italian accents.
They’re all gone now with the cake
and waxed paper.
Even love can go.
The Perennials / by Gail C. DiMaggio
At 40, I transplanted my mother’s peony
from her yard to mine. Feathery globes,
at each center a drop
of blood. Like my mother,
I loved splendor I could
count on to return. I was 42,
when I first turned the dirt
for hollyhocks and bleeding heart,
watched them erupt year by year, spreading
in widening circles
around the old brown heart, and I thought
how much more lay there underground,
eager to be released,
so I dug the root balls, slashed at them
with a mattock, seeded scraps
against the stone wall, squeezed them
along the greenhouse path, turned
every barren space into background
for their brilliant resurrections.
And 50 was the summer of lupine.
But 55, the frost struck early,
the perennials died as if
they had a yen for it, sprawled
black and slimy on the earth
and the next spring I found
the iris corms split to the heart.
Cradling their lacerated flesh,
I asked myself for the first time,
what is it makes more sense
if iris come back to crowd
the willow’s knees and why
did I keep up this brutal work
of making the plot over every year
while the lifeline scored itself
deeper into my palm and the hybrids
diminished toward the root stock. Roses—
a single layer of petals now. Columbine’s
pinwheel shrunk and pale.
But the perennials can only go on
winding their roots into dirt,
lifting their heads to follow
the sun’s old metronome. To turn and
turn again. To be alive. Be
here. Be gone.
An Attempt at Transcribing Yet Another Series of Bus Soliloquies from the Crazy Lady Who Lives at the End of the Dirt Road (aka Coal Street) in My Rust-belt Hometown of Plymouth, Pennsylvania and Is Said to Regularly Hear the Voices of the Twelve Men Buried in the Knox Mine Disaster in January 1959 / by Nancy Flynn
there are stories
below the empty stores on Main Street
corner lights speaking in Morse
I hear them scream
red stop green
feel them slurry first
heave then slump
after, it caves fast
sucks their two dozen feet
into those tunnels
determined to run
to push from underneath
oh, they greet me every week
every voice box of
the suffocated up the Knox
after our river went rage
oh, fearsome as the grave
even the timbers play
tricks, the pillars splay in
I can channel their groans
before break, before drown
when the waters rushed over
rust and chamber-roof dust
lucky that riverside train
sidetracked to plug by derailing
a hole once a trap
gone underground gash
still I can tell
below bellows now dulled
no more banshees to moan
that mine was a choke
damp sarcophagus of loss
no man rising up, crossed
beds, no tombstone head
just a watering hole, cold
filled to brim, the perpetual
hold for that out-of-luck twelve
catacombs of the knock-
knocking gloom, no hauled
-out echoing halls, only
the constant call
of that calamitous drip
drip drip, every hand lost
its rigor locked
in mortis . . they gripped
Ars Poetica with Jacaranda Blossom / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Apparently one poem about jacaranda blossoms isn’t
enough, because I’m getting the feeling that my job
is to write another one. But here’s the thing:
even as I write this, I know it doesn’t
work that way.
It would be nice, but it’s not
nearly that clear, and if you notice that 3 lines so far
Have ended with not
(yes, the contractions count)—and now it’s 4—then you’ve got
some idea of the complex nature of this whole thing.
That’s a wordy way to say my resistance,
which is mostly about fear,
I’m game to consider the jacaranda
again, but I know enough to know that I don’t
yet know—won’t know till I’m well in—what
the poem will be about, that vital unsayable thing,
that thing that if anything can get close, it will be a poem.
Basically, I like a little more control
than that, though I notice that I haven’t
So probably this is an ars poetica with a minor
in free will. I’d like to think I have it, the freedom to choose
a subject. Here’s what I know: I’ve got that freedom, but
the unsayable thing that the poem’s about—that’s the thing
that shows up in spite of me, and both
in spite of and through the generosity of the subject.
That’s the gift the world gives: subjects that offer themselves
as both the bruised purple blossom on the pavement
and as containers, as windows.
The Milk Rabbits / by Josh Medsker
Daughter, take your finger,
draw the butterknot.
Ensure our butter
Mother, I saw a milk rabbit
last night, vomiting into a
witches cauldron. I’m unsure
whether it was my dream
The Trees Are Burning at Midnight / by Robert Okaji
What signal tars this moon-blessed night?
And where may we find relief
in these hidden sights? The lure
is not the trap. The trap is not
desire, but desire’s aim. Flick
a cigarette out the window and watch it
arc through darkness onto the tindered
ground. Consequence, action, flame.
Dropped in a box and tossed out.
Delivered to the wrong house.
Left on the kitchen table for anyone
to see. I have wanted to be elsewhere,
someone not me, on a cool hillside
overlooking the billowing sails far below.
Trivialization / by Rosanne Osborne
“Time has shattered; it’s cracking like my lips.”
—Hot Milk, Deborah Levy
Greenland glaciers rupture. Seams
appear and fail to hold the downward
slide. Great globs of icing topple
to the earth’s floor, a ruined cake,
a birthday celebration in tatters.
A mother bear invites her cubs
to join a Tahoe lake where
families kayak. Furred suits,
the only detail that sets one
species apart from another.
Norms twist. Scott towels
wipe ecological footprints
from glistening tile floors,
so many jam sandwiches
from pudgy toddler fingers.
Through / by Vivian Wagner
The road originally followed old
animal paths, foot trails,
that barely seemed cuts at all.
Over time it widened and strengthened,
finding itself made
first of mud and stone
and then of sturdier brick.
It acquired a name.
It became national.
It got markers, carved from sandstone
and painted white,
indicating miles from
miles to go.
Well-lit inns lined the road,
stopovers every ten miles,
the average daily coach distance.
It had a heyday.
It earned a certain fame.
It was the road.
Now it’s known only by a number,
though some places still speak of a pike.
Now it’s asphalt,
though a few stretches still
curve away from the main artery,
bricked through hillier terrain
And now it’s almost forgotten,
though a volunteer idling in a museum
murmurs about its exploits,
her horn-rimmed gaze traveling
through a dusty window
to see what she can of
late summer’s long, flowing light.
Day 5 / Poems 5
This Old House / by Shaindel Beers
V. (The Porch)
I am learning the language of starlings and doves,
of house sparrows, and finches. Each species has
a favorite seed. Favorite type of feeder. The doves
move from telephone pole to tree, occasionally
to porch. Are the most wary of me. Starlings,
the next. Speckled bodies drift down to peck suet
from metal cages chained to the fence.
When I am in the house, they flood the yard,
twenty to forty at a time. Disappear when I enter
their world. The sparrows treat me like a servant
who lives in another part of their home. Line the roof
until I fill the feeder. Chirp so loud the cheap aluminum
gutters vibrate until they are satisfied. Finches
send a scout to see what I am doing. If the ladder
is out, if the feeders are filled, if I have turned on
the spigot. Until everything is to their liking,
the scout flies at me over and over. Little brave one,
looking out for his flock. I sit amidst the ruin
and watch their lives. Next to me, the chairs I repainted
after he left them in the yard to rot. The hole burned
into the deck by the meat smoker he left unattended.
Each day, the same. Coffee on the porch in the morning.
Beer on the porch at dusk. Cue the hummingbird. Cue
the yellow swallowtail. This is the only certainty I need.
Morning Ablutions / by Nina Clements
Go to the sink and wash
your hands with ants. They itch,
but they’re good for the grit.
They are small and brown-black.
You have driven across
the country with no bath,
the husband most of all.
Now, California. Look
in the mirror. Ants crawl
up your arms to your face,
and you scrub again, dirt
falling away at last.
A Thousand Games / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Navy kids, we know the rules for every game,
like go spy and never tell daddy, like look, it’s
Margery’s mother in the car with her friend, or
statues where you spin out dizzy and then hold still.
Like go spy, and who told daddy, and
the hopscotch bird with its many wings.
Like statues, where girls spin dizzy and then hold still
and boys circle closer, then closer
like birds with too many wings. They’re
playing the game of Cindy-show-some-leg.
The boys sneaking closer, then closer to the car
where Margery’s mother holds her night-time friend,
a lot like a game of Cindy-show-some-leg.
Or the game of rank: who’s chief, who’s not,
’cause someday Margery’s mother’s night-time friend
may have to say: no sir, chief, never again, chief.
A game of rank: I’m the chief, Lucy’s not
so she’s stuck in the ring when the thunder mutters
saying yes sir, chief, every time chief,
while the downpour speckles the blacktop.
And she’s still in the ring when the thunder roars,
and her mother calls that the back door’s closing.
When the downpour drenches the blacktop,
the boys ride faster in the water,
more mothers call and back doors slam.
Where girls pretend not to notice
that boys are riding faster, faster through the water.
Cindy, the mothers call, Lucy, they call,
while girls and boys pretend not to notice
and the rain vapor rises, white as this young girl’s breast.
Cindy, the mothers call, Lucy, they call
and boys circle Cindy, they circle Lucy,
hoping to see a full, white breast,
like Margery’s mother showed her night time friend.
Boys and girls racing in circles,
obeying the rule of follow the leader, like birds
with the wrong kind of wings. Margery knows
her mother’s with her nighttime friend,
but she’ll never tell Daddy.
Navy kids, we know the rules.
Pedigree / by Nancy Flynn
call me murk, a peripheral
do-nothing stuck, little more
than a cottony wisp
my origins were blarney, disaffection
two fists — all that I’ve learned?
to scrabble, to spit
to whitewash the pieties, wipe with
privilege in a land choked
by cruelty’s grip
where we wrestle, we disavow, fret
plug up ears, la la la, to the facts
curry favor with amnesia’s ascent
keep our complicity shushed —
hey, bottle it
Highway 99 Haiku / 2 / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Three crows high and far
above the valley vineyards
know the same tired truth.
–This poem references the deaths of three women grape workers at three separate Kern County vineyards at the end of July. The deaths are under investigation by the United Farm Workers union.
Medskerology (A Confessional) / by Josh Medsker
I’m scared to write this.
Too many years spent
pressing my body
against that door,
only to tempt those
(there’s no other word for it)
When I’m kissing
my wife, I taste them
in the back of my throat,
the acid creeping out again.
You’re a troll.
When I’m whistling down the
street I glimpse them, in
You’re a fraud.
When I’m alone, covers pulled
to my eyes, I feel them on me
dragging me under.
The Bus Stops Here / by Robert Okaji
Your mind is a county fair
but the entrance shifts
every time I approach, and
the rides fade or hum away
into the pastures, long past
their second mowing, bales
rolled and stacked two-high.
When you speak, I hear instead
in the pull, or greased shoats
squirting free through children’s
arms – no prize too little, none
too great – words cracked and
twisted into other possibilities.
We watch the races, and the
horses round the curve
but never reach the finish, as
the haze becomes a blanket
we lie on, munching corn
dogs and funnel cakes among
the ant mounds and debris.
You ask what happened to the
cow lady, whether I prefer anthrax
to rabies, and if we’ll be forced to
walk home or hitch. I don’t know,
I say. Neither. The bus stops here.
Many thanks to Jim Feeney, who sponsored the title.
Sting of the Medusa / by Rosanne Osborne
“My love for my mother is like an ax,” Sofia explains.
“It cuts very deep.”
—Hot Milk, Deborah Levy
The Facebook video clip
of the mother otter
tucking her new born
pup in–safely to sleep
on her belly, flippers
like cradle rails–leaves
us gooey with emotion.
Pure love, we think,
unblemished by what
we know of resentment,
human mothers who
leave newborns in laundromat
trashcans with unmatched
socks and worn out bras.
It’s the mind that makes
the difference. Too much
thinking robs love
of selflessness. Leaves
the child to compete
for mother love, feel
guilt when it’s withheld.
Dogged / by Vivian Wagner
“What summer proposes is simply happiness.”
—Robert Hass, “Tahoe in August”
The cicadas sing,
if that’s the right word.
Maybe they hum, or chant.
Maybe they cantillate,
trying to convey everything they can
before the door of winter
pulls tight against its oakwood frame.
I don’t know what to say about cicadas.
They’re here, a late summer backdrop,
as sure as humid days,
as sure as Canis Major,
lumbering across the sky,
as sure as buzzsaw blades
cleaving logs in a mill,
as sure, that is, as anything is sure.
But here’s one thing:
in ancient Greece, a string broke on a cithara,
and a cicada landed, shrilling its one tune
with ecstatic habit.
Nothing in the cry of cicadas
suggests they are about to die,
said Basho, himself riding
words upon words until the end.
Maybe days shatter into being, always the same.
Maybe emergence begins to feel predictable.
And maybe grace is just this:
a relentless scraping,
a rising and falling whine,
a din so constant it can’t help but forgive.
“Dogged” was sponsored by Rob Kanter, who donated to Tupelo Press and asked me to write about dog-day cicadas. If you’d like to sponsor a poem, go to https://tupelopress.networkforgood.com/projects/16090-vivian-wagner-s-fundraiser and give me a word, image, topic, or title!
Day 4 / Poems 4
This Old House / by Shaindel Beers
IV. (This Summer)
My son and I color in bed, and he tells me, “You’re a princess,
and I’m a knight.” He says that he’ll rescue me.
“What if I’m a princess and a knight?” He tries drawing
a princess with a sword. He asks, “What about dragons?”
“What if the princess is the dragon?” I ask him. “What if she’s
the fire?” We go outside. Take breakfast to the porch. See how
close to not-human we can be. See how close the finches
come to landing on us. Even today I was still enough that I could
feel the vibration of a hummingbird’s wings on my cheek. It felt
like a million blinking eyelashes. We listen to the sparrows
disassemble the house. If we go into the garage, they are riotous.
The attic I had to squeeze into to reset the garage door is filled
with their clamor. They could fly the garage away at any second.
This is my summer of climbing high enough to see two states
at once, of dreaming what animal I’ll be in my next incarnation,
of the deer and me studying each other as sisters. This is the summer
of wildfires disappearing houses in every direction—
and I’m not even afraid.
Carried Away / by Nina Clements
Ants gather at the seam between
door and wall. I had a dream of
Greek syllables, Sappho, and all
the rest. I cannot remember
what dream me wrote. But the ants are
real, colonizing this lonely
space. They have surrounded the cat
and crawl along her nose, her eyes.
Hollow as a bird, they carry
her away from me. She does not
wake or even stir. Oh the ants,
they know she will be left behind.
Glory Be to God for Wild-Colored Things / by Gail C. DiMaggio
For petals, veiny pink as candy hearts, as
. . . . . . . Easter eggs. And amethyst, called semi-precious.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . For the steep heart of the cone flower, where bee balances
on a shade of orange that shifts when I move my head. Magenta.
. . . . . . . Mauve. Oh, glory to God for beach towel red, for summer
. . . . . . . . . . . . . sky purple. For bumble bee’s jodhpurs, yellow
as a rain slicker, for leaves, citrine where the sun licks, jade
. . . . . . . where it can’t. And for everything unpatterned, too patterned,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . boisterous with clash and matchlessly unmatching.
The bee hums at her work, jazzed with color
. . . . . . . that sizzles even in the heart of the quark. Glory be
. . . . . . . . . . . . . for the rainbow rap of the world.
The Coming Hell and High Water / by Nancy Flynn
Please click here to read the poem.
Pond Life / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
The self sounds like a child skipping stones on a pond.
The soul sounds like the dot dot dot
of every skipped stone.
Self sounds like the last plash of the season’s last stone.
Self skips across the surface, complicates the sky,
looks down through amber water
surprised by stones.
Looks up at the sound of a crow
landing on a branch at pond’s far edge
or taking off with heavy flaps,
rising through the shimmer-haze of day.
The soul sounds like the landing, the taking off,
The dot dot dot of stones.
–with nods to Dei Bao and Larry Levis
Variations of 1898 / by Josh Medsker
The mechanized family virus is
variations of 1898.
It had died then, in Detroit, revived,
and grew into the flesh of Burroughs I,
lay dormant in Burroughs II, and
mutated in Bill, who reintroduced
operations almost immediately, as
an automation clerk of word control.
The next Burroughs birthed
outrageous answers. He set
the pull mechanism for go
and never came back.
The Underbelly of This Seam / by Robert Okaji
Slides beneath your gaze, unnoticed,
but the joining satisfies that particular
urge, combining two separates
into one whole, creating this new
piece. I thumb the string on every fourth
beat, anchor the cloth, pull it taut, and stitch.
What better material than air and silence?
Yesterday’s tune, tomorrow’s silk?
A fine breath zigzagged down the edge – frayed
lines, beneath, on the other side, testifying
to the struggles of the unseen. I exhale,
strike another note. You hum something new.
This title was sponsored by Ursula. For a $10 donation, the sponsor provides a title and I’ll write the poem to match.
Enslaved / by Rosanne Osborne
“My laptop has all my life in it and knows more
about me than anyone else…”
—Hot Milk, Deborah Levy
The imaginary friends
of childhood have become
the retina displays
of our MacBooks. We peer
into their depths,
by the reflections
of 3 million pixels.
Our friends are both
distanced and intimate.
We control what we
reveal about ourselves
and select from what
they offer as partial
people in the backlit
world of the touchpad.
The one-way screen
separates our duplicity
from our psyches
making us both more
and less than what
we really are. We are
distorted; the world
is warped, dysmorphic.
S / by Vivian Wagner
“Praise the bridge that carried you over.”
—George Colman, Heir-at-Law (1797)
It’s all about obliqueness, the S-bridge.
The National Road approached Fox Creek diagonally,
so they built the bridge straight across the water
and then continued at a slant.
There’s strength in right angles,
the Presbyterians knew.
Yet those angles together made
an S, curling like a rat snake
alongside a sky-reaching cornfield.
Maybe they knew something about survival.
Maybe they knew something about sin
and what it can teach you about love.
Maybe they knew something about sending
kids off to college,
about wanting them to go,
about making grieving sounds when they leave.
This is what makes a good bridge:
solid sandstone, hewn into usefulness;
strong mortar between squared blocks;
and a plan, finally, to swerve when needed,
like when a snapping turtle crawls
across a rain-slick road at night,
and for just a moment
you see its commitment to crossing,
its bright, scared eyes.
Day 3 / Poems 3
This Old House / by Shaindel Beers
III. (Things that I threw away)
The curtains because I have nothing to hide.
The curtains because while I was decorating
for Christmas he was having an affair.
The curtains because when the sun shone through
the red ones all I could see was Othello suffocating
Desdemona in the red silk sheets of their marriage bed.
Any of the underwear he ever liked. Any of the underwear
he might have touched. Underwear, because he asked
the other woman what kind of underwear a super mom wears.
Our wedding rings, I tied with twine
to an art installation on memory
while my students watched.
The pie pans, the loaf pans, the apple mill.
And lastly, my heart, my heart, my heart—
The Long Good-bye / by Nina Clements
In the hospital, finally,
but she does not know me. She asks
for help, squeezes my hand with her
fingers that look like mine. Grandma,
is this what we have to look for-
ward to? Her once red hair is now
a great cowlick of gray. Her sauce
will go with her, wherever it
is she’s going. There can be no
more seven-fish Christmas Eves, no
more glimpses of Italy. The
body does not disappear when
the mind does. It lingers and fights
for nothing. The body goes so
slowly that we must burn it all.
Ode to Work, Which is a Kind of Prayer / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Like Peter’s metalwork, milled
in aluminum alloys, in titanium
with its iridescent skin.
Each a geometric fantasia—sphere
melded with cone, with square—
a hand-sized sculpture
made to fit the machine’s heart. Or
Mary’s pasta, rolled out on the butcher block,
slivered and twisted in a ritual
learned from her mother who learned it
from hers, the way Tony learned
from his father
how to nail plywood over floor joists
in what became our bedroom,
how to shim the window and swear
when the copper tube broke ragged. Or Angela,
wrapping the bandage
on the half-healed leg stump,
her face a concentrated gentleness,
the heat of the afternoon sticking
curls to her forehead, the flat hook
that holds it all together
ready to her hand. Or Rachel at the computer,
turning in her imagination
yesterday’s mountain, the stride
of the strong figure beside her.
She will be there for another hour
because she loves the word, abseil, but not
its place in the line. Like Rob in his café
at 4 am, scarred, deft fingers rolling croissants,
readying the for the oven, careful
of space, careful of time.
On the day our brakes failed, the man
in the tire shop laid himself
on a gurney in the half-dark,
to thread lines down the undercarriage
though at first he’d sent us away
to look for some shop we would never
have found open on a Carolina Sunday.
But just as we pulled out, he’d run
to catch us, to tell us panting:
Pappy’d call it ungodly
not to reach out my hand.
Perhaps / by Nancy Flynn
this world is
a wound —
we pick, pick, pick
fossil to fuel
itch, worth less
Highway 99 Haiku / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Summer wind blows dust
through the rusty shopping cart
piled with tumbleweeds.
Sky in 35 Languages / by Josh Medsker
Doing the Dishes in High Heels / by Robert Okaji
I have seen you mowing the grass in open-toe
sandals, cigarette in mouth, cursing the dogs’ ill-placed
deposits, and I’ll never forget the night you sashayed
around the bed in negligee and flip flops while singing
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in a warble
approaching that of a whip-poor-will perched outside
an open window, the one with the curtain that perpetually
waves goodbye and never seems sincere, but I can’t fathom
your penchant for doing the dishes in high heels. Yet
watching you, elbow-deep in suds, swaying, not in time,
of course, to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” compels
me to dry-swallow my ACE inhibitor, reminding me that
I am, if not the luckiest man on this planet and any others
we may reveal, at least in the top two percent. After I
polish my laptop’s shell and bid the parakeet goodnight,
I wonder which shoes you’ll don tomorrow morning
before you stride, smiling, down the block, chin up,
shoulders back, without a care in the world. Not one.
Pleasant Street sponsored this title. For a $10 donation, the sponsor provides a title and I’ll write the poem to match.
Sanctuary / by Rosanne Osborne
“only the inside of my head to call my own…”
—My Name Is Lucy Barton
The mind is the last frontier the conqueror
crosses. That private space that houses
memories and dreams, imagination
and reason, is a buffer to alien reality.
Marched like West African slaves, stripped
of clothes and trinkets, to Caribbean sugar
plantations, their denied conversation
erupted in the rhythms of the calypso griot.
Even the dogs cannot be silenced when yards
are threatened, incompatible scents
seep beneath the door challenging
olfactory orders of conventionality.
Words cavort in the interior cavity behind
the speakeasy door, lounge on the soft tissue
of the brain’s twin lobes. Syllables bounce
across the fiber bridge of right and left
and the privacy of existence is restored.
Cornered / by Vivian Wagner
“The custom is a substitute for the old practice of
immuring a living person in the walls.”
—Sir James George Frazier, The Golden Bough (1922)
We speak of holy ground covered in dandelions, blessed by litter.
We mark our spots with words we’ve been made to memorize.
We sing songs of joy, or something that sounds like joy.
We’re at the edge, always eyeing the other side.
We make notes – behold! – about wisdom and stature.
We want you to believe us. We mean no harm. We can’t ask for help.
We understand something about the sacrifice of lambs.
We contain bodies.
We measure shadows.
We know what it takes to be a foundation.
We know the meaning of hewn.
We have seen the price of steadiness.
We want to erode, but we can’t.
We like to watch the sun rise, creeping over far fields. It looks like hope.
We’re not going anywhere. Not for a while.
We’re blemished by blood, but it’s not our fault.
We, some of us, have cavities.
We contain scribbled notes to the future, after the rough caress of demolition.
We were forced to accept the sacrifice of maidens.
We understood this was the cost of doing business.
We knew the architect, sandy-haired and wire-rimmed. He meant well.
We don’t mean to be cruel, but we don’t know any other way.
We have suffered the blunt edge of knives on our sandstone skin.
We would give up the bodies if we could.
We would scrub the crimson stains.
We would do away with ourselves, if it didn’t mean the world would collapse.
We just want to be kind. Or kin.
We just want to hold up these buildings. That is all.
We just want to do our job.
Day 2 / Poems 2
This Old House / by Shaindel Beers
And this is the bedroom—
. . . . . . . the bedroom
. . . . . . . the bedroom—
where sometimes I was so sexy
and sometimes I was a good girl
and a dumb bitch and a stupid cunt.
And once there was a he who fucked me
ten times a day—and this was control
and once one who wanted me once a year
and this was control. This is a new doorknob
because once I locked the door
. . . . . . . just to stop the yelling,
. . . . . . . and he pulled it off.
. . . . . . . You might want to know
which he was which. That isn’t the point.
What I’m trying to say is that there were
. . . . . . . ten years
. . . . . . . I wasn’t in my own body.
. . . . . . . Things happened
. . . . . . . in this house that
. . . . . . . I don’t know how
. . . . . . . to write.
What Are You Going to Do? / by Nina Clements
Now that the china and the silver plate
are divided, the cats ensconced in their
separate carriers. You will drive off
to California, of course. Only your
grandmother asks the hard questions: when will
you find another husband? Failure is
not enough to deter her. This is love,
Italian style. We did not cut the cats
or the records in half. The books are all
accounted for. Put everything into
the car and drive the speed limit. Give him
a kiss through the window and say goodbye.
Venetian / by Gail C. DiMaggio
. . . . . . . I stop to look into the eyes
of the carnival mask that’s watching me
from a shop window. An hour ago
. . . . . . . my northbound path ended
and a backwater canal turned me west—
I think it’s west—but I’m going on,
. . . . . . . one humpback bridge after another,
carrying all these questions. Would you
have wanted to watch water climbing
. . . . . . . the stairs, testing the sills?
It’s a year and a day today
and I’ve given up
. . . . . . . on St Mark’s giant chess board,
its tame birds. Traded in
everything four bridges back
. . . . . . . for this anonymous courtyard,
with a seedy palazzo and
Moorish windows. What room looks out
. . . . . . . through the tiny, leaded panes,
ranks of them like the scales of a giant fish?
If I found my way there, peered
. . . . . . . through all those facets, would I
recognize the woman under the plane tree
. . . . . . . in the afternoon? Would I forgive her
because she is lost, foreign, speaks
bad Italian? One night I dreamed
. . . . . . . I wore the manic
half-face of a gold-black clementine,
another night, it was
. . . . . . . lead-white skin, a halo
of green feathers, a living eye
trapped in the empty socket.
An Attempt at a Picnic near the Shockingly Low Phillips Reservoir in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
during the Unprecedented Summer 2015 Pacific Northwest Heat Wave / by Nancy Flynn
We chase the shade from table
to tabletop, spend the day
supine to stave off the scorch.
The dry breeze carries a whiff,
past my yoga-corpse pose where
I lie then seize the sky en-
tire. My brain has caught on fire.
Below, a berm of fallen
branch & duff, some fine, most rough
will (one day) fuel to fan a
catastrophic rage. Our new
age, burning up. But first? More
news of that day’s death-by-gun.
Herself / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
Now that our mother’s memory
has jumped ship, she says the most beautiful things.
Let me be clear: She has always, even angry, said things
beautifully, but now the mystery in what she says
makes the beauty more direct. She has sailed out
beyond adverbs, and there’s no going back.
Therefore, we do a little jig with what is. We do it every
chance we get, on deck or from shore, wherever we find
ourselves. And we know the map, if not the way. We know
that, having left adverbs schooling in the shallows,
one day our mother, who says the most beautiful things,
will be done with those things, will wave them away–
herself the beauty and held, for now, in our memories,
the sea dancing all around as she sails on.
Cut / by Josh Medsker
Her brave day, constructed to the length
you agreed upon
cut across her rosy lips, from your learned
wing. Her demeanor so ill-suited and stained.
And your eyes knew
she was glass.
There is sensibility, even in disorder,
developing out of charming and foolish,
into gentle innovation. Yet,
you persuaded her with scissors,
into the rumbling herd.
While Listening to Fleck, Hussain and Meyer,
I Consider Children’s Book Titles,
Hops and the Ongoing Search for Meaning / by Robert Okaji
If we unravel the threads, removing
context, by what means do we regain it?
You say monstrous glisson glop, behooving
me to counter with a Williamette
and Azacca, or whole cone Mosaic,
which inspires a reply of Dooly and
the Snortsnoot. But my life is prosaic,
bulging with the commonplace – gritty sand
in shoes, cobwebs on shelves, an unshaven
chin and a mind for the ordinary
seeking refuge in words, a cool haven
in summer’s long grip. Feathered or hairy,
I ask of the glisson glop, seeking insight.
Does it giggle, does it love? Do you bite?
This poem was sponsored by Stephanie L. Harper, who asked
that I use the words “monstrous glisson glop,” a favorite children’s
book title, in the poem.
Testing Chaos / by Rosanne Osborne
“You will have only one story… “
—My Name Is Lucy Barton
Faulkner said he’d break his pencil,
quit when he finally figured out
how to tell that single story.
It’s the constant gyre that pulls
the writer to the deeper heart.
Tornadic force that compels
cerebral cells to coalesce
the mammoth idea.
The downdraft of the mental
maelstrom dissects images
whirling through time
and the tensions
Seductive as the plastic debris
the black-footed albatross pulls
from the Great Pacific Gyre
to regurgitate to chicks
nesting in the shore’s
Story selects and incubates
its own feathered flight
Stranded / by Vivian Wagner
“I am a stranger. I come in peace.”
—Note carried by John Glenn on his
Feb. 20, 1962 Friendship 7 mission
He grew up rebellious,
grounded in a Scots-Irish enclave
in southeastern Ohio’s hills.
He always wanted to escape,
playing with balsa wood planes,
riding with barnstormers
launching his car over
When he finally did take off, though,
into the indigo cut,
he looked mostly down at earth,
distant and glowing,
I don’t know what you could say
about a day
in which you have seen
four beautiful sunsets,
After he cracked back through
the candyshell atmosphere,
splashing into alien waves,
he paraded down Main Street,
for all the world
like a stranger
coming in peace.
Day 1 / Poems 1
This Old House / by Shaindel Beers
This is the moose “Welcome to Our Home” sign he bought
garage-saling because addicts just trade in their addictions
for new ones. Heroin for yard-saling for Mountain Dew.
This is the kitchen where he called me “Sarah” for Sarah
Palin making the elk chili just right. The kitchen where
I made the pie he said wasn’t a real pie because the middle
wasn’t moist enough, where I processed more apples
than I weigh while he slept though we both worked all year
tending the trees because I could do all the work, but
he couldn’t do “women’s work,” or what was the point
of having a wife? This is the kitchen where another he
ripped out a wall, tore up a floor, erased all evidence of
the other man. Never finished. Left a sign that announced
the kitchen was his, diner style in bright chalk. This is
the dishwasher I couldn’t load right because I’m fucking
retarded because no one ever taught me a fucking thing,
and he was just trying to teach me, but I never listened.
I’m fucking useless at home and should go back to the office
where I’m good for something. This is the bathroom where
I spent too much time getting ready. Where I looked in
the full-length mirror before he asked, “Is that what
you’re wearing?” every day. Some days he was just
kidding. Some days the browns didn’t match. This is
where another he ripped out a wall. Didn’t finish it.
Where I got yelled at for not caulking the grab bars.
Where I could have let poison mold grow through
the whole house. Was I fucking stupid? Didn’t I know
how to take care of things? These were simple repairs
I should be able to take care of myself. This is the room
where my female body was so disgusting, he had to buy
a new trash can because I should be ashamed of
my periods. Hide all the secrets of my body even
from him. This is where he was showering when
I asked why there were all these messages from her
on his phone. This is the cabinet where I kept the pills
to keep from getting pregnant and the pills to get pregnant
and the pills to make me the best incubator and the pills
to keep me the quietest puppet. To make me unable to feel
the blowups, the nothings, the death by a thousand cuts
Frailty / by Nina Clements
Pick up the ant
and set it aside. Crush
it or don’t. The cat
could eat it, or she
won’t. Of course,
the cat is dying
and can’t handle
the protein. She is
frail and failing,
the length of her throat
so fragile and easy
to snap. But she fights
death until she can’t.
On August 2, 1997 / by Gail C. DiMaggio
Arlene and John planned
an outdoor wedding
where so much can go wrong—
ninety-five even at Harkness,
and the Atlantic
refusing to lend a breeze.
But we gathered, of course,
women in summer dresses, men
sweltering in ties, children
all combed hair, skinned knees.
by a garden arbor
braided with stargazers
to wait for old words, new promises
and a flight of doves. Arlene
appeared wearing her grandmother’s dress,
carrying calla lilies, looking atJohn
impatient beside the minister.
They joined hands and claimed each other.
And afterwards there were long hugs
from those of us who know
how the Atlantic goes on—
blue for a day, gray at its heart—
and then the new husband and wife
dancing just for practice in the parking lot
before the ring dance and the calla lilies flying,
And from that day forward,
there could be John
stooping to tie Julia’s hair ribbons, explaining
Hannah’s algebra—one of his girls
needing him please, Daddy, now—and Arlene
in the middle of a kitchen tear down,
laughing, lasagna in the oven,
and now, still, the two of them,
in the grocery store. So it’s true
that on that summer, summer day
it was hotter than they planned
and the doves never did arrive,
but none of that matters
all this love.
In the Kingdom of Perpetual Night / by Nancy Flynn
for The Mothers of the Movement
where all their lost, original songs
squeeze the bellows of death,
sing with mouths of sun & flint
such lullabies of dread
emptying to arch, wind & spit,
to baptize these dark waters
blood, to mustard as poultice—
more broken bodies, trashed.
Human pain is no consolation
for beaten skin, for love notes
written in bullet or noose. How many
tears until you wish to return
as a silk corsage, as a shimmer
from that feral, unfamiliar perch—
each mourn that incapacitates,
splits into an infinitive of flight?
No ordinary, dime-a-dozen
women: too many
mothers, keening into the canopy
after their babies long-fledged,
whose branches offer filtered
light until the fogbank hits the straits
of grief. You might shake.
I might send my words
into battle with the air.
To know their extraordinary glory,
how momentous it is to speak
Each aria, a gasp.
Aubade for August / by Catherine Abbey Hodges
If past years are any indication, dawns will swing
and flicker down the curve of this month’s ear,
all seduction. Was any morning in the world
more ravishing? Yes, that’s rhetorical.
Later, sweating buckets, I’ll head indoors,
fall into a chair six inches from the fan, grouse about
the heat, the dust, the flies as my skin
dries sticky. But this is an aubade,
and those dawns, breathless hint
of heaven, that hour before the sun surges
up from behind the mountain, when moths share
sage blossoms, blue as lakes, with bumble bees—
August after August, knowing what I know,
I fall for you again, every last morning.
The Dead Loved / by Josh Medsker
How still he is.
How merry. A wry little smile
so rarely seen.
unbound at last.
Nose-Picking Reese’s Hider / by Robert Okaji
To paraphrase Williams, this is just to say
that I ate the Reese’s Cups, alone, in my room,
with glee – all of them – and I don’t care what
you say or think. I’ve been called worse things:
Soulless bureaucrat. Drone. Fat boy. Republican.
Nerd. Democrat. Illiterate. Smush-nose, and the
list goes on and on, well past these margins. Have I
mentioned that I placed an entire one in my mouth
and massaged the top’s chocolate with my tongue,
shallowing its depth until I reached the grainy
peanut butter lying in wait underneath? How I
bit through the center twice, quartering its body,
before masticating the whole mess, mixing
with teeth and tongue, savoring the gooey, salty,
gritty, smooth combination, swallowing small bits
at a time until only memory remained? All while you
suffered a rerun of “The Apprentice” downstairs
and picked at the chigger scabs on your ankles,
moaning “ooh, baby-baby” the whole while. I do
not apologize. I am not sorry. Sharing is overrated,
and they were perfect, so rich and textured, so sweet!
This poem’s title was sponsored by an anonymous donor. For a $10 donation, the sponsor provides a title and I’ll write the poem to match.
Oh! / by Rosanne Osborne
“a tiny remark and the soul deflates”
–My Name Is Lucy Barton
Helium heads thrust against night air,
. . . . . . latex colors fading in distant dark,
Ishmael’s descendants hover over
. . . . . . an uncertain field forced
by conformity they neither understand
. . . . . . nor know how to accommodate.
Theirs is a legacy of vulnerability,
. . . . . . disambiguation of words and phrases,
their Gordian knot of selfhood liable
. . . . . . to the pin prick of public notice.
Floating aimlessly in a hostile sky, they
. . . . . . are bleached of meaning.
How humanity guards its tender ego,
. . . . . . spiders preying on innocent bees
with webs only they know how to construct!
. . . . . . The balance of nature’s soul spins
on the arcane language of exclusivity,
. . . . . . the rime of an ancient mariner.
Killing the Devil / by Vivian Wagner
“The manner in which we have to meet the irregularities of the wind, when soaring in the air, can only be learned by being in the air itself.”
–Otto Lilienthal (1896)
It started with flying fish,
ornithopters, cloaks flapping in the wind,
a calculated deathfall from the Eiffel Tower
caught on newsreel.
See you soon, he’d said before jumping,
his suit billowing with promise to the end.
Flight wasn’t natural.
It took everything people could imagine
just to fail.
Outspread garments and kites,
paddles and levers,
airscrews and tails:
thighbones and pride.
The Ohio brothers knew the odds
yet sketched plans,
carved balsam and spruce,
repurposed bicycle chains,
We don’t know when our 12 seconds will come,
what our 120 feet of sand will look like,
how the wind will sound.
Even birds don’t know
all the mysteries of air and thrust.
We can only hope that
in the brief moment we’re aloft
we catch a glimpse of
bright waves, crashing.