Two Poems

Poetry / Romeo Oriogun

:: This Way to Water ::

Along Sénégal’s river, in Kayes, where the bus 
from Bamako dropped me off, before speeding 
toward Dakar, I walk alone, trying to find leaves 
that whisper of roads, trying to sieve through water 
the haunting part of home. There, children throw stones 
into the river, watch them skip and skip before sinking, 
a game I played as a boy. And before tall trees 
whose names are lost to my hands, I stoop, picking barks, 
gathering leaves, a labor to tie me to a new beginning. 
I watch the rise and fall of water, the wide horizon 
calling in its wisdom of ages. There, an inlet leading  
to a village speaks of possibilities. I see the women in white,  
the man with his kora, playing stories of the past, suspending  
history in the miracle of sound, reviving it through voices, 
and the river path discovers its true purpose of worship, 
the children clap. I turn from them, diving into water,  
watching the unknown rush towards me. There, in the midst 
of women dancing on the riverbank, I didn’t discover the path  
home. I only discovered a goddess, the coolness of water. 




:: Welcome ::

          Kokrobite 

And before dusk bring the boats  
home, and before the sea pronounces  
its great regret upon the sands 
of Kokrobite, I sat alone, far from beach  
goers, from eyes wandering bodies  
of Rastafarians at beer tables, far from music 
of revelry. Before my toes, little animals burrow  
into sand. I, too, have traveled around  
the world. Boarding houses of cities,  
fountains of strangers, the deep eyes of roads  
have known my sleep. Before me, the sea, wide  
and a mirror, holds my thirst abate. The rope tied  
to a rotten boat tugs, announcing the sailor’s  
homecoming. It is time to hold the tired being  
of journeys, to praise trinkets around ankles 
of women carrying home, to praise the sailor’s song  
of longing. I join the long line of people pulling  
the boat. The sea knows our strength, it teases  
and lets go. What weakness I know is a surrender  
to waves, the boat rides on them. What returns  
is not complete, what we hold is only hope.  
Tomorrow we’ll go out, the shore waits.  
Neither grief nor pity holds back the desire  
of water. The sailor knows and we sit, side by side,  
in the makeshift store, waiting for gin, and before us  
the sea continues, fast pace and ever moving. 






From the writer

:: Account ::

On the 17th of Feb­ru­ary 2016, Akin­nife­si Olu­mide Olubun­mi, a gay man from West­ern Nige­ria, was lynched to death. On the night of his death, I was scared. I was scared because it could have been me or any queer per­son I knew. That night, I began to write poems that inter­ro­gat­ed queer sur­vival in Nige­ria. In 2017, I won the Brunel Inter­na­tion­al African Prize for Poet­ry with these poems. I was out­ed, harassed, threat­ened, report­ed to the police and attacked. I had to leave Nige­ria. In exile, as I place my foot in water, in rivers, in the sea, I hear the echo of home. I hear queer bod­ies find­ing home across Africa, across Europe. Every space I have inhab­it­ed was a place of con­flict. On my jour­ney from Nige­ria to Amer­i­ca, I trav­eled across West Africa doc­u­ment­ing cities and vil­lages, doc­u­ment­ing the his­to­ry of con­flict and how the sea played a role in both the past and the present. I intend to inter­ro­gate how queer peo­ple sur­vive dis­place­ment; I intend to link the begin­ning of dis­place­ment to the dis­place­ment of queer peo­ple across West Africa.



Romeo Ori­o­gun was born in Lagos, Nige­ria. He is the author of Sacra­ment of Bod­ies (Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Amer­i­can Poet­ry Review, Har­vard Review, McNeese Review, Bay­ou, Brit­tle Paper, and oth­ers. He cur­rent­ly is an MFA can­di­date for poet­ry at the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, where he received the John Logan Prize for Poetry.

What’s More

Poetry / Leah Umansky

:: What’s More ::

is the mer­est urgency is for­ev­er that // for­ev­er urgent // for­ev­er in want // like every­thing now // now // like the right now // like the right now is urgent­ly enflamed // is in a con­stant state of burn­ing // is that the metaphor for rea­son // is that the metaphor of the day // the half-wait // the trac­ing // even now // even now // even // even in urgency // is it the let­ting-in // is it the let­ting out // the slow quick­saw // the giv­ing // the giv­ing up // and what’s more // tell me // what 

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

This poem is an account of a rela­tion­ship found and end­ed dur­ing this pan­dem­ic. It’s a poem about lim­bo, and uncer­tain­ty, and again, the heart. It often feels like every­thing is impor­tant in our lives right now: every emo­tion, every action, every reac­tion, every rec­ol­lec­tion and mem­o­ry.  This poem is an account of that urgency of the brain and the heart and the way the next thing is always loom­ing and some­times the best thing is to qui­et the mind, qui­et the heart, qui­et the future and be in the now. THAT is the hard­est thing to do, at least for me. 

 

 

Leah Uman­sky is the author of two full-length col­lec­tions, The Bar­barous Cen­tu­ry (Eye­wear Pub­lish­ing, 2018), and Domes­tic Uncer­tain­ties (BlazeVOX, 2013), among oth­ers. She earned her MFA in Poet­ry at Sarah Lawrence Col­lege and is the cura­tor and host of The COUPLET Read­ing Series in NYC. Her poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in such places as Thrush Poet­ry Jour­nal, Glass: A Jour­nal of Poet­ry, The New York Times, POETRY, Guer­ni­ca, The Ben­ning­ton Review, The Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Rhi­no, and Pleiades. She is resist­ing the tyrant with her every move. She can be found at www.leahumansky.com and  @leah.umansky on IG.  

Classics

Poetry / Sandra Lim

:: Classics ::

Actaeon turns into a stag, I say, as I spear the fourth  
          oily olive on my toothpick. He saw her nakedness, which was  
appalling in the way it tested the air around it.  
 
Then come the hounds, with their complicated names, the baying  
          and the lurid viscera. Down this road we can scarcely follow in words, 
but I always feel the clothes newly on her back, and the low 
 
calm that comes when bad temper is spent. He is inhumanly excited. 
 
A rack of antlers emerges from his forehead as I talk; there’s no  
          stuffing it back in. He doesn’t seem to notice, as he pulls me into his lap.    
I sip my drink, and the bartender decants striped red straws  
 
with their determined gaiety into a glass jar, carefully wipes down  
          the scarred tabletop. Humiliation, what of it? Formerly, I had a few  
feathers around my mouth, but nothing in my head.

 

 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

This poem came to me as a bit of a sur­prise. I was just try­ing to pin down a scene in a bar; I cer­tain­ly wasn’t con­scious­ly think­ing about human frailty or clas­si­cal mythol­o­gy. But I love myth for the way it works as a kind of alter­na­tive lan­guage. Here, I wish for the poem to go beyond the lan­guage of psy­chol­o­gy with respect to long­ing and look­ing, or desire and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. I hope you can hear the antlers crack­ling into view.

 

San­dra Lim is the author of Loveli­est Grotesque (Kore Press, 2006) and The Wilder­ness (W. W. Nor­ton & Com­pa­ny, 2014). Her new col­lec­tion of poems, The Curi­ous Thing, will be pub­lished in 2021.

Two Poems

Poetry / Remi Recchia

:: Pastoral #1 ::

The cows are misting 
silent, burrowed in white 
softness & sky-down. 
 
I’m driving & you are 
golden, counting seconds 
against the digital 
 
clock of our old car 
(three accidents later, 
motor still warm, dash 
 
dented with a yellow 
bruise). Do you ever 
wish we weren’t here? 
 
We are fixtures of other- 
ness, one brown cow 
among the spotted herd. 
 
Rural eyes & cardinal  
sins, they are our gate- 
keepers, as if we need 
 
one reason to leave. 
I want to say I’m used 
to this turning, these fists 
 
hovering over my small 
face. I’m used to this  
orange scrutiny. But you 
 
are not & I don’t want  
you to know we’re alone, 
so let me be your star. 
 
We’ll paint the sky-canvas 
splotchy cow colors  
accented with sober love. 
 
Keep me in the dark. Hold 
dirty towels, always, stark 
neon against the pasture.

 

 

:: Pastoral #6 ::

We’re lying next to each other on Sunday morning, sleep- 
flowers pressed in your eyes, five o’clock shadow on my jaw. 
The Venetian blinds are half-drawn: fossil of wine & no 
filter. The slats can be rotated such that they overlap with one 
side facing inward & then in the opposite direction such  
 
they overlap with the other side facing inward.  
An old anniversary balloon wilts in the corner, & I’m reminded  
of last October when the clerk ID’d me at the gas station,  
said I’m too young to be married. What he didn’t know is I 
have already built a house, a home, a life.  
 
My palms sweat your absence on business trips. They butterfly  
your thigh at church. At home we administer our own communion.  
Between those extremes, various degrees of separation may be 
effected between the slats by varying the rotation. I haven’t been 
on a first date in so long, but darling, I’ve always known you. 
 
There are also lift cords passing through slots in each slat— 
& also the sun—there are also empty bottles on the counter—& 
also the red-stained rug. When these cords are pulled, the bottom 
of the blind moves upward, causing the lowest slats to press 
the underside of the next highest slat as the blind is raised.    
 
It took Christ four days to un-sleep Lazarus. We’ll sleep off 
last night together for hours, your legs curled into mine 
on a discount mattress & frayed blanket. A blue jay teaches 
his children to fly outside the window. A modern variation 
of the lift cords combines them with rotational cords in slots 
 
on the two edges of each slat. The baby birds plummet to the ground 
one after the other. Their father flies across the yard like a  
machine. We model our behavior so children can grow 
into their parents. This avoids the slots otherwise required to allow 
a slat to rotate despite a lift cord passing through it, thus decreasing 
 
the amount of light passing through a closed blind. Let the sun 
rise without us. Let’s miss business hours. Let’s fill  
our bellies on bread, on eggs, on cheese. You’ll put cinnamon  
in my coffee. I’ll drive you to work. We have so much time 
to burn these feathers. 

 

Note: lines in ital­ics tak­en from Wikipedia page on Venet­ian blinds. 

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I’m inter­est­ed in what it means to belong some­where, to tru­ly fit in so when you look up from where you’re stand­ing, you can say, I’m home. These poems trace the con­cept of belong­ing in both phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al spaces. As a Mid­west­ern poet, land­scape is impor­tant to me. What I mean by that is I grew up always look­ing at some­thing: at trees, at cows (see espe­cial­ly “Pas­toral #1”), at noth­ing but a flat expanse of wheat while dri­ving down the high­way, which was, in its noth­ing­ness, every­thing. I was raised in Michi­gan and spent a sig­nif­i­cant, if not long, amount of time in Ohio where I was learn­ing how to be a poet. Ohio is also where I met the love of my life. 

This com­bi­na­tion of roman­tic love and appre­ci­a­tion of landscape—which is love of landscape—may be best described as an attempt to fol­low the pas­toral tra­di­tion in Amer­i­can poet­ry. Writ­ing about roman­tic love while observ­ing phys­i­cal sur­round­ings (and if you’re from the Mid­west, you spend a lot of time in the car) is a way of plac­ing myself some­where. While I feel a deep attach­ment to the Mid­west, the Mid­west is not nec­es­sar­i­ly attached to me. I can see this in its numer­ous trans­pho­bic laws. 

Maybe I’m hop­ing that pay­ing homage to my place of ori­gin will make it accept me. Maybe I’m try­ing to share the Mid­west with my lover. Ulti­mate­ly, the Amer­i­can pas­toral gives me a space to do both things, and I hope I’m doing it jus­tice in some way. 

 

 

Remi Rec­chia is a trans poet and essay­ist from Kala­ma­zoo, Michi­gan. He is a PhD can­di­date in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Okla­homa State Uni­ver­si­ty. He cur­rent­ly serves as an asso­ciate edi­tor for the Cimar­ron Review. Remi’s work has appeared in Colum­bia Online Jour­nal, Front Porch, and Glass: A Jour­nal of Poet­ry, among oth­ers. He holds an MFA in poet­ry from Bowl­ing Green State University.

Two Poems

Poetry / Dustin Pearson

:: Fossil Fuel ::

Moments after Hell’s ocean allows you to reach its surface, 
the world turns over. You dart through the boiling waters  
like a rocket and straight into one of its geysers. 
It gropes you. It coats you in waste as inside a bowel,  
but once fully committed, it’s you who becomes 
the movement. The journey is dark so your mind illuminates.  
All those bodies floating at the top of the water and not one  
of them moving. You tilt your head downward, but there’s 
nothing to see, no chest, feet, and so you remind yourself  
they’re still parts of your body, and the sky is red or pink  
or maybe pink and red with no stars, and then everything flips,  
as though the sky could fill, as if this part of Hell  
were a cylinder filled with liquid filled with rocks and sand  
and living ornaments some giant child could turn over  
for amusement, and you fall or you float or you fall and float  
headfirst into another world you can’t escape. You surface  
in a place that looks like the world you left or one adjacent  
where you can manage, where you did manage. Out the geyser  
you rise like a man pulled from quicksand. You clear the mud  
from your eyes. The sun blinds but then you see. This world  
is one of vast greens in sharp shapes attached to brown trunks  
and vines. You wipe the mud from your limbs and when  
you’ve cleared them, you wish you hadn’t because the flies  
that attach to them bite, and where they bite the blood runs  
and from where it runs mites burrow, and within the burrows 
you’re compelled to scratch and where you scratch the burrows  
widen and from the widening the blood pours and in the pour 
the dead mites. You feel faint, but you realize you’ve walked a ways  
from where you started. The loss is overwhelming, but ahead  
of you, there are tracks. You want to fall but think not again,  
and you think: no matter the man the tracks belong to,  
you must find him. 

 

 

:: An Overgrowth Besides the Body ::

Hell’s jungle is an overgrowth of green. 
The leaves that jut from the ferns, fall  
down from the trees, do so with such sharpness  
you cut yourself with any brush by them. 
Every movement you make is one  
made through a grater. You leave 
so much of yourself behind  
under the wetness and burning. 
The sun’s rays and humidity  
make your droppings sizzle  
on some surfaces. The smell  
they release in this sector is appetizing, 
or would be, if you weren’t also wilting  
under the steamy beams. You walk  
each path with a drooping,  
the question mark of your body  
forever-curling into a gnarl  
of lost meaning. The wounds you host 
fester. The fungus builds an island  
of moss on your neck, center-back, 
and shoulders, amasses a mail  
on your chest and lower body, 
and under the moss  
is pus you can drain if you squeeze  
or scratch too deep. 
Beyond the pus is the blood  
you’ve known so well already,  
but even so, sometimes,  
it rains. The conditions resting 
on the grounds rise. The clouds 
work up into big gray billows  
and the whole of the jungle 
darkens. The shadows  
are everywhere, falling  
a kind of astral straw  
under the foliage  
before dissolving  
completely, and then  
the flash shows. Lightning 
then thunder as we’ve 
always perceived it,  
then more of both. The rain 
falls violently on the greens 
but softens a bit making  
its way through the density. 
The jungle cools. 
The water washes you 
before it floods the venue 
and rises into the trees. 
You hitch a ride floating 
on top of it. The leaves on the branches 
don’t cut when they’re wet. 
They soften and bend,  
and so you sit on them.  
You wait out the flooding  
on the tree branches, climbing 
higher as the water rises.  
You stop when it peaks. 
Way high up in the canopy, 
you see everything  
besides another body.

 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

Rimbaud’s A Sea­son in Hell is asso­ci­at­ed with his breakup with Ver­laine. For­mal­ly, it’s a prose poem most of the time. It’s also impossible—a moody, often abstract, and cere­bral man­i­fes­ta­tion. Hell is a state of mind. Fig­u­ra­tive. These poems are tak­en from my forth­com­ing col­lec­tion, A Sea­son in Hell with Rim­baud (BOA Edi­tions, 2022), but there’s no roman­tic con­text. Rim­baud is a dense­ly loaded sym­bol. In this selec­tion, we meet the speak­er work­ing his way through Hell. There’s an amass­ment of obser­va­tions sim­i­lar to what you’d expect in a trav­el­ogue. The speak­er dis­cov­ers evi­dence that he’s not alone, and this ener­gizes him. A lit­tle while after I first start­ed writ­ing well, I found I couldn’t escape being com­pared to Baude­laire and Rim­baud. I’d nev­er read either of them. Final­ly read­ing them allowed me to see the com­par­isons. Learn­ing about the aspi­ra­tions of French sym­bol­ism and its muta­tions over time cul­mi­nat­ing in Imag­ism and a dif­fer­ent group of writ­ers helped me to real­ize my approach to writ­ing always exists between the two, and that mode of writ­ing and think­ing is one I believe I inher­it­ed from my Black South­ern coastal upbringing—all its mag­ic and his­to­ry, reli­gion and blend­ing of cul­tures and lore, and all the mys­tery and actu­al­i­ty wrapped up in those. In one way, A Sea­son in Hell with Rim­baud is say­ing: look at how close we’ve been this entire time and yet only one of us is read­i­ly rec­og­nized and cred­it­ed with these lit­er­ary tra­di­tions and aes­thet­ics, but all of that as an after­thought to the sto­ry that unfolds over the col­lec­tion, a sto­ry that’s teased in these two poems. 

 

 

Dustin Pear­son is the author of A Sea­son in Hell with Rim­baud (BOA Edi­tions, 2022), Mil­len­ni­al Roost (C&R Press, 2018), and A Fam­i­ly Is a House (C&R Press, 2019). He is a McK­night Doc­tor­al Fel­low in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty. The recip­i­ent of fel­low­ships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence, the Vir­ginia G. Piper Cen­ter for Cre­ative Writ­ing, and The Ander­son Cen­ter at Tow­er View, Pear­son has served as the edi­tor of Hayden’s Fer­ry Review and a direc­tor of the Clem­son Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val. He won the Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets Katharine C. Turn­er Prize and John Mack­ay Grad­u­ate Award and holds an MFA from Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty. The recip­i­ent of a 2021 Push­cart Prize, his work also appears or is forth­com­ing in The Nation, Poet­ry North­west, Black­bird, Vinyl Poet­ry, Ben­ning­ton Review, Tri­Quar­ter­ly, [PANK], The Lit­er­ary Review, Poet­ry Dai­ly, Hayden’s Fer­ry Review, and else­where.

Two Poems

Poetry / Emma Gomis

:: Traces ::

          As a way of keeping you close 
                    I follow, trace your thought 
                    it curls as it mounts the stair 
                              & shimmers at a clearing

          T’escric desde lluny, em poso les teves paraules a les butxaques

          In care to carry your rhythm 
                    I drape the film of your shape 
                    over my body  
                              it creases & folds 

          El teu ritme presocràtic, els teus gests, petits miralls

          From one object to next 
                    I finger contours left behind 
                    yearn for you to animate  
                              a quick turn in palm of hand 

          Un crit s’enfonsa al pit, com un ocellet que vol ser alliberat

          I pace the perimeter of your room 
                    straining to summon  
                    the fade of your print 
                              in folds of your garments

          No sé com més puc dir-te que et trobo a faltar

 

 

 

:: STJORDI ::

ST JORDI PDF

 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

We were raised in the wake of an oppres­sive reign, in a coun­try still wound­ed from years of liv­ing under Fran­coist dic­ta­tor­ship. Swathed in grief from the years which saw the pro­hi­bi­tion and per­se­cu­tion of polit­i­cal par­ties, the repres­sion of the press, and the elim­i­na­tion of left­ist orga­ni­za­tions, the Cata­lan Statute of Auton­o­my and its asso­ci­at­ed insti­tu­tions were abol­ished, our lan­guage and cul­ture sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly persecuted. 

Dur­ing Fran­cis­co Franco’s dic­ta­tor­ship (1935 – 1975) the Cata­lan lan­guage was banned in pub­lic spaces and in schools. The author­i­ty released state­ments like: “hable el idioma del impe­rio”: speak the lan­guage of the empire. But ban­ning a lan­guage may be an effec­tive way of pre­serv­ing it, as the speak­ers feel an impulse to resist the author­i­tar­i­an reach into their iden­ti­ty. Teach­ers and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies held clan­des­tine class­es in Cata­lan; fam­i­lies whis­pered it in the safe­ty of their homes. 

These poems rep­re­sent a recent urge I have felt to incor­po­rate my lan­guage and cul­ture into my writ­ing, maybe because it still is, as all lan­guage is, some­thing in need of defend­ing. It is resilient as long as we do our part to make it sing. The Cata­lan lan­guage is more sim­i­lar to Ital­ian or French. My father’s favorite exam­ple is that in Span­ish the glass is on top of the table is el vaso esta enci­ma de la mesa, while in Cata­lan it is el got esta a sobre de la taula. Our accents open and close as they do in French. Recent­ly, the dia­crit­ic accent was lost, removed from gram­mar to facil­i­tate the exe­cu­tion of the lan­guage. In a move to defend, we lose a mark. Now the words bear and bone are spelt out the same: os and os

With the death of Fran­co in 1975, the 1978 con­sti­tu­tion rec­og­nized that oth­er lan­guages could be offi­cial lan­guages of the state. Despite this, there is still a pal­pa­ble hos­til­i­ty from the Span­ish state to sup­press the Cata­lan lan­guage. The first poem, “Traces,” is a pin­ing for my lan­guage and how it feels to miss the fam­i­ly and friends that often feel too far away; the sec­ond poem, “ST JORDI,” is a fem­i­nist reimag­in­ing of the leg­end of the patron saint of Catalun­ya, and the for­mer Crown of Aragon. 

 

Emma Gomis is a Cata­lan Amer­i­can essay­ist, poet, edi­tor, and trans­la­tor. Her texts have been pub­lished in Den­ver Quar­ter­ly, Entropy, Asymp­tote, Vice Mag­a­zine, and Moth­er Jones, among oth­ers, and her chap­book Canx­ona is forth­com­ing from b l u s h. She is the cofounder of Man­i­fold Press. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing & Poet­ics from Naropa’s Jack Ker­ouac School of Dis­em­bod­ied Poet­ics, where she was also the Anne Wald­man Fel­low­ship recip­i­ent. She is a PhD can­di­date in crit­i­cism and cul­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cambridge. 

Church Universal and Triumphant

Poetry / Sarah Colón

:: Church Universal and Triumphant ::

We cut ties with worldly things, 
packed up the Datsun, and drove to Montana. 
We built a tiny altar in the closet,  
meditated on the I AM Presence, 
received blessings from Guru Ma, 
and bathed our bodies in light. 

Educated adults saw fairies in old photographs. 
We eschewed chocolate for spiritual purity, 
drank bancha tea for clarity, 
and put on our tubes of light every morning 
before a breakfast of brown rice and miso soup. 

We wore colors of the ethereal plane, 
earrings smaller than dimes. 
We crossed our arms when we heard rock music 
and did Violet Flame to cleanse our transgressions. 

We built bomb shelters in the dead of winter, 
canned and vacuum-packed food for seven years, 
prioritized and stored our belongings. 

We descended long cold ladders into the underground. 
We strapped ourselves to the bunks in preparation for the blast. 

We re-entered the world, unharmed. 

 

 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

I grew up in a New Age reli­gion that most peo­ple would call a cult. I hes­i­tate to use the word “cult” because this was the word I heard most often used against us. I asso­ciate it with the mali­cious name-call­ing that con­tributed to esca­lat­ing ten­sions and even acts of violence—locals shoot­ing at a school bus or a mem­ber of the com­mu­ni­ty hav­ing a cross burned in his yard. We lived in fear of the hos­til­i­ty that sur­round­ed us, that events like the bomb­ing of the Rajneesh­pu­ram hotel or the FBI siege of Waco might also hap­pen to us. 

This is not to say that the com­mu­ni­ty itself was a whole­some envi­ron­ment. We were tasked with strict, oppres­sive reg­u­la­tions on our diets, dai­ly rou­tines, and cloth­ing. I spent most of third grade prepar­ing for the end of the world, ful­ly believ­ing that my father and half-sis­ters, who weren’t mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty, were going to die. When I left at age 14, I was men­tal­ly in tat­ters. I strug­gled for years with depres­sion, self-harm, and hatred. 

But the sto­ries of our child­hoods are nei­ther whol­ly gleam­ing nor entire­ly ter­ri­ble. There is a mag­ic to the Rocky Moun­tains that I’ve nev­er found any­where else, and my child­hood was also filled with moments of pure delight. I found my love of lit­er­a­ture and poet­ry there through the kind nur­tur­ing of teach­ers who cared. 

Here I’ve tried to explore the dual­i­ty of that expe­ri­ence, to express the way that rage and joy can exist simul­ta­ne­ous­ly for me in mem­o­ry. These poems are part of my work in progress, which I’ve ten­ta­tive­ly enti­tled Cult­girl as a way of reclaim­ing the word, cel­e­brat­ing an aspect of myself which, while ter­ri­ble, also shaped me. 

 

Sarah Colón is a poet and edu­ca­tor from the Amer­i­can West who spent most of her child­hood in Mon­tana as a mem­ber of a reli­gious cult that was prepar­ing for impend­ing nuclear dis­as­ter. A moth­er of four, she has worked in the food ser­vice and child­care indus­tries while free­lanc­ing as an edi­tor and copy­writer. She cur­rent­ly teach­es high school and lives with her part­ner and their blend­ed fam­i­ly of six chil­dren in Largo, Flori­da. Pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions include The Exam­ined Life Jour­nal and Flash Fic­tion.

A View Lodges

Poetry / Ryan Clark

:: A View Lodges [i] ::

Amer­i­ca is a field expand­ed over air­waves soft­en­ing dis­tinc­tions between Amer­i­can and Por­tuguese pop cul­ture, a line from Pow­er Rangers to the base to the island.  

There is a swirl of forces assem­bling from a child­hood shared in the nego­ti­a­tion of foreignness. 

What views are held with very lit­tle fric­tion.   

What sparks. 

For years, civil­ians work at the base, form a mesh that grows. 

Atti­tudes are acquired, fed, made nat­ur­al as land sur­round­ing a flag.  

Lajes, in the fold of ocean floors, far off from con­ti­nen­tal pow­ers, is an Amer­i­ca you feel under your roof at night. 

Ear­li­er, Lajes stood as a bas­ket of well-off Amer­i­cans dropped on an island of poor farmers. 

How a gap demands clo­sure, how advan­tage is played. 

A tran­sient face can be dif­fi­cult to make out of a uniform. 

So con­tracts rose from a nego­ti­a­tion to resolve what it is to use as a for­eign shield your home.  

So the for­eign­ness of the field poured out, drew peo­ple in. 

So cars paved Azore­an freeways. 

So Ter­ceira is a land relo­cat­ed with ben­e­fits.  

From a base, we gath­er the trust of econ­o­my, live in the shad­ows of aircraft. 

A man says if the Amer­i­cans ever were to leave he’d fol­low, stars and stripes soft­ly woven into his cap.  

What is formed with such use. 


[i] Homo­phon­ic trans­la­tion of a U.S. Depart­ment of State cable titled “Azore­an Views on Lajes,” sent on Feb­ru­ary 1, 1974, and lat­er released as part of U.S. Depart­ment of State EO Sys­tem­at­ic Review on June 30, 2005.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems come from a project that inves­ti­gates envi­ron­men­tal con­t­a­m­i­na­tion stem­ming from the pres­ence of Lajes Field Air Force Base, an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary base on Ter­ceira Island in the Azores, an arch­i­pel­ago in the mid-Atlantic that func­tions as an autonomous region of Por­tu­gal. In writ­ing these poems, I used a unique method of homo­phon­ic trans­la­tion which relies on the re-sound­ing of a source text, let­ter by let­ter, accord­ing to the var­i­ous pos­si­ble sounds each let­ter is able to pro­duce (e.g., “cat” may become “ash” by silenc­ing the c as in “indict,” and by sound­ing the t as an sh sound, as in “ratio”). The source texts for these poems are giv­en as foot­notes in the poems them­selves, and they include news arti­cles about the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion (often from ques­tion­able sources, includ­ing Russ­ian news agen­cies well known for spread­ing pro­pa­gan­da and sto­ries that serve the pur­pos­es of the Russ­ian government—such as, for instance, neg­a­tive sto­ries against the Unit­ed States). Oth­er sources include archived cables and oth­er doc­u­ments from the U.S. State Depart­ment, acces­si­ble through Wikileaks. 

I lived on Ter­ceira when I was a kid, from 1992 – 1996, while my father was sta­tioned at the base. My fam­i­ly lived in the towns Fonte do Bas­tar­do and Pra­ia da Vitória pri­or to mov­ing on base mid­way through our time on the island. Pra­ia, in par­tic­u­lar, has been not­ed as bear­ing the brunt of the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, with a num­ber of peo­ple in the town devel­op­ing cancer—though explic­it con­nec­tions between the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and can­cer rates remain a sub­ject of debate.  

I aim to work through these poems with the doc­u­men­tary mind­set of poets like Mark Nowak and Muriel Rukeyser, though I am also inter­est­ed in the idea of “decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion” as a duty we are increas­ing­ly called upon to perform—whether it be through increased media lit­er­a­cy (hyper-vig­i­lant to avoid fake news on social media) or through fac­ing our own nos­tal­gias that obscure what we see with what we’ve hoped to con­tin­ue see­ing. As such, I want these poems to serve as a form of inquiry rather than attempts to answer. 

 

 

Ryan Clark writes much of his work using a unique method of homo­phon­ic trans­la­tion, and he is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in how poet­ry responds to vio­lence and sub­ju­ga­tion, sym­bol­ic and oth­er­wise. He is the author of How I Pitched the First Curve (Lit Fest Press, 2019), and his poet­ry has recent­ly appeared in Inter­im, Barza­kh, DIAGRAM, Four­teen Hills, and Posit. He cur­rent­ly teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at Wal­dorf Uni­ver­si­ty in Iowa. 

Three Poems

Poetry / Nancy Chen Long

:: In a Dream, My Dead Father Teaches Me How to Hear Gravitational Waves ::

—after Wrecked Archive B9uPgb9n6Nr by Pat­ty Paine

My father and I are sail­ing along the shore of Lake Supe­ri­or. My father is above, low­er­ing the boom. I am below, stop­ping a leak on the lee­ward side, when, glanc­ing out of a cab­in win­dow toward shore, I see a woman who looks like a younger ver­sion of my moth­er. She is sit­ting on a fall­en log. My father wants to swim to the beach, but I am afraid of the barge inch­ing silent­ly along next to us, car­ry­ing a car­go of secrets. It’s been fol­low­ing us for miles. We decide to pad­dle a life raft aground. Once there, we have to crawl over gran­ite boul­ders in order to get to civ­i­liza­tion. Nei­ther one of us is wear­ing a watch, since all time­pieces have stopped tick­ing. My father stops by a grove of juniper trees, one tree for each man in my mother’s life. He says I need to stop talk­ing. It’s time to tell me every­thing he thinks I need to know before he dies. This will take some time, he says. I sit on the fall­en log where my moth­er had once been and gaze up at him. The col­or of his eyes match­es the sky. His mouth moves, form­ing words with no voice. The only sound is a con­stant wind-rushed whir that ebbs and flows as the space between us expands and col­laps­es, and the occa­sion­al chirp of a lone bird sound­ing out S‑O-S. S‑O-S. S‑O-S. I lis­ten for hours. 



:: In a Dream, I Watch a Story That My Dead Father Once Told Me ::

—after Wrecked Archive B9MuWvBHgP6 by Pat­ty Paine

My father and I are sit­ting in a sycamore grove by a rush­ing creek he calls Fam­i­ly. His body is the shape of a tree, the black and tired trunk of him buck­ling under the weight of a life­time of leaves. Each leaf is the shape of a card or a screen, each a secret that he has trapped in his head. In one, a film is play­ing. It is grad­u­a­tion day, and he is grad­u­at­ing from a Yale lan­guage pro­gram for mil­i­tary per­son­nel. There he meets Bar­bara. My father looks straight at the cam­era. “Oh Nan, she is the one,” he says. The film flash­es through a sea­son of dates and din­ners. Two young peo­ple falling in love. At the end of the sea­son, she boards a plane for col­lege in Wis­con­sin. As he watch­es her fly away, an onion-skin paper in the shape of an air­plane floats down from a glass desk in the sky. It’s his work assign­ment. He is being shipped to Tai­wan. My father, fran­tic, flies to Wis­con­sin to pro­pose to the love of his life. They decide to mar­ry after he returns. My father looks straight at the cam­era. “One of my biggest regrets is going to Tai­wan,” he says. I look down at my trunk. I am reshap­ing into the mot­tled white-gray of a sycamore. My arms morph into branch­es that stretch all the way to Tai­wan, place of my birth, where my hands have become entan­gled and refuse to free themselves. 



:: In a Dream, My Dead Father Lectures Me About Remaining Positive During a Crisis ::

—after Wrecked Archive B‑IHP21Hty5 by Pat­ty Paine 

The clown stand­ing on my face demands that I be hap­py. “Chin­ny-chin up,” he snaps. “Why so glum, chum?” Daisies and dan­de­lions float behind him, and I think I’m at a funer­al. The audi­ence laughs uproar­i­ous­ly as a stage cur­tain descends, but the actors around me are still act­ing. “All of life is a stage,” the clown wax­es Shake­speare­an. The smell of death fills the audi­to­ri­um, but the audi­ence con­tin­ues to smile. They insist on mak­ing lemon­ade. Mak­ing a guest appear­ance in the emp­ty lounge chair next me is my father. He’s car­ry­ing a bam­boo bowl filled with lemons and cher­ries. “In the midst of the cri­sis, why is every­one act­ing as if every­thing is com­ing up daisies?” I ask him as he slips a lemon into each of my palms. “Well, Sweet­ie, he says, “when you are in the mid­dle of some­thing hor­ri­ble hap­pen­ing, some folks, like those who are afraid of being afraid, will insist Every­thing is fine! and they will insist that you insist as well, because the king can­not be clothed unless every­one acts like he is.” The clown spits out a cher­ry pit that lands by my ear. “Let goooo and let God,” he bel­lows as he taps his foot on my fore­head. But I can’t. A thin thread of lemon juice trick­les down my arms onto the pop­corn- and cher­ry-pit-pocked floor. My hands, squeez­ing and squeez­ing lemons, refuse to release. 

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

For a cou­ple of years now, I’ve been work­ing on a poet­ry man­u­script that explores per­cep­tion as a gen­er­a­tive act. As a non­vi­su­al per­son, I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by how dif­fer­ent­ly some of us see—what we see as indi­vid­u­als and how that dif­fers, the phys­i­ol­o­gy and psy­chol­o­gy of see­ing, and so on. Some of the poems in the man­u­script are ekphras­tic, writ­ten in response to art. 

Last year, my father passed after a long strug­gle with Parkinson’s. Before he died, he told me a deathbed secret. I have been wrestling with that sto­ry, both log­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, ever since, pri­mar­i­ly through jour­nal­ing. I wasn’t able to write much in the way of poems, only those jour­nal-like pas­sages. And so, work on the man­u­script sim­ply stopped. Once I felt able, I took an online class in hopes of get­ting back into writ­ing poet­ry. To my sur­prise, while work­ing on a poem in response to a par­tic­u­lar sur­re­al paint­ing, I found myself writ­ing about my father. 

These poems in The Account are writ­ten in response to abstract and sur­re­al images from Pat­ty Paine’s won­der­ful art that she dis­plays on her Insta­gram account called wrecked-archive. She has been work­ing with vin­tage neg­a­tives as the basis of an exper­i­men­tal pho­tog­ra­phy art project. You can find wrecked-archive here: https://www.instagram.com/wrecked.archive/

I sus­pect the approach of med­i­tat­ing on sur­re­al and abstract images and then writ­ing in response to those images as if they were dreams, cou­pled with writ­ing in a form that I usu­al­ly don’t use (prose poems), pro­vides my mind with a way to approach my father’s pass­ing and the strange­ness of the whole situation.

 

Nan­cy Chen Long is the author of Wider Than the Sky (Diode Edi­tions, 2020), which was select­ed for the Diode Edi­tions Book Award, and Light Into Bod­ies (Uni­ver­si­ty of Tam­pa Press, 2017), which won the Tam­pa Review Prize for Poet­ry. Her work has been sup­port­ed by a Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts Cre­ative Writ­ing fel­low­ship and a Poet­ry Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca Robert H. Win­ner Award. You’ll find her recent poems in Cop­per Nick­el, The Cincin­nati Review, The South­ern Review, and else­where. She works at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty in the Research Tech­nolo­gies divi­sion. nancychenlong.com

Four Triple Sonnets

Poetry / Dorothy Chan

:: Triple Sonnet for Eggsexuals ::

          My friend Colleen says she’s eggsexual, 
and I’ve never heard a more brilliant 
          food metaphor—I dream of shakshuka 
with extra basil, and when in doubt, garlic 
          it out, and black pepper, black pepper, black 
pepper, and why do I hate greens for dinner 
          but love them for breakfast: Eggs Florentine 
with artichoke hearts as a surprise, or what  
          about spinach and poached eggs washed down 
with a dry martini—the 11:00 AM meal 
          of choice for glove lunch goers everywhere, 
or as Taneum says, it’s the elusive fantasy 
          mealtime of queer women, a way of flirtation 
that’s much more complex than chugging a beer 
 
and eating hot wings, or as I say to men 
          on the first date: Let’s get this out of the way: 
I will outdrink you. You will think I’m boring 
          because I hate sports and I love museums. 
I hate going to the beach. I hate hiking.  
          Wow, I’m such a buzzkill holding a whiskey 
in a short skirt and red lipstick, but at least 
          I’m honest, and maybe they’re not enough. 
And I’ll take the glove lunch any day— 
          the matching plaid skirt with blazer mixed 
with the glances and blushing under the table 
          and double the dry martinis before noon, 
because why not, I think, when I ask R 
          on the phone how she likes her eggs and coffee, 
 
          and isn’t it funny how these are the questions 
you ask when you’re dating? I remember 
          my dad’s dry scramble vs. my mom’s wet 
scramble from childhood, and maybe eggs 
          are precious, like in the typical middle school 
social studies project of treating a hard-boiled 
          egg like it’s your own child, but I never got it, 
because it’s just an egg, and what’s not stopping 
          me from breaking the shell and getting into  
the yolk? And I remember abandoning  
          my child at the lunch table to buy some chips, 
branded a “bad mom” from that moment on, 
          but it’s just an egg—and oh, how I felt ripped off 
when it didn’t hatch into a baby bird.  

 

:: Triple Sonnet, Because She Makes Me Hot ::

          She makes me hot, so I eat chocolate cheesecake 
after our phone call, down an espresso, and take 
          a hot shower, because it’s one of those nights 
I’ve craved since I was a little girl who 
          discovered that boys weren’t the only option, 
and I remember my first crushes on women— 
          the fantasy of starring in my own trashy 
mid 2000s reality show on MTV where 
          it’s a double (or triple) 
                                                                  shot at love, 
and I’d strut around in emerald lingerie, 
          telling the boys and girls to spank me, 
feed me carrot cake, and go out for a midnight 
          swim in the nude. And isn’t it sexy how often 
water appears in our dreams? But of course, 
 
                                       not all love is trashy, and I think about 
                              dressing up in a cheerleader costume, 
                                        telling the lady contestants, I used to sneak 
                              a glimpse of the girls on the football field. 
                                        But I’d rather skip gym class, paint all over 
                              canvases with beauties, or be ambitious, like 
                                        Tara Reid’s Vicky in American Pie, looking 
                              oh, so fine in her gray Cornell t-shirt, and  
                                        it’s oh so tight, Tara, and isn’t it ironic 
                              how I ended up going Big Red, or back 
                                        to my college days in Ithaca when my friend 
                              L and I would tongue under my covers, 
                                        saying “This is practice for the boys,”  
                              but we knew what we were doing—How 
 
does one even achieve intimacy?
          is really the million-dollar question 
of the century, and L, what we had 
          wasn’t a phase, and I remember donning 
your yellow flannel after the sun went down 
          in those Ithaca winters, and how you’d  
eye me saying, “You look like you just 
          had sex,” and we’d laugh and hug and I’d walk 
home. And sometimes I feel frozen in that 
          moment in time, when I’d get home, crawl 
into my own bed, in the nude, thinking about 
          my friend Anna’s words, “I think girls in boyish 
clothes look more feminine,” and I’d wipe off 
          my red lipstick with a tissue—fall asleep.  

 

:: Triple Sonnet and Three Cheers for the Asian Bachelorette ::

Yena wants an Asian Bachelorette,
          but she’s worried our bachelorette 
will get disowned by her family,
          because nothing screams Dear Mom and Dad
abandon me more than a starring role
          on reality TV and even the thought
of casual dating, and I wonder why
          parents like mine expect me to pop out
a baby when I wasn’t supposed to date
          in my twenties. It’s like the stork flew in,
and out came the perfect black-haired child
          I’d dedicate my life to, giving up poetry,
along with the endless cycle of girls and
          boys and great lovers in infatuation,

          and my problem is that I can’t say yes,
though I think yes, done, and one are
          the sexiest words in the English language,
or maybe I’m the Asian Bachelorette
          Yena so desires—the female lead who
leaves you hanging each week because
          I can’t make up my mind when it comes
to love. I’ll cry on cue in a ballroom gown
          in a castle in Switzerland, after a tough
elimination, regretting my decision right
          away, but scratch that, I’d never wear
am evening dress since I hate formal wear,
          and nothing turns me off more than a man
in a suit, and why all the focus on the outfits

when this is my life and my feelings 
          and the hot sex I crave every night
under the covers, and what if I played
          my Bachelorette role more Flavor of Love
or I Love New York, giving out nicknames
          to pass the time, because we all need 
a little levity when it comes to love,
          so how’s about Stud or 8-Pack or Sailor								
Uranus to my Sailor Neptune. And yes
          to all this cheer especially when the final two
meet my family over hotpot, and I end up 
          choosing the one they dislike, but scratch that,
I’ll eliminate both, because nothing’s better
          than being a free agent who doesn’t settle.

 

:: Triple Sonnet for Hers and Hers Towels and Princess Aurora’s Blue/Pink Gown ::

My brother’s wife gifts me a his and hers 
          hot chocolate set for Christmas, and I want
to scream, because in what universe are
          his and hers towels and his and hers mugs
and his and hers bathrobes still a thing? 
          All I see is his and hers rubbing it in
that I don’t have a his (that they know of),
          but really, what’s with shoving this hetero
agenda down my throat, along with cocoa,
          and my friend Drew says at least I get double
the chocolate, when what I really want is
          a frozen hot chocolate with extra whipped
cream and chocolate shavings and cherry
          on top from Serendipity 3, which is ironic

          because that’s the site of all the romantic 
comedies I hate. And what’s with shoving
          the hetero agenda down the throats of young
women, and I remember having a freak out
          at the Krispy Kreme in Rainbow Springs
Shopping Center in Vegas, because if 
          gender reveal cakes and gender reveal parties
anger me to no end, then gender reveal donuts
          are the spawn of evil dessert we don’t need,
because who chews into a custard crème,
          sees pink or blue, and feels normal afterwards,
when yellow was just fine? It’s the economy
          of it all I hate the most—the way blue boy
and pink girl keeps getting pushed, when

the only blue boy I know is the oil portrait
          by Gainsborough or the men’s magazine of
abs abs abs and then some more dessert. 
          Or what about pink girl / blue girl, also
known as Aurora’s color-changing gown
          in Sleeping Beauty, and it’s funny how 
this princess only had eighteen minutes
          of screen time, most of which is taken up								
by this pink and blue debate, when I really
          wanted to see her in green dancing in 
the woods, seducing all the birds around
          her, barefoot, in charge, dumping Prince Phillip,
because that kiss was dry as hell, and a princess
          needs at least sixty minutes of screen time.

 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

Often, at read­ings, I get asked about the ori­gins of my triple son­nets. I’m very proud to call the triple son­net my sig­na­ture form. I start by say­ing that three is such a mag­ic num­ber. Think back to the fairy­tales and fan­ta­sy books you read as a kid. I mean, the best things in life come in threes: Spumoni and Neapoli­tan ice cream, bears, hot celebri­ties with three names, the Pow­er­puff Girls, the BLT sand­wich, etc. It’s like get­ting three wish­es all at once. And, the son­net is such a mag­i­cal form. 

I think about how the best poems don’t con­tain just one volta/turn but mul­ti­ple voltas/turns. It’s a beau­ti­ful sur­prise each time that hap­pens. And it’s a beau­ti­ful sur­prise when it hap­pens at an unex­pect­ed spot in the poem. I think the best feel­ing in the expe­ri­ence of read­ing a poem is when you get to the very end, and the last line makes you go back to the first, thus going in an infi­nite cir­cle, right back to the title and the first line. 

My poet­ry works with excess. I mean, why have only one son­net [or insert any­thing else you’re obsessed with] when you could have three (or five or one hun­dred or ten bil­lion)? I love food, and in par­tic­u­lar, this set of triple son­nets empha­sizes appetite, whether it’s about the speaker’s crav­ings for shak­shu­ka and Eggs Flo­ren­tine in “Triple Son­net for Egg­sex­u­als,” her desires for this woman who “makes me feel hot, so I eat choco­late cheese­cake / after our phone call” in “Triple Son­net, Because She Makes Me Hot,” her need for real­i­ty TV fame in “Triple Son­net and Three Cheers for the Asian Bach­e­lorette,” or her mis­sion to end het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty and the bina­ry struc­ture in “Triple Son­net for Hers and hers Tow­els and Princess Aurora’s Blue/Pink Gown.” I think it’s impor­tant to let our crav­ings out in poet­ry. It’s all very wild.

 

Dorothy Chan is the author of Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Edi­tions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Cen­ter­fold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chap­book Chi­na­town Son­nets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a two-time Ruth Lil­ly and Dorothy Sar­gent Rosen­berg Poet­ry Fel­low­ship final­ist, a 2020 final­ist for the Lamb­da Lit­er­ary Award in Bisex­u­al Poet­ry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, and a 2019 recip­i­ent of the Philip Fre­und Prize in Cre­ative Writ­ing from Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The Amer­i­can Poet­ry Review, Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets, and else­where. Chan is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Eau Claire, poet­ry edi­tor of Hobart, book review co-edi­tor of Pleiades, and found­ing edi­tor and edi­tor-in-chief of Hon­ey Lit­er­ary. Vis­it her web­site at dorothypoetry.com.

Two Poems

Poetry / Lauren Camp

:: Whether or Not or Neither ::

I call my father every three days on the white  
          phone so he can tell me about noon  
and its signal. I hold each meander  
          up to my head. He has lived past being a particular  
being and I have learned I can love  
          longer the last of his vanishing 
stories. His steady anxiety splits  
          my ghosts, and on Tuesday and Friday  
and any day I call him with such kindness  
          as I didn’t have years ago. He no longer  
settles a sentence. Whatever it’s worth, now  
          with him I’m all nectar. I’ve learned to be  
sleepless where coyotes find midnight  
          desirable. I expect bird forms and forests  
to help me recover from the dimming  
          of his echoes, that unmanageable  
folding. When I was last  
          by his sleeve, the woman next to me sobbed  
without hesitation every three  
          minutes and the orderly  
in the chair beside her bent in to her long  
          lonely face whispering Sandy,  
don’t cry. You’ll mess up your makeup. Each time,  
          Sandy was tugged to a quiet and sat perfectly  
focused on mist only she  
          could see. Outside the window 
were here and there and the gusts 
          of a future. Then Sandy’s plain  
lashes fluttered and I saw her eyes  
          find the surface and the pattern  
of tragedy, which is in me, in you, the drain  
          of so much reason,  
and the relief again of more tears. 

 

 

:: Guide to Getting Home ::

Let home now be scurrying cotton feather. I’ve let go  
where I grew to be in this flame-perfumed desert. Needed more  
 
than the slow small sun swung up to boxes of windows.  
After the school bus circled past maples, I would skip 
with domesticated hunger to our cul-de-sac,  
holding lined equations. If Jane. If Tom. Each fact.  
 
You can imagine our little existence: Atari and sitcoms.  
In her corner, my mother pinned hems.  
I made small glad movements: rendered my dinner fork and voice  
and something forgotten. What I mean is I feasted.  
 
My family went on saying things to each other  
then released to the blue sofa  
loopy on ’70s humor. I remember  
 
my Saturday dresses, but not  
the buttons. Later remember my mother’s lung  
with its stain. Rain, sleet, everything we lived between. Nothing  
was certain but grapefruit on weekdays and pigeons. 
 
Now that I’m in the desert’s spontaneous glitter, my home  
is steady and thick. A few rabbit tracks  
mark the whisks of last year’s grasses. Storm clouds, long spiders 
beside rhizome, petiole, cataphyll. The horizon changes  
 
and somehow I’m back to another turn up the stairs  
of that normal brown Tudor on a street  
with no precise name. The street we repeated
as we reentered each day with the least and I wasn’t afraid.  
 
Each time we vacationed, my mother plunked her feet  
on the dashboard while we took the distance  
to an average hotel in Boston’s low edges, a pool, a closed 
door, nothing worse. This was also a shape  
of divinity. Then we drove back. 

 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

For sev­er­al years now, I’ve been writ­ing about fam­i­ly. When my father began show­ing signs of demen­tia at his 80th birth­day par­ty, sud­den­ly there was a lot to do to ensure the resources were in place to take care of him.  It was shock­ing to be mak­ing deci­sions for some­one else, some­one who had always been very vital, not to men­tion con­trol­ling. Much stress and ques­tion­ing sur­round­ed each action. My sib­lings had their own reac­tions, and I wrote through some of those. Through poet­ry, I have doc­u­ment­ed the years since then, his wor­ries and our wor­ries, some details of his new home (in mem­o­ry care) … all the way through writ­ing the obit­u­ary and plan­ning a funer­al. It was help­ful to have a way to craft the com­pli­cat­ed grief and sad­ness. This didn’t make it go away, but by giv­ing it a form and some cre­ative approach­es, I could focus to spe­cif­ic per­spec­tives and allow what was hap­pen­ing. “Guide to Get­ting Home” turns back through child­hood mem­o­ries, with a brief look for­ward, beyond what we knew then to what would come. It’s a quirky sort of plea­sure to play with time in a poem. 

 

Lau­ren Camp is the author of five books of poet­ry, most recent­ly Took House (Tupe­lo Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Ben­ning­ton Review, Beloit Poet­ry Jour­nal, Wit­ness, Eco­tone, Poet Lore, and oth­er jour­nals. Win­ner of the Dorset Prize, Lau­ren has also received fel­low­ships from The Black Earth Insti­tute and The Taft-Nichol­son Cen­ter, and final­ist cita­tions for the Arab Amer­i­can Book Award, the Housaton­ic Book Award, and the New Mex­i­co-Ari­zona Book Award. Her work has been trans­lat­ed into Man­darin, Turk­ish, Span­ish, and Ara­bic.  www.laurencamp.com

The Rural Imagination of Michael

Poetry / Joshua Butts

:: The Rural Imagination of Michael ::

Your father moved here for tim­ber, cabinetry. 

On Cut­lip Rd., in the sleep­over light, we watched C.H.U.D.  

Your grand­moth­er fold­ed my first omelet. 

Your bed­room win­dow on the high­way side & stars. 

We rode bare­back hors­es & the hairs cov­ered my black joggers. 

Your par­ents bought prop­er­ty at the dis­used orchard. 

My dad drilled two-by-fours, string­ing Romex as it ran out 

through the walls giv­ing light from the break­er box. 

Near the end, we walked through woods to a pasture 

with a two-lane crawl along­side. There were cows. 

A bull (row­dy spouse). There was a white S10 parked off 

in the weeds. You stole a pack of Win­stons from the dash. 

At the farm­house the old lady thought we were Depression 

giv­en our clothes—tears in our jeans, flan­nel. I don’t  

remem­ber walk­ing back from the farm­house. She was so nice 

she told on us. I was ground­ed for your smokes. In high school 

I drove out at lunch to see you fight Guy & Eddie (both wrestlers). 

We’d thought the fight wasn’t going to hap­pen & then over the hill 

from your par­ents’ land, some kind of bul­ly choreography, 

you appeared in the back of a pick­up with Chris Cos­by, the truck 

blast­ing Soundgar­den or Tool or some shit. The entrance was 

cin­e­mat­ic. The fight (real­ly wrestling: Guy & Eddy) like all fights 

was a mix of blunt­ed lust, then fear, then the sen­sa­tion of 

tast­ing your own throat. We drove away from it into our lives. 

Your trou­ble, Michael, wasn’t so strange & tor­tured that it couldn’t  

be mea­sured for heav­en, or I’d like to think. Maybe you deserved all of it. 

Once we were lit­tle boys togeth­er for as long as we were lit­tle boys.

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

Nos­tal­gia locates desire in the past where it suf­fers no active con­flict and can be yearned toward pleas­ant­ly. His­to­ry is the anti­dote to this. 

  —Robert Hass, “Lowell’s Graveyard”

Dur­ing a post-talk Q&A, I once asked Greil Mar­cus if nos­tal­gia was any use at all. I can’t remem­ber what he said, but I knew it was a ques­tion I need­ed to ask myself continually. 

 In Cam­era Luci­da, Roland Barthes writes: “Per­haps we have an invin­ci­ble resis­tance to believ­ing in the past, in His­to­ry, except in the form of myth.” Barthes goes on to say that “[t]he Pho­to­graph, for the first time, puts an end to this resis­tance: hence­forth the past is as cer­tain as the present, what we see on paper is as cer­tain as what we touch.” Per­haps this is so for the pho­to­graph, but in poems the amal­ga­ma­tion of lan­guage isn’t “cer­tain,” is always an approx­i­ma­tion. Does that mean poems are always myth—whether will­ful­ly so or not? I don’t think so. Still my past poems delight­ed in myth­mak­ing, pre­sent­ing a sort of Amer­i­can strange­ness prob­a­bly influ­enced by or filched from The Anthol­o­gy of Amer­i­can Folk Music, C. D. Wright, & Bob Dylan. I have tend­ed toward the per­sona poem—poems that speak in the voice of anoth­er, & in my first book, voic­es from an Appalachi­an past. 

Post-2016, jour­nal­ists went look­ing for an answer for why white rur­al folk vot­ed for Trump when the answer was clear­ly racism, misog­y­ny, ableism, homo­pho­bia, trans­pho­bia, & xeno­pho­bia. J. D. Vance, for one, offered a ver­sion that deflect­ed from these real rea­sons, a ver­sion that also offered a delight­ing-in-vio­lence vision of rural­ness that I found trou­bling. In spite of class issues, lack of edu­ca­tion, one must nev­er assuage or cov­er over the racism, misog­y­ny, ableism, homo­pho­bia, trans­pho­bia, & xeno­pho­bia men­tioned above. White rural­ness doesn’t require these fea­tures, but they are preva­lent fea­tures in white rural­ness (& preva­lent fea­tures every­where for that mat­ter, as wit­nessed by a quick scan of Twit­ter). Rural­ness is not a monolith—is not always hill­bil­ly, or Appalachi­an, & cer­tain­ly not always white. Yet it can be sort of a city imag­i­na­tion, or sub­ur­ban imag­i­na­tion, to think it those things: hill­bil­ly, Appalachi­an, white. 

I start­ed writ­ing these rur­al imag­i­na­tion poems in an expos­i­to­ry mode, using a straight­for­ward use of the title: The Rur­al Imag­i­na­tion of X. When the sub­ject was “Music” or “Hol­ly­wood” or “Dri­ving to the Near­est City,” you would get an explo­ration of that issue or theme. But was there any of the “active con­flict” Hass men­tions? As I wrote more & more poems, I start­ed to think about how I am some­one who no longer lives in a rur­al place. Am I no bet­ter than Vance? I grew up in a small town in south­east­ern Ohio. I’ve hunt­ed, fished. My father bought me a 20-gauge when I was ten, but I dropped it & broke the stock. I was punched in the face at least three times with­out provo­ca­tion by peo­ple like those in the above poem. I was a skate­board­er, braid­ed neck­laces, played in a punk band. If I am employ­ing the imag­i­na­tion, it will hope­ful­ly all the while be in search of some­thing like a com­pli­ca­tion, a slow­ing down. 

The poems I keep com­ing back to in this project are more close­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal. The fight in the poem above hap­pened. Our high school would give us twen­ty-five min­utes for lunch & let us leave in cars & trucks. I drove three friends out there to Michael’s land in a beige Dodge Aries. We were lis­ten­ing to the Dead Kennedys. If more close­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, they are also often clos­er to an “I.” But what is an I? Poet Kath­leen Graber writes in “Self-Por­trait with The Sleep­ing Man,” from her recent & amaz­ing book, Riv­er Twice:  

Some­times I say I, as though someone 

might still believe there could be a coher­ent, dis­tinct self in there.

Barthes would also resist such a coherence—as if the poems were uttered from some Author-God. The rur­al imag­i­na­tion “I” is kind of a con­struct to speak through, employ­ing mem­o­ry & an insid­er plus out­sider sta­tus (if that is even pos­si­ble). While, like Graber, my sense of “I” is not “coher­ent,” I am also just myself & am try­ing to write poems with that aware­ness. As I step inside & out­side of the project, I can exam­ine nos­tal­gia, I can resist essen­tial­ism, I can try to rec­og­nize my priv­i­lege. I cer­tain­ly do not con­tain, nor speak for, any multitudes. 

 

Joshua Butts is the author of New to the Lost Coast (Gold Wake Press, 2015). His poems have appeared recent­ly in Black­bird, Pleiades, & South­ern Human­i­ties Review. He has held res­i­den­cies at the VCCA & Byrd­cliffe, was a Ten­nessee Williams Schol­ar at the Sewa­nee Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence, & attend­ed The Home School. Butts received his BA & MA in Eng­lish from The Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty & his PhD in cre­ative writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cincin­nati. He cur­rent­ly teach­es & serves as Dean of Fac­ul­ty at the Colum­bus Col­lege of Art & Design in Colum­bus, OH

Three Poems

Poetry / Kristy Bowen

:: from extinction event ::

It’s sum­mer, and it’s always a par­ty. Bring only what you can car­ry in your tiny shell. In this tiny  hell you call day­light. Bell sleeves and body glit­ter. Your best teeth to bite the hand that feeds  you. We mis­took it for a pic­nic, so we made pota­to sal­ad that rot­ted in the sun. One gala apple after anoth­er we shot off each other’s heads. After all, the fos­sils weren’t remains, not real­ly, but the mass that took up the space where we were. Filled the holes we left behind. Noth­ing but hair  and bone, when we were once so pret­ty. Tidi­ly pack­ing for an after­noon in the ammu­ni­tion fields, wield­ing our bas­kets over hills. Killing the birds with rocks and fill­ing our pock­ets with  shells. Look at the way our bod­ies glint under the ozone glow. The foot­prints that van­ish before dawn. The clear­ing we claimed as ours swal­low­ing us whole until noth­ing was left but a spoon, a bro­ken plate. The inevitable par­ty after the par­ty died out, our sequins scat­tered in the dirt. 


:: from extinction event ::

Even­tu­al­ly we need a place to house the bones. Room after room stuffed with the dead. In the base­ment we stack them on shelves and tuck them into draw­ers. Ours, the best kind of  chlo­ro­form, the sleep you descend into like a stair­case. A swift twist of the neck. We almost believed you were dead, except for the slow growl of a pulse. The way your eyes flick­er when we drag a comb through the mat­ted fur. How you mewl and hiss through the slats after every­one  goes home. Morn­ing, play­ing pos­sum at the bot­tom of your glass cage. The bust­ed latch  fas­tened from the inside. We almost believed you want­ed out. 

 

:: from extinction event ::

In this box, I col­lect the bro­ken things. The twist­ed oak, the dusty lynx. Bud­gies and buntings and speck­led hawks tum­bled from their nests. We are going on a pic­nic and can take only the most unfor­tu­nate. The deer miss­ing its antler, the one-eyed frog. Like Noah, we build and build, but the space gets small­er. Noth­ing can breathe, least of all me. My lungs stopped up with feath­ers and the small ani­mals I’ve smug­gled inside the body for safe keep­ing. In the box, we rus­tle the feath­ers and bend the bones, but noth­ing fits. Even side by side, stacked ver­ti­cal­ly in rows. Noth­ing sits upright or thrives. We name them, tag their tiny feet, and still, noth­ing moves inside the box. All night we soothe them with sounds their moth­ers make, but still they sleep and dream of trees. 

 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

extinc­tion event is a series of pieces writ­ten in prepa­ra­tion for a read­ing at the Field Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in the fall of 2019. While I was grant­ed full access to the col­lec­tions and had vague ideas going in to write about dinosaur fos­sils, I nev­er set out to write some­thing so apoc­a­lyp­tic (I already have an entire book ded­i­cat­ed to the apoc­a­lypse), but it hap­pened nev­er­the­less, this time not through a lens of nuclear war­fare or zom­bie plagues but via cli­mate change and the alarm­ing­ly fre­quent extinc­tion event mark­ers laid out through evo­lu­tion­ary exhibits. I also spent a good chunk of my vis­its in the Hall of Birds, then read­ing about evo­lu­tion­ary links between dinosaurs and their near­est sur­viv­ing ances­tors, as well as doing research on ear­ly muse­um dio­ra­ma artists like Carl Ake­ley. The series increas­ing­ly became about the idea of muse­ums them­selves as doc­u­ments of lost worlds and the strug­gle to doc­u­ment what one day may be our own.

 

A writer and book artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of sex & vio­lence (Black Lawrence Press, 2020) and sev­er­al oth­er col­lec­tions, chap­books, artist books, and zines. She lives in Chica­go, where she runs danc­ing girl press & studio. 

They Say It Makes the Heart Grow

Poetry / Abriana Jetté

 

:: They Say It Makes the Heart Grow ::

 
Where does desire come from? When my husband
and I come together at night, I swear, I crave nothing.
I am so content to spend hours inside trusting
what he wants to watch on the television, it’s boring.
Others call it happiness. This is marriage, the working
at being bored. Running out of milk and washing floors
and then doing that again. Once more. An occasional walk in
the park, but most of the time, the yearning for something more.

When he and I are together what is there to crave?
It’s when we part that I begin overheating, feel as if I
might stop breathing and don’t want to be saved.
We all have something strange that keeps us high.
I bet we couldn’t change our vices if we tried.
I want my husband most after we say goodbye. 



 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

What pleased me at the end of this poem was its con­nec­tion to Perse­phone. Even when I’m not try­ing, my poet­ry finds a way back to the Queen. Some­thing about her unset­tled nature excites me, or, it excites that voice writ­ing my poems. In my fab­ri­ca­tion, Perse­phone and Hades are rav­en­ous, pas­sion­ate, mad for one anoth­er when they are togeth­er, but when they are apart, well, when they are apart, they are hap­py. When I think about Perse­phone, I think a lot about the ten­sions between hap­pi­ness and desire. How­ev­er, I wasn’t think­ing about Perse­phone when I wrote this son­net. Its ori­gins are much, much more ordinary. 

One, two years ago, a late Mon­day morn­ing in late August, my hus­band takes his time going to work, so the usu­al Mon­day rou­tine is slowed down. I’m antsy to check my email. He wants me to stay in bed. Even­tu­al­ly, he gets up: brush­es his teeth, gets dressed, makes a cup of cof­fee for the road. We kiss good­bye. He shuts the door, lock­ing it, as is his habit. 

The room is silent and large and emp­ty, and I didn’t care what these emails are about any­way. He is gone, so I want him back. 

So I write about it. 

Equal parts ordi­nary and Perse­phone. That’s what accounts for this poem.


Born and raised in Brook­lyn, New York, Abri­ana Jet­té is the edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy series Stay Thirsty Poets, as well as a poet, essay­ist, and edu­ca­tor. Her work has appeared in Plume Poet­ry Jour­nal, The Moth, Riv­er Teeth, Seneca Review, and many oth­er places. Her research inter­ests include cre­ative writ­ing stud­ies and alter­na­tive ped­a­go­gies. She cur­rent­ly teach­es at Kean University. 

Stay Put

Poetry / Joshua Weiner

:: Stay Put ::

Row houses sharing walls 
mice moving like noises 
stirring between them 
getting ready to do something 
 
on the corner lot 
                               old crone 
sweet once 
                     a really fine girl (neighbors say) 
living right 
                     in the same spot 
her claim to the street 
going back longer 
stronger than any of us 
 
how many decades 
before she felt that 
voice 
               fire up 
for the first    
lick at kids 
just walking by 
 
witchy speech 
from a porch under her still 
paint chipping curling 
beneath gutters hanging off the roof-line 
disappearing faster 
than we were 
 
until she did 
intestate 
without heir 
 
subsequent squatters 
there for electricity 
running summer fans 
chased off by the ward rep 
 
at last sold off 
now reno hammers 
finish 
               what memory left 
 
dust clouds billow 
pushing time out the door 
an open mouth 
 
from the sidewalk 
                                   you hear axes 
killing drywall and crowbars 
for speed against wood 
 
old hurt piano 
alone out front 
for the first time 
                               feeling the sun 
penetrate to the spring steel 
waiting 
for the new blue 
dumpster 
 
I’m 54 
rounding the corner 
too heavy by a stone 
I think I’ll make it 
feet lifting like tiny 
hovercrafts 
                      scanning 
the treetops. 


 

(2)

The street is Cathe­dral Avenue, run­ning east-west in Wash­ing­ton, DC, and named after the Nation­al Cathe­dral that crowns the inter­sec­tion where the tar flows north and south along one of the capital’s main arter­ies. You can kind of see it from the side­walk out­side the house; well, no, you can’t, real­ly, but you know it’s there, and you know that its tow­ers and pin­na­cles are encased in scaffolding—part of the ongo­ing repair fol­low­ing an earth­quake in 2011 that loos­ened the stone angels and sent a 350-pound finial on a 20-sto­ry drop where it speared the ground (some­one some­how dug it out that very night and trucked it off, to do what with?). Maybe it’s the scaf­fold­ing on the front and back of the row house four doors up, erect­ed recent­ly by the crew hired to gut it for a com­plete re-do inside and out. Final­ly. After years of wait­ing in legal lim­bo cre­at­ed by a fraud­u­lent inher­i­tance claim, the dilap­i­dat­ed house, a house in despair, pur­chased in state auc­tion, is now get­ting flipped for a quick pen­ny. What’s brought you out­side, though, is the music, the crew blast­ing today’s pop from speak­ers plant­ed in the front foy­er and fenced-in back­yard. It is dri­ving you insane. A sense of mild des­per­a­tion push­es you to enter what is now a ful­ly oper­a­tional con­struc­tion site full of young steel-toed men attend­ing to a dozen dif­fer­ent tasks at once—knocking out walls, rip­ping out wires, pry­ing up floorboards—they’ll leave the treads and ris­ers on the stairs for the time being (the time being?)—intent on strip­ping the main inte­ri­or down to the studs and fram­ing. Walk­ing in, you feel the ener­gy of restora­tion, of light and space and the death of rooms. A son­net los­ing lines, drop­ping rhymes. Ghosts of dust are being released, mute mem­o­ries, lost and home­less, (though thanks to some parent’s fore­sight she nev­er was) of a child­hood, ado­les­cence, adult­hood, the long slide into demen­tia, the crowd­ing maze of dis­turbed thoughts and emo­tions unmoored from the objects of a life-sto­ry. And the Cathe­dral, when will those 40,000 pounds of stone return to their places on the tur­ret, the but­tress­es strength­ened and the transept façades, the slen­der pin­na­cles again make their points, ornate, goth­ic, ris­ing to their tapered dis­ap­pear­ance in the sky—I could be a grandfather!



 



From the writer

:: Account ::

The house on the cor­ner, aban­doned in death, sold in auc­tion, and get­ting gut­ted for a quick flip, was clear­ly a poem—I walked past it many times on any giv­en day and felt anten­na tingle—but where to begin: it was the lit­er­al site of a social and famil­ial and exis­ten­tial his­to­ry, but not mine, with a new future in its ren­o­va­tion, also not mine. Or rather, only a very small part of it was. It felt big enough to claim me, but I need­ed the house to some­how speak up. When a crew came in to haul away its belong­ings, I found the piano stand­ing on the side­walk, in the sun for the first time maybe ever in its life, proud and vul­ner­a­ble, a singer now silent; I had my object, the point and por­tal of an entry. Draft­ing fol­lowed quick­ly from there. Two years lat­er, I start­ed to write an “account” of the writ­ing of this poem for Tyler Mills; but what I end­ed up writ­ing instead turned out to be a sec­ond part to the poem, in prose. It also came quick­ly (maybe because I was in the mid­dle of teach­ing a sem­i­nar on the prose poem). Time and mode altered my per­cep­tion; I stood in a dif­fer­ent place now, and saw it all anew. It was a per­son­al felic­i­ty to go into the sub­ject again and find a per­spec­tive on so much I had left out; it rarely hap­pens that way after such a peri­od of time since last pen to paper. I feel the luck of the first cast and the return of the sec­ond, a small gift. (As a teacher, one is always learn­ing one’s own lessons …)

 

Joshua Wein­er is the author of three books of poet­ry, most recent­ly The Fig­ure of a Man Being Swal­lowed by a Fish (Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2013); he is also the edi­tor of At the Bar­ri­ers: On the Poet­ry of Thom Gunn (Chica­go, 2009). His Berlin Note­book, report­ing about the refugee cri­sis in Ger­many, was pub­lished by Los Ange­les Review of Books in 2016 as a dig­i­tal edi­tion and sup­port­ed with a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship. A chap­book, Trumpo­ems, is a free dig­i­tal edi­tion from Dis­patch­es from the Poet­ry Wars (2018). His trans­la­tion (with Lin­da B. Par­shall) of Nel­ly Sachs’ Flight & Meta­mor­pho­sis will be pub­lished by Far­rar, Straus and Giroux in 2021.

Two Poems

Poetry / Donna Vorreyer

 

:: Grief Questionnaire ::

 
          1.   How do you characterize your grief?
                     a.   an entire pan of brownies
                     b.   The Cure on shuffle
                     c.   the elongated drip of honey into tea
                     d.   blankets pulled up, no shower for days

          2.   Is your grief lapis or indigo?

          3.   With what tools do you access your grief?
                     a.   pick ax and shovel to split bedrock
                     b.   “Konstantine” on repeat in the car
                     c.   old photographs in a cardboard box
                     d.   tattoos of flowers and clocks and stars

          4.   Is your grief engorged or hollow?

          5.   What are the intentions of your grief?
                     a.   to make you cry in a Target aisle
                     b.   to question each minuscule decision
                     c.   to guilt you when you laugh or smile
                     d.   to comfort in a language you do not speak

          6.   Is your grief an arrow or a bow?

          7.   Your grief comes mostly:
                     a.   in the last car of a long freight train
                     b.   in mosquito bites on your elbows and knees
                     c.   in contrails drawn across the evening sky
                     d.   in costume dramas on a small screen

          8.   Is your grief hush or bellow?

          9.   Describe your grief in less than two hundred words. 

          10. Rate your grief on a scale from one shoe to a flock of birds.

 

:: Philosophy 101 ::

 
I look up to trace my father’s portrait 
in the stars, make it a constellation, bright 
enough to illuminate the dark corners 
of the path I walk too close to dusk 
with the sun sinking fast, make it smile 
on the forest in spring, its new green, 
its messy floor, ferns unfurling 
from nautilus to broad frond, slow 
opening like the sweet groping of hands 
on skin, one ear tuned to the creaking 
of a door, the rest of the body orchestral 
with nerves, flushed electric, close to but 
not quite the engulfing awe of an unspoiled 
landscape, large enough to hold every breath 
I’ve ever taken, like the exhausted exhalations 
of a nine-hour hike through the cloud line, 
forest, glaciers, a valley pure white, the trail 
erased by snow, at the end soaked and shivering 
but so alive and if Kant and Descartes 
had seen these things, I would never need 
to ask why I was here, why he was gone, 
I would cry O stars, O spring, 
O body, O mountain, my father’s 
face shining in every single part. 


 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

In the months fol­low­ing the deaths of both of my par­ents, I con­tin­ued to receive com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the hos­pice orga­ni­za­tion that had assist­ed us near the end of both of their lives. These ques­tion­naires and brochures, meant to be help­ful, were not. They attempt­ed to neat­ly shape grief into a series of steps or box­es to check off, offered plat­i­tudes and med­i­ta­tions, and often made me feel worse rather than bet­ter. They made me ques­tion whether my own unpre­dictable, pow­er­ful, and often sur­re­al expe­ri­ence of loss was “cor­rect” or “nor­mal.” I start­ed to write poems using the tools of ety­mol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, and even the famil­iar ques­tion­naire to cre­ate my own explo­rations of this com­plex jour­ney with lan­guage and ideas that felt more famil­iar, more pre­cise, more relat­ed to my own. In the realms of invent­ed nar­ra­tive, dis­con­nect­ed imagery, and stream of con­scious­ness, I found a sort of relief that seemed tai­lored to me. Every­one expe­ri­ences grief dif­fer­ent­ly, and these poems try to cap­ture a bit of the fluc­tu­at­ing nature of my own emotions. 

 

Don­na Vor­rey­er is the author of Every Love Sto­ry is an Apoc­a­lypse Sto­ry (2016) and A House of Many Win­dows (2013), both from Sun­dress Pub­li­ca­tions. Her poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in Rhi­no, Tin­der­box Poet­ry, Poet Lore, Sug­ar House Review, Waxwing, Whale Road Review, and many oth­er jour­nals. Her third full-length col­lec­tion is forth­com­ing from Sun­dress in 2020. 

talking to this socialist chick…

Poetry / Kanyinsola Olorunnisola

:: talking to this socialist chick at the lauryn hill rap party while wearing very real diamond studs & wondering for how long this drink will last till i turn the colour blue & start running my borrowed mouth into the gutter. dumb blunt guts & all dirty things crawling out of unacknowledged wounds. ::

 

bring on the apoc­a­lypse already. if the class war does not hap­pen, i’m riot­ing. i thought we brought our pitch­forks & knives to eat the rich. there are hun­gry black ghosts inside of me, loud & starvin’. why twit­ter cock­block­ing those of us who get bon­er at thought of chaos? just words words words no action. words words words & hot takes that no cut blade, no cut flesh, no call unto blood. make we cut the flesh of dem streets & make the bitu­men bleed out it black blood. we bleed­ing. i bleed­ing. yeah, i def­i­nite­ly agree. we should total­ly go pipeline protest. my import­ed Eng­lish no co-oper­at­ing today. no stand still. no play the immi­grant game. the good immi­grant game. we dying here. we bleed­ing. i bleed­ing. band-aid no save us. nice hair. i said nice hair. i said i like your hair. no, these dia­monds are fake, i am mock­ing the gaudy dis­play of excess wealth. thank you, my lin­guis­tic flu­en­cy decides when to come on. like a switch. it’s a cop­ing mech­a­nism. i doubt they will send me back alive. i am no for­tune teller, i just know some things for a fact. so, should we like…get a room or something?


 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

social­ist chick” is heav­i­ly inspired by the elec­tric poet­ries of Danez Smith and Hanif Abdur­raqib. It is my exper­i­ment at putting my black­ness before every­thing, even lan­guage. I want­ed to express the very real expe­ri­ence of non-native Eng­lish speak­ers, the way the lan­guage can some­times get out of hand, the way the lan­guage can be woven (even ungram­mat­i­cal­ly) to con­vey the mean­ing we want at that moment. The major motif run­ning through the poem is a pre­ten­tious dis­course around per­for­ma­tive socialism—a ter­ri­ble trend I have encoun­tered on social media late­ly. My poet per­sona, despite wear­ing real dia­monds, pre­tends to be one of the strug­gling mass­es to avoid lib­er­al ostracism. I want­ed the theme to flow seam­less­ly through a very casu­al par­ty conversation.

 


Kanyin­so­la Olorun­niso­la is an exper­i­men­tal poet, essay­ist, and writer of fic­tion. His works have appeared in Gertrude, Pop­u­la, Bode­ga, On the Sea­wall, Bom­bay Review, Kala­hari Review, Gyro­scope Review, Arts and Africa, African Writer, Brit­tle Paper, and else­where. He is the author of the chap­book, In My Coun­try, We’re All Cross­dressers (Prax­is, 2018). He was short­list­ed for the 2019 Kof­fi Addo Prize for Cre­ative Non-Fic­tion. He is the founder of Sprin­NG, a web-based lit­er­ary move­ment seek­ing to break the bar­ri­ers young cre­ators face in the writ­ing com­mu­ni­ty. He lives in Lagos, where he is hard at work on his nov­el man­u­script. Say hel­lo.

Three Poems

Poetry / Shara McCallum

:: Ae Fond Kiss ::

 
become Nancy
                                                            when thieved to Jamaica 
you made her 
                                                            Nancy immortal 
in your paean 
                                                            to love and parting 
from the start 
                                                            she must have 
seen the severing 
                                                            was inevitable 
must have known 
                                                            dark despair 
would always benight 
                                                            must have heard 
beneath your words 
                                                            what words 
in that place never 
                                                            could be coaxed 
to sing if ever 
                                                            you loved her 
what did your love 
                                                            for her mean 
what use 
                                                            to her your tears 
pledged sighs waged 
                                                            in vain 
in the end 
                                                            who paid 
best and dearest 
                                                            in the end 
I ask you 
                                                            for whom 
did fortune grieve



:: To a Mouse ::

 
She sutured your last breath.
For years, you feared the houghmanie pack
would snuff your scent, but at the river,
at the end, she was the breath grazing
your neck, the arms laying you down
into your watery grave. And you saw,
in a flash of final sight some are gifted,
the weight of the choice you’d made,
how your love had increased
her portion of cruelty. Then,
your silence was the silence
of regret. This is the debt, the only one
you could have paid, I wish tendered.
This is how I need to imagine your life
flickered out. But every time I resurrect
the scene of your death, my wanting
is not enough. I cannot halt the vision
dissolving. For ten years, you mourned
your unsung genius, your rotted ambition.
Ten years you tipped your ear away
from her, toward Scotland—distant music
you husbanded and whittled to song,
wagering everything on the past,
as if its recovery could compensate
the present. And I,
in a present you failed so utterly
to imagine, how if I take you in,
do I not retrod the broken path
of your life? How can I—must I—
claim you as kin and bear knowing
you glimpsed divinity
in the smallest of creatures, lit
the animal soul—and spoke
nothing of her suffering?



:: The Choice ::

 
who made my mind 
                                                            unfit 
for all I’m told 
                                                            is my soul’s 
true nature 
                                                            what half-mad half-fed 
idea be planted 
                                                            in my brain 
by what 
                                                            if any gods there be 
and how may I be
                                                            worthy 
of all required 
                                                            worthy of her 
and the memory 
                                                            of those still yoked 
how now could I 
                                                            be still still be 
without sound 
                                                            be ever-hushed 
when phantoms come 
                                                            ringing round 
when smoke 
                                                            is wreathing 
the fields the fields
                                                            still burning




From the writer

:: Account ::

The poems includ­ed in this issue are part of a forth­com­ing verse sequence, No Ruined Stone, that took root five years ago. In the win­ter of 2015, on my first vis­it to Scot­land, I learned a lit­tle-known sto­ry about the poet Robert Burns: late in the sum­mer of 1786, Burns had active­ly planned to emi­grate from Scot­land to Jamaica, to work as a book­keep­er on a slave plan­ta­tion on the island. “Book­keep­er” is a mis­nomer. The men who held the posi­tion were respon­si­ble for dai­ly over­see­ing and man­ag­ing the work per­formed by enslaved Africans. 

I car­ried that sto­ry about Burns around with me, like a sore or gap in the mouth one’s tongue keeps find­ing. At the time, I was liv­ing in Lon­don and often walk­ing the streets of that city, feel­ing the lay­ers of his­to­ry beneath my feet and all around me. I don’t remem­ber the exact date, but some­time in that spring of 2015, out one day and walk­ing, the ques­tion occurred: what would have hap­pened had he gone? This kind of ques­tion most often falls right­ly to nov­el­ists, belong­ing to their wheel­house. But being a poet, I nonethe­less felt com­pelled to ask poems to do the work of responding. 

 Inex­orably, this ques­tion led me only to more and returned me to some of my ear­li­est and ongo­ing obses­sions and vex­a­tions: with Roman­tic poet­ry and the his­to­ry of the 18th and 19th cen­turies, the Eng­light­en­ment, women’s rights, strug­gles to abol­ish slav­ery, mis­ce­gena­tion and pass­ing, absent fathers and moth­ers and coun­tries, men­tal ill­ness, and migra­tion and exile. What result­ed is a book-length sequence offer­ing a spec­u­la­tive account of the past, voiced pri­mar­i­ly by a fic­tive Burns, who migrates to Jamaica, and by one of his descen­dants, a grand­daugh­ter and white-pre­sent­ing black woman who migrates to Scot­land in the ear­ly 19th-cen­tu­ry. The sto­ry is not true nor auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, exact­ly. But it is tied to truths of my per­son­al and fam­i­ly nar­ra­tive as well as the foun­da­tion­al nar­ra­tive of Jamaica, a coun­try birthed by the tec­ton­ic meet­ing of the Amer­i­c­as, Africa, and Europe.



From Jamaica, Shara McCal­lum is the author of six books pub­lished in the US and UK, includ­ing the forth­com­ing verse sequence, No Ruined Stone, a spec­u­la­tive account of Scot­tish poet Robert Burns’ migra­tion to Jamaica to work on a slave plan­ta­tion. Her recent book, Mad­woman (Alice James Books, 2017), received the 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poet­ry and the 2018 Mot­ton Book Prize from the New Eng­land Poet­ry Club. McCal­lum is a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Penn State Uni­ver­si­ty and on the fac­ul­ty of the Pacif­ic Uni­ver­si­ty Low-Res­i­den­cy MFA Program. 

Room 360

Poetry / Thomas March

 

:: Room 360 ::

 
          Paris, IXe Arrondissement 
          L’Hôtel R de Paris 
          2017–

Again the late light of August—again 
Paris and this room, just as we left it, 
are new again. We could believe no one 
else has slept here since we last closed the door 
on this other life that is ours alone. 
We reenact our claims on the mattress— 
who gets to be closer to the bathroom 
and who feels the first breeze from the window. 
Cash commingles on the mantle—we share 
a closet again, combining our clothes 
as we used to. We wear our black and white 
tight t-shirts, jeans, and simple shoes—we are 
not here to make a show of being here, 
breaking out in wide American smiles. 
The first few days, we wear out the clichés— 
cafés, cathedrals, and couture; Montmartre 
to Montparnasse; Poissy to Père Lachaise. 
We widen our familiarity 
until what remains is just a city 
to rediscover as itself—knowing 
all cities have been ugly once—as we 
have not always been kind to each other. 
But we always find comfort in the warmth 
of Parisian formality, in streets 
made for shadows, just off the boulevards, 
and in bed, eating McDonald’s again 
before dawn, smelling of grease and Hermès. 
Tomorrow, walk me once more to the grave 
of Oscar Wilde, and we’ll pray for us all 
and the time to reclaim this life—again. 


 

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

I wrote the first ver­sion of “Room 360” in Feb­ru­ary 2019 as a sev­enth anniver­sary gift for my part­ner. He, an archi­tect, made a beau­ti­ful draw­ing for me. We were sav­ing our mon­ey to return to Paris in August. We would be stay­ing again at the hotel I had found the first time we vis­it­ed togeth­er, in August of 2017. It was a small hotel in the 9th Arrondisse­ment, halfway between the Palais Gar­nier and the Place de Clichy, recent­ly ren­o­vat­ed and ele­gant­ly designed, sleek­ly mod­ern but warm­ly inti­mate. We were there for only four days, in room 360, and we were very hap­py.  

At the time of that first stay in room 360, we were already liv­ing in sep­a­rate cities, after liv­ing togeth­er in New York City for years. Although we vis­it­ed each oth­er often and trav­eled togeth­er a few times a year, being in this room togeth­er felt like a return to cohabitation—only now in a place that was ours alone, shared with no one else in our lives, in a city that we could claim, how­ev­er briefly, as our home. It was a fleet­ing sense of renewed, shared domes­tic­i­ty that deep­ened over sub­se­quent, longer stays.  

We returned to room 360 in August 2018, this time for a week. We walked between 15 and 20 miles a day, let­ting our curios­i­ty and hap­pen­stance guide us on jour­neys that were more like explorato­ry dérives than the errands of tourists. Toward the end of that trip, we vis­it­ed the tomb of Oscar Wilde, where I deliv­ered a note­book full of mes­sages of homage and grat­i­tude writ­ten by friends. As the ceme­tery was clos­ing, we snuck back to the tomb, weav­ing among the mau­soleums to avoid the secu­ri­ty guard who was loud­ly demand­ing the depar­ture of all vis­i­tors. There were no tourists there this time, and in the pri­va­cy of that sacred place, I asked him to mar­ry me. He accept­ed.  

By the time of our most recent return to room 360, this time for ten days, I had already writ­ten this poem. I made an edit to the end of the poem, where I men­tion return­ing to Wilde’s grave, replac­ing the word “again” with the phrase “once more”—leaving open the pos­si­bil­i­ty of yet anoth­er return togeth­er, but aware that this might be our last. On this vis­it to the tomb, to com­mem­o­rate our engage­ment, the only notes I left were my own, express­ing grat­i­tude and pray­ing for guid­ance and inter­ces­sion, as I imag­ine one would pray to a saint. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Oscar Wilde is not the appro­pri­ate saint to peti­tion for sen­si­ble rela­tion­ship repair.  

And that was to be the last time we vis­it­ed room 360 togeth­er. It can be dif­fi­cult, when a thing ends, to under­stand how it was ever real—and one can waver between extremes of aston­ished dis­il­lu­sion­ment and a vis­cer­al urge to believe. When I return to room 360 this year, it will be part pil­grim­age and part recla­ma­tion. Maybe he will return one day, too. It is still a place where some­thing impor­tant was—something inim­itable and only ours. What­ev­er else may be—or come to be—true, I can remem­ber him, smil­ing over his shoul­der as he leaned out of the tall open win­dow as soon as we arrived, and I can believe that his joy there was real—and that mine was too. 

 

Thomas March is a poet, per­former, and essay­ist based in New York City. His col­lec­tion After­math (2018) was select­ed by Joan Larkin for The Word Works Hilary Tham Cap­i­tal Col­lec­tion. His poet­ry has appeared in Belle­vue Lit­er­ary Review, The Good Men Project, OUT, and Pleiades, among oth­ers. His reviews and essays have appeared in The Believ­er, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, and New Let­ters. With painter Valerie Mendel­son, he is the co-cre­ator of A Good Mix­er, a tex­tu­al-visu­al hybrid project based on a 1933 bartender’s guide of the same name. He is also the host and cura­tor of “Poetry/Cabaret,” a bimonth­ly “vari­ety salon” at The Green Room 42 in New York City that brings togeth­er poets, singers, and come­di­ans in response to a com­mon theme.www.thomasmarch.org @realthomasmarch