Two Poems

Poetry / Jennifer Richter

:: Trending: Seismologist Explains How to Make an Earthquake Early Warning System With Cats ::

Lately I have more cats in my Cloud than kids 
in real life two kids no cats but now no kids at 
home so cats are how we stay in touch if their 
phones ring they huff mom why’re you calling 
but when I text my son a tabby in a taco bowtie 
he texts right back maybe a chonky ginger and 
I know he’s okay that’s a thumbs up for today 
since the kids left I’ve been using cats to predict 
disaster as the seismologist says it’s tricky you’d 
think cats parkouring through kitchens crashing 
trashing everything would mean it’s all falling 
apart you’d think a cat reeling with cheese stuck 
to its face might be a cry for help but when he 
sends those I know my son’s actually laughing 
that day my daughter had a fever and a French 
final I texted you’re the best with a moustached 
munchkin she sent back a show-posed golden 
Persian someone had captioned yo for real this 
cat looks like the grandfather of a croissant how 
is it only 16th best ha I thought okay she’s okay 
when they don’t respond I’m suddenly back 
in a too quiet house with toddlers I worry if 
one sends the same meme two days in a row 
what’s so distracting I worry getting bursts of 
Norwegian forest cats in the snow from my son 
it’s tricky you’d think all those dreamy scenes 
might mean he’d found a little peace this week 
but the last winter he lived at home it vanished 
the neighbor’s cat with ears like that slept only 
on our deck only ever let my son get close then 
one day left no warning just didn’t come back 
that winter my friend left too you never know 
seismologists agree meanwhile we chase hints 
of what and when like red laser dots we won’t 
ever pin down a guy online actually analyzed 
a thousand cookie fortunes found very few use 
predictive language mostly they offer random 
observations about you like my daughter when 
I visit her wow mom at my outfit means either 
the heart-eyed cat emoji or the crying one now 
my son texts kittens spilled from a takeout box 
rice like snow on their noses my friend’s hands 
on my body used to shake with jolts that rose 
he said from deep beneath his feet okay you’ll 
be okay he said anyone can heal anyone then 
pointed to a shadowed corner sighing oh look 
at all their wings so I squinted like I do at my 
phone now at one of the sticky snarling kittens 
chewing a fortune you are surrounded by angels 
it says wow mom they’d say if my kids saw me 
always staring at my dark screen like that corner 
look I’d say I’m okay every day you light it up




:: Message in a Bottle: Dear Future ::

Stunned to still be here 
after emergency brain 
surgery my friend kept 
weeping kept palming 
her chest to feel the rise 
of her actual breath oh 
future maybe by now 
your earth is fissured 
as a cortex maybe your 
west coast has become 
a sedated brain wiped 
clean by waves oh dear 
future if like my friend 
you wake in a shaken 
state may you recover 
like her surrounded by 
beloveds repeating the 
word fine and experts 
nodding at the word 
stable may it be still 
too soon to say what’s 
been irretrievably lost 
may your memories 
resurface like hers 
just the sunny ones 
floating back so far 
dear future how are 
you I seriously think 
about you all the time




From the writer


:: Account ::

In the win­dow­less depths of the Cal­tech Archives, I read this ques­tion in hand­writ­ten fan mail to Charles F. Richter, inven­tor of the earth­quake mag­ni­tude scale, and knew I’d found the spark of my next col­lec­tion: “I was won­der­ing how you feel about your name being asso­ci­at­ed with a disaster.”

I grew up in the flood-prone, tor­na­do-swept, wind-chilled Mid­west; it wasn’t until I moved to the Pacif­ic North­west twen­ty years ago that I began hear­ing the term “Richter scale” thread­ed through pub­lic broad­casts and pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with increas­ing fre­quen­cy and urgency. These two poems come from that new man­u­script, The Real­ly Big One, which has become a con­sid­er­a­tion of the ways we—as indi­vid­u­als, as fam­i­lies, as communities—cycle through peri­ods of shat­ter­ing and heal­ing. In both of these poems, the lan­guage and imagery of seis­mol­o­gy helped me approach the entwined sub­jects of fam­i­ly, fear, and the future; at the heart of each poem is the beau­ti­ful and brave leap of faith we take each day, trust­ing that every­thing will be okay.


Jen­nifer Richter’s first col­lec­tion, Thresh­old (2010), was cho­sen by Natasha Trethewey as a win­ner in the Crab Orchard Series in Poet­ry; her sec­ond col­lec­tion, No Acute Dis­tress (2016), was a Crab Orchard Series Editor’s Selec­tion, and both books were named Ore­gon Book Award Final­ists. Her new work has been fea­tured in ZYZZYVA, The Los Ange­les Review, The Mis­souri Review, and The Mass­a­chu­setts Review. Richter teach­es in Ore­gon State University’s MFA pro­gram.

Two Poems

Poetry / Susan Rich

:: Salt Crystals in Cape Town ::

Always it was the men involved in such minutia— 
which prayer to recite first: table salt or kosher, 
while the women chopped carrots for the cholent, 
added tomato paste and kidney beans that would begin 
to simmer and flake before sundown— 
indestructible slop dating back to the second temple. 
In Cape Town I met my only orthodox boyfriend  
whose lovemaking leaned towards devout. Please your woman  
in bed on the Sabbath, the Torah reads—my favorite  
part of the teaching—a religious obligation to pleasure  
the woman solely for pleasure’s sake, Exodus 21:10. 
Regularly, if he is a husband of means, or once a month 
for camel drivers and long-haul truckers. We made love 
under orange scented trees and above mountain tops. 
We salted our lips with each other’s sweat, and still 
he hid his grapes fermenting in their improvised machine.  
The dozen wine bottles uncorked and sequestered 
in the hall closet among suit jackets and ties  
because I wrote on Saturdays, flicked light switches, 
loved shrimp. My body would remake his wine  
into something impure. So many rituals, so little time— 
prayers for a healthy shit, another one for the car keys before 
they magically reappear. When my mother died, we covered  
the mirrors, thought to tear our clothes. No easy listening,  
no rock & roll, no show tunes for a year he ordered. 
But listening to the Red Sox on the radio? Allowed.  
I wonder if God cares for team sports or salt crystals—if  
a woman’s pleasure in the Scriptures is a directive slipped  
in from some lost holy book? Is there a verse there for fair  
wages? Equitable lives? When the orthodox scholar left 
me he said he said he wanted to make love to everyone 
else. His own kabbalistic interpretation of tikkun olam. 
He assured me it was kosher because Jewish women  
aren’t allowed to create law. Is there a prayer to tell  
ex-lovers to fuck off? A prayer to regain belief  
in orange groves—for transforming what we are told? 




:: Kerchiefs of Yellow Linen ::

     During World War II, 91–95% of Lithuania’s Jewish population were killed—  
     the highest casualty rate of Jews in any nation in the Holocaust.
Somewhere in Lithuania, my grandmother’s  
sisters, parents, cousins, aunties, in-laws, and everyone else  
die during the Holocaust and before that, in pogroms. 
I wonder if the women tracked the soldiers’ path 
from the hills, watched them with binoculars as they 
frog-marched through fields of pomegranate and rye. 
Did the women foretell danger, the cold wave  
cresting on the edge of their skin, their skin 
intuiting door to door searches, ditches, death? 
Scientists say our bodies remember  
trauma like footsteps from one generation 
into another. The pathogen of the physical  
fear planted in infancy 
that festers and expands—not like wild mint 
but more like a grove of stinging nettles  
that surrounds my sleep. The house 
where I grew up—I’m there alone and then 
—you’d think they were delivering flowers  
the hard knock, followed by the doorbell,  
such politeness—until the door breaks open— 
and I exile myself from myself— 
watch as the militia takes over, helmets  
to boots readied for an ever-present war.  
Recently, the scenario reconfigured 
with tech execs and hedge fund  
entrepreneurs with slick hair.  
The men drone on: foreclosures and stock ops.                               
Do they occupy my body, my land?  
I wake on high alert 
bathed in the breath of terror, 
a haunting that thrives across  
continents, and further. 
What happened to my women— 
the Jews of Lithuania— 
raped, taken, tossed  
into the deep unknowing  
until perhaps now— 
when maybe if I learn to listen, they’ll speak. 




From the writer

:: Account ::

For many years I avoid­ed writ­ing about fam­i­ly— not because it seemed too dif­fi­cult, but because it seemed too ordi­nary to me. I grew up at the far edge of the post-Holo­caust gen­er­a­tion with rel­a­tives who had hid­den in garbage cans to sur­vive and escaped rape by being ban­daged to pass as lep­ers. The old-coun­try sto­ries always end­ed with the same piece of implied advice: Don’t trust any­one that isn’t Jew­ish. I reject­ed this whole­heart­ed­ly and spent sev­er­al years in Niger, West Africa, per­haps the only Jew­ish per­son in the coun­try. (At least I nev­er met anoth­er.) There­fore, it was a strange sur­prise to me when, a cou­ple of years ago, I wrote a poem where my Jew­ish­ness took front and cen­ter. Since then, more poems of oth­er­ness, pogroms, Holo­caust sur­vivors, and racism have appeared. My per­spec­tive, I believe, is more irrev­er­ent and sur­re­al than what one thinks of when they think of Jew­ish poet­ry, if they think of it at all. These poems are irrev­er­ent, sur­re­al, and most def­i­nite­ly in the lin­eage of Jew­ish writ­ing. There is no one way to be Jew­ish just as there is no one way to be a poet. 


Susan Rich is an award win­ning poet, edi­tor and essay­ist. She is the author of four poet­ry col­lec­tions, includ­ing, most recent­ly, Cloud Phar­ma­cy (White Pine Press, 2014) and The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press, 2010), and co-edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy The Strangest of The­atres, pub­lished by the Poet­ry Foun­da­tion. Rich has received awards from PEN USA and the Ful­bright Foun­da­tion. Recent poems have appeared in the Har­vard Review, New Eng­land Review, Poet­ry Ire­land, and World Lit­er­a­ture Today. Her 5th col­lec­tion, Gallery of Post­cards and Maps: New and Col­lect­ed Poems is forth­com­ing from Salmon Poet­ry, Ire­land, in 2022; Blue Atlas is forth­com­ing from Red Hen Press, 2024. Susan is on fac­ul­ty at High­line Col­lege out­side of Seat­tle, WA

Two Poems

Poetry / Suphil Lee Park

:: Present Tense Complex ::

Not I love you 
but the cuckoo 
clock moves me 
to tears. Poor 
Have seconds, fast 
I will 
seconds to fast. 
Spare us a second. 
Light at gunpoint. 
Whose lung 
brims with bullets 
ruts snowed- 
in, mind tucked in 
skin. What will 
heal, what not. 
There’s no sobbing in this world 
there’s no sobbing 
          in this world 
          there’s No 
sobbing in this world. 



Poetry / Suphil Lee Park

:: Route, Root ::

Volcanic winter, the cold 
is in color, sheltered. 
The canon balls in place 
of your eye balls 
I’m sure are the dead 
ends of your brain—god, 
should I drop my torch.




From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve always found it hard to agree with many who like to say the most impor­tant qual­i­ties of a poem are essen­tial­ly son­ic. I believe I feel this way because I’m Kore­an AND a bilin­gual writer. I have that hard-head­ed bias as a native read­er and writer of the Kore­an lan­guage that has evolved from cen­turies of such com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry; unlike the Japan­ese who have ful­ly inte­grat­ed Chi­nese char­ac­ters into their own lan­guage, we invent­ed our own unique alpha­bet while still car­ry­ing over most of the words that con­sist of Chi­nese char­ac­ters from the last cen­tu­ry. For exam­ple, the sun in Kore­an is 해. Oth­er words in Kore­an, such as “year” and “harm,” even some phras­es like “will do,” “do this,” “should I do this?” spell and sound exact­ly the same (except some sub­tle dif­fer­ences in into­na­tion when it’s used as a phrase); the mean­ing of the word, there­fore, depends entire­ly on the con­text. But we also have anoth­er word for the sun in Kore­an, 태양, which con­sists of Chi­nese char­ac­ters “​太” (big) and “陽​” (yang); and each of these Chi­nese char­ac­ters also has mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions. While 해 is an exact equiv­a­lent for 태양 when it means the sun, a skill­ful Kore­an read­er will be first sprint­ing through a web of lin­guis­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties and con­no­ta­tions at their  recog­ni­tion of this sim­ple word. In oth­er words, I was born into a lan­guage that neces­si­tates lis­ten­ing not to the words them­selves but for the his­to­ry and poten­tial of each word and how words come togeth­er to form a wild­ly com­plex rela­tion­ship. So my obses­sion with words lies not in how they sound (the son­ic ele­ments are notes and beats that pro­vide pre­req­ui­site back­ground music) but in the chem­istry they spark up on the page. 

This lin­guis­tic incli­na­tion of mine matured into an impor­tant aes­thet­ic lat­er when I start­ed writ­ing in Eng­lish. At first, my very Kore­an brain approached the Eng­lish lan­guage pri­mar­i­ly as text, not as sound that I often had a hard time mak­ing out. While spo­ken Eng­lish was slip­pery and hard to grasp at the time, the lan­guage on the page felt to me some­thing like clay, espe­cial­ly in poetry—malleable, volatile, and tac­tile, as the words put and close the dis­tance that we call lines between them. Depend­ing on that dis­tance, they could become entire­ly dis­parate things, con­tained in the exact same word. In that sense, writ­ing in this lan­guage has been like paint­ing to me. A sim­ple jux­ta­po­si­tion can bring out an unex­pect­ed hue in a sim­ple red; some shapes, you can only dis­cern in hind­sight, at a dis­tance. A poached “egg” dif­fers dras­ti­cal­ly from a woman’s “egg.” I’ve always loved the idea of every word as an attempt and fail­ure to con­tain the uncon­tain­able, and how that only expands the hori­zon of each poem, with every word, even a rudi­men­ta­ry one like “egg,” adding lay­ers and nuances when put in a dif­fer­ent con­text, and depend­ing on which line it’s placed in. In that sense, I almost feel every poem is to be a brief jour­ney for its words to align them­selves. This is why many of my poems make use of antana­cla­sis and explore the con­tex­tu­al and tex­tu­al rela­tion­ship of words.


Suphil Lee Park (수필 리 박 / 秀筆 李 朴) is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion, Present Tense Com­plex, win­ner of the Marysti­na Santi­este­van Prize (Con­duit Books & Ephemera 2021) and has recent­ly won the 2021 Indi­ana Review Fic­tion Prize. Born and raised in South Korea before find­ing home in the States, she holds a BA in Eng­lish from NYU and an MFA in Poet­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin. You can find more about her at:

Eye to Eye

Poetry / Carol Moldaw

:: Eye to Eye ::

When I see my mom and H__ stare into each other’s eyes, inch­es away from each oth­er, my moth­er on her sag­gy flo­ral coach, H__ bend­ing to her lev­el, lean­ing in, with her obsid­i­an eyes and limpid smile, the deep­ness and unbro­ken length of their gaze stuns me. Had my moth­er ever held her wild­flower blue eyes that steady for any­one, for that long? In old pho­tos, she looks straight into the cam­era, shin­ing, intent—until the flash pops. With us, her regard was tran­si­to­ry, less than a gaze but more than a glance. H, one hand on the couch’s arm, close to my mother’s rest­ing arm but not touch­ing it, is firm and insis­tent as she cajoles and appeals to my mother’s bet­ter nature. And no mat­ter how unin­ter­est­ed or stub­born­ly oppo­si­tion­al my moth­er is, H, in this way, man­ages to per­suade her time after time to do what she wants her to. To rise from the lily-print­ed couch, to eat, go to the bath­room, change from one fleece or print­ed poly­blend zip-up caf­tan to anoth­er, fresh­er one. I arrange not to be there to wit­ness the get­ting out of bed, the teeth clean­ing, the bathing, the trans­ac­tions from one room, one chair, to anoth­er. For the moment, H__, the firm but lov­ing moth­er my moth­er nev­er had, has her entranced.



From the writer

:: Account ::

In describ­ing aspects of the rela­tion­ship between my moth­er and H__, her caregiver–H__’s patience and lov­ing kind­ness, my mother’s unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly pli­ant response to it–I want­ed to con­vey how deeply the rela­tion­ship reach­es into my mother’s psy­che, how heal­ing it appears to be for her. Of course, I can’t–and the poem doesn’t–presume to know what place, if any, in H__’s psy­che the rela­tion­ship has; the poem can only char­ac­ter­ize the way she treats my moth­er. Prose, straight­for­ward and obser­va­tion­al, seemed to bet­ter con­vey the cadence of their inter­ac­tion and my own role, as a bystander. Only in describ­ing each set of eyes did I feel the neces­si­ty to use imagery. 


Car­ol Moldaw is the author of Beau­ty Refract­ed (Four Way Books, 2018) as well as well as five oth­er books of poet­ry, includ­ing The Light­ning Field, which won the FIELD Poet­ry Prize (Ober­lin Col­lege Press, 2002) and a nov­el, The Widen­ing (Etr­uscan Press, 2008). Her work has been pub­lished wide­ly in jour­nals, includ­ing The New York Review of Books, Poem-A-Day, AGNI, Den­ver Quar­ter­ly, FIELD, Har­vard Review, The New York­er, The Yale Review, Plume and On the Sea­wall, which also pub­lished Tyler Mills’s inter­view with her in 2020. She lives in San­ta Fe, NM.

Manufacturing Resilience In Tifton, GA

Poetry / Drew Krewer

:: Manufacturing Resilience In Tifton, GA ::

When we talk about dog 
years, we are discussing trajectories 
of death. Instead, let’s discuss 
a lawnmower that doesn’t shear 
but recreates wildlife in its wake. 
Mow down the world in an elaborate frenzy 
against the extinction 
of grass. Buried treasure crazed 
the neighborhood, taught children 
the art of extraction, of taking profit 
from the earth. Sometimes, I find myself 
inside empty supermarkets, with no aisles. 
I am small, sissy, pre-industrial; convenience 
has abandoned me––the tabloids, the candy— 
all of it, not here, not necessary. 
Everything echoing the emptiness 
of the year––the stroke of an impressionist 
leaving me with a suggestion 
of a face and conversations with decorative 
whispers. The portrait––don't remember me this way. 
Remember me as pixels, as wildflowers, 
as chihuahua. What is your earliest 
memory of a natural disaster? 
Was it close or far away? 
While the water is still here and clear, 
I want to wade through and dissolve 
like a vivid watercolor. Tell the dwarfed, 
frightened fish that the diatom has arrived, 
that it is durable and can handle 
this region of pain. We can only 
dive so many times to the beginning, 
where we correct the heart from hateful thresholds 
and not every tree takes in the same amount of light.




From the writer

:: Account ::

This poem comes from a fin­ished man­u­script I start­ed writ­ing in ear­ly 2015 just before elec­tion sea­son kicked into full force. As our coun­try unfold­ed in both star­tling and per­haps expect­ed ways, I found myself unable to iden­ti­fy and char­ac­ter­ize what I was feel­ing in my mind and body; how­ev­er, I knew I want­ed to find a way to access and explore these laten­cies. On Insta­gram, I found myself fol­low­ing sev­er­al dig­i­tal artists, and I real­ized the art was so com­pelling to me because it was pro­vid­ing an avenue to access what my body was try­ing to tell me. Soon there­after, I cre­at­ed a sec­ondary Insta­gram account, curat­ing a list of 100 dig­i­tal artists that some­how felt aligned with my vision. Explor­ing and cycling through mas­sive amounts of imagery from these accounts (over the course of four years) is what ulti­mate­ly cre­at­ed the fab­ric of these poems.


Drew Krew­er is author of the chap­book Ars Warholi­ca (Spork Press, 2010). His work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Trou­bling the Line: Trans and Gen­derqueer Poet­ry and Poet­ics, Dia­gram, LIT, and Dream Pop, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in Poet­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona and lives in the desert. 

Three Poems

Poetry / David Kirby


:: Stanza ::

It means room in Italian, but room itself  
means both enclosed area and open space,  
means confinement and as well as freedom.  
Let the poem say what it will, and let it go  
silent and speak again when it decides to.  
Let its words live under pressure: “in the very  
essence of poetry there is something indecent,” 
says Milosz, for “a thing is brought forth  
which we didn’t know we had in us,”  
and we jump back “as if a tiger had sprung  
out / and stood in the light, lashing his tail.”  
Poets, listen to your poem! It will tell you  
what sort of stanzas it wants to be whittled into:  
long, short, regular, random, or one alone,  
a stanza like a waterfall toward which  
the reader floats unknowing. First there is  
the river, tree-lined and tranquil, then  
the boulders that churn the water and whiten  
it with rage, then the precipice itself,  
and after that, the long flight through a mist  
that hides a future of which you know nothing,  
not a thing, only that it’s waiting for you,  
and you land in the still waters of the pool  
and sink to the bottom, and your feet touch  
everything that came before: ancient cities,  
shipwrecks, the armies of the dead. You rise,  
and the world is more silent than it will  
ever be again, and suddenly there’s sunlight 
and birdsong, and now you know everything.

:: I Should Have It to You by Noon ::

I’d like to write a love poem for you but I’m not sure you’d believe me seeing as how man is 
              ice to truth and fire to falsehood, according to Jean de La Fontaine, though where I come 
              from, we say that a lie can go around the world twice before the truth gets its socks on.  
Why? Because the more gaps and fissures in your poem or song or story or press release or 
              conspiracy theory or good or bad dream or academic or personal essay, the more room 
              for your audience to let their imaginations slither in.  
And who’d know that better than Jean de La Fontaine, as the most celebrated of his fables, “The 
              Grasshopper and the Ant,” can be read in two completely different ways?  
The first has the improvident grasshopper playing his fiddle and dancing while the industrious 
              ant piles up food for the coming winter. When winter arrives, the starving grasshopper 
              begs the ant for something to eat. But the ant says no, and in this way are we told that we 
              should plan for hard times. 
However there’s another reading in which the grasshopper is a merry fellow filling the air with 
              music and joy and the ant is a cruel old meanie unable to feel the least bit of compassion 
              for his fellow insect. 
“We laymen have always been intensely curious to know… from what sources that strange 
              creature, the creative writer, draws his material,” says Freud, “and how he manages to 
              make such an impression on us with it and to arouse in us emotions of which, perhaps, 
              we had not even thought ourselves capable.” 
Jean de La Fontaine answered Freud’s question two hundred years before Freud asked it. If 
              you’re that strange creature the creative writer, you do it this way: you set up a situation 
              and let it play out and refrain from commenting on it, because that’s the beholder’s job. 
              In the eye of the beholder, every entendre is double. 

This is why pornography will never be art. Erica Jong said that when you watch a porno, for the first 
              twenty minutes, you want to go home and have sex, and after that, you never want to 
              have sex again.  
John Waters says watching porn is like watching open-heart surgery. 

Sam Phillips, who recorded Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash at Sun Records studio in 
              Memphis, had a knack for steering his artists back to the growls and mumbles that not 
              only made them seem more neighborly to their blue collar audience but also allowed 
              listeners to enter into the music’s sense of playfulness.  
All those guys wanted to do was get away from farming and truck driving and become regional 
              stars who could play in small-town movie houses and high school gyms in the south, but 
              Phillips insisted they stay in touch with the parts of themselves that didn’t take so well to 
              upward mobility. 
When Carl Perkins of “Blue Suede Shoes” fame complained that a particular recording session 
              had been “one big original mistake,” Sam Phillips replied, “That’s what Sun Records is.” 
An interviewer asked Jerry Garcia why the Grateful Dead was so popular since the individual 
              band members never started or ended a song at the same time or played in the same key 
              and often forgot the lyrics, and Garcia said, “Well, you can’t please everybody all the 
I should have that poem to you by three p.m. 

I do know two things about writing a love poem or any poem, for that matter. The first is that 
              you can’t try too hard, and the second is don’t fake it. 
Tom Waits says, “Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them.” 
Alastair Reid once said that he read a master’s thesis someone had written on his poems, and the 
              thesis said that most of Reid’s poems were about rain. What a terrible epiphany! If you 
              know most of your poems are about one thing,  you might be tempted to make them 
              about something else, and think of all the awful poems that would ensue. 
A poet friend of mine who lives in another country wrote that “I am still baffled by America. . . . 
              I cannot understand why there is such a love affair in the country with a joyless 
              obfuscatory poetry that wears out its welcome, for most of us, ultra-rapidly.” 
If you like to write about rain and you’re good at it, write about rain. 
Something else about trying too hard is that you might be successful, and then where would you 
              be? When Erik Satie was asked about the fact that Ravel had turned down the Legion of 
              Honor, he said: “It’s not enough to have refused the Legion d’Honneur. The important 
              thing is not to have deserved it in the first place.” 
As far as faking it goes, you’ll just look silly. In Thomas E. Ricks’ novel Fiasco, a colonel 
              compiling a report is described as “pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck.” 

Let me tell you about this poem I’m writing for you.  
It’s going to be terrific. It’ll be like a Cole Porter musical. It’ll be like the sack of Rome. It’ll be a 
              regular deluge of a poem: there’ll be music, costumes, angels, scenery, food, vivacity, 
              and weekend charades. 
It’ll be chockful of the finest images available to any poet anywhere. Every image in it will be as 
              fabulous as the one in Le Chien Andalou where the lover is advancing on the pretty girl 
              who’s ready to swat him with a tennis racket but drops it and just stares at him in 
              amazement when, out of nowhere, he shoulders two ropes and starts dragging two priests 
              across the floor, and the two priests are tied to two pianos, and on the two pianos are two 
              dead horses.  
Religion, art, lust, beastliness: the whole movie’s in that one image, including the lover’s 
              inability to do what he came there to do in the first place, which is to woo the pretty girl. 
You know, I’m going to feel pretty stupid if I put a lot of time and energy into this poem I’m 
              writing for you only to have you say, “David who?” 

As if! Of course you love me. You adore me, in fact. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that 
              you’re writing a poem for me yourself at this very moment, even though you don’t know 
              how to do it any more than I do. 
Let’s try this. Let’s forget that we don’t know what we’re doing. Who does?  
Dante didn’t. Dante has spent a sleepless night making his way through the dark forest and is 
              exhausted before his poem even begins.  
So he turns back when he encounters three snarling beasts, but Virgil tells him he has to go 
              through the fiery center of the earth and contend with minotaurs and flesh-eating harpies 
              and ice giants and Satan himself before he comes out on the other side and finds Beatrice, 
              if he’s lucky.  
Dante is still exhausted and now he’s terrified as well, but off he goes. 
Forget the poem. Give me your hand. Take just one step with me, then one more. Let’s be like 
              Dante. Let’s do it. Let’s do it scared. 

:: Low-Effort Thinking ::

Did you know that when mob bosses want somebody killed, they get the one of the victim’s
              friends to do it?  
That way, if you go to your friend’s house to kill him and are seen entering by a nosy neighbor  
              or if, after the deed’s done, investigators find your fingerprint or a strand of hair, it can be 
              explained away.  
“I was just dropping off some cannoli,” you could say. “He looked okay to me. Said he had to  
              get his taxes in and find a math tutor for his kid, but otherwise, fine. Is there a problem, 
This is what’s called high-effort thinking.  
The opposite of high-effort thinking is low-effort thinking, which leads to political conservatism 
              according to the scientists who tested that hypothesis by conducting two experiments, one 
              boring and one not. 
The boring experiment consisted of assigning one group of volunteers to react to items on a list 
              of liberal and conservative statements such as “Large fortunes should be taxed heavily” 
              and “A first consideration of any society is property rights.” 
Meanwhile, a second group was given the same task but instructed to listen simultaneously to a 
              tape of tones varying in pitch and to count and record the number of tones that preceded 
              each change.  
Ha, ha! I’d go batshit, too, wouldn’t you, reader?  
Or at least I’d make conservative choices, as everyone in the second group did. 

Popcorn movies as well as most bumper stickers and t-shirts tell us that decisive action by one 
              person saves the day, but in reality, usually that gets you jack diddley. 
No, no. False starts, trial and error, teamwork: human progress is built on these.  
And patience. Wittgenstein said, “Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination 
              lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, and only when 
              everything is in place does the door open.” 

Case in point: it’s 1967, and Albert King is in the Stax studio, and the recording session for his 
              next album is almost done. Thing is, they need one more song.  
Now William Bell is in the studio as well, and Mr. Bell has a verse, a chorus, and the bass line to 
              a new song worked out, and when he tries them out on Albert King, the bluesman likes 
              what he hears and asks for the rest.  
Well, there is no rest. So Mr. Bell goes off with Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and  
              they stay up all night and finish the song, which they call “Born Under a Bad Sign.” 
The next day, everybody comes back to the studio, and here’s where the story gets good.  
“Albert King couldn’t read,” Mr. Bell says in the course of an interview about the incident. 
“You mean he couldn’t read music?” says the interviewer. “A lot of musicians can’t read music 
              —Paul McCartney can’t read music.”  
“No, I mean he couldn’t read!” says Mr. Bell. “Couldn’t read English. Couldn’t read words. So I 
              stood next to him in the studio and whispered each line to him, and he sang it.”  
Amazing, huh? Or maybe not.  
If you’re a musician, especially a successful one, almost certainly not. 
Good musicians always take their time, and the best musicians listen to others.  
As they learned their craft, the Beatles played a stint at a Hamburg club called the Indra which 
              was managed by Bruno Koschmider, described by Beatles’ biographer Bob Spitz as “a 
              florid-faced man with a preposterous wig-like mop of hair.”  
Koschmider would yell “Mach schau!” (“Put on a show!”) during the boys’ lackluster 
At first the four musicians laughed and staggered around, knocking over mikes as they made fun 
              of the silly German man. But when the audiences went crazy, the boys saw the value of
              “putting on a show” and became the band that changed the world. 

And now for the fun experiment.  
Mixed-sex groups of experimenters waited outside a bar and asked potential participants if they 
              would complete a short survey on social attitudes and then consent to being tested for 
              blood alcohol levels. 
Ha, ha again! Can you imagine how much fun it was for the psychology students to accost a 
              bunch of drunkos and ask them to agree or not with statements like “Production and trade 
              should be free of government interference” and “Ultimately, privately property should be 
The drunkos didn’t care; they were drunk. 
The drunkest among them registered more conservative attitudes because alcohol limits 
              cognitive capacity and disrupts controlled responding while leaving automatic thinking 
              largely intact.  

By the way, if you’re wondering if conservatives are all dumb-asses, the answer is “Not quite.”  
That’s from principal investigator Scott Eidelman, who devised both the boring experiment and  
              the fun one.  
“Our research shows that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism,” says Dr. 
              Eidelman, “not that political conservatives use low-effort thinking.” 
Those undergraduates must have had so much fun interviewing those drunkos. 
“Excuse me, drunko, would you agree that rich people have the right to shove as much money up 
              their backsides as they like?”  
“Huh? Oh, yeah, and guns and cocaine and—BLOOOOORCH! Excuse me. Say, who are you anyways?”  
Oh, Jesus. I better not laugh again or I might not be able to stop. 

From the writer


:: Account ::

A few years ago, I noticed that I was get­ting tired of some of my favorite poets and couldn’t fig­ure out why. After all, they were still writ­ing great poems. Then I got it: they were writ­ing the same great poem over and over. To avoid the same­ness that can mire the work of any artist who has been going at it as long as I have, I began to think seri­ous­ly about rein­ven­tion. In 2016, I fell hard for the short, punchy poems of Jack Gilbert. Then two years lat­er, I was swept off my feet for the umpteenth time by Ginsberg’s “Howl” and began knock­ing out poems that one might call cousins to that canon­i­cal work. And last sum­mer, I redis­cov­ered Frank O’Hara while look­ing up some­one else. You’ll find exam­ples of all these poem types here.


David Kir­by teach­es at Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty. His col­lec­tion The House on Boule­vard St.: New and Select­ed Poems (LSU Press, 2007) was a final­ist for both the Nation­al Book Award and Canada’s Grif­fin Poet­ry Prize. Kir­by is the author of Lit­tle Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Con­tin­u­um, 2009), which the Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment of Lon­don called “a hymn of praise to the eman­ci­pa­to­ry pow­er of non­sense” and was named one of Book­list’s Top 10 Black His­to­ry Non-Fic­tion Books of 2010. His lat­est books are a poet­ry col­lec­tion, More Than This (LSU Press, 2019), and a text­book mod­est­ly enti­tled The Knowl­edge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them (Flip Learn­ing, 2021).

Two Poems

Poetry / Perry Janes

:: I have lived my entire life inside the movies, ::

          —after Diane Seuss 

their orchestras hiding around every corner. Where boom 
mics lurk between building girders, sidewalks uncouple 
from gravity, Cosmo and coffee cups clutter the skyline. 

Yes. I have lived leaping from one moving vehicle to another. 
Often in peril. Often unable to free scarf from steering wheel 
even at cliff edge, ripping clear to jump the gap from Jeep to jet, 

jet to yacht, from yacht to any stable shore. I have lived here 
learning, each day, to strike my most heroic pose. To love 
linearity! There was a road I followed. From gray sidewalks, tinted 

SUVs chasing me down highway clovers, to a countryside of quiet 
settlers. Finally: a silo I could hide inside when the storm came 
looking for me. Storm of rain, sand, men, yes, I have lived 

where every turn is a wrong turn and only bad choices take me 
where I need to go. Where I am strong but never too strong, 
barely enough to best a one-armed shooter, to grip the slick 

sides of the subway as it hurtles past. Where, some nights, 
the thing I love is a ghost, pixelated fingers brushing 
through my hair. Where, some days, the sun rises twice. 

Some days, if you squint, you can see, in the distance, 
that cut-out where one lost extra ran straight through 
the horizon— 

                           theirs is a shape I yearn toward. 
No acetate sunsets catching flame. No cellos 
playing from the cemetery, cymbals clashing 

me awake. You should know: there are others, 
like me, who have slipped the edges of our frame. 
Slipped to where, I’ve seen, another world waits. 

Though the people there sit, watchful, in the dark. 
Though it is dark there and this world is the light 
they see by.

:: Creation Myth ::

          —beginning with line by Joy Harjo

there’s no more imagination 		we’re in it now 
                    reader 		the storm’s light rising as a boy 

in his father’s too-large leather apron bends 
                    above the sheeted workbench 	steel rod 

raised up through the roof for lightning 
                    to enliven his invention 	how clouds cauldron 

and spark    the edges fade 	the flash resolves 
                    and now we see it clearly 	little bones 	little chin 

not yet scarred by acne       a child I guess 
                    except for the flesh-mitten fingers stitched together 

except for the collage of random raccoon and possum 
                    hide patchworking its back 	  there is of course 

the moment of inspection 	the boy pinches the child 
                    that isn’t a child        flesh that isn’t flesh 	can’t be 

flesh 	those wire-like hairs already sprouting between 
                    legs that raise against his touch 	and if I stand here 

with them      if I watch from the corners of the room        corners 
                    the light doesn’t reach        I’m in this for keeps 


                    the boy tucks his shirt 

he steps into the rain 
                    left alone the child-thing rises 

to test its newfound feet       rubs cocoa butter between its joints 
                    to hide the smell of musk 	wet with what it knows 

marks the body as belonging 	      watch       the light 
                    shifts 	   factory lamps dimming as a sun dazzles up 

and reader      you should know there are no bystanders 
                    here 	outside the boy snaps his half-split thumbnail 

against a matchbook’s flint 	I pull my ragged tee 
                    on top my lotioned chest      when I join him 

the storm washes smoke from my hair

From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems explore an uneasy rela­tion­ship between auto­bi­og­ra­phy and per­for­mance. I cur­rent­ly work as a screen­writer in Hol­ly­wood, where the life of a writer requires I pack­age, pitch, and sell my projects to pro­duc­ers, exec­u­tives, and con­sumers. With time, I’ve become keen­ly aware (and deeply sus­pi­cious) of the mytholo­gies I’ve learned to build. I notice how skilled I’ve become at posi­tion­ing myself in a cer­tain light, in manip­u­lat­ing the details of the sto­ry toward hero­ism, sac­ri­fice, bold dec­la­ra­tions of fact.

Notic­ing these ten­den­cies has led to an obses­sion with assem­blage. In the midst of craft­ing the poem, I’m con­front­ed by the impulse to step back; to inter­ro­gate the speak­er; to look close­ly at those moments where rup­ture or arti­fice appears. Who do I become when I shed my per­for­mance of good­ness, right­ness, cer­tain­ty? When I exam­ine the flaws in my own con­struc­tions? How did I learn to posi­tion the prover­bial cam­era? What are the moral impli­ca­tions of such craftsmanship?

Despite these ques­tions, I find I’m unable to aban­don allu­sion, mythol­o­gy, and arche­type. These struc­tures aren’t only familiar—they’re often play­ful. They allow me to dis­charge dif­fi­cult sub­jects with won­der­ment. When writ­ing about child­hood in par­tic­u­lar, they restore a fun­da­men­tal ele­ment of child­like imag­i­na­tion into expe­ri­ences I might oth­er­wise recoil from. Ele­ments of fan­ta­sy, fable, or (more broad­ly speak­ing) enter­tain­ment enable the poem to hold para­dox and con­tra­dic­tion. What does it mean to con­front trau­ma and nos­tal­gia in the same breath? Shame and wist­ful­ness? Vio­lence and tenderness?

Some­where in this ten­sion, these poems emerge.

Per­ry Janes is a writer and film­mak­er from Metro Detroit, Michi­gan. A Push­cart Prize and Hop­wood Award recip­i­ent, his work has appeared in POETRY, Beloit Poet­ry Jour­nal, The Michi­gan Quar­ter­ly Review, Zyzzy­va, Sub­trop­ics, The North Amer­i­can Review, West Branch, The Adroit Jour­nal, and oth­ers. He holds a BA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, Ann Arbor, and an MFA in Poet­ry from War­ren Wil­son Col­lege. A recip­i­ent of the AMPAS Stu­dent Acad­e­my Award, he cur­rent­ly lives in Los Ange­les, where he works as a screenwriter.

My Fear of Water Came Later

Poetry / Natalie E. Illum

:: My Fear of Water Came Later ::

My family doesn’t like the desert air.   
We prefer low-tide to high altitudes; 
coastal highways to mountain. We don’t ski. 
We charter. We choose our bait with precision.  
We don’t let the lines go slack. We hunt the Mako 
because we can.We don’t relish 
a shoreline. We forget  
we live so close to 
what most would pay dearly for. We aren’t  
moved by the stunning sunsets. My father 
named his boat Bite Me. 
That isn’t a joke. We made fun of  
my mother. Whenever she said I pacifically  
told you not to do that.  
She wasn’t born here, but she is a water sign. Said if 
I’m drowning  
I should 
try to play dead and  
hope the Coast Guard finds me in time and  
face up. We don’t fear the riptide 
we live in. We just  
call our flying dishes fish.  
We imagine all our broken  
glass finds its way 
into the Atlantic  
for some sweet kid to discover; our arguments  
finally smoothed enough  
to call treasure.   
Look how pretty we are  
now. The light hits us  
just right. 




From the writer

:: Account ::

How much of one’s life becomes flu­id over timemem­o­ry as salt water, paint, fear? These poems are held togeth­er by the car­ti­lage of the pastit weak­ens, bends and some­times heals over time. But there is still a film, scar­ring from any tear. Here is a slide show of stains through­out the body of my house.


Natal­ie E. Illum is a poet, dis­abil­i­ty activist and singer liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. She is the recip­i­ent of three Poet­ry Fel­low­ship Grants from the D.C. Arts Com­mis­sion and a for­mer Jen­ny McK­ean Moore Fel­low. She was a found­ing board mem­ber of moth­er­tongue, an LGBTQIA open mic that last­ed 15 years. She com­pet­ed on the Nation­al Poet­ry Slam cir­cuit and was the 2013 Belt­way Grand Slam Cham­pi­on. Her work has appeared in var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions, and on NPR’s Snap Judge­ment. Natal­ie has an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty and was a Teach­ing Artist for Poet­ry Out Loud. You can find her on Insta­gram and Twit­ter as @poetryrox, and as one half of the band All Her Mus­es, whose debut album is being released this Fall. Natal­ie also enjoys whiskey and giraffes.

In Which I Search Zillow® for My Childhood Home and Discover It’s for Sale

Poetry / Bill Hollands

:: In Which I Search Zillow® for My Childhood Home and Discover It’s for Sale ::

Our modest 1950s rambler  
now mid-century modern, façade  
crisp white. 40 years, 3000  
miles, one click and I’m  
in. Everything is white— 
the walls, the fireplace, even  
the living room’s old wood  
paneling. No more murky  
fish tank. Faux fir floors glisten,  
wall-to-wall all gone. I grew up  
here? 3D Walkthrough arrows  
show me the way. I stumble 
forward, pull up short, lurch  
again, a drunk, a toddler,  
a robot on the fritz. I zip  
down the hallway (wasn’t it  
longer?) to my brother’s  
lair, then my room—no more  
shelves for my beer can  
collection. Walls slant  
crazily as I careen around  
corners. Why can’t I  
find my parents’ room? How  
do I back up? I stagger 
to the kitchen, a movie  
set of stainless steel  
and granite. Through it all  
the staged furniture  
poses, Scandinavian blond 
wood, no clutter of records,  
trophies, dog bowls, Sports  
Illustrated. I need 
air, so I click Street View  
and pan around the old  
neighborhood, now  
gated McMansions.  
Charming family home.  
Move-in ready. Enjoy as is  
or tear down and build  
the home of your dreams! 



From the writer

:: Account ::

Some­thing about the real estate web­site Zil­low cap­tures the zeit­geist of this moment. Or maybe a zeit­geist since I don’t real­ly believe in just one. In any case, wit­ness the recent Sat­ur­day Night Live spoof in which the char­ac­ters browse Zil­low list­ings as a replace­ment for sex. The ulti­mate aspi­ra­tional fan­ta­sy, who doesn’t like to watch? Or, as in the case of this poem, search for one’s child­hood home? I bet I’m not the only one who has done this on a bor­ing Tues­day night. The expe­ri­ence gets even weird­er when you can (vir­tu­al­ly) go inside and match your inevitably dis­tort­ed mem­o­ries to the cold real­i­ties of mar­ket­ing. Mem­o­ry and fan­ta­sy merge with cap­i­tal­ism and the Amer­i­can Dream of home­own­er­ship, all (of course) in iso­la­tion and on a screen. What’s more 2021 than that? 


Bill Hol­lands lives in Seat­tle with his hus­band and their son. His poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in Rat­tle, North Amer­i­can Review,DIAGRAM, The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Poet­ry, Hawai’i Pacif­ic Review, The Sum­mer­set Review, and else­where. He was recent­ly named a final­ist for North Amer­i­can Review’s James Hearst Poet­ry Prize and a semi-final­ist for Iron Horse Lit­er­ary Review’s Nation­al Poet­ry Month competition. 

Love Me With the Fierce Horse of Your Heart

Poetry / Gabrielle Grace Hogan

:: Love Me With the Fierce Horse of Your Heart ::

Then again, don’t. I can’t ride it off into any sunset 
so why bother. Mitski says I could stare at your back all day, 
& I do not understand. I go for a walk. 
This fast-fading sunfall feels like a threat, a throat flowering. 
I pass that house with the cactus wall. The plumbago bushes 
pushes whispers of wasps into frame. Lusty neighborhood cat 
a skipped stone storing heat in its belly 
before the eventual blossom. The tower blossoms orange 
as night pinkly fades in. 
Bats make up a quarter of all mammals— 
this is felt most in a Texan dusk, the acoustic coil 
of their clicks, their frantic chittering & blind low swoops, 
as the animal of the skyline bursts with bright yellowed teeth. 
I want to love someone enough to buy an island with them— 
now that, that’s the kind of love mountains move for. 
The heart is a mountain. Immovable. My geology professor 
was so beautiful in how he loved minerals—that giddy phosphate 
grin. Rock after rock coaxed, coddled wonder. 
I’m afraid 
I’ll never be in love again. Out of the corner of my ear, 
I hear the cowboy say we’re more ghosts than people. 
The heart is a cowboy. Riding off. I want 
to love someone enough to make them a stone, 
worn smooth by the brush of my thumb. 




From the writer


:: Account ::

I’ve become invest­ed in nego­ti­at­ing lone­li­ness and nos­tal­gia in my poet­ry as of late. Real­ly, I think I’ve been writ­ing about them for awhile; it’s only recent­ly I’ve real­ized this, and there­fore have leaned into it. I write these poems as an avenue to under­stand­ing my own rela­tion­ship with these top­ics. Over the past few years, I have expe­ri­enced two breakups, nei­ther pleas­ant and one with con­sid­er­able dam­age to myself. I have approached roman­tic rela­tion­ships with a much more bit­ter, cyn­i­cal edge, and have been unable to pin­point where lone­li­ness can feel so large when you are shar­ing a bed with some­one. I want to exam­ine the lone­li­ness that comes from feel­ing inca­pable of lov­ing some­one back, rather than inca­pable of being loved. How do you approach your own lone­li­ness when the alternative—to be with someone—is a much more seri­ous and drain­ing endeav­or than the movies make it seem? What does it mean, too, to be “with some­one”? What are our decid­ed-upon def­i­n­i­tions of love, and how are they flawed? Par­tic­u­lar­ly, how does lone­li­ness affect queer peo­ple in a dif­fer­ent way—we are already fight­ing for the “right to love” from those who would oppose us, but we are fight­ing our­selves some­times as well. And when we “fail” to love, to find a rela­tion­ship (par­tic­u­lar­ly one that close­ly resem­bles a het­ero­sex­u­al one), is that a greater fail­ure because we are meant to act as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of our com­mu­ni­ty? In a sim­i­lar vein, I have been strug­gling with the idea of “home”—what, or even who, makes a home? In the past few years I have begun and grad­u­at­ed from under­grad, and start­ed grad school, so I have lived in three places includ­ing my home­town. It’s been a neb­u­lous weav­ing through, where no place feels exact­ly right because pieces of your­self are stretched over dif­fer­ent states, and you’re in such a quick­ly chang­ing time of life—early 20s, where noth­ing is sta­ble, where your sense of self is as hard to define as a word in a lan­guage you don’t speak. How can you make a rela­tion­ship, make a home, when you don’t have a grasp of your­self? This poem doesn’t seek to answer those ques­tions, but does seek to illu­mi­nate them—I’ve tried to posi­tion the speak­er in a phys­i­cal sense of place through descrip­tion, that then flows into more abstract, emo­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry. The pres­ence of the phys­i­cal and the emo­tion­al togeth­er feels nec­es­sary for grasp­ing that feel­ing of being lost in space and lost in self. Some poets I’ve been read­ing who have had influ­ence on my cur­rent man­u­script include Sharon Olds, Joan­na Klink, Dorothea Lasky, and Eileen Myles. 


Gabrielle Grace Hogan is a poet from St. Louis, MO, cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Austin, TX, while pur­su­ing an MFA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin. Her work has been pub­lished by the Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets, Nashville Review, Kiss­ing Dyna­mite, Pas­sages North, and more. She has worked as the poet­ry edi­tor of Bat City Review and co-edi­tor of You Flower / You Feast, an online anthol­o­gy inspired by the music of Har­ry Styles. Her debut chap­book, Soft Oblit­er­a­tion, is avail­able now from Ghost City Press. Her social media and projects can be found on her web­site,

Tough and Soft

Poetry / Zakiyyah Dzukogi

:: Tough and Soft ::

I’ll write poetry
tough and soft
on the toilet sit.
Like every spot on my neck
from the ones mother made,
I found poems,
stretchy like today's wind—
forgive them, read them.
Turn off your lamp,
this is one of my dreams.




From the writer

:: Account ::

This poem is one among my sim­ple, short poems. I gave “Tough and Soft” life on the night of 14 Jan­u­ary, 2021. It came about that night when I had a feel­ing about not writ­ing enough in the lan­guage of God. Writ­ing this poem makes me feel free from any rules attached to writ­ing poet­ry: it is ther­a­peu­tic. Poet­ry has always been. Poet­ry, whether “Tough or Soft,” should at least car­ry flowers.


Zakiyyah Dzuko­gi is a 17-year-old Niger­ian poet. She is the author of Carved (a poet­ry col­lec­tion), win­ner of the 2021 Nige­ria Prize for Teen Authors, a prize she had ear­li­er won the sec­ond-place posi­tion in 2020. She is a win­ner of the 2021 Brigitte Poir­son Poet­ry Prize, as well as the 2019 Splen­dors of Dawn Poet­ry Prize. Her works are pub­lished or forth­com­ing in Mel­bourne Cul­ture Cor­ner, Olney Mag­a­zine, Rig­or­ous, The Account, Mixed­Mag, The Beat­nik Cow­boy, Kala­hari Review, Spill­words, Sledge­ham­mer Lit, and others.


Poetry / Hannah Donovan

:: Willow ::

Does she bleed anymore? 
I’ll have to look it up. 
I keep thinking about the plastic diagram 
of a woman’s anatomy in the science classroom, 
the great hollowed bean where 
the bloomed iris of reproduction sits. 
In a dream, a careless knock sends it 
to scatter on the floor, ovaries rolling 
under desks to collect dust. 
Life continues. 
I’m aware of how full a body feels. 
I run thoughts of touch, of climax, and my pelvis swells. 
I run the pavements and my pelvis thuds. 
I can’t imagine such emptiness. 
          They scraped her out. 
          A radical hysterectomy. 
          A restructured vagina. 
          Rounds of radiation. 
I thought of her the other day 
as I did the dishes, scouring 
the frying pan with steel wool. 
I cried so hard I filled the sink. 
The drain was slow to empty. 
It held everything. 
I hated its ability. 
Malpractice shouldn’t 
roll off the tongue like it does. 
It should require spit, a throaty cough, 
a sharp taste. 
          We are not martyrs, we are matrons. 
          Please look to our bodies with blades 
          of scrutiny, waves of patience. 
          Please believe us when we say “it hurts here.”



From the writer

:: Account ::

I spend a lot of time think­ing about the fem­i­nine expe­ri­ence. Whether that’s my own expe­ri­ence or the expe­ri­ence of oth­ers, I am at many moments pre­oc­cu­pied with the soci­etal, inter­per­son­al, and phys­i­cal issues that befall those who iden­ti­fy as women. The specifics of the poems I write are always a bit dif­fer­ent, but the themes I con­sis­tent­ly exam­ine are ones that are close­ly tied to wom­an­hood*. My gen­er­al hope and inten­tion in writ­ing is to unearth the unex­ca­vat­ed truths in myself and to also offer com­fort, per­spec­tive, or a mix­ture of the two to those who read my work and can find com­mon threads.

In “Wil­low,” I write to bring light to a fam­i­ly member’s pain, I write to soft­en the blow of the news, I write to under­stand my anger toward sit­u­a­tions in which women are writ­ten off as hys­ter­i­cal or over-dra­mat­ic and suf­fer because of it. The poem is some­what frag­ment­ed, equal parts lost in thought and root­ed in tac­tile dai­ly life. The struc­ture serves to mim­ic how one process­es a heavy expe­ri­ence: piece­meal. Sud­den and sharp. Pen­sive and nos­tal­gic, then, in an instant, sad or enraged.

(*These state­ments are inclu­sive to every­one who iden­ti­fies as a woman, regard­less of sex assigned at birth.)


Han­nah Dono­van is a poet, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and visu­al artist from North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Her work has been fea­tured in Hobart, Else Jour­nal, Hill Lily Mag­a­zine, The Artist Essen­tials, and at the Black Box Gallery in Port­land, OR. Her lat­est chap­book, Ice Chips, will be pub­lished by Ethel Zine in 2022. She lives in Maine and has yet to see a moose. Find more from Han­nah at

Two Poems

Poetry / Satya Dash

:: Flare ::

Ash and petal plastered on the forehead 
                          of the saint who refused to wake up from 
his nap, the profundity of his slanted semi- 
                          conscious gaze such that it looked powerful 
enough to tame the departure of soul, every 
                          word his mouth muttered in this tranced chant 
alliterated holy, every word an angular rainy lilt 
                      	of an ancient cloudy tongue, the tune of which 
could have passed for the searing hum 
                          of an archetypal 90’s Bollywood lovesick 
song or the fervent intensity of a former 
                      	cricketer’s catchphrase on air ( —the ball went 
to the boundary like a tracer bullet ), the tune 
                      	captivating the large crowd of onlookers 
who had thronged from nearby villages to witness 
                      	either a miracle or a divine death or both, among 
them a boy standing with his father and growing 
                          increasingly restless to go home and watch TV, 
the boy who had only recently learnt about the finality 
                      	of death from history textbooks, his face turning 
glowering red while wishing for the saint 
                          to immediately die when his father slapped him 
hard for pissing at the base of the holy basil plant 
                          in the corner of the saint’s derelict garden. 




:: Ignition ::

A stickler for detail—the monkey  
fooling around the window today or 
even my intoxicated eyes on a sticky 
May evening at a local bar washroom 
peering hard into a dirt stained mirror 
at the indentation on my upper lip,  
the sort resembling a birthmark 
but delivered acute by a mishap, the sort 
a hot metal brush could impinge  
from its mere acknowledgement; it gives  
my smile some character, says my father,  
his words impressing on me the permanence 
assumed by this mark, the evanescence 
of days accentuated for a moment 
by the compounding effect of such 
a tiny feature if regular and relentless 
like friction, how a 1% day-on-day growth  
makes a thing 38 times of itself at year-end,  
the responsibility for this scar assigned 
to the young doctor who did my stitches, 
who despite my dilapidated condition  
I remember for having a striking face, his  
kind eyes and symmetric swordfish 
jaws inducing envy that transformed  
without notice into comfort, the rapid  
change of heart that comes upon starving 
crops during glistening rainbow rains or that 
in the middle of a heated fight causes 
the incision on your mouth to be nibbled 
by your new lover, leaving the tongue glazed 
with a ring of volcanic amber usually found  
seething beneath the tip of a burning incense stick.




From the writer


:: Account ::

I have often been fas­ci­nat­ed by the ener­gy of the long sen­tence, sim­i­lar to a pow­er line run­ning through a city, con­duct­ing volt­age at a pace that at once beholds and elec­tri­fies. In this regard, recent­ly read­ing Anuk Arud­pra­gasam’s “The Sto­ry of a Brief Mar­riage” shook me in ways both vis­cer­al and artis­tic. The nov­el, set in the midst of the Sri Lankan Civ­il War, has many a glo­ri­ous long sen­tence that med­i­tates upon the fun­da­men­tal human con­di­tion. Most of these sen­tences that took my breath away had com­mon­al­i­ties: they were long and had the intrin­sic force of a poem. I felt an urge to iso­late these sen­tences, study them on a blank page, use line breaks and white space as a means to reg­u­late their immense ener­gy, to both calm and sur­prise the read­er. This took me back to one of my favorite poems, “Gold Leaf” by Carl Phillips, one that embod­ies a majes­tic long sen­tence and con­tin­ues to add or mod­i­fy mean­ing through mul­ti­ple read­ings. I often find that a good long sen­tence keeps its secrets intact. And through its accu­mu­lat­ed kinet­ic flow, its pay­off is built. 

 These poems are part of a series that attempts to use one long sen­tence as an instru­ment to nav­i­gate a net­work, to shine light upon its con­nec­tions, tie togeth­er under­ly­ing frac­tures to fur­nish the body of a poem toward the body of a liv­ing organ­ism. As I wrote these poems, the com­pound sen­tence tran­scend­ed form to become a vehi­cle for the rest­less thought itself, almost like a train stop­ping at junc­tions along the way to allow inter­mit­tent rests for log­ic, find­ing new ways to twist and turn, both son­i­cal­ly and imag­is­ti­cal­ly. I sus­pect it helps weave on the page what the mind some­times yearns for—an adventure. 


Satya Dash is the recip­i­ent of the 2020 Srini­vas Rayaprol Poet­ry Prize and a final­ist for the 2020 Bro­ken Riv­er Prize. His poems appear in The Boil­er, Anom­aly, Chest­nut Review, Rhi­no Poet­ry, Cincin­nati Review, and Dia­gram, among oth­ers. Apart from hav­ing a degree in elec­tron­ics from BITS Pilani-Goa, he has been a crick­et com­men­ta­tor. He has been nom­i­nat­ed pre­vi­ous­ly for Push­cart, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets. He grew up in Cut­tack and now lives in Ban­ga­lore, India. He tweets at: @satya043

Ode to Orange Chicken

Poetry / Alex Dang

:: Ode to Orange Chicken ::

I, too, have been described by 
my ancestors as too sweet, 
dumbed down, inauthentic, made 
to satiate American bellies and 
melt on the same tongues who 
spat in our food, called it uncivilized, 
barbaric, dirty, cooked from rats, 
off strapped backs of dynamite. 
I, too, have skin golden and glazed, 
to be ripped open by white teeth 
and be left even whiter meat. 
We are found in greasy take out boxes 
deemed unworthy of recognition. 
Eaten both by fork and chopstick alike, 
this American-Chinese dish, 
cheap, affordable, wanted by none, 
but a happy compromise. 




From the writer

:: Account ::

I imag­ine art as a vehi­cle that allows us to trav­el to a des­ti­na­tion. For me, the trip begins with truth and ends with the art arriv­ing at an emo­tion. The truth is that when I look at myself, I some­times only see what Amer­i­ca sees me as. Some­times I only see myself as my diag­no­sis. And there are so many times where I see myself in oth­ers: my favorite musi­cian, a come­di­an, my moth­er and father. I have been led to joy or anger or laugh­ter in more ways than I can count. This time, I’m dri­ving, so that means we start with my truth and we end with my heart. I’m most inter­est­ed in form and con­tent as my vehi­cle to dri­ve the audi­ence to the emo­tion­al points that I was expe­ri­enc­ing. I trust that the read­er will sit in the front seat while I dri­ve and while maybe they don’t like the songs I’m play­ing or the streets I’m tak­ing, but hope­ful­ly when we reach our des­ti­na­tion, we’ll get out of the car and enjoy the view. 


Alex Dang is a poet from Port­land, Ore­gon. A for­mer TEDx speak­er, Dang com­pet­ed at the Nation­al Poet­ry Slam, was a Port­land and Eugene Poet­ry Slam Grand Slam Cham­pi­on, and has per­formed in 7 coun­tries. He has strong opin­ions about burg­ers. He wants to know what your favorite song is. 

Two Poems

Poetry / Jessica Cuello

:: Dear Mother, ::

Father noted each event in his diary  — 
followed by dashes  —                
wine diet  —        
doctor visit  —             
arrival of the puppies —               
Your afterbirth would  not  come  out  — 
the doctor pulled it away in pieces  — 
Our last meal together  —        
 	—  the scalloped wall 
 	—  the paste of blood 
and what did father note down then? 
that you were pinioned like a bird        
that a tomtit sang outside the window            
that I didn’t hear the song      
because my ears were wrapped in cloth 
and to expel the placenta 
puppies suckled the milk 
your body meant for me —  
Your daughter, 
Mary Shelley 




:: Dear January 1784, ::

She kidnapped her own sister 	
from a terror that made a whimper 
Sister lip sputtered a child cry      	        
hound cry	fox bark   seagull shriek 
no sense words     	no sense shapes	
shoulder shadow on the blank wall 
hood   cloak   barrel 	nothing there	
My mother called it the other evil 
all women know	Don’t name it   	
Eliza lost custody of her infant daughter	   
and the baby died shortly after 
Yours in 1820, 
M.S., Daughter of M. Wollstonecraft 




From the writer

:: Account ::

These epis­to­lary poems are writ­ten in the voice of Mary Shel­ley as she address­es her dead moth­er, the writer Mary Woll­stonecraft. The poems are in the voice of a lone­ly daugh­ter try­ing to make sense of her absent mother’s life. They speak to the aware­ness Shel­ley must have had that her birth killed her moth­er. After Mary Shelley’s birth, Wollstonecraft’s pla­cen­ta would not come out and a doc­tor was sent for. The doc­tor pulled it out, but he infect­ed Woll­stonecraft, who died 10 days lat­er. One of the strange details from the birth is that pup­pies were brought in to suck­le at Wollstonecraft’s breasts and draw out her milk. 

 The poems also ref­er­ence the ter­ror of domes­tic vio­lence. The sec­ond poem is an homage to Woll­stonecraft, who frees her sis­ter from the same kind of domes­tic violence. 

 The poems addressed to years height­en the dis­tance between daugh­ter and mother—in those poems, Shel­ley, the imag­ined speak­er, feels more inti­mate with the des­ig­na­tion of time than the moth­er her­self. The poems believe that in the absence of her mother’s pres­ence, Shel­ley might have drawn on her mother’s expe­ri­ence as a replace­ment. Yet, the cre­ative works of daugh­ter and moth­er are not enough to secure love. The poems attempt to recap­ture that sense of panic—of scram­bling for scraps of love. There is also this sense of exile from the womb itself—the only room that is secure before the world con­tin­u­al­ly expels (or threat­ens with vio­lence) both women. Both moth­er and daugh­ter were con­tin­u­al­ly reject­ed by men and cast out (Woll­stonecraft by the father of her child, Shel­ley by her father). The poems imag­ine the daughter’s con­nec­tion to her mother’s expe­ri­ence and the attempt to find love via letter/via word if not via flesh. The epis­to­lary form feels apt for unex­pressed long­ing, for query, for love that can­not be returned. 

In Dear Jan­u­ary 1784, the line the oth­er evil is from Wollstonecraft’s Let­ters writ­ten in Swe­den, Nor­way, and Den­mark. 


Jes­si­ca Cuel­lo’s Liar was select­ed by Dori­anne Laux for the 2020 Bar­row Street Book Prize, and her man­u­script Yours, Crea­ture is forth­com­ing from Jack­Leg Press in spring of 2022. Cuel­lo is also the author of Hunt (The Word Works, 2017) and Prick­ing (Tiger Bark Press, 2016). Cuel­lo has been award­ed The 2017 CNY Book Award, The 2016 Wash­ing­ton Prize, The New Let­ters Poet­ry Prize, a Salton­stall Fel­low­ship, and The New Ohio Review Poet­ry Prize. She is a poet­ry edi­tor at Tahoma Lit­er­ary Review and teach­es French in CNY.


Poetry / Charlie Clark

:: Arnold ::

it is 

the August 

heat smell 
and waves 

rising from 
the freshly 

repaved lengths 
of blacktop 

the morning 
sun’s light 

so brightly 

across it 
even silhouettes 

of the old 
dotted white 

lines now 

the tar 

shine faintly 


is not 
the word 

I am 
looking for 

neither is 

with it 

in mind 
my line of 

thought drifts 
to the way 

in old paintings 
X-Rays can 

for instance 


better off 

on a Dutch 

or the profiled 
ghost of 

a begging 
man’s face 

melted along 
a saint’s lapel 

and with 
that I am 

to the table 

after her own 

digression into 
the way 

at the work 

of Lucian Freud 
all she sees 

is Francis 
Bacon’s mastery 

peeking through 
Liz said 

and so 

my description 

of words 
lovers wrote 

each other 

their windshields’ 


their bodies’ 
heat present 

to arise 
in this heat 

I say palimpsest 
and receive 

such a sudden 
breadth of 

her bearing 
it is like 

the lone 
blunt laugh 

she gave 

as a knuckle 

table wood 
at my suggestion 

the pleasure had 

the third time 
through Dumb 

and Dumber 
could rival 

that of 
Throne of Blood 

is now 
and forever 

part of 
my narrative of 

the term 
so too 

her saying 

strange it is 

the long 
plight of 

the human 

that we don’t 

all have 
to the point 

of pain 
a need to 

see nightly 
the fire-

faces of 

gently rocked 

to sleep 
that the 

were just 

the poor 
saps who 

hadn’t learned 
Greek yet 

her oblique 



the many 
balder things 

she quietly 

with all 

put it 
in an ode 

do it 

the subject 
comes back 

an elegy 
don’t have 



don’t smoke 

you must 

no matter 

how hard 
on the nose 

this may 
strike you 

you know 
or soon will 

come to 
all the ways 

the body is 

that you 

to cherish 


that when 
your heart 

to continue 

when your 

goes black 
the best 

you can 

hope to 

will be 
the one 

set forth 
by the sewing 

of your soul’s 
own seeds





From the writer

:: Account ::

I start­ed this poem short­ly after attend­ing the memo­r­i­al ser­vice for my for­mer teacher Stan­ley Plum­ly. At the recep­tion after the ser­vice, I recon­nect­ed with Eliz­a­beth Arnold, anoth­er for­mer pro­fes­sor whose tute­lage in the class­room and exam­ple as a writer on the page were and con­tin­ue to be tremen­dous­ly impor­tant to me. I’ve read her books, The Reef, Civ­i­liza­tion, Efface­ment, Life, and Skele­ton Coast, greed­i­ly, as they have come out—usually reread­ing all of the pre­vi­ous books pri­or to start­ing the newest one on the occa­sion of its release. I find it an illu­mi­nat­ing way to take in the work of a poet I adore, to see how the new work con­nects to the work already avail­able. It is also invig­o­rat­ing, as a writer, to see just how many fresh sur­pris­es and plea­sures I find in her work, even after so many reread­ings. Her atten­tion to syn­tac­tic and visu­al detail is unique and unpar­al­leled. I par­tic­u­lar­ly appre­ci­ate the way her work can tog­gle between, or simul­ta­ne­ous­ly con­jure, a very frank and par­tic­u­lar under­stand­ing of the per­ils of bod­i­ly human exis­tence and a joy acti­vat­ed by lan­guage, his­to­ry, travel—all the things the body can engage in/with to pitch said per­ils in relief. They are haunt­ed poems whose speci­fici­ties refuse to be haunt­ed. Each time I encounter Liz’s work, I am remind­ed that hers is a means of intel­lec­tion I would do well to mod­el in my own life and writing. 

Think­ing about Liz, and think­ing about hon­or­ing my men­tors (I had been work­ing, on and off, on an ele­gy for Stan for some months after his pass­ing), I decid­ed it was impor­tant and nec­es­sary to cel­e­brate Liz as a writer and thinker. This poem is the result. The ini­tial drafts start­ed with mem­o­ries of cer­tain exchanges and com­ments I recall from the work­shop of hers I took in (I think) the spring of 2001. Par­tic­u­lar­ly, I had the for­tu­nate (and admit­ted­ly hum­bling) expe­ri­ence of dis­cov­er­ing, mid-class, that I did not know the mean­ing of the word palimpsest (which, as the poem indi­cates, Liz used to describe a part of the work of mine then under dis­cus­sion). Liz was delight­ed at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to intro­duce the term; the con­ver­sa­tion soon wan­dered more gen­er­al­ly into the plea­sures of spe­cif­ic words: their sounds, their mean­ings, their ety­mo­log­i­cal roots. It is par­tic­u­lar­ly instruc­tive to have the lived expe­ri­ence of learn­ing the mean­ing of palimpsest etched into my mem­o­ry in this way, the term becom­ing a palimpsest reveal­ing itself and this broad­er swath of expe­ri­ence. Liz made lan­guage acti­vate for me. I am grate­ful to Liz for this, for how she serves as a mod­el, and for the restless/flawless body of work she has pro­duced over the years. I con­tin­ue to be her awed student. 


Char­lie Clark stud­ied poet­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land. His work has appeared in The New Eng­land Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Smar­tish Pace, Three­pen­ny Review, West Branch, and oth­er jour­nals. A 2019 NEA fel­low and recip­i­ent of schol­ar­ships to the Bread Loaf Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence, he is the author of The Newest Employ­ee of the Muse­um of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2020). He lives in Austin, TX

Democracy Minus Democracy

Poetry / Brandon Amico

:: Democracy Minus Democracy ::

On the third panel of every comic, Garfield is flung 
from a window, a closed window, one that shatters 
from the momentum of his body, great enough 
that even beyond the obstacle he is still travelling 
at an upward angle out above Jon’s idealized suburbia. 
This is the future 90’s kids want: every important 
piece of legislature, every contract, sieved through 
the medium of Garfield, a comic we remembered 
from childhood as great but as adults discovered it 
derivative and uncreative. We set out to reclaim it,  
make it match our memories, express dread in a new language, 
lift the shifting prism of memory to the light.  
We remove Garfield, shuffle or repeat the frames, 
run the text through an algorithm. Garfield is bigger 
than his creator; Jim Davis is a political footnote. 
The Orange Cat Party swells, accepts Nihilists 
and budding creatives, nostalgists and tinkerers. 
The internet accelerated the Everything, but the 
Everything includes more and more Garfield, 
in the future there is only Garfield and the night 
that comes between panels like the moment between 
beats of a heart, the fragile seconds bridging 
a transfer of power and the sudden focus on it, 
a hyperawareness, the knowledge that the world 
is what we make it, mutable, striped if we want it striped, 
sarcastic, a mode of expression as bracing as the air 
rushing by us as we get a brief view from above, 
not sure what it’ll be like when we land. 




From the writer


:: Account ::

I spend a lot of time think­ing about what makes poet­ry polit­i­cal. The phrase “polit­i­cal poet­ry” car­ries a lot of bag­gage, but being able to write a poem and say it has absolute­ly no pol­i­tics any­where in it is a lux­u­ry that I feel we can­not often afford. When a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of our country’s polit­i­cal argu­ment is deny­ing peo­ple human rights, any poem that human­izes is inher­ent­ly polit­i­cal. A poet writ­ing to specif­i­cal­ly avoid “polit­i­cal” sub­jects is also mak­ing a polit­i­cal state­ment by this action alone.  

Thus, while I don’t aim to write “polit­i­cal poems,” I do want my poems to be polit­i­cal, to have a stake in the world in which they reside, whether that’s sur­face lev­el or under­pin­ning the text. Per­son­al­ly, I often come to the polit­i­cal through the satir­i­cal, through the absurd. And as our world grows more car­toon­ish and out­landish with every pass­ing day, the poems too need to step it up to stay ahead of the real when it comes to absur­di­ty. I love reading—and try to write—poems that enact them­selves on the back­drop of our day-to-day: the news, social media, the sto­ries that bridge us to the world. 

Democ­ra­cy Minus Democ­ra­cy” leapt out (sor­ry) from our polit­i­cal sys­tem, which can appar­ent­ly be near­ly over­turned in a day by brute, stu­pid force. I wrote the first draft of the poem days after the assault on the U.S. Capi­tol in Jan­u­ary 2021; I didn’t intend a poem about the cre­ative Nihilism of the Twit­ter­verse and its fas­ci­nat­ing love-hate rela­tion­ship with the Garfield com­ic strip to be my way into the uneasi­ness of our polit­i­cal moment, but once I felt it going there, I couldn’t stop the momen­tum.   

Of the many Garfield com­ic strip vari­ants that pep­per the inter­net, one of the ear­li­est and the most promi­nent is Garfield Minus Garfield, where­in the cre­ator of this web­com­ic, Dan Walsh, repur­posed old Garfield strips by, as the title implies, remov­ing Garfield entire­ly. The result was his own­er, Jon, talk­ing to him­self and/or react­ing to nonex­is­tent stim­uli; the strips were equal parts bleak and fun­ny. G‑G’s pop­u­lar­i­ty helped spur on many oth­er cre­ative projects where­in the offi­cial, pub­lished Garfield com­ic strips are the medi­um, the blank can­vas to start from—it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing recur­ring theme through the mil­len­ni­al inter­net. There are too many to name here, but of impor­tant note for this poem is the ver­sion that is ref­er­enced from the onset: a ded­i­cat­ed Twit­ter account, @yeetgarf, fea­tures Garfield com­ic strips where the only change is the final pan­el is replaced with one of the tit­u­lar cat crash­ing through a win­dow with incred­i­ble force. Again, con­text is every­thing; there’s some­thing to be said for know­ing how some­thing ends, and how expec­ta­tions col­or our present day actions. 

Every­one process­es major world events dif­fer­ent­ly; appar­ent­ly, some of us process through Garfield. 


Bran­don Ami­co is the author of Dis­ap­pear­ing, Inc. (Gold Wake Press, 2019). A 2019 Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts Cre­ative Writ­ing Fel­low, his poems have appeared in pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Best Amer­i­can Poet­ry 2020, Black­bird, The Cincin­nati Review, the Keny­on Review, and New Ohio Review.

The Makeshift Years

Nonfiction / Debra Monroe


:: The Makeshift Years ::

For ten years I was a sin­gle par­ent, not the first, last, nor only. Because I adopt­ed, my ideas, my house, my char­ac­ter, and my income were assessed in advance by experts. I planned ahead for like­ly set­backs, and the adop­tion agency dou­blechecked. Pre­emp­tive prob­lem-solv­ing is a skill and a tic. On one hand, it’s plan­ning, and plan­ning helps. On the oth­er, no one can antic­i­pate all future bad luck or glar­ing mis­cal­cu­la­tions always so obvi­ous after the fact. Still, as I wait­ed for my baby, I envi­sioned upcom­ing hur­dles: my wor­ry­ing and ready­ing, and rush­es of ela­tion as I’d clear them. I’ve day­dreamed like this since I can remem­ber, with hope or hubris or willed faith in my abil­i­ty to spot loom­ing pitfalls.

The ele­men­tary school prin­ci­pal lat­er said: “No ex-hus­band, no grand­ma, no aunt, not even an uncle?” My extend­ed fam­i­ly was geo­graph­i­cal­ly afar. I vis­it­ed rarely and called often. Geo­graph­i­cal­ly afar worked: unfix­able his­to­ry and latent erup­tions, even by phone. So I began as a moth­er who hoped to fore­stall all prob­lems and then noticed my daugh­ter was emerg­ing into con­scious­ness with the idea that, if push came to shove, no one else would love her, feed her, and save her. She asked often about her con­tin­gency plan.

She was sick when she was lit­tle, which I did fore­see, that a child might have spe­cial needs. Hers were appoint­ments with med­ical spe­cial­ists in a city an hour away. But a prob­lem I didn’t fore­see was that I would get sick. One day she was wear­ing cozy paja­mas and watch­ing TV. I lay on the couch, won­der­ing why nurs­es rushed me when I phoned to say I hadn’t recov­ered from surgery yet. My daugh­ter said, “How will Aunt Cindy”—a friend in Flori­da, and we lived in Texas—“know to come on a plane and get me?” 

I thought: some fan­ta­sy about going to Disneyworld? 

When you die,” she said. She’d arranged her expres­sion to con­vey that she need­ed this infor­ma­tion but knew I was overex­tend­ed. I’d trav­eled to my mother’s funer­al. The moth­er of a sit­ter had died a good death at home in the room near the room where my daugh­ter napped and played. “I’m not dying,” I said, ignor­ing my post-op malaise. 

Care­givers had a finite inter­est in her. They wor­ried about their own chil­dren, their own moth­ers. None were ter­ri­ble, though one sev­en­teen-year-old had bulim­ia. I could tell by the can­dy wrap­pers and the state of the bath­room. I won­dered whether to tell her moth­er, whom I’d first met when the moth­er was a child­care work­er at a Methodist Church pro­gram called Mother’s Day Out, which I’d used for day­care when my daugh­ter was two. You left your child there—Tuesdays, Thurs­days, nine to three, steep fines if you’re late for pickup—to relax or shop. The child­care work­er who turned out to be the sitter’s moth­er told me she knew by my clothes I was going to work at the uni­ver­si­ty in the col­lege town a half-hour away. I couldn’t use day­cares there. My hours were errat­ic, mid­day class­es Tues­days and Thurs­days, also a Thurs­day night class requir­ing a sec­ond arrangement. 

The church board is strict,” she said. “Be discreet.” 

I nod­ded and tried to seem on the verge of shopping. 

This was anoth­er prob­lem I’d failed to fore­see. I owned a small house near a visu­al­ly appeal­ing vil­lage with a low cost of liv­ing, but it had just one day­care cen­ter that every­one described as dodgy, in a pole barn between the dance­hall and auto body shop. Social work­ers must have assumed I’d devise child­care. I did. Here are max­ims I lived by:

  • Impatience is a virtue. It helps you get chores done quickly. 
  • Worry is precaution.
  • If you predict bad outcomes, you’ll have spare solutions stockpiled.
  • Wait, wait. We’re almost at the palace. It’s not midnight. Something good will happen. (This began as an ironic aside but, after long repetition, turned sincere.)


When at last my daugh­ter was enrolled in all-day kinder­garten, I need­ed just one sit­ter one night a week for night class. I said this when I ran across the Mother’s Day Out child­care work­er, who first told me I should put my daugh­ter in Sat­ur­day morn­ing bal­let class­es in the city an hour away, expen­sive yet excel­lent class­es she’d heard. Sure­ly I wasn’t work­ing on Sat­ur­day morn­ings? Then she said I should hire her daugh­ter who had a car.

I hired the daugh­ter and dis­cov­ered the bulim­ia. My habit of mis­giv­ing tum­bled onto a new ques­tion: Was it my place to tell the sitter’s moth­er about the bulim­ia? Telling the moth­er might be wrong, thank­less. This was an eti­quette ques­tion, I real­ized. Eti­quette is about con­vey­ing dif­fi­cult facts kind­ly. Next I had to fire the sit­ter for not pick­ing up my daughter—leaving my daughter’s small, dear self at the top of a hill where the school bus dropped her. One of my neigh­bors’ oth­er neigh­bors, called Crab­by Old Man, but nev­er to his face, drove her back to school where the prin­ci­pal called me at work, and I rushed out of a sem­i­nar in which I let stu­dents keep their cell phones on, a new gad­get then, because I couldn’t object to theirs if, alert to predica­ments, I kept mine on.

After I found a new sit­ter, I found myself odd­ly miss­ing the pre­vi­ous nonur­gent ques­tion of whether I should tell the sitter’s moth­er her daugh­ter wasn’t okay. Next I pon­dered why I’d found the ques­tion mild­ly intrigu­ing. I’d rolled it over in my mind as I drove to and from work, as I vac­u­umed and fold­ed laun­dry, as I’d answered my daughter’s ques­tions about who made the sky and were ani­mals peo­ple, as I’d helped her with her kinder­garten home­work, easy, fun, the two of us past­ing feath­ers onto a draw­ing of a turkey for Thanks­giv­ing or read­ing aloud a list of sea­son­al words as I quelled pan­ic about how super­vis­ing her home­work would get hard­er in years ahead, tak­ing up more focus.

I prob­a­bly nev­er would have found the spare courage to tell the sitter’s moth­er about her daughter’s eat­ing dis­or­der, which was con­cern­ing. A red flag about the sitter’s well-being. A red flag about the sitter’s fit­ness. Some­thing to keep an eye on. But not a fir­ing offense, not yet, I must have decid­ed, com­ing home from teach­ing at ten p.m. to emp­ty the waste­bas­kets and clean the bath­room. Prob­lem-solv­ing in a pros-ver­sus-cons way had turned reflex­ive. Think­ing about some­one else’s prob­lem, hard for them but eas­i­er for me, had felt like a pas­time. Mother’s Day Out had the right idea—I need­ed to relax. But any new pas­time had to over­lap with time I’d spend with my child. Maybe gardening? 

The next sit­ter picked up my daugh­ter right at the school, along with the sitter’s daugh­ter who was the same age, and at ten p.m. I’d dri­ve to this sitter’s, head­ing north off my route home, oth­er­wise west­ern, then south again home, twen­ty extra miles but just one night a week. This sit­ter was affec­tion­ate, big-heart­ed, with a dry sense of humor, but she’d just begun tak­ing an anti­de­pres­sant, the first rough weeks of adjust­ing to a drug. When I knocked on the door to pick up my daugh­ter, this sit­ter was dis­turbing­ly hard to wake.

Don’t wor­ry about keep­ing my sit­ters straight. Think of them as mem­bers of a frac­tious Greek cho­rus, con­tra­dict­ing each oth­er while let­ting spill with advice derived from their cir­cum­stances, dif­fer­ent from mine. But I had to prize them as indi­vid­u­als since I need­ed them to prize my daugh­ter. I didn’t treat them as inter­change­able as they interchanged.


I slept light­ly and woke often, and my dreams were as busy as action movies. I’d be dri­ving home but couldn’t deci­pher the infi­nite­ly branch­ing roads just beyond the wind­shield. Or I was in an unfa­mil­iar city, wide express­ways criss­cross­ing before me like lines in an M. C. Esch­er lith­o­graph. In one dream, my car wouldn’t start. So I stole a motor­cy­cle, kick­start­ed it, and sped off, one hand steady­ing the baby draped over the gas tank. I woke, relieved to find myself in bed, my child asleep, nowhere I had to be for two hours. 

Lin­ear time was my roadmap. Mon­day Tues­day Wednes­day Thurs­day (dif­fer­ent due to night class), Fri­day again. Sat­ur­day and Sun­day unstruc­tured but full of to-dos. Week­days, sev­en a.m., eight, nine, ten … Start­ing at four p.m. on week­days except Thurs­days: meet the school bus, fix a snack, see to home­work, chat hap­pi­ly, fix din­ner. We ate. She bathed. For TV, she liked phys­i­cal com­e­dy, extrav­a­gant prat­falls. I’d be in the next room, wash­ing dish­es, and hear her help­less with laugh­ter, chortling. On week­nights, America’s Fun­ni­est Home Videos. Sat­ur­day, British come­dies like Fawl­ty Tow­ers.

I now see that, despite dai­ly progress—the clock map­ping my day, the cal­en­dar map­ping my week and, zoom­ing out for a dis­ori­ent­ing minute, my month—I’d get stuck. Any inter­sec­tion with a fork­ing set of options, with more than one way for­ward, pos­si­bly two, three, or four, all poten­tial­ly the right or wrong way, unset­tled me. Friend­ly land­marks looked strange. I mean those tal­is­man-like assur­ances of rou­tine like the yel­low school bus com­ing on time in the after­noon, the alarm clock’s reli­able beep every morn­ing, Arthur switch­ing to PBS New­sHour my cue for din­ner prep. When new fac­tors forced me to change my nav­i­ga­tion, these tal­is­man-like mark­ers marked a now-obso­lete route. 

When my daugh­ter had asked how Aunt Cindy would know to come and get her, I won­dered if not feel­ing well was psy­cho­so­mat­ic, as the surgeon’s nurs­es on the phone implied. They had respon­si­bil­i­ties too, long lists of patient calls to return. They’d say “every­one has pain,” and I’d say “three weeks lat­er and I have a fever,” and they’d say “but not a high fever,” also “so make an appoint­ment.” I had made an appoint­ment ten days ear­li­er, which required the after­school sit­ter a sec­ond time that week, and I’d used one of my at-home days when I should have grad­ed papers to dri­ve into the city to the surgeon’s. 

If my daugh­ter rode the bus in the after­noon, I had forty more min­utes to work; if I drove her to school in the morn­ing, I had forty more min­utes to sleep. I drove her to school the next morn­ing and, infused with caf­feine, social reserve not yet oper­a­tional, I spoke to some­one else as if to myself. After deliv­er­ing my daugh­ter into the class­room, I walked to the park­ing lot beside a father I knew from vil­lage gath­er­ings, our kids in slip­pery herds around us in Hal­loween cos­tumes or bib tags for field day, clam­or­ing about cup­cakes, hot dogs. Most dads avoid­ed me, sin­gle by choice. Moth­ers were curi­ous. One said, “I have friends who are sin­gle moth­ers and they don’t endan­ger their kids, but they’re so busy they for­get to turn on the old men­tal cam­corder. They miss the fun.”

As the pleas­ant dad and I unlocked our cars, I said, “I had a surgery almost a month ago and don’t feel bet­ter.” He got a look on his face like a good hus­band would get. I even­tu­al­ly had a good hus­band so that’s how I know. But he wasn’t my hus­band. We’d chat­ted as he dropped off and picked up kids because his job was near­by and his wife’s wasn’t. I was wear­ing a sweat­suit. It was a cold day, so I’d thrown on my warmest coat, fake-fur, knee-length. Paired with styl­ish but under­stat­ed clothes, with my hair washed and make­up applied, it could be an inter­est­ing fash­ion state­ment. He looked at my face, my wild eyes. My hair was wild too. I know because a few sec­onds lat­er I got in my car and flipped down the visor mir­ror. “Maybe talk to a doc­tor,” he said, back­ing away. 

I drove to the vil­lage doctor’s. 

I said to the recep­tion­ist, “The doc­tor referred me to have a surgery three weeks ago, and I nev­er got well.” She told me to sit down as oth­er patients arrived. Then a nurse took me to a room and returned with the doc­tor who said he’d do a field test since lab test results wouldn’t come back in time. He’d place a fin­ger on each side of my cervix, deep to the lat­er­al fornix with pres­sure towards the ante­ri­or abdomen, while using his oth­er hand to apply exter­nal pres­sure to the pubic bones in the cen­ter of the pelvis while watch­ing for the chan­de­lier sign, as text­books call it, where­in if the patient has a post-op infec­tion she shrieks and reach­es for an imag­i­nary chan­de­lier, he said, as I shrieked while reaching.

The nurse drew blood for a white blood cell count, which the doc­tor com­plet­ed in his tiny onsite lab. He wrote a pre­scrip­tion for a broad-spec­trum antibi­ot­ic. He said: “I know you’re a sin­gle par­ent. Make child­care arrange­ments.” He explained I’d come back for anoth­er test in the morn­ing. If the count stayed the same or went up, he’d check me into a hos­pi­tal in the city or col­lege town. “If this infec­tion is resis­tant, time is not on our side.” 

I called the big-heart­ed, sar­don­ic sit­ter and asked, if need be, she could watch my daugh­ter. I called the sit­ter I’d used a few years before, JoAnn, whose moth­er had died a good death, for a sec­ond lay­er of my daughter’s safe­ty net. Or third; I was first. JoAnn hadn’t worked since her moth­er died but said to give her num­ber to the oth­er sit­ter in case the oth­er sit­ter had a con­flict. My next white blood cell count was low­er. But, the nurse said, if over the week­end I had ver­ti­go, a spike in fever, changes in vision, I’d go to the ER. On Sun­day my daugh­ter and I stood in line pick­ing up break­fast tacos, and we saw this nurse again. She put her wrist on my fore­head. “No fever. I fig­ured. You look almost peppy.”


Anoth­er prob­lem I didn’t fore­see was that since my sched­ule required not just day­care but, once a week, night­care, which isn’t a thing, my night­time sit­ters would be hard to find and unre­li­able because a job so inter­mit­tent is a side­line. I asked to switch this class to day­time but my super­vi­sor, due to a blind spot or preter­nat­u­ral­ly rigid man­age­r­i­al style, said no. When I made the request over his head, he changed my sched­ule to make it harder. 

Who can find a vir­tu­ous woman? Her price is beyond rubies. Proverbs 31:10. That’s about a wife, though. At first, I’d found my sit­ter named JoAnn. I worked at home when I could, and when I couldn’t, I left my daugh­ter at JoAnn’s, her house eight miles away, but I found a semi-short­cut, impass­able in wet weath­er, from JoAnn’s house to the col­lege town, and my daugh­ter was still a babe in arms, easy to car­ry. When she was one, I used Mother’s Day Out to give JoAnn time off, JoAnn’s Day Off. Mother’s Day Out was also said to be good for the child’s social­iza­tion. I still used JoAnn for night class. When my daugh­ter was two and three, I used JoAnn a few days a week and for my night class. 

JoAnn’s car­ing was a low-key mir­a­cle that last­ed until it didn’t. True, she argued about giv­ing my daugh­ter one of her med­ica­tions. It made her heart beat too fast, JoAnn felt. I took my daugh­ter back to the spe­cial­ist who said my daughter’s heart rate was fine, that “some agi­ta­tion is unavoid­able,” and “this med­ica­tion is vital.” JoAnn still said no, she wasn’t giv­ing a baby speedy med­i­cine through a plas­tic mask like a gas mask. One day a week, my daugh­ter missed a dose, which the doc­tor okayed. He said: “I take it this is the grand­ma.” JoAnn also not­ed my daughter’s food aller­gies and cooked and pureed, report­ing foods my daugh­ter loved. My daugh­ter loved JoAnn, call­ing out in baby patois: OJann! 

But after JoAnn’s moth­er died, JoAnn was bone-tired. Peo­ple get this way after a hard stretch of weeks, months, years. Not dur­ing. So for one year, the year my daugh­ter was four, before kinder­garten, which I relied on to go to work, along with the bulim­ic sit­ter and her suc­ces­sor the sar­don­ic sit­ter, I used a Bap­tist preschool, eigh­teen-miles round trip, thir­ty-six extra miles every day. For night class, I hired a grad­u­ate stu­dent who end­ed up hav­ing absen­teeism and, to replace her, an under­grad­u­ate with stel­lar ref­er­ences who one day stopped com­ing. So I called JoAnn, who fin­ished out that semes­ter, my night classes.

JoAnn said years lat­er it had been hard to watch me make plans. Trig­ger­ing, as we say now. She’d been a sin­gle moth­er. “I don’t assume child­care will fall through,” she said, “but it can.” When it did, my week stalled, bro­ken until fixed. JoAnn’s par­ent­hood hadn’t had the pre-super­vi­sion mine did, the inter­views with social work­ers and pre-adop­tion check­lists cre­at­ing false con­fi­dence, no stone unturned. I turned over stones for years.

One night dur­ing the year before kindergarten—so the year I used the Bap­tist preschool, before I fired the grad­u­ate stu­dent with absen­teeism, not a fir­ing offense yet, I’d so far decid­ed, find­ing sub­sti­tutes, ask­ing her to please not can­cel again—the phone rang, my new step­fa­ther. My moth­er was in the ICU. My expe­ri­ence with extend­ed fam­i­ly didn’t match the advice I got from the Bap­tist preschool work­ers. They weren’t my friends, as one of them, not even a super­vi­sor, said. She was a sin­gle moth­er who worked at the preschool to be near her son. “Don’t be friend­ly,” she said in a tense, puz­zling whisper.

But I’d told one child­care work­er, who’d said I looked tired, that my moth­er was in the ICU, and she’d told the oth­ers. Advice based on the advice-giver’s cir­cum­stance mate­ri­al­ized. For con­text, I recount­ed a con­densed ver­sion of my cir­cum­stance. Peo­ple said: Still! Go see her or you’ll feel ever­last­ing regret! The sit­ter I hadn’t fired—I liked her but couldn’t count on her—was close to her moth­er and told me she’d reserved cheap plane tick­ets for me, “bereave­ment fare,” which was a thing then. I just had to con­firm them.

My moth­er had been mar­ried less than a year, her third mar­riage. Her first, to my alco­holic father, had last­ed twen­ty-odd years. Her sec­ond, to an obscene­ly vio­lent man, last­ed anoth­er twen­ty years. He was vio­lent to every­one, so I’d stopped vis­it­ing out of con­cern for my safe­ty, though I remained con­cerned for hers, and, yes, I did advise her to leave him, but she nev­er did. Then he died, lucky break, and she mar­ried an appar­ent­ly pleas­ant man. When I met him and his grown chil­dren at the wed­ding, they seemed nice. Eight months lat­er I flew to see her in the ICU because I hoped not to feel regret, and she died unex­pect­ed­ly while I was on my way, while I was on a plane read­ing a book by Dave Eggers. As we planned her funer­al, her hus­band and his grown chil­dren still seemed nice. 

But I’d dithered before trav­el­ing because rac­ing to and from Ore­gon with a four-year-old sound­ed hard. This deci­sion was anoth­er fork in the road with option­al routes into the future. Who would watch my daugh­ter? The grad­u­ate stu­dent who’d so far can­celed every oth­er week wasn’t good at rou­tines, but she loved emer­gen­cies. She offered to stay overnight with my daugh­ter one night. JoAnn took a few days. Two child­care work­ers from the Bap­tist preschool, younger than me, the age of aunts, each vol­un­teered for an overnight. Peo­ple passed my daugh­ter around, dropped her off, picked her up. 

The short trip to see my moth­er in the ICU to pre­empt regret turned into ten days and nights, none of the nights with sleep for me. Even before I left, I hadn’t slept, decid­ing to stay, go, spec­u­lat­ing how my mother’s death at some far-off future point might be hard to process. The night before I trav­eled I didn’t sleep, typ­i­cal, not sleep­ing the night before trav­el, nor dur­ing, the unfa­mil­iar bed, lights, nois­es. Choos­ing a cof­fin and bur­ial clothes, writ­ing a eulo­gy, deliv­er­ing it, good man­ners by day, grief at night—my brain ran on high, mak­ing new neur­al paths to reg­is­ter that my moth­er, locus of love and regret, was dead. 

I assumed a return to my bed, my neighbor’s dusk-to-dawn yard light mak­ing famil­iar squares on my bed­room walls, would relax me. When I got home, a Bap­tist preschool work­er said, “Some­one is glad to see you!” My daughter’s face was a mix of glee and ter­ror. I put her to bed. I got into bed. I couldn’t have slept forty min­utes when she shook me awake. All night, all week, all month. Weeks into these mul­ti­ple shak­ings-awake per night, I wasn’t sleepy, just dull-wit­ted and, once I bestirred myself, robot­i­cal­ly coherent. 

A Bap­tist preschool work­er advised me to let my daugh­ter sleep in my bed, but nei­ther of us slept. I called JoAnn, who said to put a pal­let in my room, show it to my daugh­ter, and tell her if she went to bed in her room and woke she could move there only if she didn’t wake me. I went to REI in the col­lege town and bought a pal­let. A year lat­er, dur­ing kinder­garten, she was still mov­ing to the pallet—during the months I fell ill, dur­ing the lead-up to surgery, and after­ward, the vir­u­lent post-op malaise. She out­grew it, so I went to town and bought a big­ger pal­let. I’d kiss her good­night in her own room, breath­ing deep the scent of child skin, and go to bed alone. I nev­er woke until daytime’s first placid minute. She’d have slipped across the house, to the pal­let, under the quilt, to sleep.


I tried mov­ing the pal­let a few feet from my bed with the plan to bit-by-bit move it far­ther from my small room toward hers. But every morn­ing it was tucked back in the rec­tan­gu­lar spot near my bed. She kept grow­ing until, rolling over, she’d thump the clos­et and wake me. I explained this, and she offered to move to the hall out­side my room and sleep there on a pal­lia­tive pal­let, thin lay­er on a hard, cold floor, hard­er and cold­er in the hall.

Quit­ting the pal­let always reg­is­tered as bet­ter sleep for both of us in a hypo­thet­i­cal future but a bad night right now, tonight. So I didn’t. To be clear, pal­let-reliance wasn’t co-sleep­ing. Co-sleep­ing was when my daugh­ter slept in a cra­dle next to my bed. Co-sleep­ing was when she was too big for the cra­dle and moved to a crib in her room, and a baby mon­i­tor ampli­fied her small cries and I’d go feed her, falling asleep on her floor, my hand through the crib rail­ing. Before my daugh­ter arrived, a social work­er described both bed-shar­ing and co-sleep­ing as good for bond­ing, though not every­one gets enough sleep while bed-shar­ing, she added. Co-sleep­ing, with the baby in your room in a pla­yard, was eas­i­er. Pla­yard? I’d asked her. Pla­yard is anoth­er word for “playpen,” archa­ic now, bad con­no­ta­tions. The social work­er said, “You, if you fall in love, will want pri­va­cy.” She point­ed out that it would be tricky in a new rela­tion­ship to have sex only dur­ing school or daycare. 

When my hus­band and I first began to date—rare, thrilling, phys­i­cal encoun­ters, and con­ver­sa­tion about child­care that made encoun­ters possible—we emailed. Tex­ting wasn’t a thing yet. I most­ly nixed phone calls because, after putting my daugh­ter to bed, I had chores. He had a clean­ing ser­vice. He and his ex-wife lived near each oth­er, with shared cus­tody and dove­tailed sched­ules. When his son was a baby, they’d had a nan­ny. One phone call to the agency will replace an unsuit­able nan­ny, as when, for instance, a neigh­bor informed them their nan­ny smoked a cig­a­rette in the yard as the baby napped. This couldn’t have been a fir­ing offense for me, I’d have rea­soned, think­ing that even non­smok­ers step out­side while a baby is nap­ping. I expressed envy, then self-cas­ti­ga­tion about my pecu­liar, extem­po­rized child­care, per­fect­ed plans for­ev­er foiled, and he added that he and his ex-wife lived in a city with more options and two salaries to pay for options.

The first Sat­ur­day I drove into the city to ini­ti­ate the rare and thrilling phys­i­cal encoun­ters, I paid the big-heart­ed, sar­don­ic sit­ter, who had a daugh­ter my daughter’s age, for my daugh­ter to spend the night, but this sit­ter was still dis­turbing­ly hard to wake. So soon­er than planned, then, I was hav­ing thrilling encoun­ters fre­quent­ly and always at my house. 

I’d put my daugh­ter to bed, then go to bed with my new boyfriend, who so far seemed unob­jec­tion­able. After­ward, I’d open the door, unroll the pal­let. “My daugh­ter has sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety since I made a trip to my mother’s funer­al,” I explained, leav­ing out that years had passed. One night as I unrolled the pal­let, he said he was afraid of step­ping on her when he got up in the night. I told him pal­let-reliance was like a tide-you-over sleep­ing pill, easy to start and hell­ish to stop. I laughed wild­ly as I some­times did when a moth­er in the vil­lage would cri­tique my child maybe in order to check off a devel­op­men­tal mile­stone for hers, say­ing, “she’s not walk­ing!?” or “don’t tell me she still naps!?” 

He asked for my per­mis­sion to pro­pose a plan. The next morn­ing he got down on one knee and held my daughter’s hand. “Is there a toy you real­ly want?” For months she’d asked for an expen­sive pre­tend-CD play­er that played pre­tend-CDs that came with it, four tin­ny, shouty children’s songs. I object­ed. She had a real CD play­er with real CDs, I said. He shook his head no to me. To her, he said, “If you try to sleep one night in your room, I’ll buy it.” She slept all night in her room the first try. She liked this bet­ter, she said in the morn­ing, bet­ter than the floor. My boyfriend and I sipped cof­fee. My daugh­ter put a pre­tend-CD in a plas­tic box, as a song about a muf­fin man flood­ed the kitchen. 


What the pre-adop­tion check­list missed:

  • Many single parents have extended family or something like it.
  • A job with vaunted “flextime” means improvised childcare.
  • A village is a childcare desert.
  • You can get so reliant on a schedule planned by the day, the hour, the minute, that a small tweak derails you, and you’re bone-tired after, not during. 

Post-adop­tion, your adult daugh­ter won’t care one whit about your ret­ro­spec­tive doubts, your belat­ed clar­i­ty as you real­ize years lat­er that the entire plan, prechecked, checked and dou­blechecked, was flawed, that every week wob­bled on the verge of col­lapse like a house you’d built your­self out of odds and ends creak­ing and shak­ing and shud­der­ing at every unex­pect­ed gust. She’ll blink and say, “That’s not how I remem­ber it at all.” And describe instead a gar­den you once plant­ed, tiny car­rots she pulled out too soon; how she fol­lowed you with a toy vac­u­um when you used the big one; some­thing she calls Wine and Pop­si­cle Night; the tree­house you built for her birth­day a serene porch high, high in branches. 


Every week­day except night-class day, I’d wait in my car for my daughter’s school bus and talk by phone to Aunt Cindy in Flori­da, her voice via the cell phone tow­er waves like the voice of a non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist god, con­sol­ing but too far-off for mate­r­i­al help. JoAnn’s help was prac­ti­cal and near­by. Twen­ty years lat­er, which is to say last week, she sent me this unex­pect­ed mes­sage by way of her boyfriend’s social media “chat”:

Debra, this is OJann. I had a dream at dawn about our girl. She lay in my arms. I enjoyed her so much, her sweet face. How pre­cious she was to hold those years ago. When I had this same dream 5 years ago, I ran into her in a restau­rant with her friends when I had an errand in the city that day! I’m not going out today so that won’t repeat, but she is in my heart.

Five years ear­li­er my daugh­ter had come home from a restau­rant near her high school where she’d gone to eat. She’d heard JoAnn call­ing her name. They’d hugged hel­lo, smiling. 

After I got mar­ried and my daugh­ter and I moved to the city, my com­mute to work was long but no longer spi­ral­ing or ever sub­ject to change as it had been in the vil­lage, new byways always added, back when I’d be at work in mid­day and my body, con­di­tioned to mapped blocks of time, shift­ed into pal­pa­ble high-alert before I even saw the clock telling me that Mother’s Day Out or the Bap­tist preschool or the ele­men­tary school was end­ing soon. I’d wrap up my class or meet­ing, think­ing: get in the car and dri­ve. On night-class day, I’d think: sit­ter, arrive! In the city, my hus­band picked up my daugh­ter at onsite after­school care. He made din­ner, then super­vised home­work, get­ting harder. 

A way­ward sit­ter replaced. An ill­ness cor­rect­ly diag­nosed. When my moth­er died, a dis­tress­ing gap in child­care filled as I nego­ti­at­ed tan­gled sched­ules, con­flict­ing phone mes­sages. I strate­gized. I made snap deci­sions about the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the care and car­ing on offer. Stop­gap expe­di­en­cy assem­bled out of short­ages isn’t everyone’s expe­ri­ence. It was mine. 

When the sev­en­teen-year-old sit­ter one after­noon left my daugh­ter alone on a hill, my neigh­bor the oth­er neigh­bors called Crab­by Old Man saw her and drove her back to school, and the prin­ci­pal called me to come quick­ly. I knocked on this neighbor’s door to thank him, and he said: “All on your own then?” I had sit­ters, I said. A few days lat­er as I wait­ed for her bus, he came out­side and said he wished for my sake I was mar­ried so I’d have help. Then he smiled and said: “I guess you’ve thought of that.” I hadn’t. Despite my pen­chant for plan­ning to fore­stall all future glitch­es, I’d nev­er thought about a help­ful hus­band because I couldn’t prob­lem-solve one into being, nor a life in which I wouldn’t be so tired, a life in which more peo­ple than me would love my daugh­ter all day and all night, no strings attached, no caveats, would bound­less­ly and unlim­it­ed­ly love her as my hus­band does now. I was enough, timetabled, adap­tive, assess­ing late-break­ing threats, mak­ing a plan, my relief surg­ing as reward when I cleared hur­dles. I’d have con­tin­ued to be. But future wind­falls are as unex­pect­ed as future pit­falls. I got lucky and didn’t have to be.



From the writer

:: Account ::

When I began to write this essay about the dearth of child­care in a small, rur­al town, I knew its struc­ture wouldn’t be nar­ra­tive. The sto­ry of my life as a sin­gle moth­er was often a sto­ry of fused emer­gen­cies. Even when I used to write fic­tion, I felt out of patience with the idea that causal­i­ty and lin­ear time explain every­thing. I was walk­ing on trails in woods one day, feel­ing lost, and I under­stood that this essay would be about being lost in a zone not ade­quate­ly mapped by cal­en­dars and clocks. While writ­ing, I also read an arti­cle about game theory—about how the gamer’s risk-tak­ing is reward­ed and perpetuated—and I under­stood why, back when I was arrang­ing my extem­po­rized and some­times sub­stan­dard child­care, I was inter­mit­tent­ly and mys­te­ri­ous­ly elat­ed, adren­a­line rush. 


Debra Mon­roe is the author of sev­en books, includ­ing It Takes a Wor­ried Woman: Essays (forth­com­ing from The Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia Press, 2022) in which this essay will appear. She has also writ­ten two sto­ry col­lec­tions, The Source of Trou­ble (Simon & Schus­ter, 1990) and A Wild, Cold State (Simon & Schus­ter, 1995); two nov­els, New­fan­gled (Simon & Schus­ter, 1998) and Sham­bles (SMU Press, 2004); and two mem­oirs, On the Out­skirts of Nor­mal (The Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia Press, 2010) and My Unsen­ti­men­tal Edu­ca­tion (The Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia Press, 2015). She is the edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy Con­tem­po­rary Cre­ative Non­fic­tion. Her essays have appeared in many venues, includ­ing Lon­greads, The South­ern Review, The New York Times, The Amer­i­can Schol­ar, Guer­ni­ca, and The Rum­pus.

Cycle & Circumstances

Nonfiction / Jane Hertenstein

:: Cycle & Circumstances ::

A hybrid mem­oir about rid­ing from the top to the bot­tom of the UK 

 When I was fif­teen, my moth­er worked at the local hard­ware store where she got a dis­count. That’s where I bought my Huffy Scout—I actu­al­ly called it Scout (after the char­ac­ter in To Kill a Mock­ing­bird). I would ride well beyond Cen­ter­ville into the out­skirts of Day­ton and then beyond that. One time I woke ear­ly and left the house. By noon I was in Indiana. 

On the way back I remem­ber get­ting as far as Miamis­burg (see: Stu­pid Kids). I’d call Mom from a pay­phone (remem­ber those?) and beg her to have Dad come pick me up. It got to be a run­ning routine—me rid­ing too far and need­ing a ride home. Often when I called, Mom would be dis­mayed, “I thought you were upstairs in bed!” 

Lat­er she got used to my calls and would sim­ply ask, 

Where are you now?” 





Stu­pid Kids 

Stuff you don’t think about when you’re fif­teen and decide to go for a ride: 

Sun­screen, food, water, mon­ey, sun­glass­es, no cell­phone because they haven’t been invent­ed yet, no maps or GPS, no spare inner tubes or patch kit, or tools, or any way to fix anything 





Wak­ing up ear­ly before the dust of night has blown off. There is a dis­tant pale light throb­bing on the hori­zon. Birds are atwit­ter. The dew-grass soaks my sneak­ers as I pull open the garage door and grab my bike lean­ing against the wall. 

Scout is mus­tard yel­low with brown let­ter­ing and accents. A Huffy 10-speed. Just the idea that I can go any­where stirs my blood. 

There is nev­er any plan. I’ll be home before lunch, I think, before any­one even knows I’m gone—or cares. 

The roads are emp­ty, white lines mark the black asphalt sur­face. Ahead of me a rib­bon that I ride, col­lect­ing speed to make it up the next swell. Small white but­ter­flies flit above stalks of corn­flow­ers, fields of gold­en­rod, tiger lilies blow in the wind grow­ing in a ditch by the road­way, a fox skit­ters into a hole in a stone wall, turn­ing a cor­ner on a dew drenched morn­ing and com­ing across a deer, star­tled, it darts into the riv­er. Slow­ly the sun climbs. 

After a while I am hot and thirsty and go faster in order to fan myself. A dog chas­es after me, and I stand up on the ped­als and crank as hard as I can. He runs in front of my wheel and I almost hit him, only man­ag­ing to slow down. His teeth nip at my heels. I escape and mean­while for­get how hun­gry I am. 

Grasshop­pers thud me in the fore­head, leav­ing a tobac­co-stain pee. I’m not wear­ing a hel­met. It’s not a thing yet. I count tele­phone poles, low-hang­ing wires strung like a lady’s neck­lace. Glass insu­la­tors stud the top of the cross bar, glis­ten­ing like gem­stones as the sun bears down. 

I stop, sud­den­ly feel­ing light-head­ed. My breath is ragged and dense with humid­i­ty and exhaus­tion. I reck­on I’ve been rid­ing for four or five hours. At a small gro­cery store I ask about a water foun­tain and drink long and hard before get­ting back on my steed. If I can get as far as Miamis­burg where Dad works at Monarch Mar­ket­ing where they make labels, then I can wait until he’s done and hitch a ride home with him. 

At home I lie on the couch and drink a Coke. Lat­er, I’ll eat sup­per and go to bed, to wake up ear­ly to ride my bike. 





I might have been fif­teen or six­teen. I was on my bike rid­ing around in the coun­try on an asphalt road in the mid­dle of nowhere when a car pulled up at a T‑intersection beside me. It was one of those big-boat ’70s cars, the dri­ver had long Lynyrd Skynyrd hair. “Hey!” he called me over. 

And of course I leaned in the open win­dow to see what he wanted. 

He asked me direc­tions, said a street name that I didn’t rec­og­nize. In his lap he fin­gered what looked vague­ly like an ice cream cone, puls­ing with veiny red sprinkles. 

Sud­den­ly dread washed over me. I sped away with­out look­ing back. When I got home I nev­er once thought about shar­ing this inci­dent with my moth­er. I only wished I could tear my eyes out. 

What am I sup­posed to do now? I had thought. Too many girls have this same story.





My mom could be arbi­trary. I nev­er knew which Mom I was going to get. The nice one who would promise me any­thing or the one who would sud­den­ly take it all back. Who might one day sign a per­mis­sion slip for camp and the next day rip it up. She was a depres­sive, the daugh­ter of a depres­sive. When things got bad, real­ly bad, she’d go off to the “hos­pi­tal” for a few months of “rest.” The worst was the shock treat­ments. One Christ­mas she came home for a vis­it and pre­sent­ed me and my sis­ter with gifts made dur­ing occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py. I opened a box con­tain­ing a leather bracelet embossed with my name. Except she had spelled Jane as Jayne. I con­sid­ered point­ing this out, but thought bet­ter. I kept it at the back of my clos­et for years, even­tu­al­ly leav­ing it when I moved out. 

As a kid you have no pow­er. No mon­ey. No con­trol. I was always at the whim of her will. The trick was not to want. To give off the air of what­ev­er. But this was hard; invari­ably I’d show my hand and blow it. 

Cycling became a cop­ing mech­a­nism. Hills. Wind. I couldn’t make them go away, but I could tack­le prob­lems one by one. All I had to do was pedal. 

Rid­ing nar­rowed life down into the now. To the present moment. The wind in my face, tiger lilies wav­ing at me as I passed, the rib­bon of asphalt ris­ing up to meet me, but­ter­flies and bees, the thirst, the sun, the poet­ry of motion. 

Bicy­cling saved me. 





When I was a kid back in Ohio, I saw an adver­tise­ment for a talk at the library. A cou­ple had just rid­den their bikes from Alas­ka to the south­ern tip of Argenti­na, a Hemis­tour. Now they were propos­ing just in time for the country’s Bicen­ten­ni­al, Bikecen­ten­ni­al, an event intend­ed to get peo­ple on their bikes for a ride across the coun­try, from Asto­ria, Ore­gon, to York­town, Virginia. 

Bike­cen­ten­ni­al appealed to my vagabond spir­it. I sat spell­bound lis­ten­ing to Dan and Lys Bur­den describe their project. Folks would ride back roads, stay overnight in camp­grounds, city parks, church base­ments, com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters; they’d see the coun­try close-hand from the sad­dle; they’d expe­ri­ence weath­er and the out­pour­ing of hos­pi­tal­i­ty. They’d make friends and come home with stories. 

Count me in! Except I was fif­teen years old and would nev­er be able to get my par­ents on board with my plan. 

But it did plant a seed in my heart and mind—that some­day I would strap a sleep­ing bag onto the back of my bike and ride and ride until tired. I’d sleep and eat beside the road. I’d be free. 





At age 58 I had come to a point of reck­on­ing, or what some peo­ple call the buck­et list. 

When a per­son is old but not too old. When on the time­line of life they are more than halfway, far from the begin­ning, clos­er to the end. When the tolling of bells reminds you of mor­tal­i­ty, that death will one day come for thee. 

It is a time of assess­ment, to review regrets and add up cher­ished moments. What is it you did, and what is it you didn’t do? 

Mary Oliv­er, in her poem “The Sum­mer Day,” details the minu­ti­ae of the nat­ur­al world revolv­ing around her before zoom­ing out. The big­ger pic­ture requires us to take stock. She ends the poem with a ques­tion:   

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and pre­cious life? 





Was it midlife malaise? Grief from los­ing my par­ents? The feel­ing that I was on the cusp of los­ing my mar­riage?  

St. Antho­ny is the patron saint of lost items / lost peo­ple. He is said to have suf­fered from despair. In this way I think we can all relate to him, from one wound­ed heart to anoth­er.  He was told that any phys­i­cal task done in the prop­er spir­it would bring him deliverance. 

Seek­ing solace, I did what I’d always done in the past—I got on my bike. I would ped­al my way into sal­va­tion, ride to rid myself of the awful­ness inside of me. 

I bought a tick­et to England. 





So sigh­ing for new worlds to con­quer, I jumped into a JOGLE. I decid­ed I would ride my bike from John O’Groats in Scot­land to Land’s End in Cornwall—the length of the UK

Just to put this into per­spec­tive: it would be a jour­ney of 1,100 miles. 

Just to put this into per­spec­tive: most peo­ple who attempt a JOGLE or LEJOG (if going in the oppo­site direc­tion, south to north) are fit. I, on the oth­er hand, was not fit but a frumpy post-menopausal woman in her late fifties. 

Just to put this into per­spec­tive: I had no idea what I was get­ting into. 

I assumed Eng­land would be one great, big gar­den path with rows of cute thatch-roof cot­tages. I had no idea that the Scot­tish High­lands was lit­er­al. Not only would I have to tra­verse the High­lands but sev­er­al oth­er small­er ranges. The Lake Dis­trict was not only lakes but moun­tains, includ­ing the high­est peak in England. 

I didn’t have the right bike or the right gear. 

Per­haps it was bet­ter that I didn’t under­stand. Most ratio­nal peo­ple would have turned back, stayed on the lake­front path, or nev­er left the com­fort of their couch. 





I had to remind myself I was that girl who dared to dream, to risk. Who start­ed off ear­ly in the morn­ing with only a small ruck­sack slung over her back. Mus­cle mem­o­ry recalled that gyp­sy spir­it. Deep beneath my grey hair were blonde roots that turned white under the hot sum­mer sun.   

I just need­ed to sum­mon her back, call her forth. 

I had to believe it was possible. 





What was I doing? I asked myself this ques­tion a thou­sand times. 

What was I doing all alone in the far-flung High­lands on a bike? This was crazy. Stu­pid. I wasn’t Super­woman. I couldn’t believe what I had got­ten myself into. And, why? 

I ful­ly thought after sep­a­rat­ing from my hus­band that we would be able to begin again. We were smart, we both loved to read, we were on the same page polit­i­cal­ly, we loved our daugh­ter, now grown and out of the house. We had all the tools to fix what­ev­er was bro­ken. But, maybe that was the prob­lem: we didn’t know how bro­ken we were. 

I ped­aled in the mist, crying. 

                    Going down a road hoping to end up somewhere, to be found,  





It can­not be over­stat­ed, I got lost. A lot.




Get­ting lost is all about per­cep­tions. You start with a cer­tain frame­work and fig­ure out ref­er­ence points. With­out know­ing where I was, I couldn’t even begin to mea­sure how far off route I’d wandered. 

The same could be said of my mar­riage. I had no idea how far off the mark I was or where to go next. 

On my JOGLE I’d zigzag, careen from one cross­roads to anoth­er veer­ing toward my even­tu­al goal. 

In my mar­riage I moved from blun­der to blun­der, hop­ing to get some­where, together. 

I lacked a con­text; I assumed too much, and once I under­stood, I knew a course cor­rec­tion would cost in time and effort. I was far from where I want­ed to be. 





Shop­keep­ers, once they saw that I was by myself, would exclaim: You’re all alone!  

Yes. I was con­stant­ly aware that I was a stranger in a strange land. One time I stopped at a cafe. I couldn’t fig­ure out how to open the door. I could see they were open. Final­ly the counter per­son came out and let me in. I was pulling instead of push­ing. While sit­ting there eat­ing the best soup ever I shed a few tears. Alone. By myself. 





After fin­ish­ing my JOGLE, cycling back to Penzance—it hit me: I’d reached my goal after nine­teen days, 1,100 miles of wind, rain, round-abouts, get­ting lost, sting­ing net­tles, thigh-burn­ing climbs, and bro­ken spokes. I began to cry. 

I didn’t know I pos­sessed such endurance; I had no idea I was this strong. I deserved a pat on the back, or at least a cream tea. I prac­ti­cal­ly flew back to the hos­tel, pushed along this time by the wind. 





I sat in a tea room in late after­noon, my table fac­ing a win­dow look­ing out upon the street. I watched peo­ple flood past, their faces down­turned, hur­ry­ing to escape the rain now com­ing down. I’d plunged head­long, thrown cau­tion to the wind, and gone to Eng­land to cycle the coun­try top to bot­tom, and now I was done. What would I do next? My life, my future seemed to waver before me like heat off a hot high­way. I glimpsed a head­line in a news­pa­per left on an adjoin­ing table. Brad and Angeli­na had separated. 

I con­tem­plat­ed my mar­riage. I vowed I would return and tack­le this prob­lem head-on. I’d pow­er through it. I’d set up coun­sel­ing ses­sions. Ener­gized, I made lists. I was a new woman. 





My hus­band agreed to pick me up at the air­port. I texted him when I land­ed in Cana­da for a trans­fer. “In North Amer­i­ca!”  

At the Chica­go air­port I wait­ed with my bike box. And wait­ed. And wait­ed. I cart­ed it up and down the esca­la­tor, the ele­va­tor, bang­ing it against clos­ing doors think­ing I might be on the wrong floor. By this time I’d been awake and in trav­el mode for eigh­teen hours. 

Suf­fice it to say nei­ther of us was in a wel­com­ing mood when we met up. The van ride into the city was filled with awk­ward silence and the hum of traffic. 

Some­time after this he informed me that he had tak­en off his wed­ding ring. 





My heart was broken. 

At writer’s con­fer­ences I’d sit invis­i­ble. The mid­dle-aged woman. There was noth­ing remark­able about me. My once blonde hair had turned the col­or of cold shrimp. 

I had no plat­form. I wasn’t on Twit­ter or Instagram. 

Sell­ing books at a book fair, sit­ting behind a table with peo­ple stream­ing by, wait­ing for some­one to final­ly buy my book, I’d for­get I’d done amaz­ing things. I’d have to remind myself that I had a secret pow­er. It was under my clothes. 

                    Tan lines, left by my bike shorts.






After my divorce I went to New York City to see a friend.  

When Elanor sug­gest­ed we rent Citi Bikes, I hes­i­tat­ed. “C’mon,” she berat­ed me, “you ride your bike all over the world.” 

An exag­ger­a­tion. Though since my JOGLE I’d man­aged a few oth­er trips—one of which took me from Ams­ter­dam along the North Sea and over the Tele­mark Moun­tains in Norway. 

She talked me into it. We jerked the ungain­ly bikes out of iron racks and set off. In busy Brook­lyn traf­fic, my over­sized han­dle­bars jig­gled as I swerved to stay in a bike lane, jug­gling my phone and bag that kept slip­ping out of the loose bungee at the front of the bike. 

At first all I could see was the pot­holes, the cars dri­ving way too close, the trash in the streets. But then, some­thing mag­i­cal hap­pened. I began to forget. 

Soon I was a tourist fly­ing around a big city, see­ing things for the first time. The Ortho­dox Jews push­ing baby bug­gies, dog walk­ers in the new park along the East Riv­er, old men play­ing chess out­side a bar. They waved at us. 

It was weird, peo­ple were stop­ping and smil­ing. Para­noid, I checked to see if my under­wear was show­ing. I was rid­ing in a skirt and pulled at the hem that kept blow­ing up. I tucked my tank top in at the back. 

Slow­ly I came to real­ize we were sum­mer girls. We rep­re­sent­ed free­dom. We had tak­en a step away from the every­day rou­tine and were buzzing around hav­ing fun.   

Life at its best and happiest.





These days I dream more and more of riding my bike.  
In my mind I ride a thousand roads.  
After years, the light has changed, yet still I see,  
                    up around the next curve—a wider world! 
          So I keep going.




From the writer

:: Account ::

Fragili­ty. That was the theme of the year 2020. Work­ing as a full-time vol­un­teer at a home­less shel­ter, I encoun­tered many peo­ple who con­tract­ed COVID and a few who died from the virus. I got to see first­hand how frag­ile life is—especially for those liv­ing on the mar­gins. As a woman, I’m used to being invis­i­ble, but these past few years have felt like a weight. Under the pan­dem­ic I real­ized I had very lit­tle agency in my life; thus, when lock­down lift­ed in Illi­nois at the end of May, I jumped on my bicy­cle and rode 2,400 miles to the Pacif­ic Ocean, Chica­go to Sea­side, OR, fol­low­ing an approx­i­ma­tion of the Lewis & Clark Trail. 

I had plen­ty of time to think in the 45 days it took me to com­plete the trek. I decid­ed, per the ques­tion put forth in the poem “The Sum­mer Day” by Mary Oliv­er, that I need­ed to live my one wild and pre­cious life, start­ing by tak­ing risks. 

In my piece “Cycle & Cir­cum­stances,” I write about the ori­gins of my cycling passion—and how I believe cycling saved me from a chaot­ic child­hood. Fol­low­ing up on that, in 2016 I rode the length of the UK from John O’Groats to Lands’ End in an effort to make sense of the breakup of my mar­riage. I need­ed to find once again a place of well-being—the fact that I turned my life upside down to do it is doc­u­ment­ed in the piece. 



Jane Herten­stein is the author of over 90 pub­lished sto­ries both macro and micro: fic­tion, cre­ative non­fic­tion, and blurred genre. In addi­tion she has pub­lished a YA nov­el, Beyond Par­adise (Harper­Collins, 1999), and a non-fic­tion project, Orphan Girl: The Mem­oir of a Chica­go Bag Lady (Cor­ner­stone Press, 1998), which gar­nered nation­al reviews. Jane is the recip­i­ent of a grant from the Illi­nois Arts Coun­cil. Her lat­est book is Cloud of Wit­ness­es (2018) from Gold­en Alley Press. She teach­es a work­shop on flash mem­oir and can be found blog­ging at