Two Poems

Poetry / Saddiq Dzukogi

:: Inner Songs ::

When I pray, I place my palms one onto the other, 
on my chest, as if to say, it is yours, 
God in a voice deep as a fissure— 
where the things that go in echo 
and create circles like a stone 
stirring the face of a river, my prayer is a planetary body, 
siphons my energy and gives nothing in return.    
What light can stir me through 
this hailstorm of darkness. What orchestrates my body 
to trust its scraped knees instead of the feet. 
Grief means me, means to keep my body swallowed— 
paring down my bones to an idea that cannot flower. 
It is a virus strafing my immune system like rock salt 
rubbed at my skin, where I have bruises, 
until the bruises are stripped into wounds 
even my shadows can feel. Barefoot, 
at the place where earth ate my daughter’s 
placenta, seeking to empty my sadness, 
the sadness of a body, a body like a house 
built on buried bones. I am singing to the ravens 
and my sorrow spills on the neighbor’s wife. 
She is pregnant. Each morning when we meet, 
I’d see my sadness in her eyes. 
I bridle at a beaming light so much 
what I see is just a dark so dark it holds my eyes 
for a few seconds after I turn away. 
I am fond of your memory, 
it’s the only room I walk into 
and find you on a mulberry carpet 
waiting with sealed lips, a face, 
a body, and silence. 


:: Still-Life ::

Sometimes memory is more than a knife 
cutting moments from my past 
into sizes that fit the present. At the edge 
of what doesn’t seem like paradise, 
a myrtle had risen past a skyline. 
I still call you Myrtle, abandoning my grief 
as I complete your heaven with a fantasy. 
I call the shrub your name until it starts 
to look like you. Sometimes I am angry: 
I know what you’ve done with my hair 
inside a wine glass. We hold onto anything 
that reminds us of what we’ve lost. 
As I wake from a dream, lost are 
the pearlescent eyes that could see into 
tomorrow, could see the myrtle still 
stretching its body to reach the horizon. 
Memories are a still-life caught in snippets, 
framed in a glass, like my hair. 
They drag shared moments to my eyes, 
where your light touches me and the images 
re-form. There we are all together: mother, 
my brothers, Farid and Rayhan, 
playing hide and seek behind your back.  

From the writer

:: Account ::

These are poems born out of grief and the cel­e­bra­tion of our beloved daugh­ter Baha, whom we lost 21 days after her first birth­day. In writ­ing these poems I feel like I am hold­ing her in my hands. She is alive as grief, alive as mem­o­ry, alive as song. 


Sad­diq Dzuko­gi is the author of Inside the Flower Room, select­ed by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the APBF New Gen­er­a­tion African Poets Chap­book Series. His recent poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in the Keny­on Review, Poet­ry Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca, Gulf Coast, African Amer­i­can Review, Crab Orchard Review, Prairie Schooner, and Verse Dai­ly. He has won fel­low­ships from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka-Lin­coln and Ebe­di Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ers Residency.

Two Poems

Poetry / Brian Clifton


:: The Palpitating Wing ::


           —after Black Swan 

I saw my dark reflection in the subway car’s 
plexiglass. I was a dancer. I wore a grey coat. 
I lifted lipstick to the dark space and felt 
my puckering lips. Behind me, a man kissed 
the air. He wetted his mouth. He yanked 
at the heart in his khakis. His body told 
me to do the same. Then, I was outside, 
at the conservatory. At home, wrapped in 
a shawl, I peeled back my shoe’s sidewalls, 
removed the leather spine. My empty shoe 
wagged like a silk muscle when I dropped it. 
I felt a flower bloom and wilt within me. 
I stitched a circle around the wooden tip. 
It held me up. We spun under the house 
lights. I palpitated in a mirror. Many mirrors 
in the dressing room. My face in them. 
The other dancers, wrapped in black elastic, 
bounced between their surfaces like a gala’s 
soft light skipping across sequins, diamonds, 
glass. Glasses everywhere. A screaming face 
etched in every surface. All I did was look. 
The lockstep motion of clapping hands. 
Spoon against flute. I saw the improbable 
mathematics of a line of dancers practicing 
their positions at random. We stretched 
our tendons on the bare floor. We arced 
our limbs. We posed in cocktail dresses 
to applause—its hive-like twitching. Let us 
touch a crystal flute, let us bleed Tchaikovsky 
until Tchaikovsky drips his iron rosé into us. 
On the stairs, under my thin breastbone, 
my heart did a little number. Rapid pump 
to be adored, to be pecked, some bread torn 
and tossed into the water. On the surface
the ghost hand that threw it to swans. 
The reflection rippled—an arm like a wing, 
an eye darting surface to surface while the body 
posed as if on stage, which it will be, which I 
will be. I will turn in the spotlight and then 
in the back changing outfits. In the mirror 
the thick lines dashed on my cheekbones 
cradle an empty face—jaw unhinged, pulled 
up like a veil crowned with teeth. My chest 
heaved. My foot in fog. In the orchestral 
pit, the strings increased their quivering. 
I counted the measures, the beat like heels 
clipping across the gala’s floor to a bronze 
statue with a face smeared white, its eyes 
recessed coals plugged into the brow’s thick 
gesture. I adjusted my shift. A woman called 
me a fucking little whore. My mouth opened. 
I spun. In each revolution, I focused on 
the light above the crowd. In the bulb, 
its filament vibrated. It sung. It licked 
every inch. I cascaded across the stage, 
eyes bloodshot, legs like a swan’s coiling 
neck. Then, the body like a sinking feather. 
The mind delayed a half-beat so the steps 
waver like spit from a sleeping mouth. 
In the light, I was asleep and wide awake; 
I slunk to the wings. The dark in which 
the director waited. I rubbed my face on 
his. Everyone believed I transfigured 
into a swan and her sister swan. The stage 
a bed I belonged in. A complete wound 
is not open but scarred. We look and say 
believe the skin. I bowed. On the subway’s 
stairs, its floodlight. At the top, in the dark, 
a figure stirred. I was its twin. I uncupped 
my fist; I saw my pulse pump. What was 
inside me was still at work, alone in the dark. 


:: The Suspended Body ::

—after The Neon Demon
We were introduced through a friend at her house party. It was high school, and I can’t remember what happened to her. We stepped outside and she said, This is K. She gestured to a slight man, a boy, who turned to us from the lawn. His body wounded the dusk, and I felt compelled to rub the dark spot he cast until it healed into a scar, the kind that brightens in a hot bath, a forget-me- not of blood beneath skin. We shook, exchanged numbers. I left. In high school, I could twist in and out of experiences. I drove to one house where I laughed. I drove to another and sat silently until finally we thrust our mouths against each other like carp at a dock. I did this often, and often in the short term I forgot one night or conflated a few. Then, months later, like the sharpened teeth of road kill suddenly visible (gums and jowls shriveled), a focused glimpse— my body splayed on the dark wheel of a trampoline, a blooming smoke bomb in the sweet spot of my mouth. Yes, every part of my body is appalled by the relish with which it took to this. At home and late, my phone shook. It was K. He asked me to join him in the city. It was raining. It hit the asphalt and turned into mist. I shimmied out the bedroom window and into my car. I drove to the city, where streetlights hung above men who lounged at their bases—sequined jackets, mini-skirts. The collected light moved like an anxious finger across a neckline, over a temple, coming to rest in eye-shadow. I stared until they returned my stare, and my face turned in theirs to a morning glory’s quickened mouth-blossom (sucking daylight until, groggy, it snaps shut). K said he could get us in without ID. The bar hummed with bass, distorted until dull like the sound of a thumb flicked slow against the thigh. I inhaled the friction’s sweet smell. Under it the rancid bud of collected sweat. K pulled me up the stairs. In the dark the breakbeats let loose their strobe. K’s face twisted into a mess of pleasure. I turned to see a shape ahead. It phased in and out with the lights as if a figure in a dream or the illusions that float in the dark when the body is ready for a dream but the mind stays pinned awake—unwinding the ceiling until it’s no longer a ceiling but the dragging belly scales of a godlike snake, no, a thousand tangling bodies searching for a mate. Ahead, a bound body, naked, the rapid strobe pumping the image into our pupils. He hung suspended by an unseeable wire. Belly pulled toward the ceiling, shoulders arched, head dangling, arms secured to the back’s semi-circle. In the red light, the body turned; it was a fine orchid, a ghost washed in blood. I watched K. His eyes on the body that turned on the wire, vibrating while the house lights quivered. Another figure joined. He stroked the body with a feather. He tugged a glistening chain. I felt K move closer to me. His slight frame and mine jostled past each other. His face brought close. My mouth slackened. But he did not cover it with his, did not tongue my tongue. So I pushed my wet mouth toward his. He recoiled. I could see his full face. It never occurred to me until then how similar a tongue and a flower are. It was as if his face were an overgrown field my hands turned until a fleshy red burst through and I craned lower. Not a flower but a tongue, slick on a creeper, not just one but a dozen. I wanted to hold of them and lift them for the wind to wag like the flesh inside the mouth of someone possessed (the ecstatic word, the trembling syntax), but no wind blew, and I did not move.



From the writer


:: Account ::

Film is such a beau­ti­ful thing. It can scram­ble time. It can make mon­sters. It can tell a sto­ry. It can lie about the sto­ry it says it’s telling. I love watch­ing film and tele­vi­sion. One per­son mak­ing an image just for you to con­tem­plate. And then anoth­er and anoth­er. Add dia­logue. Add a sound­track. The world pro­ject­ed onto a wall from a plas­tic box. 

I take a lot of inspi­ra­tion from film. I always have. In my most recent poems, I want­ed to do that more inten­tion­al­ly. “The Sus­pend­ed Body” takes an image from the film The Neon Demon as a start­ing point and manip­u­lates it. “The Pal­pi­tat­ing Wing” begins and ends in the film Black Swan. What inter­ests me is how we watch movies and tele­vi­sion and believe it is about us, how we eas­i­ly con­flate the screen and the I. 

And isn’t this how hor­ror works? A shad­ow moves behind a char­ac­ter. A creep­er lurks just out of their view. The vio­lins shoot their needling, the bass swells. These things are for us. The movie is try­ing to scare us, not its char­ac­ters. I want to cap­ture that moment when the art form reach­es beyond its 35mm into the the­ater, the liv­ing room, the brain. 


Bri­an Clifton is the author of the chap­books MOT and Agape (both from Osman­thus Press). They have work in: Pleiades, Guer­ni­ca, Cincin­nati Review, Salt Hill, Col­orado Review, The Jour­nal, Beloit Poet­ry Jour­nal, and oth­er mag­a­zines. They are an avid record col­lec­tor and cura­tor of curiosities.

Two Poems

Poetry / Alyse Bensel


:: Genetic ::


Trac­ing mito­chon­dr­i­al lin­eage we ask
who fathered this child, the moth­er silent
as an exhib­it behind glass. Sea­horse fins
undu­late like the cil­ia of cells that per­form
rou­tine func­tions, that mutate. The rote
gath­er­ing of drones is dri­ven by their need
for hon­ey. The male sea­horse har­bors
his chil­dren inside his tor­so until he rears
like a stal­lion, emp­ty­ing them into the sea.
Every atom roams with­in its own sup­posed
atmos­phere, so we can only guess
where an elec­tron exists. The gene char­ters
an imper­fect code left to chance.
But we nev­er wor­ry about flesh sud­den­ly
pulling from our bones. Our rein­car­na­tion
is a slick Mobius strip, a seashell’s whorl
lead­ing us toward our false eternity.


:: Love in the Anthropocene ::

Gas bub­bles from the tundra.
This week a tor­na­do so wide
you think it an ordi­nary storm
will kiss your rooftop
while the night crawlers
worm the soil, the termites
you paid good mon­ey to poison
hol­low your house.
The ani­mal and hunter exhaust
one anoth­er: cat and vole,
killer whale and gray whale.
Can­ni­bal hunger. How much
can you con­sume and expect
to be whole? You wield
a thick black line,
frag­ment the territory,
whit­tle the stream banks,
the marsh, the tadpoles
that sur­vive in the ditch
before the sum­mer drought.
Thou­sands of miles away,
the glac­i­ers weep back. 



From the writer


:: Account ::

I am always think­ing about the end of the world—the end of me, the end of every­one, whether human, plant, or min­er­al. These poems are an inter­ro­ga­tion of the con­se­quences of glob­al warm­ing. The apoc­a­lypse feels a breath away, from the rise of nat­ur­al cat­a­stro­phes to mass extinc­tion to the effects of a pol­lut­ed envi­ron­ment on the long-term health of every liv­ing crea­ture on this plan­et. While these poems may cel­e­brate that life, they are always cau­tious of the inher­ent dan­ger try­ing to main­tain sta­sis, or even move for­ward for the sake of progress while dimin­ish­ing the future. How long does all of this beau­ty, all of this destruc­tion, have left? While I am cau­tious of opti­mism, I am invest­ed in skep­ti­cism, in action, in tak­ing stock of the world. This work takes the same per­spec­tive: root­ed on the earth, fierce­ly look­ing to the horizon. 


Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Won­drous Things, a poet­ic biog­ra­phy of Maria Sibyl­la Mer­ian (Green Writ­ers Press, forth­com­ing 2020), and three chap­books, includ­ing Lies to Tell the Body (Sev­en Kitchens Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared in Alas­ka Quar­ter­ly Review, Gulf Coast, Poet­ry Inter­na­tion­al, and West Branch. She is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Bre­vard Col­lege, where she directs the Look­ing Glass Rock Writ­ers’ Conference.