Dorothy Prizes Awarded for 2009



Shannon Amidon of Hilo, Hawaii for Later they call the movers; Rueda after Keaukaha Beach; The Door to the Moon

Brian Brodeur of Fairfax, Virginia for On the Porch of P.X Rutz’s Log Cabin Ten Miles Northwest of Boulder, MT; Finding the Handwriting of a Woman I Loved in a Paperback She Left Behind Years Ago; Photograph of Jack Spicer holding a Life-Sized Plaster Bust of Jack Spicer

Brieghan Gardner of Nottingham, New Hampshire for Tornadoes; Anniversary Poem; The House in the Orchard, the Orchard in the House

K. A. Hays of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for Of the Body Taken In

Jennifer Key of Dallas, Texas for Anniversary; Fin de Siècle; We Are Easily Reduced

David Krump of La Crosse, Wisconsin for On the Invisible City; These Have Mercy/Have Not; Striking Wings of Swallows

Dawn Lonsinger of Salt Lake City, Utah for The Sewing Birds; Susan of the Fields

Susan L. Miller of Brooklyn, New York for Leaving Cape Cod; High Seas; Undertow

Miller Oberman of Brooklyn, New York for Storm of Horses; Dunx

Rachel Richardson of Greensboro, North Carolina for Girl Gathering Mussels; Fable

Ali Shapiro of Seattle, Washington for Hull; Symptoms; Water Resistance

Jennifer K. Sweeney of Kalamazoo, Michigan for Study of Family with Buckets; Inviting the Child

Sarah Sweeney of Jamaica Plain, Michigan for Lineage; Looking at Cows; Carolina Eclogue


Lauren K. Alleyne of Geneva, New York for When the angels come; Letter to the outside; Love in A Major

Scott Cameron of Rexburg, Idaho for In a Jail in Genoa; The Songs We Keep meaning To Sing

Victoria Chang of Irvine, California for Dear P., VI; Dear P., XX

Catherine Chung of New York, New York for In Wyoming

Weston Cutter of Orange City, Iowa for Pumpernickel; And So Perhaps (After CL); Spring Prayer

Julie Dunlop of Albuquerque, New Mexico for Watching a Hindi Film Understanding Nothing

Henrietta Goodman of Missoula, Montana for Where Sadness Comes From; Clay Pigeons; The Wind I Mean

Kimi Cunningham Grant of State College, Pennsylvania for Pole Beans; Like the Hermit Thrush; Pastoral

Nicholas Gulig of Iowa City, Iowa for Chicken Coop; Married Land; Departure, the Way a Sound Arrives

Alison Pelegrin of Covington, Louisiana for Mid City Tours; Something in the Water; Stupid Praise

Anna Lena Phillips of Durham, North Carolina for Early Blackberries; Mapping; Crosses

Joshua Rivkin of San Francisco, California for The Wind; Frankenstein’s Dog; Migrant

Chad Sweeney of Kalamazoo, Michigan for Practicing to be Blind; The Second Sky over Brooklyn

Natalie Haney Tilghman of Chicago, Illinois for Uprooted

Christine Tobin of Greensboro, North Carolina for Vedran Smailovic Plays the Cello in Sarajevo

Rhett Iseman Trull of Greensboro, North Carolina for Cowboys Ride With One Hand on Their Holsters


Corinne Adams of Edinburgh, Scotland for A Long Walk to Nishi-Kokubunji; Ice-Cream melts More Quickly in Siem Reap; Hitchhike to Hiroshima –

Jenn Blair of Winterville, Georgia for Ink; A Map is Useful,; Prison Spoon

Paula Bohince of Plum, Pennsylvania for Learning to Knit; Sunday Room; The Kind Faces of Poets

Traci Brimhall of Valrico, Florida for Kingdom Come; Nocturne with Oil Riggs and Jasmine; What We Have Lost

Danielle Cadena Deulen of Salt Lake City, Utah for Tomato; Threshold

M. Ayodele Heath of Atlanta, Georgia for South Africa: 25 Exposures

Sadiqa Khan of Kingston, Ontario, Canada for Amie; Arrival

L.S. McKee of San Francisco, California for Dear Robert, An Unwritten Postcard with the Manneken Pis; Baby Ava; Apocalypse Garden

Matthew Nienow of Bellevue, Washington for How the Summer Dries; Inukshuk; An Old Curiosity

Nikoletta Nousiopoulos of Falmouth, Massachusetts for wild poppies; grief litany; motherland

Idra Novey of New York, New York for Fist and After; Memorias do Cárcere; Meanwhile the Watermelon Seed

Jennifer Perrine of Des Moines, Iowa for Mother, Self-Portrait, 2006; The Power of the Gopher Overtakes Me

Leah Makuch Plath of Holyoke, Massachusetts for Moon Phases: For my Mother as She Turns Sixty

Ursula Sagar of London, England for Do not go down to the woods today

L.J. Sysko of Wilmington, Delaware for Epithalamium

Honorable Mention

Charles Byrne of Urbana, Illinois for Sonnet for K; Tornado; Winter

Dan Disney of Parkville, Melbourne, Australia for On Regarding Kant’s Statue; Toward a Unifying Theory of Non-Coincidence; Floortalk in front of Bellotto’s ‘Ruins of the Forum, Rome’

Hillary Faith of Clayton, North Carolina for With Teeth; Breakaway; Finally, Daddy

Rebecca Morgan Frank of Cincinnati, Ohio for Upon Seeing a Life Magazine Photograph of my Grandfather’s Release from a Civilian Prison Camp in Manila, World War II; Liberation of Santo Tomas Civilian Internment Camp, Manila, 1945; Eva Curie’s Madame Curie

Scott Gallaway of Bowling Green, Ohio for Special Electric; My Daughter’s Dream; Stucco and Primary Sclerosing Cholangiti

Chrissy Kolaya of Morris, Minnesota for Night in a Prairie Town; Factors That Control Weathering; There They Stood Exactly As They Were Created

Jen Lambert of Elkhorn, Nebraska for Dormancy; Casting Off

Sandra Lim of Chicago, Illinois for Autumn; Moon; Unopened Letters

Helena Milne of Johannesburg, South Africa for words; baby

E.K.Mortenson of Stamford, Connecticut for There, Then Not; Surgeon’s Hands; Matthew 14: 25-33

S.P.Nelson of San Diego, California for Compulsion; Christmas in July; Long Island Childhood

Gregory W. Randall of Santa Rosa, California for Grace Notes; Swim lessons; Tableaux

Christina Stoddard of Nashville, Tennessee for Arrival in Bellevue; Could You Be Happy

Joey Taouk of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia for Language; Tree; The Rooster

Penelope A. Thoms of Lovettsville, Virginia for Market Day; 32 Degrees; There Are No Children Here

Winning Poems

Shannon Amidon

Later they call the movers


You say avocado, mango, Hamakua.  

Then open window trade winds.

Whale song. Ocean song. You say endless

blue Pacific. Coastline. Breathe them to my ear. Twirl

the invitations down my sleep-sticky canal.


My throat opens to its own vibrations.

A hoarse Cat-a-hou-la, a swallow, then whisper: muscadine,

           Mississippi, ancient gar, persimmon, stronger, more 

           awake, tupelo, Spanish moss, cottonmouth and

           finally, moccasin.


You say but poison!


Well then, volcanoes! That from me.

And more, red dirt, levee. Shell road. Riverboat. Thunder.


You Pele. Hibiscus.


I hydrangea. I say Darling, hurricane, cotton bolls, firefly.


But tropical, you reason.


I offer only rigid



You say regret, press your palm to my navel

and you have me. You know surrender 

when you feel it.

Rueda after Keaukaha Beach

We three are salty from one thing or another:

sex, sweat, the sea. When I find them asleep,

my husband and our boy, awash in mottled

sunlight, cooled by late afternoon trades,

I pour another glass. Why not? Even my hair

is splashed clean, and my muscles are limber

from loving. When my damp skin misses

their touch, I check again and measure their steady

breath. I pray over them like a chieftess. The grape     

is sweet butter on my tongue. My prayer whips

the air in my mouth into clouds. My lips blow

the clouds across their dreaming brows: gardenia,

rain. One stirs, then the other. They make room

for a small river between them. I become the river.

They are the drowsing shores. Soon the tropic moon

offers herself to us. To welcome her we invite songs

from coqui frogs, and her milky light floats down

that urgent music. A blessing. In gratitude I shift

my hips and schooling menpachi glitter my center.

Ten thousand shiny eggs wait to be born.

The Door to the Moon

Though he does not know magnolia

he knows the door to the moon: the tall

blank opening through which giants glide.

He’s watched all evening. He is certain

though he is nearly new, born less than sixteen

moons past. But he knows the moon.

He’s seen it many times. Tonight’s crescent shines

whiter to him than any clean bones.

He doesn’t know bones though, or sorrow,

unless it is this want in the midst of confusion.

He doesn’t know loneliness, though he lives

on the farthest rock of the most isolated

island chain in the world. He feels

a kinship with the yellow ripening star

fruit outside his screenless window. Ghosts

of honeycatchers in orchid tree blooms.

He has plumeria. Bougainvillea. Pacific sweetness

in his breath. He has whales and their black

flukes just as he had them last winter. Just

as he swam down his first slippery canal

they too came home. Just as they have

the moon it belongs to him. As they turn

and breach toward her light he also turns.

But tonight they have the vaulted

sky and he the shut door. If only

he could will it open and rush

into her radiance he knows he would be happy.

When it closes again behind a nameless form,

he cannot bear the finality, the heavy wooden

No. For this he has a father.

So the child points to the door, wordless,

urgent. He need not work so hard.

In one wingless swoop the stronger lifts

the other, softly, as not to disturb his desire.

In an instant they are through. The dark

licks their faces until they are all eyes. Last

second’s limitations are erased. Open once

was all he’d asked, all he’d ever need.

Brian Brodeur

On the Porch of P.X Rutz’s Log Cabin Ten Miles Northwest of Boulder, MT

Riding some surge of air, three turkey vultures

glide a mile or so down the valley, circling

in an ascending helix—four, then five, then six.


They drift so close to the porch we can see

their perforated nostrils, their demon faces

turning to scan a clearing on the ridge.


Sometimes a prairie dog dies in the open 

or a free-range Holstein calf wanders too far.

Mostly, it’s voles and field mice, other birds.


Last night, we hauled water up High Ore Road

and found a disembodied mule-deer leg

stripped of fur and flesh, canid tooth marks


scored along the bone, its hoof gnawed off.

We paused in the drought grass, nodded at each other 

and walked in silence with our sloshing jugs. 


Now, as the sun glints off the corrugated outhouse,

Paul tells me his grandfather, Elmer Gustav,

the hermit of the family, came here to die.


The week his test results confirmed brain cancer,

he parked on I-15, hiked up in snowshoes,

collapsed in chest-high drifts and went to sleep


on this same spot where we sit drinking coffee.

Paul says he and his father and his uncles

gathered here after the funeral in Butte


to hunt elk, trout-fish, play Euchre for quarters,

and take turns telling stories about the farm 

in Northfield, Minnesota, where they all were born. 


Paul goes inside, returns with a dusty tacklebox,

and shows me photographs of the cabin

before he replaced the roof, faint black-and-whites


of men in camouflage, men holding rifles

and posing as they copped shit-eating grins

beside the corpses of bucks strung up from trees.


Given the chance, I would’ve joined these men,

waking at dawn to stalk the frozen trails,

to see the steaming nostrils of a five-point elk 


standing downwind, his big head bent

to sprigs of grass poking through fresh snow.

Isn’t it a kind of tribute, shooting him


and eating his flesh, letting his death nourish me 

and stuffing his skull with sawdust for all to see? 

Paul caps the tacklebox and goes back inside.


Combing the slopes, the turkey vultures widen

their search, hissing, their only call.

And because I want these birds to notice me


as I notice them, I peel off the gauze taped to my wrist

to reveal the gash I sustained before breakfast

when I hacked and dragged branches of lodgepole pine.


I rise and wave my arm at them, my offering,

and lick my blood, tasting the salt and iron, 

to taunt them and to know what they hunger for.

Finding the Handwriting of a Woman I Loved in a Paperback She Left Behind Years Ago

It must’ve been our last summer together

when we drank beers on the roof of our two-bedroom

and took the first commuter train 


to the Greater Boston Family Planning Center.

The green fluorescents made our faces flicker.

Slumped in a chair, she leaned on my chest and said 


“I’m going,” and fainted, grinding her teeth.

I didn’t know what to do so I stroked her shoulder 

as a nurse cracked a capsule of smelling salts.


Next day, the forecast called for rain. 

We drove north up 1A to Plum Island

and walked the dunes marked Keep Off Dunes 


to flush out piping plovers from the beach grass

because she said she wanted to see

something endangered before it disappeared.


We stayed on the shore and watched the storm 

drag in off the Merrimac, and dropped to the sand

when lightning struck the spit off Little Neck,


clinging to each other as the squall drenched us,

the tide frothing closer up the beach,

the lighthouse staring seaward with its one good eye.

Photograph of Jack Spicer holding a Life-Sized Plaster Bust of Jack Spicer

Hair greased-back, half-hidden from the camera,

he opens his mouth to kiss his own stone lips.


Did the stone kiss back?  Its cold weight seems to lean

in anticipation, acquiescing to the thumb stroking


its ear, the familiar nose approaching, the living fist

squeezing its nape to grip the base of its throat. 


From the look of strained affection on both faces,

anything could’ve passed between the two. 


Think of those lines composed just before he died. 

A song, he wrote, Which I shall never sing


Has fallen asleep on my lips.  Puckered or pursed,

neither figure hints at what happened next,


how long the two remained by the wainscoting,

waiting, I imagine, for the other to speak.

Brieghan Gardner


The problem is that he sometimes

stands up for no good reason, while his

first grade teacher leans at the board explaining

the solar system, the silent “h” or butterfly metamorphosis

and the rest of the class sits quietly

listening, or at least pretending,

until they are given some signal to stand.


But this one child, without

warning or excuse, without even knowing

he is about to do it, finds himself standing

in the middle of the room time and again,

struggling to explain as the teacher turns

to address the interruption.


She calls his parents

who call a psychiatrist whom the boy

tells that he sometimes feels

tornadoes in his legs.

He has no choice in the matter.


And we have all known

that sudden rush that seems to

spin up into the soles of the feet

out of the rolling earth itself,

spiraling through the knees and thighs

until it reaches the ribcage and one must either

stand or sing.


Most of us learn, of course, with age,

to control this urge. Otherwise,

board meetings and conference calls,

long speeches on the state of the economy could never

happen. But in the luster of those first years

before we grasp the myth


that these things matter,

most of us know for a little while

that the cords which hold us to the ground,

no more real than winds that bid us rise,

are tied with the kind of knot that vanishes

in the absence of what it was made to hold.

Anniversary Poem

When we are old and especially

if you outlive me, remember

sitting here with me all these nights,

burning the ice storm’s endless offering.


All day I’ve been digging up, dividing,

replanting my grandmother’s bleeding hearts,

carried over years from garden to garden

ever since her real heart failed.


This is what we must do

with the sounds of each other’s voices,

the drifting imprint of a hundred spring nights

spent feeding these fires all blended together.


It’s not just that I’ve grown accustomed

to the shadow of your body in the chair beside me,

the way the shape of your name

fits my mouth.


But in the persistence

of such things, our whole life together

can become like a stone worn smooth and small by rain,

by repetition, so it fits in the palm of one hand.

So you can always carry it with you.

The House in the Orchard, the Orchard in the House

As usual, the roof is the first to go.

Then the cracks around the edges of windows

widen, imperceptibly, until wind and rain,

insects and dust move freely in and out.

The trees, too, change once left alone, grow

cluttered and tangled, and the fruit they produce

diminishes, warps and shrivels to the

unsightly apples of unkempt old age.


One tree pokes, over airy,

uncounted months, a gnarled limb

through a broken pane and into

the abandoned kitchen. There,

in smudged sunlight, a knobby, twisted,

sweetly pungent apple develops

and drops, gleaming gold,

onto the cracked blue counter.

K. A. Hays

Of the Body Taken In

This poem will be posted when the author provides it.

Jennifer Key


                      – For G.C.


Because when we embarked we stood beside

a cake tall as your average three year old

and I was too busy with the blade in my hand

and a blueprint of dismantling in my head,


determined to dissect iced trellises

of sugar and clip rose buds spun from butter,  

to let your hand find its home along the hollows

a hip makes; at this embarkation I will be


less obsessed with the geometry of beauty 

(my whole life I’ve tried to solve for y) ,

more meanderer than arrow, more meadow

than hedgerow, growing the way the tulips


you planted our first fall broke open, black

saucers full of evening for us to lap

in our unfolding origami of bedclothes –

that privacy that bloomed because of you.

Fin de Siècle

Once and only briefly, on vacation to my parents’

azalea besotted second act in the low country,

my marriage ended under the whitewashed eaves

of a carriage house while the Saran-wrapped still life

of cocktail hour looked on – a checkerboard

of cheese and crackers, ice bucket silvered

with tributaries of condensation.

In the bath, a phalanx of tiny toiletries

awaited marching orders, but it was I who left. 


Virginians, the new world had grown old,

and the family crest now flew under the banner

of Adams, our English Setter, his tail a streaming flag

and his all-knowing nose, blood rose, the needle

of a compass pointed dead South. He was

Virgil pointing us into fields foreign and flat,

sentinel of the air rent by rifle crack.

Mouth melting on the neck of fowl and buttered

biscuits, he took his bowl of water on the rocks.


My parents retired to the bar in the big house

to watch the Pocotaligo River turn buttery gold

in the setting sun like a tide of Chardonnay

poured by a benevolent God in the beginning

or middle of our lives, while I waited

on a brick cobbled patio with the good sense

to crumble – patrician outcropping of oyster shell

at the edge of backfilled rice fields.


I was already on an island of my own making

and later still would be officially banned

as bearer of unhappiness as water-logged 

as night’s indigo mantle of humidity and salt

and insect hum we wore and breathed and called the air.

(Ships sailing up the James long unloaded ballast

to rise to reach Richmond.)

Lord, can anyone rescue us from ourselves?


Come dark on the levees, gators climbed

out of centuries adrift in a brackish dusk,

slapped down scaled hides and slept like slabs

with one eye moving –  a yellow knifepoint

piercing the horizon. For an hour, two at most

that night I thought I belonged to no one

and to no place, blind to the way we become

our own memories’ afterthoughts:


The scrub pine and leaf slick of woods,

deer stand I climbed to read away the rain,

hay field in fall my red dog stitched behind her as she went – 

until it seemed I did not remember them,

but they, in the desolation of forgotten places,

brought me into being.


Long after I would be forgiven and would forgive,

myself (after all, only a person much loved

can feel that sorry for herself), the alligators,

primitive prophets of what would come to pass,

would outlast us, too, at our end

when we watch film after film of our lives,

our faithlessness in those who loved us most,

unscroll in a language we no longer understand.

We Are Easily Reduced

Months after hunting season, my father’s dog pulls them

from the scrubbed winter fields. Their stray bodies

borne back piecemeal – deer hock in front of the garage,

nub of horn in the barn, hoof on the back porch.


Fur scoured clean, they whiten in the underbrush

beyond the bristle of a nearby hill

and in clearings, where pockets of orchard grass

covet a chalked hip. She retrieves those 


shot and left to die far past the creek’s quick song –

no easy distance for her to drag, bone by bone,

such animals back to us,

and she must climb the ridge where my horse threw me,


opened against the ground, face scraped clean,

perfectly blank, my mouth – a brilliant stain.

At the hospital, I felt the fact of my skeleton charted,

my brain stenciled on graph paper.


Yesterday, my father walked from the doctor’s office,

where we waited to hear the news,

took me in his arms,

and gathered me like splinters of his own body.

David Krump

On the Invisible City

When we reach it by bicycle, how will we know?

What invisible confetti will fall to welcome us? 


What will we eat in the invisible city? 

Bread whose dimensions we must feel out? 


Warm rice we can’t comprehend until we bump

our bottom lips and grain spills from clumsy chopsticks? 


In the invisible city, what will we see?

Drywall scraps in alleyways, a dandelion now and then?


Old carts piled with bodies?  Brown mice moving 

between invisible bricks and boards?  Forget


the cart and the yellow bodies.  Forget the mice

who know well the locations of invisible butter churns


in which they will drown.  What is there to mourn?

How does the invisible city characterize thistles?


Forget the invisible city.  We have nothing to give

it would accept, smiling, a hobo with big teeth.


Forget the invisible city.  What has it done to our lives?

Has it made us cry?  Has it black feathers on sidewalk?


No fountains spouting through summer exist there.

No sailboats with busted hulls blocked up in dry-dock


hunch their humble magnificence on the shore.

No stained oak staircases, no fans propped in windows.


No dully-armored rolly-polies at war beneath stones.

No iron gates, no slouching porches, no radios at night.

These Have Mercy/Have Not

Switchyard for the slow hearted


Blind trackage and empty signal face


Passage toward darkness and horizon


Developments that none can measure


Brick and grease and out there and gear


Garden of whiskey in the brakeman’s hands


Stack of creosote soaked railroad ties


Late night track remover and removal


And limit and limit and operator of horn


Coupling and discard junction, spume


And silence, halo casting worried light on


The stalled car, the escaped cow, the hobo


Wined in his glad sleep


Lithium grease and metal and loose


Noises from the transom, freight


Car in which I will be born


In which I am born, in which


I murder, yield of labor and failure


Tracts of land and tracks across land


And traction, sunlight, empty museum


Noisy heart.  Have mercy.

Striking Wings of Swallows

Barn swallows slid through

       open windows holding throats closed

              against riverbank mud they ferried

     on their tongues to suspend nests

                      from lime-washed rafters – adobe colonies

              above the manger aisle and gutter. 

       They flew sorties all spring as milking cows

       entered the open barn twice each day, as heifers

and dry cows settled down on slow hills

           beneath pasture hickory, oak, ash. 

       Weeks went like this.

         Then, late July.  Parent swallows returned

         from neighbor-fields of waist-high corn

           recently doused with concentrated atrazene. 

The sky grew flatter.

   All the grubs the swallows gathered

              were dead already or mad, flexing a pale blue

       on wet field dirt.  A hundred blind swallows

       churned the farmyard sky to butter.


To a mute air-traffic controller, swallows called

              for hours before they tired and struck 

          the barn’s exterior walls, like dull sickles on field rocks. 

       Diving for open windows

      they would never find, the birds jammed their beaks

       back through their scared brains. 

              Purblind, one swallow at sundown

       wildly needled north, pulled sharp through quilts of wind

              by a malicious seamstress.

                  Season-fat barn cats feasted on the falling

                                from heaven for days. 

              Later, a hayfork handle broke

the wasting nests.  I knew no better.

          Nests that thin cracked easily.  Fledglings fell

       to manger cement.  Some fluttered bald wings,

       spiraling down into the manure gutter

        to drown. 

              In a baseball glove beside the bed,

I kept six strong ones fed on zap flies

and diced nightcrawlers.  I chased the swallows

       away all autumn.  They wouldn’t leave, stayed

           into December, when they fell from the spruce,

                           their eyes white as lake ice.

Dawn Lonsinger

The Sewing Birds

perhaps it is the birds that buoy up the earth—

flit of red, sudden perch, beautiful clamor, air


origamied into a dark sheet of wings, a sheet

that falls upon the small hurricane of our lives


softly. The passerines dip and rise, are busy

stitching together what we daily pull apart,


each little nest of debris proof that we must prepare

ourselves to cup what is about to be born, that we


are always edging toward birth, that tenderness is

an act of making.  I walk quickly, with aim, but


my eyes lift up beyond the tangle of branches,

through the mesh of appointments that clings like ivy


to my mind.  I am over there, here and there, taken

by the mere stirring of space, how matter readjusts—


honey crisps thud against damp earth, leaves impersonate

gusts of wind, dresses of bunched cumulus cast


vast shadows of surprise, and at the edges of it all—

the birds gathering remainders, swallowing nectar


and seeds, their songs stretched like ropes of fire

between us.

Susan of the Fields

You were famous for your stitching, could hem pants without looking,

sew a button in your sleep, conjure a wedding dress of tulle and satin

though it seemed to me you were folding water, inventing light. 


I was sure that if I pared an apple down to its bony core you could darn it

back together again. Once, you helped me sew the flag of Kiribati

for my history class, waves purling beneath a delicate sun, a golden seagull


flying through a blood-red sky. You called all of us “sweetie,” taught me

that everything is mendable, that the most intricate shapes have a learnable

pattern. My mother tells me as children you loved to sleep outside


on the small rectangle of roof above the kitchen, moonlight pulsing against

your small faces, that you could hear your mother, my grandmother, scraping

her spatula through batter, the smell of warm brown butter wafting into your blankets,


that you would write words with your fingers along each other’s spines, try to guess

what was written—salamander, cookie, sister—and that you were the motherly one,

made sure the moon didn’t get too close, that no one was near the edge. 


Later you played hockey, ran through the fields like a deer let out of a cage.

When your father left you were away at nursing school, learning how to insert IV lines

delicately. You washed the body of your patient; then you left, moved home, helped


to tend to your three younger sisters.  You were always a devotee of empathy. 

After four miscarriages, a fetus formed and formed; you were, for the first time,

in love with your insides. But at 27 weeks the doctors couldn’t stabilize your blood sugar,


said you might die, had to perform a C-section at once. Colleen was 1 pound ¾

of an ounce. You made tiny outfits from patterns for baby doll clothes and held her up

to the light in one palm. You wrapped your hands around her as if gathering cloth


and dreamed her wholeness.  Now, she is twenty-four and your kidney has failed you.

Your thinned blood travels through tubes, a machine, and then back into your body

like a red thread. Uncle Harry holds your hand and stares at the map of red ribbon


between you.  The openings in your arms, chest, and abdomen have been exhausted.

Now your leg looks like tattered jeans, and they plan to graft animal skin over it—a patch

for every fissure. When I was small I understood you had to take shots. I understood


very little.  When we visit, you call me “sweetie,” tell me how proud the whole family is

of my poetry, say you dreamed of naked people running through fields, of ice covering

everything like an afghan. I dream that you gather my hair in your swollen hands, begin


to braid. I wake and begin the work of sewing: back-stitch words over calamity,

cinch syllables at the heart, gather us under a sun–flooded sky.

Susan L. Miller

Leaving Cape Cod

On the ferry from Martha’s Vineyard, you were

handsome in your sun-hat, the brim


crushed over your forehead so the wind

wouldn’t steal it.  Light shattered on the water


so it looked like hammered silver, and the waves

buoyed the craft from stem to stern,


dunking and raising us like a seesaw.  All our day

we had walked up and down the beach, pebbles


round and hard under our feet, the Sound cold,

and watched the sails of the sailboats ripple


against the bright horizon.  We rode the lover’s seats

of the carousel, kissing even when the car passed


the dispenser for brass rings.  Everyone else

leaped up, hooking a finger through two or three


before the flying horses glided on.  In his vitrine,

the turbaned fortune-teller spun a crystal


and passed his rubber hands over tarot cards

so old they’d lost their color.  The yellow ticket


he passed through the slot said It is easy to see,

hard to foresee.  But it was the last hours of Sunday


by the time we were ready to leave, and nothing

was luckier than to read the same newspaper


and drink coffee, to touch hands shyly on the plank

that led into the ferry.  We had no need of signs,


no future divined in a horse’s glass eye, no kites

or cold Manhattans.  We were riding into the sun.

High Seas

                     for Jess Arndt


Your new tattoo, a narwhal, rides your arm

from wrist to elbow, blowing through his hole

a spume of charcoal mist.  I watch him rise

and fall, appear and disappear, trade pride

of place with the anchor on your bicep

as you slug beer from a mold-pressed mug.

The table’s marred with signs of narrative,

old scratches carved in truth-serum delirium:



two fine bruises on my inner thigh, sore

and higher than the flesh surrounding them. 

The afternoon’s gone grey, an almost-purple

mottled sky predicting storm.  We’re warm inside,

but wet wool coats keep entering the bar,

umbrellas spattering rain on the tiled floor,

and I feel you turning seaward, as if a light

flashes intermittent to compel you.

Half-hook, half-boy, you drop into the deeps,

your element.  You’re hauling some white whale. 

I smell the salt of sea-air in your ear

when I lean in to kiss you goodbye, trailing

my seaweed hair along your jaw.  I’ve got

your compass tucked against my breast, my pea-coat

buttoned up against the wind, but we both know

I’m barely covering my mermaid tail.  Til Monday, then,

and don’t forget to call me, Ishmael.


The water unsettles the sand beneath,

dragging pebbles and shells under the lips

of the ripples imprinted there.  A tumble

of color, bone peach almond flesh charcoal

smoke buttercup stone, and the objects scatter,


rearranged in patterns like the tubercules

of a starfish.  They ray.  They shape subtler

wearing away the edges of their neighbors,

all thrown down by the spume, forced and pushed,

though the water surrounds them both gentle


and powerful.  Tough rubbery bubbles

of seaweed lie drooling along the shore. 

They catch flotsam in their tentacles, vegetal

jellyfish, organic nets.  A crust of mussels

draws lines below them, half-black, half-


pale blue silk, though they can cut you

if you walk on them.  And you, wayfarer,

searching with head lowered, quick eyes

latching on to every sea-glass shard and scallop,

how do you resist the pull, the water itself


turning the spiral inside a nautilus? 

You have seen the movement underneath,

that gravitational nexus.  It is the call of the siren, not

a woman, but the sea itself singing.  You know

how seduction happens: through the open eye. 

Miller Oberman

Storm of Horses

Sunset, the barrels, the sky, everybody's trucks

have turned the color of melon flesh, the split-rail fence

around the ring and the clouds of kicked dust sift

pink sugars, orange sugars.  Then a girl's horse bleats,

bucks, and she's down.  The others jump down,

run to the middle of the ring and the horses blaze off.


The red mare rears up but I hang on, she rears again,

wrenches in the air.  Shakes, hard, I'm down. 

How they run.  Shaking their sugar.

Their bellies gather and swell like clouds at dusk.

I'm on my back on the gray clay, keeping very

still, watching their shapes rise and roll.


The ground rocks and shifts around my shoulders and thighs.

Their thousands of pounds bang around my bones.

They beat the triple drum of thunder as their steel moons

strike down.  It is nothing but what it is.  No place to go.

Let every wire of blood charge, electrify the skin. 

Not a thing touches my body but sweet pink dust.


Before I knew him, Dunx jumped the gate

into a field full of mares, put himself out to stud.


I wanted to ride him because the other kids couldn't,

bucked off and bitter before their asses touched leather.


That horse and I were bent the same green way.

When I settled on his back he stood still, trembling

puffing his breath out in furls of frost.


We ran through winter, over ice crystals growing in the dirt,

the sun hung pale and tart as a lemon.


When summer came we galloped into the bottomlands

unresisting, speed-flat through the green season.


Cicadas and snakes, kudzu, ragweed and dandelion,

we stood in the cool mud of the creek panting,

necks lathered with salted cream.


The sun swung low and gold, fierce as a wolf's eye.

The creek glittered with mica and the bright skin of frogs.


We slept in the same straw and ate from the worn

grain bin, sweet-feed, oats, corn, molasses.


I was never alone.  Even when I slept he was there,

true as silver, legs strong and supple as young branches,

stomping, blowing out his nostrils in the dream


where I went out the window and angled into the night woods,

where the dark rushed, flooded with horses.

Rachel Richardson

Girl Gathering Mussels

     (Irish Folklore Commission, Inis Maan)




In the foreground there’s a girl in braids

from the back, her delicate part

slipping crookedly down the skull.

After tying up her hair, she has spent the morning

gathering mussels with her brother,

the sharp crescents snapping shut

at their hands’ reach. She is watching

the sea, which must be attended,

while the photographer adjusts the focus,

time and again, clicking behind her:

the braids, her brother’s jigjag teeth,

his throat lifted up for the untranslated

song. Their hands raw and blue with cold,

which will be understood in black and white

by the way they hold them against their bodies

like dead animals once loved but now

simply heavy. Then, the baskets of meat

and shell set down among the rocks. The salt-

stained shoes. Cottages braced

against the ragged moor. He has captured

just the edge of her face

and her mouth is closed, nothing to say

to him, no name, simply “Girl,

gathering mussels” for all of us later

to stroke the exposure, to marvel at her hair.


The wind had pushed the water in

all afternoon and so, though the sky

blew clear, and the smell of leaves

carried from residential streets, their car

moored itself in the restaurant parking lot

while they dallied between salads

and main course, between first toast

and second glass. They had decided

to marry. Meanwhile the wind

made the windows shake

and flattened the sunset to the sea.

He had no choice but to move his car,

and then he had no choice

but to roll up his pants

and wade back to her, candle-lit

over roast chicken. They finished their meal,

towels wrapped around his ankles

(the staff so kind, laughing, fetching

more wine). Is this what it’s going

to be like? they asked. An omen?

She pulled off her heels and descended,

holding his hand and her shoes

by their straps. They trudged the empty avenue,

lit golden, drowned, imagining

the salt-corroded engine,

the weight of ruined merchandise

to be ferried out of the shops,

finned creatures swimming

between their numb calves

and lingering, anyway.

Ali Shapiro


First I learned

to taste the water in the bilge: fresh

meant a leak from above, salt

from below. It was all


bad news, but I relished

the knowing how, the squinting

and lip-licking, the distance

of diagnosis. Now we’re slipping


under the pass, the bow unzipping

the wake, and I can taste

salt everywhere––here, pooled

in the shallow of your clavicle, here


in the forked delta of your palm.

Once, I climbed down

into the skeleton of a hull, and through

its raw teak ribs I saw light scrolling 


across the black screen of water like credits

at the end of a movie starring

the reflections of stars. The next morning

the hull was swarming


with builders, glassing skin

onto the bones, shaping

the empty belly, a scene

I’d seen before—wolves, carcass—but in


reverse. If our bodies

are vessels I cannot

take you inside me. If our bodies

are water we cannot


go swimming. But still there is something

whispering back to the insistent

secret of current, a kind

of transaction, the water corroding


and holding us up, the ship-to-shore crackling

and calling, our wet footprints on the gunwales all

of course, yes, dissolving, but first

being there, and shimmering.


A woman we know gets sick

and suddenly I can’t look at your breasts,

the threat beneath each

perfect ounce of flesh. How can I take care

of what I can’t see? Too much

of a good thing and I think of you, of

salt, sweat, spit, the way this can’t

go on forever. This woman dies

and each part of you I take into my mouth

gets a goodbye kiss. Soon even breathlessness

will be terrible. A man we know says of his son,

I want to tell him I’m immortal.

I love him that much. I want to tell you

I can barely believe in our bodies,

that we’re made of water, that we trust

our skins, that we believe this dream

of insolubility, this promise: I won’t

swallow you. What is there to love

but the symptoms, flushed

cheeks, glazed eyes, frantic

feverish heart? I drag red trails

over your shoulder blades, snag your lip

on my teeth, lay my fingers

in the spaces between your ribs and try

to remember that sobbing too is a system

functioning perfectly, that longing

is nothing without loss.

Water Resistance

if the thru-hull fittings disintegrate,

if the hoses freeze and crack,

if dry rot softens the plywood,

if the float valves stick in the bilge,

if the fiberglass delaminates,

if the fly bridge collapses

under the weight of the rain, if our hearts

break, if our lungs won’t deflate, if this desire is more


than our bodies can take––oh set off

all the rescue flares at once, oh use the life raft

to give the dog a bath, oh do a salty

load of laundry, oh clean legions

of wounds, oh gargle, oh make

the voyage anyway.

Jennifer K. Sweeney

Study of Family with Buckets

Because they are five and not two,

       they have a purpose

              as specific as the beachgrass


planted across the eroded dune.

       The twelve year old boy carries a net

              and not a toy net, to strain the low tide


of its cockleshells and conch,

       of luminosities and ruin

              that exist only now


in this first naming.

       Sea cucumber. Mermaid’s purse.

              Minnows flecking their ankles, the family


is bent unmistakably toward seeing

       across the lit surface of shallows,

              this fleeting permission of ocean.


The buckets fill with brief treasures,

       wave-smooth stones for skipping,

              all manner of shell and searoot,


each skimmed and scanned

       in raised singularity.

              Smallness begets smallness


as the nine year old boy’s eye catches

       a glint of filament,

              salvaging microbes and minerals


from the rippled sandbars, regarding

       each fragment as a whole.

              The toddler girl holds an empty clam,


reminisces back to when she was two

       and perhaps her life has been as long

              as any of the adults’ on the deck with drinks.


The mother spots a marbled patina

       and the boys sieve it up to the air—

              two rockcrabs seamed together in a compact link.


The mating is considered shyly, without shame,

       a study of armament and flesh—         

              this, the one thing responsible


for their own presence.

       They attend to the world as equals,

              for none of them have ever stood


in this water before

       with such circles

              gathering at their feet.

Inviting the Child

Every month I tried to make of my body a home.

I was an hourglass

made of shell, made of bone.

I lay under the Perseids and let the stars

hold up the night.

There was me and the idea of a child.

I saw for both of us—

tule elk silent among ferns,

the sunset lying pink over a field of Dakota corn.

In the museum, we walked through a hall of Buddhas.

Granite, terra cotta, bronze.

If I could have made you like that—

I would have held the hammer,

I would have opened the stone.

Sarah Sweeney


Just before they remove

my grandmother’s breast


my mother drives all night

to Alabama to see her.


The sky like oil.


The houses darkening.


The next day they embrace,

drink jug wine


from plastic cups,

do not speak


of the time lost between them.


My mother looks out

at the Gulf in December, still hot

and moist.


Her clothes stick to the air.

Her skin sags.


My grandmother hobbles

to the water;


my mother calls,

Now we are both old, mama.


I know she sees it—evidence

they will both die


and die unresolved

with the other.


In dreams of my mother dying

I remember her screams,

her whale eyes,


the eyes that punished

and pardoned


my sass-back mouth

until we grew old enough


to be honest

in our dislike for each other.


Tonight in a dusty mirror

my mother feels her breasts,


her lips stained with wine.


The crickets wail

through the screen door.


The clear moon.


And elsewhere

in the mirror


I grope mine,

the same strange flesh,


the tender heaviness

we carry.

Looking at Cows

They were patches grazing
on the pasture, beasts
of burden sadly swishing
brown tails, furred ears

cocked towards the flies
buzzing at their coats.

Even in the heat

they were smiling, glad
to chew the parched grass

until night, and then what?
I had never seen a cow sleep,

their idle magic slumbering


in a moonlit field,

clouds of breath drifting

like balloons past


southern interstates

to the sun-stripped billboards

and then gone.


One trailed me at the fence,
let his tongue slip from his jaws

and tongue my wrist,


no less bitter that

he would die sooner than me,

that we could not save


each other, his saucer eyes

an endless world.

It was like looking again


at my father, searching

his old man face for nothing

but kindness and silence.

Carolina Eclogue

Even the night grew too hot

from the open window of your room

where you woke every hour, roasting

in sweat, twisting like a pig on a spit.

You discovered your body then,

held yourself through summers

bringing blood, that bare thrill igniting

evenings you’d run away, picked up

by your father who smelled of sour mash

and leather, saving you from hitchhiking

into the next county, ten dollars to your name.

You said the heat made you crazy,

the way animals turned wild, faced the sky howling

through fences—they, like you,

never slept, but roamed as you did:

ferocious and hunting, the scent of your fever

dripping from dogwood.  Sometimes now

you can smell the cut grass, the honeysuckle

under greedy ropes of kudzu, remember the hot hiss

of hamburger on the grill, or your parents

not yet divorced, drunk on Sunday, dancing to Aretha

played loud through an open backdoor

as you plodded home barefoot.  

Sometimes there’s not enough distance,

even when you’re gone, that a passing face

on some big city street is every man

you ever fell into: tobacco breath

and going nowhere, mosquito-bitten nude

across abandoned fields littered with bottles

and dry as the drought that threatened everything.

Sometimes it’s the mirror, the face

that so distinctly reminds you of weather, soft clay,

the voices of girls you knew

with their haystack hair and cracked, country lips.

The girls you’ll run into during trips home

cradling babies and beer in a 7-11,

girls who bring you back to restroom stalls,

confiscated notes, the backseats-of-cars gossip

and those deep, lascivious accents

you’ve struggled years to drop:

You’re just like us, and don’t pretend you ain’t.

Lauren K. Alleyne

When the angels come

Let them bring wings.

Let the wings be poems

exquisite with the give

of each iamb. Let the music

be a harmonic of steel

pan and surf, congo drum

and Cher,  my godmother's

shaky soprano and the sweet

thud of flesh falling away.

Let my thousand selves sing.

Let me tug my loved ones' coats

and let them catch me

in the afternoon's solitary

star. Let the dead make way

with hallelujahs. In their rain voices,

let them whisper to me.

Let each lived moment of love

light a path from this world to the next.

O Gods, when you call me

in all the names I have worn

through with breathing,

let me answer with joy;

let me go up, let me go

dancing, ecstatic with flight.

Letter to the outside

It is magic here, outside the rule of clocks and scurry. The vast baskets of mountains overflow; the clouds clink like ice in a glass: I drink it all in, and it is enough. What a concept, contentment. Yesterday, where the creek tipples at the base of the valley, I saw a dead goat—stiff, ringed with flies, its face like a plate of leftovers. I wept, then I did not. I stood at the roadside until the wind wafted up its benediction. From this place I gift you the unoccupied air; the wobbly prancing of new calves; a sky so close the stars might be a chain-link fence you run your hands along as you amble through the night; your live and mutable body, its spark and spell and solitude. Take a minute, write back.

Love in A Major

You wouldn’t recognize this body of mine

the odd animal it becomes

without you to answer its spark.

Here in the valley, I want nothing

but to heave the heaviness of my limbs

into the cocoon of my unmade bed

and burrow there, as if winter had come

and it was time, at last, for the long sleep.

Of course, when I think of sleep,

I think of the way our bodies tangle --

my sweat, your sweat; my toes curling

into the arch of your foot, the way

you always giggle even from the deepest of dreams.

I think of the way our dreaming tangles

with our waking-- you turning over

in sleep to tell me of your dream banquet,

or the dogs rushing along a nameless river

and me, dazed by the fact of your body

beside me, the breaths I’ve come to

measure happiness by. This

happiness itself, a flowering, a hive

of humming-- less a song, than

the memory of song from which comes all

singing. And how we sing, you and I,

our immelodic molecules dancing

their reckless abandon from lip to palm,

cheek to bellybutton, nose to nose -- choral,

harmonic, echoing even now, across this distance

their joyful yes!

Scott Cameron

In a Jail in Genoa

In a jail in Genoa, Marco Polo is still

chanting recipes for China,

and poor Rustichello, his fellow prisoner,

is still feverishly writing the empire

he will never see except

in the mingling of words and prison walls.


The East seen through Italian eyes and translated

into French as the two men dream fireworks and rice,

the salt white skin of women with pepper-black hair,

papered dragons, papered lanterns, and papered pagodas

dancing around them red and gold with acrobats


and acrobatic alphabets, where letters take the form

of posts and lentils, pillars and trusses, spelling out

a city of one thousand stone bridges,  a country of landscapes

gently brushstroked in blossoming boughs on parchment.


They believe as we must that just behind the stones

of their confinement the Gobi desert stretches

its hills and valleys into an infinity of sand and shadow

that the Mongol steppes with swaying grasses

are thundering under the heavy hooves of

short-legged ponies, that mountains of impossible

precipices, jagged and rising, thin and sinuous as silk,

drop daily into misty morning valleys where two

small farmers walk beside the lone and twisted pine,

listening to the low groan of water buffalo

and the sound of grasses dry beside

water lapping against the edges of the mind.


These are the scenes we have seen in countless movies,

scratched on the surface of Grandmother’s blue and white

porcelain. The weeping willow. The giant goldfish circling

a perfect pond. And we the weary armchair travelers

with Polo’s recipes in hand are expansively trapped

with the visions of prisons waiting for our minds to part on

uncharted empires.

The Songs We Keep meaning To Sing

They say the day William Blake’s wife lay dying

he sang to her for hours, words unwritten,

words too grossly beautiful to fit

the epic musculature of his engravings

or even his songs of sooty London.

He sang to her the careful washing of cups,

the way the front stairs spoke her coming,

the wren that hopped along the garden wall.

And as his wife lay feverish, he hymned

the half-slept nights with fevered children,

the return to bed, his hand brushing her cheek.

He sang of wife and man burning beyond

The brightness of the forests of the night.


Some day before you or I lie dying,

I hope to sing to you for hours—the songs

of walls you’ve painted, the stretching

of fabric over the couch’s antique frame,

the slow heft of children up three flights

of stairs. I hope my words will echo

your long lullabies stretching across the dark,

the slipping back to bed, our feet touching.

The mighty wind raising us words and all

up beyond the brightness of the burning night.

Victoria Chang

Dear P., VI

Dear P., XX

Each poem will be posted as the author provides it.

Catherine Chung

In Wyoming

for Gail and Lisa 

Every day the braying of cattle, the hum
and thud. Box elders dripping into our hair, our food,
wrapping the ground in a shroud of motion.
The tumbleweeds blowing by. The smell of sage.

This is how it was: every day the mountains, the sky
so wide I knew it held whatever I had lost—

what escaped me still, out there beyond the land,
galloping away.

How the dying insects hovered in the air,
as if air could preserve even time
the way it bleached the rabbit's skeleton and left it
lying for us to find, its tiny bones arranged in perfect order.

How it held the dust, the buzzing yellow-jackets,
the mountains—as if the world could explain the world
if only we knew how to read it. Look, it said,
at what spreads itself against the earth, and is gone.

Weston Cutter


Earth movers stand at rest beside mounds

         of earth, a hundred unsent

love letters, bonewhite moon ghosting

         above abandoned machinery +

desolated highway, and Dr. Max is on

         latenight AM radio talking about

training dogs, how it's arbitrary, language

         is loose as topsoil, one could

just as easily say pumpernickel in place of lie

         down, in place of come here: makes

no difference to the dog. I've been on

         the road for a dozen hours, nearly

a day, one long enactment of almost:

         a zero-sum game of betweens.

I'm in Kentucky, or still Illinois, or I'm

         three hours from one coast

but driving demands measurement with

         different string: a thousand miles

from one idea of home, several hundred

         from another. I'm half a tank of gas

                 from just giving up,

                 lying down among corn

                         in moonlight

                         and waiting for day.


Dr. Max is going on and on, says most things

         come down to repetition, cause

and effect, call and someone will-, seek

         and ye shall-, etcetera. Home's

a shirt you've loved to pieces, worn good

         holes in. The bulldozer at the hill's

rocky base means nothing if you know behind

         the rock the hill's heart's still wet,

that a small stream is its core, that face

         is one thing but what's inside is still

being made, riverfinger by riverfinger, like

         how since I was six years old

I've never been able to fold my hands-

         even over a steering wheel, 2am,

past a construction site, under a sky

         littered with more stars than there are

names-without an empty cup in my chest

         righting itself in longing

for some watery,    incantatory amen.

So Perhaps (After CL)

Every letter I didn’t write to CL before

he died hangs from a tree in my dreams and I

keep chopping but never felling the thing


because what I’d meant to say—about

that squirrel I watched get runover then

get up and run away; about the brick wall


my neighbor built all summer which then fell

in fall, and how he rebuilt it winterlong, seemed

even glad—it’s all still there, shaking in some


wind through my mind’s branches, and so

perhaps memory as wind. Today I watched

a boy help his grandmother cross a street,


watched him cross back to the corner he’d just

left, watched them wave at each other in sun-

light, and then he crossed again and they continued


on. And so perhaps distance as opened thing

which opens more, and so the letters I meant

to send mean as much now that CL’s dead as those


I did write. And so perhaps sent mail and almost

sent mail aren’t opposites but cousins, distant.

And so perhaps what’s meant means no matter


what’s read. And so perhaps I’m no fool to move

slow, avoid disturbing these addressed + stamped

unfilled envelopes, lying here unsent in sunlight.

Spring Prayer

Next door the cat's finally quiet, fed, the mewing

supressed for another day and on the way out into

another spring night I hear stereos from the next

several apartments and a woman's voice laughing,

no, crying, no, there's music where you least expect:

I could've killed that cat yesterday, bawling like

a fucking newborn while the water was boiling and

the coffee still in separate stages, grounds on one side/

water on the other, like stages of grief as described

in a book for Dummies, first denial then anger, it's

not ever how it feels but this is how I've come

to April, thinking as always of an old name I keep

remembering so I can forget it anew, she's laughing

now, I think, a TV on in the background and

the windows in the church across the street were all

removed and replaced over a month in winter +

one night after work was finished I crept up and

licked each pane of glass where new window met

old wood, licked like to seal an envelope, like to

secure the new view and if, instead of going to see

a friend who may never ask me what I really want,

I could stand in there now with the pipeorgan quiet

and looming behind me + all I know of God

reverent in the curved, shining woodwork above

I'd ask not for song or silence but for a way to know

each from each, real woman's voice from fake, light

of two candles from one flickering bulb, feel

of sleep from feel of falling to sleep, the name D__

from the word denial, go away from don't fade, holy

from April, April from the word almost, etc., amen, etc.

Julie Dunlop

Watching a Hindi Film Understanding Nothing

but what slips past the words.

Three hours bangled and sparkling.

Sitar, flute, and drums.

Not so much the bright colors, the silken shine,

the gold on the wrists, the ankles, the ears,

the throat, the nose—or even the candles

reflected in the water, or the geometric designs

of mosaics tiled on the floors—

but the flash of the eyes, the quickly hidden smile,

the clenched jaw, the furrowed brow,

the texture of the touch the hand extends,

how quickly or slowly two embrace or depart,

the language of the sounds that swell,

deepen, crash, turn, flutter

into blossoms red as the dances

that shake the screen with sequined swirls,

the neck, shoulders, hips, legs, feet, arms

each punctuating the explosion of saris

choreographed to spin and return

the grief-worn heart to joy.  The nuances

of plot and script untranslated, swallowed

by the subtitles not appearing, despite

repeated attempts:  menu, “on,” “play”—

and still the mooring of an understood language

refuses to appear, to offer any safe path

through the drama of love and betrayal,

the gate-locking of death, the layers

of memory and dream falling into themselves,

the many-armed deities, the painted feet and trees.

Henrietta Goodman

Where Sadness Comes From

Your father hunting pheasant in the fields

behind the house, you and your brother following,

sticks in your hands, one of the barn cats

pouncing on mice in the stubbled furrows

like swells of a frozen ocean,


your father hunting grouse in the Wisconsin woods,

you and your brother old enough for shotguns slung

over your shoulders as you pass between a cliff

stratified like a book and a creek so full and fast

it’s almost a waterfall, an echo like a machine in the rock,


you and your brother like wind in a stand of leafless

birch, surprised how little force it takes to push them over,

how tall they are—twenty feet? thirty?—and the sound

of their crashing, rootless, overlapping, white poles

with blank scrolls of bark, black knots of missing branches.

Clay Pigeons

The pigeons are not clay except in color.

Even after a man yells pull and the mesh

door of the cage flaps open, they squat immobile,

dull gray and sculpted in the suburban mist,


their signal to flush more private than this place—

three miles past the skeet range, doctors

in Filson coats drinking cans of beer and peeling

hundreds off a roll. To win, they drop the bird


in a circle chalked on the ground. Always,

here, he’s a boy among men, feathers warm

through his gloves, each hole a bead of blood.

Always the men shooting, talking, the words


just widening clouds of breath, and him outside

the ring, reserving judgment, waiting for a sign.

The Wind I Mean

There are knobs he turns and knobs he pulls

and knobs he pushes and knobs he turns slowly

and knobs he turns quickly, a knob that changes

the speed of the propeller and a metal bar

on the floor he raises or lowers and something else

that feels like the plane is stopping, like we are not

so much flying as floating—

a bobber on a fish line, tugged by current,


as though what’s controlling us is above us,

not him in the seat beside me, one hand

on my knee, the other on the yoke,

not him rolling a cigarette, tapping ash

out the window, Sonic Youth on the headsets,

as though this is a secret

we both know but can’t share—


I could call it crosswind, the rear of the plane

swishing like the tail of a fish, or the tailwind

that makes us fast, the headwind like a wall,

or the birds we have to watch for, the towers

like needles over the flatlands of North Dakota,

or carb ice, or just mild turbulence, not even

the kind that could shake us like a ball

attached to a paddle by an elastic string,

fling us against the roof, the walls,

if we weren’t buckled in—

just that gentle



but it isn’t the wind I mean.

Kimi Cunningham Grant

Pole Beans

In this kitchen, the window at my side,

The breeze coursing in, the sound of your broom


Sweeping maples from the porch, I’m snapping

Pole beans, recalling late May, the danger of frost


Behind us, our fingers pressing seeds to the dirt.

Mid-June, the plants three inches high and quivering.


August, the last of the cicadas singing and my bare arms

Among the leaves.  And then to the kitchen. 


The colander brimming.  My father’s voice

On the phone: Blanche them, three minutes,


Then cold water, then to a cookie sheet to freeze

Overnight.  So while we’re waiting on the beans,


Darling, feel the maples bending above you,

See them lobbing their sweet debris.


And tell me: Were we made for anything less

Than this?  Dirt caught in the skin’s small creases.


Pole beans lithe and cool in the hands.

The months collapsing: spring, summer, fall.

Like the Hermit Thrush

After an Iroquois Legend



Like the hermit thrush—who, brown, speckle-throated,

dull, grew tired of being ordinary


and cheated his way to the Spirit World

to seize the most beautiful of songs, and who,


upon reaching that hole in the sky

that led to all things beautiful,


had only one moment of radiance,

pure song, before that slow, terrible descent


back to the sureness of earth,

and who fled straight to the wood’s shadows,


to settle among the thickets and mountain laurel

out of shame for his treachery— we understand


the cruel weight of sin, its multitude of costs. 

But like the hermit thrush, who, still shy, sings


from the thick quarters of saplings, from where

it cannot be seen, at times we just can’t keep ourselves


from crooning, jubilant, even with our various treasons,

even from dark and lonesome spaces,


our voices sweet and matchless,

insisting, over and again: we can be forgiven.


My first spring in a real city I see the worn blue hills

Of my youth as never before, as my father sees them,

Has always seen them.  With a sense of need,


A pull at the chest almost like heaviness

But more like thirst, and I remember

Those evenings on your family’s farm, when dusk


Pressed in and you and I chased the Holsteins out to pasture,

Watched them scatter toward the spires

Of hemlocks shaping the horizon.


We couldn’t see then that our wants would take us

To faraway places, that what lay beyond that ridge

Was not an end but an invitation. 


We only knew how honest the everyday was:

The rhythm of the herd, its milkings and feedings.

The early rising.  That the days would grow shorter,


One by one, and that nothing at all could be done about it.

We were eleven.  And still believed,

Like that shepherd in Marlowe’s poem,


That a life could be charted and promised;

Like our fathers, kneeling, fists full of dirt,

That this land could give us all we ever wanted.

Nicholas Gulig

Chicken Coop

Earlier this morning

the morning was a pollinated wind

dusting yellow through

the pine trees, the deep and measured

thump of fence posts entering

the ground. Putting down my hammer

I thought of you, not far from here

but too far, attempting in your tiny room

to speak correctly of the weather.

How can I explain to you politely

there’s no way out for us. We’re stuck

up until our knees, our eyelids.

I don’t have an explanation.

When it rains there are no excuses

and still the water falls on every surface

evenly. It covers everything

I’ve planted. It sinks in thoroughly,

like a cloud shadow, like rain.

When I place the water in my mouth

it’s not to call it closer, or to name it safely

after my name. What is there to say

that you and I have not imagined

growing past us in the upper dark?

I do not count upon arrivals.

At least for now the afternoon is clearing.

The fence I’m building

will keep the foxes out, the wind

that either is or isn’t in us,

and failing utterance, reminds us we are here.

Married Land

With winter near and having come this far together

already from a great and ruined distance

through into an orchard

overrun, in the seeding state we watched

as one the apples breaking

off the branches, the sunlight catching separately

their mottled colors blazoned

although alone upon the barely blemished surface

of the skin — and what was left of us

in aftermath we knew

was caused, because we saw

and heard at once that surface

glaring fiercely, to press a different sentence 

past the outline of that light.

But when the wind in blind indifference

took both our hands and bound them,

our sight and sound completely

starved, we turned around and carried

on our backs that fruit in leather bags.

Years found us — and through the fog that was

the water turning slowly

into air we crossed a silver river 

with the vagrant voices of the others there

behind us ringing hungry

visions in our heads — and so it was

in a named and savage land we settled having found

our bodies gathered terribly

around a fire, the unfinished edges of that light

a limit, although we knew

by then and suffered fair to say it for ourselves,

of death, in a white dress dancing,

she dances slow — and the air-locked emptiness fixed love

to rage within our minds, offered freely into snow.

Departure, the Way a Sound Arrives



It’s almost three o’clock and I am sitting

on the porch steps emptying

the gravel from my boots.

Summer like a lover. Middlewestern.

And the farm dog panting in the shadow

of an oak tree on the lawn.

In the middle of the afternoon I shake

the soil out into the soil

and it’s the place I come from

when there are no more paths to cut

into the garden through the dandelions,

or stones to scatter

on the driveway. Dead weeds drying

darker in the heat. I cannot describe the reason


there are letters we should have sent and didn’t

and this is one of them. Strange

how we apologize in postcards

from an island 

or that the photographs of cities

you have lived in

lined against the wall

can look you in the eye until you close

completely. In a house where you are wintered.


That late summer on the porch steps

I understood September by its reddening.

The fields had finished. The garden

no longer capable of basil,

straw covered. I should have called and told you that

it doesn’t matter much the weather

we are reaching in. This winter

if we can keep the sunlight on the hoarfrost.

If it is possible. The branches of the burr oak

brightened and bent down.





We could live like this: gleaning barley

from the edges of a field 

or waking up too early in a city

and falling back

asleep. We could gather fragments

in our hands, say the garden has endured.

Let us. Promise

to be good. We’re finally feeling older.

And this too is another way

to say your face is partially shadowed


in the porch light. Where the early fern

is curling. The quiet after church bells

where it is possible

to listen. Look,

it’s the middle of the afternoon

and I have no idea at all

if we will make it. Even as it rains


when I am walking

into a field that doesn’t need

the water. Or if the day is going out

and the axe I use

to split the pine in half is not

the axe my father left behind him

leaning on the wall.

By the time you get here

the furrows will have flooded

and I cannot remember

the feeling of having ever scattered

in the first place, in the violence of alone

that we are planting.





It’s almost midnight

and the city hasn’t darkened yet.

The wind is dripping. I’ve had to kill

the basil. At the edges of the yard

the window light turns black

against the fence line

and continues. Almost midnight

when the crickets finish

ticking. The kind of shadow

green you’d cover clover

to keep the weeds from feeling grown.

In the piece of sky between the pines


the sound a day dissolves is not a quiet

I can accept without the map

I’ve made of how the beds were ordered

to keep the groundwork strong.

Soon the whitetails will be starving.

A cold October circling

the days it takes to leave a home 

when I have written down from memory

the names of streets

I’d like to live

and a wooden walking bridge above a river

in Wisconsin. There are no more towns I want


to drive alone to. There are no more towns.

It’s getting difficult to say it

before I go into my house

where the weather I cannot forget

is happening. Because we close

into our rooms

our rooms return us

to the window. We close again

and the garden grows into the forest

and I am not afraid. 

Alison Pelegrin

Mid City Tours

Marching band in the street, flock

of green parrots wild in the palm trees’ fruit,

and only my son looks up, double honks  

a bird call on his plastic trumpet.

A tour guide, his job to point,

my father  could have moved the crowd

to notice. He befriended random people,

even at red lights where he’d roll down

the window to chit chat and give a peace sign

to jay walkers who ignored him.

In the hatchback on the way home

after a day of city tours, his hand gestured

out of habit to Bayou St. John, called

by the Indians Tchoupic for its muddy water.

No such thing as a day of rest—

we ghost hunted after the good luck of rain,

listening for whispers in cemeteries

and elsewhere, and it’s true, the steam rising

from the streets really does seem to call

your name. Bring your daughter to work day,

this time a plantation tour, he used

his hobo charm on cooks

with white skin and period dress.

They heaped us with loaves of bread,

bounty enough to share, and so

we took the ground streets home—

Canal St. to Carrollton, our escort

a drum line of grit and dragged feet.

Something in the Water

Verboten, casual, Katrina-slash-this-is-the-writer’s-life poem,

another rule breaker best abandoned. At sea.

Overboard in a wine bottle, in a milk jug float.

The words swim down and I packrat them all.

Anything else would feel like choosing between my sons

who aren’t twins exactly, but enough alike

that their lost teeth, first locks of hair morph

to make a mumbo jumbo in my jewelry box.

I’d look up from the writing of this poem

but for the hex: voodoo doll on my desk

courtesy of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure club.

The greats have their subjects: love, sex, death.

I have mine: hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras,

time passes me by with moonscape, owl, and merlot.

Editors pass me by—Alison, it’s hard to get excited

about Katrina poems as there are so many.

So quick to write me off. They should give thanks.

I could be the quack who sends a soul food

curtail sonnet, or exercise bulimic sister-in-law haiku.

A poem a day about my children their muddy feet

stuck in boots, rattle of pocket treasures in the dryer.

My darlings, who believe that sea glass could be

Poseidon’s knuckle bones, a yarn I came up with

to keep them busy while I draft my Deep South

Canterbury Tales called “Something in the Water.”

Up at five to sift the oyster flesh of my brain

for pearls of words. Kids at the door, begging,

May we PLEASE have some breakfast! Yesterday,

mind ablaze, I wrote about this man with a mole

in the center of his forehead that I took

for a bullet hole—he even dragged a zombie leg—

and thought it was a great way to spend my time.

Stupid Praise

       New Orleans, August 29, 2009


One last Katrina poem, the final praise for what I hated.

I quit. No more a guard dog of damaged goods

chained in the yard, drinking from tadpole puddles,

dragging my doom and gloom down happy streets.


I swear. No more damaged goods, watchdog groups,

or Katrina’s white flags on the cemetery lawn.

No dragging doom and gloom down happy streets

mistaking blue tarps in shreds for battered prayer flags.


Katrina’s white flags on the cemetery lawn

in perfect lines marking the day and marking the dead—

consider them prayer flags, like blue tarps in shreds

announcing our surrender to the waterline.


No more Jazz funerals or second line umbrellas, ok?

No more picking the scab, pressing in secret a bruise,

announcing our surrender to the waterline.

Katrina’s footprint in the garage, let it fade.


Pick away at it—sweep up the muck and move on.

The world was just a dream of molded halls

and welcome mats, Katrina’s footprint in the garage.

Ancient history to you, but always yesterday to me.


It was just a dream—the hallway, its ghost of mold,

crisscrossed downed power lines, and makeshift boats.

Yesterday feels like ancient history, the last page

in my notebook. I write the lines and my hand shakes.


The last Katrina poem. Stupid praise for what I hated.

Anna Lena Phillips

Early Blackberries

Years after I first mistook the elder trees

for poison ivy, my younger brother laughs

as I shrink back again from the jagged leaves.

Crossing the creek bed


on the log by the old road bridge: rusting nails

and the ones I called dragonflies at age five,

black wings, blue-green bodies shining like a thread.

Edge of the neighbor’s


land, we step from woods into brambles thick with

leaves we lift aside for the few ripe berries.

Soon I can’t see him but his singing travels—

“Blackberry picking,


blackberry picking”—voice turning baritone

over the thicket’s thorns and shed white flowers,

fruit no one else eats but the birds. He must set

out by his lonesome


every day in the late afternoon, humming,

to wade through canes that score his legs with scarlet—

what does he think about as evening comes down?

“Make way for the guide!”


We head uphill toward supper, him in the lead:

dimming woods where the creek keeps on eddying,

dark snaky water opaque now, damselflies

gone in the twilight.


He offers me his hand as I cross, then, one

big hand covering his bowl of berries, jumps

from high bank to low, lands solid, and no, he

doesn’t spill any.


Every spring my grandmother must have found them,

muted red, marching from deep in the forest      

toward their pink house: trillium,        

migrating as slowly as she spread her garden            


back from her husband’s daylilies, rallying

sunlight, toward dense bamboo. Was she

surprised as I am to find them each year?

I follow their trail through bushy azalea

and privet shade. On either side, countless


snowdrops, and her favorites, the variegated

hostas. As she planted, she scribbled

each variety’s name and location

on typing paper, the flaps of old catalogues,


circles and chicken-scratch the family

hardly can read. Which map is the last one?

No one can tell. Still I’m walking her paths,

looking to one side, the other: invasive

ivy, pots half-full with rainwater, then,


by the hollowed live oak, a single stalk

with leaves the size of my hand, its petals

darker than old blood, deeper than new.

I kneel in the leaf mold and see, in sepals,


the pointed inner flower she saw

when she knelt with her trowel, leaned close

to let the petals cool her lips.

In her absence, the planted and wild

converge, stirring what lies between


her inscrutable circles: trillium,

returning, unstoppable red.



Late September and the first sungold tomatoes

have come, bright orange and sweet as the packet


promised in June. Hybrids, I say, but worth the compromise.

We’re filling and pouring, yellow plastic watering can


and rusty tin bucket. My love wants to know:

Why are the sungolds any better


than GMOs? I give it my best: the seasons of tries

made over by hand, subtle adjustments for color,


taste; the number of feet each family of plants

requires to avoid cross-pollination; the hoped-for surprise


of variation—how can this effort

not entice us? No, the hybrid won’t come back true;


pollen, incapable of faithfulness, is always

afield. Still, setting the best conditions, looking


for something fine, refines hope: the hybridizer’s intrusion

helps the story along. But he has gone stubborn


and cannot be convinced of romance.

Drops shake the nasturtiums’ yellow petals;


I want to crouch down among the sungolds, the volunteer

black-eyed Susans, hide in the verdure


compost has made, but I stay, interrupted, interrupting,

both of us furrowing our brows at the new zinnias.




It’s true I’d been seduced: in high school biology

we read of Mendel crossing pea plants


for a glimpse of their methods, the flowers’ colors shifting

in gradually discernible patterns. Who could remain impassive,


objective? For dissection, everyone chose their own animal

from the catalogue—a mink, a squid—like ordering prizes


from the fundraiser book but these had once been alive, the mammals

pre-skinned to disguise that fact. I appealed; while they poked with razors,


I diagrammed corn stalks, cross-sections projected

onto the dirty classroom floor from slides, color-coded cells


so spacious inside, it seemed they were offering up

all of their secrets, which they were not.




That year a new cat, mottled calico, showed up in my parents’ yard

and was coaxed to eat, me cooing ten feet away, then five,


before she made the barn loft hers and allowed me to feed her

from the hole where the ladder came up. If I stood


on a middle rung with only head and shoulders

showing, she’d let me stroke her back, even purr,


her half-tail waving its curtal radius. No chance

she’d be spayed. When she had kittens, I recited


the crosses, reverent, as if I could speak them

to Mendel himself: one with a whole tail, one with half,


another with half, and one with none. The kittens were skittish

and wilder than she was, climbing the skinny sweetgum


back of the barn to escape me. Two were given

to neighbors, one snatched by a hawk; the one left


had half a tail. The triumph of that.




In mid-summer, I could not guess

which of the tiny heirloom zinnias would be red,


magenta, orange, and which the paler colors

I like less—could not thin out even one.


The seeds pushed the potting soil aside

with their paired leaves, their hundreds, and he,


faithfully following instructions, planted them all

in the small space, close, too close. Now with the sungolds


and the leggy, half-grown zinnias, we disagree, and which

is more important, stopping, or proving myself


stubborn as he is?—really, it’s all about knowing when to stop

meddling, my mathematician, my logical. Romanced


by the changes (one with no tail, two with half a tail,

one with a whole, boring tail) we forget our own: having shaped


these plants, we must tend them as we tend

each other, tentatively, give water, give room,


climb the steps to the house and open the door,

leave the garden to win the argument.

Joshua Rivkin

The Wind

My grandfather in a field by the river

of sailboats flecked with silver.    

                                   Close your eyes. 


He turns my shoulders. Tell me

when the sound is the same in both ears.


This is what I never understood. 


Wind sweeps every field, one kind of music

into another.

                         What have I forgotten

becomes what do I love enough to miss.   

Frankenstein’s Dog

My student asks, What happens to the dog? 

The novel never mentions him again

floating on the ice with the stranger

found by Walton’s ship headed north.   


A boy in the front row, wiry as his glasses

hates movies when there are mistakes.  

A girl in the front row, dyed black hair

over her eyes, says it doesn’t matter.  


Others nod and mumble their agreement. 

The dog disappears into the blizzard

of pages, his mangy fur, his ribs like teeth,

preserved in the silent, white cold. 


My students want to hear what I think.  

I don’t know.  Maybe he’s taken in, fed scraps,

patted or kicked like any member of the crew. 

Maybe they leave him. 


The bell rings.  They gather their books

and wander into florescent hallways, still

fifteen, drifting, afraid of being left behind,

wanting at least to be named. 


You don’t own this place, or any other. 


You live in a house that is not yours, and work ground that is not yours; believe

one day your real self will arrive, and open the barn door of your heart,

push it all the way in, weathered wood and rusted hinges, held wide.


Sparrows will live in the heat of the rafters, mice from night fields will gather

under bales and below loose boards, rusted farm tools

will gleam new in moonlight. 


So you hunker down, settle in the familiar shape of yourself.

You wait.  And work.


At day you clean trees of fruit, overalls of dirt and sweat and dried blood

from where a knife once scored your hand and covered

small ravines of your palm like clay washed down in rain. 


You don’t own your blood, and still it keeps close. 

You don’t own your hands, these trees, this day. 


At first you thought you could leave.  Another season is another chance

somewhere else.  Orange groves or pear orchards, figs or almonds, stone fruit

in the morning sun or melons like green rain clouds.


There was always a place where you were not known, where the fruit

believed in your arrival, ripened.   They blazed in the sun and you held

their heat in your hand, then let go.  


Cherries and apples gleaned, crated, sent.  Everyone gone.  Now you delay,

like a window.   Like a field for the weather.   You,

the placeholder, the lesser, the rubbing against – what is the soul but this?


Then you are afraid.  Afraid, your real self will arrive, and say here, Here I am,

the true one, and you’d be sent back, across a border, an ocean, a river

where you’d be asked what do you want here? why have you returned?

where have you been? 


You own no tongue to answer. 


You’d enter a small country, an island dictatorship.  Nothing left

to look for, you’d listen to the fan at the window,

the electric radio, and the shiny, tailfin cars passing below. 


You’d live another life.  You’d live another life.  

But this does not happen. 


After you walk through the bare fields, after you let the bark of the trees

grate against your open palm, after you stand at the window of the old house

looking at your reflection, or the field of reflection

you’re afraid there is no other self. 


You’re stuck with what you have.  You know it.


The door of the heart will not open in, to a barn or a room

in which a person or animal can safely live or sleep or dream or talk. 


You know this because you want, and keep working. 

The closed door of your heart will open out, to a field, always a field, harrowed by feet

and water and wind, the turning of crops, and workers, and days.

Chad Sweeney

Practicing to be Blind

All night the snow falls—

bronze fire of leaf mulch whitens in the gutter,

these tulip spears along the house

surprised to still be here, a rake

on the lawn erased. All night

the bare trees fill with snow,

a white foliage, thin along the brittle

branches, intricate spiderworks.

I think of a veil over the sleeping

angel of death,

face like an abandoned quarry.


At the Institute for the Blind,

the patients learn to live into what's coming.

Still sighted, for now, but with the awful knowledge,

they wear patches to blot out the sun

and practice fording avenues,

gripping onto the robes of some invisible guide.

They study the face bones of loved ones,

touch and memorize and cry,

then go silent beyond the crying.  

I'm devoted to nothing like their devotion

to blindness. 


The world will end, I’m afraid,

and there will be a last snow

for me, for you,

a final white bloom in the maples,

an astonished silence in the streets,

the streets we loved or ignored, no

need to revise the past now that it's over,

and though there is no angel of death,

and extinction, I think, is individual,

we practice for it at the center of our living

The Second Sky over Brooklyn

In the first sky over Brooklyn, the sky

whose shape holds to the shape of the city


inversely to buildings and ferryboats,

weather filling alleys and undercoats


of bridges, this low sky above the park grass

flutters with kites. Not amber leaves


of sugar maples, but kites flashing golden

when they turn—when the wind swells


and turns them toward us. And far above,

a higher air, white, of its own atmosphere— 


of a rarified white wind—a second sky

is deepened and defined by one red kite.


Of a simple design, a red diamond

kicks in the air, a line ripples and ties its movements


to each of us—so the wind

that moves the red kite moves the eye!


The red kite must exist in that priest

who stops his bicycle on the path to look up—


and in those school girls lying on their backs,

and in the worker resting beside his shovel.


This is what it means to be in Brooklyn!

Its bagel shops and Synagogues and brownstones,


its bridges partitioning space. We are of it.

And it is nothing if not us. It is us.


Now the metallic peach of the last sun

underlights the belly of that airplane,


the swallows shake upwards from their trees—

and the red kite yanks suddenly free! 


The kite’s owner runs after, I can’t gather the Arabic

he is shouting—regardless, it’s ours now,


it’s everyone’s kite who sees it climb

red into the second sky over Brooklyn.

Natalie Haney Tilghman


Italy, 1944


The potatoes were ready for harvest

when the Germans set up a post office

in her house.  She jumped every time

they stamped a letter, imagining fire

falling from a sky scarred scarlet. 

Soldiers spoke the language of breaking

dishes, shattering glasses.  They eyed 

silverware, family jewels, gold pins

in her hair.  That day, the soldier with

no arm and sad eyes made her change

his blood-stained bandages, unwrap

a stinking wound, the kind that never

really heals. Later, Papa found her—

dirt fingerprints on her arm, skirt up

around her waist like she hadn’t

finished dressing—in the field,

uprooted potatoes bruised black.   




A good arrangement, Papa said about

marrying the man, who spoke Italian

with jagged edges. In New York,

glass towers scratch the sky and people

wouldn’t know what happened

during the War. She wanted to stay

on the mountain with her family,

insieme, tending potatoes. But Papa

gifted her with cuttings of his best

tubers, promising potatoes can grow

roots almost anywhere, endure

foreign soil, survive in America.    

Christine Tobin

Vedran Smailovic Plays the Cello in Sarajevo

He played half for belief and half for beauty,

played the Adagio that survived the bombing

of Dresden, notes blood soaked long before

they filled the crater of a Balkan storefront

where 22 people died waiting for bread.

The song seemed a more reasonable response than another

mortar, so wearing his good suit, the one for performances

at the hall in the center of town that no longer stood,

he sat on the market corner

blackened from a shell

only a day before--his formal tails

brushing the rubble left of a sidewalk--

and rubbed his hair-strung bow across

polished maple wood and metal

tightened beneath calloused fingers.


For 22 days he played each death

amid glass, and concrete, and twisted baking pans. 

There was no statue, no grave markers, no clutch of flowers laid,

no ceremony in a city bereft of mosque, cathedral,

library, city hall, all equally and utterly destroyed.

Albinoni’s G minor curled into the square

and mourned for those that died and those

that did not.  For 22 days shelling continued

though nothing touched him,

and he played the beauty of life without fear,

in the graveyard of sidewalk on Vase Miskina Street.


He played at an ordinary door

in what used to be an ordinary city.  Words had lit bonfires

between people, so he played without words: the slow stringing

in the low sweeping bell tones that moved

toward a middle note, a capture of movement,

the burn and stink of the place: a daily Janazah Prayer

the only thing to do.  A lower register beneath the ear,

in rubble and tatters, the dip of his hand and chin,

the swell of chest rising with notes, he moved inside the notes,

fingers carrying the weight, the moment absorbed

in sound, a city six centuries old carried into hell,

a cello, the only instrument left.

Rhett Iseman Trull

Cowboys Ride With One Hand on Their Holsters

He’s four and a half with no idea of the factory

in his future: the assembly line, glue

for the labels, and in the corner the bin

of startling

                 glass, bottles broken

before the end of the line. His job: emptying

its shiny blue shards back into the mixer

where flame will melt them, start them

over. He’ll go home with cuts

across his knuckles and now

                                          and then a stray sharp

edge on his clothes that will scratch his

wife, high school sweetheart, who will leave one day

for no good reason he can find, though soon enough he’ll blame


                   the they who must have told her

to take their daughter, too, so they might study

the unbroken mathematics

                                        of her curls. Likewise,

because he is too close

to decoding its blue-vine message,

she will take their never-used china, finely detailed

plates and bowls which he’ll replace

with his father’s baseball trophies. Never mind visitors

frowning at their presence in a dining room.

Never mind that by then no one will remember

Elizabeth City’s greatest minor league shortstop:

number three, heart of the diamond,

                                                      heart of all primes.

But right now he’s four and full

of Christmas dinner. His father’s got ten good years

before the

                stroke that ends his

game. His brothers and cousins, in front

of the tree, build Lincoln Log houses, none of them

lost yet to war. And outside, alone

in his new boots and cowboy hat,

his dad having buckled around his hips

the double-pistol holster he begged Santa for all year,

all he knows is trust and order, falling

to the ground, guns in the air,

                                             shooting the blue sky to pieces.

Corinne Adams

A Long Walk to Nishi-Kokubunji

Every week I make the journey—

Up at dawn

through one crowded station

to the next, transfer again,

translate my still groggy

expression, my torpid steps.


From the station, winding through

old, tucked in neighborhoods,

houses, still struck, after two years

by the comforting smells of

grilled fish breakfasts

as they usher me down the street

in a wake of woken moments.


Through the forests;

my favourite part,

a vacuum of birdsong,

a soft welcome for sore feet,

I fall through the cracks

to find rest there, transformed.


Ice, and rain, mud

or trees fiercely parade their colours,

or gently, spring snows of pink and white;

I have trudged, traversed, tromped

through the respite

of all seasons, and all

earth-splendor of their cast.


The square field

backed by multi-story buildings

where cabbage flowers nestle

plump and neat and self-satisfied,

prevailing through every season,

preside over the other come-and-go



Down one rusted step, down two,

palms out, up near my ears,

guided by some fading apparition

of the forest;

as my parents might take my hands,

to steady me.


Up one flight of stone stairs, up four,

past bright-eyed orderlies,

bleary-eyed surgeons preparing for

another day of “oh please, just let me

fix this one, just this one, and this one;

just let get home in time

to tuck in my kids.”


I sit and talk with my friend

about his memories of school

50 years ago, just after the war;

of school lunches, the poorness of

the students, toes numb and pink

from afternoons of skating in

homemade geta ice skates and tabi.


We talk about films, solar systems,

and politics too, of course,

but these things seem so narrow

in meaning—

It is much better to reminisce of pounding

New Years mochi, of sliding down

a snowy mountain at twilight

that it took most of the school day

just to climb up—


And I feel the brush of

old worlds unchanged

and changing, and changed

and forgotten,

and they taste familiar

so I pull them under my skin

to keep them warm.

Ice-Cream melts More Quickly in Siem Reap

A jeans-and-blouse girl buys two

local dusty girls, raggle-taggle street girls,

an ice-cream each—      

       (they’ve been tugging

at her shirt since she came round the corner).

They skip beside her now

faces malleable, expectant

       (not to be confused with hopeful)

as she leads them to the ice-cream stand,

the scalloped red awning and grimy white

cold-box, long a source of wonder.


They press small hands,

sharp faces to the glass,

peering at the frozen rainbows underneath.


The girl, all brisk and business

pays for their ice-creams and leaves

them to the magic of choosing.


The ice-cream vendor hands them

each a cone, towering with the closest

thing to snow they have ever seen—


pink, white, sweet scoops in twos

(they got the flavours “generosity”

and “kindness”).


With a lilting sidewalk amble

that belongs only to muddy hungry

street-smart little girls


they make their way over to two older

cohorts, who are selling postcards

to big confused tourist-hearts;


stretching out sticky brown

and pink and white hands,

they offer their friends each

a sugary lick of

generosity, kindness.

Hitchhike to Hiroshima –

To bring:


       red ukulele,

       travelin shoes,

       fantasy novel

       thermos of coffee, and

       whiskey for the thermos of coffee,

(will leave out novel to make room,

if necessary).


We painted birds and good-luck charms

onto our scruffy sneakers,

bound for to carry us home,

(but perhaps not so much to keep us warm).


       I promised I’d care for you,

       my sparrow friend.

But we both were misjudged—

you underestimated, and I


and with what centripetal strength

you bore me up—

        In awe and vertigo I clung to you.


With strangers, friends in cars, in trucks,

stumbling towards our surprise Christmas-day

gifts of music, a warm bed,

small magics


Of running hand in hand, a step ahead of

the dusk flickering-on of street lanterns,

breathless and laughing too loud in the still streets,

of the taste of much speculated-upon snowflakes,

of thousand-year-old flames and hot sweet dumplings.


Drifting, dozing, dreaming

through dazzling sun-towers

and tarantella snow dances;

we speak languages upon languages

baroque and jumbled in our heads

into a cacophony of  golden ornaments—


and when the holidays come again,

I hang them on the empty places

        that your wing-strokes,

        your bright piano notes, and

        your voice might still echo there.

Jenn Blair


dissolves nothing.

But with it, you bind up molecules

sing me a world.


Love is many things.

But mainly you

bringing me your days,

the small details,

the odd note

which is also the right note.


The misspelled road sign,

the Braeburn apple whose body

is gnarled as a green pepper,

the jaw-less mailbox  down your road,

full of small mouths who mistook

hunger for abandonment--

--rusted metal for sky.


Your words tell of the pang

of being infinite but dusty, unsprung

bound in,

flying off to every country,

scattered and amazed salt

bound up again and again

into the one sheaf

constrained and quietly

rereading an old book

in the corner of a room.


After your letter is folded,

I tuck it in my pocket,

and watch evening

settling down the hills.


I think you know this place.


The familiar disappointment.

Persistent lump of gratefulness.

A Map is Useful,

some. But it never forewarns of impending

horse shoes nailed over stable doors,

or fans in upstairs windows set to low—


and it refuses to number the red velvet

lined offering plates stacked up in church foyers

or count how many holes there are in hornet’s

nests clung up under picnic shelters.


Knowing the correct exit helps,

but does not reveal

the ratio of egg to flour in her biscuits

or the reason for the bruise on her right arm.


Thin blue lines guide and don’t explain

how minnows navigate

the murk of Powder river

or why the Crazy Woman creek

splits away from it so fierce and final,

weeping as she carts

the weight of her own songs away.


The name of the ridge

The elevation of the peak

The number in the town.


are not the knowledge

I need, or the reason

for the shadows that flicker

under Cottonwoods like candle flame.

These dotted lines say nothing

of longing

or light.

The way it grows. Spreads.


Here what quickens is pidgin

is promise, is indecipherable, save for

an errant startling letter, a hot itinerant

quickly tearing off its veil.


The map is unforgiving. It lets bitter roots

of mountains grow up, and carves canyons

cars fall off. It mentions Cape Disappointment,

but misses the slight sadness that always seems

to settle like a thin film of dust over houses

and driveways and ragged basketball nets.


I spill chocolate cookie crumbs

on Hoover’s boyhood home,

searching for the ridge where evening

first settles, and clumsy tongued, half-

hinged hymns pour in the open window

of a moment. The moment is a blur

that interrupts blindness. It startles us, then

quickly vanishes even as it remains—a bur

caught between blanket and back, the irritant

that companions us whose bones

are brittle pressed leaves, stuck between

bound books and unraveling sky.

Prison Spoon

Washed and washed

in the mouth of the murderer, perjurer, liar,

Mouth of the rapist and thief.

Washed and washed in the mouth

of the disappointed, mouth of loathing.

Mouth of venom, mouth of jeers.

Mouth full of silent reproach

and ground down prayer.

Mouth of peeling wallpaper dented hood, old coin.

Mouth of the last good summer and the son and the father.

Mouth of the brother and drunk.

Mouth of the confessor confider and priest.

Washed and washed in soap and water

Scratched on plate and spoon and counter

Thinned between the teeth of the man

who bit off his wife’s ear, molested his daughter,

strangled the baby. Mouth of confusion

Mouth of Christ. Washed and washed

in the soap and the spittle and the anger and hope.

Traci Brimhall

Kingdom Come

That summer the world waited for the execution,

but the prisoner hadn’t healed yet. That summer


I read the gospels backwards waiting for God

to become mortal or at least return to a moment


when creation felt full of promise. That summer

my father held my hand as we crossed the icefields


and looked into a glacier’s deepening blue,

a blue hiding the bodies of mastodons, a blue


that grew lonely watching the world change,

a blue that existed on earth as it did in heaven,


a blue that insisted It is better to be wild

than be good. I felt a new cold and an old temptation


and put my hand in the fissure to feel the remains

of water older than time. Somewhere my father


watched the calving of an iceberg that plunged

into the sea. Somewhere a man muttered


the Lord’s prayer as a doctor tied off his arm

to make his vein stand  against his flesh. The news


reported it was almost over. I touched the vanishing

wilderness for the first time, grateful and unsaved.

Nocturne with Oil Riggs and Jasmine

On the pier two men made angry by heat

       and hunger argue over bait and lures.

              I envy them their quarrel,


because in a good fight or a great love,

       two people become one body, all grapple

              and sweat and groan.


Let’s call it chaos. Let’s call it delirium,

       this city where lights from oil rigs dapple the ocean.

              This city built between mountains


and the sea, city of conquistadors, city pillaged and razed.

       I came here to escape the narrowing future,

              and I found seagulls circling jetties.


I found lemon trees staked against the wind,

       dimes in a fountain struck by sunlight. On this coast

              once fraught with pirates


I wander insisting on jasmine, the east insisting

       on tomorrow. On this coast, waves recite elegies

              when they mean to praise.


One for the pilgrim lost in a wilderness of sand and wine

       who blinded himself to become a prophet. One

              for the serpent crushed


beneath the Virgin Mary’s stone foot. One for the hunter

       who entered the darkness and returned

              holding live birds.

What We Have Lost

For a year now, I have tried to master peace.

I journeyed, prayed, learned a new hunger,

but now I realize the awful quiet in my heart

is not the peace I was promised, but the hush

that falls over the forest when threat is near.

Everywhere I traveled I saw danger,

signs that said Beware: Bear country.

Nothing rustled the bushes, but vultures

waited in dead branches. Signs said

Do not disturb the prayers tied to trees,

but the limbs were empty. The world

tries to warn me that I am more

or less than the earth under my fingernails.

I am greater than or equal to the startled blue

of morning. I hurt the way blue hurts.

And I am tired the way the river is tired

of pretending it feels nothing. I want instead

to be like the rain which hides itself

in everything it touches. Sometimes I confuse

my body with the locked door of an abandoned house.

And sometimes I sing when I mean to weep,

and weep when I try to say I keep a lock

of your hair in my wallet. I thought if I could

forget the past, I would need no afterlife.

But now I see we are the sum of our departures,

and we are also what we have lost.

Paula Bohince

Learning to Knit

Blind, my great-grandmother lives

alone, her century

spent in rooms where she took first steps.


There is no telling

of time in this house, no clocks.

Our talking is the ticking


of needles, skeins of yarn.

Her soft hands instruct me wordlessly.

When I drop a stitch,


she unravels the line and pats my arm.

The zinnias on her housedress

bloom, as in Spring,


petals floury from the bread

she’s made, by feel, and buttered for me.

Next time, she promises,


I’ll teach you how to bake it.  As if

Eternity was inside her kitchen, the knit

and pearl of our stitches.

Sunday Room

Sheets boiled with lavender, the hard bed.

Handmade eye-pillow filled with Great Northerns.

Cactus to the ceiling, orange corsages.

No embarrassment, a calm

that is the opposite of ambition, I think.

Mind like a diary unlocked on the dresser, pages lifting in breeze.

Like those vivid flowers.

Amethyst on a chain: external heart.

Heirlooms in a shallow basket I can look at

without regret, or regard and weep, kneeling, beside.

A water glass, my eyeglasses, arms open

in a waiting embrace.  Sleeping on my husband’s chest,

his undershirt dryer-warm, arresting as a cloud

in a black-and-white photograph.

The Kind Faces of Poets

In church, where we sang for an hour, my family

stood with the other families.


I wanted to live there, in that hour of praise and wonder

and singing, low to the ground,


to look up and see birds flying, or a horse’s curved leg,

or God, fixed like the stars.


I wanted stars, I wanted the kind faces of poets,

to be filled with a spirit, to live in that windowed hour.


I wanted the windows blazing, all of us inside it—

the milky beveled house, the singing.


I wanted the long table of bells, biggest to smallest, to be

ringing, to love the people who rang them.

Danielle Cadena Deulen


Go back to the garden—the green

scent of unripe tomatoes, a nightshade,

a cousin to belladonna, the extract

dropped into the eyes of courtly women to dilate

their beauty.  You are too young


to know this.  Still, your pupils widen

in the shade of the plant—the black dots of your eyes

unfurling like fists into palms. 

You are calm, though

your father screams from somewhere behind you


from outside the garden, but he sounds so close

it’s as if he rests his lips on the edge

of your ear lobe.  You are distracted

brushing the fine green hairs on the stem

of the tomato plant, breathing in its sharp scent.


You rub mud over your slack limbs

to hide, to become, again, unshaped, to stop

(the lie unraveling over the earth) this conclusion

following you minute to minute.  This is how

you learned to till the earth with the rake


of your fingers.  This desire to inter yourself—

return to a seed, a small dot deep in

the flesh, to be inside the green, translucent fruit,

its thin skin, it’s seeds like distant stars, eyes

not yet burdened with opening.  No.


No—opening is never a burden. You have only

seen what you wanted to see, heard

what you wanted to hear.  What you fear

most is that your ruined garden isn’t true—

that somewhere the wheat ascends, the delphinium


blooms, and you have walked through your life

eyes closed and so, never saw it.  Fear your own tongue’s

bitterness.  Fear your glut of sadness so deeply you rise 

up from the valley—from the shadows of the garden—

open your eyes wide, hear your father singing.


Orange blossoms and glass

       crush beneath your feet—you stride steady

as a thoroughbred.   Your cousin beside you—


black hair an electric grid, his shoulder

       bones beneath the thin white tee. 

The older boys walk ahead, spreading out like


heat on the wide streets.  One struts first,

       chest swelling with darkness, the quick jab

of his eyes, blackblacker than black like if you


looked too long at his face, you’d be gone—is the one

       who pulls out a gun. L.A. is close enough

to be a dream, sunken in a haze of smoke, dusk


weighs down. It was getting dark, and he was mad,

       but moved coolly—arm like a pendulum,

swinging the gun.  He started whistling, aiming up


at the streetlights, into the windows of houses

       and you knew what he was up to—didn’t want

to be that kind of man.  You slowed down,


dropped to the back of the crowd.  Your cousin’s eyes

       said don’t be weak, then how do I leave this,

but you were already turning away when that boy shot


out the first light, then the next, the next—glass

       exploding high above you—sheer fireworks. 

As you ran, you were surprised by how fast


your body carried you—the sudden sweetness

       of the air—the sound of the gunshots getting

farther away.  That’s what I remember about L.A.,


you tell me, staring into the lines of your well-worn

       palms—the scent of orange blossoms, like the scent of

the spirit, and the sound of streetlights going out and out—

M. Ayodele Heath

South Africa: 25 Exposures


Arrival in Johannesburg airport:

So many White faces,

I must be in the wrong country.

That is, till I see

the baggage handlers, who all look

just like me.



the airport sign says, ONLY TIP THOSE



Ahhh, Zulu is a sound

for sore ears: Soft. Percussive.

Music. Click-Click!

when spoken. For example,
ngqongqoza, has two
clicks & means

to knock. Ngqongqosha has two,
too & means to carry a child

on one’s shoulders.


To stand so tall,

yet balance so much:

a woman's work.


Such bright scarves sing
as they are beaten
against the rocks.



Yebo, Mr. Cow,

Are you coming or going

down this dirt road?




End of the day,

25 kilometres home: Left,

Right.  Left.  Right.  Left…



Night here is so dark

I can’t even see

my own skin.




The skyline's teeth
will swallow your eyes!
the sangoma sez.







As he flaps among the clouds,
the shrike's magical tail
kisses the acacia trees.


There goes

another lion:





This Xhosa girl is taught
not to look
me in the eye,

Oh, but when she sings
I feel the floor


Where have all the diamonds
gone? Certainly not
on her black hands.


When he leaves for the mines,
the moon is full. It will fill again
before he returns.



the witchdoctor's promise—
even here.




This woman with bare breasts

looks like she has
something to say:

Amandla, or
I will not die
of AIDS.




is greener than

even Ireland:


No wonder

they came
& would not leave.



Tea time for one
means work time
for the other.




Another expired goldmine,
another horizon of ghetto:




Radio deejays transmit
in eleven different languages:

What a wild dial!

With my 2 left feet,
can you teach me
the latest township dance?



Chakalaka tastes
just like it sounds:




The letters on this bench
have faded from use.


Zulu lightning show:

How does the sky rumble so

& not fall apart?




Named for apartheid's architect,
Verwoerd Ave. still runs

through the heart

of Johannesburg.

Sadiqa Khan


Do you remember us? Tweed trousers, holes

in sequined cardigans, quaint glamour sifted

from the Clothing-by-the-Pound, we found


ten dollars in a pocket once and watched a matinee,

left bread and roses! stickers on the screens

of bank machines. The bus hauled us home


from that suburb  where blackberries

grew in the lanes. In Chinatown, three women waltzing

to a ghettoblaster took our hands, their toothless


sways so lilting graceful that I nearly missed  

the half-moon blooming in the crook

of a lamppost. Later, the men in our lives would ask


were you lovers? And we would say no, which was true,

because they didn’t mean, of everything. Not like that.


       In an ancient

grain pit on Honshu, they find

a stash of rice, blackened, and one

    nameless seed.                

           Something inside the tough 

      and waiting coat it wore through thousands

         of spring rains

       remembers thirst.

                   For this: a shoot,

              a stem, the green hardens

                   to bark, then a bloom

                 before leaves,


L.S. McKee

Dear Robert, An Unwritten Postcard with the Manneken Pis




He leans into it, squeezing out

the arc of piss while the mechanical

pump of his bladder is silent,


and there is only the sound, sublime

or embarrassing, of water hitting water.

In the corner of his fountain, the faces


of the long-traveled reflect disappointedly.

You have been here. You have seen it—

this statue tucked in the wings of a square,


how the cherubic boy grins,

the baby fat folds of his groin

knowing only one pleasure of release.


Or two, if you believe the stories of that dark,

vulnerable night when a toddler

roaming through unmanned alleys


doused the initial fire of a saboteur’s fuse.

Thereby saving a city from burning.

Thereby locked in his eternal, resuscitating gesture.


How easy the legends of survival unfold.

Enemies retreating from a sleeping city.

To some he has a name. To most he has none—


they drag on to dinner where pots of mussels

pile and tremble like liverish moons.

How close is the river? Someone asks




while the birds are at every table

and scattering—their wings splitting

like cells that might stop a body,


their wings like the first rip and burst

of air that could burn down houses in one’s sleep.

Though you are gone, you have seen it—


the mind fierce against destruction,

the heart somehow eternal

even as cities fail and bodies disappoint.

Baby Ava

Writhing on the living room floor

your fists tear like blossoms, your fingers

beginning to spread as you reach

for your mother, the light of her hair

against the evening burn of the cul-de-sac.

How you fuss already at the body’s limits,

the mouth’s incompetence to express any desire—

your every discomfort interpreted as hunger.

She swabs the curled wound of your belly button,

the last of her blood oozing from you

as you begin to discern the blurry, electric world

of humans, of shapes and machines purring

all night in the city to warm you, to feed you.

Soon enough the city’s layered lullaby will amplify,

and you will feel it vibrate at the edges of the self

removed and nearly alone, though not now,

not now little halo of coppered light.

Apocalypse Garden

In the gullies between mountains, the old women

      will survive when the swaying cellar steps



when the earth slips its vertebrae beneath us.

When the gods come back to play.


You might

remember anything or nothing of survival,

while their arthritic hands


wipe clean the years’ snow of dust

      from their careful jars, rows of gemstones



from the red dirt of their gardens.

            Shelves of leaves

 applauding in storm. For them,  the green seems to unfold


from nothingness. How little you know

of saving yourself, you remind yourself,


how little you know of building a thing. Of growing a thing.

      How adept you’ve become at contemplating


absence. Potential for disappearance,

      to never have a thing again. Someone reminds you,


suffering can never be overtaken by pleasure,

      they are unequal, separate things.


This fear you wake to, has always been.

      Learn to sculpt what life you can,


breaking your back against the limitless space.

Matthew Nienow

How the Summer Dries

It’s a hot wind every day at noon

and the girls come up from slinging buckets

of muddy water on the furrows,


the low slung look of tired arms

and a quiet in their faces that says

they don’t talk even to each other


while they work.  I’d worry,

but worry never made anything

but worry grow, and nothing can be done


but bring water up to drench

this garden, where we’ve planted

every vegetable imaginable.


There’s a jungle rising there

& a hunger in their look,

which is why we took to driving early


evening, slow along the road, to think

how easy leaving would be, my girls

watching the ditch water, wondering at the sky


caught there, the birds drowning

in the still reflection, the muddy water

slowly drying up all summer, but that garden


won’t water itself, so we turn back

just before the turnoff to the town

and when that green hits our eyes


it’s like a storm, each day washing us over.

We hardly look to where their mama’s

buried, but it’s like we never look away.

This is why we stay.  To see the green fists

of tomatoes streak red, the slow flame

of taught skin pressing out from the core,


to feel the warmth of their dusty bodies,

the plumpness, leaning close to take

in the hot earth smell, until the day we begin


plucking them, perfect, from the vine.

My girls and I each pick the best one we can find

and thinking nothing better could be said,


leave them, like three lit coals, three fat tongues

or still-warm hearts, beating at the mouth

of their mother’s grave.


        Inukshuk—A stone landmark in the shape of a man,

        used in the Inuit culture as a directional marker

        that signifies safety, hope and friendship.



We may know time as a stone,

smooth and round, made so by

water that keeps returning

to itself, water like the forgetful

grandmother retracing her footsteps,

repeating herself.


Her voice is the water.


It fills her children and their children

swallow her stories and smile,

lips wet, her repeated words tracing

a circle in their minds and if

this is really the tundra, the land

that belongs to The People,

it is empty—              —of trees

and buildings: things to walk

towards, to measure the shape

of time.

            But one doesn’t have

to reach a tree to know that

something has been passed

and that empty space is sometimes

lonely.  The People figured that if

time is a stone, it might be stacked

in the shape of a person,

in the capacity of a human,

that we might see our grandmother’s

face in our daughter’s, might know

that grandmother has rolled

over and looked up from a body

that is five—and seventy—years old.

An Old Curiosity

Red would want to walk along Fisherman’s Wharf

and recall the first time he had seen the shrunken heads

in the back of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, and seeing them again,

would gather up the years between like discarded clothes

in need of washing and wonder aloud how a head

once so full of seeing, how a mouth that had tasted

the finest meat or the sweetest words, how the caves

of the ears could be reduced to a state of dried fruit

and locked in a glass case.  He loved to know

what of a body could last, his own body seeming intent

on disappearance—our great grandfather

having known nearly a century before us—

so we listened with wonder and skepticism, nodding

as he talked of a silver ferry called Kalakala,

thinking only to appease him but thinking also

that his mind had become lost on the way

to his tongue.  After all he was 97, and soon shriveled

into sleep, and was placed in a case of earth

and only then did we find the silver ferry come back

from Alaska, docked in Lake Union, where he had first seen it,

and his curiosity became ours to tell—in a story where

we return like king salmon to the tacky aisles of souvenirs,

not being able to resist a known origin, a glass case

like a silvered pool, where, when we bend down expecting

to see the faces of the long dead, we see our own.

Nikoletta Nousiopoulos

wild poppies

orange heads drug themselves

like pitted addicts


child-sized hands summon

the hiss off broken roots


an old woman’s hair creases

under a rose babushka


by the garden door



flowers bulge

in her weathered hands


in a dome of fragrance

those little faces sneer


suffocated in palms

she scrambles for loose string


ties the poppies

into a crown, but


poppies tremble out

of knots


Memory gets lost

with church bells


and poppy drone

kills the ears


there were never

any children here

grief litany

there never was a moon is what i’m telling myself

this is a lie           sometimes a lie makes the heart lie down

it’s the tired dog inside us       lets go, so to breathe


there never was a stone i stepped on that wasn’t as hollow as

the moon, disappearing           all the hard and white

objects of the earth do not belong to me          i abandon them


i walked away and cried until my body also walked

away          i did not chase or fight or shoot

i let the crazy animal get away       locked


my face in a steel cage      never was there a time

i told my hands they were lovely and i

needed them


Someone said star of terror I will not get out.

I pose a knife for peeling apples

making an empty orchard of my life.


Under balconies we endure prophecy

declare what the pond sings is bitter lime & not enough.

Even the wheelbarrow calls back, the crow.


It will take more than tree bark & white scape

more than earth on the darkest, backward edges.

It is you breaking bones on the run. I see through you.

Idra Novey

Fist and After

The blow came from behind,

cracked his nose and various colors

thudded in his eye.

                           His hands cupped


the blood and no one called

the police. What mattered was ice

and x-rays. 

                But who was it,


people said, didn’t someone

report it?  What they wanted,

as we did,

              was some Before


to explain it, the clarity

of some consequence

we could squarely call

                                 The End. 


At night we flinch at wind

against the window and scribble

in the air. Dear stranger,

                                   dear anger,


dear fantasies

of justice, ferrying

our wish-boats

                     over the night-lake.

Memorias do Cárcere

So lush here, Graciliano, this lizard island

where you were imprisoned.

                                        Every night the lightening

                  strikes more jackfruits

                  out of the trees


                and the air sugars

                with their smell

                as they shatter

              into the jungle that’s flowered over

       the stifling cells you were locked in

for novels

none of your prosecutors

could name.


As for your inmates,

              their bones grow lighter

              in a lost grave,


               but anyone can tell you where

               the cobras nest, which trails

               lead to beaches and to the trees

               where the monkeys feed.


When I go on here about paradise,

I mean no disrespect.

               I say it for the flicker of lizards

               on my windowsill

               and the night smell

               of jackfruit, 

                for this much wildness

                                      just sixty miles from Rio.


          Enough lushness

          to erase everything that’s not green

          or dengue fever, mosquito

          or sky. 

Meanwhile the Watermelon Seed

On Tuesday, new prisoners arrive.


In late fall, when leaves clog the gutters and their last colors go out like stars, new prisoners arrive.


As another plane pitches upward and a red finch drops for landing.


As fleets of school children go forth in pursuit of blue candy. 


At three a.m., when dogs shift position on the bed and stir their owners who look out and find it’s snowing.


In the hour when I call my sister and she empties the dishwasher, new prisoners.


In the hour when drivers flick on their headlights and flowers close and fireflies get stuck in jars.


In the hour when I call no one, read nothing, and somehow the hour is gone.


In the sweltering city, where a friend brings a watermelon and we spit its seeds onto the roof of the museum next door and the world seems repairable and temporarily right, new prisoners arrive.

Jennifer Perrine

Mother, Self-Portrait, 2006

In the last photograph of my mother,

the borders are blurred into a vignette,


and though it’s a twenty-first century

print, she’s tinted herself with sepia.


Still, her leopard-spot outfit gasps, golden

sheen of glitter bright in the fading light,


drawing my eye from her half-fallen face,

the places the aneurysm kissed so hard


her muscles buckled. From this safe distance,

I can trace the undone bow of her mouth,


left side of her lips a loose string dangling,

toy on a slack tether. Though they were made


only through the phone, I can see now how

her apologies were formed, the struggle


to shape the words at all, drop of spittle

weeping down her chin, how she would knuckle


its thin thread as she spoke. In this picture,

the last one she sent, her gaze won’t let me


resent any longer the missing years,

the ones that brought her into this soft skin,


this hair gone white, the ones that carried her

to this stoop on a house I’ve never known,


steps where she’s perched like a pigeon, tiny

and grey, ready to wing its long way home.

The Power of the Gopher Overtakes Me

Or perhaps it’s the power of Kenny Loggins,

who’s still alright and pleading on the radio

just to let him be, that makes me wiggle, jostle


my fists, churn my head with animatronic

splendor, while you stare, equal parts schoolboy smitten

by the odd workings of rodent grace and farmer


reaching for fumigant. We’re still in our blackest

suits, and even as you join in too, skittering

around our bedroom floor and waggling your tailless


end at the empty air, we’re both shaking with great

unsteady, slurping sobs, unable to forget

our daughter going in the ground, hers the power


of the gopher now, to leave as her sign this dirt

mound, this square tunnel in the earth, this bygone dance

burrowing into our subterranean dark.

Leah Makuch Plath

Moon Phases: For my Mother as She Turns Sixty

Rusted train trestles cut a swath of steel through

       the grasping branches.

She leads me into blackberries

       nestled amid heavy-leaved bushes that reach

       tendrils around our ankles.

We wade into the green, stray from tracks overgrown

       with bending dandelions and pluck the rich black

       tongue-curling sweetness.


I see her at my age. She is the crescent moon, blonde curls and blue jeans,

       berries overflowing the milk pail clutched

       with purple-stained fingers

       that mirror mine.

She is a fine sliver in the sky.


For me she wears yellow

       and her belly swells like the moon

       as I push relentlessly outward

       seeking sunlight,

       inexorable as time.

I draw upon her strength to grow then

       and now.


She spins cobwebs of lace, body curved as if in prayer

       over the cold iron of the sewing machine

       whose needle flashes through the rhythmic humming.

I lie awake, listening.

In this way, my First Communion comes before incense and wooden pews:

       I commune here first as my mother sews

       salvation and forgiveness into white muslin

       and makes angel wings of lace-capped sleeves.


We, her children, burn hot as suns

       consuming the embers of time.

At night we slumber in the shadow of our dreams, and she is the full moon

       luminous from our reflected glow,

       an oasis from the day’s turmoil,

       a quenching stillness of cool water.


It is the new moon time.

My mother weaves stories from the fabric of her life

       and wraps them around us.

She is the wise-woman

       grown into her skin and her words.

Her wisdom is filtered through time and alternately sweet and bitter

       on our tongues.

I submerge myself in this deep water;

she soaks into my skin.

My mother holds the sons and daughters

       of her sons and daughters

with hands that plucked blackberries.


I understand her through the memories

       that beat moth-wings against my mind,

       scattering the dust of her life and mine.

They blend together.

Ursula Sagar

Do not go down to the woods today

Do not go down to the woods today,

Although they’re lovely, dark and deep.

You know exactly what lies that way

And you have promises to keep

And other, safer games to play

And other arms to charm your sleep.


Do not jump into the rabbit hole

Or wander through the wardrobe door.

You’re far too old for the title role

And anyway, the plot’s a bore:

The queen of hearts is off her head,

The dormouse just goes back to bed,

The lion reigns – the witch is dead,

The children sleep at home once more

And all is as it was before.


Do not go gentle into that

good night; don’t follow the moonlit stream,

For when the day comes, harsh and bright,

The potion’s spent – it’s not a dream.

Then every elf and fairy sprite

And every flower of delight

Will fade like fireflies out of sight.

Don’t rage against that dying light;

You’ll know at once what’s wrong, what’s right,

In morning’s fiercer, braver beam.

L.J. Sysko


When you look out of a window,

square and sad some day in the future—


because we know sadness visits

every house—


think about these circles instead:

the one we make as a group


today to witness you give

rings to each other, making


the promise that you will,

your mouths, your lips


forming circles as you say

I do, champagne glass rims,


the circle of a garter, blue,

round layers of cake,


stacked like love

upon love upon love


and there is no end in a circle,

we know, we see, what we smell


from childhood, something baking,

mother’s perfume, a Christmas tree,


swirls in our minds, round and round

from birth to death with marriage


like a shining diamond in the middle.

So remember this day and what you


promised—to be his hero, if you can,

in small ways like bubbles in a beer,


like a dollop of cream on his coffee,

every day, and the little circles


add up, like bubbles in her bath,

like bracelets bangling,


like the doorknob turning

each night and saying, honey,


now and today

and forever, I am home.