Dorothy Prizes Awarded for 2008



Elizabeth Adams of Salem, Massachusetts for Geese; Bangalore; Consistency

Katy Didden of Columbia, Missouri for Perito Merino Glacier; String Theory: Pyramus and Thisbe; “Embrace Them All

Melissa Mylchreest of Missoula, Montana for Outside el Hospital de Sagunto, Valencia; North Fork; Letter to an Unknown Address in the Pyrenees


Matthew James Babcock of Rexburg, Idaho for The Pull; Visions at Birch Creek; Inch

Brian Brodeur of Fairfax, Virginia for At Hank’s Canteen; House Fly; Emptying the Charcoal Grill Together

Tom Christopher of Greensboro, North Carolina for Surviving Wife of Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment Subject; Dance in the Japanese-American Internment Camp; A Soldier’s Wife Upon Finding the Dried Finger of a Sioux Child

Temple Cone of Annapolis, Maryland for Tongue and Groove; Grace; The Miracle Corner

Julie Dunlop of Albuquerque, New Mexico for Invocation for Departure of Pain as the World Outside Breaks into Light; Upon Returning to Virginia for the First Time Without You There; More Yes than All the Stars, the Sky

Brieghan Gardner of Nottingham, New Hampshire for Puffballs; Burning Paper Cranes

Jules Gibbs of Syracuse, New York for Black Walnut; Pronghorn

Garth Greenwell of Ann Arbor, Michigan for Faculty Meeting with Fly; Abundance

Emily Ruth Hazel of Astoria, New York for Poem for Elisabeth; White Sheets; At the Met

Ann Hudson of Chicago, Illinois for Washing Up; Lullaby; For an Autumn Wedding

Melissa Stein of San Francisco, California for Revolving; Ars Poetica; Clearing the Field

Natalia Treviňo of Helotes, Texas for Afterlife; Well, God; It was the Chef who finally explained 

Rhett Iseman Trull of Greensboro, North Carolina for Lovers on a Walk; Study of Motion

Laura Van Prooyen of Brookfield, Illinois for Hummingbird; Orchard; Inheritance


Paula Bohince of Plum, Pennsylvania for The Language of Fish; Yarn Birds

Gillian Cummings of North White Plains, New York for Uroborus; The Dove

Rachel Dilworth of Gig Harbor, Washington for My Father and His Heron

Melina Draper of Fairbanks, Alaska for Seagull Eggs; Crooked Birch Basket; The Mask Carver’s Daughter

Robin Ekiss of San Francisco, California for Suburban Pastoral; Drought: Dry Prong, Louisiana; Back Roads

Patrick Foran of Ithaca, New York for The Bells of Jellyfish

Rae Gouirand of Davis, California for Behold

Megan Gravendyk of Monroe, Washington for absent mindedness; Cradle and All; Good Things

K.A.Hays of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for Interlude

Elizabeth Kay of Omaha, Nebraska for Cravings; The Oak Muses; For Our Anniversary, A Poem of Where We Live

Bethany Tyler Lee of Carbondale, Illinois for Poem for My Sister, I, Being of Sound, Leave; What to Do

Debbie Lim of Annandale, New South Wales, Australia for White Egret; Blue; In a Cave

Melissa Mack of Oakland, California for At Bishop’s Ranch

Christopher Nelson of Tucson, Arizona for Christmas Song; The Seine with the Pont de la Grande Jatte

Alison Pelegrin of Covington, Louisiana for Praying with Strangers; Louisiana; The Day the Music Stopped            

Anna Lena Phillips of Durham, North Carolina for Trillium-Hunting; If that mockingbird don’t sing

Brian Spears of Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Because I Didn’t Teach Her How to Drive

Tess Taylor of Brooklyn, New York for Song for El Cerrito; Elk at Tomales Bay; Crazy Quilt

Emily Tuszynska of Fairfax Virginia for Encounter; Soap Bubbles; Song    

Jacqueline West of Chilton, Wisconsin for To R., Who Cries for Roadkill; Farmer’s Daughter; Long Distance


Allyson Arndt of Salem, Oregon for Farm Boy; Wedding Party

Michele Battiste of Astoria, New York for Daedalus’ Blueprint; Preparing the Unborn Child

Michael Boccardo of High Point, North Carolina for Hallowed; Wal-Mart, Aisle Five

Brian Brown of Fitzgerald, Georgia for Refuge; Family History; Dust

Samantha Buchanan of Chicago, Illinois for Window

Melisa Cahnmann Taylor of Athens, Georgia for Once I was in Love with an Old Coat; Hitting Balloons; “Ten Percent Off for a Poetic Order”

Chuck Carlise of Houston, Texas for The First Week in Catania; Walking Home Alone, 1 am

C. Doyle of Mount Saint Alban, Washington DC for The Beating; The Doll Museum; Carnival

Jacqueline Gabbitas of London, England for Beetle

Marie Gauthier of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts for Plenitude; All Souls’

Julia Guez of Houston, Texas for Ictus; At The Edge of the Night; Funks

Valerie Linet of Shady, New York for Harvest; After Death, the Living are Left

Cath Nichols of Warrington, England for The Gift; Frog; Betula pendula, Silver Birch

Gregory W. Randall of Santa Rosa, California for Re-Entry; Woman in Her Garden; A Small Hotel

Chad Sweeney of Kalamazoo, Michigan for Asylum Lake; In the Language of Nature; Winter Proofing

Nicole Foreman Tong of Falls Church, Virginia for Pentimento;  Thoughts Before Self-Portrait, 1981; Address for my Sister

Benjamin Vogt of Lincoln, Nebraska for Grandpa Anderson’s – 1959; Photograph, 1990; Coneflowers, August

Honorable Mention

Aden Neumeister of Oakland, California for The Crow

Tangent Marie Cohn (nom de plume) of Portland, Oregon for Undeserved Gifts

Rebecca Morgan Frank of  Cincinnati, Ohio for Observance; Morning Song; Sea Journey

Michelle A. Galo of Hudson Falls, New York for Apple; “Somewhere”; Your songs are not my tongue

Emma Goulding of Bath, England for Moving; Smile

Tasha M. Jefferson of Canal Winchester, Ohio for The Place Where Decisions Labor

David Krump of La Crosse, Wisconsin for One Hunger Cycle; Steam for the Archive Department; The Evening We Hanged Bad Joe

Nina Lindsay of Oakland, California for My bare feet; Keeping house; New year

Elizabeth Percer of Redwood City, California for Separation; Arielle, age three; Strong Ghosts

Stephen Roger Powers of Barnesville, Georgia for Desert Blessing; A Week from Wednesday

Christina Stoddard of Nashville, Tennessee for Winter Passing; Losing my Hair at Twenty-Six; Blackberry Sage

Jennifer K. Sweeney of Kalamazoo, Michigan for Weathering; How to Grow a Mushroom; Angels Walking Through the Earth

Natalie Tilghman of Chicago, Illinois for The Curator; After Viewing ‘Prima Ballerina’ by Edgar Degas; Pupoh Vul

Winning Poems

Elizabeth Adams



When my grandfather thought he might die,

he asked me to retell a story I never told him.

              The geese,

he asked,

              Do you remember?




Today, from a window, I watch

children in the park, chasing around a ball I can’t see

from here, their changes in direction both sudden and uniform –

             their faces, still pale from winter,

             their bodies steaming, turning

all together, one way and then

another, as they flicker

in width and depth,

almost disappearing,

                like a cluster of starlings

                shifting suddenly against the sky.



For my last story, I’d want

to hear about wild animals waking in their caves,

               something with a beginning I don’t recognize, and an ending I can guess.

It would begin at sunrise –

                       laundry on a clothesline, water filling a bucket

                                                                 drop by drop –

Not with geese,

                but they could fly overhead,

                            fly through my story, unmentioned,

the quiet music of their shadows

drifting over

                because who hasn’t felt

                their brief darkness?




I picture my grandfather walking away

from some center, imagine him squinting, discerning

the shape of what he’s walked toward,

not wanting plot now, or character,

only the reminder of flight –

                   Geese, clumsy and loud and still

                   capable of remembering,

                                 of finding their way back.




Maybe this is the story,

                                 maybe this is the beginning

                    of the story.



                    I tell my grandfather,

The geese,

                    and neither of us dies.




You have been home

three days, as many weeks

as you were gone.


I try and assign some symmetry to this,

seeking to forgive all our former distances,

to press myself against you and close

all the remaining breaches.


While you were away,

whenever we spoke,

one of us was tired, or both,

waking as the other slept,

or cracking the other’s night in half

with a phone call, the receiver

blaring with city noises, fragments

of language we could not name.


Now, three days home, you speak

of the temples, tell me the lines

to them were measured

in terms of days, not distance.


In your first city,

you did not know

what the lines were,

or where they led,

but, still, you angled through

the teeming streets, slowly,

toward a little polished god

on an otherwise empty shelf.




The yard, a few acres, was cut out

of the surrounding woods.


The house disrupts the yard. Also, the quiet

chicken houses are only themselves.


The bedroom lives inside the house,

but its pale walls are cold against my palm,


which is not bedroom, or house,

or yard, or dripping woods.


I exhale the air that is guest to me.

At places, all the windows leak warmth.


Katy Didden

Perito Moreno Glacier

-         On a tour boat in El Calafate, Patagonia


One lost his hat to the wind –

it bobs on the surface of the jade-green lake

like a black gull. Clouds shift, the sound of lightning

echoes from the ice cliff, and a powder of ice

shakes loose, splashes. Two women clap and coo,

coaxing the glacier to perform, and it does feel alive –

heavy-tailed, befanged, and slow, cooling the wind

that crosses us as though it breathed. The pilot

speeds the boat to a melting berg, leans out

with gloves and pick-axe, hauling ice aboard.

He fills glass tumblers and when the wind picks up,

pours shots of whiskey on the rocks. On deck,

we raise our glasses to Perito, the Pleistocene’s

most stubborn son, and when the whiskey’s done,

while we look out at the glacier (its white forked tail

unfurling miles up Patagon peaks),

we chew a little ice between our teeth.


String Theory: Pyramus and Thisbe

(for Davis)


Scientists say the key is gravity – its arc of motion

extends beyond perception into a million cosmos


mirroring our own. If it would woo concurrency

through our dimension’s scrim, I’d shape the way


things weigh into a word, and send new worlds

a sign made from the undrawn lines of apples.


Just thinking of simultaneity, amplified to the nth degree,

totally floors me. It is like knowing the pyramids exist,


though I have never seen them, their shadow sides wearing smooth

under the sole of the millionth stealthy foot,


while in Patagonia, climbers scaling melting glaciers

free another cold jade inch for fish, and high on Mauna Loa


tourists print the tread of rubber tires onto fresh-cooled ash

as they wheel oceanwards down Earth’s volcanic spine,


and how all this is happening while I’m asleep in DC,

and somewhere else, out of reach, you’re turning in the night


towards your wife. If I could tap the wall of all for points permeable,

I’d set my ear against a seam and cull clues of alt-you,


alt-I. What’s the shape of the world where we are happy?

A place where it’s still not strange for me to rest


against the length of you, say on the dunes of a slow-

paced oasis in the mirror of whose water moves the sky,


where cloud or bird’s the winking of an eye, and where

the wave-work of mirage blurs the shape of children


racing figure-eights around the palms. In the beauty of their bodies

you can see the trace resemblance of Thisbe, who in the plot’s alt-tail,


never feared the blood-jawed lion, already fed,

but waited clear-eyed, clean-veiled, until the lion left,


and in real fields beyond the wall met Pyramus

at the tomb of Ninus, under the moonlit branches


of the white mulberry, where he sat brewing tea,

munching an apple – food of certainty, symbol for


the harmony of all dimensions layered skin to skin,

of how all things begin, and how, fearless of falling,


one who left Paradise

wriggles in again.


“Embrace them All”

          (Parc Georges Brassens, Paris)


Most afternoons, I’d run laps through Parc Brassens

where grows the second smallest vineyard


I have ever seen, and where those silver,

pruned-back stalks looked blunt,


strung-out on wires, and mostly dead

all winter. That was how I saw them.


That’s all I expected. Even in the cold,

I’d see a guy my age there, once a week,


playing his guitar. He’d sit next to the bench

where I’d be stretching. He rarely spoke –


just to ask if I’d like a song –

until the week before I left for good.


I was sitting at the top of a hill

about a hundred feet away from where


if you stand tiptoe you can see the Eiffel Tower.

He sat too close to me. We spoke of many things.


Then he suggested we go at it right there,

on the ground, under the sun. This is how


one lives who knows that she will die:

rolling in the arms of anyone when she can –


rolling in the arms of a musician – aware

that no one cares much what we do


in little knolls behind reedy forsythia,

in the middle of a Tuesday, in the middle


of living. And I would know now

how he felt, and the ground against me,


and whether he was rough or sweet.

And what is possible would widen every hour.


Oh, but me, I thought I was immortal.


Melissa Mylchreest

Outside el Hospital de Sagunto, Valencia


For what it’s worth,

Spanish has no verb

“to give birth.”


mothers dan a luz, give, after

so many months in the growing dark

their burdens to the light.

                         Why are we made

to forget the brightness breaking,

the enormous world suddenly rent

into existence?

                        Would we be too eager

in our remembering, rush towards

the next unexpected

on the other side?

                        Or would each dawn’s heft of being be

too great without the light’s

surprising palm beneath us, lifting us again?


North Fork


Homestead cabins a hundred years old

nestle along the edges here, of slope, open

meadow, dry creekbed, grayed and sagging

monuments to minds that hung survival

on landscape. Whispers of who weighed

shelter over game over water, and who

lost the gamble. Great spruce trees

send boughs out low to catch those ragged

shreds of ghosts, to hold them and their rusted

rifles and send them rootward for some peace.

Snowmelt will wash through, send them to

the Flathead, to the Columbia, further west

than they’d been alive. All along the river

chalky cottonwood snags watch and bleach,

stark in the sun like old ribs where the land

burned and rotted away.

Firescars run right over the dirt two-track –

Moose, Red Bench, Wedge Canyon – big ones

that rolled through and set the land sky-bound,

seeded clouds with the charcoal of old trees.

Wander the black, choked with new lodgepole,

fireweed, Indian paintbrush, lynx, hare. See

what a good death it is?

Here is simple. Here are joy and blood-dark.

Count footsteps and watch signs, know

when winter keeps the sun below the ridge,

and the road is gone you will become beautiful,

like high wind in a blizzard, like a cow moose

when only her bones remain, scattered

around a smattered clearing in the snow.


Letter to an Unknown Address in the Pyrenees




Because you read me

Verlaine in bed and I, who never learned French

or summered in Paris or lived off wine

and olives in the mountains of Nyons,

understand. Language is a foreign thing

in the mouth, but I know

the taste and shapes of your tongue too well:


Pluie is the pout of a small kiss

while we find rhythms in drops

off the gray eaves, voici le soleil, your invitation

under a spent and empty sky.


L’aurore, the brush of a whispered

waking, peach-skin of lip and ear, and le couchant,

as we ease each other into sleep, is out of the dark

your last blurred goodnight.




Because I kept only one photograph of you with me

in this place, and it is plenty for remembering: Your profile

against pine and fence; my gasp, earlier, when after

shucking clothes in deep forest shadow and hopping sun spot to

sun spot on the moss, I dared the locals’ rope and swung. Numb,

I didn’t realize at the time but the water was shocking like

sudden love. We basked bare on pale rocks

like snakes, baking in the afternoon with only our skin

speaking. Later we arrived dry in Leyden to find your cat

and their note left to greet us: Gone to NY til Tuesday – M & D.

As your old house shifted and groaned around us

and the heat ran out of the day, we lay

in your boyhood bed, the bleached sheets streaked

with late light and tangled. There was a vast window,

and as I loved your warmth beneath me I stared, loved also

the wild field, the fruit trees, the flat dark

fringe of forest beyond, the swallows and their easy dance.

On that verge the air seemed to hum, and all in this small world to tremble.

I remember, I threw back my head,

wore the sunset like a blush.




Because it’s been eight months since you flew for Bordeaux,

and we still sign letters with “All My Love.” Because I’ve bought

Cent et Une Poemes par Paul Verlain,

and I can’t understand any of them. Because some

poet here said new love is faithfulness to the old,

but men in my bed have been nothing

more than men in my bed, and none warrant mention

or this confession. Because of my need

to give it anyway. Because I don’t know

where on the map to find you.


Matthew James Babcock

The Pull


Nineteen hundred and some odd years

after Jesus and chief Pharisees discussed

pulling oxen from pits in the Holy Land,

I barrel south down 1-15 in a gray

’97 Dodge Stratus outside Shelley, Idaho.


The brass horizon hammers the sagebrush crags

of the Hell’s Half Acre lava flows

with six-thousand year old sun.

In the back seat, first daughter cruises

through two and a half. I approach thirty-one.


I belt “John Jacob Jinkleheimer Schmidt”

but can’t shake visions of her mother

and baby sister hurtled with Bernoulli and Newton

through the opal slipstream of sky

in a United Airline 737

toward Rochester, New York:


I calculate three time zones

to when they’ll arrive, wonder if

dad and grandfather will seize a lucky fist

of token years after heart attack five.


Jupiter draws the sun twelve feet

off its axis, the wobbling spin about as fast as

an Olympic one hundred-meter man.


Past the Raft River Store, I think of the pull

these bodies exert across space and time

as white-faced ibis flail across

the tattered flag of dusk, whose fireball finale ignites

The Snake River, each bend a molten shield.


World of daughters! Saviors and science say

love is all push and pull, part yield.


Visions at Birch Creek


Albert Lyons, teamster, escaped Nez Perce slaughter

where my nearly ten-year old daughter

with borrowed Eagle Claw pole casts in

for brook trout whose quicksilver combustion

flashes like the stolen mule-train firewater

Chief Joseph drank under sky everlasting.


Blood marks the rendezvous by degrees.

Throbbing gills. The imminence of her menses,

river of no return. And western tanagers, red-

range skulls drenched in sunrise shades,

fleet incarnations of luckless Chinese

who took Nee-Me-Poo hatchets to the head.


One wonders how Albert survived. Did he too

hallucinate on air? Did he plunge hands through

the prism current for fish mirages, having

flitted through the willows from liquor-loving

braves along the bottoms? Did he crawl pari passu

with unborn daughters under war paint evening?


The savage moment bids us be women and men.

We stand by to be butchered or else stun

lacerated knees and chapped palms in a daze

on prairie shale and sage. Let the tanager blaze

of my daughter’s hair consume the whiskey sun.

Let our presence outlast the massacre of days


long enough to inhabit ghost town hotel and shack.

Too large to keep, too small to throw back.




Three daughters harvest handfuls of inchworms

in the back yard where their mother played as

a girl. Each a slim green acrobat twists, squirms,

and rappels down its fine silver essence

through the clean risk of air to be cupped in

hands, clapped in storage jars of criss-cross grass,

the clear lids of Press ‘N’ Seal cellophane

pierced with fork holes. I speed with it all past

the Dansville Foster-Wheeler plant, Cuba

Coachlight Motel, and Arkport’s Hurlbut House,

the medieval hills of Pennsylvania

and new York scrolling along faceless hours

of state highway that link my then to now.

And the world is different where I go.


And the world is different where I go

past the township of Friendship, toward Challenge,

miles from Desire and Panic. The hot orange

flare of oriole speed zigzags solo

between trees split with bronze gashes of sun.

Pale summer dapples ponds with a pollen

as this as mist. Lily pads worship light.

This is the farthest off I have felt – right

now – and the closest I have come by far.

Pinpoint gnats of citrus fire wheel and spar.

The mind snags sticky filaments. The land

clutches the same daylight that fills the jar.

I spool the emptiness around a strand

of soul. There is little we understand.


Of soul, there is little we understand

or parcel out, collect in increments,

the intervals of dusk, glide and descent.

You envision the Seneca crop planned

to perfection here like a loose grid of

stars. The Cornplanter families, one half

in slack semicircles, busily scraped

the bark from red shoots to brew emetics.

The other half stared and traced the complex

theorems of random time and space that would

one evening find spoons of beveled dogwood

and the warped shafts of handmade arrows trapped

in the hard gray mud of love’s fossil fern

where thoughts like cloud turrets form and reform.


Where thoughts like cloud turrets form and reform,

noon slants through the college café windows.

The room reels like a stock market forum.

A decade before he drives all those slow

miles to restart his life – a caravan

of native narratives interwoven

with the glimmering tableaux of their three

young girls scampering, arms upraised, to claim

chartreuse worms descending on light beams –

he sits near her and says nothing when she

breaks into his thoughts and life with a word.

He rises, wishes later he’d said more.

They leave. They meet again. Children follow.

The infinite starts and stops with hello.


The infinite starts and stops with hello.

The manner of birth confirms this to them.

First girl: born late on the Susquehanna;

tears the nipple from her mother’s full breast;

December moon and skin jaundice yellow;

stork bites; head of hair a razzmatazz flame;

a brusque nurse who stays past her shift, and a

twenty-two hour battle with little rest.

The rictus of pleasure and smile of pain

trade places after hours. Laugh becomes scream.

Dark day and white night cycle in sun-stain-

and-star-smeared circuits of dawn-soaked streams

of curtains too tattered for them to rend.

Beginning begins beginning to end.


Beginning begins beginning. To end

is to deny the circle’s open source.

Second girl: a pixie stalk of wheat-blond

that sprouts from the arid banks of the south

fork of the Teton. Sidesteps chance death twice.

One afternoon, the weekend of the Fourth,

north of the township of Sempronius,

he bolts toward the hummingbird feeder poles

across a lakeside cabin’s deck and yanks

her back before she falls into a creek’s

rocky ravine. Later, she survives an

occluded lung pipe, convalesces on

cherry popsicle sighs and gravel moans

just as ending draws the last starting line.


Just as ending draws the last starting line

another strand ravels out like the first

two. Third child: August-born, like her mother

and sister, a gaze of retrospection,

wide-eyed and sublime, drama unrehearsed.

She keeps them both searching forward rather

than back – atonal carousel laughter

and calliope grins and three stitches

laced up across a slender slash that rips

open her temple like delicate lips

promising a kiss fourteen years after.

At Tubman’s grave, the camera catches

her first steps. On moss-mad stone snail trails sketch

a glinting line or circle, which is which?


A glinting line or circle which is, which

was, and which will be intersects the arc

of days upstate near the Erie Canal

and the home of Susan B. Anthony.

The girl who will one day chase a spry batch

of girls around her house and city park

loves a terrier named Duke and enrolls

in after-school ballet, earns mad money

waitressing summers at The Bluewater.

When asked for a portrait of love and home,

she sits a little more erect, recalls

the stuffed bear from her dad, how he pulled her

in a sled after a lakefront snowfall.

The moment remains more timeless than time.


The moment remains more timeless than time,

untraceable like 1969,

when his folks bring him, as a newborn, back

from San Francisco General. Zodiac

Killer stabs a cabby. A maverick mutt,

Tasha, all morning and night, barks and trots

above their cheap crackerbox apartment.

He remembers the folklore glamor of

Buffalo Springfield’s bassist getting bent

into a hood ornament as one half

of a head-on motorbike-and-bus crash.

It takes ten years after graduation

for life to find him in another town

that delivers forever in a flash.


That delivers forever in a flash.

This extends minutes to millennia.

First night alone, after the mania

of the reception, a drunk guest bangs harsh

encores of “Chopsticks” in a no-host bar

downstairs at The Sherwood Inn. It’s not far

to the pier where they huddle in the gray

shriek of a November gale. They are kids

wrapped in college sweatshirts and hope that they

can live off whatever brummagem love

they might dump in handfuls under the lid

of a souvenir mug on a back shelf

with orphan dice, thumbtacks, and spare changes.

Earth forms as much as it rearranges.


Earth forms as much as it rearranges

us. Each lakeside autumn tree exchanges

the cutthroat blaze of monarch drapery

for a skeleton of stripped ebony.

The buzzsaw string quartets of cicadas

drown the spluttering cough of an outboard.

Seagulls grapple. Red deer ascend above

the corn. Boats get stored in dry dock. A hard

plane of gray-green ice mars the shore. It is

the blue heron’s basso lament that moves

locals to mourn the influx of resort

kitsch. Headstones bloom. Cafés fold. As strange as

the passage of days, the long age cuts short

the connection between us, whose range runs.


The connection between us, whose range runs

to the blind limit of sense, marks milestones

on the stretched strand of light: The Hofbräuhaus;

Lindisfarne; Aran; Woody’s Island; close

to breaking past Rock Springs; Promontory;

Balanced Rock; Moab; no guts, no glory

in Sturgis; lost in Blyth, if nothing else;

thunder and woodchucks at Buttermilk Falls;

Stonehenge’s blue sun-scoured palms; the Hub;

the grassy stone bowl of Old Sarum; dab

of Belgium; gig in Nagoya; beebalm

at Yellow Creek; between commitments at Bear

Lake; sunrise in Honduras sends a psalm

head to tail, the span of cosmic measure.


Head to tail, the span of cosmic measure,

plots my observations now where I’m found.

I believe there’s no isolation more

exquisite than that which courses around

Fairman’s Family Laundromat tonight.

A lone girl smokes and sits cross-legged in

parking space A18, her broken pane

hairstyle bleached the frightening opal-white

of summer lightning. Though I would say that

she has buckled Fate’s studded dog collar

around herself, I know we both spin out

of our bellies the frailest lifelines, our

hands cupped for the curious blood of what

we’re caught in as prisoner and treasure.


We’re caught in, as prisoner and treasure,

this escape and release. A memory: Cheyenne.

Midday, we pulled off to gas up the car

at a truck stop whose name I’ve forgotten.

A smog of slate rain draped saturated

murals on the ranks of boxcars, their mustard

broadsides spangled in angry comic strip

swarms of pink-orange graffiti from Rocky Top

to Los Angeles. The wheels clanked and screeched

in a way that said Gather and Always

move on – not in light years but by the inch.

And pause often en route to clear the way

for roadblocks, and for visions and lunch where

three daughters harvest handfuls of inchworms.


Three daughters harvest handfuls of inchworms,

and the world is different. Where I go,

of soul, there is little we understand.

Where thoughts like cloud turrets form and reform,

the infinite starts and stops with hello.

Beginning begins, beginning to end,

just as ending draws the last starting line,

a glinting line or circle. Which is which?

The moment remains more timeless than time

that delivers forever in a flash.

Earth forms as much as it rearranges

the connection between us, whose range runs

head to tail, the span of cosmic measure

we’re caught in as prisoner and treasure.


Brian Brodeur

At Hank’s Canteen


When Hank finds “Digging for Jesus” on PBS,

we watch as a dozen pilgrims

squeeze into the underground altar

at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

They bow under the crossbeams

and kneel to kiss a polished silver star,

the exact spot where they think Christ was born.


Crazy what some people will believe,

says the guy at the end of the bar, snickering.

But Hank is credulous, gazing at the screen

hung under the boar’s head, his face


                   I don’t know why I came.

To relax, I guess, and have what the Irish call

a quiet drink, that beautiful euphemism

for getting soused but not so soused.

And here I am confessing to Hank my dream:

how I held my ex’s body underwater

and she smiled at me, guiding my hands

as I parted her ribcage, a psychic surgeon

removing one by one her lungs, her heart.


Pressing his nose against the face-smudged floor,

the semi-famous archeologist reminds us

there’s no way to know for sure if this is the place.

Under the blinking lights of the Keno machine,

I imagine the long flight home

each pilgrim will take, the stewardess

standing in the aisle to perform

her pantomime script with seat-belt buckle

and oxygen mask, and it seems true:

Before you save another, save yourself.


House Fly


Though it’s caught between the storm window

and screen, I gaze up every few minutes

to check its progress, admiring


its persistence, the urgency and ease

of its clipped flight. At least the fly has the excuse

of mindlessness for living


recklessly, for coupling in a hurry, abandoning

its young in garbage bins. This thought

depresses me, then the thought


that it doesn’t depress me enough

depresses me. I can’t help watching the fly

preen its wings on the wire-mesh, proboscis


quivering, as it circles the reflection

of my face and rams its tiny head

into the glass. Crawling across


what we can see of the cumulus outside,

it seems to have finally reached the end

of sky, that blue region where


the vastness of the atmosphere

finds a frame. Thinner than India paper,

its wings blur as it rises to the pane.


Emptying the Charcoal Grill Together


Across the porch, plumes

of gristled ash spill from the drum, fine fibers

stinging our eyes as the breeze, suddenly

visible, powders the neighbors’ blue


                     Clumsiness, your Seventh Day

Adventist grandmother would say,

is symptomatic of the spirit’s ills –

some guilt we feel for our rented view, our week

of perfect weather on the Sound, the absurd

luxury of paddling up the cove to buy

T-shirts that read:

                              I got crabs at Dirty Dick’s.

And don’t these boats at dusk, this affluent

sky, make us want to kneel and lick

the porch slats, splinter our tongues

on the untreated wood?

                                        Tonight, knocking

our empties off the countertop, let us

deserve each other. Reeking smoke

and sweat, let’s lie together

on the sandy sheets, and watch the tide

flood the jetties and pilings outside

where gulls perch for the night, crying foul.


Tom Christopher

Surviving Wife of Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment Subject

Macon County, Alabama 1974


It overwhelms, at times, my fury

                                                     alive and shivering

like a fence lined with starlings, pin-sharp behind

the eyes,

                or filling the room, dull as this humid heat.

Pink aspirin and tonic water,

                                                x-rays, blood slides,

interns eager

                     to break their teeth against your case –

this acrid fruit, our whole lifetime, patiently consumed.

Signing over the cheek, the county clerk called me


I wrung my purse to a rag not to strike out

                                                                      that grin: they

are washing their hands of you. Fifteen thousand for

forty years

                   of watching your heart wear thin as a cotton

blouse, sores tear open your skin

                                                        like a field of sinkholes.

Lucky? Lies burrow

                                   through the walls of my past, I

cannot frame the life we missed. I’d spend every dollar

to buy back years, pull you from our weary sheets

and whisper

                      close in your ear, Your blood is not bad –

that story hides a judgment, a brand, a flock of lies.


Dance in the Japanese-American Internment Camp

Manzanar, California, July 1, 1942


A slow minute, a pause, a stray breath – the mind twists


            like a worm turning through a tree’s rot – MPs

grin and mime target practice, children stare wildly

                                                                                     as cattle

between boxcar slats:

                                       this is our country. Tonight, we lose

hours scouring the pine-board floors,

                                                             spit-shine our shoes.

Our hair glows like a can of oil. We swelter,

                                                                         close windows

against the barbed wire, guard towers, the dirty wind

snarling over the land. We hold ourselves in

                                                                         the phonograph’s

memorized crackle, the creak of our straight-backed

swaying, and here

                                 we build our home.


A Soldier’s Wife Upon Finding the Dried Finger of a Sioux Child

Kansas 1891


My sister insists, if not sinless, it was no great sin,

like mistreating an animal –

                                                they’re not Christian.

The slim finger – its skin stiff, a blackened hue –

she deems only a boyish prize. Reminds me I am

a soldier’s wife.

                            And kneading our bread, I recite

this advice. But faces of a woman and child rise,

puffed up, pale, before my eyes. I punch it down

to rise again. Later, I wake lost

                                                   dizzy, crowded

by animals nosing my hands, the spilled pail,

as I gather the remains

                                       to the trough. I push to

place faith in his restraint, but nightly am surprised

by the sudden white rush as he takes me from sleep,

then leaves

                    a bare and embarrassed back to my form –

the apology that chases the release. Learn to forgive,

my sister repeats.

                              Is it mine to excuse? Or would that be

some quiet tuft, tucked in a prized corner of the garden,

forgiving the serpent, the tree, the god who designed

his most loved to fall?


Temple Cone

Tongue and Groove


Leopard-backed slugs glide along carpets of moonlight,

Their hidden mouths scraping algae from the soil.

It took Plato a long time to learn to call them beautiful.


He believed an ocean of sea-jellies spawned from one bell,

A trillion wasps from a golden thorn, and all creation

From a sphere seeking forms like an eye turning to the beautiful.


But the llama perched on an Andean outcrop is itself a miracle,

More taken with a patch of grass than the unbarred sky.

Its wool is the thousand-year white of glaciers, and beautiful.


Day and night, the alphabet of birds spells psalms on clouds.

We need to learn the grammar of wind to beg our peregrine Lord

To kestrel the grackles of our magpie souls beautiful.


And still I fail to revere wise men as I do turkey buzzards,

Their boiled heads peering over the Book of the Dead.

By every road, I see them bowed together, questioning the beautiful.


Perhaps the script of stars is not a language but a design,

And we ourselves are holy timber, waiting to be joined,

Tongue and groove, to raise up the house of the beautiful.




This was not your normal talk of giving up, going on

To become an astronaut, litigant, or double-agent.

Doubtless it leapt in your mind – you’d become a ballerina.

You’re 28, I said, a bit ossified, and you’d be the tallest girl.

You put your foot down then – Just because you can’t! –

And when you lifted your leg, blue jeans and bare feet

In mock-pirouette, I imagined a column at Delphi,

One under the east eave of the temple to Apollo,

A thread binding heaven to the mountains below.

In the silence, sunstreaks slanted down clouds.

Then you came before me, neither sibyl nor dream,

But a woman, nubile, like the statues those mysterious

Sculptors made from marble diaphanous as ribbon.

If you had asked, I would have bought you shoes.


The Miracle Corner


At the unclaimed baggage shop

in Scottsboro, Alabama,


women who aren’t ashamed

buy what’s lost in the heavens:


shoes stamped with the memory of feet,

dreams of houses, stenciled in blue ink,


rings that never got to be married,

red suitcases with nothing inside.


Sometimes a scuffle starts

over a prayer shawl or a child’s dress.


A voice awakens to pain.

Then the quiet mends itself back.


In one dust-splotched corner,

wishbone crutches hang from the pegboard,


wheelchairs in stacks,

their leather backs so very straight.


There’s a case of false arms,

each laid palm up, palm open


as if to receive a handshake

or a piece of bread.


No one ever comes to claim those,

the clerk admits, no one ever comes.


I see them in airports, rising

from seats marked with the sign of the lame


and stepping through glass doors

that part of their own accord.


Julie Dunlop

Invocation for Departure of Pain as the World Outside Breaks into Light




Oh, Morpheus, bring us the rain

that washes our sleep


Invite the night to break open

into a thousand dreams


Drift down the fragrant petals

sweet with forget


Float us in your melodies,



Quiet our very veins

with dim stars strung like lace




Come, Thanatos, with your many-ribboned song


So many horses in your field ready to carry this chariot away


The birds are singing black songs of light

woven of long nights letting go into dawn


The kernels from ripe ears have filled out

into their own stalks rising to the sun


We see the young man and the boy

come from the beyond. The fire is burning


       Thanatos, we shiver as we break

away from this sun.

                           Hold us as we linger

in this in-between


Reach out your hands, dressed in the hands of ones we love

again and again until we can see them, feel them, let go into their embrace




Hypnos, fresh air, sweet song, arrive

like springtime drifting into our coldest hours

when we have given up all hope of returning

to peace and have forgotten the sweet green

unfurling from branches bare, wet with so many snows.



Morpheus= God of Dreams in Greek mythology, son of Hypnos

Thanatos= God of Death in Greek mythology, brother of Hypnos

Hypnos= God of Sleep in Greek mythology, father of Morpheus, brother of Hypnos

Morphine was named after Morpheus in 1805 by Friedrich Wilhelm Sertũrner.

This poem was written after witnessing morphine quell severe pre-death pain.


Upon Returning to Virginia for the First Time Without You There

      for Grandmother – Kathleen Large Ringley of Appalachia – 1914-2008


The fireflies are back this summer, but not you.

Or are they lightning bugs?

It is the way of wings to carry the bright.


How they blink back the night.

Last year, this time, you touched the other side

flying back to us, soft-winged.


The owl saw it all

perched on that branch

between yes and goodbye

rooted in ocean, solitary, why.


The fireflies, just as uncatchable,

small hands opening as wings themselves,

clasping at the brightness

the yellow glow here – there –


disappeared …


That night in July so thick with darting stars

blinking prayers shimmering the trees in light


More Yes than All the Stars, the Sky


I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing

than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance


All the songs are weaving together

(front porch, back porch,

mountain fog, train whistle’s curve)

The way the kitchen bloomed.

All the words left unstitched,

spooling the past like a precious yarn.

The songs are waking up the night

the way dreaming ears find rain.

Crazy quilt where all colors collide

and become the most definite yes.

More yes than all the stars, the sky.

Dance on, old truths that brave the night.

Bird-student watches, continues to learn.


And death i think is no parenthesis


It is, perhaps, an ellipsis …

or, a colon:

             the preparation for something else.

                           The absence

of punctuation entirely?


the trick of finding what you didn’t lose

(existing’s tricky, but to live’s a gift)

the teachable imposture of always

arriving at the place you never left


To your funeral I did not wear

cornflower blue of sky sung with stormsong.

Nor the deep orange of trumpetvine green.

Neither the bright red of geraniums

nor the soft pink of rose petal sweet.

Not the mixed purples of petunias

nor tulips’ bright gold or pear-blossom white.

Nor any colors, petals at all.

Except the ones lining my throat, my lungs,

right down to my toes, my clothes black

as the night you passed, black

as the slow snap of the coffin’s lid’s close.

Everyone here, but you.

                (Grey, sun-rain chasing

mountain fog into mist)

Nobody here

– all the pews full –

             but you.


but beauty is more now than dying’s when


You, now with wings

sing the alphabet into stars

into buds that keep blooming

on a rosebush by the fence

separating now from dying’s when


Untangle the knot that doesn’t want to let go

into resounding patchworks

echoing colors mix-matching

into intimate and remote, complete and undo


Roll out the dough that has been rising

and remembers the warm shape of sure hands

as firm in their knowing

as the wings of the owl, already flown


or does some littler bird than eyes can learn

look up to silence and completely sing?


and if grass forgets to grow

          does it simply murmur its green?


the stitch in a yellow dress’s hem

          is more smile than anybody’s reach


what is reach but what if on fire

          and fire is more yes than forgetting’s sigh


listen to the no hiding in why

          paint all the whispers instead of the sky


and if a you or a me trips over discern

          return to the heart of the throat of the bird


who sings his little and completely learns

          look up, breathe, let the sound unfurl


*italicized lines by e.e.cummings


Brieghan Gardner



They grow clustered in damp

half-darkness, prized for their smooth,

delicate white flesh. Left alone long, though,

they turn beneath the skin to dry, brown

dust sponges that exhale, at the lightest touch,

thick, ochre clouds of spore,

sudden smoke rings that vanish


before they’re fully formed;

like ghosts or vampires, unable

to die in the usual way, they’re

dead, in a sense, already. So there’s no

slow decline, no waiting, no protracted

process of decay; they simply


shift from a state in which they exist,

separately, as themselves,


to one where they don’t.


Burning Paper Cranes


It was not so much

that we minded them,

strewn across every surface

in the house, teetering on the windowsills,

lined up across the back of the desk,

dangling from the beams, collecting dust.

We liked them.


It was just that

we needed something

to burn before the twigs,

and not a scrap of paper

remained in the house that hadn’t

been squared, quartered,

shaped for flight.


They burned fantastically,

each pointed wing closing,

collapsing into ash. The long necks,

unlocked from their bodies, curled

downward. For once, just

before they vanished, they

moved as though alive.


Jules Gibbs

Black Walnut


All the squirrels want to put their lips

to your nut meat – even your enemies

adore you, you brute,

you killer of: lilacs; potatoes; mountain laurel;

tulips; prana; free will.

Every part seeps poison

like a jugloned queen:

crotch, bole, burl, leaf, root,

your manly garlands that flutter

to earth, your womanly fruit.

Dust descends from your miasmal mean,

feminine sex dropping small bombs, staining

river stones a bruised brown. They’ll turn you

into cabinet, dulcimer, polish, war paint, a secret

agent in explosives and ice cream.

Way up in your head, obscured

in your canopy of feathery dendrite,

there’s a boy eating peaches, inventing

a new, anti-Whitmanian botany –

he’s the reason I love you, the reason

I don’t wither in your company.


After the competition, published in Stone Canoe.


Garth Greenwell

Faculty Meeting with Fly


There I was, ready to die with boredom, and you –

you came to comfort me, sending through my arm


as you landed there a kind of pleasure that really

it’s indecent to feel in public, among all these people


fascinated, apparently, taking such copious notes.

How can I care what they’re saying when you ride,


balancing with your delicate wings, so brazen

the hairs of my arm, and in such an ecstasy!


No one before has traced precisely that path

along the thinner vein of my wrist, yet you take


such delight there, rubbing your hands together,

or rearing back and prancing like a mare, while


beneath you subterranean my blood must roar

and thrum you like a lyre. Watching you polish


your black helmet already gleaming, sensing

already some scent in the stale air tempts you,


I shudder almost with a reflex of dismay –

then force myself to think of our differences of scale,


how for you already in these minutes we’ve lived

whole lifetimes together, a marvel of constancy,


really, and I forgive you, your brief form diving

now so gracefully away, air’s blank currents


folding seamlessly behind you. Still, abandoned here

to drown in the drone of serious voices, suffering


new extremities of detachment, how can I keep

from resenting what I’ve loved, when so inimitably


it flies off effortless to multiply its delights?




Absolute white out, snow not falling but seething.

For five minutes, ten, a foot from my window

the world goes blank: trees, buildings, the scavenging

birds, all of them swallowed in the bright blind storm.

I lay my head to the glass. When it ends, ground

and air retreating to their separate spheres, the shapes

of the known world taking up again their tasks,

I slide the large window open, I dip my face

into the cold light cast up brilliant from the snow.

As I step out, trudging into the calm clear

pure world, from the bag in my hand I cast a new layer

of seed, the seed I laid that morning buried now, invisible

to the birds who will scratch and scratch for it,

who hide in the dry reeds breaking through the drifts.

I think of them flocking to it, abundance, abundance,

the world revealing rare to them inscrutable

benevolence. Inside again, I watch dozens of them

churning snow gone gray now with their droppings,

my face at the window a mere fact of the landscape,

innocuous, until sudden as a single organism

they snap to, freeze, then lift to the neighboring trees,

the weight of their wings a low groan in the air.

I lie down, free for a moment from all avarice

save the eye’s, and wait silent as first singly

then in pairs, then all together again pouring

they claim a place on the moment’s habitable ground,

the high sun glinting unthinking from their wings.


Emily Ruth Hazel

Poem for Elisabeth


In the alchemy of afternoon

September light invites

itself into our kitchen.

The herbs you planted months ago

are growing confidently now

on the window sill, beside

the green bananas. In a tin planter

rich with another state’s soil,

tiny, overlapping leaves

reach upward, eager for attention –

our overlapping lives

still in conversation with each other

as I stand here at the sink

holding a glass under a stream

of liquid sun. And as I tip

the water out, pouring slowly over

this fragrant, clustered life

that sprouted from nothing, I wonder

what you will season with basil,

wonder how you are seasoning

now, imagine you laughing

someplace green.

By the time you arrive,

the bananas will be ripe

and ready to share.

It’s been awhile; the sunlight

has been missing you.

It fills up your room first

even when you’re gone.


White Sheets


White sheets wouldn’t have to be

the symbol for desperate surrender,

sterile-smelling hospitals, love

growing cold – not if we remembered


back to that first new night

when our sheets still smelled

of laundry soap – not if we


remembered how, before that, they hung

drying on the backyard clotheslines,

snapping in the wind, filling

with the memory of lilacs

while we chased each other

up and down the rows

and hid between them – not if


we remembered how they felt

almost weightless, thin cotton cool

against our bare skin – not


if we remembered them rumpled,

a week since washing,

with the sun benignly falling

into their wrinkles and creases,

laying down one wide ribbon of light

across your warm body,

your still-beating heart.


At the Met


If I were a vessel to be poured out,

a small, curved flask with a handle

and a delicate spout, I’d like to age

like Roman glass, growing more brilliant

with the weight of time.

None of this dull crumbling away –

instead, to become iridescent,

a shimmer of green and pink and gold.


I’d like to be found

by careful fingers, to be considered

still a thing of wonder,

not yet empty, my memories

worth preserving. I’d like to be something

that would make you linger longer

in front of the display case.

Something you would want to hold.


Ann Hudson

Washing Up


My aunt stands at the sink, and soon

may not know the word for it, and soon

may not know how to wash her hands.

My son stands tiptoe on a stool

and can barely trail his fingertips

through the silver rope of water.

He sees the water, and loves it

for what it is. Each time he sees it

it is almost new. He can’t imagine

where water goes. He can’t imagine

it goes anywhere without him.

When he leaves the room, the room vanishes.

My aunt stands inside the vanishing room.




They are bitter, these thorns

I press into your heart. They say

yes, you must fall asleep in the lonely dark.

You will learn to live without me

and better. These are the things

the thorns say, the thorns say. Now sleep.


For an Autumn Wedding


This is the season when you face

the trees in their radiance and say,

I am not afraid of the cold, though I know


it is coming. In the cities the bridges

are raising to let the sailboats into the boatyards

before ice fringes the water’s edge.


The autumn world is unburdening itself

of sweetcorn and kale, apples and onions,

pumpkins on the spiny vine. Overhead


flies a vee of geese, zippering the blue sky.

Autumn is surge and reluctance,

sparkle and early dark, and it will be enough.


This winter you will lie down together

to watch the snows drift over the streets,

the lake, this field. When the frost


is on the grasses they may hiss in the cold,

but they will glitter like light on water.

You will walk in abundance in any season.


Melissa Stein



Waves pull back their shimmer and sanderlings

follow, trotting skitskitskit round the hem,

beaks poking at bubbles, airholes, the worm

of foam along the gleam’s edge. I toss a shell

with all the force I can muster, watch it arc

against the green-gray, edge over edge

in the sun. Everything clear for those seconds,

clear and air, resolved to a single point

revolving in the crash and glow,

uninhabitable but there, the fact

of caring. Belonging. That freedom. Noise

and voice buzz in and it’s sky-water-bird again,

but this time I’ve got something with me,

in me, unassailable as breath.


Ars poetica


Bereft! Because of this or that.

Caught strangely, hooked in the chest.

Anatomized, wept. Kept keening


in this room or that. Adrift;

as if left lonely on some leaky

skiff and bound to wrack or ruin.


Fore, aft: mantas, jellys, sharks,

not sustenance, nor company. Just this:

what if to be left were gift? The luck


to shuck the shell, emerge

virginal. Without what’s gone,

what’s birth? Explorers


make their reports in foam

or frost then perish, leaving behind

fresh colonies. Here’s mine.


Clearing the Field


The yellow pail sits

on a white stoop. The wallpaint

is peeling a little, vertically,

the curls catch the shadows, bluish,

like a shadow on milk, a little cat

laps at it, no wait, it’s just a shadow

on the wall, and the cat is across the field,

bounding after a dun-grey mouse

with a long tail, a tail easy enough to pounce on,

but the mouse wedges itself between the blades

of the plow and the cat goes mad

with frustration, thrusting one paw

then the other between those rusted

blades, batting at the mouse,

which has pressed itself

nearly flat against the ground

and if you were close you’d see it

trembling, really shaking, nosetip

to tail, as the cat does its thing,

then hears a hollow bell’s clankclank

and bounds away home, leaving the mouse

to a few more days of mouseness,

and leaps onto the porch and waits

for its meal, which it always gets

soon after the ringing of the bell.

It’s like that day after day, scraps

on a plate, white edged in green

ivy, a ring of ivy green and blue.

The sun catches a particular corner

of the porch and lights up the cracks

between the boards, splinters,

what’s fallen between, under the house

there are centuries of millipedes

and such, wide awake in the dark,

and below, more life stuffed into the soil

that supports those who live in the house,

which they built from the ground, or their

grandparents; there are cows stamped onto

the glasses on the breakfastable, the legs

are unsteady and the glasses rattle a bit,

the plates, the eggs slide, their suns

getting runny – in the middle of the table

is a bunch of hydrangeas, bruise-purple

and tired, we rake our hands through them,

through these days, quiet with sun

and cracks in the earth and wheat

the color of our hair and burnt cheeks

and a solitude we take for granted, here

against the paint-blue sky speckled

with a tree or two on this, our land,

our gift, our four corners, what we work

and long for and reinvent,

year after year – I feel a little sorry

for the cat, who can’t get everything

he wants, everything he runs after,

for the mouse who lives a life of hiding,

for the long blades of grass that fall beneath

the plow. I clear the field, pull together

some love and forgetting and mulch it

into the rich soil, a miracle it gives back,

sun or rain it finds a way, I’ve never

understood that, the constancy – oh I know

that’s not true but I want it – to depend

on an earth giving forth torrents of wheat

and masses of flowers and taut gleaming

crops, an earth steady under your feet,

always, from the day you hide

beneath your mother’s apron to the day

you tie those strings around your waist

to the day they flutter on the clothesline

with no one to wear them.


Natalia Treviňo



What is growing there could be

called a garden. Rocks subduing trees.

Rusted bleaked edging. Forgotten bulbs

that surfaced, to burn. Potted oregano left to break

through a plastic pot, for drink.


Bird seed germing to weed.

Hidden sage that shunted the heather.

Jaundiced bottle-brush and plumbago

seco. A laughing resin frog,

tipped by wind in the one rain we had that year.


What’s under the ground

is what governs the weather.

Plates below that shifted, crashed.

Made mountains, lead winds

and rain to stop at one side. Drown another.


The sun is not the cause

though we might think it.

We could leave what grows

to the will of the ancient plates,

the smoldering center of it all, to drought and ice,


to random blossoming. In early warm

months, it does not seem so deliberate.

Promising pale leaves. Bursts of green buttons.

Garnish for our plates. Edibles, for seasoning.

Intact, firm-veined.


We can pretend it was divided fair.

Stay inside. Draw the shades. Wait.

Doves do not forget the path from winter,

but return to seed rations, small nibbles.



Well, God

                        for my grandmother and her daughter, Raquenel y Raquenel




In your orange, plastered room

Abuelita, by your chair near the open

door, the paint had split, rusted in places, cracked

in the heat. When you die, I asked, who will take care of Raque?


At ten, I knew grandparents died – and your daughter,

I knew was not right. Angled teeth.

Down’s-happy smile. The mind of a two

year old. An adult, my aunt, would never live alone.


She’d laugh at my navel when I walked in your house,

Say “Hollito? Hollito?” poking, pretending to pinch

a small hole in my belly – always squinting, she looked

Chinese to me. My little girls’ shoes fit her soft


bent feet. My forgotten dolls

became her babies.

oi, oi, oi, she’d coo them, play

in the next room while we talked.


I worried about the logistics. We lived in the States.

And there was cooking to do. I knew at the store

you needed money. You had to know how to count.

Reading would be necessary. Cars could run you over.


When I learned things in my American school,

I tried to teach her in Mexico, though she was thirty.

Numbers. How letters made the sounds

of Pi-po, the clown, Que sal-ga Pi-po!


But she would laugh, offer me a doll.

Pinch its belly. Point to my shoes and say, Mine?

Mi Zapato? Quieres Coca?

I always arrived with shoes.





How you wanted a daughter, Abuelita,

in your life of drinking husband, two maids,

and darling-tough boys: you had wanted a soft girl,

in cotton. She’d spoon eggs into flour,


Spread masa on the folds of dry husks –

She’d know when steam compotes fruit,

how meats could season into gifts for the mouth.

And, at night, while men would drink, or go away,


you and your daughter could whisper, near a window

where the mountains would silhouette the sky.

But instead, you had a third son, who died,

and you swaddled him for the photo in his satin-baby box,


and you looked for a daughter in another place –

On the pavement, you met a beggar giving

away two children: a boy and a girl.

I will take your child, you said. And Raque was yours, Raquenel.


A girl you named her after yourself,

her black, shimmery hair, skin, clean

as the new milk was that was still streaming

from the birth-death of your son.


But your three brothers, all doctors, told you

Raque was not right. No. Take her back!

Something about alcohol, the street, the mother –

They said Leave her on the street! Dejala!


I asked you, why you kept her.

And you said you already loved her when you knew.

You answered my question who would care for her.


Pues, Diostito, you said.

And my brain heard all of the combinations of your answer:

Well, God, Then, God,

Good God. Three answers. One sentence.


In your orange painted room, we hardly felt

the heat’s hold of the air. You knew

how few fans were needed, how with some doors open,

you could keep from overheating.


It Was the Chef Who Finally Explained


How to make a good sauce.

You can’t throw everything at once.


You have to wait. Work in layers.

First you let the onions cook alone in the oil.


And you listen. Crush the garlic

that will be used. Add it at the right time.


They’ll take each other’s flavors,

if each is added separately.


And they create layers within the liquid. Simmering.

Like two people in a good marriage.


Each layer encases the other

and it works out, immersed


in the combinations

all the way down the throat.


Rhett Iseman Trull

Lovers on a Walk


Electric down the avenue, they spark us

              as they pass. Street lamps pop, a tire swing

                            spins like a yo-yo letting out. Their stop and go

              is a discotheque in Florence, their to and fro a night swim,

naked. Sprinkler heads rise

              like a chorus line lifting its hats, time zones shift, the tide

                            swindles free of the moon. Their laughter’s

              as sure as a sawed-off muffler. Their whisper

is a corset untying. Phone lines cross like puppet strings tangling,

              someone drops a china plate, a widow returns

                            to her v-necked reds. Bark peels, satellites blink,

              ants carry their queen to a new hill.

She is his country, he is her map. Stars jump

               from their constellations, mist touches down

                            in the desert, every clam in Charleston unhinges.

               They are a Russian ballet, a rock ’n’ roll ballad, a book

we cannot put down. All the fireflies glow at once,

                a riderless bike switches gears, cats and dogs follow them

               like a piper. But they don’t even notice our uncoverings,

  salutings. Or that behind them, the rain has begun to hiss

on pavement still warm in the wake of their desire.

                When they do look up to see the world, they will find us

                              tigered and jazzed, played as we are

                 by their brass band love. They will find us hauntingly beautiful,

bent as we are in the lens of their passion.


Study of Motion


City after city. After awhile all the rooftops

               and industrial plants and baseballs next to gutters

                                           are the same.

                                                         After awhile

                                  you forget where you first tasted s’mores,

where you slept the worst, where you earned nicknames

                          you’ve left behind. Little Cricket:

                                            who called you that?

                You’ve forgotten the streets

                      where the Exxon stations stayed open all night.

                                         Weren’t there always small cafes

                                    and fields of horses just outside of town,

                 where every woman walking her dog was an important part

                              of your education, your study of motion:

                                           how loneliness feels good

                       sometimes, how walking away

                                                 is nevertheless stepping forward?


                    Hanna, drawing chalk poinsettias on the sidewalk,

                           once said, Pursue Joy Now and sounded solid,

                                                             like the TV emergency signal.

                                   You get the feeling she fears nothing,

                 which can’t be true, but it’s nice to believe in,

                                                                    especially now that you’re alone

                              on the side of the road, engine still, no white towel

                                                tied to the side mirror.

           Ducks skid, landing on the lake behind you,

                              the lake the city dug when it cut the highway through.

Some boys in a convertible whistle as they pass

                    and it’s almost enough

                                        to be noticed by fleeting strangers, to be

                                                     waiting for a storm or a ranger signaling

                          from the fire tower across the bypass.

It’s almost enough to know

                              that Hanna, twelve years your senior,

                        is moving to San Francisco; with wind in her hair

                                      she will do what she loves.


                                           You wonder, in the day’s late light,

                                                                         how many more cities

                     you’ll sleep, rent, believe in

                                              before you fall into a final love,

        sign a final contract, lock the door behind you

                                 and never make it home.

                                                 It’s the sound of sirens that prompts you

                      to get off the side of the road

      back into traffic,

                                 to smooth the creases of the map and join

                    the flatbed trucks, the horses’ tails

                            swishing through the slits of trailers,

                                   the station wagons hauling their families

                                                                before a banner of exhaust.


Laura Van Prooyen



When she crawls into our bed

I feel her quick heart


irregular and fast, too fast

to be my daughter’s


whose ribs I feel when I hold her close

to keep her for as many hours


as I can before her heart

defies us both, before


she’s a blur at the throat

of the rose of Sharon. Before


just a nodding flower

tells me she was here.




This is not our first time in the orchard. Not

the first time our daughters run from us

among the trees. We are not here so much for the apples as to be


where we’ve been before. Where,

with your father, we once gathered bushels of fruit

and you pulled the girls in the wagon while he rested

                                      on a crate between rows.


The night your father died

you drew a bath and invited me into the water.

A candle flickered behind you in the mirror

                                      streaked with steam. That night


your response was flesh, and when your shoulder

pressed against my mouth, I remember thinking you

                           would be easy to bite and bruise.




Your mother can’t say how she was born

her mother having bled through

and the woman who raised her thinking it best

to starch her own mouth shut.


Still your mother grew in spite of

spring days spent pinning bleached sheets

out on the line in a town


where god and windows shone clean and clean and no one

used too many words or dug deeper

than what was required to set an onion, and still


she planted herself in this house, in this yard

where she crept as a child behind the coop to see blood

and bodies of headless chickens.


And you grew in this house, in this yard

where you crept as a child behind the coop and imagined

the blood and your mother watching, silent.


Now you’ve come back to this town with your daughter

who you named for what had been lost, and listen

to your mother sing out the name of her mother.


Paula Bohince

The Language of Fish


The language of fish is silence, yet

I speak it, here on the banks of a lake struck dumb

by sunshine. Laying aside my pole, the coffee can of writhing

dirt, I say hello to a ghost.


In the drift of clouds, in cloudy

water, in the torque and muscle of rainbow trout –

the ones my father and I

would wait for – I hear him answer.


Conversation easy as a line

unreeling, soft as the curl and shimmer of bodies

beneath. Same as how we’d speak when he

was living: wordlessly,


gesturing toward the tugging bobber. Those same fish

must be here, or their children are,

as I am. This lake blessing us with continuance,

as when a dog bounds into weeds


down shore, for a stick grown slick with play.

My father alive once more in the dog’s happiness, in the girl

who adores him, in the ripples love makes,

riding out and out forever.


Yarn Birds


My grandmother had an answer

for yarn scraps leftover from the mittens,

tasseled caps, pom-pom’ed booties

she’d endlessly knit.

Pulling the stubby remnants from the pockets

of her housedress, she’d knot them

without looking. Rocking and talking grown-up

talk with guests, her worn hands

worked quietly for her grandchildren.

Tied swiftly, the soft flock flew down

to outstretched fingers: loops

for wings, littler loops for tail feathers.

Gifts no child or time can unravel.

Now, decades later, watching migratory swifts

swoop and perform their ballet

in the field, I see only her talent, her splendid

wrists, the yarn birds she made us,

gliding to the grateful earth.


Gillian Cummings



Starkness: in the dogwood a robin’s nest

the bottom of which has become unwoven from the top


so that, looking up, you saw a frayed O

and through it the dusk of the sky


before a night when it would snow. It made you think

of the shadowed ceiling of a church and white


candles burning and what it feels like when the body

is trying to teach the mind stillness. There is an O


in Buddhist calligraphy that has the quality of being

finished and unfinished, as if endings and beginnings


only brush each other lightly, or as if a break

runs through perfection making it more


luminous. The dragon swallowing its tail

in alchemical texts is similar but not the same.


Seeing the nest, you paused, then walked down the path

to the laundry room where your clothes had stopped


tumbling in rough circles. You wanted to remember

how your life had come to this point, but you couldn’t


so you folded. The brief heat of dried cloth.

The solace taken, in winter, from something worn,


warmed, freshened. The open space at the center.

The gesture. The open space that surrounds.


The Dove


The night before we found the dove in the road,

I had been reading about Cambodian refugee camps,

how the survivors tended bean plants

in the square yard plots outside their huts

and walked two miles daily to haul water from a well,

the tendrils curling around bamboo stakes and up

over the thatched roofs otherwise dry as tinder in that season.

Nothing we are given to do, our jobs, our hobbies,

could seem to touch that daily effort, life out of spare dirt,

and I would’ve prayed to be able to save something,

if only my words weren’t caught up in something else.

But there they were, the next night, this mourning dove

stunned on the pavement and a mottled tomcat

slinking near the curb, either the culprit

or an arrival like us, drawn by the scent or the strings

of that moment, ready to pounce, first or again.

We got out of the car. It was just after sunset.

The dove hopped. She tried to get away.

Rich caught her from above, pinning her wings,

one visibly thinned, the other whole but ruffled,

no blood we could see as we wrapped her in my flannel jacket,

the gray plaid cloth nubby from washings become a nest

of folds on my lap, only her small dun head emerging,

her black eyes blinking up in the faltering light,

as the world hushed to soft, brown-feathered wakefulness,

and I held her, we pulled away.


Rachel Dilworth

My Father and his Heron


The doctor is particular with his quest

outside the office. No desire to chase

a lost buck-fifty, a size-slick suit or a size-

slick body, second home on any “cape” or “islands,”

sweeter dreams, better mileage, or Zen enlightenment.

Yet how he seeks, each day, a ligature of light

and legs and flight stilled for an instant

that can become as long as he is left to his devices

of quiet, study, and the estuary

freshening and salted: the great heron

glimpsed on the car ride in, or the return.


What is it with the doctor and his bird,

whose neck is a highway ess seen from such distance

traveling, you have the means for arrival

that the velocity it holds looks soft and slow?

Life moves faster than a dream, as fast as snow.

His body isn’t blue, but a teardrop swath of ash

poised, unsleeping in the reeds. He is fishing

perpetually, it seems, even at rest.

Some work is the work of a life, it is the living.


Why this bird, whose voice the Guide transcribes as frahhhnnk

when it builds from the white-scraggled chest and “dagger-like”

bill? Wings longer than a man is tall,

or shelved, Whitman’s “braced in the beams,” Old man

with your yellow eye, what don’t you see

he looks like an orator who carries his speech heart-first,

who is taking a breath to deliver it, but contents himself

to listen. The floor under water is always ceding.


More days than not, the doctor finds the

break in shrubs, where he slows to view the toppled cottonwood

straddling the mudbed’s candlefish and herring,

shows nothing, the surprise of feathers huddled against rain

not waiting there. But the road home is the same

as this that now leads to patients, to daily care

of a body and what swims below the surface,

what grounds it, or sends it – startling – to air.

And he knows the rain-grained light of the dinner hour

will turn the estuary the hues of his bird, then long,

like a shadow; holds the promise of presence

once again, of the heavens momentarily

among us, if we bother to watch out for them.


Melina Draper

Seagull Eggs

                 For Alvin Amason


“One time, me and my boy,” and so it starts. I picture myself and you, small son,

though the story is not mine, along the shore, stiff breeze churning wave tops

into frothy sips, swirling back to center, “we went hunting seagull eggs, for fun …”


It was my art teacher, and his son, eight, who went looking, making stops

along an unfamiliar mainland coast, not his Kodiac Island home,

and here the seagulls turned out meaner, gusting, swooping in drops


and dives, pelting them with crap, their shrieks sharp against the moan

of the sea, trying to protect their young, their hidden nests.

Two hunters, scrupulous, arms over heads, casing out young clutches: one


two, no more than three – eggs more likely to be eggs. They’d test

them to be sure, place them in a coffee can of brine.

Those that sink, take home; those that float, return to rest –


already more bird, less egg; less yolk, more spine,

(a Tlingit Elder said she took those; she liked the crunchy baby beaks,

somewhat like a salmon nose.) Whether by choice or by design,


you and I will only know this story as a story, from the one who speaks

of how a seagull’s nest, buried under tufts of grass and sand, is hard to find, a feather

often the only sign, somewhere near the Arctic on a northern beach


where the sun sets on the water, and a father and his son walk together.


Crooked Birch Basket

                for Geraldine Charlie


First time, senses heightened.

I have never touched

birch bark before

never felt spruce root,

wet or dry. Hands dumb,

I do not know

how it twists and winds

around, how as I split,

the root must turn

at each black dot, or break.


Cut basket pattern, score bark with awl.

Fold. Tack. Sew. Red willow,

please bend, ply, around the mouth,

sewn with more spruce root

from a straight, tall tree.

Not just any old tree,

she says, Elder whose easy hands

know the way.

Look for one next spring, she tells me,
(Me! Gathering spruce roots!)


In the end, it is a body

I have known intimately

and for a long time.


The Mask Carver’s Story

               for Alvin Amason and Glenn Simpson


Before you make your ladles, gather round me,

I call you, students, gather here beside me,

look at the spoons I’ve gotten on my travels,

each one made by someone’s hands, imagined,

carved, of red cedar, alder, driftwood, birch.

One dipped in seal oil, saturated, used

and loved; another carved out deep, to scoop;

for scraping, this one, with the cross-grain strong.

One’s for soup, one’s for berries; here, this one

could be in a museum; the handle, is

a raven’s head, a stone held in its beak.

There is great art within a simple spoon.

Concave, convex. Avoid the pith. A lot

is learned with this, what seems a simple task.

Now this one here, I bought on Hooper Bay;

the man, a Yupik native, told me this yarn

through his son, interpreting his tongue,

that in his youth so many years ago –

his son was many years my senior, yet

still not old – he said that in his youth

he had carved masks. In fact, he’d carved some for

the local shaman. Once he went with him

as helper, on a journey to the edge

of the cold Bering sea, wide, frozen, still.

The shaman kept the village healthy, mind,

body, and soul. And so this carver saw him

put on a suit of seal or elk or moose

gut – yes, a suit of gut, to enter water,

and stay dry. He, the helper, dug the hole,

if digging is the word; he broke the hole

in ice, the snow already scraped: there

the shaman entered. And was gone, fifteen

minutes, or so it seemed. The mask he’d donned

to speak to spirits of the seals, to find

out why there were so few to feed the tribe.

He went to where they lived, in spirit form,

who knows how long his journey really took.

He was the only one who knew, and of

what he found he did not speak to him,

his helper; or perhaps, his helper, nor

his helper’s son, to me.

                                     Well, anyhow,

see here, the whorl? It is the weakest part,

the heartwood, also called the pith. The sap

flows through the center of the tree. It’s weak.

So, try to carve around it, please. Beware

of tricky burls and knots. Carve with the grain.

This is the adze. Here, crooked knives, and here

a piece of fresh cut alder, still alive.

This sucker’s still alive.


Robin Ekiss

Suburban Pastoral


At this early hour, does anyone else see

the garbage man waltzing

with the unburdened can,


the red blush on his cheek

from the taillights

in the darkened street?


Sidewalked into memory,

the sod rampant

with wild thyme, your soft voice


echoing its confirmation

into the answering machine.

Home: the happy error that is mine


alone behind the blinds.

Before the sun rises

and burns to ash its atmosphere


a world away, another day

is almost here: in the backyard,

a gardener takes her spade


to the mineral dirt, sparing

the seeds of certain apples

because wanting to exist is enough


for fruit. The sleep of birds

won’t be disturbed

by the broker


making his morning run,

tallying his own indifference.

Are you awake, your body


lengthened by shadows,

when he passes under your window,

daydreaming of figures?


Ritual for leaving

and loving what is left behind:

his footfall on the pavement,


moon that throws its last light

against the back of the house,

hemlock by the driveway,


creaking like the door it will become,

boiler that whispers its steam in the walls:

next door, the plumber who tends you


also holds his infant son in his arms

like a length of pipe,

as tenderly as he knows how.


Drought: Dry Prong, Louisiana


We still keep the Spanish superstitions,

wishing for ourselves

no Saturday without rain, no girl without love.


We sit on the porch waiting for suitors

or storms. The creek bed is bone-dry in spring,

unlike last winter, when you waded in


up to your thighs. Fish swam

between the polished knobs of your knees,

stones rubbed clean of their markings.


Afternoons now, boys come

to paw the dirt and pace outside.

How we make them wait,


and quiet them with kisses. At night,

the rain rings in our ears,

winds swing the door off its hinges,


making no apologies.

I am learning to live with words,

whose forbearance is their beauty:


as if water needs water,

as if clouds need rivers

to remind themselves how to flow.


Back Roads


At the dinner table, men burn with stories of their dead fathers.

    Women smolder, marvel at their ability to die,

and be resurrected in the mouths of their sons.


One tells how he met his father’s ghost,

    stumbling out of another world,

smoking a pipe. He was nine, nervous, all boy –


all eyes, thinking with the ends of his feet.

    The dead man’s face hung out behind the woodshed,

hovered like a storm cloud, spitting rain,


the living luck of it in the boy’s lungs, dull and flat,

    the way roads are and how they carry.

The wicked quick of first-world sense made him disappear,


or maybe it was dust kicked into the clear November air

    by a boy running scared

in the road by himself, his father in his mouth.


This comes as no surprise to us. We took the long way home:

    too much, the stretch of highway going forward, too long,

the daylight in the hours of this late season. In Scranton,


the car wound down around The Largest Junkyard in the World.

    Light lost by nightfall, we saw only the shadowed mound,

hounded by the husks of cars, haunted by the giving up of drivers.


The echo was enough: our car coughed, held its breath

    as children do passing cemeteries. The car stalled, coughed again;

the car husks, eaten away by rust, called from the hill – again,


the car coughed and was still. For a moment, we were dead

     on the road in the dark – then jump-started – in motion again,

knowing what it is to move, what it is to move away.


Patrick Foran

The Bells of Jellyfish


sign answers to the always echoed

question – where are we?


Below the metallic lace of the surface

their mouths are tucked

inside their bodies like seeds.


They flower and contract over and over

as if to keep time tethered to beauty –


I mean to move with such grace,

to gather air in the hull of my lungs,


to billow open as a basin, be receptive.


Where the sun is strongest, they bloom –

egg yolk, lion’s mane, wasp, box, moon,

blue button – seem to emerge from nowhere,

write light into the dark churchyard of seas.


Like the silk eyes of pansies & our mouths,

their eyes are spots, dark gaping deliberations;

they feel the folds of warmth press inward.


They appear mere physical ghosts, nets

of nerves, but look: jellyfish sense the net coming,


pulsate toward illumination.


And my mind gestates just thinking of them

swarming in bays, the water swelling with the sheer


bright curtain of congregation, each jelly

delicate and domed as the brain, pulsing.


Rae Gouirand

Megan Gravendyk

absent mindedness


It is not that I forget


I know I should call you back

It is different when I boil the eggs too long

or leave the bathroom light on


It is not that I do not remember

I do

It is separate from the times

I am in the grocery store

and recall

that it is early june

and you were born when the leaves were off the trees


It is not that I forget


I know that I should talk to you

discuss the day

and its lost opportunities

the weather

and other idle chatter


It is not that I do not remember

I do

I remember kissing you

at the base of an evergreen

rain sliding off ruby bark and emerald arbor veins

your lips were soft and damp

the flavor in my mouth

and bursting forth

of roadside cherries – scarlet eggs nestled in green plastic baskets –

your shoulders          smelled

Of campfires –


             Burnt offerings


             Dry split cedar

In the drenched palm of early winter


Cradle and All


When you are older,


Rocking your own cradle to the cadence of a still fall night

And the moon highlights the alders off the deck –


When the chickens are tucked into the coop and the

Sweet smell of fresh hay is crisp in the night


When the multitude of stars makes you reckless and small


And there are no crickets to accompany you


That is the moment it does not matter

If you hear the whistle of the train or not.


Your breath in white before you and the wet grass

Promise change even without the solid steam engine


You are in your element.


Rocking, just rocking

With the cloudless sky your only confidant –


The quiet geraniums your only witness

This is your time.


Acknowledge the sky


Take comfort in the movement of the porch rocker


you are your own mother now

allow yourself the space to laugh brashly

at your own misgivings.


Challenge autumn in its red dress.


Good Things


Martha makes ‘good things’,

         Knows how to fold fitted sheets so they come out square


Makes beautiful pastel sugar cookies on a daily basis

        Yet maintains a slender figure

and refurbishes everything.


I want to take relationships that have worn thin or broken up

and make them new again


        With just elbow grease – and a fresh coat of paint


I want to put ‘junk shop finds’ on pretty emotional displays –

Give myself a new life

        with nothing more than brass fittings

or shellac.


I want new hardware and

                       sponge painting


                       to make me new again.


Mostly I want my life Glossy – like her magazine

all soft colors and opaque lighting


all evened up and unwrinkled.


A space of years smelling of new paint.


Maybe it takes no work at all – no craftsmanship to know

That all Martha really does is


Never admit


         that a dresser with sticky drawers –


even one in light green

even with brand new crystal knobs

even with apples artistically displayed

in an upside down glass

on the lip of its painstakingly renovated top                  – So clever


Is still just a dresser with sticky drawers

after all.


K.A. Hays



They push off, the fleet of seals,

shoving back waves and lunging under,

their bald heads flinging white tongues

towards the shales where, like dark islands,

they plug the cove, the glassy volcanoes

of their backs running over with the sun’s spit,

its crude heat, each tail and head arced

from the torso, the gulls hovering like specters,

scanning for whelks, snatching one up until

the tide breathes back towards fullness,

the water climbing the seals’ ribs, the spines.

Now they become pure tone, pouring

their slug-shapes into a larger churning, licking

the sun of late morning into the veins,

taking into their gestures the fickleness

and the sway towards ruin in which they move -

their clownish faces, their look of fools.

There, you see it; the warmth of instinct, of flesh

and submersion; their panting another form of bliss.


Elizabeth Kay



In the grey hours of December,

I buy mangoes,

try to suck the shine from their flesh.


All winter I taste old death – dry

meat, raisins, hard

seeds. I crave the flavors


of the womb – wet fruit, young

calf, milk heavy

with cream, the warm flesh


of a fresh kill. From the bright swirl

of creation, we all

arrive, sticky as cut fruit. Little


wonder we slaughter the lamb each

spring, our throats dry

with the taste of the grave, hungry


to savor life at its beginning.


The Oak Muses


It is a question of slowness,

of maintaining one’s movement

long after the impulse has

grown faint.


Perhaps it was a bird

that stirred this lust in us,

and in that instant we rushed

headlong toward it, until finally,

we stretched our branches,

reaching the exact spot

where the bird had hovered, once,

long ago.


Shall we be satisfied with this?


It is a question of nearness

or lack.


In our desires, neither time

nor place

constrains us.


For Our Anniversary, A Poem of Where We Live


Winter in Nebraska


The dark comes early,

and stays long,

stretches its gray fingers

through the morning

and into the afternoon.


Ice nests along our roofline,

forcing itself into the corners of the ceiling.

Sharp winds

have carved a bluff

into the snow along our driveway.


My skin is chapped,


raw to the touch.


We have been cold all year.


Spring in Nebraska


Iris reach long

green arms through the soil,

the mulch,

wave purple

handkerchiefs in the breeze.


The sun’s rays, still soft

as dogwood petals,

tease my cheeks,

coaxing me

toward warmth,


toward the garden,

where you are

turning the soil,

softening the earth,

preparing it

or simple offerings.


Summer in Nebraska


The spring flowers have died.

Now, there’s only heat

and dry grass,

ground that hardens

and crusts over

hours after the late evening

storm that darkened our windows,

shook the elms

and the dreams of our children.


The air is heavy here,

like gravity.

I am smaller now,

denser, explosive as

a dying star,

a summer storm.


Touch me and watch the heavens erupt.


Autumn in Nebraska


The neighbor’s tree, a rusty red,

sprinkles leaves like garnets

across our lawn.

They crackle under the feet

of our children.


Against the chill,

I pull on the sweater you offer.

It brushes over my arms,


encircles my waist,

kisses my wrists

as the air begins to stir.


The afternoon is crisp

and cool.

Dry leaves flutter

in the breeze

like possibilities.


Bethany Tyler Lee

Poem for my Sister


                                                           Universe, vast universe,

                                                           my heart is vaster. ~ Carlos Drummond de Andrade


Brier, do not ask why we buy wine in jugs. Don’t ask

where the dogs go when we reach the bottom

of each bottle, don’t ask how they have more than once eaten


tacos, chocolate, cigarette butts, and I won’t ask why

you left the work of your hands, quit signing,

why you sell me drop necklaces and soft stone rings. I won’t tell


you how I hate that you stopped listening, loathe to think

that what goes on our ears is more important than the sounds

you shape for people’s eyes. Brier, we have spilled our love


on the tablecloth, and I, for one, will not clean it

this time. Still, you may call when our mother will not feed

your son, or feeds him too much, or when you again cannot live


with a man you see only in the careless grace

of computer light. When no one who believes in a center

can find it. Brier, I will tell you what it means to sleep


with my phone in hand, to sit at my plate and talk to the mums

and roses he sent, to act as though distance is imaginary,

like the white blank at the edges of a map. To know what is close


is only different because you can touch it. I want you to know

how my roommate broke a bottle in her own hand, how I couldn’t find

the shards under the serrated ridges of skin, how I wrapped her fingers


in a black towel and held it in my lap. I want you to know

about the wine and blood drying on our porch. But Brier,

what I cannot say – what I do not know – is how we keep loving


a world that spills from our hands like so many beads of glass.


I, Being of Sound, Leave


to the space heater, one dog, who barks her love to the landlord,

        who will not sleep


to the car’s back seat, a boy who leans his head out

        just to hear the sound of distance


to the barstool, bleeding its foam, one cousin, equal parts

         clamor and man


to the guest bedroom, one sister (your choice), and to the Army, one father,

         no more


to the sheer white curtains, all the daughters

        I don’t have


to a master key, my husband, his bag of stones and loss – plus a cellist

        with hands of water


to my headstone, a picnic, a man and woman who will not share

        their wine


to the earth, a thousand tumors, everything that loves itself

        enough to grow


and to the music outside my window, a word like passerby,

        my eardrums, my complaints,

        my mockingbird heart.


What to Do


In case of fire:

         Open the ’98 Cabernet.

Eat the dark

         chocolate cherries and put

on your wedding


        dress for the second time.


        that photos only tether

your memories;

        forget to think


that what fits must be

        lovely. Ask yourself

which child will wail

        and drop and which will creep

away on its own. Know


        that the tabby sees its spot

beneath the stairs

        as a different kind of escape,

and you cannot come

        along. You must leave


through the big door.

        Understand that all doors

are big doors, and that to exit

        and to leave are not the same:

every exit ends


         a scene, but to leave

you must mean it.

        Take the terrier and hand

her to a fireman.

        Give him a novel, the one


with the longest title –

        he can read by the light

of the house. Save

        everyone but yourself. Save

only what you have not been.


Debbie Lim

White Egret


Otherworldly, celibate –

oh, manicured object – you’re some

righteous sect’s uncharred lamp wick

                                        Judith Beveridge


She holds the wick of her neck in place

as she steps slowly down the canal.

I cannot help but watch: how she stops


to nail an invisible fish and pincers

my heart. In this morning’s grey gloom

she is a pale rag dropped


by the water’s edge then moves off

into bird again. Whenever I see an egret

I want to ask how it keeps so white


after days spent sifting through mud

and stormwater. She is like a snip of paper,

a perfect template, all colour chanted out.


Column of precision, she knows just how

to disturb her world: each gesture an example

of economy, each day a bead of attention.


In the mandibles of pause, I’ll imagine

a place where egrets are common as water:

in public parks and suburban gardens –


city streets even. Some nights I dream

all the earth’s candles; blazing

their thousands on temple floors,


swung in lanterns, set loose on paper boats

in the darkness. They could be lit souls

         of lost egrets.


All night they burn.

By morning there is nothing to confess.




Not sky or water, those vast places.

I am thinking of a gassy flame,

its small hood wanting

for oxygen. Or blood

that’s clocked the body once.

Tattoo’s slow memory

stitch. O colour of bruise.

Or the soul’s shadow,

if such a thing as a soul exists.


Most of the time she keeps to herself,

ruminating in plums. Or a chow’s tongue.

Sometimes a leg of raw lamb

has a bluish skin, glossing the muscle.

Never one for deliberate attention,

she is calm as a nun.

Intake of breath, she draws in

sip by sip, colouring

the tips of fingers and noses

when we meet our end.


In a Cave


In a cave is being

inside the earth’s own body.

At the top, a hole drops

its thick spine of light

into nothing.

Here, deep beneath the elder tree

air hangs a chamber

with giant roots like a woman’s hair

let down in secret.


A cave is cool as calcium.

This world ruled by drip and echo,

shaped by its own

slow clockwork of rain,

trickle and seep

of limestone. Examine the bead

permanently strung

from its stalactite end: see water’s industry



Rarely is a cave singular: think

honeycomb of bone

or the broke-open stump

endlessly riddled by termite love –



Some say a cave

takes you closer to death,

what’s left when the bright world ceases to exist.

And true, the only life in a cave

is where the outside breaks through:


Stand at the giant mouth,

                              see swiftlets against sky.


Take a torch and shine it up: a grey carpet

                                                      of sleeping bats stir.


But go deep into a cave

and slowly

a stone garden starts to grow   bit by bit

around you. Soft knobs and stalks

of limestone mushroom

       and stalactites (those tapered fruits of gravity)

catch your heart as you

step through.


Tread even deeper

and you encounter frozen falls

of stopped glitter, all weird burgeonings

named like stone flowers: anthodite, boxwork, dogtooth spur

or un-earthly treasure: cave pearl, moon milk,

shawl and flowstone.


Now feel its cool call –


the rare air loves

your skin to marble, lit walls

reveal whole galaxies of stars.


So when you pass

a green pool, soft and depthless,

it invites the plunge

head first,

forgetting breath and all you had

for the slow drift back,

back to that lightless place where memory


first spawned.


Melissa Mack

At Bishop’s Ranch


People have been taking leave of your life

for a long time you tell yourself

in the morning, beginning a new poem.

So you are not surprised in the dream

that the man in the hotel, seen and seen again,

with whom you dance in slow circles

does not belong to you, that he will not stay.

Yet you wake on your back in the dark,

our body weighted with dusk, clutch

your stomach with one hand, touch the other

to the soft nest below, and keen with grief.


Out in the world, birds are behaving

as birds do, chittering for dawn.

Geese are crossing high over open fields,

necks craned, soft egg drop bodies aloft behind.

A crane stands, leg pivot-deep at the lakeshore,

isolate gaze fixed. Some mornings you

go out too and walk through air,

dim and cool, and the suspended moon

still visible holds all questions, concedes

the answer to none.


Once, walking in the hills among the oaks

you saw a soft grey rain fall up from a hillock

of long gold grass under a gnarled buckeye.

Like snowfall in its loose and moving pointillism,

only quicker and with little tufts of sound –

wing flash, shift of dry leaves.

The whole flock now hidden away

in the tree as it had been in the grass, visible,

perhaps, to each other, no two on the same branch.


Christopher Nelson

Christmas Song


Steam wisps from the mules as they muscle

the sleigh through snow-flocked oaks.


In heavy blankets and heavier

concerns, I am so far from childhood


that the moon is not

a face, an orb of cheese, the bad eye


of God, a bright nickel for Christ

wavering between guilt and redemption.


Nor am I the son I’d hoped to become,

but, Mother, here we are side by side


nonetheless, and all we haven’t said

not coming between us.


The Seine with the Pont de la Grande Jatte


                                                         He waits

until their boat has passed beneath the bridge

to ask for her hand.


Even though the ferryman has seen this many times,

he is touched by the moment’s gravity, so he turns his eyes

to the sunlight inscribing the water:


              vivre, mourir


              vivre mourir


                                   Nor is it about this:

a woman climbs the railing of the bridge

to climb out of her life.


The railing burnished by a century’s anonymous hands.


Alison Pelegrin

Praying with Strangers


Wish I could be funny again, like the old me,

           wild child with food and music on the mind,

                     because I am worn out with bringing


nothing but needs to the hands of the Lord

            beginning that day I packed the kids in the car

                     for a head start against The Hurricane.


Five hours north to the nearest hotel room,

            tears the whole way, like we knew what was coming,

                     like we were going to be the ones prying apart


the automatic doors of the Winn Dixie

            to float out unfrozen frozen food.

                     Oh Refugees, oh my stranded sisters


and brothers, we never looked away

             from the television set our campfire.

                     We ate out until the money ran out,


then choked down charity – peanut butter,

             peanut butter, peanut butter, bread.

                        I swam in the hotel pool, drawling


reminisces in the company of peers,

             anything to keep my head above water

                        in the bible belt, where they don’t sell beer


on Sundays. Bellyaching, praying with strangers –

              it became my life’s work. Didn’t want the job,

                        but there I was, scratching out words, taking notes,


while my children, their foot soles filthy black,

              played rescue helicopter with their Trojan Army

                        on the rooftop of the unmade bed.




The state with the prettiest name,

and with parishes: Evangeline, Rapides, Avoyelles,

Tangipahoa, which in Choctaw means “corncob people.”

Fantastical sinking state, of a boot the heel-toe-heel

invisible, one football field a day drowned

to sop the Mississippi’s mighty slop

(as pretty names go, in second place).

I-will-not-speak-French-in-the-schoolyard state.

State snake-in-the-mailbox, and cane fields

lined with rails and jails, and two-seater churches.

Throw me something mister state. Coonass central,

but don’t you say it. And don’t spell Cajun with a K.

More fictional than the jackalope our postcard:

alligator chomping on a wet-T hottie’s rump.

There hasn’t been a gator death in years,

but our license plates speak the truth –

Sportsman’s Paradise – for noodlers, nutria trappers,

boar wrestlers, ruff riders, on land and at sea.

Frequent in this land are freak show fishing holes

where monster catfish breach for kibbles.

(No scales, you know. And those barbs sting.)

What’s not sinking here leans. Power lines

sag like jump ropes. Porches slope.

Unless nailed down a rocking chair will drift

in the blue-roof state. Katrina rigged,

stagnant-minded state, with horns locked

in hoop skirt times where – look away, kudzu! –

where the rebel flag’s a favorite window dressing

and tattoo. Stomping ground of Civil War

rememberers, their gray coats muddying

the healing greens of Jean Lafitte.

State of roughneck uncles missing fingers,

their wedding bands on stubs instead.

Every other man a parrain, or a convict

on work release, like the mower who steered

his tractor clear of purple highway flowers.

Can he read? Does he know someone wrote back?

One word spray painted on the overpass – Thanx.


The Day the Music Stopped


          New Orleans, August 29, 2007


No jazz today. Word hurries down Treme,

Down sidewalks and porches – at Armstrong Park

The band set out, and they refuse to play.


No dirge. Rolling slow, the meter maid way,

Pal’s Pink Suit Steppers and the Carnival Sharks

Won’t jazz today. Word hurries down Treme –


A brass band coming, their groove astray,

Show shine, trumpet shine, but no ‘Closer Walk.’

They hold their instruments and do not play.


Mock funeral for one year ago today –

Pine box for Katrina cut loose to the dark,

Then Dixieland jazz in the streets of Treme.


This year we can’t make the blues go away.

We’ve been down so long that music feels like work.

Black sash for the marshal – we can’t play.


Word hurries down Treme. No jazz today.

We can’t lift our eyes from the water mark.

We’re calling, Lord, who hardly ever pray.

The band set out, and they refused to play.


Anna Lena Phillips



They grow down in the bottom, where the deer

lie down in grass and leave their bodies’ echoes

on the ground. Each year, the trillium send


three leaves and then three petals into the air.

We headed down the bank, past thorns and stones

that hold the bridge upright. My brother swung


along the creek, and brushed past three-leaved stems,

red-veined – “You’ll catch poison ivy,” I called.

“It’s elder, Annie, it’s a tree,” he said,


and swooped past me – loped along in twilight,

shadows dismantled by his boots. I followed,

elder. Where the creek bends to the hollow,


we ducked into a deer-track, left the creek

night-talking. Silky grass swallowed our footsteps

and branches snatched at our eyes. The narrow path


came wider by the clearing. “This is where

the deer sleep, right?” he whispered. “In the day,

yes,” I said. But when deer bark in the night,


it looks like this: our eyes, kept closed against branches,

opened slowly to shimmering white,

petal sleeves that lit themselves and flared


over dark leaves. Like stars (whose light is both

wailed call and calm response) they leapt

into the moonlight as we breathed


the barest scent of pepper from their petals

and walked between green leaf, white sepal,

careful that our feet did not catch fire.


“If that mockingbird don’t sing”

                                       -  “Hush, Little Baby,”  trad.


Ella came up behind my desk chair, stretched

her front paws up to pad my back, and made

her curious purr-meow, which I wish


I understood. But this time she’d brought

her toy mouse, trailing its lavender thread –

carried it in her mouth and dropped it


behind me. The word she wanted was “Play.”

Brilliant, I thought; then, Is this what she always

wants, when she reaches up to me


in what I hope is affection? But she does not say,

won’t offer clues besides the mouse

and the sound of hello, please, a question. What’s


the question? The mouse – its answer? –

is often lost, batted under the fridge, the couch.

Part of its purpose is to be lost


then found. To have to use always the object

as word and real thing – she must long only

for the symbol to jump out


fluttering: not always obedient, but available.

Oh, Ella, without that word, what can I do for you

but lift up the couch to see if it’s hiding there;


and if it’s gone, go out and buy you

new words, a ring of them, diamonds shining?


Brian Spears

Because I Didn’t Teach Her How to Drive



She’s graduating, so I make the trip –

no rental car; my daughter will chauffeur

me for the week. The streets are rainy-slick,

the town not quite rebuilt from storm surge,


wind, and federal neglect. Empty storefronts,

plywood windows, half her graduating class

moved on, dropped out. Lost. I have to trust

that she won’t kill us, won’t try to pass


a semi on a hill, won’t jump the tracks

like her dad used to, won’t spin on wet cement

or tumble us into a ditch. I strap

myself into the seat, say prayers I meant


to say before my plane took off, before

it landed. Now it’s time for terror.



I understand the look of terror Mom

had when I fishtailed my Bonneville

on the frontage road, beside a canyon

of a ditch, she beside me, green-gilled


and furious. My daughter doesn’t spin

her tires, but we lean into every turn.

Every stoplight a drag race – she wins

a lucky few, loses most. I yearn


for control, a car seat I could strap her

into, the keys, some Dramamine. I’m kidding

some – my queasiness from the words

my mother said one day while laughing:


One day, you’ll have one just like you, and then,

like mothers everywhere, I’ll be revenged.



Somehow I always knew my mom’s revenge

would come to pass. My daughter glances right,

changes lanes mid-intersection. You win

Mom, I say to myself. Later that night


I’ll sit with my ex-wife, her lover,

a step-son I haven’t seen in ten years,

his wife, their kids, neighbors, a brother-

in-law; a life I left behind in search


of somewhere I belonged, Our daughter –

somehow it seems odd to share her now,

although we always have – poses with her

relatives. She’s in her cap and gown.


I’ve never figured out just when to know

it’s time to stand aside and watch her go.


Tess Taylor

Song for El Cerrito


I used to hate its working-class bungalows, grid planning,

power-lines sawing hillsides. It ashamed me


the way my parents did for not making more money.

Now looks like a Diebenkorn.


Now I want even the bad wood siding

in our living room, and my mother’s aging


books on modern Indian thought. I want her singing,

tanpura in the sunlight. I want fox-weed burrs


in rail trestles, eucalyptus-smell, the endangered frogs in the gully.

I want lemongrass and a lemon tree.


On San Pablo, polyester collectibles, a folk-song store, the

All-Button Emporium: Open 10-4 only Saturday’s.”


How did love lodge in these? It could be a trick

the heart plays, but it’s also in how the light


is forgiving, and glazes

even the traffic islands. December here only


yellows our gingkoes, reddens maples.

A stream smells rich under the house.


For Christmas, Joanna and I sometimes steal

persimmons from neighbors’ yards.


We eat stewed plums, fennel, rosemary.

                                 Ten years on I discover


that though my body’s been elsewhere

I have always fallen in love here,


among blackberry brambles and pickups.

Tonight it happened again:


We drove a bad car to the beach.

The scrub pine was a Japanese print. In the real sky, the moon


slid through clouds that were cinder-colored.


Elk at Tomales Bay


Wild and preserved together,

milkweed-white rears upturned,

nimbler female elk

bow into rustling foxtails.


Males muscle over the slopes,

marking terrain.


As they feed, their mantles quiver.

Bush-sized antlers clamber open

steep as the slopes of the gorges.


Each set of antlers twitch,

sensory, delicate –

yet when one elk rears,

squaring to look at us

its antlers and gaze hold suddenly motionless.


Further out, the skeleton.

What seems to be tar-paper

is hide. In an uneven, heart-shaped cavern,

a coccyx curls.


               Stacked vertebrae

call to mind redwood stumps.

Yellowing ribs fan open,

emptied wholly of organs.


Near scrub brush, the skull:

Sockets, sinuses,

the protrusion of mandible,

the few small teeth.


Almost bare, except

for the strip of flesh that clings

to a divot between its eyes. A few tufts

spring from the drying scalp.


The eye’s rim sags,

flat as a bicycle tire.


              The form is sinking away,

but its mask is also here,

a covering, the disguise

that must also reveal a creature.


The skin loosens, becoming other,

but hovering here I felt

the force detaching from it

also regarding me,

with a seriousness, with a grace.


The bones suggested the force

and perhaps the force inflects

the broken half-song

I have repeated the whole long walk out:


O carcass of the elk

beast transformed into parts,

you’re being remade, remade.


The earth is harvesting you.

The earth absorbs your body

into its change:


Your life and all your stories

have always belonged to it.


Crazy Quilt


Our grandma taught her nine-patch and strip-piecing,

to hem and measure, how a fabric falls.


My sister took it in, and came out a maker:

She garners fabrics, hoards a jumble-pile.


She’s skilled enough to half-ignore geometry,

to spread out winter evenings


and ignore us: Obbligato with the treadle’s whir, she’ll lean

into a tag-sale apron, Japanese cottons,


cambrics dyed one summer in the yard.

She likes unevenness, asymmetry,


found fabric. She plans a bit, then works by instinct

basting light to dark, canary yellow


to edge an emerald stripe. We watch

her battened coverlets grow wider,


expanding outward on a cloud of instinct,

her expression almost revenant


as she rips, re-hems, and irons, mouth

full of pins, cloth billowing around her.


Tonight she sliced our mother’s raw silk saris.

Dark silken ribbons bloomed and I admired


her fierce concentration to resettle

scraps at staggered angles,


the way she destroys each thing she’s salvaged

to harvest it as an exploding star.


Emily Tuszynska

Jacqueline West

To R., Who Cries for Roadkill


We turn the car around to stare again

at the tattered bit of a leg,

the tail tuft of the baby skunk

you watched waddle along the culvert

yesterday, its little body

rocking side to side in clumsy, pudgy joy,

seeing the strands of black transform

from a possible feather, painlessly lost

to a visceral and indelible clue.

The ditch is thick with prairie roses,

white cockle, wild daisies,

and the bloodless pieces look only like

a child’s toy tossed down after playful battle,

the hero of its own tiny realm

where tires are a sudden speeding border,

a division through what is ours.

This is not our victory, not its loss.

This is one more June morning

when fresh sheets wave on the neighbor’s line,

calves that will fatten and be shipped off

lie for now in the grass of the farmer’s front lawn,

and I hold your hand across the armrest,

breathing the same momentary air.


Farmer’s Daughter


When was it

the catch in your heart


beneath the thick canvas coat

or the stained red sweater

you always wore

pulled over a cotton shirt


was it before

or after

calving, after you’d picked

the fresh carts of rock,

after you split the stack

of kindling by hand

with the hatchet


shooing me inside

to the seat

where I watched you,

scorn-bitten, through the window

over the margin of my textbook,

noting the fat puffs of your breath

that wandered loosely

up to the blue night.


Your flopped stocking cap,

your rubbery boots,

your bare hands knobbed

like vegetable roots.

Your workhorse back

tied blind to the plow.




lifetimes later,

trapped by doctor’s orders,

you dig shamefacedly in the closet

offering the hats and gloves

that I wave off

as I rush outdoors


and now it is your eyes

that watch me

from the window,

my shovel easy as a pendulum

as I toss the white weight

into the darkness,

the rhythm of my heart

smooth and warm.


All right.

I will be you for a while.


Long Distance


You are still speaking.


I’ve put down the phone

and its lucent numbers that spell

the magic charm that ties me to you,

twitches your fingers, opens the line

so that your laugh’s low thrum

echoes across striated hours,

across states and streets

I’ve never seen.


Inside, your words go on

and on, like the small lives

dancing inside snow globes

where miniature villagers are forever

tucking children into bed as the flakes

gently fall. You do not die

with a button’s click. And,

all the same, you leave.


No proof preserves you

in the jar of a heart,

no typeset evidence creased

in the seam of a pocket

supports your claim

or gives you breath.

Only faith. And I choose

to believe


that you are still speaking.


Allyson Arndt

Farm Boy


You speak quietly to me,

a voice of wind through grain

across acres of time.


The brown sugar of your eyes

melts under a furrowed brow.

A strand of wheat

stands sentry to a silent tongue.

Your chest, lean and bare, glistens,

the sweet smell of Timothy Hay

on your skin.

A clover breeze is

caught in my barley hair.

That broad sweeping Stetson dips,

hiding dark, smiling eyes.


An audience of fence posts

holds its breath.


We wade in an

ocean of grain.


Wedding Party


Old knuckles respond like well-oiled hinges,

playing lilting Northern jigs.

Ale flows in liters from unwatched taps.

Farming women, eyes full of mischief,

lift earth-toned skirts and dance wildly to

music that pulses like blood through Celtic veins.

The silver notes of the flute

are heard over beating drums and

the clacking of antique spoons.

Competitive clogs stomp eight beat counts a piece.

Dancers spin through another round on the tired inn floor;

their lighthearted cheers are carried

through the window behind the bar

where a quiet dawn breaks over the MacNamara Mountains,

brilliant tangerine in a violet sky.




Whispering voices float down from the

fairy palace courtyards, falling silently

into sleeping blossoms.

Miniature stain-skinned beings

trip the light fantastic over Salmon Berry leaves,

bending and swaying in the opal moonlight.

Laughter spills out of violet Foxglove blooms,

coating the soft earth with dew.

Silvery moondust is sprinkled on

children’s heavy eyelids

as the fairies tiptoe into nightfall.


Michele Battiste


Daedalus’ Blueprint


I know why they call me bird woman

Look at my baby, how neatly she folds

           up in my arms and disappears

Look at my arms, their tendons and angles,

           how they hook the air, hang on

I move like waking: now a clumsy tilt too close

           to architecture, now a faded remnant

           of Daedalus’ blueprint, imperfect


My baby’s reach from fingertip to fingertip

          promises outdistancing, grace, what I can’t teach her

We sleep entwined

Look how I fold around her

Her limbs under mine, are mine


Preparing the Unborn Child


Copperheads, fanatics, power tools

in disrepair, the one who tortures

bugs (though you might try it

once, a small stab at easy cruelty,

and for that I’ll wish on you

a minor emotional trauma) all easy

to avoid. Check for patterns, twitches,

rust, glints. Worth your dread

are the tricky evils, the devil’s small

scratches along a spine, provoking

an itch impossible to pinpoint,

more difficult to name. Even symptoms

are misleading, often mistaken

for vision or defense. I can only warn

you that faith won’t save you,

nor a finely-wired intellect, nor

the broad, enlightened upbringing

we have planned. This family has a mediocre

relationship with chance, but good

enough. You’ll be that blessed.


Michael Boccardo


              for Jason


I find you asleep on the futon again, curled

like a comma or a pause

                                       in the afternoon’s breath.

Outside, a pewter sky riddled with holes

broods between the moss-colored curtains

sweeping inches

                          above your head. I have seen you

like this before, limbs swathed in a nebula of sheets,

blankets teased from their unyielding ledges.

            What dream has stirred the river running

            beneath your throat, unearthed the filament

            of delicate glass beading your temple?

I brush a pearl of down

from the angled harp of your jutting shoulder.

Feathers, five or six, unfurl their tiny sails,

                                wafting toward the carpet’s cool, still surface.

I remember another day, the sky full of doors, your

soul leaning in so close I could hear the sigh of hinges

as we opened each one. Together our skin hummed,

sunlight ladling the walls in halos of brass.

Trumpets swelled our throats in a single symphony.

Soon I will join you here, folded

like the wing of a page. But first I drift closer

to the open window, my eye pressed

against the chilled glass,

                                      heavenward, and I marvel

at the clouds, their shorn edges vanishing, dimming, huddled

like a palm around the gilded pulse of something sacred.


Wal-Mart, Aisle Five


Tonight the parking lot is packed, cars idling like the soft

low of cattle bowing their heads. Because we slip

between double doors and dodge the greeter cinched

in a blue vest, her thin lips tight as a tugged seam,

her left hand wrangling bodies bordering the return

desk, while the other pats the four-car

collision of her hair, she never notices us among expectant

housewives and military buzz-cuts, why we walk so close,

two men roaming aisle five. Nearby, a woman poured

into yellow spandex, bellowing

for her son’s attention, his Kool-Aid red fingers lassoed

in the ringlets of his sister’s hair, saddles us with a hard

second stare before rejoining the shuffling

herd of families, mouths moving, sandals snapping

heels like fly swatters. Just as I sidestep a cyclone

of teenagers weaving around a flock of blue-haired ladies,

you bend to a shampoo bottle. My eyes chase

the rope of muscle curving up your calf, the unwinding

knot of sinew I stroke almost every evening as it vanishes

into your bent knee. I nearly lean forward now, arm extended,

fingers spread like a fan, forgetting where

we live, when a couple rounds the corner as I draw

back and watch you rise to say, Honey,

do we have enough of this at home? The couple stops

mid-stride, his eyes narrowed, her mouth matching the harsh

ovals of her shades, while we wait ten eternities

for the endless stampede of faggot, queer, sissy to plow

our ears, the four of us like statuary, measuring

what has been said and what hasn’t. In sneakers

and loose shorts, tattered at the cuffs, wrinkled t-shirts

with the worn initials of sports teams branded

across our chests, we are not what they expect.

It would be easy to unleash the spectacle

in me, the heated duel among our lips they trust

is about to erupt. I take your hand instead,

hinging it to mine, two men bound

under the applause of a thousand fluorescent bulbs,

moving past and through them as they silently part,

gaping at their own empty palms lowered

into the graves of their pockets.


Samantha Buchanan



I will not banish the window today.

            I will leave it wide

open and I will not think about

    anything leaving.         Today

is not a day to      think of such things,

   with its sun shining over everything

like it has something to show me.      With

             the birches and ash able to

stand      so tall     under the weight

they are holding up.     It is comforting

   to know that some things can.

              It is    comforting     to see

the cornfields      undressed     and    so naked.

I cannot read shame in their empty furrows.


              in someplace could perhaps

   learn from their candidness.

It is strange to see the cars out on the highway

                         going places

and stranger     yet     to see them

             coming back from these places.

This is just a window that I am looking out

                         but today

   I think it must be everything.


Your Eyes Are Like A Few Moments Only


We would talk more but I am afraid you

might lose your chest. And your feet –

mommy, you may lose your feet. You’d be

left with bones and empty shoes,

so instead we lie in bed and watch out the window.

The trees appear to you as blue hands.

Your blue hands? No, your eyes like a few moments only no!


Shhh, Mother, the trees seem to me sewing

machines laying down patches of a quilt we’ve almost finished.

The wind blowing out

from my childhood like a power cord.

Remember the vole in the powdered milk? you ask. Must have

turned to concrete in its belly. The horses, the ferrets? The old

couple up the hill that gave you cookies?

Yes, Mother, yes, I know they are dead now like their parents.


Samantha, you say, death is dusty from neglect. The war

was shorter than expected and the

funeral parlors are sure to have sales.


I Can’t Sustain the Angel Wrote and Vanished


In a hospital bed my mother spoke in

moans that made sentences. She sounded like yellow jackets


and though there was a lot of running around

hunting for dictionaries, we found that


not one of us could translate bee.

This kept us preoccupied and so


we were unaware that someone’d flipped to

the next page of the story. Knock, knock.


In came the carpenters with their hammers and

stethoscopes to build a dead body,


and Mom was left in her bed sheets, naked.

She was a little collection of shed hair, you know,


of nail clippings and earwax. There was

really nothing then we could do


but give away all of her, every blue finger.


Brian Brown



The house will be ready on your return.

You know, the one we picked

in the build-your-own-log-cabin brochure.

Its christened and secret location

fallow as cotton fields on pebbled ridges

above Williamson’s Mill,

where no one yet lives, except us,

in dreams, and crickets

in their trill timelessness.

All the dirty-fingernail years working,

jobs in gas stations and fried-chicken joints,

sure we’d find time and money

to build our hideaway,

far from the nuisance of streetlights.

Instead it’s come to this separation

neither of us can bear, but both of us

have conceded, half-assed.

There are bobcat tracks, owl scat,

all around the homesite where

someday we’ll make a life, call in

for Chinese on occasion, but mostly,

just wait for luck to bring us

to the meadows, and the time

we’ll cherish cobalt blue vases

full of wildflowers on our kitchen table.


Family History


You were the guardian of genealogies

Who purged old albums and battled mildew,

Pillaged clippings from family bibles,

And swooped down like a vulture

As each new death to take all

You could carry, sure no one else would care.

That was the strange world

Of so many funerals ago,

Bathed in its mucous membrane of sepia,

Forever frozen. It was your salvation,

Guarding the transgressions and inconsistencies,

Sweet minutiae of the past.

All the stars that gave light and direction

Made you shine in the end.




What vanishings they’ve recorded

in scrapbooks gone to worms,

all over the floors of the secret libraries.

Every grandmother’s letter

a glistening crown

on the checkerboard surface of memory.

Pictures of the faithful in Mystic, Georgia,

ancestors in starched Sunday clothes

at the Royal Singing Convention,

lifting acapella praises, Baptist rain dances

to their hardscabble God,

for high cotton and sweet corn.

Postcards of confederate memorials,

old rebs in courthouse yards

like gray ghosts at the last salute.

They’ll forever inhabit these

parched and pebbled fields of memory,

their music riding the wind.

In the salt of their dust

I find the words

to all the sweet psalms yet sung.


Melissa Cahnmann-Taylor

Once I was in Love with an Old Coat


I loved to scoop its pockets, finger

keys, coins, tokens for foreign trains, hardened


rectangles of gum. Soured from spills,

toughened by crowds, car trunks, rain. Shame


I don’t know where the coat’s

gone now. Maybe it still rests on a bench,


zipper sticking in the same, predictable

places, tears widening in its lining.


I might have learned opera if I’d spent more time

with a tweed vest, but it’s my own students’


fleece now, their flutter of white papers in open

totes. I see myself wanting to try me on, lay


this aging coat down in university grass

as if it were the first time again with prosody,


or Simone de Beauvoir. It’s the intercourse

of desire and learning I’m talking about,


wanting to touch an old coat’s interior satin,

its tired opalescence ignited by purpose, loose


morals, loneliness, narcissism, love,

greed. On strong, wooden hangers, attracting


lint from their surface, I attended

to so many old coats I didn’t know I, too,


could become one. A struggle at the end

of hemmed sleeves to keep hands to myself.


Hitting Balloons


The five year old boy hits helium

-filled metal balloons weighted by plastic clips-

sends each one skirting the cold grocery tile

past windows of dead fish, past my beaming f

five month old son. The boy


never tires of bullying the balloon and my son

never tires of the show, hearty gut laughter

exploding from his tiny boy mouth.


                Punch the balloon,

                jump, laugh; punch

                the balloon, jump, laugh


and they go on until it’s time

for mothers to pay for their eggs, milk,

and, in my case, a metallic balloon I hit

for a fizzled giggle on the stroller ride

home, for my son who falls asleep

after noon’s excitement.


“Ten Percent Off for a Poetic Order”

                     Espresso Royale, Athens GA 2008


I rhymed for a discount

on a latte but the barista forgot

the posting, stared, blind spot

for ice and price, the amount


didn’t matter, metrics were off,

overly sentimental, cliché.

The anticipation of it. Café

customers dizzy at the trough


of espresso, low expectations

for wireless, punch in their punch

cards, promise of a touch

of sweetness and free publications.


But nothing is free, only ten percent

off today, Georgia in June,

and maybe because I’m a Jew

I think of assassination attempts


reading bumper sticker headlines,

saying yes! to scones and change.

Don’t it make your red states

blue? We can lose as verse lines


slack in shape, too many hot

poolside days. I stole from Shakespeare,

Ginsberg. I ordered in dimeter,

said I’d pay for humor with a shot


of vanilla. Tough to barter

in America, enough to read

menus with whistling steam

noising the background. To order


poetry is harder than you’d think.


Chuck Carlise

The First Week in Catania


A young father leans to hold his tiny son’s hand on the jagged gray

of Piazza Duomo. With his free hand, he tosses breadcrumbs to the lava rocks


hoping to entice a pigeon close. The boy (his eyes wide & wildly interested)

grins so hard my cheeks throb watching him. He can’t be more than three.


The man speaks very quickly (or so it seems to me) & any hopes I have

for eavesdropping fall away. Ci sono, he says, waving his hand forward,


& after a flourish of rises and falls, a presto! I can’t pickup enough to make any sense.

The boy must hear his father but his glance never reaches up to meet him. Instead


it shoots between three pigeons who’ve noticed the crumbled bread – two brown-backed,

just darker & rustier-red than his father’s khakis, & one speckled gray bird just beyond them.


They edge toward the crumbs, but hesitate (they’ve been chased around these stones

by creatures this boy’s size before). The man points to the brown-backs, but all I catch


is questo – “this one.” The speckled bird has had enough waiting. He ambles forward

(beak-lead, piston-like stutter) & plucks a crumb from the boy’s shoe, then scuttles away.


The boy pulls his hand free & throws both arms into the air. His eyes threatening to leap

from their sockets, he opens his mouth, pauses, then lets out the whoop of a toddler.


Aaaaah!” It drowns out his father, & for a moment even the hum of motorini up the street –

not a word in any language at all. It’s the first thing I’ve understood clearly all day.


Walking Home Alone, 1 am


Dark clouds of black & blue-violet sail slowly above damp-water oak branches, heavy with

          satisfied leaves. They clear & cover spaces overhead

the curtains blowing by an open window – sliding & hiding stars that shine almost too

          brightly for a rainy August night,

thick with eye-level mist & steady buzzing of crickets. There is electricity in this quiet


& I think I understand why my forbears looked upward for their God; why heaven was soft music

& high white clouds & light; & how comforting it must have been, believing that the skies

          acknowledged their tiny kneeling bodies.


I close my eyes on this wet-brick sidewalk, breathing rhythms to my footfalls as if pacing to run.

My heaven is stillness of midnight, dark like shadows on this purple ink sky; & God is the air

the instant before the first drop of rain falls smoothly to waiting ground – awkward & graceful –

the first touch preceding a cloudburst, the last look preceding a kiss.


There is no time but this night & the sidewalk under my feet.

There is no heaven but this sky & the darkness & motion & silent music below.

There is no light but these shadows & the poetry of droplets falling from breeze-blown leaves.

What can I do if I can’t salvage these moments?

Where can I look if not into this photograph night?

What am I now if the breeze on my skin falls away?

If I awake to yellow sunrise & all these things are swept clean –

burned through like summer storm clouds & dew –

like the clarity of half-sleep, disappearing in hollow daylight?


I open my eyes on the slow-hanging sky & breathe deeply, to save it somehow, somewhere

          in the un-named places

where poems begin but never end, & the only words I have left are “I know” – where it is

          not the sky I am reaching for at all,

but a rise of sleeping breath to observe this small standing self; a hint of warm air on my face

          & neck, suggesting itself

as the scent of moist earth suggests rain; as dark damp grass & dew suggest nightfall &

          moonlight & release;

& the thick air whispers that there is nothing (nothing) more important than now.


The breeze is cool & it shivers me out of myself, back to the empty sidewalk – the moment

          somehow dangling, suspending in the misty summer air.

Seconds pass into seconds like an endless ceremony of cool breath & grassy hills, old growth

          fields & water.


This night is a cadence, not a god –

A choir of drumbeats & thirsting mouths.

This night is the thumping, pounding rhythm of sky falling on grass & Amish brick.

A reminder, a gesture, a kiss from some sleeping window,

Seeking me out among all midnights, all sidewalks, all faces,

coming to tell me, “yes, you are here, & I know.”


C. Doyle

The Beating


                            for my grandfather


He helds his hands out. Punishment fell in strokes

across each palm. No sound in the room but breath

(his own?) and leather smacking on skin.

Body was less and less body to him;


he stood outside it; couldn’t tell whose blood

the priest’s strap drew. He was already gone,

Tullamore Children’s Home disappearing


as he slipped out the window and jumped the hedge.

The dogs beginning to bark. The stream in view.

He was already on the other side

when the leather struck down the last time.


The boy who left the room with his hands ripped up

was not the boy who tore into turf for pay;

the weeping boy was not the boy

who labored. But one kept the other alive.


The Doll Museum


The stone dolls, excavated from a tomb,

are eyeless, armless, heavy for a child


to hold. Not like the dolls that lined the room

my sister and I shared, their bodies light


and bendable, their eyelids mobile, hair

so real it tangled with our own at night.


But what we learned from them was only life –

we never pressed our cheeks to death like girls


who played with stone dolls did. The doctor’s knife

could not have caught my sister more off-guard


or left me less alone; I had my dolls.

Though, soon, they lay on tables in the yard


with price tags. Even then they looked alive,

survivors with no sickness to survive.




Pretty eyes, he said to you,

let’s get tickets

let’s get two

let’s get on the tilt-a-whirl

then watch the house of mirrors swirl


Pretty lips, he said to me,

let’s get tickets

let’s get three

let’s get on the zipper wheel

then watch the house of mirrors reel


Pretty here and pretty there!

Aren’t we such

a pretty pair?

Pick a pretty, make a pass

(just be careful of the glass)


Pretty that and pretty this!

Come in closer

for a kiss

(now we’re double, now we’re half)

and watch the house of mirrors laugh


Jacqueline Gabbitas



Shocked to find, where the soap dish

normally stands, a beetle

on its back, dead. I shouted

– ashamed, unqualified in my ferocity,

but, God, unstinted.


A ground beetle, rain beetle.

What was it about this bug, red

as black cherries, one wing visible

and pasted to a slurry of soap smearing

the porcelain, one leg

hard as wire pointing to the heavens,

that scared – yes, scared – me this way?


Was it the sleep in my eyes (we called them

sleepy-bugs growing up)? The simple

disgust of finding a beetle in my soap?

The wondering how it got there? Was it

the knowledge that a thunder storm

follows a rain beetle’s death, or just the fact


that this one had come inside, had cast-off

the undergrowth, the safety in stones,

and looked instead for a place warm,


humid and alien?


Marie Gauthier






I knew at conception – I

blinked, felt twinned – as


you know at once

by your parched tongue


that the persimmon

you’ve bitten into isn’t ripe.




Some days our boy’s

a barnacle


clamped to my breast.




December in Yarmouth:


we crouch on the rocks

of the breakwater


listening to the seashells

click at the water’s edge


jostled by the ocean.


The beach teems with periwinkles

How to go?


Seashells splinter underfoot.




Home: just a block away,

a one-hundred-year-old building spews smoke.


Within minutes the roof is engulfed

with flames, bricks hurtling

from the cracked veneer.


Firefighters from twelve towns respond.

Four businesses and three apartments burn.


No fatalities.


Within days the fire is deemed

suspicious, the gutted husk razed.


One week till Christmas,

all the houses are limned by lights.


Firetrucks! Out toddler cries.





He loves the snow, even

when he falls face first.


In the midst of a nor’easter

we trundle, he a red bob


in a sea of white.


He waves and calls Thankyou!

to every car that eases by,


points at each icicle

stretching from the eaves,


laughs at the wind’s toss

of snow, the daub


of snow on his nose.


All Souls’


These fall days rife with ghosts,

            he’s all apple, my apple, rosy

and full of tart no’s and yodel-o’s.


Out, out, he cries each morning,

           so we bundle up, and he barrels

through phalanxes of leaves –


dun-colored, breath-thin,

            they crumple beneath his feet

like letters from the dead,


unearthed too late, or too soon

            for his reading, letters sent

to ones uncaring or careless


or dead now too, that they

            should end as mulch.

The trees reach for him


with gaunt arms – do they grieve

            their lost pages? – cracking as they

bend – but however they beseech,


puckish unassailable he

            merely scuttles away, his ripeness

the only song he hears.


Julia Guez



Poetry measures itself foot by foot like fabric,

adorning every arm’s length

with bells, sequins, beads, musicality.

Each ictus an accent, a detail, sensuous,

inviting us to roll the words around in our mouths,

phrase by phrase, aerating the sounds between our teeth,

vanilla, plum, smoke and berry.

In medicine, an ictus signals a collapse of rhythm.

Brain and heart tapping the face of a human watch,

tip, tap, tapping,

all three hands standing dangerously still

for a second, ten past ten,

quivering after a convulsion or a stroke.

In poetry, one ictus out of place adulterates

the meter of a sonnet,

so poets labor over each word,

doctoring every syllable and line

break, as if laboring

over life and death, face only millimeters

from the page of verse they pen

for hours, unblinking,

as if getting this one piece right, one caesura,

one rhyme could right the universe too,

curing the condition we inherit from our mother and father

who suffer and age

into sickness, dying without finding the right word,

leaving us alone and meek,

crying over photographs, brimming

with grief and whiskey,

homage neverending,

a charge: If we find the right word,

we can live past the ictus,

past the aneurysm,

past the stroke.

Who wants a human watch

to keep time?

Hands fragile and thin as wings of a dragonfly,

battery so short-lived and small,

paint chipping and falling from a face

which can only count seconds,

minutes, hours and days for so long.

The urnlike face of poetry is forever,

if we find the right words. After all,

mothers and fathers and twentysomethings

die all the time, unknown

unless they have written a verse

which, ictus by ictus, could outlive tuberculosis,

year by year, sustaining

one who has found a way to write

death’s name in water,

The Next Keats, inevitably

immortal as the first.

“When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.’”


At the Edge of the Night


Bottle in hand, big belly moon stumbles home.

La noche, the night, slips into la madrugada’s robe.

Across the street, a racket. Daily,


the fruteria re-stocks

all of the empty shelves,

bushel baskets brimming with summer,


dirt-covered spinach and strawberries and squash.

Tomatoes and onions overfill a plastic pony,

a circus of red and yellow teeming with life


teeters and tumbles

from a fraying sheet of plywood,

bending beneath the weight of plenty,


spilling on to the asphalt in a pool,

a puddle of grease and oil

hemorrhaging from the bowels of an ancient blue farm truck,


a rusting cornucopia,

sputtering miraculously from the campo to the ciudad

every day at dawn.


I have no reason to be awake, but I am.

I am awake reading Cortázar, After the Party.

At the edge of night,


I am waiting for the sun,

reading a book about twilight.

My arms are as empty as the shelves of the fruteria in autumn.


No kale or chard,

no yams, no leeks, or onions,

no garlic, no pumpkins or honey,


I have no reason to stay

even a second longer in any bed,

when my love is sleeping somewhere else.




Malbec only a grape, unblessed by the soil of Mendoza,

the air of the Andes only air, unholy.

Sex, espresso and cigars fail to contend with my fatigue.


Stereo speakers atremble,

The 7th Symphony in A Major rollicks through the house

like a herd of boys or rabbits bounding through grass,


innocent until a bacchanalian theme attempts to pin me against a wall

with kisses I cannot misconstrue, then coyly retreats into a corner,

demure, only a variation of the brass and passion,


military, but short-lived, that would pin anyone to a wall.

When I cannot be seduced by the build,

vivace, kisses, trumpets and a drum, and do not succumb to the torment of withdrawal,


recapitulation, eyes, strings and a flute –

all of the instruments of Beethoven’s genius –

then I am funky.


Soon, waking with a start, the way you start when you dream

you are falling out of an airplane or a tree,

only to find yourself in the very middle of a queen-sized bed,


I crave chocolate-covered alfajores. Walking down the street, past a café on Beruti,

I see a bird, bread in mouth, fly soundlessly from the sidewalk to the sky,

over the head and shoulders of an imp angel child in a white summer dress


who startles the way children startle when they get just what they want for Christmas.

Hands akimbo in wonder, the girl smiles a smile that makes me want a little girl

who smiles that way, as she says, ¡Qué lindo viento me da la paloma!


Then I am no longer funky. Malbec is malbec, the blood of transubstantiation.

The Andes, white and blue, the body, the spine.

Sex, espresso, and cigars revive.


Eroica, eroica, pastoral pastoral, the seventh is the seventh, and the ninth is joy

found exactly where I last lay it down like the keys I thought I had lost,

only forgot on a shelf in the pantry, looking for something to eat.


Valerie Linet



This is the house of joy

Enter here

Beneath a roof of broken limbs

And bowed heads –

The dried stalks of sunflowers after a full season of giving

Enter here

To this moment’s home

Built for stars to see inside

No windows, no doors a few pieces

Of wood –more wind than walls

A skeleton of joy

Harvests hang from the rafters

Beams of sunlight patch the ground

Here you almost disappear into autumn

As you whirl in a circle dance

Around and around the earth

Blowing closer than ever

To the ground of ground.


After Death, the Living are Left


              with memories of holidays

the easy timbre of his voice

the blue chair

worn beige in the seat

one lazy eye

and his complete delight

when he played the trumpet

or penciled in letters of a crossword.

              Days of the body’s unbuilding

itself – the scaffolding of the body undone at last

the veil lifted in hourless days

of hand-holding while he labored to die

the heaviness of breath revealing

a silent something

working to be unburdened.

              After death, the living are left

with blue-gray days returning to grocery shopping

lawn-mowing phone messages and offices

where we are distracted         slower

              Something in us turns

towards a great quiet field

where our minds want to wander

where our eyes can’t quite adjust

to the light.


Cath Nichols

The Gift


I would bring you flowers, sweet-scented stock,

curly-petalled peas, white and mauve.

Here are gawky, blowsy hollyhocks.

I have for you egg-cups of orange blossom.


Cornflowers, sky blue, I give to you,

red, red geraniums and periwinkle stars.

Speedwell, my lovely, blue sky, red earth, bright sea.

Today you are stylish, and precise as iris,


tomorrow you might skitter farm tracks

in your white and yellow frock,

kick up the dust. You will sprawl in wheat

happy as mayweed. Let me spin you around


wrist on wrist, swing low. Let us come up

smelling of grass and bark and rain and snow.

You are modest and cosy as moss,

soft as new leaves.




with the neat lines on your back

           full, dark eyes, and hands held like

                      a cleric or matron, elbows akimbo,


frog with your damp skin and unblinking

           stare, your submerged thighs and toes,

                      each fold of your fat legs so


well-formed, so well tucked, so –

            just-so. Palm-sized paperweight frog,

                      chubby as a baby but still-limbed,


water-swaddled. Patient frog

            in the shadow of the rock,

                       stay, and be mine.


Betula pendula, Silver Birch


I should like to show you the silver birch:

its smoothness – soft white bark glowing

like the underside of tin foil; its roughness –


bark scars splitting, sloughing sheets of dead skin,

small strands left flapping like hang nails. Red.

The colours, the rasping texture of it.


I should like to show you the silver birch’s

catkins: first, hard buds like elongated

fir cones, then all soft movement and air


wriggling like lambs’ tails. The leaves too.

The leaves, they move like glitter with silvery flips

always catching the light. A storm will turn


the whole tree silver. I’d like to show you

this silver birch, the one I see when I

look up from my bed. The way that branch cuts


the window frame, the bigness of it; how

close it is, leaves more numerous than stars.

There is no limit to what I should like to tell you


about the silver birch, but there is a limit

to what can be said. Find yourself a silver birch,

then you will know everything.


Gregory W. Randall



The rooms are again full with you.

Air no longer circulates so freely

around an arm chair or a sofa

or the lingerie cabinet. The warmth

of an October fire’s enhanced

by your body stretched out beside me

on the couch. After long absence,

there’s a sense of background noise,

constant chatter, plans, an end to echoes.

So much so that when you lift from me,

desiring the heights of ceilings,

I’m so aware of your absent heaviness

that I grab your sleeve, hold into you

tenuous as a kite.


Woman in her Garden


The mail’s unopened.

Groceries in plastic bags

lean over themselves

on granite counters.

A briefcase collapses

on a barstool.

The kitchen’s stuffy

with all its windows still shut.


You’re out in the garden,

still in office clothes,

inspecting the progress

of tomatoes, mourning

a lettuce that’s bolted,

egging on paper wasps –

daring them to eat

all those fake, yellow ladybugs

that leave gaps in the basil.


When, at last, you enter

the kitchen, the pockets

of your linen jacket swell

with sugar snap peas,

and your pants smell

of rosemary, so much so

the cat vacates her indent

on the couch

and pads across the floor

to lick your legs,


A Small Hotel


A narrow balcony, two salt-worn deck chairs,

a foot stool with an ashtray, an iron railing

capped with a repetition of waves. And

beyond this: fragrant clusters of a Bradford

pear in bloom, the snap of international flags,

sounds of a city bus slowing for passengers,

snippets of pedestrian conversation, a tangle

of masts, the bay water jagged and chipped,

thin dashes of sail, a flotilla of clouds with

sea-green undersides. Caillebotte might’ve

painted us here, leaning over the railings in our

bathrobes, or Sisley applying a few specks

of jet-black across a patch of pale blue sky,

which suggest starlings migrating to the next

eucalyptus tree. This is what we want –

a small hotel, a morning slowly stretching

into afternoon, just enough images, just

enough splashes of seaside color to confuse

what day, what year, or even what town we’re in.


Chad Sweeney

Asylum Lake

                  Kalamazoo, Michigan


Water below water in aluminum sleeves,

dimpled, dented, hammered thin,


fish flicker the panes of pearl and jade,

myriad lily pads rippling,


no circumference but the muddy wreck

of life, greenblack and blackgreen,


surface on surface sliding, the ruffled buoyant

swans, spent milkweed in the dapple-dim,


goldenrods suspended under ash bark,

sky weightless on water, black mercury


clouds, the shapes of distance sand roots intimate

with leaf fall, the mind of nature is beautiful,


reflected in the surface, of light crossing

in shattering orbits, turtle like a green moon,


deer and the ghost of deer come together

to drink. Wind across the lake enters in


among the trees.


In the Language of Nature

                        Montara Lighthouse, California


The children

foam out across the beach,



squawk and call

to the reflective rock,

the iridescent anemone,


oysters in crevices

of silky water – one

pulls a starfish loose and runs with it.


To reach into sand is to reach

into pure gold;

I can see it in that three-year-old glee!


In gurgles and squeals

the words spill out from him

naturally, as terns feed or


clumps of beachgrass

shiver, language

inseparable from his scrawny


wrists and knees

gushes over tide pools,

withdraws. Another has formed a


lasso from that mess of kelp –

some wreckage of the unconscious

made suddenly visible.


Now the game

of taunting waves –

now the game of burial,


the feet, then the legs,

hide and seek

of the body –


And the poet’s game

of watching:

waves of green obsidian


fracture in ringlets

around the unmoving rock island,

a blooming made from rupture:


white pulsing star, black water.

I would call out to that breaking

in the first words that made the water and the rock


but I’ve forgotten them –

unless watching is a word

in that language. Look at this girl,


her eye patch

decorated with sequins,

despite the sad colorless


hand-me-down suit –

how like stone she is,

like barnacled stone


and just as old –

to remain so still

is itself a kind of motion,


removed from her brothers

on the sea-worn cypress log,

she narrows her one good eye


to watch for infinity.


Winter Proofing

                   Fennville, Michigan


Our summer chairs are stacked in the garage,

a salting of white sand from South Haven,

and in the orchard the bees pay homage

to the sweet rot of apples, while the blind raven


of the year lifts from the fence to the wire

then banks wide and drags the last light south.

A death-bloom in the sumac shakes the fire

from its leaves, and our porch sags like a mouth.


Your tricycle tips on its bent back wheel

under Grandmother’s expiring roses.

The corn fields fold like a funeral meal

over everything when October closes.


I can’t explain, son, the winters here are wild.

But God’s a part of everything. Now get inside, child.


Nicole Foreman Tong



My city is a hotbed of newly fallen crows

whose musculatures magnet to sidewalks.


They unfurl themselves into carbon dying.

Before crows, magnolia petals and the slow mechanics


of Grandmother’s wound body. Is this

the way history goes; a solitary turn


to make sense of the litany of things left?

Before this scene read, things lost to a flood,


perhaps it was the simple revelry of rising water:

two women climbing through windows, catching


drapery on their way out. Was there

joy, a rare laughter, the enviable task of sharing


without worry of anchor? Rain fell

in an empty town. That does not mean she was


a frail, ghastly flower. What I knew

of this morning, I knew with certainty:


I was the mass inhabiting my body. There

was something leading me under the blanket


of two dueling horizons. What does the earth sink into?

Its weight. Without the presence of voices,


who answers for the urging to pair things: one two?

Before the crows, no wall of glass, or forecast


of broken operations. No calculus,

cartography, or old sky gone dark. Still, my city stops


at an aftermath of could be,

strange summations beginning with crow.


Count backward with bone and age.

Given the practice to call things gone, how shall


I speak of the line which neatly remains?


Thoughts Before Self Portrait, 1981


To give up the tide of one

time means grounding the boat.

Left Cuba.


Daughter born. Died. Recovered I

and kept going. Doing

little destroys. All


that’s left is

everything. The titanic

lost. The small


stays. Fingernails,

bifocal lines,

crescent moons.


Nobody owns

O      the shape,

the sound. Hollow


in my mouth

a space that can’t be-

come anyone.


Address for My Sister


Forget about smoking weed

        with those soccer boys

               near the Methodist Church


while I said Hail Marys

        and kept watch. Shifted my weight

               from hip to hip as if to ask, Is this attractive?


Waited for feedback

        from the shadows. Forget Mom and Dad,

               you’d say, They’re some kind of crazy.


We repacked bags with the seasons. Kept them

        buried at the bottom of our closets.

               Clothing and essentials in case.


Thought one morning I’d find you

        long gone. I would have forgiven you

               since ours was a house of exit strategies.


And when, in my fifteenth year, you watched

        my slight frame get smaller

               as the car pulled away


from the boarding school parking lot,

        I knew what you knew: the difference

               between not speaking and letting something go


unspoken, between what actually happened

        and those mythologies we tell our husbands.

               We don’t say the institution’s name.


We say, Mom wigged out. We can’t

        say, That was the year dad tried to swallow life

               by its pistol end. I say, You’re such a bitch


when I mean Remember.

        You were there.

               You walked beside me each day.


Benjamin Vogt

Grandpa Anderson’s  - 1959


The food is on the table. Turkey tanned

to a cowboy boot luster, potatoes mashed

and mounded in a bowl whose lip is lined

with blue flowers linked by grey vines faded

from washing. Everyone’s heads have turned

to elongate the table’s view – a last supper twisted

toward a horizon where the Christmas tree, crowned

by a window, sets into itself half inclined.

Each belly cries. Each pair of eyes admonished

by Aunt Photographer. Look up. You’re wined

and dined for the older folks who’ve pined

to see your faces, your lives, lightly framed

in this moment’s flash. Parents are moved,

press their children’s heads up from the table,

hide their hunger by rubbing lightly wrinkled

hands atop their laps. They’ll hold the image

as long as need be, seconds away from grace.


Photograph, 1990


Before construction started my parents put

a blueprint on the kitchen table asking me

which room I’d like. Then my father fashioned

three sets of miniature ceilings out of cardboard –

using an X-Acto knife to make the angles –

and with my back against a wall he placed

them one by one above my head like half

formed continental hats I’d made in grade school.

Beneath each one I saw what it’d be like

lying awake at night on my bed, mapping out

the contours of the house that would protect

and then cast me out to a world of eight foot

ceilings flat and lacking this affection.

He said I had my choice since I was older

than my sister. It was the first time, twelve

years old and wanting to follow him, I saw

the architecture of my thoughts in form.

I felt the smooth lines above me as I reached

toward them, I felt the warmth of breath

and the heat of my face nuzzled in the safe

enclosure of that space. I felt the perfect shape

we made and see it now, again, through half

covered bones and missing doors, tall masts

of two by fours as scaffolding across

the sidewalk. I see the corner of that window,

set back and rising on the sill of one in front,

pushing light into the shadow of my home.


Coneflowers, August


Monarchs fall upon the bulbous stamens,

give form to silent, passing origins


of place that two then three remember – they fuse

their rusty hues into the petals. No breeze


or passing drizzle from low autumn clouds

unfolds these watchful wings, clasped vertical


like paper hands in prayer – the dorsal fin

of faith carving through the darkened season.


Like finials they ride the stems, complete

designs beyond immediate perception.


But even the hushed roots of last year’s growth

anticipate such ending as they push


apart the soil’s mossy flesh in spring.

Until today the blooms were anything.