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PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2013)


NICHOLAS WONG Issue 16. 2013. Page 26.

METEOROLOGY

Love makes me take climate more seriously
than myself. All because of her, the weather 

girl, who taught me Spanish by saying 
El Niño & how this has been lingering for decades. 

There are winds & they argue, 
politicians of apostasy. 
Westward draft fears eastward gale,
neither wants its past. 

I wrote her a cento: ascend to the clouds / 
but we’re crustaceans / crunchy ones. My lines 

original like her body, always in the foreground, 
between chroma-keyed high 
& low areas, strangely, not any bigger
than her hands. 

Some rumor the moon is a closet 
traveler moving 3km/year away from us, 
along its orbit of homelessness. I don’t like
the moon, a promiscuous planet – 

crescent, meniscus, eclipse, as if faithfulness 
to form is juvenile. 

Patterns are progress – I fall for 
her, who reports a firmament of temperatures 
every day. Everyone wants her 

to control their future. Not me.
I own her past on a shelf full of tapes, one 
for each forecast, but only the next day

can I know what she’s said is fact or 
allegory, or both. I shouldn’t doubt her 
flaw, her fainting accuracy. I’ve sent

her roses, but calx idly coats calyxes 
when I’m told to expect mild rain.



ALLAN PETERSON Issue 16. 2013. Page 43.

SAY THE CAUSES

This time tomorrow Jupiter will have spun around twice

and then some,

	light will have climbed down 

the chimney and gold furniture 

	will have been dragged onto the evangelist’s set.

I am sick of lords.

We do not even know where the leatherbacks go,

our own volition,

why move too soon and the bee-wolf startles

	like the one day dead.



Say the causes of Spring are the brains in the bulb roots

of perennials, 

	like crocus thinking all winter in the dark what to do.

Say all they have told us,

the eat and be eaten: live shortly, give in to the wind. 



Prophets have plants in the audience. 

	One wink is plenty and the answer appears.

They are still there, the beasts and the flower eaters, 

depending on what,

	we are still guessing.


Light is a sometime thing in this dimension, dark.

Everything’s not on fire.

Dirt is the dead and the living mixing together.

So what’s a body to do but all it can with its limits,

whatever they are,

	love like there’s no tomorrow 

with nothing but life depending on it.



JAMES CLAFFEY Issue 16. 2013. Pages 54-55.

ORDINARY TIME

When a relative dies we burn a candle in the window and draw the blinds halfway down so the house looks like it’s napping.

“The Bird is dead.” That’s what the Old Man says when he reads he obituaries in the back of the paper today. Mam nods and the kitchen is silent for a long time. The clamor of a trapped mouse changes that and the Old Man raises the rolled-up Irish Press over the creature, all furred and tense in the trap. The mouse makes frantic and the Old Man brings the paper down on the trap with a thump. A trail of yellowish red trickles from its body, and Mam shakes her head and goes to get the brush and pan to clean the floor.

“Who’s the Bird?” I ask.

Mam ignores me, pouring Dettol antiseptic on the sticky mess, wiping the guts up with a J-cloth. The Old Man has gone for his captain’s hat, the one he found on a coastguard ship last year, the bells for Mass having already rung out, and it looks like he won’t linger this morning. There’s no school because it’s a Holy Day, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Old Man is home from the oil rig for the month of February. At school the Master says it’s the fourth week of ordinary time, but it doesn’t feel ordinary at all.

“Go with your father,” Mam says, pushing me towards the front door where the Old Man is already blessing himself from the Holy Water font. It takes a minute to untangle my school scarf and pull on my anorak, and then I run down the road after him. Mam has gone back to the kitchen to clean the dishes and prepare lunch.

“Who’s the Bird, Da?” I ask again.

“Ach, some old boyfriend of your mother’s. He was planning on marrying her, until I showed up and beguiled her.”

We walk the rest of the way to church in silence, until the Old Man adds, “Oh, the Bird was hopping mad when she began to court me, by God.” There’s a funny look on his face and it seems as if he’s smiling. “I took your mother out to Inch Strand and gave her a rub of the relic and that was the end of it.” He claps his hands together and winks at me.

Later, I ask Mam what a rub of the relic means and she smacks me on the ear.




DONALD ILLICH Issue 17. 2013. Page 33.

SURGERY

I wear my scrubs to the living room.
I’m here to reconnect two arteries,
a passage between husband and wife.
 
It will take an unknown amount
of time. Instruments lay on the table:
kind words, honesty, forgiveness.
 
I open her mouth and she says,
“Why aren’t things the way they were?”
A tap on the face and he says, “I 
 
thought everything was all right with us.”
Between their flow of words,
I cut into the red pulse of language.
 
Through “Everything she does hurts me,”
to “I don’t understand what he’s thinking.”
When I discover the argument’s heart,
 
beating roughly under skin, I know
what I must do to help them.
I let each of them touch the organ.
 
If they decide to let it fall, the burst
of a balloon, it’s over.  If they bring it
to their mouths, there is life.  Still, life.



BEN BERMAN Issue 17. 2013. Page 35.

DROPPINGS

It might be the crumbled ash from a match
or toasted sesame seed off a loaf
of multi-grain bread – though my stomach

seems to know right away when there is life
behind the walls – something about the pinched
ends – no different, say, than the slightest lift

in my wife’s voice – the imperfect pitch –
that tells me she’s upset long before she tells
me she’s upset. So we learn to trust speech 

less than language – believe in the subtle
twitch of the eye over the keenly
chosen word – until a fleck of dust settles

in our eyelid just as we’re coming clean.
Or gas rises in our digestive tract,
and our boss assumes that pang in our colon

is proof of a passive-aggressive streak.
What’s left, then, but to try to ignore 
both the imprecise word and the nervous tic – 

put up walls and dismiss the gnawing
behind them, slope bricks across the top
and call it coping. Better to be wrong,

we think, better to unset the traps,
duct tape some holes and settle the mind. 
And then one day we go to fill the teapot

and find a mouse, dead, in the sink – more humane
this way, we think, but now we have to touch 
that limp body, feel its warmth in our hands.



ANGELA WOODWARD Issue 17. 2013. Pages 54-55.

SHE

The older print version weighed in at eleven pounds, the kind of book that demanded its own little display table. With the newly released electronic edition, the relationship between owner and object is normalized – the reader remains clearly in charge. The new version takes up no space at all, but hovers under our fingers, ready for waking at a touch. The editors, no longer limited by physical dimensions, have expanded the entries, operating under a philosophy of abundance. For example the entry under she:

The female person or animal being discussed or last mentioned: She was here but a moment ago. That female, that one, her. A female object or device. A ship, a hand grenade, a bomb. Alexandra, Madeleine, Sarah, Elizabeth, Ann. A man carrying himself as a woman. Archaic: child of either gender. Prepubescence. While man is a sexual being, she is only a container. Nothing has happened to her yet, and she makes nothing happen. She is our template, our stage. A doe, a fawn. A cleft in a rock. She gives us life. Angela, Isabel, Barbara. A particularly potent herb, where the ordinary one has no gender, and the efficacious one, whether anatomically of female gender or not, is she: she-vetch, she-balsam. She-cat. She-cousin. Scottish dialect: you: Has she bumped she little head? She was here a minute ago. You. Where have you gone? I smelled your shampoo on the street. Where was it coming from? I found a note in one of my books, her handwriting so potent, though it was only a list of movie times.

The accompanying illustrations rise under the cursor and with a click take the reader into a full-color video. Under street I found the modern meaning illustrated with a concrete cityscape. This dissolved into a muddy track, and then into a bare impression of paw prints disappearing into the underbrush. The word on the street, street-wise, street-cred, take us to metaphorical situations in which a street doesn’t figure at all. People stand waiting for an elevator. A waiter lays a table. Ice on a puddle trembles. An inner state of feeling that you have moved along a path: I found myself sitting with my back to the window, looking down at my knuckles. Each vignette contains multiple links, leading into or away from other definitions. Antonyms such as victorious are clear enough, as is streetless, with its unvarying gray waves rolling under gray fog, the reader lost at the railing of a wooden ship where the sailors pass behind without a word. Whistling. Whittling. To whittle. To while away the time. I haven’t seen you in awhile.

The instructions for the word origin function are far from intuitive, and embedded in an awkward block usually hidden under the upper ribbon. However, once I mastered the process, I was completely drawn into this fascinating glimpse into a word’s past. For example not twists and squirms under the etymological scalpel, springing apart into no whit, that is, the total absence of a person, a person’s abandonment by creatures living or dead, and ultimately, the loss of the spirit of the earth. The illustrations show the letters in the act of severing, next a snowfall, then a warehouse just about to take fire, and at last a close-up of the face of a radio, from which no sound emerges.




PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2012)


NATHAN E. WHITE Issue 15. 2012. Pages 6-7.

ASSIGNMENT

Twenty-eight is an odd age to die 
     not from a cancer or accident, 
 	                                   but in your sleep.
When you killed yourself I was two and a half. 

         Loss takes direction from you.

I.
From the yard, toward the closest neighbors: orchards
                                                       unattended.
Ten minutes below the house: the soft warning 
                                              of swamp.
Past the old bridge: collective farms with fields
	                          pale, consistent.
An unpaved road to mark the northern front.

II.
Fugitive – the first longing
I learned. You are always absent 
from memory. Not a flash
of you, no shadowing.

Fugitive the conviction
assigned to your name.
Nothing told of you
to keep you unknown,

where you had gone, each 
one answering one
question with another –
Ah, forget it.

III.
I have a picture of you. 
Grandmother says it is you.
I have no doubt, suspicion, or accord.
I see a young woman,
     a portrait whose background is clean, well-lit. 
On that day maybe you thought of your husband,
     how your image 
     he would be sure
     to credit.

Or already you had decided to die
     on the fifth day that November.
			
          Our teeth match.

IV.
Yet I would deny you, even more
would deny those words that nearly encircle you.
The hand that draws you is the hand of your son holding
the watch timing his attempts at breathlessness.
First without moving, then walking side to side
in his room one minute, two minutes, three –
his breathless body no match for you.

V.
I like to think you enjoyed sewing and singing in church.

I know that no degree of faith 
     recovers a suicide. The speculation exhausts me.
									
VI.
I have kept up a reasonable history, Mother.
Twenty-eight years on you. No closer.

How am I to leave you? Which half
is yours, which half circumstantial?
				
On the certificate the cause of death is exclusive.
My word against you.

VII.
There are worse things
than to have lost you 
at two and a half.
I imagine knowing
you first.



DEREK ANNIS Issue 15. 2012. Page 11.

THIS TIME OF YEAR

Condensation on the living room windows
is freezing again, creeping
until the window is a sheet
of ice. Darkness comes sooner

each day during the holiday season. Empty
chairs hold the most weight
this time of year. This time 
of year my shoulders curl
toward the center like the drying tips
of fallen leaves and I can’t stop thinking 

about the tunnels 
that run through my grandfather’s heart,
how they keep
closing up. He’s due

for another stent, and I can’t stop 
sneaking cigarettes,
thinking about all the hours I spent 
curled up behind the pipe.

I keep finding dead birds
in my poems, 
and I can’t stop tossing them
from the balcony, 
begging them to fly.


THOM CARAWAY Issue 15. 2012. Page 19.

LANGUAGE ACQUISTION

I forget the names of things,
what they stand for. Mountain
is butte. River is river, but not.
Tree is drowned. Cold, not bad.
Unspeakable, cold.
Emma puts sounds together,
names her world with syllables.
Deep in night, she wakes,
forms sounds, and comes to make them to me. 

One arm asleep, I pull her into bed, lay her between
her mother and me. I whisper forest, and she laughs.
I whisper elevation, and she says, goo-la.
I whisper home, and she whispers home.

Her head rests in the bend of my arm,
small breath warm against my skin,
as she blinks her way back to sleep.
I don’t know what woke her,
will never know the dreams
of her unformed language, 
but when she sleeps here, 
dreams until morning in the shelter
of her parents’ bodies,
she makes no noise at all.


ELISE GREGORY Issue 15. 2012. Page 30.

BENEVOLENT ME
   Inspired by Mark Strand


I give up my fingers first,
stone pillars at night.

I give you my throat.

I give up my tongue, which paddles
through my thoughts.

I give you my ribs, which embrace my heart.

I give up my lungs like swollen peonies,
who open for the gardener. 

I give you my untrustworthy thighs.

I give up my knees
like two silver bolts.

I give you my womb, a gold sliced pear.

I give you my footsteps, which crow
of my existence. 

In the giving up of me, I become
more than a narrow step in your head.


SARAH CEDEÑO Issue 15. 2012. Pages 61-66.

FLEDGLING

Sophie’s arms flapped in lowercase Vs as she pecked her plastic beak against the October evening. Her feathered headdress tethered a trail that almost reached her mother, Evelyn. Church bells clamored from one of the many village steeples, signaling that in six hours, it would be November. After the last house closed to trick-or-treaters, the pumpkins would begin warping their happy smiles into rotten oblong or smash against the cold ground, spiked by college kids. The pumpkins would reveal a few leftover seeds, now brown, but once pure enough to bake. In six hours, November would buck its hard air against the skeletal trees. Evelyn shivered.

“Quack,” Sophie said. She ran on the crisp ground along the canal, where the ducks she’d admired all summer had been.

“Soph, get off your tip-toes,” Evelyn called from behind her.

Sophie did as her mother asked, imitating the “proper” walk that the doctor had illustrated for her a week ago. After, he’d mentioned to Evelyn, in private, that he didn’t “think” Sophie had autism.

Though Sophie attempted to walk normally, Evelyn frowned. She appeared unnatural walking heel-toe, as though she were someone else. Every time Sophie slapped the ball of her foot against the ground, the failure of Evelyn’s parenting thumped inside her like a quiet tantrum.

Evelyn held her daughter’s trick or treat bag, a plaid pillowcase, weighted with suckers and crinkly candy bags. Sophie’s handmade mallard costume was her own design. Each scrap of fabric, every button and feather, was carefully selected by Sophie, and then sewn by Evelyn in front of the glow of the world news. Evelyn found peace in mending the night with Sophie. The hum of the sewing machine, the control of the levers, and Evelyn’s fingers pushing the fabric beneath the needle seamed the costume together while the world around her unraveled in gulfs of spilled oil, tsunamis, and residue of war. At some point in the night, Evelyn would see Sophie’s eyelids fight sleep, and eventually give way to heavy breath and slight twitches. Evelyn imagined Sophie’s tendons quieting, too, gathering strength beneath her skin for the next day.

You’re something, all right, Evelyn always told Sophie, but left out that she was the product of uninhibited pleasure – a mix of vodka and techno, of abandon and expression. Sophie was the result of a night that went on for months. The relationship between Evelyn and Ben, Sophie’s father, soured too early to support its own life.

Some days, Evelyn was tired of bearing the worry about Sophie alone. Ben wouldn’t have been the right one. She didn’t even have to remind herself. Evelyn saw Ben in Sophie – not just in her eyes that squinted even when wide open, or the freckles that made her face sweet even when angered, but in the way she absorbed facts to make life easier to bear.

At Sophie’s school, Evelyn was an amateur among professional mothers.  The teachers looked at Evelyn suspiciously when they reported that Sophie stayed inside during recess, where they kept those who were being punished, to read a wizard book or examine the ant farm.

Though no one said anything, Evelyn knew by the way kids looked at Sophie, who perched on her toes, they were watching. In the middle of the night, Sophie howled like a siren, so loud Evelyn imagined she was dreaming the haunted cries of the world. But it was always Sophie, with pains in her ankles and calves. Evelyn flexed Sophie’s foot heel to toe as her doctor prescribed. Evelyn would say, “Sophie, they are just growing pains. It won’t last forever,” and Evelyn knew Sophie believed her.

When the doctor asked Evelyn how Sophie was doing in school, Evelyn lied as though she were doing her daughter a favor. As far as the doctor knew, Sophie had an armful of best friend bracelets and ate her lunch at a chattering table.  Her grades were fine, but it was the social aspect that worried Evelyn. It was no surprise to Evelyn that Sophie didn’t want to be a part of the witch clan for Halloween, or a princess, or an angel.

The canal bridge lights carved out Sophie’s shadow against the grass, making her taller than she was – even on her toes. Evelyn was pleased at the large shadow Sophie cast against the land, at how indistinguishable her daughter had become from herself.


#

Ten years ago, Evelyn had dressed as a black cat, and Ben, a migrant worker. After the Halloween party, he pulled her to the canal path. The moon hung fat and heavy behind the rails of the lift bridge.

“Did you know Halloween is a religious holiday?” Ben had asked Evelyn.

“You believe that?” Evelyn asked.

“Seriously. It’s a celebration of sainthood and martyrdom,” Ben said.

“What do you know about saints and sacrifice?” Evelyn asked.

“I read about it for class,” Ben said.

“Do you read the newspaper?” Evelyn asked.

“You know I do,” Ben said. “What does that matter?”

“Are you going to Afghanistan?” Evelyn asked.

“The only war I fight is when you open your mouth,” Ben said.

Evelyn giggled. “Oh my god. The moon,” she said.

“Yep. It’s there. Hasn’t been destroyed by terrorists,” Ben said.

“Shut up. It’s beautiful. Come back to my apartment so I can get my camera,” Evelyn said. “I want to take a picture.”

“What are you? A photographer now?” Ben asked.

“I’d rather be a photographer than . . . than . . . ”

“Dirty Sanchez,” Ben said and pointed to his fake black mustache. Evelyn couldn’t excuse hanging out with him. He was a bartender at The Canal Bench, and she was too young to drink there. She had no fake ID. He let her friends in with her. It was convenience.

Ben threw his sombrero down on the brick path, as though he were preparing for something. The knot of his poncho pushed against his neck.

“You’re disgusting,” Evelyn said.

“And you’re a cat,” Ben said, sliding his hand along Evelyn’s black tail. He picked up his sombrero and sat it on Evelyn’s head. “The cat in the hat,” he said.

“Clever,” Evelyn said.

After taking off his caterpillar of a mustache, Ben smoked a cigarette, sighing after each puff. She watched the tip blaze and smolder into ash, wondering how he found peace in something so violent. He’d kissed her harder than she wanted that night.


#

In August, Evelyn took Sophie biking down the canal path. They tossed stale bread against the rocks and watched the ducks snatch them up. Surrounded by drying blades of grass and unlit fireflies, Sophie told her mother she was going to dress as a male duck for Halloween. “They are the prettier ones,” she said. “I want real duck feathers, too.”

When Evelyn placed the feathered headdress on Sophie’s head at their apartment door before they left to collect Halloween candy, Sophie giggled.

“What?” Evelyn asked.

“It’s really pretty,” Sophie said, checking herself in the wall mirror.

“Yes it is,” Evelyn said.

“Cassie wanted me to be a princess, but I like this way better than a crown,” Sophie said. “And it’s okay we didn’t have real duck feathers. They would have had germs from the boy ducks.”

On Mondays, Sophie and Evelyn would go to the library. Sophie would gather duck books, check them out, and read them front to back and over again. The following Monday, they would pedal over the canal bridge to the library to exchange those books for more. Sophie took the books to bed with her and read them with a flashlight far past her bedtime. Evelyn let her tuck them away with her. In the morning, Evelyn would wake Sophie by lifting the picture book off her chest, and Sophie would look up at her with the very same eyes, it seemed, as the ducks on the cover.

Evelyn even read a few of the books, believing that they held some secret, some goodness Sophie saw that sh didn’t.

“Did you know ducklings can swim right after they’re born?” Sophie asked one night during dinner. She licked the butter off her bread and left a smear on the corner of the page with her index finger.

“No, but it makes sense,” Evelyn said.

“How does that make sense? I didn’t know how to walk when I was born,” Sophie said. “And,” Sophie said, flipping the page. “It says here that mothers abandon their own ducklings if a Redhead lays its eggs in their nest.”

“What are you reading? A redhead? Jesus,” Evelyn said.

“A Redhead, Mom. It’s a kind of duck. And their abandoned babies are called foundlings,” Sophie said. Evelyn grabbed the book from Sophie.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Sophie,” Evelyn said. “Some things you just shouldn’t read.”

“Come on,” she said. “The next page tells how sometimes ducks eat frogs. It’s in the picture.”

Evelyn fanned the book’s pages and closed it. “No,” she said.

After Sophie went to bed, Evelyn sat down with a glass of wine and read All About Ducks. She was as far as page thirty-eight before she reached the chapter on breeding. In the photo along the margin of the page, two adorned ducks prodded at a female duck, and, according to the caption, would not stop until the female gave in to them. Evelyn knew Sophie would ask questions Evelyn couldn’t answer if her small world dissolved into torment. Evelyn tore the page from the book and rolled it into a little globe of terror.

“If you go to France next year, you can’t dress up for Halloween,” Ben had said that Halloween night on the canal path. He knew Evelyn had applied to art school in France. “The French didn’t learn about Halloween until 1996,” he said.

“No. What? I don’t believe that,” Evelyn said.

“Sure you still wanna go to France?” Ben asked.

“I’m not sure I want to leave my apartment some days,” Evelyn said.

Evelyn had nearly changed her mind about flying to France for art school in September of that year, when she’d watched the campus ROTC step in sync, chanting outside her Main Street apartment. Her television screen still showed the burning towers, lighting at the tips like cigarettes stood upright, fallen to ashes as though the world were their tray. The news coverage made Evelyn want to pull her shades closed, but that wouldn’t be fair. She felt guiltily safe for a moment, looking down from her window at the trail of college boys that moved forward like army men.

That night, she woke to a humming noise from the street, and imagined the sirens prompting children of the cold war generation to crunch up under their school desks, and their parents to construct bomb shelters on their property. She swore she felt the toppling of a building, its staff workers glimpsing the nearby elementary school on their way to the pavement. This is not how Evelyn would paint the world.

She called Ben. It was three in the morning. He didn’t answer.

She took the phone with her to the window as though there would be someone on the line. The street cleaner moved along the sidewalk pushing debris, a pizza box, a random wrapper. She knew life would go on until she no longer woke when the street cleaner scuffed past her building.


#

Sophie’s face lit up when Evelyn stepped out of her own image. Evelyn wore a costume every year.  This year, she was a cowgirl. Sophie had wanted her to dress as a frog, but Evelyn insisted that her costume had to be human. After Evelyn convinced Sophie that she was not going to hop around in green cellophane, Sophie put an iridescent frog sticker on Evelyn’s felt cowgirl hat.

Since giving birth to Sophie, Evelyn felt that she was borrowing her own life from her daughter.  The size-six thrift store cowboy boots that Sophie had picked out for her were hard against her heels and made her pinky toes numb.

“Mom, keep up,” Sophie said.

“If you had invited Cassie to come with us, you wouldn’t have to keep me so close,” Evelyn said.

“I told you, Mom, she went with the other girls. It’s okay. Anyway, I don’t need friends for trick-or-treating.”

Sophie remembered that Ben wasn’t around sometimes, and asked where he was. Evelyn couldn’t be sure where he’d gone since graduation. It wasn’t a lie when Evelyn told Sophie her father didn’t want to be a part of her life. It was a small tragedy that Sophie didn’t know her father, but it gave Evelyn delight that she could steal her daughter away from the world.


#

Ben was hung over when Evelyn told him about the pregnancy. It was May, and he planned to move back home to teach history in the fall. Before, they fought about the budding war, who to have drinks with, how Ben thought Evelyn was overcome with fear, but they both agreed not to see the pregnancy through. Ben’s face dropped all worry.

Evelyn went to a hospital alone, to a brick building meant for saving lives. She fidgeted in the waiting room, reading a coffee-ringed article with war headlines of sand, success and defeat – too many high stakes. She wondered what the definition of success was anymore. When the nurse called Evelyn from her seat, she was surprised. The nurse was young and friendly. And pregnant.

Evelyn’s nervousness made her worry that she was feeling fetal movement.

“Is that the baby moving in there?” she asked the nurse.

“Where? In you? Already? No. You’re not that far along. Try to relax,” the nurse said.

While reclined on the examination table, Evelyn babbled about the strange weather lately, how she was afraid the next suicide bomber would walk right onto her campus, how she no longer wanted to open her mail. The nurse had turned the ultrasound machine away from Evelyn and nodded as she peered in on Sophie, who was still just a bean in Evelyn’s body. The nurse’s belly hovered like a planet near Evelyn’s own still-flat abdomen. She tried to imagine the baby behind the nurse’s powder blue shirt. This morning, Evelyn woke up and placed her hand just below her belly button, apologizing for what she was about to do.

“It scares me to think what will happen next,” the nurse said.

Evelyn paused with her mouth slightly open.

“I mean with all the terror. I can’t make sense of the world,” the nurse said.

Evelyn heard her own pulse, a film of static bending in her ears from the machine. She felt warm, and told herself there were four heartbeats in that sterile room. The cold jelly on her abdomen produced an image she couldn’t see with the monitor turned facing the door. A stranger entering the room would have more vision than Evelyn.


#

Away from the lights of the bridge, the canal was invisible, and Evelyn had lost sight of Sophie’s reflective strip. “Soph,” Evelyn called. “Come back here. Let’s go get some more candy. The Sharps are giving out king-sized again this year.  Besides, the ducks have gone south for the winter.” Sophie knew this, Evelyn thought.

“No, Mom. I just saw a fledgling. I swear it,” Sophie said, her voice dwindling between the trees and wind.

“A fledgling?” Evelyn asked, not looking for an answer. She couldn’t remember when Sophie stopped calling her "Mommy."

Sophie insisted the duck was huddled against the bank of the canal, which had still not been drained for the winter. She flipped up on the balls of her feet, as though her curiosity pushed her up through her skin. If it weren’t for the headdress, the costume would resemble a scarecrow.  When Evelyn stared enough, she found threads peeking from the seams, the wool nearly separating.  Some kids mistook Sophie for a Native American, and made noises hooting and slapping their hands to their mouths. To Evelyn and her daughter, the majestic weave of emerald feathers was a costume itself.

“Sophie. Stop. Stop right there,” Evelyn called. Her pace increased, but not fast enough.

The day Evelyn decided to keep Sophie, she left the hospital with the medication clacking in an unlabeled bottle. When she got home, she threw the orange pill-bottle in the trash can along with the pamphlets for the French art program, and then ate a cheeseburger.

Evelyn hadn’t told Sophie about any of it, but wished Sophie knew how she struggled to keep her, still.

Something splashed in the canal, an accidental splash, too large to be a thrown rock, a blind squirrel, a grenade.

“Mommy,” Sophie called.

The canal water was fatigue-gray. An unfriendly wash of pop bottles and paper would litter the edge of the canal once mid-November came.

Sophie splashed in the water.

This can’t be, Evelyn thought. She yelled for Sophie and finally saw the reflectors on her mallard head forcing the water up.

Sophie’s brown hair splayed, framing the feathers, as her head fell under again. Evelyn couldn’t see where to dive in after her. She jumped in anywhere. She hunted clumsily in the mess of the canal for Sophie, the duck feathers, her beak. Anything. Finally, a gasp. Evelyn stretched her legs to touch the bottom with her toes, to walk to Sophie, but her feet met nothing.

People gathered on their cell phones, all calling emergency, all squeezing their children’s hands. The parade of disguises stared down at Evelyn, so foreign, like they might have been a world away. They flailed their arms and begged them both to come out.

Evelyn grasped the beak that had covered Sophie’s mouth not five minutes ago, and refused to crawl from the canal.


SILAS HANSEN Issue 15. 2012. Pages 67-68.

THE MASCULINITY TEST

I started working at the restaurant the summer I was sixteen, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I worked in the kitchen with a bunch of guys – the only women were the waitresses, and they felt like a completely different social class; they dressed nicely and flirted with customers, and we stayed in the back, away from the public eye. But I belonged in the kitchen. That’s where I could relax, could turn off the side of my brain that worried about things like learning to drive and my mom’s best friend who was dying of cancer and the feelings I was starting to have for my best friend but couldn’t quite explain, even to myself. I could wash dishes and scrub pots and pans and joke around with the guys and feel like I was one of them.

Months after I started working there, just before school started, I was standing in the alley on a smoke break with Sean, my favorite cook. I didn’t smoke – had asthma, in fact, and had to stand on the opposite side of the alley to avoid breathing it in – but Sean always made me go outside with him when he took breaks. We would stand out there and talk as long as we could, desperate for some fresh air, for a building to lean against, even if we couldn’t sit down, and take just a little bit of pressure off of our feet.

Sean was thirty-two to my sixteen, but that didn’t stop us from becoming what I thought of as friends. I had spent most of my life feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere – I had friends, of course, but none of them really understood me. It was more than just the fact that I couldn’t stop looking at my best friend’s chest during math class, or that I constantly thought about what it would be like to kiss her while I should have been listening to what she was saying. They didn’t know those things, though Sean had figured it out, and teased me mercilessly in private even though I had confirmed nothing.

Still, I could see it in their eyes sometimes, when I talked about my plans for college and after, about how I couldn’t wait to leave our tiny hometown, in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, and never come back. Even if they didn’t say it, I could always feel the question bubbling up in the space between us: “But why?” Sean was different, though. He had grown up there, too, and had moved away when he dropped out of high school when he was sixteen. He would tell me stories sometimes, about the places he had lived before coming back after his dad died and he had to take care of his mom – Austin, Nashville, Brooklyn, Chicago. He understood why I wanted to leave, knew because he had tasted the outside world for himself and then found himself stuck there again, with no chance for escape.

And so that night, standing in the alley between the restaurant and the abandoned building next door, I stood with my back against the brick while Sean stood on the other side, lighting his cigarette in the dark. He took a few drags, then looked at me and smirked. “Hey Hansen,” he said. “Look at your fingernails.”

I asked why, but he just repeated the command. So I did it, folding my fingers toward my palm, as if I was making a fist, but looser. I studied my nails carefully. “Okay,” I said, “what am I supposed to see?”

Sean was too busy laughing to respond for a moment, and then he coughed before finally catching his breath. Then he told me to look at the bottom of my shoe.

I was used to Sean playing practical jokes on me, to him being kind of a jerk. He would put handfuls of flour in my soda sometimes, and once he wrapped my car in duct tape and saran wrap so I had to cut through it to drive home after work. And I was growing my hair out that summer, in an attempt to look more feminine, but it was stuck in that awkward stage where it was too long to be a guy’s haircut and too short to really look like a girl’s. He told me I looked like Oliver Twist, which I still don’t understand – but that didn’t stop him from calling me “Oliver” all summer. But this was different: I couldn’t see what Sean’s desired result was.

I didn’t ask this time, though, because I knew he’d just tell me to do it again, and keep telling me to until I did. So I brought my right foot up off the ground, bending my leg at the knee and crossing it over in front of my left. I held my bulky black sneaker – Vans, if I remember correctly – and looked at the sole.

Sean laughed so hard he dropped his half-smoked cigarette on the ground. I had no idea what he thought was so funny, but I knew it was about me, and I knew it couldn’t be a good thing. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “Wow, Hansen, I always knew you were really a dude.”

He started making a list of new names he could call me – Luke, Larry, Leonardo – anything other than Lindsay, my birth name, which he never called me anyway. He laughed until he sent himself into another coughing fit, and I stood there, my face burning, not sure how to respond.

I’ve thought about this moment a lot in the almost-nine years since, as I’ve slowly made the social and medical transition to living my life as male. And even though I know – knew, even then, when I had lived my whole life in a place where things like how you hold your body and how you look at your fingernails determine your masculinity – that Sean’s game was stupid, that it doesn’t matter that I gave him the “masculine” answers to the test anymore than if I had looked at my nails by holding my hand up in front of me, palm out, fingers straight in the air, this moment still matters. It matters because of how embarrassed I felt, standing there in that alley while Sean laughed – not because of my answers, but because it felt like Sean had exposed something important about me, something so hidden that even I didn’t know it yet.




PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2011)


JONATHAN FARMER Issue 14. 2011. Pages 10-11.

JELLYFISH

1.
Ancestral, alien, they pulse, 
they press against the water, 
slow as breath. 
They hover, glassed-in: 
hearts kept in a jar, the brain 
suspended in its case; elaborate 
but elemental; otherworldly, 
oddly human, shades. At times, 
among them, I have felt it: 
the privacy of matter, the permeated 
inwardness of flesh; 
from which the mind comes; out of which 
the manifold wet organ blooms 
with all its inwardness intact. 
A kind of consciousness: they ride 
the currents, tracking plankton 
by tracking light, but trail 
their tentacles behind them like a ghost 
whose last gown, tattered, 
floats on air the ghost-flesh doesn’t feel. 
                  
Engines of survival 
made up mostly of their element: 
the sea spits them out and they collapse.
Kids poke at them with flip-flops, shovels, sticks. 
No longer medium to motion it creates, 
their flesh becomes a stubborn bubble, 
the brain’s forgetfulness once all the thoughts are gone. 

But when they move, they matter. They enchant. 
Impersonal, unthinkable, with abstract grace they dance 
on currents they divert with every pulse. 
Only eating, only eating, they exult 
and send a careless ripple down their limbs. 
Nothing else as strange can draw me in. 
Faceless, sideless, eyeless, indistinct, 
they are not us. And yet to watch them is to sense 
the matter of oneself, slowed as light is bent 
by water — light absorbed and light dispersed 
until there is no light at all. Across a net of nerves, 
jellyfish conduct the stuff of thought 
in utter thoughtlessness — nothing gathered, nothing brought 
through time within the tenure of a self. 
No self. No jellyfish. No bell 
inflating like a lung on a machine. 
No less unreal for being seen, 
they spread through thought like ink 
in water, mindlessness in mind —
until, confused with thought, the thoughtlessness breaks down. 

2.
Beneath the water’s surface, the pool became no place, 
my self no self, the shards of sound a sacristy, their grace 
became my grace. I was a kid. I went there to escape. 
It felt profound — my eyes closed, sense deranged. 
Sounds turned into substance, each the same, 
each echoing its medium as it estranged 
all habits except grandeur. That inflamed. 
Air called me back. It sought its level and I went, 
following the pull into a human element 
where sounds were sounds I knew. Up there, the spirit lost its shape, 
a bubble snapping on the surface as the water edged and thinned 
and broke and blew away. Now I need more stable forms 
to call that spirit back. Much more than jellyfish, the norm 
has been the sight of others’ rooms 
when I’m walking home at night. The spirit blooms 
in strangeness, and this is as far as I want to go —
a few blocks down, where living shows
as a potential, a freeing sense that most of what I know
is once again unknown, but knowable;
that this is all, that this can last,
that there is nothing missing here that would be missed.
As I look, a man walks in and pulls a wine bottle from the rack.
The spirit leaps up, summoned, sensing it exists.



HOLLY VIRGINIA CLARK Issue 14. 2011. Pages 18-19.

THE BIRDHOUSE

In the last box, a pigeon sleeps,
in the last glass box, sleeping 
with her head tucked against her breast, 
head tucked in, wings 
flicking out and tucking in 
in her dreaming, dreaming 
herself away, starting awake 
from the spasm of a dream, 
waking, shaking awake,
shaking, my heart jumps up, 
though I swallow it down, swallow 
hard, as if I’m dreaming, heart jumping —
she has my face,
eyes that wrinkled walnut brown,
my face, locks of hair pulsing 
around her cheeks in the little eddies 
her panting makes, making her face 
at me, her gaze the long-forlorn, 
as my mother used to say, 
and her lips, the long-forlorn, 
moving silently, forlornly, 
I can’t hear you, I say, 
which is true, she has my face, 
which is true, the long-forlorn, 
I guess she wants out, out 
of the silent glass box, out 
of the long-forlorn, 
the little eddies, swallowing, 
I can’t help you, I lie, 
she lifts her belly, 
lifting so I can see her egg, the mess 
she lies in, the shattered, wet 
mess she’s sheltering, she’s 
knocking her toes against the glass, 
I can’t help you, which is true, 
I can’t hear you, 
which is true, I can’t,
the long-forlorn throbbing 
in her throat, her toes knocking 
against the glass, throat 
throbbing in song, Hold, Hold,  
she sings, to the wet, shattered mess, 
to the wet, sheltered mess 
under her belly, she sings, sings, 
this strangest of birds, 
hold, hold, she croons, 
I can’t, I lie, hold, hold 
this strangest of birds, 
I lie against the glass box, 
the silent box she sings inside of, 
lifting her belly, watching the yolky bones, 
I lie against the glass box, 
the silent glass box singing inside itself 
inside me, she sings, watching 
the bones sinking, the yolk and bones 
sinking inside her nest, under her belly, 
sinking, I lie, I hold my belly, sinking, I 
can’t help you, holding the glass, 
lying against the glass, panting, swallowing 
my bony heart, belly throbbing, little eddies 
singing in my belly, lifting, a shattering 
like bones in my belly, I can’t hear you, 
belly sinking, singing, hold, hold 
these yolky bones, the sinking nest, hold,  
hold, the ragged forlorn.



LISA AKUS Issue 14. 2011. Page 36.

PUMPKIN POEM (UNTITLED)

This pumpkin she is
carved into that small orange dress
of another color
one might call “little black”
but that is a different purpose —
to see her tonight 
is to walk shoeless among the earth
from which she grew
the twirling vines of hair
that coil along the stump of her neck,
when you get there
will you drink the early autumn
rain collected in her collar?
And though she sits  
on the round of her rind
asking you to pick her, she is not
meant for a lover’s tongue,
for the sight of her alone is 
a dance you’ve tried to remember
the taste of from long ago
as the movement of still
winds in your empty mouth.



MARTHA SILANO Issue 14. 2011. Page 43.

SIZE

What she thought was large — a 64-ounce Big Gulp, 
boxcars creaking from one end of town to the other, 

Jupiter’s red spot, the silvery, sweeping pinwheel galaxy —
are tinier than the tiniest bone in a pygmy shrew. 

Big, it turns out, is 300,000 light-years wide, 
a dark corona surrounding the Milky Way, 

which it wears like the halo of an angel 
in mourning, a cloud-like penumbra, a gypsy’s 

funereal kerchief ten times the size of every visible star, 
every trace of dust, gasp of gas, each planetary speck. 

Try that on for size. Try on the black babushka 
beyond which everything else is shroud-less mycoplasma. 

This is the size of her thoughts as she walks down row after row 
at the Tomb of the Unknowns, lowers her small and uncloaked head.


KEETJE KUIPERS Issue 14. 2011. Page 49.

LETTER TO AN INMATE IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

We all want to know our worth, the value
of a tin can, a newspaper in the rain.

You must remember the rain – its teeth,
its tongue? Think of what it’s been made

into, how it’s been transformed: solid, liquid,
gone. Sometimes I put my fingers in my mouth

and chew on what they’ve done. Do you ever
do that? Do you count the bricks?

That’s what we do on the outside, too.
We make them and then we count them.

I read in the paper they’re closing down the mill,
talking about condos, selling it off at auction

machine by tired machine. But killing something
can take a long time. I cut down a tree

and it took all day. First an ax, then a saw,
then dragging it up the hill like a dead body –

all heavy and already forgotten. I used
some beautiful old blade to strip off the bark in curls.

It smelled like a new house, except I wasn’t
building a house. I left it out in the field

for a year of rain. Try not to ask yourself
what this waiting means or why you’re held inside it.


PHILIP METRES Issue 14. 2011. Page 50.

LETTERS TO ST. PETERSBURG


window to the wistful you kept me
up at nights / puppeteer your strings of light / untether 
us from beds / you’ve framed yourself / not to be framed
unmateable untranslateable you my words shoaled in shallows
you seas I wallow in / I flail to seize you again / see you in 
washed-out image on my office wall / the lurid cathedral
built on spilt blood / this Midwestern sun erases
alluring city in which I lose & lore you
where gradeschool children could not help / but throw snowballs
over the mass grave at Pokrovsky / where I skittered over history
apparition of Gandlevsky shaking shaking Gogol & Dostoyevsky
you unowned & owed / how the cameras came / eras seared on eyes
how many dreams I’ve wandered in our neural galleries 
where your countless winter face framed by kerchief ascended past 
as I descended the terminal escalator sans guile & lyre
turning to you so that I could see what I would love
& lose forever / those interminable days

where saffron insides of apartments gilded the gray outside
where camera the room in which I hide / to hold you
where the mooring of albums & digital nets 
emptied / where my words herded everything but the you of you
this is the same song harped on the same strand of sand
this is the problem of words & now again the ghost ship of a building
skeleton scaffolds where torn plastic tarps masked as unlashed sails
flagellate the stone / shred themselves / a history of the self
where all the windows eye the shoreline 
O inward window / carved from ribcage
& flight / O windward gate of the mouth locked & jawed
I’ve gotten no closer to you, cursed & dear city, than to my death!
to burn posthumously like a word / an echo of dusk
you of the summer sun never ceasing to sing
to you I cede / urn of eyes / to you I turn return to you 
whatever I’ve taken / sudden blood briny in 
my mouth / city 
seeded in me
if only to spread open the holy psalter of you 
& be spread open / voice of my voice, shoulder 

open my soiled throat



PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2010)


KATHRYN NUERNBERGER Issue 13. 2010. Pages 6-8.

TRANSLATIONS

I want to believe we can’t see anything we don’t have a word for.

When I look out the window and say green, I mean sea green,
I mean moss green, I mean gray, I mean pale and also 
electrically flecked with white and I mean green 
in its damp way of glowing off a leaf.

Schiele’s Green, the green of Renaissance painters,
is a sodium carbonate solution heated to ninety degrees
as arsenious oxide is stirred in. Sodium displaces copper,
resulting in a green precipitate that is sometimes used 
as insecticide. When I say green I mean 
a shiny green bug eating a yellow leaf.

Before synthetics, not every painter could afford a swathe 
of blue. Shocking pink, aka neon aka kinky pink,
wasn’t even on the market. I want to believe Andy Warhol 
invented it in 1967 and ever since no one’s eyes
have been the same. There were sunsets before, 
but without that hot shocking neon Marilyn, a desert sky 
was just cataract smears. I want to believe this.

The pale green of lichen and half-finished leaves 
filling my window is a palette very far from carnation
or bougainvillea, but to look out is to understand it is not,
is to understand what it is not. I stare out the window a lot. 
Between the beginning and the end the leaves unfolded. 
I looked out one morning and everything was unfamiliar
as if I was looking at the green you could only see
if you’d never known synthetic colors existed. 

I’ve drawn into myself, people say. 
We understand, they say.

There are people who only have words for red 
and black and white, and I wonder if they even see 
the trees at the edge of the grass 
or the green storms coming out of the west. 
There are people who use the same word for green 
and red and brown, and I wonder if red 
seems so urgently bright pouring from the body 
when there is no green for it to fall against.

In his treatise on color Wittgenstein asked, 
“Can’t we imagine certain people
having a different geometry of colour than we do?”

I want to believe the eye doesn’t see green until it has a name, 
because I don’t want anything to look the way it did before.

Van Gogh painted pink flowers, but the pink faded
and curators labeled the work “White Roses” by mistake.

The world in my window is a color the Greeks called chlorol.
When I learned the word I was newly pregnant
and the first pale lichens had just speckled the silver branches.
The pines and the lichens in the chill drizzle were glowing green
and a book in my lap said chlorol was one of the untranslatable
words. The vibrating glow pleased me then, as a finger
dipped in sugar pleased me then. I said the word aloud
for the baby to hear. Chlorol. I imagined the baby
could only see hot pink and crimson inside its tiny universe, 
but if you can see what I’m seeing, the word for it 
is chlorol. It’s one of the things you’ll like out here.

Nineteenth-century critics mocked painters who cast shadows
in unexpected colors. After noticing green cypresses do drop red
shadows, Goethe chastised them. “The eye demands
completeness and seeks to eke out the colorific circle in itself.”
He tells of a trick of light that had him pacing a row of poppies
to see the flaming petals again and figure out why.

Over and over again Wittgenstein frets the problem of translucence.
Why is there no clear white? 
He wants to see the world through white-tinted glasses, 
but all he finds is mist.

At first I felt as if the baby had fallen away
like a blue shadow on the snow.

Then I felt like I killed the baby
in the way you can be thinking about something else
and drop a heavy platter by mistake.

Sometimes I feel like I was stupid
to have thought I was pregnant at all.

Color is an illusion, a response to the vibrating universe
of electrons. Light strikes a leaf and there’s an explosion
where it lands. When colors change, electromagnetic fields
are colliding. The wind is not the only thing moving the trees.

Once when I went into those woods I saw a single hot pink orchid
on the hillside and I had to keep reminding myself not to 
tell the baby about the beautiful small things I was seeing. 
So, hot pink has been here forever and I don’t even care 
about that color or how Andy Warhol showed me an orchid.
I hate pink. It makes my eyes burn.



NATHAN McCLAIN Issue 13. 2010. Page 22.

MAN REFLECTING ON MAN 

One man made of breath caresses furniture
Left on a lawn overnight. Another 

Man made of sawdust separates when kissed
By wind. He coats the inside of a coffee mug

Waiting to be filled with sunlight.
One man tucks himself behind I. Another

Pours his nearsightedness into a spyglass
Sees the sea lapping itself, sees the forest

Falling open like a mouth, tree limbs hung limp
With fruit. One man dreams himself a stone

Lodged in the slingshot’s jaw, dreams himself
The door of an unspoken word. Another

Hears a voice & echoes the voice he hears.
One man’s lips touch lips smudging

A wine glass, the way one cigarette sets another
One aflame. Then, in the bright doorway

Of the unspoken word, a silhouette appears.



ELIZABETH TWIDDY Issue 13. 2010. Pages 24-25.

TO WILL:

Well! Here we are together, all alone.
You look a little white, but not angry.
With that loop of rope around your neck, the hole
of your mouth, stunned, you look struck by fear.
You’re pinned neatly in this tree –Whoosh! Wings
flush out in the distant woods, a blue

sound. You know, in the pre-dawn light, everything is blue.
It reminds me of a time I woke up alone,
barefoot, in the woods. I’d been sleepwalking. The sound of wings
woke me up. First I was startled, then angry
at myself for panicking: I was lost with no light. Fear
choked me. How would I find my way home? Holes

in the black sky made chinks of light between pines. Holes
in the ground were visible now: my footprints, blue
in the damp earth. I followed them home without fear.
Will, are you afraid of being alone?
I must admit I feel a little angry
seeing you hanging here. Are you listening? Wings

are pulsing everywhere. Inside us, beyond us, wings
are thundering. I imagine you now in a kind of hole,
a vacuum, no light, no sound, but full of anger.
Do you remember the time I turned blue?
When I woke up, my chest felt bruised. I was alone;
I couldn’t breathe. The world of my mind turned white with fear.

I went to the emergency room where doctors thrushed with fear
like birds in their white coats, fluttering their wings
around the x-rays. They left me on the steel table alone
while they chittered among themselves. I felt myself sink in a hole
of white light, until I was aware of nothing. Blue,
when I woke up. Blue veins, blue gown, blue tube. Angry

wings above my head. White light, pixels of angry
light thrashing madly. The tube was a plastic hole, like fear
running air into my lung, tissue paper, blue,
saying yes pink, saying no blue, my lungs, like wings
catching new wind, my delicate, flimsy hole,
and lo and behold I was still alive and alone.


When they beat their angry wings,
do you feel fear inside your hole?
You bastard, I’m blue, and alone.




JEANNINE HALL GAILEY Issue 13. 2010. Page 37.

SHE JUSTIFIES RUNNING AWAY

I just wanted to be somewhere
I could smell lemon trees in April
where the sea wind wasn’t quite as cold
(you know this damp grows in my lungs
like a plague) and the sky a bit less weepy.
I missed my land of pomegranates and figs,
of ripe cheese and blood orange,
the tart black taste of volcanic soil.
It wasn’t you, sweet prince, or our tiny castle
(the dust mounting in closets) or the crying
wounded mouths of children.
It was sunlight that burned my memory.
It was my lips that craved a sweeter fruit.
It was the citrus blossoms in spring,
the twisted cypresses, the warm salt air.
It was the white, frolicking goats in me that called.
I will shuck myself open to the blue hot world.




CHRIS DOLLARD Issue 13. 2010. Page 41.

SOLITARY (BRAVE)

Everything I know about prison
I learned from you

when I was five. I asked how many 

birthday parties you missed and why
you dug a hole through your closet

into mine with a pencil 

to pass me notes,
both of us huddled in places

where we knew we shouldn’t be.

We heard heavy footfalls
that somehow never found us.

You drew stick figures in striped pajamas.

You said, That’s what we are,
but I thought I wasn’t. 

I could still leave my room.

You weren’t allowed to,
and every note you pushed

through plaster I didn’t understand.

I only saw the alphabet, letters
I was still learning. 

You sat in each corner 

of your room, dreaming 
of sheets tied together 

out the window, 

of scaling walls, of running 
through the woods with me.




JEFF TIGCHELAAR Issue 13. 2010. Page 49

ONE WAY OF LOOKING AT THIRTEEN BLACKBIRDS

A black cat crossing your path is bad for luck, it’s said.
But to cross the path of thirteen blackbirds –
that has to be a sign. There’s meaning
in the way they’re sitting on that line
side by shadowy side,
yellow eyes unblinking,
staring down at you 
all of one mind, 
just waiting
to dive.





PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2009)


MARIA MELENDEZ Issue 12. 2009. Page 6.

TO SURVIVE INSIDE THE WHEEL OF DAYS

“Crocodile mama, crank open those jaws,
let twenty wriggling pipsqueaks out to swim,” we say

to a human soul that’s lay too long in its swamp bottoms,
to a spark of God suffocating in a muddy mind. If 

the soul’s chilled by a deadly bond to what should’ve been lost, 
we call, “Mountain wind, snap gold from the aspen nodes, 

cover the summer-dun fields with flutter and color.” In our 
bethel of remedies, we, the blue-striped lizard ladies, 

welcome all bedraggled spirits — those with hands 
that do nothing but pick at blisters, the whimperers, those with hair 

that’s forsaken its snake-power, all of its nerve – and we feed them
the savory decay of a desert sheep baked on the boulders, 

horns and all. We keep the coyotes away so they, 
the human souls, can limp and dither their way to a meal,

and when they’re sated, we bathe their hands in the salt-and-sage-
spiced blood of jack-rabbits and ask them to do what they came here for: 

“Scrape off those brittle old skins you slither around in,” which aren’t 
their bodies, but the doubts of their bodies, crusted and constricting. 

We cache away earthquakes, stone knives, burst clouds, flowers, 
cures for every form of heartache . . . but try to make 

a grab for us, we’ll break tail and run. Instead, 
step sideways into our sandstone home, light as a dusky 

breeze that’s come from the river. If you wait with the flooded 
senses and tensile crouch of a kangaroo mouse, we’ll find you 

varnished with shadows, your layered fears a carving surface 
for our primal glyphs: paw, talon, feather, scale, maw.




PAISLEY REKDAL Issue 12. 2009. Page 8-9.

BODY OF STUFFED FEMALE FOX, NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

Nothing ever was this slinking, vicious, 
glass eye embedded in its slitted red, skin
husked and sealed forever in a vacuum — 
the false gray sedge where no dog hunts
and it’s lost its sleekness as it’s lost its sun.

She ages terribly behind her glass.
Nothing ever was this slinking, vicious,
so why should we admire or hate her,
husked and sealed forever in a vacuum,
the frozen attitude of cunning

strung over wire, the razor nails replaced
and aging terribly behind glass?
Imagine the raw, wet wounds in the body
she could open up. Why admire or hate her for them,
why not call her existence, simply, honest:

an animal practicing its craft designed by nature?
Now it’s strung over wire, the razor nails replaced
with plastic as her forest was itself replaced
by us, the raw, wet wounds we tear into its body.
Years ago, signs across the neighborhood

listing all the cats found mutilated declared
a man was busy practicing his craft, nature redesigned
by violence. We have to find the killer, they said, 
before the forested park fills with bodies, 
the cats turned into girls and the girls into women. 

Months later, the signs were torn down, the notices
listing all the cats found mutilated declared
a mistake. The culprit was a fox. But now, behind glass
we’ve found the killer: the violence 
we think we cannot be or feel more than, 

the once-red body that fascinates us 
turned female, signs beside it torn, the notes
on its habitat in disarray due to construction.
The culprit is a fox. Behind the glass
lighting flickers, throws down shadows so that

we cannot see her. She raises up a paw
and the once-red body that fascinates us
freezes in its shabby immortality, stands disfigured 
in its habitat, in disarray due to our construction
of a world that keeps her always different from us;

in our imagination of ourselves, degraded.
We cannot see her. She raises up a paw
as if in supplication, cone nose tasting the air
frozen in its shabby immortality, disfigured
by the box we’ve locked it in, as we’ve locked in her,

imagining how she’d slink from the forest to drink
at a puddle of rain, the picture of herself degraded
by a car’s sudden headlights that cut across the surface.
She lifts her head, cone nose tasting the air
as the wind lifts too, riffling the grasses, the trees,

the fur at her throat; a movement which,
as she stops to drink at her puddle of rain,
could be herself or God or nothing: an absence 
in the headlights that cut across the surface.
She looks into her puddle of rain

but cannot imagine more, does not need to, like us,
a wind riffling through grasses, a movement 
like rain running down a glass room.
Nothing ever was this slinking, vicious. 
She could be herself or God or nothing. Instead, 
she’s husked, red. Sealed forever in a vacuum.




CHRISTOPHER KENNEDY Issue 12. 2009. Page 15.

RARA AVIS

My mother was born with wings on her ankles. 
She’s been cutting them off since she could hold 
a butcher knife. They grow back. She cuts them off. 
She can’t fly. The wings are useless. They reappear 
with the promise of flight, the false hope of escape. 
She tries to ignore them. They itch like scabs. 
She cuts them off. She dreads the day she loses 
her strength and lets them grow untamed. She fears 
she might be tricked by the arc of their shadows 
into believing in their power, the moon and the stars 
inviting her, the open window examining her faith.




BILL CARPENTER Issue 12. 2009. Page 44-45.

LUKE

I’m driving back to the McDowell Colony over
the night roads of New Hampshire: Route Ten
from Hanover to Newport, turn right at Goshen
on route Thirty-one, my little Sube straining
up Lovewell Mountain, lights puncturing fog
and snow at the same time, road lost, yellow line
faded because they don’t have taxes in New Hampshire:
Live Free or Die. I crest a hill and there’s
a dog, dead, big German Shepherd, snow on his fur,
dog blood frozen on the road. I stop the car.
A man comes out of his house through the snowy fog:
he’s old, he’s in long underwear, he’s weeping, he
says, “You killed him, mister, you take him away.”
I tie a rope from my bumper to the dog’s neck. 
“Don’t drag him,” the man says. “His name was Luke.”
I haul the carcass into the rear seat and drive,
blood on my clothes, blood on my brand-new car, 
searching the radio but there’s nothing but NPR:
Garrison Keillor reading from Robert Frost, He will not
mind my stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.
Bullshit, I say to Luke. He will. He’ll call the
New Hampshire State Police. What does Frost know? He
is as dead as you are. I stop next to some snowy woods
to throw Luke out, but I can’t do it. I am divorced.
My kids are off at school. He’s all I’ve got. I turn
south on 202 and reach McDowell but there’s no one up,
a light in just one studio, somebody writing late.
It’s snowing again. It’s cold. I open the rear door
and pick Luke up, but he seems lighter, he feels warm,
I open his chest up like a winter coat. I put it on,
I pull his back over my shoulders, big Shepherd head
over my own. I am amazed that the eyes work, the nose
breathes, the mouth opens when I move my lips. I walk
to the lighted window and look in. He’s in there with his
Pepsi and his computer, trying to write a poem but he can’t
get the last line, and he can’t sleep. I rub my nose against
his window. I want to play, I want him out here, I want
a stick thrown over the wet snow. I pull the fur tighter,
I rub a paw over the pane, but he won’t hear. He lights
up a cigar, what does he care, he’s got the photos of
his ex-wife, his kids, why would he need a dog?
It feels like time to get down on all fours and find
some action, but the only light comes from the blind moon,
blind smell of snow, woodsmoke and porcupine, somewhere
a distant horse, giving his harness bells a shake. Maybe
the cooks have started breakfast: smell of brown sugar,
strawberries, French toast, then something bitter, maybe
one of the visual artists coming into heat, I’m not quite
sure. It’s fun. I frisk my tail. I follow my nose and run.





Jeannine Hall Gailey Issue 11. 2009. Page 6-7.

When Asked Why I Write Poems About Japanese Mythology
   — A letter from the suburbs of Seattle to the suburbs of Tokyo

I will send my voices out over the water
where the same cedars that litter my coast
used to tower over yours. Once green,
your cities have nibbled forests into bonsai. 
Our hinoki trees are shipped across the ocean
for your sacred temples now.
Postcards of volcanoes rise from a blue sky
in the background of our homes, we share
zones of tsunami, seasons of weeping cherry. 

I read about women’s spirits 
haunting peony lanterns in the forest. 
Men follow them, fall in love 
with women long dead. In shallow graves 
rotted with tree roots, they still sing. 
And here in pages hammered 
from your language into mine,
sometimes with clumsy fists,
I have listened to the bush-warbler
mourn her children, the fox-wife’s eyes
in the darkness have warned me 
of the growling of dogs and fire. 
And when they disappear in silence,
it is not really silence. Their echoes
burn themselves into stone,
into the living screens of my childhood,
fill my mouth with ghosts.

Ghosts sit in my mouth and sing.
Our grandfathers were at war.
I grew up in the birthplace
of bombs that poisoned children,
burned holes into your sacred earth.
Their poison is part of me.

In the shelter of a shrine, a small girl
holds an umbrella. She becomes a white bird.
She whispers and a thousand cranes, 
a thousand burning flowers
pile up inside me, spill out onto these pages.
Forgive me, ghosts, for my hard,
unbeautiful hands, for my tripping tongue,
as you demand a healed future, some untorn prayer.




SEAN PATRICK HILL Issue 11. 2009. Page 8-9.

SOMETIMES I SEE MY COUNTRY

First, you must understand how I live in a borrowed country, 
The sky wide as a storm, but one that never gets off the ground.

There is far too much room out west to get lost in. 
Back east, our sky supported itself on clouds of late summer oak.

Winter, we knew, would bring that world to its knees.
Trees starved year after year. Sometimes, we hardly held on. 

But still the hills broke, frozen waves against fields.
Dry corn stooped and shuffled its brittle limbs.

In a country like that, the sky seems to fit. 
Sometimes it gathered itself into rain that fell between hills
To be reborn a river. 
People wore the right clothes: leather boots with hard soles.

And all the times we came to wear ourselves out, you could believe it.

It’s just that the sky here doesn’t fit — it’s not that I haven’t touched it. 
It works its rain into me like nails. Timber here is that soft.

Out back, past the star magnolias, I found rhubarb growing near
Some dumpsters along a warehouse wall.

I thought of my grandmother, who planted rhubarb and corn
In a sky so large she couldn’t keep it from pushing through the fences.
I carry that garden around in my heart —
I don’t know, I guess I just like the toughest plants.

I moved to this city on a whim.
I thought I might learn to love its car lots, 
Its newspapers blown under busses, the men who rest their carts 
Under the dogwoods and drink their Steel Reserve.

I thought I might believe in my fortune: Soon you will be sitting
On top of the world. I haven’t the strength to argue.

I lost many things that move: a lover, a dog, money, respect.
Meaning everyone else lost all respect for me.
All my hills gone bald, my skull prickling with bare oaks.

Is it any wonder sometimes I see what is left of my country?
That it makes sense to me why the skin of the fruit grows bitter?
Home, we think, is where you hang your head, or hang around, or just hang.
We live under a fantastic sky, it’s true, but here they call it 
Poverty with a view.

In less than a week, all the stars fell from the trees.




NOMINATED BY EDITOR ON THE BOARD OF CONTRIBUTING EDITORS FOR THE PUSHCART PRIZE

JAMES DOYLE Issue 11. 2009. Page 13.

THE GOD OF THE NORMANDY COAST

When the God of the Normandy Coast
sits down for His afternoon pastry,

the waiter asks Him if He wants coffee
or wine with His snack and if He notices

the dead man in the car just off Main
and Grand. The God is rearranging napkins

into white crosses. Such neat little rows.
That is why He is the God and you are

the dishwasher watching Him through slits
in the dumbwaiter. He chooses wine,

which was predictable. The dead man
comes up to Him, sits down, asks,

“Well, what’s the verdict?” The God
shrugs His shoulders. Over fifty years

now and still the shrugging of shoulders
You’d think the only real dead were

in the past. You feel like shaking
His shoulders, shouting, “Come out

of it!” But you are dead too, waiting
in line, washing those dishes till they shine.





PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2007)


NEIL AITKEN Issue 8/9. 2007. Page 16.

comment 
	In C++, a comment consists of all the text starting with the double slashes (//) 
	forward to the end of the line.  The compiler ignores anything in a comment.


At the company town hall meeting,		                         //in the movie theater again
we see the same slides. The financial guys	                         //old plots, new faces
spin the numbers again, a visual rhetoric	                         //fake stars painted on the scene
of gray bars rising adjacent to red. Someone	                 //dull plastic, factory-made 
tells a politically safe joke, and we laugh on cue,                   //generic and eggshell-empty
our hands already under our chairs 		                        //hostages to paychecks and bills
searching in vain for a taped envelope of tickets                   //or any way out of here
or some coupon for a show we will never 	                       //not in this life, dear Buddha,
have time to see. A trim woman who is stuck	               //with an echoing palatial home 
in her mid-twenties comes forward in her $3000 suit,          //and its invisible seams
smiles, and tells us nothing. It’s been another great year,   //resplendent in its impeccable lie
we hear through the gleam of clinically bleached teeth,      //perfectly timed clicking
but the market has been tough. Too bad about bonuses.    //nothing gained, nothing at all





C. L. Knight Issue 10. 2007. Page 23.

WITHOUT WORDS

When we were not speaking,
I wondered how to tell you without words
where I was going, how I would walk
outside and breathe slowly
to catch my heart before it raced
into the swamp of singing
that prowls about us.
It was before we invented fire,
before words,
before the shape of words.
When we did not speak,
the air still burst with visions,
animals purring, yowling,
chaos parting air and water,
the moon rising from underground gardens.
When we did not speak,
our fists formed meaning —
unmistakable, furious
curled into our mouths,
too blue to utter,
too red to grasp,
too green to listen.
We wove baskets of grief,
killed ferrets and doves,
skinned them and ate.
When we learned to speak,
the words became round beads
we put on strings, chains of meaning
to hang around our necks —
too many syllables rivering
through our veins like prophecy.
We invented god to interpret the heavens for us,
realized our tongues are small instruments
if we wish to speak to the stars.




ADAM PETERSON Issue 10. 2007. Page 15-16.

My untimely death: Number nine

I die a young, untimely death and an anachronistic, untimely death. I find that my untimely death comes to me when nothing else would. Alone, I cough and cough, and when I pull the handkerchief away from my mouth there is one, perfect spot of red blood in the middle. It looks like the Japanese flag, and I hang it above my bed so that I think of sunrises when I wake up. I go to the doctor. He is an old man who practices medicine in his basement. He delivered me in my untimely birth, one month premature, and has guided me through every illness of my childhood and adult life with the nostrum-like reassurance expected of a doctor with a grey mustache.

He pokes my skin with a needle and one, perfect spot of red blood rises to the surface. It looks like Jupiter among the swirls of freckles on my arm. I take a picture with my phone and make it the background so that I think of storms when I want to call my ex-girlfriend. The doctor sucks up the spot of blood with an eyedropper and delicately moves it onto a slide where he examines it with all of the expressions at his disposal — hmm; ah, yes; I see; well then; interesting.

You have consumption, he says.

Do people still get consumption? I ask.

Only people like you, he says.

On the way home I buy black clothes and many, many more handkerchiefs. I have read about this, I think. I know what consumptives do. I never go outside and a deathly pallor overtakes my skin. I eat only beef broth and the flesh disappears from my bones. I become effete, sophisticated. I kiss a boy. Sometimes I faint in public. I cough even when I don‘t have to. There is never any blood.

I return to the doctor. He is surprised that I am still alive, but I tell him I don’t think I — or anyone — has consumption anymore. They have another name for it now, I say. Do you think I have tuberculosis? I ask.

Oh, God, no, he says. You have a case of the fits.

On the walk home I fall over in the street and begin to shake. I try to foam at the mouth. Everyone steps around me and after six or seven minutes of shaking I become tired so I stand up and go home. I throw away my black clothes, my handkerchiefs. I buy a helmet. I never fall over again. When I again go to the doctor he tells me I have the horrors.

The horrors? I ask.

The horrors, he says.

And this time the diagnosis is correct. I see apparitions that look like people I know, but they are not dead yet. This knowledge causes madness, the fits, consumption. I lay on my bed with my phone open. Above me is the Japanese flag. I cough. I shake at the horrors.




ADAM PETERSON Issue 10. 2007. Page 17.

MY UNTIMELY DEATH: NUMBER FOURTEEN

My untimely death takes all spring. In the winter I one-up Thoreau and move to the center of Lake Franklin-upon-Burbank to be away from it all, to reconnect with the world as it was meant to be experienced. I thought I would freeze to my untimely death because I live without shelter and scavenge for food among the ice and snow. The first night I make a pillow of snow and sleep beneath the stars. In my dreams I can see fish looking up at me through the ice.

In the morning I scavenge food at the ranger station. I have more luck. They have a fire house at the ranger station and as I walk outside I borrow it, like Thoreau might have, and turn the water on, like William James might have. I walk back to my home in the center of the lake. I drag the hose behind me, the water freezing, and as it touches the ice it forms a wall splitting the lake in twain. I never set foot on the north side of the lake again as I find myself stuck behind the wall on the south side.

Though I never again see anyone from the north side of the lake, I imagine them vulgar and blasphemous and pugilistic. Beneath my feet, though, I can see fish skirt the new boundary without hesitation and I am as envious as I am suspicious.

Back at my home, I use the hose to build ice walls with ice siding and ice bay windows. The water from the hose never ceases so I continue to build. I make a garage with a work bench and an anvil. I make an atrium with roses. When I try to rest the hose begins to make an unsightly hill so I take it up again and conquer the hill, like Roosevelt might have, and build a memorial on it. It is a memorial to everything, and all winter as I continue to expand my house – glancing over my shoulder to the north so much that in the morning my right cheek is sunburned; in the afternoon, my left – that as my house grows I find new things to memorialize.

On the day I spray a memorial to the sun it reappears again, like Eugene Debs might have, and a yellow plague spreads across the ice. In all directions there is only light, and I am blinded. Still it is cold, and I memorialize my blindness by making more hills, frozen Braille, even though I don't know the language, just big bumps that spell out my plea to God.

But it is only the sun that runs its fingers over them, I know.

I feel water collect at my feet. I go into the guest room and the ice duvet is gone. The iced kangaroo has left and soon the entire ice zoo. In my hand the hose sprays stronger than ever, but I cannot recreate what has melted away from me.

Soon there is no ice, just lake, and north and south are one. I am underwater. I let go the hose. It is at home. I feel fish brush against my fingers. I dream I chase them up, up.




DAVI WALDERS Issue 10. 2007. Page 26-27.

THINGS
     for W.S. Merwin

     If you look for me in this street

     you’ll find me with my violin

     prepared to break into song, 

     prepared to die.
          from “For Everyone,” Pablo Neruda
                                     
You translated his love poems and went on to other things —
Beowulf, The Cid, Lorca, your palm trees, your own work 

while Neruda lived here in those years, building his third home, 
adding room after room to fill with things and more things. 

It is easy to forget the dusty beach towns — Algarrobo, El Quisco —
their graffiti and crowds when you turn off toward Isla Negra. 

Cypress and monkey pines cling to the cliffs. Black volcanic rock 
juts from the Pacific below; seaweed whirls in wild blue water. 

It is February summer. I want to take it all in, the things, his 
‘blue shore of silence’ above his ‘university of the waves.’ 

A giant glassy-eyed fish watches from the roof. An ancient 
red train engine guards the walk’s pink profusion of flowers. 

A caretaker’s house he bought in ’39 with earnings from books 
sold since his teens, he re-designed it to look like a ship, adding 

rooms to hold his collections. Though terrified of water, 
he gathered everything he could find from ships and the sea. 

‘I traveled building joy,’ he carved on the weathered wood
lintel under the red tin-roof. You enter walking the seashell floor 

in the foyer, then cross sliced tree trunks sunk into the concrete 
floor of the dining room. Shelves on every wall hold rainbows 

of colored glass: three hundred old bottles from France, hundreds 
of green, blue, and red glass piano leg protectors, dishes from Turkey, 

Russia, Sweden. Ships in bottles, masks from everywhere, closets filled
with colorful hats for costume parties. The heavy wood dining table still 

set for nine waits for Neruda to take the biggest captain’s chair. 
“I am the captain of dry land,” he often said, looking out from his
many telescopes, collecting hundreds of painted ships’ frontispieces.  

Six thousand shells he gave to a museum; another spiky, spiny, 
pearly thousand reside here in his shell room. In his study, where 

he wrote only in green (the color of hope), washing his hands 
before and after writing, he kept cases of blue and yellow butterflies; 

big, ugly beetles, the Chilean beetle, longer than a finger, his favorite. 
He wrote surrounded by photographs of his mentors: Baudelaire 

to the right on his carved desk; Whitman, ‘his poetic father’ on the left;  
Lorca, whom he loved and grieved in Spain on the wall above. 

And meerschaum pipes, hundreds of their carved white heads resting 
in cases. Murals of stone and rock on the way to the horse room, 

his ‘happiest horse’ sculpture, larger than life-size, acquired after 
forty-five years of negotiation, inviting his friends to his horse party 

asking them to bring the horse gifts when the horse’s parlor 
and men’s bathroom pasted with dirty postcards were finished. 

Enter the Kovache (‘cozy’ in Mapuche language) room filled 
with wooden animals  ‘A house of toys,’ he said, ‘to play with 

from morning to night.’ Not just his own interests, but the local
women he helped, whose hundreds of pieces of embroidery he sold

on his travels, the thousands of Spanish Civil War refugees he paid 
for and re-settled in Chile. You catch your breath outside sitting 

on Tiburon, the red and white wood fishing boat he built for cocktail 
parties overlooking the Pacific. His passions are clearer now — poems

about his socks, an ear of corn, a tuna on ice, a chestnut on the ground, 
salt, a lemon. Things. So many things. I have tried to take it all in 

as a gift to myself, to you who made him ours long ago — these common 
things still singing above the sea to a very uncommon man. 




LIZ ROBBINS Issue 10. 2007. Page 31-32.

OUR NUKES OUR NUKES

1. Our nukes are in the habit of hiding themselves below ground as if shy, much like what the proverbial ostrich does with her head. Nukes from other countries reportedly do this too, sometimes hiding so superhumanly well as to have turned invisible. Do nukes work better as rumor than fact?

2. Our nukes resemble supermodels: tall and slender, with shiny designer garb and bared teeth. They saunter expertly, capable of overriding strong reverberations of hunger. They’re up on current wartime factions.

3. A woman in Detroit who screws together nuke parts says she’d rather make garbage disposals.

4. Our nukes are necessary demonstration, like good manners. We gladly pay 450 billion for a single year’s etiquette lesson. A woman in Kaesong dreams our nukes wearing diapers. A father in Brooklyn whose son dissolved like a tablet in the Twin Towers requests his son’s name be tattooed on our nukes, right below the Nike swoosh.

5. Our nukes bow their heads, doggedly prayerful, deferential to their own enlightenment. They wait for directions from above, while globe-sized hail continues to fall, out in the great state of Texas.

6. We scope for signs of resistance from our nukes, checking for tarnishing or dulled tips indicating possible neuroticism. We get those straightened right out. We tell the good ones stories so they can sleep at night. And they dream of long dark tunnels, the brilliant, inexplicable light at the end.





PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2006)


BOB HICOK Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 12.

IN MICHAEL ROBINS' CLASS MINUS ONE

At the desk where the boy sat, he sees the Chicago River.
It raises its hand.
It asks if metaphor should burn.
He says fire is the basis for all forms of the mouth.
He asks, why did you fill the boy with your going?
I didn’t know a boy had been added to me, the river says.
Would you have given him back if you knew?
I think so, the river says, I have so many boys in me,
	I’m worn out stroking eyes looking up at the day. 
Have you written a poem for us, he asks the river,
	and the river reads its poem, 
	and the other students tell the river 
	it sounds like a poem the boy would have written,
	that they smell the boy’s cigarettes 
	in the poem, they feel his teeth 
	biting the page.
And the river asks, did this boy dream of horses
	because I suddenly dream of horses, I suddenly dream.
They’re in a circle and the river says, I’ve never understood
	round things, why would leaving come back 
	to itself? 
And a girl makes a kiss with her mouth and leans it
	against the river, and the kiss flows away
	but the river wants it back, the river makes sounds
	to go after the kiss.
And they all make sounds for the river to carry to the boy. 
And the river promises to never surrender the boy’s shape 
	to the ocean.





BOB HICOK Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 14.

RELATIVITY

Leaves are jumping from the trees.
At the sales meeting I wonder if suicide is catching. 
While Dave in his cumulus shirt reviews figures 
on the growth rate of suckers, I leave the room 
through a wormhole of boredom and have a child 
named Carla. In the seconds I don’t listen 
to the horse galloping through Dave’s lips, 
Carla plays softball and grows into a woman 
who is symmetrical and happy. Dave sits down 
and leaves are still brightly killing themselves. 
I think of dialing 911 but am plagued by the sense 
I learned a different way to cut a PBJ, 
just for Carla, a style no one else knows, 
that she’s inside the light years, looking out 
for me, imagining I’m just over the hill, tie off, 
under a maple catching every bit of orange 
before it shrouds the ground, as I do 
each fall to weave the dress she calls 
“fire fire, I’m on fire.”




CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 18-9.

PHOTOGRAPH OF JOHN BERRYMAN ON THE BACK OF LOVE & FAME     
   I have no idea whether we live again
   — John Berryman

I see the man who wrote his 11 intemperate letters
to the Lord is the man half grateful near his end,
a man almost at ease and deep behind his whiskers here.
A charmer who won’t be completely run to ground,

grizzled as the granite going to pieces at his back,
he’s channeling his last cloud-split reasoning
directly at the doubtful sky, uncovering any worth
or last ditch redeeming chance, and carefully

subscribing to that. Who then knows about the soul —
chipped away with age, grey with cosmic grit,
some evanescent paste holding together beyond
our bones? I have some interest in this late line

of questioning, that desperate dodge and grab at
conviction while balancing on one foot, the sinking
weight of everything you likely know on the other.
I have a friend who revered and loved the man, as,

I imagine, God intended us to respect that knot
of light burning in the rare and fervent few among us.
33 years ago, Berryman posed, nonchalant
before the lens in Ireland — Latinate, distilled,

high lonesome ad jazzy riffs mixed with reflex
and a syntactic ear for idiosyncrasy, inward
somnambulism — a sober self-estimate that held him
steady amid the wobbling flames, dreaming

in the distracted atmosphere with love and fame
trailing a ways off from where he later waved
then stepped away, dawdling toward the glory
of the dust. For a man who could not much love

himself he came generous with his love and trust
at last in God. O, time wears us away to little
more than salt or sea air — here us elsewhere, but how
to know which metaphysical hammerlock’s going

to pin us down the years and force capitulation?
Yet, he’s still credible, walking the edge, a famous
sparkle of doubt in the eyes, teetering in the blind
up-drafts of belief — both sides of the street in play,

sand beneath the soft soles of his feet. He expects
to fall and will blame, ex post facto and no doubt
rightly, logically so, God, when he is not there,
to swoosh out of the unphysical aether to hold,

metaphorically, his hand, in His infinite one,
that ardent strope of flesh and blood above
the common traffic of the world, where sooner or
later all our blood and bony minds fall to wreck,

one afternoon. One day to the next, I find myself
as reasonably sure as Berryman about the afterlife,
and I would, at 50-something, line up behind him,
my right hand raised into the air in hope of one.

But my heart’s not finally in it; it’s still half bitter
like a root vegetable they always said was good
for you, and so will not likely lift me, heavy out
of this world, as his must have — singing praising

purely the fog thick invisible source, the blind-
spot in creation sustained by desperate lines,
and he dead-grateful for his gift, disavowing
eloquence alone. Yet somehow her firmly clutched

in one mildly shaking hand a glass half-full of Faith.
For any proof, I have only, as I said, the friend who
knew him, this photo, his clipped and thorny song —
the conflicted pledges of an absent minded God . . .





TOD MARSHALL Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 31.

ARS POETICA VIII: AFTER HIKING MANY MILES TO HEAR THE MASTER SPEAK

When asked for a definition of poetry, the master said, “beware all 
     enterprises that require new clothes.”  
When asked for a definition of poetry, the master took his hatchet to the 
     shed and shredded two quarter logs for kindling.  
When asked for a definition of poetry, the master kissed the questioner 
     on the forehead then cuffed an ear.  
When asked, the master said, “In the shadow of the mountain, snow will 
     last long into August, however hot the afternoons.” 
When asked, “Six girls without pants is not an excuse for wisdom.” 
When asked, the master sighed and replied, “There are things in the 
     world that can kill you, and one of them is rats.” 
When asked, the master rose from his wooden bench and sliced a kitten 
     in half.  
Shouted: “The last thing Icarus thought.”  
When asked the definition of poetry, the master points at his heart, 
     “Somewhere, wildflowers and trout, somewhere the sparrow lives 
     without fear of its shadow.”
 



NORA MCCREA Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 33.

HOW TO BOIL AN EGG: TARGHAZ INTERIORS

1. First, you have to not think about a lot of things. The passage through the vaginal canal of the hen, the feminine parts clinging to and pushing forward the papery shell enclosing a thin membrane around the possibility of a future chicken. Maybe you had one of those experiences, like at a natural history museum or working at a diner, where you may have had the privilege to see the blood spot. Some people never recover. The taste always reminds them.

2. The kind of pan with the special core that conducts heat all over is best. Allow the tap to rush frigid and breathless. The water will need salt. Have you heard about the slaves of Targhaz who dug out chunks of grey-white salt in sub-Saharan holes, dry as their salt-block homes sucking water from their bones as they slept? Foremen only lasted two weeks. Faces rotated through like the burning yolk-yellow round of sun overhead. And what about that snake god of Ghana asking for lovely virgin bottoms, rigid, and headless? I imagine I am that girl, pinioned, winner of a local beauty contest. While I’m waiting, it happens that blood drips down my inner thigh, red as hibiscus, spoiling the meat. There’s no warrior to rescue me. I have to rescue myself through biology.

3. Boil all this with the egg, seven minutes at least. If you’re hard-boiled, you’ll like it plain with a little salt and pepper. Sometimes, it’s easier that way. There are many ways to devil your egg, with blood-flecks of pimiento or the rendered fat of a hen. My grandmother used to make hundreds of these in the late 60s for what they called entertaining. In a bone-white house with tilework shimmering milky light off the walls, she laid them out in rows on gleaming platters. My mother came into the kitchen once in the middle of the night and found her peeling eggs. Her body was bent over as she was sobbing. My mother remembers the feel of her shuddering when she rushed to hug her, the streams of salt water running down between their faces.


WILLIAM HEYEN Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 59.

THE NOVELIST: A PLAY IN ONE ACT





PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2005)


ROB CARNEY Issue 4/5. Summer 2005. Page 39-44.

THE MOTHER OF THE MOUNTAINS

     But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the
        thickening center; corruption
     Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet    
        there are left the mountains.1
                                                         —Robinson Jeffers
	
I. Hearing Takes More than Ears 

If a mama bear gets angry, imagine the Mother of the Mountains.
Mess with Her children, She’ll dust off an avalanche; 

step out of line, She’ll realign your bones. 
She’s a blue-eyed beauty,

and the mountains have their Mother’s eyes: deep lakes. 
Gaze into them, you’ll see their thoughts like fish—

quick schools, slow rainbows-—look deeper, 
and you’ll learn to dream like a stone.

What does She feed them? Rain for breakfast.
Anything else? She peels them the sun for lunch.

And at night? Big helpings of quiet, 
then the Mother of the Mountains sings them to sleep with snow.

The trees are Her grandkids; She brings them birds to play with.
Whenever it’s their birthday, She gives them an owl

’cause though She’s a blue-eyed beauty, She’s still kind.
Even soft . . . even fragile. . . .

Wolves howl to Her to show their gratitude. What about you? 


II. Not Even the Mother of the Mountains Knows How She was Born 

She might have been fire and twilight—fire in the Earth’s womb, 
waiting like an egg, and everywhere evening 

seeking a way inside.
She might have been fire and ocean.

Or just the answer to fire’s question, Why all this heat?
She can’t remember,

but She wears the colors of those elements:
red and orange and yellow, and under them blue.

She can’t remember.
But Her children are burning rock; we know that much;

and Her love for them is the water we drink
and that love made the valleys we live in. . . .

None of us know where we come from, not really.
Questions climb higher than answers.

Still, the Mother of the Mountains raised Her children up skyward,
giving us places greater than ourselves to look.


III. Some Mountains are Strays. None are Orphans. 

Of course She’s happy when they stay together,
but the Mother of the Mountains understands being apart.

You can draw Orion with your eyes each night;
it doesn’t change the fact they’re separate stars.

You can join any group—there are millions—but joining
can’t subtract you; you’re still one.

One peak in the Andes.
In the Himalayas. In the Alps.

One astonishing face of the Tetons.
One shoulder of the Okanogans.

One slender arm
or curving hip of the North Cascades. . . . 

But you’re no more beautiful, maybe less, than Mauna Loa
off in the ocean, surrounded by all that blue.

You’re no surer than Kilimanjaro
though he stands apart from a continent,

away and above, like his Mother, in thinner air.


IV. The Mother of the Mountains in Disguise 

Sometimes She puts on eagle’s wings and comes near.
Not often, and not to give us an omen;

eagles and mountains are both brown and white, 
and that’s all. 

I’ve seen it: 
Once, at the summit, She circled above and flew on. 

Another time She was riding the wind straight down . . . 
like the wind is a river, like the wind has edges

and waterfalls. 
Then yesterday She perched on the roof of my dream:

my back yard wider, the mountains closer,
the stream running cold 

where I’ve always imagined a stream.
I woke up thirsty, 

and those first drops splashing on the window screen
made the whole day smell of rain.

It wasn’t a sign. Don’t be an interpreter.
Desire has meaning like a bird has meaning; that’s all.

Who wouldn’t be an eagle? Who hasn’t looked at what they love
and felt a lifting, or gliding, or plunge?


V. Adding It Up 

1.  Bears belong to the mountains, not to us.
2.  And lakes belong to the mountains, not to us.

3.  The full moon silhouettes the mountains first,
     and when bears bend down to drink, they drink its light.

4.  Forests are the mountains’ children,
     so we’d better write good stories for our shelves, 

     stories that last as long as trees last, that grow 
     in widening circles. . . . 

5.  Deer may take from our gardens.
6.  We get back magic in return:

     a small amazement, illusion of floating,
     a sudden now-you-see-’em, now-you-don’t.

7.  Sex at the top of a mountain makes a boy;
     at night, on the lakeshore, a girl.

8.  We can’t ignore what’s happening. 
9.  Feeling’s not a choice. It’s everyone’s job.

10. In that hour before daybreak, even a city might concentrate,
     might quiet itself awhile

     and sense an older, deeper pulse.


VI. Rising and Falling and Rising 

The Mother of the Mountains has long red hair, long as the horizon.
Mornings, when She braids it, She sets the new world turning.

Evenings, when She combs it out,
Her hair is the western sky.

It is here, in this night time,
that Her dreams come open like the stars.

I like the one about a man and a woman,
how their bodies fit together, and sometimes their minds.

Sometimes the woman has long red hair
and the man is standing at the window

and she crosses the space between them
to look out too. . . . 

Sometimes she’s reading at the table,
the words appearing like days—a page at a time;

skip ahead, they’re still empty.
When he asks her what comes next, she doesn’t know.

It is here, in this dreaming, that the Mother of the Mountains
is like us: full of love and aloneness.

And it’s this dream She’s had, about a man and a woman,
if the city wakes blanketed with snow.
 

VII.  Wolves Howl to Her to Show Their Gratitude. What About You? 

When people remember what counts most,
they measure time by their children.

So to speak with the Mother of the Mountains
takes 28 days. You must learn to be patient.

Ask the lynx. It carries that waiting all winter,
then turns that waiting into speed.

Ask the moon, never closing the distance.
Both of them know fullness won’t last long;

there’s always more beginning, more going;
tell the Mother of the Mountains something new.

Tell Her your story if you have to,
but make it tie the river to the wind 

and lift up the green smell of moss
and the memory of someone’s body

you never got to touch
and the jumping drum of your heart. . . . 

If one day you see a heron—a long blue stillness
at the water’s edge, or a blue impossible flying—

then the Mother of the Mountains did listen.
And Her answer is yes.





1. Jeffers, Robinson. “Shine, Perishing Republic,” The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Ed. Tim Hunt. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2001. P 23. 



ERIC FLATO

Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 23.


Mail Order Bride

A strange star, liquid skies, no smoking please.
I make you good wife: slender figure, coffee eyes.
You will recognize me by the flames
surrounding my head. 
You will recognize me in a little black number.
Insert obligatory comments here 
about excess of love and varicose veins 
but love itself is a blue and protruding thing.
Panties . . . this is where it all starts.
I want a gentleman with strong forearms.
I want long talks late at night,
a clean scent, the cool ruin.
I want an annual income of at least one-hundred thousand.
I’m most happy when dot dot dot
The first thing people usually notice about me is dot dot dot
I like weekends at the beach,
the arp of seals, gasping the sodium 
but what’s a mermaid to do with so many crushed anemones?
“Eucalyptus wind!”
Someone shouts from the high cliffs.
There is someone out there.
That someone could be you.
She smiles often, makes friends easily,
her peeves are well hidden in polite societies.
“Will you marry me?” I say        three second delay.
A plane, a snore, blue candy in wax paper.
You will recognize me walking on coals
near the terminal.
You will recognize me by my red hat.
Miss now Mrs. 
Now immigration procedures 
now frantic signatures. We are fumbling and fumbling
unzipping the zippers that lead to nowhere. 




MICHAEL ROBINS

Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 36.


The Selected poems
        All things are tragic when a mother watches!
                                                          —O’Hara

I won’t concentrate enough for the joy in novels
& would much rather set my gaze on Hopper
or at least his grave where he lies with Josephine.
Look at me, smoking a cigarette, it’s much better
for breathing & easier for the mouth than words.
It’s true I pushed our chairs apart, but haven’t
I said that already? How oranges are delicious
with seeds? I see a blossomed tree in the landfill
& I like “The Hunger,” but skip the longer ones.
It’s true I never liked your fun, how you picked
that fabulous nose, at a dinner table nonetheless.
I am not the violent man, but I’m man enough
by evening to leave this blood across the walls.
Oh yes, living: the ant in the shadow of the heel.




LAURA SOLOMON

Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 5.


As Water Reflects What is Above My Head

Our woeful rowboat, Kismet named,
the stars above and below us.
Everything drifts. 
The oar that was in my hand
is now not in my hand. 
My little stacks of paper blow away. 
Something tickles the edge of my eyelid.
The water’s surface trembles. 
The moon reappears in the left-hand corner, 
hardnosed, a robber-baron, 
collecting acres of night
the humble stars have reserved.
This is how it looks from here,
that the moon is greedy and a thief. 
I wish he would be kinder.
My oar floats across his upturned face.
I wish I were a poet.
I want to say something 
foolish. Something flinches.
What a large cage the sky is.
How opaque the bay, and pale
in parts, how it sparkles 
like nailpolish on a girl I saw once 
in a shopping mall in Dallas.
How she is but a speck, how I am. 
How each word is essential 
and tiny. That the universe too 
is essential and tiny, so small
that even my oar disturbs it—See 
how I touch the water in one place 
and it echoes at the other end of the world—
Oar you are so pretty.
I promise to use you as kindling 
as soon we reach the well-earned shore.




CHRISTOPHER CITRO

Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 46.


One Thousand Chipmunks

One thousand chipmunks
woke him up from a deep sleep

and he mistook them
for angels

when he could simply 
have been amazed at a thousand 
chipmunks in one place.





DANEEN BERGLAND

Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 16.


Godchild

The woman who gave me to God can’t pronounce my name
anymore. Every word was pulled out by the roots.
My godfather, my dentist, used to take me up in his plane, 
used to frighten me with his love. He made me tiny rings out
of gold pulled from other people’s teeth and could fit 
all of his giant hand inside my mouth. Now, my mother tells me 
he is lost on his long legs. Since his wife folded in half, he sits
all day in a dark room rolled up in smoke while the t.v.
shouts and sings and makes no sense.
He named my dad, Curly; my brother, Squirrelly.  Her name
was Queenie, but I am just me and I can’t tell when
he lifts his head up and looks towards my face
if he recognizes that I am his, or feels the same tug,
like bone pulled from bone when I say the word, love.





NOMINATED BY AN OUTSIDE READER

GREG GLAZNER Issue 4/5. Summer 2005. Page 30.


THE DAY WAS LIKE WIDE WATER

     winding down, a flat gray luster at the last of it.
     Neither of the phones was ringing.
     Flashes fell like a dull weather on the end-table’s leaning heap of mail.
     They were holding the cage open off-screen so the wolf could lurch and stumble out onto the grassy flatland.
     The dogs had let up for a while, the mouse had stopped scrambling inside the bathroom wall.
     They were panning through the sawgrass, the sky sealed off entirely with thin scud.
     The hour was pressed smooth as nickel.
     There was not one message, and nothing overdue.
     It could be spent without consequence, soft and flat and manageable as it was.
     A reply invited, but not required.
     It could be dropped without any jangling alarm.




NOMINATED BY AN OUTSIDE READER

GREG GLAZNER Issue 4/5. Summer 2005. Page 31.


THE EONS, IN THEIR MILLIONS,

after the story’s one free instant of rising, the singularity, the place where 
   it all seethes uncountable and free, untouchable by law, after 10-43 
   seconds
the eras weigh back down in a gravity like middle age,

the cargo plane stalls tail-down toward the teeming residential streets of a day’s
   overloaded front-page language,
the phrases continually come down, hardening to prose before they hit, 
   before they break, telling what’s left to tell,

the denouement, the fifteen billion years of physical law,
and what flourishes at the end of that long verdict.




PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2004)


J.P. DANCING BEAR

Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 5.


GACELA OF ANIMAL THEORY

Every time I explain Schrödinger’s cat to the animal
right’s activist, the theory scurries away like a mouse
when she asks, who does such a thing to their cat?

The nature documentary shows the lion cub attacked
by a pack of hyenas, after it cried for long hours into darkness
for its missing mother. It is not the camera that is cruel.

What was the tiger’s crime?—robbed of his skin, his claws
and his penis. Having lived where a farm might someday be,
hungry for the cattle we raise for our own bellies.

My grandfather had a hollowed elephant foot for a trash can.
I went to bed with dreams of a herd of three-legged elephants
thrashing the brush, looking for their tusks and feet.

The sheep, at night, sleep in their dreams of losing their legs
and becoming cumulus, floating like gods over the moaning
faces of slaughterhouses. The moon cradling their fears.

No one knows the animal padding the long terrain
of moonlight, splendid in its coat, is a metaphor,
a device, a vehicle in which the message arrives.



CORY McCLELLAN

Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 19.


HEART-SHAPED TELEPHONE

“Hello.”
                  
                  Prisoner inside my mouth
                  biting words into my tongue.

“Do you have the time to take a short survey?”

                  Light travels slow without windows.

“What local radio stations do you listen to?”                            

                  If I lie still long enough
                  my aorta will tremble,
                  some birds answer their own calls.

“How many hours a day do you spend watching television?”

                  The octopus’ eye is similar to mine,
                  people still live in Pompeii,
                  trees without leaves are holding their breath.

“What brand of coffee do you prefer?”                                                                   

                  When you’re thinking olive blossoms
                  I can smell the oil on your lips.

“How much do you contribute to charity?”

                  I once bought an opal necklace
to prove I don’t believe in ghosts. “Are you happy with your current credit card?” The future is still trying to escape from lemonade-sour shivers. “Are you the man of the house?” I am a wind chime underwater.



JEN REID

Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 28.


UNDERWATER MANGER

I always liked the smell of
Christmas in church
not the Christmas that you have to bow
to a pot of frankincense
or the Christmas when
a woman with Tourette’s sits
behind your pew
yelling fucking bitch all mass
but the Christmas when
a really beautiful woman
sans panty-lines
sings “O Holy Night” so
numbingly, that the night
really does seem holy.
I wasn’t sure what to make
of the other woman’s outbursts—
she couldn’t possibly
be mad at God. Maybe she was pissed
at Mary—loose woman—
having an affair with the Almighty
and now we all have to be saved
because of it, because God
couldn’t keep his hands
to himself. We were all perfectly
happy being heathens, we liked
when the world swallowed us
into its flooding belly and we swam
until our arms just gave out
our bodies
sinking to the bottom
where we hear that incessant
beautiful humming
maybe Ave Maria
which the smooth singer
can really belt out. Poor Mary,
she never wanted children.
Imagine your son nailed to a cross.
If I live to be as old as Jesus
I too would hate the horizon
like I hate a toothache
reminding me
my body is rotting.



ROB CARNEY

Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 46-47.


YOU ARE HERE —> •

I will never, despite the spinning,
fly off the Earth. 

It’s just not possible.
The grip that holds it all together—

all the oceans and coffee cups,
wheat fields and butter knives,

porches and the cats on them, cats
who’ve seen it all before;

all the mornings turning birds into music
and streams turning stones into music

and women turning me into music
when they smile, when they tell stories;

all the sunlight and shadows
and moonlight and shadows;

all the many moods of rain, 
and so much more—those hands 

keeping things together
hold me here, despite the unlikelihood;

despite odds of infinity to one, 
they’re a surefire bet. Big hands. Galactic.

Hands building winds in the wind shop
then sawing some down into breezes. 

For every thermal updraft, 
fashioning a hawk.

Hands shaping mice in the mouse shop for food, 
seeds and cones in the wood shop for food 

with enough left over for forests and orchards 
and maples for the pancakes of the world.

Or arranging flowers in the flower shop,
or inventing the smell of cinnamon,

or creating the flavor of peaches, 
the purring in cats . . . none of it necessary, 

no explanation or meaning. 
Which means they’re an artist’s hands,   

means you and I are paintings, 
means daylight and darkness are our frame, 

and we will never, even with the spinning, 
fly off the Earth while we’re alive. 

That’s a fact, but some facts are magic:
Like our minds. Like sex. 

Like every evening the sun sets. 
Like grapes are for much more than vitamins. 

Like a cat’s tail, up and casually flicking, 
is telling us the cat feels at home.



MONIQUE VAN DEN BERG

Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 54.


WHAT I COULD GET AWAY WITH

After an unhappy year or two of marriage, I gave birth to a blind baby, and I didn’t love it. Out of your paternal passion, you swallowed it whole.

Afterwards, we sat around a yellow tablecloth and exchanged empty nothings. The wailing in your gut grew louder and louder. Finally, you ran to the bathroom and purged up our baby. It’s a girl!

Your black-eyed daughter whimpered, and you put her to your breast. What could be nourishing her but your untapped reservoir of love? You wept into her wheat hair, onto her starred skin. You gave her a name.

At this, I put on my wedding gown and began to accompany this scene on the cello. It seemed the least I could do.




WILLIAM HEYEN

Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 6061.


VALENTINE

My colleague’s competence began to depress me. A nice-enough chap otherwise, he remembered all course requirements for his advisees, could quote our department constitution at length & recount the intricacies of our annual revisions of this document. He could & would outline precise actions of our faculty senate from a decade before. He’d wax ecstatic or with melodramatic pain about the Modern Language Association schedule of events for next year. He corrected & filed minutes after coding them with colors for easy reference. His brain & heart were filing cabinets.

I went to him often. Edward, I’d ask, do you recall the time limit for the completion of a thesis? the new catalogue number for my course The Poetry of Poetry? the Board of Trustees’ policy on leave-of-absence without pay? Of course he did, & saved me much time as I followed my meandering feet from office to classroom to meeting room or wherever as I went about my distracted associational way, facts falling from me like dandruff, and the whole university order only the wisp of a legend in my mind.

I’m not exactly a dope. Even when it comes to facts, I’d lived defensively & armed myself, since graduate school, with these wasps—by the acronym PEAL AGS (peel eggs) I’d learned the Seven Deadly Sins in order of their deadliness; I knew the birth & death dates of maybe twenty authors, the names of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation (by another acronym, COOMS); the name of Rip Van Winkle’s dog, the publication years of the nine editions of Leaves of Grass that appeared during the spontaneous one’s lifetime. But I have not been a fact specialist, & try not to worry much when my genius—no man ever followed his genius so far that it misled him, says one of the Concord masters—disposed me to forgetfulness. I have a hundred poems by heart.

Edward held firmly to the details of our department & administration. Beyond this, students I respected as glowing coals told me his classes were a recitation of just how many steps Alexander Pope took from study to toilet & back during the revision of a particular line in The Dunciad, & what the diminutive hunchback wore that morning, & what comma was placed where—never mind the effect—that afternoon. The text itself lay largely unexamined in the totality of its caustic & witty splendor.

But one day Edward appeared in my office with lipstick on his face & his hair mussed, his tie askew, his eyes those of an illuminate. Cynic, I at first wanted to ask him if he’d been between the sheets in a motel with his beloved erotic University of Chicago Manual of Style, but my fellow-feeling went out to him when he stammered a description of what had become his new & unexpected estate in the country of love.

May the lord of arrows bless him & keep him. May he be riven with blossom. May his students now breathe some of the loveliness of Pope’s couplet art.




PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2003)


MELISSA RHOADES

Issue 1. Spring 2003. Page 23.


DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY

Back home, my new wife makes fine lace. I keep
a scrap of her work in my brine-soaked breeches.
Black waters pitch and the hull creaks
as I head for spice stores at Malacca’s beach.

The scrap of her work in my brine-soaked breeches
is soiled from these sickened months
of heading for spice-stores at Malacca’s beach.
The taste of molded hard-tack licks my tongue

and soiled from these sickened months,
we had to leave nine scurvied men with the Boers.
The taste of molded hard-tack licks all our tongues
and the Captain won’t say when next we moor.

Although we left nine scurvied men with the Boers,
we’re all bleeding gums, thin skin, and fleas.
The Captain still won’t say when we moor
and some dirty dogs talk of mutiny.

But for all our bleeding gums, thin skin, and fleas
sweet land comes, a line on the horizon.
Now, no dogs talk of mutiny,
not with palm trees visible from our galleon.

Sweet land! Malaya fills the horizon.
Scrabble at the riggings, keen to anchor.
Palm trees look heavenly from the galleon.
Once ashore, we drink till we slur,

scrabbling around port, keen from anchor.
Sweat runs down our backs. In the shade
we sprawl out, still drinking in a slur.
At dusk, I thrust into a dark-skinned maiden,

sweat running down our backs in the shade.
Black Malacca reeks of nutmeg and mace.
Again, I thrust into the dark skinned maid
and moan. Back home, my new wife makes fine lace.



Scott Poole
Issue 1. Spring 2003. Page 35


MY SUGGESTION

When the car broke down outside The Dalles, Oregon,
my suggestion was to get the spear from the anthropology conference
out of the trunk and stab the damn car several hundred times
in the tires, hood, lights, roof, trunk, windshields
and doors. I lamented that we didn’t have a hundred spears
so we could leave them stuck in the car every time we stabbed it
thus giving it the look of a giant porcupine with wheels.
I thought we should get some hot oil from somewhere and pour it
over the top of the vehicle. Why not
beat on it with a shovel until it took the shape
of a giant metal head with wild spear hair?
Think of all the people that would pull over
imagining the giant melted head a “tourist event.”
Consider the traffic, the police, the imitators
burning their cars in joy, the art critics, wine
and cheese events in the half-light of the canyon,
people in black milling about, talking about raw energy,
Renoir, Cézanne, Rodin, everyone French.
We could just hang out there
in the caves way up the canyon wall and watch,
eating popcorn and rabbits, making buffaloes our pets.
Oh would I love to ride a buffalo down the hill
with a six pack hanging over its neck so I could huck
a can at a tourist and say “Gentle traveler. There’s a special music
when you run your hand along the spine of a salmon.”
Let’s just attack every car that drives by with
spears, dynamite, and giant boulders like German deities,
and then run back to our ancient cave womb and
make love so beautiful it changes the shape of the planets.
She looked at me, then called a tow truck, thank God.




CORWIN ERICSON
Issue 2. Winter 2003. Page 5.


The Alphabet Cannot Hold

The suspicious letter bleeding
from the death of thousands of cuts,
the suspicious letter that isn’t one of the twenty-six,
an A bomb’s lurking silent B, a Q without its U.
Zeroes are grounded, words unravel
into anagrams and crumble into runes.
Alphabet City is littered with nametags and singed
documents; meanwhile, the man with the S on his chest
dangles from an empty thought balloon.
FDNY & DKNY and remember the X hats not so long ago?
Swarms of acronyms circle vigilantly. Black boxes dense
with last words, alphanumeric keypads coding
“love you” and “get out.” Eyewitnesses say
“boom or bang” and describe smoke as white, black,
unknown substances, manifests laden with mismeanings.
Letter carriers are poisoned and speakers are sequestered,
Congress sings on the steps. The POTUS is back to nucular,
poetry is chalked onto rubble, police lines
are not crossed, this is not a crusade,
the assassins will be smoked out and euphemized.
Cities are mounted by death tolls,
their issue is unimaginable, unbelievable, indescribable;
W’s advice is to live your life
and then wash your hands with water and soap.




Issue 2. Winter 2003. Pages 56-59

UNIMAGINATIVE

But oh! each visitation
Suspends what nature gave me at my birth . . .
from “Dejection: An Ode” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I chose to speak on the panel “Keeping the Imagination Alive”(1) simply because it had the word “imagination” in the title and not “work” or “budget.” Thinking I was on intimate, friendly terms with my imagination, I thought it and I might orate a bit and then field questions from the audience in a collegial fireside manner. As I often find with creative collaborations, my partner was hardly up to the task, despite its legendary reputation.

Imagination gets defined as: “The formation of a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses.” Furthermore, the American Heritage tells us that the imagination has the ability to “confront and deal with reality using the creative powers of the mind.” The implication is that imagination is capable of rolling up its sleeves and working off the cuff; that it’s there to help, no matter how unusual the situation is. I thought I would be a natural, that I’d be just a hammock and a butterfly away from lucidity and insight. I rolled my eyes inward to observe the clever elves as they cobbled together a work of genius but found instead a rat king, a mare’s nest, a sketch pad of harebrained doodles, eels escaping through the grass.

I looked at my Coleridge, Emerson, and Stevens books that were to serve as fetishistic goads for the creation of this work. They remained disapprovingly silent. I looked out the window and spied my imagination in the yard, eating grass and exposing itself to the neighbors. I looked on the World Wide Web. There, I found its spoor; a search on “‘Corwin Ericson,’ imagination” registers one hit, some sort of vestige of a magazine’s table of contents. Mostly, though, imagination seems to be dressed up to go to work on the Web. It’s most often paired with “solutions,” as in “We offer imaginative solutions to your data storage needs with a variety of redundant array packages.” I am dubious. Maybe my imagination could hold down a job like this, but more likely, it would get something else to punch the clock for it.

On the Web, imagination is also found frequently to be shacked up with cheap children’s arts-and-crafts projects. Toilet paper tubes, popsicle

sticks, styrofoam balls, poster paint, mucilage. Children are often told to “use your imagination.” Adults know this really means “fuck off,” but we grown-ups want to phrase this sentiment in helpful, instructive terms. If children are sick, they may use their imaginations in bed, staging Robert Louis Stevensonian battles on knee-summits and blanket-crevasses. Usually, though, a child is told to take his imagination outside, where he can find a stick, which he could pretend is a Game Boy or a cell phone, or a gun. If a child uses a stick for any of its natural purposes, like whacking, poking, or burning, parents would be remiss if they did not discipline the child by imprisoning him in his room with only his imagination to keep him company.

Boredom and isolation are the real known associates of imagination, not the upright alibis of problem-solving and artistry. I imagine that if I were to be locked away, the first items on my agenda would be to be tortured, raped and then killed. If, by some lucky chance, I were to be given the opportunity to be my own worst enemy in an isolation cell, then it would be my imagination that would save my bacon. I’d relive the carefree days of my youth spent traipsing the great outdoors, stick in hand, whacking and poking all I wanted. But wait, this is not imagination finally helping me, this is memory; the idylls of my stick-wielding youth are kept in my memory, and I am staying sane in my cell by remembering, not imagining. In fact, it was my imagination that put me in this horrid cell in the first place. Before it had its perverted way with me, I was sitting in my comfortable study—my imagination has punished me, abandoned me in an oubliette, even, for just thinking about it.

My imagination, when I look at it coldly, is shiftless, idle, leering, annoying, impolite, poundingly dull, hopelessly vague. It offers me little relief from the lumber of living because it comes up with worse. For instance, my imagination regularly fails to offer me sumptuous dining when I’m eating Ramen noodles. It would be nothing to imagine myself eating in some ideal noodle shop of the mind, but no, it’s busy distracting me with what I should have said to Zoran Zubic, a hostile technical writing student I failed eight years ago. And I overboil the Ramen and have to eat cereal for dinner. And the milk’s sour and I can’t even manage to imagine that it tastes better, since the sour milk is making me imagine pink hairy cow udders and that squirt-squirt sound and then I’m nauseated.

It likes to entertain itself by making me think I’m clever—I find myself thinking, what if there were animals that one could eat, and they had a hide one could wear or even build tents with, and it produced

secretions that one could drink, and its very shit would help one grow food? Oh yeah, cows. Thanks a lot, imagination.

My imagination seems to be at its busiest when it’s trying to see through clothing, or convincing me that there is indeed SOMETHING AWFUL OUT THERE. What my imagination needs is a job, frankly. As it loafs around my mental house it makes a mess of things that need to be kept tidy so I can perform all of those rent-check generating tasks that it scorns. When it delivers me something pleasant, like erotic stimulation, it’s almost always in the form of an inappropriate surprise, and it seems to want congratulations for it. My imagination is the only part of me that has no concern for the preservation of my health or even my life. I suspect I’d be a well adjusted, better socialized person without my imagination.

Perhaps we have art to save ourselves from our imaginations. It could be that only art drags us away from our petty solipsisms, lends us the impression that there are higher purposes. That could be the job that imagination could work at, keeping itself busy making art to save ourselves from ourselves. But if imagination is limited to the creation of mental pictures, I’m not sure what use it has in poetry. Sensation, cogitation, ideation seem more useful. Poetry is built out of words, not pictures. Is imagination divisible from thinking, sensing, and emoting? Did the feverish, opiated, self-obsessed Romantics make it into a god so that we could fear it properly?

The thing is, though, its power lies in contradictions, in associative leaps that ignore reason. Its cooperation seems invisible but its complaints are deafening. I chafe against reality and all the miseries of corporeality, but I find myself grateful for the phenomenal world to save me from my peevish imagination. One goes outside to play, while one’s imagination slips back inside to watch TV. One sits down to write a paean to one’s imagination, and it responds by throwing one in a dungeon. Whacking and poking with a stick is an entirely satisfying and real experience—why does the stick need to be confronted and dealt with by my imagination? As an adult, I have found even more visceral and fundamentally satisfying ways of whacking and poking with my stick. There is nothing more real than sexuality, nothing that makes us more blatant, no more real a way to connect with another person. Even when alone, one’s power of creation is made plainly obvious. With my stick in hand, or elsewhere, I have the ability to experience genuine unimagined euphoria, so who invited my imagination? Where did these closetsful of chaps and thongs come from? Why is my high-school French teacher here? Why does she have a saddle? Why are we in the shoe department of Kmart? Is that your mother? What I know for certain is painful or humiliating or impossible seems fun, worthy of intense speculation. Something so simple, so pleasant, so utilitarian that any animal on Earth can do it, I and my imagination make complicated, fearful, metaphorical—contradictory. That’s how my imagination confronts and deals with reality. That’s how art is made; without imagination, we’d just make more babies, more copies of ourselves, thinking we couldn’t do any worse.





1. This essay is an adaptation of a lecture given for the panel “Keeping the Imagination Alive” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Master of Fine Arts in English Fortieth Anniversary Celebration, May 9, 2003.





NICK MOUDRY
Issue 2. Winter 2003. Pages 12-13.


a poem

To be not sad is the landscape. My left arm
has been missing several days. To be
not sad is the landscape. I am everything Asian.
Do you have a comb? To be inside is to not be

sad. It is hard to imagine. There is no
difference between me & that tree.
Inside the tree there is still. The computer
is working fine now. It is hard to imagine.

Everything I like about me was inside my arm.
How can you organize human? Inside the tree
there is still. To be human is to verb things.

Passive only gets you so far. It is strictly
Asian to conceive a space that is moving
& we are still inside the century of the paragraph.



It’s true I was sad all day. There is no
such thing as pastoral. I hope the noise
stops soon. I am everything Asian
& hope this landscape does not exist.

Each tree is alone. There are many types
of men. Trees live inside me.
Asian poems are sad. I believe there is truth
under the mountain or so I am told.

This house is old. There are no Asian people
here, just me. I am responsible for the geography
of this place & want to believe it is great to be alive.

They tell me you live inside every airport.
I wonder if there are trees there. I wonder
if there are sad Asian people in the trees.



I made the funny Asian trees out of water
I know. There are many types of men. I am
a sad machine. To live inside
them is to not be sad. There are photographs

of me on display inside the airport.
I am not as big as you might imagine.
There is smoke inside the hospital. The noise
will stop when the computer stops.

This house is old. It is not Asian.
I live inside it with the funny Asian trees.
To be inside is to not be sad. I was

born in Waterloo, Iowa. The pillowcases are torn.
You must do your best to sleep. The airport, it is
the newest thing I own, pillowcases on display there.



The farms are all in Waterloo, Iowa. They grow
Asian things there, like me. You must do your best
to sleep. I put all the photographs of the trees
inside the house. The noisy trees

will one day cease to be Asian. I have eaten
all the good fruit & the bad fruit & want
to believe it is great to be alive. I am alive
inside the geography of “a poem.” Listen:

I wonder if trees grow on farms or in airports.
I wonder if airports grow. It’s true
I was sad all day. I want to be alive inside

the geography of “a poem.” Photographs of airports
show me inside them. There has never been a poem
called “a poem.” I am a boy & you, you are far away.





STEVE MUESKE
Issue 2. Winter 2003. Page 27.


After Reading of an Amazing New Device That Brings Back the Dead in Lifelike Holographic Images
—Weekly World News, 7/15/2003

Someone has left the box on again, and there Aunt Mertle
bends to the bright task of baking rhubarb pies. She wipes a hand
on her apron, looks toward the stairs where those still alive

have dropped anchor, their little dream boats afloat
in the wide lake of sleep. And soon Uncle Fred,
dead these seventeen years, is done splitting wood for the fire,

hands folded over the ax-head in that moment
following work when the muscles still sing
and the mind is freed from the habit of motion.

How young these habitués of the laser look, how comforting
and familiar. Here cousin Matthew will never know
the slice of a boat propeller, and Anne can safely ignore

those pricks of pain in her arm. After two weeks at the lake,
he’s mowing the lawn’s shaggy hair, and she’s sitting
at her desk overlooking the wildflowers,

organizing a protest to save the city’s trees,
while the stars of another decade swing round the house
and slowly disappear in the orange flame of early light.




NOMINATED BY AN OUTSIDE READER

DENISE DUHAMEL
Issue 1. Spring 2003. Page 46.


BUNNY SWEATSHIRT

I’d just moved to the East Village to become a poet
when my cousin, the artist, sent me a gray sweatshirt
on which she’d painted a bunny with those kind of paints
that don’t wash off. The sweatshirt was a thick cotton,
which I liked, but the bunny was a pale pink
with lots of detailing. Her note read, “Enjoy your
first real apartment! I remember you liked bunnies
as a kid.” I was broke. I really needed clothes,
but I lived in the East Village for Christ’s sakes.
It was 1985—I couldn’t wear that bunny sweatshirt,
even with any kind of irony. I tried to peel the bunny off
with my fingernail, then with a steak knife,
but I was ruining the cotton which was starting
to come off in clumps. I turned the sweatshirt
inside out, but the bunny bled through the nubs—
now he was just facing left instead of right.
I took the sweatshirt to the laundromat
and washed it on the hottest setting,
but the persistent bunny lived
without even fading. So I went to the craft section
of Lamston’s and bought my own fabric paint—one tube
of black—and slashed away most of the bunny.
I think I left just one of its eyes. My mother called to say—
did I get the sweatshirt? Wasn’t it beautiful?
She reminded me to send a thank you note.
My cousin was selling her sweatshirts on consignment
at the mall, her fabric paint signature
right under each rabbit, turtle, koala, kitty cat,
kangaroo. My family was proud
to have a real artist in the family.




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