Rebecca Black | Melissa Hassard | Al Maginnes | Betty Adcock | Dorianne Laux | Ellen McGrath Smith | Tina Kelley | Joseph Millar | Maxine Chernoff | Jane Satterfield | Kathryn Stripling Byer | Patricia Fargnoli | James Owens | Susan Finch Stevens | Celisa Steele | Peter Makuck | Rochelle Germond | Susan Elbe | Jordan Smith | Kit Loney | Joseph Mills
This is the world I want.
The tree is not a ladder—
every tree is not a witness
or a door. Death
hinges. I’ve made my remnant
nest with shoots of living
jade, Holland bulbs.
This is the world I want, &
I would be unmottled
as a dove
yet as I bent over books
last night, an owl settled
in the hedge,
then on the casement.
I want for a larger window,
that a lover might enter
into Babylon’s maze
with me. Even while flying,
a bird must move over
this unfortunate earth.
In 2011, Rebecca Black was a Fulbright professor at the Seamus Heaney Center for Poetry in Belfast. Her first book, Cottonlandia, won a Juniper Prize. A former Wallace Stegner and NEA fellow, her poems can be found in Poetry, New England Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, and others. The “Showings” series reference the mystical visions of Julian of Norwich.
At the End
He straight-arms the wheel
and one of us gasps, probably me,
at the flash of fur, the impossible
way her eyes roll back in her head
white as fear itself. Brakes scream
yet we run headlong into
the dull whump of metal and meat.
The canvas lung hits my chest,
pins me, turns my cheek.
One moment reaches for the next
as if to hold its hand.
Far away I hear him call my name
with an urgency I am not expecting—
the last syllable curls upwards like smoke.
Something is wrong. Something
was always wrong between us—
that’s why we are down this road
on the wobbly legs of a marriage where
we throw ourselves in front of headlights
as if they were answers.
I hear his door open,
his scuffling feet, his cry:
She’s not dead. At first
I believe he means me.
Melissa Hassard’s work has appeared in various poetry journals, including Poetry Journal, vox poetica, Iodine, and When Women Waken. She resides in Greensboro, North Carolina, and can be found reading, writing, working, and spending time with those she loves. She is founder of Women Writers of the Triad.
I am writing this on my 56th birthday.
On my father’s 56th birthday, he died,
leaving little to measure my steps against
from this day forward. This day when I’m afraid
to close my eyes. The day Charles Mingus died
fifty-six sperm whales died on the beaches in Baja.
And Mingus was 56. He left behind
a garden as sweet and thorny as the fields
father and sons have warred in since the first
measure of time, since stick or rock
first pounded imitation of the human heart.
Tonight, presents and phone calls, the prizes
for completing a year, done, the little cake I can
be allowed, gone, I should listen to music
instead of watching a movie whose outcome
I know, turning pages in books I read last year.
I’m old enough now for real listening, to close
my eyes and let music have its way with me.
“I want to be a star,” said Mingus after he knew
he was dying, meaning not the faces on magazines
or the metal shapes in Hollywood sidewalks,
but the burning orbs of rock and gas we see
only at a distance, whose light continues long after
they go out, the way music continues after
the hand that wrote it is done. When I close my eyes,
fields of stars unfurl there. Those are the stars, bright,
unreachable, each singular as bass notes, stars
I want to shine among, but not today.
Al Maginnes is the author of nine collections of poetry, most recently Inventing Constellations (Cherry Grove Edition, 2012) and Ghost Alphabet (White Pine Press, 2008), winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.
I’m trying to imagine Spain in this windowless place
whose florescent light is disabused of all shadow.
Surely the rich sunspill of Spain would be better than money,
would hold close the dark outlines of music and old blood.
There, houses whiter than the baptized would cast
their night-likenesses on the stones of afternoons
full of rough wine and goat-cries.
Someone has told me this potted plant beside me
can live in a room without even a blind-slit of real
sun for years — light years?
I’m trying to give it better directions, the map
of Spain for instance, instead of the spaceship’s
path to Mars; so that it may flower at least once
for the sake of the dark earth’s journey
and the memory of stars.
Betty Adcock’s six poetry collections from LSU Press include Slantwise and Intervale: New and Selected Poems, which won the Poets’ Prize. Her work appears in three Pushcart Prize anthologies. She won the North Carolina Award for Literature, the Texas Institute of Letters Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She has been Writer-in-Residence at Meredith College, taught in North Carolina State University’s MFA program, and is on the faculty of the Warren Wilson MFA Program.
I’d have to see trees, all shades
of their green, oak leaves, willows,
the stolic magnolia, pines and ferns
unfolding on redwood branches.
And dappled apple groves, skin
of their fruit bitten to the core
by chartreuse worms, pistachios
fallen on the grass, the brash
ragged palms of my youth, my final years’
pale papery ash.
with their spirited insides, that pithy
green sting, avocado and mint, lettuces
and honey dew tea, cyan and citrine.
And teal ducks leaving watery paths
on a mossy pond, viridian and verdigris,
Paris green and Persian green, pears
and parsley, kiwi, kale, ruffled collards,
parrots, terrapin and snakes. And the sea
gone green with algae bloom, the neon fish
of the tropics beneath, that flash at the end
of day that spills along the horizon’s
razor edge, emerald frogs and sedge.
with its bold lipsticky light, bloody roses
and tornado skies, cock’s combs and ripe
tomatoes, chilies and purple onion domes,
cherry soda, strawberries and party
tumblers filled with ruby Kool-Aid, spiked,
a girl at a stop light in the rain, her windshield
glistening, her red dress caught in the car door
flapping like a warning flag from the bed
of a red truck while a fire engine screams by,
the small fires of dashboard lights.
Dorianne Laux’s most recent books of poems are The Book of Men (Paterson Poetry Prize) and Facts about the Moon (Oregon Book Award). She teaches poetry and directs the MFA program at North Carolina State University and she is founding faculty at Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program.
Based on installations and sculptures at the Pittsburgh Biennial Exhibit, 2011
We had to say goodbye to the clothesline
conversations when a meteor
outmatched the sun and the darkness
caused the clothes to glow, unwearable. No more
would we overhear how the divorcée
three houses down had let herself go,
as a garden ungirdled to give way
to brambles, rollers of barbed wire
snarling chunks of the flyaway hair; naturally,
the ex-husband let himself go
without blame — Who could blame
him? — His boxers were ironed twice a week.
Some of the mothers thrived in this new dark,
as mushrooms thrive in dark.
In the meantime, our clothes
hang like rinds and reminders.
I picture our mothers in the sixties
as dinosaurs roaming key-lime lawns
with coupons and clothespins in their mouths.
Then a darkness so total
my mother’s face glowed.
If a meteor is hollow — habitation
for the souls that used to need to wear
the laundry. If a meteor is faceless
enough to bear the features of a Truth,
a Steinem or Friedan or Wollstonecraft.
In the sonogram, fibroids floated in utero.
Look, there’s the egg you’re about to
release, said the doctor.
I took this as praise. My surgical options
Space Invaders, Asteroids.
about laundry, it helps to
remember women in other parts of the world
scrubbing clothes stretched on rocks in the river.
a darkness so total my mother’s face
glowed. And she let herself go
back to school,
got a job,
let the dryer sheets casually mentor
our socks. Meteor became mother,
a shell that could shelter
poking heads out of various portholes.
Ellen McGrath Smith teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and the Carlow University Madwomen in the Attic program. Poems have appeared in Cimarron, Bayou, Quiddity, Now Culture, Sententia, The American Poetry Review, Cerise, and others. A chapbook of her poems is scheduled for publication by Seven Kitchens Press in 2014.
No more four inside-out mouths, inconsolable.
They’ve stopped, so I start my coronation anthem
to the future, wedding song for moon and earth shadow,
slimmest sky claw, lid of tight sleeper, more regal
than dawn. The others splay their riffs over sunrise
with that smug pride of early risers, excited by a mere day.
My eyelash, egg-crack, heralds a month, must be coaxed in
with vigor, over pornographic peonies, over other proofs
that the known is never flat, but shaped like song
spreading in resonant dusk, as we, the musically insane,
scribble our songs over the yard. So future, come quick,
come quick. Bring warm branches, shifting swarms,
sturdy fledglings, soft landings, rain, soaring. I sing
until I sleep mid-note, no reason to pause ever, forever.
Tina Kelley has written two poetry books, Precise (2013) and The Gospel of Galore, a 2003 Washington Book Award winner. She coauthored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope (2012) and worked ten years at The New York Times, sharing in a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of September 11th.
The pigeons of Paris moan in the courtyard,
ring-necked and monstrous they splash
through the gutters, pigeons the size
of partridges swooning
out of the midday fog
where the rain falls down
onto the silent gray horses
in their traces there
outside the parkside café
not far from the ancient cemetery
and the famous bones of Apollinaire.
Let the jet-lagged Americans
with their high-school French
and their walking shoes
pass an entire afternoon
in silence at a small table
beside the pungent fromagerie,
the faces surrounding them
speaking in tongues.
Let them give up their will
and their understanding
without trying to talk or weep,
let them bask in the furry cloud
of their odd, dismantled sleep.
Joseph Millar‘s most recent collection is Blue Rust (Carnegie Mellon, 2012).
He teaches in Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program and lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I lifted to mind a piece of bright blue air. —Robert Creeley
Subtracted and fractioned
by feather, grain, or issue of an eye,
an echo and a star
float from shiny strings,
a home of bright provision
articulate as want. Midnight outlasts
small altars and misprisions as
objects name our histories of mud
and sand and a dim, curled shadow,
crouching near a door. Globe of sleep
witnesses mishaps and mistakes,
our answers and our bells.
Maxine Chernoff is chair of the Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University. Her latest book of poems is Here from Counterpath Press. In 2009 she was a winner of the PEN USA Translation Award and in 2013 she received a poetry fellowship from the NEA. She edits New American Writing.
May 21, 2011, the date predicted for “the Rapture”
by Christian radio host Harold Camping
After we’ve played our Apocalypse
Mix, after late lunch and presents and just
as the sun starts to slip past the mid-
afternoon mark on the late May day that’s
my daughter’s sixteenth, just after the
the hour appointed by law to ensure
she divides her time equally between parental
homes, no sooner than I’ve started
to pour something chilled, my father—
who’s said not very much all day, who’s
thrown no more than his share of jokes into
the mix—suddenly decides it’s his turn
to talk. Any hope of a festive anecdote’s
blown when the story’s a monsignor’s
funeral down county, meaning a round of
local news that I’ve missed—that, and the vats
of hundred-degree bitter coffee, foiled chocolates,
sugar cookies, cheese platters, the bottomless
bowls of pink or green freezer punch . . .
And maybe I’m wifty after a little wine, or just
zoning out in the heat, so maybe I miss
some crucial detail of my brother’s classmate’s
sudden and apparently inexplicable death;
how he woke one day to a black blotch on his shin
and died within a few weeks. It’s years since I thought
of what we nicknamed the “Tower of Doom,” a cold war relic
at the former biowarfare center in Frederick,
the (surely) tall tales we kids told about the Anthrax
Building, the research labs, and just how much
I hated to set foot on that base. Here’s
a little of what we took for fact: that in the seven-story
all but windowless building lurked three-story
tanks for bio-agent production, catwalks where
workers on high floors could watch those below,
plenty of “kill” tanks to render chemicals harmless.
The doors, we were told, worked on some
elaborate ventilation system to keep contaminants
under containment. And on the long-ago day
of some massive spill, the building was evacuated,
blockaded, then sealed. Not yet forty, this father of three,
an active reservist, my brother’s friend whose mysterious
symptoms, were, in the end, brushed off, never explained.
No refill, thanks, for my father, who’s not much for
close questioning, who, even though he’s retired,
still sticks to the stories that he was told: NSA equals
No Such Agency. Time for me to cue a few clouds, bring
out what’s left of the cake. I’ll get nothing more from him beyond
a shrug, or a half-muttered phrase, Poor kid, some unspecified work.
Jane Satterfield is the author of Her Familiars (Elixir Press, 2013), and two previous poetry collections—Assignation at Vanishing Point and Shepherdess with an Automatic—as well as Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
I find my spearhead of ice hanging
off a downed hemlock,
around me the doomed others
standing, but not for long.
Not for long will I stand here
in bitter wind wanting
to drive into your throat
this weapon of ice,
still your voice. Voices,
among them yours, always
yours: how does the wind do that,
net hauling up from the valley
what I left behind?
By the time I have made my way
back home, my blade will have melted,
my weapon no more than
the afternoon’s lingering sun
glinting off winter’s hold.
Kathryn Stripling Byer resides in the western North Carolina mountains. She has published six collections, including Wildwood Flower (Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets). Descent (LSU, 2012) received the SIBA award for poetry and the North Carolina Book Award for poetry. She served for five years as the state’s first woman Poet Laureate.
and the morning opens like a blue glory blossom on a vine.
The business conversations of the birds,
chitterings among the low bushes.
I want to be like the depths
beyond the petals where everything is burning.
The song I need to make it through today
falls on my head softly like smallest pebbles
and keeps me from reaching out in sorrow.
Therefore I sing along and choose
among the many notes.
All night, dreams came to rest in quiet
unfolding into a kind of truth.
They shaped who I am.
The night nurtured them with its stars
as I turned to the wall.
Later rain begins.
I feel the floor trembling
and the circle beneath my feet.
Inheritance and genealogy
on the curb talking
and the rain disappears into puddles.
I want to drift off to sleep
but I resist.
Then it floats me into its arms.
Reality shifts like a hundred
golden fish shimmering in a net
fragments that cannot be put together.
I cannot take it in—bigger than the mind
can keep at once.
What can it mean? I mean everything.
The lake at twilight, the lightning,
all the machinery around me?
Once broken, things remain broken.
Words keep walking across the page
and a covey of doves scatters up.
I can never be close enough to the earth—
its vulnerable body, its almost silent heart,
so many souls riding on it.
Some days I am all habits and compulsions
and then comes the sweet relief.
What if there is no choice?
Who is listening then?
All is vision and sound:
roar of garbage compactors in the complex,
clatter of hours, the hammers of morning,
the women rising, the women sewing.
Who hears voices when no one is there?
Do you even hear me?
Patricia Fargnoli, the New Hampshire Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2009, has published three award-winning books of poetry and three chapbooks. Her fourth book, Winter, was published in 2013 by Hobblebush Books. A retired social worker and a MacDowell Fellow, she has published poems most recently in Alaska Quarterly, Barrow Street, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Tupelo Quarterly.
The wet brown air dreams of green, urging
stems through the rotting, matted sleep
of twigs and fungus and torn leaf,
where fronds press the ragged sides of fallen birch,
the open hands of small women, fringed
with veins like a tracery of fingerprints.
On my knees, I lift one to see the different,
paler green of the underside and stroke
the secret join where thinner stems branch.
But I disappoint myself, soon bored
with beauty, and drift to the river,
gray under clouds. Tough, ordinary grass
blows and rustles beside the water.
Nondescript twigs cross and rub together
on leafless bushes I can’t identify.
The river keeps flowing past.
It is that kind of world. No metaphor,
here at some distance from the ferns—
the grass is grass, the twigs
are twigs, and crows in the distance
gloat over some death they have discovered.
(Death is essential. And the ferns
were not really dreaming, not really small hands—
those organic engines for burning leaf rot.)
I lie lost on my belly, watching grass,
the coolness of dirt seeping in,
the wind and water moving.
Grass will grow through my hands.
James Owens has published two books: An Hour Is the Doorway (Black Lawrence Press) and Frost Lights a Thin Flame (Mayapple Press). His poems, reviews, translations, and photographs appear in The Cortland Review, Poetry Ireland, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and others. He has an MFA from the University of Alabama and lives in central Indiana and northern Ontario.
—for Erin, East Mebon, Cambodia
Not the throngs at Angkor Wat.
Not this lesser shrine where you and I part
without words to climb the empty tiers alone.
Not running my hands along stone flanks
of guardian elephants at this place that once
rose for Shiva like an island in a lake now gone.
Not finding the Buddha, serene usurper, seated saffron-
robed amidst ashen traces of incense offerings.
Not hearing the not-quite-sitar music drifting from afar.
Not coming upon the kind-eyed woman
content in her perpetual task of sweeping
the vast expanse of pocked, uneven stone,
young daughter in tow.
But glimpsing you
sidling through a narrow passageway
to emerge from ancient shadow
into the stark illumination of day.
Susan Finch Stevens’ chapbook Lettered Bones was chosen by Kwame Dawes as a winner in the South Carolina Poetry Initiative Chapbook competition. Her poems have appeared in various publications and in handmade books included in juried and invitational book arts exhibitions. She lives on Isle of Palms near Charleston, South Carolina.
A basketball game backs up roads around town, so I bike
home from a meeting in the October dark, light rain,
startling the seven deer that make beds in our front yard,
fold nightly into brown leaves piled at the base of the old oak.
Gravel popping under car tires, headlights, the familiar
signals to flee. My bike tires are too silent, like the deer themselves.
One stands askant in the driveway, legs at obtuse angles,
still half-dreaming in the vague light that leaks from the sky.
At a dinner last night, my husband of fourteen years
made not one joke but two. Strangers leaned back to laugh.
When did I last climb a barbed-wire fence, shake out a blanket,
lie down in a field, watch my shoes silhouetted with stars?
Celisa Steele lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, where she serves as the town’s Poet Laureate. Her poetry has appeared in Tar River Poetry, The Comstock Review, Inch, Broad River Review, The South Carolina Review, and others. In 2011, Emrys Press published her first chapbook, How Language Is Lost.
I must have known.
Small craft warnings were up.
On our cottage deck,
the Blue Devils flag was tattering
to shreds on the owner’s pole.
I urged my father to take my arm—
a walk on the soft sand would help.
After a few minutes, he stopped.
I stepped back
to take this picture—his eyes wrinkled
like those of dwindling loggerheads
that weeks ago
made it out into the open water.
But this is double exposure: me
earlier that week
as he entered the easier waves
on stick legs, got smaller
would vanish completely.
The camera was a box
made of my fingers, a gag
to lift us into laughter.
Now I have him
still standing on his own
before the toppling waves,
in his blue slicker, electric
blue as the moment,
giving form to the infinite
depth of field
at his back.
Peter Makuck lives on Bogue Banks. He is twice winner of the Brockman Campbell Award for the best book of poetry by a North Carolinian. His Long Lens: New & Selected Poems was published in 2010 by BOA Editions. Also a fiction writer, his third story collection, Allegiance and Betrayal, was published last year by Syracuse University Press.
There are no lizards here. No
lidless eyes to follow the gait
of a spider across the eggshell-painted wall,
keeping his distance with
well-placed webbed toes, lapping up
his meal with a tongue swift and precise.
There are no lightning storms, the rainless,
thunderless kind created with only the silent
heat of August midnights, the kind that leave
nothing but neon flickering
behind closed eyes, like the dying
glow of a bar’s open sign.
I have no central air. My studio apartment
is cooled and heated by the machine
under my window. It cycles on
and off, gurgling water, recirculating
the air that I have been breathing for days,
weeks, months, air that smells like a hotel
room, an unpacked suitcase, a bed slept in
by someone only staying the night.
Rochelle Germond is pursuing her MFA in poetry at North Carolina State University. Her work has appeared in The Main Street Rag, Third Wednesday, and Emerge, among others. Originally from Florida, she most misses palm trees and lizards, though she is enjoying the fireflies and seasons of her new home.
That summer she pierced her ears with an ice cube and a needle, and kept her fingers busy weaving macramé bracelets. That summer she wore cotton shifts and rubber flip-flops and cut off all her hair, and walked home every night in the dark, alone, under the swaying elms before they all began to die. That summer she was full of freedom, even her breasts swinging loose. That summer she fell for two men, no, boys, who thought they were men, and she was just a girl who didn’t know she had a woman in her body. That summer none of us yet knew how wide and deep loneliness could be. Raw and riled with hope, we thought beginning was all there was.
paper cut the bright furrow of blood
Susan Elbe is the author of The Map of What Happened, winner of the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize and the 2014 Julie Suk Award from Jacar Press, Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry), Where Good Swimmers Drown (Concrete Wolf Press) and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press).
—for Nat, in Galway
I was in Taaffe’s with my son, and the session was just beginning
To find its way past all that seriousness and the player’s good
Intentions, the two self-conscious fluters and the poker-
Faced piper pushing the reels like water under a mill
Wheel, when the girl smiled, sat down, broke out
Her concertina, and they were away then, and so
Was I, cider forgotten on the bar behind me, and then
He punched my arm by way of hello, the old guy
In a cheap windbreaker and cotton cap, though outside
It was gusts and rain, and he had a lot to say on subjects
Large and small and most of it at some variance
With anything I’d think even once to say in a public house,
And he told me twice how good the music was that neither
Of us could hear a note of now that he was under steam
About his years in the merchant marine and the damned
Immigrants, and that, I told my son, when I grabbed him
By the arm and hauled us out of there, is just the way it goes,
You think you’ve heard the music of the spheres or
At least some minor variation that makes a favorite tune
Lift from the mists like the abbey of some saint whose name
You don’t quite believe, and there’s a relic, they say, holy
And approachable, but when you get there, the sign reads
The Thighbone of St. Feckin, another good bad joke
On the tourist you’ve become out of sheer hope.
And then some bastard wants to tell you how Capetown’s gone
To hell for a sailor ever since, while the band is still
Trying to make themselves heard. You know the tune:
The Mills Are Grinding. You know you could play it
The rest of your life and still not make it right.
Jordan Smith is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently The Light in the Film from the University of Tampa Press and Clare’s Empire, just out as a digital edition from The Hydroelectric Press. He teaches at Union College.
This page a feast of pigment and pattern,
a room festooned and bustling men.
In brocaded, fringed fabrics, in robes embroidered
gold, in harlequin hose and tasseled tunics
they flock to the great white-clothed table
where gold and silver platters crowd
like haloes making themselves useful,
and two tiny dogs stroll among the dishes, sample fare.
And one servant hefts a golden pitcher,
and another kneels one knee down before
a white greyhound who gazes back,
obedient and eager, tail curled,
red collar gold clasped and studded.
I wonder at his style of hair,
this man and some of the others,
nape and sideburns shorn bare,
top thatch locks worn acorn cap.
What cool and hip looked like in 1415?
I think of Tiffany in my classroom yesterday,
nose pierced, turquoise bangs, strutting her atheism
like a new pair of shocking pink jeans.
She is trying to turn the world inside out.
What if they’ve got it all backwards
she crows, and it’s Dog, not God?
Through laughter yelps the phrases:
In Dog we trust. So help me Dog!
As Dog is my witness!
And now I look at this detail in the lower corner.
This servant bowing his head, offering hound
the game share, reverent as though in prayer,
a quiet moment of devotion at the foot of the page,
like the truest of all blessings before this banquet.
Kit Loney’s poems have appeared in the Poetry Society of South Carolina Yearbooks, Emrys Journal, Kakalak, Yemassee, Redheaded Stepchild, Qarrtsiluni, Waccamaw, and Poetry East. She received the 2012 Carrie McCray Nickens Poetry Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Her background is in visual arts, which she teaches in middle school.
As my son swings
and says Daddy
look at me.
a boy is shot for being
in an unfamiliar neighborhood
a boy is shot for asking
a boy is shot
for walking in the backyard
of a house his father just bought
a boy is shot for being
like my son
curving into the sky
then falling towards earth
I must speak
with my mouth full
the daily bread,
I will eat
until one of us dies
and I try to swallow
and I say
Yes, you are.
Yes, you are.
Joseph Mills teaches at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he holds an endowed chair, the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published four collections of poetry with Press 53. His fifth, This Miraculous Turning, will be released in September 2014.