Art by Cecilia Lueza
Lauren K. Alleyne | Amelia Martens | Eleanor Hooker | Kathleen Kirk | Simon Anton Niño Diego Baena | Patricia Spears Jones | Jessica Traynor | Sandra Kohler | Marilyn Kallet | Joey Lew | Annette Sisson | Gina Keplinger | Connie Post | A. Molotkov | Yuan Changming | Kathleen McGookey | Kevin Conroy | David Kirby | Gary Fincke | Tim Mayo | Marge Piercy
Second Look — Daddy by Sylvia Plath
When your body is a crime scene
And the only witness is your hands
And you become
a taped-off thing: Caution;
Do not cross
And there are fingerprints
And they are not yours
And they are yours
And you can’t move
—there’s nowhere to go—
And you have to, no, you want to
So you paint the walls, scrub
the floors into gleaming, drape
with a string of lights: a smile
across your front porch face
And maybe you never get
that stain off your plump cushion
And maybe some days you forget
where the chalk outline was
But some nights you wake
to it pressing its heavy hollowness
against you and you can’t
You change the locks because
you want to be safe
You never lock the doors
because you want to be
You remind yourself: this is mine;
I live here.
You are never truly at home
Lauren K. Alleyne, author of Honeyfish and Difficult Fruit is a poet and educator. Her award-winning work appears in venues such as The Atlantic, The New York Times, Tin House and Ms Muse, among others. She is assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University.
American Commute, 2019
Because we know metal has memories, I think
of the dead squirrel—leg perpendicular to blue
sky and bottle brush tail, a flag in the breeze
across the double yellow line, as my car churns past
in this new version of spring, in this new version
of the twenty-first century, which we call the Age
of Brutal Existence, the Age of Morning Despair
in which we disparage the dawn for arriving.
I drive this car that remembers a time
before terror, when we were afraid on a scale
for which we had experts and instruments
and the idea of two towers
collapsing one morning in Manhattan
was a nightmare we had not yet had
to wake up to; this car that remembers
the days of meeting the returned father
at the gate, where you could wait to see
which airplane might bring back your family.
I drive this car in this spring with this body
and I want to know how we can pass by
this squirrel in the center of traffic as if
his body is nothing, as if our bodies are
Our bodies are nothing. We are
so far from understanding; the trees
scream at a frequency that makes
children anxious to be outside
What might fall from the sky
Who might show up to shoot us
We are so far from understanding:
we are animals among animals;
the bodies in the road
are our own.
Amelia Martens is the author of The Spoons in the Grass are There To Dig a Moat (Sarabande Books, 2016), and four poetry chapbooks, including Ursa Minor (elsewhere magazine, 2018). She has two awesome daughters and received a 2019 Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council.
All My Imperfections
The woods I walk each night are lit
by thunder bugs. Their soft bodies,
tiny lanterns, emit a slight now-green-
The trees here are friendly creatures —
they cast shadows only of themselves.
They know what I’m in search of
and sway with pleasure when I find it —
a portrait of all my imperfections.
See my dress, a magnificent, wicked red,
my hair, a tattered raven; my feet,
dropped and bare; my wings patched;
my back arched; my flight unsettled —
look, this is who I am, my authentic self.
I carry my portrait to the forest edge,
to delight in it and to share — a grave mistake.
I brush against a Cailleach and when she stirs,
there’s no recourse but to stand with the trees
and watch, to remain silent and watch.
Her blue hands winter the dark,
and though the trees are honourable —
as witness, they are mute. She touches me,
there, my red dress, and there, my bare feet,
and there, my torn wings.
She puts a stone in my mouth,
cackles when I object, then leaves.
Inside the woods I speak sorrow without ceasing.
I dig, lower the canvas into the forgiving earth,
lay it, face down, on top of my shorn wings.
Eleanor Hooker‘s third poetry collection will be published 2020, her other collections are A Tug of Blue and The Shadow Owner’s Companion, Dedalus Press. New poems are forthcoming in POETRY magazine, Winter Papers, Poetry Ireland Review and Banshee. Eleanor is a Fellow of the Linnean Society, and an RNLI lifeboat helm.
I woke up in the winter of the blue snow
and walked by the man’s side,
faithful as a dog. I remember how he laughed
like a rumble of thunder,
how everyone loved him, and he loved me.
He rested his ax
on his shoulder, and the ground shook
gently as he strode
from forest to forest. It isn’t good to dwell
on what we were doing.
I might forever regret my time with him
and forget what happened
to me when he was gone, how I slept for days
in the blue snow that fell again,
how it heaped itself over me, and I became
a blue glacier on the landscape,
a grand memory of a former time,
to a hillside. Even to remember this much
is to slide down and down,
an avalanche, crushing everything in my path.
But I made valleys in my woe.
I made moraines. Now wildflowers blow
where I let sorrow reign.
Kathleen Kirk is the author of eight poetry chapbooks, most recently The Towns (Unicorn Press, 2018) and Spiritual Midwifery (Red Bird, 2019). Her work has appeared previously in One, as well as Eclectica, Poetry East, Waccamaw, and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life.
With Different Wars Raging
I hear the piano playing
pulls the moon closer to all
the blurring faces
like an empty urn
I can see the wounds
am at peace with
the last remaining forests
and those melting ice caps
slow, slow funeral
the cathedral door still open
“There is no heaven”
I keep reminding myself
feel the keys
pushing the night farther
only to reveal:
a country in ruins
Simon Anton Niño Diego Baena spends his spare time on the road with his wife, Xandy. His work appears in The Cortland Review, Fifth Wednesday, The Inflectionist Review, Osiris, Construction Literary Magazine, Lily Poetry Review, Chiron Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, The Magnum Opus Persists in the Evening is forthcoming from Jacar Press. He publishes the online poetry/art journal, January Review.
The Poem at Sea
The poem found itself at sea. Poet forages another poet’s
vocabulary—her words might prize open poet’s mind-
locked chambers reveal the posture of jellyfish.
Oh, this search for a key to closed chambers———
Ah wavy words ripple and undulate, one poet’s gift
To the other. The rigidity of imagery laps against a body’s shore
We are living lakes sloshing against other bodies
Pardon, we say as spilling over—”chemo”, it is the word
“Chemo”, the poet marks
A boundary too often crossed
A procession of cells mutating
An attempted murder of mutating cells
The loss of parts beautiful: hair, eyebrows
The keepsake of an almost intact body
That perfume of noxious sweats.
Chart’s waves of tears, or salves hearts’ muscle loss.
The poem is at sea. Observe
Distant from the harbor
Its journey towards massive cliffs
Far from this ravenous seagull
Eviscerating a pigeon on red rooftop
An ascent towards abrasive beauty.
For Meena Alexander (1951-2018)
Patricia Spears Jones is poet, literary curator, and cultural activist and the winner of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers. She is author of A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems and 10 other poetry collections. Her poems are anthologized in Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin and 2017 Pushcart Prize XLI. She is organizer of American Poets Congress and Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Black Earth Institute.
It was clear to me
the Anthropocene light
would scorch your skin,
blind your eyes, so nebula-blue.
Air con booklets became my bible,
free radicals roamed every draught.
I could taste the bacterial air,
its malicious intent, and you,
drowning in it, so out of your element.
I lived through spectroscopies
of doubt as your lungs quaked
through crimson clouds of oxygen,
cyan ozone, hydrogen’s bluet mist.
But I underestimated the tendency
of any being subjected
to this planet’s droughts and fevers
to become, without a thought
for the loss of quicksilver stars,
just another human.
Jessica Traynor‘s awards include Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year and the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary. She’s currently writing a libretto for Galway European Capital of Culture 2020. Her collections are Liffey Swim and The Quick (Dedalus Press). She is a Creative Fellow of University College Dublin.
My metaphysician grandson asks where all
the roads end, who has had all the babies,
who is the Mama of us all? Bewildered,
we beseech the god we don’t believe in to
sprinkle us with hyssop, so that we may be
cleansed. I doubt that there’s any hyssop
in the solution I used to spray the living
room chandelier during spring cleaning.
It’s clean now, so are the curtains, but my
study shades reproach me, gray and grim as
today’s sky. I want a study like my friend’s
in New Hampshire, light-filled, giving out
on mountains. Yet in my yard crocuses
are thrusting up, roses putting out leaves.
A cusp, edge, between new and old, winter
and spring, fear and hope, change and stasis.
The child, old man, the seed, faltering plant.
Where does the word “falter”come from?
I falter in the garden, want help. I’d ask for
it but it’s not my place. My place is here, in
this room, retreat, multifarious household,
in my ambiguous relationships with those
I love greatly, those I find hard to love but
wish I did because I imagine they need it.
Who doesn’t need to be loved? Perhaps
a saint. A buddha. The dead? Do the dead
need to be loved? We may need to love them
to keep ourselves whole. If I could summon
mine, I’d ask them to join my living, help
me with my garden, my study, my loving.
Sandra Kohler has published three poetry collections, Improbable Music(Word Tech), The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere over the past 45 years. One poem was chosen as part of Jenny Holzer’s permanent installation at the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.
My horoscope says, “You can’t find love
by seeking it,
so go create
Sure, would you like a side
of Aeolian harp strings with that?
Or a Grecian urn-chip
stamped with well-turned
men? “Are you done?”
the stars hummed.
“Weave lines like ivy
wrapping the sycamore,
slips that don’t need
us, almost weightless,
like the crisp magnolia
leaf you keep near the dash
tan like Spanish leather,
like that boy in Seville (what
was his name?) Fifty years
back. I bet
Marilyn Kallet is Knoxville Poet Laureate and Professor Emerita at the University of Tennessee. She has published 18 books, including How Our Bodies Learned, poetry from Black Widow Press. She has translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems, among others. She leads a writing residency for VCCA, in Auvillar, France.
Any Poem About My Body Is a Prayer
Challah loaves braiding together
make double helixes fragile
tugging chromosomes together lacing
neatly, checking themselves for
deletions. Any mistake is
visible in the lattice-work, the stitching.
In the year of your lord (not mine):
the sleeper cells climb spines and set charges
on power lines. I like to think that I vibrate,
not seizure but seism.
My basket of synapses is staticky.
I hand them out—here hand
here face here thigh here neck
here neck here neck I am
whiplashed and disorganized
bruises of my own
doing clumsy and reckless
with my limbs as I am: here
missing B cells
one unit down
hear my organs thank me
smooth muscle taut pumping
regularly thank you
hypothalamus thank you medulla oblongata
thank you neural tracts and absentia
for the year I have been no quake and all earth—
Joey Lew holds an MFA from UNC-Greensboro and is currently a medical student at UCSF. Her interviews and reviews have been published in Diode, Michigan Quarterly Review Online, and Tupelo Quarterly, and her poetry can be seen in Gravel and Black Bough Poetry.
Your Desire a Loaded Spring
Your eyes drift west. I feel the distance
rise. The driveway cracks are widening,
the sagging bookshelves undusted
in the half-vacant bedroom that was yours.
Did I tell you, the vocal cords of Sandhill
Cranes measure five feet, their bodies
just three? The cords coil like
French Horns, their stentorian bugles
rattling for miles. Their bodies, lithe
and strong-legged—ballerinas with scarlet
turbans—seem hardly able to contain
such freight, to emit such cries.
And the corkscrews inside, the springs
that propel their flight, wings unfurling
as they leap, heads pumping low.
Last May I heard the Sandhills’ call.
As they launched, clamoring high above the marsh,
becoming invisible, I saw your coiled
body, your desire a loaded spring. Your voice
is the overture before the dancers’ buoyant cabrioles,
before the cranes’ sacramental journey to the Platte.
Annette Sisson—Professor of English at Belmont University—lives in Nashville, TN. 2019 Pubs: Rockvale Review, Nashville Review; chapbook, A Casting Off (Finishing Line, 2019). Forthcoming: Passager Magazine, Blue Mountain Review, SPANK the CARP, Hamilton Stone Review, KAIROS. 2019 Awards: The Porch Writers’ Collective’s Poetry Award winner; Passager Magazine Poetry Award, honorable mention.
Reverse Girl Murder
After Kerrin McCadden
Bruises fold in on themselves, dark blooms
collapse around my neck, wrists. Familiar song
of teeth, scattered like seed in soil, return to mouth.
Blood threads the needle of my wounds,
every red knifed line sutures itself shut.
I chew through black garbage bag, slip zip ties off,
so many discarded bracelets, my arms unbreak,
pull the rest of me from turned earth. I stand
on two girl-legs, knee caps intact, no man
has made ivory mosaic of me.
The trunk of his car swallows me backwards,
cab hailed from nameless county road
to Friday night, gin and lime, pink lipstick
prints on paper napkin, shot glass, his laugh
At dusk, back home, I unready myself,
eyeliner wings clipped, hair, a stranded prairie,
reappear my neck empty of rope, waist empty
of open, eyes empty of alarm. In the kitchen,
my plate unfills. I hunger for nothing.
My old working car in reverse, I unpark
at the lot off Leavenworth Street, stray garbage
unscatters at my feet. I return groceries aisle by aisle,
look down from security screen hanging like disco ball
just above store entrance. I unsee myself, unfazed,
unsay my own name.
Gina Keplinger is the Program Manager for the Nebraska Writers Collective. Her work has been published, or is forthcoming, in The Rumpus and Young Scholars In Writing, among other journals. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
I want to live in a house
where the rooms are half made
thin as moth wings
a place where
no one can be trapped
in a room
with one persecutor
the one with the dark hands
the open mouth
there will be no bugs
crushed into the corners
of the night
the plans should not include
clear as a glass bottom boat
the entry way
should be built
on salient sand
I will find a vase
that holds my conscious self
place it carefully
on the translucent table with no legs
I step into my room
find the architect
with his broken fingers
He tells me
“I am ready now”
Connie Post‘s poetry has appeared in Calyx, River Styx, Slipstream, Spoon River Poetry Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Verse Daily. Her first full length Book “Floodwater” (Glass Lyre Press) won the Lyrebird Award. She is the winner of the 2016 Crab Creek Poetry Award and the 2018 Liakoura Award.
If you need a new spelling
for your question mark, use my body
to wash away your mistakes. I open
into a landscape. A few hills,
a few cows, the river’s shining line
under the red light from my arteries. My blood
feeds the river, but we don’t
talk about it. We follow it
to the cloudy ocean inside my skull’s
cavity. It’s half-full. It has
many islands: love, panic,
mystery. On each island, you
and I discuss river endings. I
open up into a flood. A few
waves, a few boats, the blue light
from my veins, half-empty. If you need
a longer period for your
question mark, hold me back
Born in Russia, A. Molotkov moved to the US in 1990 and switched to writing in English in 1993. His poetry collections are The Catalog of Broken Things, Application of Shadows and Synonyms for Silence. Published by Kenyon, Iowa, Antioch, Massachusetts, Bennington and Tampa Reviews, Molotkov co-edits The Inflectionist Review.
Crows Everywhere Are Equally Black
But this one in the backyard of my heart
Is as white as a summer cloud
I have fed him with fog and frost
Until his feathers, his flesh
His calls and even his spirit
All turn into white like winter washed
My crow’s wings will never melt
Even when flying close to the sun
Yuan Changming published monographs on translation before leaving China. With a Canadian PhD in English, Yuan edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include ten Pushcart nominations and publications in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry: Tenth Anniversary Edition, BestNewPoemsOnline and 1,569 other literary outlets across 42 countries.
I Have Forgotten Dusk
I have forgotten dusk and the hundred crows perched in the bare oak outside the
hospital, angels buzzing in our ears like mosquitoes, the dark murmuring and settling
in. I have also forgotten the moment, hours later, when darkness lifted, stars fading
like roadside litter, gray field and gray sky emerging once again, the maidenhair
grasses leaning under their tassels as if the light were too much to bear.
Kathleen McGookey‘s fourth book, Instructions for My Imposter, will be published in October 2019. Her work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Crazyhorse, December, Field, Glassworks, Miramar, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quiddity, and Sweet. She has received grants from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sustainable Arts Foundation.
As Much Belowground as Above
We don’t see forest for the trees – its dead trees too
hosting fungi spread by truffle-loving voles across its floor,
spores infusing roots so lovingly that who knows
where one begins and the other ends, detritivores
and bacteria digesting, birds seed-spreading, ants organising:
the single and separate strife and striving of life together,
the compromising chase at the speed of trees, in all weather
for the food it sucks to live forever.
As much heart as lungs and as much belowground as above
my trees eat light and air, grow in their grove,
sigh, filter, flush, pump life to the topmost leaf.
Hour by hour they make cells, absorbs, feeds, cures,
branches, sheds, heals, shades, blooms like a prayer
for a world that assumes their breath and store.
I am as much body-mind – belowground as above,
sharing, resolving, infusing deep roots with love.
Who knows where me begins and others’ end, sees
when Past ends and Now makes Future, agrees
that we can do Now, at the speed of trees?
Kevin Conroy‘s poems have been published in The Irish Times, The Stony Thursday Book, the moth, THE SHOp, Southword, Burning Bush II, Boyne Berries, The Blue Max Review, The Curlew, erbacce, The Runt, Skylight 47& Poetry School website scroll. He was runner-up in The Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2016.
Having a Chat with You
Your friend Loretta reminds me of my friend Allen, who wants to sell
his refrigerator, so he puts it out on the sidewalk with a sign on it that says
“RUNS GOOD,” and when a passerby says the sign should say “RUNS
WELL,” Allen says that no one would buy a refrigerator with a sign on it
like that. Coleridge says that prose is words in their best order, and poetry
is the best words in the best order. He doesn’t say anything about signs
on refrigerators, probably because there were no refrigerators in 18th-century
England, although there was refrigeration as long as you were rich enough
to own an ice house, which was not exactly something that could be
wheeled out onto a sidewalk and sold.
I guess the idea is that if your sign
says “RUNS WELL,” that means you’re an educated person and therefore
a liar as well as someone who has never kept an appliance in good repair
and doesn’t even own a screwdriver. For that matter, how do we ever
communicate anything? Helen Keller had been deaf and blind all her life
when she befriended Martha Graham, visiting her studio often and following
the dancers’ movements through the vibrations of the floor, though
one day she surprises the grande dame of modern dance by asking,
“Martha, what is jumping? I don’t understand.” Touched by this childlike
question, Graham asks a member of her company, Merce Cunningham,
to stand at the barre as she brings her friend up behind him and says,
“Merce, be very careful, I’m putting Helen’s hands on your body,”
and she places Helen Keller’s hands on Merce Cunningham’s waist.
Now when you pick up a poem for the first time, is this not you, your
hands as soft as bird wings on the poem’s waist, waiting for it to leap?
T. S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
Have you seen that picture of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses?
Photographer Eve Arnold said Monroe kept Joyce’s novel in her car
and had been reading it for a long time, that she loved the sound of it
and read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it, though she found it
hard going. REM vocalist Michael Stipe says something similar about
song lyrics, namely, “I doubt very few people in the world can tell you all
the words to ‘Tumbling Dice’ by the Rolling Stones. It probably holds
a lot more meaning to be able to make up your own words and make up
your own meanings about what the words are saying.”
the words are not themselves at all but something else entirely, such as
a signal to a bunch of armed civilians huddling in cafés and basements
in France to rise up and defeat their German invaders, the creeps:
five days before D-Day, the first few lines of Paul Verlaine’s “Song
of Autumn” were broadcast to alert a French resistance unit called
Ventriloquist to start cutting railway lines so the Heil Hitler boys
couldn’t transport soldiers and materiel to the coast of Normandy.
Les sanglots longs / Des violons / De l’automne, writes Verlaine,
Blessent mon coeur / D’une langueur / Monotone, which is exactly
how I feel when I think of you dying before I do and leaving me alone
on this wretched earth, though if I die first, I guess you’ll find yourself
in the same kettle of fish. Also, whoever’s left will have to dispose
of all the crap we’ve accumulated over the years, wheeling it out
onto the sidewalk and haggling with strangers over the value
of things hardly worth haggling about, though at least we live
in the 21st century and are thus able to dispose of something like
a refrigerator one item at a time; otherwise you’d have to sell
your whole house and the ice house with it just to rid yourself
of the latter, and who’d want to do that? Surely selling a house
then was just as horrible as selling one now. The long sighs / of
the violins / of autumn / wound my heart / with their monotonous
languor. . . .
When you die and I still want to talk to you,
will you hear me? Somebody told me about this inconsolable widow
who was accused of blasphemy by the church because the bereaved
is supposed to accept death and the eternal life of the dead person
calmly, whereas she, the widow, wanted to commission a sculpture
of herself screaming and beating on her husband’s grave with her fists,
and when the churchman who is interviewing her says, “Were you
not heard to say to your dying husband, ‘If you depart this earth
and leave me alone, I shall knock and hammer on your grave’?”
and when she admits that these are indeed her words, says, “Then
you pound on the earth in the hope that your husband can hear you?”
to which she replies, “No, I pound on the earth precisely for the reason
that he cannot.”
Everyone in Martha Graham’s studio stands mesmerized
as Merce Cunningham squats slightly and then leaps into the air,
Helen Keller’s hands rising with his body, her expression changing
gradually from curiosity to joy. Cunningham can feel her fingers moving
slightly, as though fluttering, and suddenly Helen Keller cries,
“Oh, how wonderful! How like thought! How like the mind it is!”
The long sighs of the violins of autumn. . . .
I like that name Ventriloquist,
don’t you? Since it means an act of stagecraft in which a person changes
his or her voice so that it appears to come from someplace else. Where
you hear violins, they hear guns—bam! Dynamite. TNT, if they can lay
their hands on it. Pencil detonators, grenades—ka-blooey! Words are
beautiful—I use them—but you have to use them the right way,
and now I’m thinking of my favorite street in Florence, Via delle Belle
Donne, which means Street of Beautiful Women, which sounds just
as good in either language, doesn’t it? Sounds exactly the same.
David Kirby teaches English at Florida State University. He is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His latest poetry collection is More Than This.
Soeur Sourire and the Vanishing of Nuns
After your student’s accidental death,
You calligraphy her workshop poem
About the possibilities of love,
Reforming the imagery for desire
With intricate loops and decisive slants.
Her setting is the garden of St. Paul
Tended by two ancient nuns who, each day,
Inspect the light altered by arrangements
Of decorative trees; who prune, monthly,
The rose bushes to allow kneeling for
The raised right hand of a smiling Mary.
Pausing, you remember it has been years
Since you have noticed a nun. Because they
Have abandoned their habits, you decide,
And remember how they rode the streetcar
In pairs; how they gathered at the museum
Where you were transfixed by dinosaur bones,
Mummies, and animals stuffed and mounted.
The way, for decades, perfectly preserved,
Lenin’s body has proved that death flatters
Just as well as a costly, tailored suit.
Years ago, you learned that when the Germans,
During World War II, neared St. Petersburg,
The Communists moved Lenin’s body to
Siberia, where almost anything,
Prisoner to icon, could be hidden.
Lately, in Florence, surrounded by faith,
You were startled by loud, recorded “Shhhs,”
A single “Silencio” from above
Meant to minimize a thousand tourists.
Your camera was shuttered by decree;
Everyone listened through rented ear buds
To the near-whisper of the guide, and some
Paid for candles to light and wish upon.
You shuffled close to a sarcophagus
Roped off like a crime scene. This saint, the guide
Murmured, was so selfless her body was
Shared by the cathedrals in competing
Cities, and you wanted to interrupt
To explain how the soldiers who guarded
Lenin’s body, longing for usefulness,
Drank themselves daily into sorrowful songs
While Lenin lay silent. How, recently,
In Covington, Kentucky, you walked through
The landscaped grounds of a Benedictine
Monastery where monks had constructed
Monte Casino, forming, from limestone,
The world’s tiniest chapel—six by nine,
Cell-sized, maximum occupancy three,
A pew where you sat as if believing
You heard the sacred urge of “save yourself”
Tumbling from the belfry too small for bells.
Your student’s sixteen lines were a gospel
Of surfaces, touch after touch where nerves
Nearly breach the skin. They detailed blossoms
That flourished like sacrifice; they added
Topiary that shadowed erosions
From frequent storms, the nuns often singing.
You recalled Soeur Sourire,the Singing Nun,
Her song about Dominique relentless
On the radio, her Ed Sullivan
Minutes, how you followed her brief career,
Discovering she had left the order
For a woman, nothing certain by then
But the pull of desire. Nuns in the mall
Laughed so loudly you dreamed them touching each
Other or men they once had disciplined
In schoolrooms, hissing the “Shhh” of holy
Admonishment while their habits rustled.
The priest who blessed your wedding fled the church
For a woman who had spent seven years
As a nun. Soon Sister Smile killed herself,
Nuns becoming improbable as faith.
Already, a collection of habits
Is on display at your city’s museum
Where teachers gather their restless students
To hear a young, uniformed guide explain
What those dark, dowdy outfits signified.
Her skirt stops short enough to turn your head
Toward her mystery, and you meditate
On which vows she would be willing to break,
Her history yammering somewhere else.
Before you left that cathedral, eighteen
Of the thirty-nine in your tour group dipped
Their fingers into an ornate basin
And skittered their dripping hands through the sign
Of the cross, “Shhh, Silencio” pausing
The guide, who nodded, as reverent in
Ancient, natural light as your student,
Who, at last, shifted to the white statue
Of the garden saint, his blessed hand smooth
From centuries of kisses, her poem
Ending in an astonishment of prayer.
Gary Fincke‘s latest collection, The Infinity Room, won the Wheelbarrow Boos Prize for Established Poets (Michigan State, 2019). After the Three Moon Era was chosen by Chana Bloch as the 2015 winner of the Jacar Press Full-Length Collection competition.
The Elephant in the Room
Thick skinned, wrinkled and gray,
it sits surrounded by eggshells
you must walk on but not disturb.
Deus of denial and false complacency,
ancient demon of faltering families,
just when you think it’s disappeared
like an obsolete religion, fear of god,
out of the corner of your eye, you see
its long reach snake up to sniff you out,
you see it sit again in the easy chair
by the standing lamp, cross its legs,
all big-eared and selectively deaf,
then snap open the paper like a whip,
make you jump—crush the shells.
Tim Mayo‘s second volume of poems, Thesaurus of Separation (Phoenicia Publishing, Montréal, 2016) was a finalist for the 2017 Montaigne Medal and the 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award. His new collection, Notes to the Mental Hospital Timekeeper will be published by Kelsay Books in the spring of 2020.
It has a woman’s name
Hurricane with a woman’s name
bulldozes its way up the map.
The spaghetti futures include us.
We trim a few branches in case.
A hurricane is like a bad love
affair that overtook you, claimed
your brain and energy, filled
your time and then slammed
you to the ground. No escaping
its power. There’s no way out
of here, off the Cape, over two
bridges only. Traffic’s already
backed up miles and miles.
Engines overheat. Drivers curse.
No one moves. The air thickens.
The sky darkens and slumps.
Shutters go up, people create
futile winsow Xs with masking tape.
All over the village people fill
tubs and jugs, charge phones.
The stores have sold out milk,
bottled water, matches, batteries.
If your generator’s tanks aren’t
full, you’re out of luck. Canned
goods are what we’ll be eating
that is if the roof doesn’t blow
off and turn into a kite; If no
trees fall on the house and us.
Even before the power goes
we are truly powerless. What
ever we’ve done to nature,
her revenge is coming fast.
Knopf just published Marge Piercy‘s 18th poetry book The Hunger Moon: New & selected poems 1980-2010. She published 17 novels, recently Sex Wars; 2 early novels Dance the Eagle to Sleep and Vida are being reissued by PM Press. Her memoir is Sleeping With Cats, Harper Perennial.