Orange World by George Natsioulis
Tara Ballard | Jonathan Endurance | Ali Black | Chiedozie Kelechi Danjuma | Terry Savoie | Chisom Okafor | Ahmad Almallah | Emma Aylor | Jessica Goodfellow | Stephen Peeples | Ben Groner III | Sean Purio | Roy Bentley | D.S. Waldman | Simon Perchik | Mercedes Lawry | Joseph Mills | Jen Karetnick | Joey Lew | Angela Patten | Gary Fincke
Reading Azar Nafisi in the Midwest
with lines from Reading Lolita in Tehran
As for conflict: Two trucks barrel down
the street, flags the size of Peugeots. The red,
white, and blue fabric whips in the wind and registers
in our ear drums like the snap of leather belts.
Pressing upon gas, the men fury themselves past
you and me as we leave an Iraqi grocer.
In a neighboring city, the mirror image
plows through a crossing of protestors,
the walking man daring to flash from its side perch
as if safety meant what we thought before, and I want
for God to make us one fleshless, boneless being
or, if impractical, allow you to stay home the week before,
the week of, the day after. But we’re not home. We are
merely visiting your old house, and who lives here now
is not one for recognition. How do I confess
that I’m afraid for you? The slur painted
across truck windows sours, triggers
what we don’t like to speak. Instead, I fidget,
adjust what rests in my lap: two rounds of fresh bread
and baba ghanouj. A jar of pickled beets. Our turn
signal clicks, and though the street is clear
enough for us to move forward, we don’t. One hand
on the wheel, your other hovers above the gear stick.
I can’t say what comes next.
These men will set fire to themselves and us.
It doesn’t matter who first burns. In the war
they are stoking, it’s the fuel they call holy.
Tara Ballard is the author of House of the Night Watch (New Rivers Press), winner of the 2016 Many Voices Project Prize in poetry. Her poems have been published in Consequence Magazine, diode, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, and other literary magazines. Her work won a 2019 Nazim Hikmet prize.
Coffin at Dusk
After Ahmaud Arbery
After the war, I drag my father out
of the sand, the cloud of dust cataloguing
his face like a museum of ancient relics.
Because every war pulls our feet
a step closer to God, I kneel by his side
and imagine his mouth a music box
void of melodies. I whisper into
his ears. His silence poisons my thought.
What is silence if not the blood streaming
through his mouth. And the bullet holes
in his chest like doors ushering him into a new
beginning. I desire to unlearn every hymn that
busies my mouth with requiems. Because the
face of death could be anyone’s,
I wipe the dust off his face. I recite the Lord’s Prayer
with a mouth full of gasoline and matchstick.
Jonathan Endurance holds a B.A in English and Literature. His poems appear or forthcoming in Rattle Magazine, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Alegrarse, FIVE:2:ONE, The Cardiff Review, The Ellis Review, Brittle Paper and elsewhere. His unpublished poem won UNESCO Sponsored Prize for the 14th edition of Castello di Duino Poetry Competition, ITALY.
I. Morning Cigarette
I knew she would smoke forever.
By the time I was in high school she was lighting up in bed
before she even turned on the news.
I’d hear the cough, cough, cough, cough
cut through her words like a rude interruption.
“Rise and shine,” she always tried to say.
She was pissed if she smoked without an ashtray.
Ashes in the dishwater affirmed her anger.
She’d be dicing an onion for potato salad
and somebody would call to smother her with gossip.
“People get on my last nerve,” she’d say.
Then, she’d lean over the sink, Viceroy in hand
and I’d watch the ashes fall into the soapy water.
III. Secondhand Smoke
On our quick trips to Mother Dear’s house
my brother and I exaggerated our coughs like class clowns.
My mother smoked one cigarette for every two songs.
We hated the cigarette smoke.
We’d cough and cough and pretend to choke.
She’d crack the windows.
For two puffs, she made herself into a small woman
stretching up to kiss some tall and handsome man.
Then she’d blow the smoke out the window.
We’d still cough and complain and she’d simply say
She tried everything to stop smoking:
the patch, peppermints and prayer.
I prayed too.
Dear God, please help her quit.
At the grocery store I was in charge of scooping
the red and white candies into produce bags.
She taught me to lick my thumb to split the bag open.
“Make it easy,” she’d say.
Some evenings we’d take a walk to Euclid Creek.
She’d get so winded she could barely speak.
She did everything with a cigarette dangling between her fingers.
At night I studied her while she rolled her hair.
She’d come to the part where a woman raises her arms
above her head to stretch the hair before the roll,
and I would see the cigarette still hanging on like a tight, tight curl.
Ali Black is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She is the poetry editor for Gordon Square Review. Her work has appeared in The Offing, december, The Rumpus, jubilat, LitHub and elsewhere. Her book, If It Heals At All, is forthcoming from Jacar Press.
The Finish Line
The shaman, bush bearded
painter of magic,
who said wounds
of memory can be tended
together; knees buckled
to the chest, arms curled,
the body wound fine
like an ampersand,
lips muttering exit! exit!
to the nagging shadows
cobwebbed in the back
of the mind’s eye, lied.
How I think about you
is incapable of rest;
it prowls in the dark,
looks into the streets,
snarls at everything,
on the lookout
Since you crossed the line,
the dull point
of the cross
has formed a red patch
on my back.
Still, the moon
does its rounds,
the clock ticks my life,
my soft red animal
dies in its cage.
Chiedozie Kelechi Danjuma is a Nigerian writer, essayist and lawyer. His poems and essays have appeared in The Guardian, Rising Phoenix, Perhappened Mag, Neologism Poetry, Clay Literary, Praxis Magazine and elsewhere.
Thomas Merton. One Spider. A Full Autumn Moon
– after reading Guy Davenport’s Tom and Gene: 10/26/2013
The cinderblock hermitage tucked in among cedars sits
on red clay, a hard-earned claim for a mid-century
island of solitude
where a spider settles in
for her brown season as she seeks some warmth
in the furthest-back recess beneath a monk’s thin
mattress & up against his worn set of bongo drums
that lies nearby his birthday gift of bottled bourbon
with its half inch of undrunk liquid still fast asleep at
The spider, a lone survivalist, has found her
foreordained place inside this vast universe & refuses
to be swept aside as she tests the web-harp she’s woven
during the night, plucking one filament after another
to the plainsong accompaniment from the congregation
of cowled brothers singing Matins while corralled uphill
in their monastery choir stalls.
Two barred owls continue
asking the same question over & over again from tree to
tree beyond the hermitage.
Now a full autumn moon
looks in through the hermitage’s one window pane on
the monk’s un-tonsured, watch-capped head that holds
his still unshaken belief that no one in his right mind
would ever willingly agree to abandon this portion,
this delicious morsel, this sweet, miraculous earth.
Terry Savoie has had more than four hundred poems published over the past four decades including ones in APR, Poetry, Ploughshares, North American Review, American Journal of Poetry and The Iowa Review as well as recent issues of North Dakota Quarterly, Chiron Review, and Tar River Poetry among several others.
hymn to the bowstring
“given affliction, the body will find a way;
the body will turn itself to music.”
─ Joseph Fasano.
at times i like to imagine that the rains made branches
hang more heavily so that some swept the dust
that would soon become a burial place for an offspring of leaves
my lover knows the principles of death as rationale
for this floral survival phenomenon
wherein a cycle has to end for another to commence
sometimes i want to admit to feeling the weight of the world
stockpiled in my head but he calls me hashashin
which means bound in perpetuity to hashish which means creed
which means bowstring sworn to its archer and to the holy act
of destruction i say destroy this body
and before nightfall I’ll raise it up which is to say i want
this body to love in the gratifying way of sideways rain that levitates
with the monsoon at daybreak and leaves flower funnels
water-logged and longing to unfurl at noon again for another chance at light.
Chisom Okafor is a Nigerian poet and finalist for the Gerald Kraak Prize. He presently works at editor for the Libretto Poetry Chapbook Series.
A Broken Piano
Not smashed to pieces, but smashed enough
As though a description will suffice
Or summarize—oh, if only!
To the post, where the piano has been placed
To one side: this is another non-passing thing,
“It’s probably genius!” the streets
Laugh! How many hits did it take, to
Whip that thing into its current state? How
Many steps down the stairs, like
A clown slipping, did this object
Have to go, in order to show its string-
Insides? Did it moan much on the way?
Did its keys turn into fingers, trying
To hold onto the railings? Is this why
All its keys are out of order now?
Tried and tired of being taken out
Of place, it rests on the side of this
And that mind, as if an analogy could
Save it. Like a broken mirror, reflecting
What it can of the passing world, only
to hold onto the shapes within: oh once,
Ahmad Almallah is a poet from Palestine. His first book of poems Bitter English is now available in the Phoenix Poets Series from the University of Chicago Press. He currently lives in Philadelphia and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania.
Prayer for Inside
Table, breakfast, ever sopping rain ever
ever dark for morning. I’ve kept imagined care
of the eleven London planes out my window
for years, and for a week
now their leaves have been pressing out,
fresh and rumpled. Imagine
they came out bedsheet-warm,
steaming as mammals might
in a snow. And all the world is waved
that I can see, as if behind
the old glass of the houses I pass
on the one daily walk,
the glass I can’t believe has gone
this long already without a break. Long
as the plane trees, almost, that glass, and both
buckled and rising at the edge of a century’s air.
You could pass a hand over it and feel at sea.
Have I ever kept quite this private?
I haven’t told no one so much
since I was a girl, one friend, one brother,
and rambled out alone among the farm.
It was endless, then.
I hadn’t taken a sense of time.
The days were gentle, a little cracked;
in the heat I was happy, in the Virginia scrim,
and my god I knew places I could go—
garden of gourd husks and dry grass,
honey locust thorned and primordial,
stand of trees in a south field, barns sweet
with straw and whose tin roofs rang
all autumn with the walnuts dropping—
I’ve told all this before;
in sum, it smells like the ancient boxwoods:
a little human, a little bodied: like my own sweat.
I mean I knew places I could go into alone,
and moving in them, god, I didn’t feel it,
or felt so much that the feel was gone.
Emma Aylor’s poems appear or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, New Ohio Review, Mid-American Review, Pleiades, and the Cincinnati Review, among other journals, and she received Shenandoah’s 2020 Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets. She lives in Lubbock, Texas.
Lightning Storm During a Pandemic
God has dropped silver scissors in their glass-bottom boat
to show us shatter is the opposite of shutter.
Under a microscope the virus is as bright as a weed
in a ditch—a jewelweed, which has another name:
the spotted touch-me-not.
At night I lie in bed, imagining folks with strange things
where their heads should be: tires, firewood, seismographs.
About a sequence, when a mathematician says, it tends to
infinity, he means it moves in that direction, never
arriving. A woman looks up from where she tends to
a child, nods. Says, I know, I know.
All these bright things, if you count infinity as bright—
all these bright shape-shifting things.
Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout (University of Alaska Press, 2017), Mendeleev’s Mandala (2015) and The Insomniac’s Weather Report (2014). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2018, Scientific American, The Southern Review, and Verse Daily. A former writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve, Jessica lives in Japan.
Light so precious
it’s worth killing for.
Let it take years.
Dropped by stray breeze or
through the gut
of a crow,
settle in for the long haul.
Season after season,
Find the earth,
The patient embrace,
a killing shade and siphon,
until the host
is a riddled husk.
Then only absence,
by the ravenous.
A lattice, a tenting of hands.
Like all beauty –
what is and is not there.
Stephen Peeples currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. His work has previously appeared in The Cortland Review, Boulevard, Tar River Poetry, and other journals.
Meditation on the Street Art of Valparaíso, Chile
“Valparaíso, / how absurd you are […] you haven’t /
combed your hair, / you’ve never / had / time to get dressed, /
life / has always / surprised you.” – Pablo Neruda
One hundred fifty years ago, men hauled buckets of leftover paint
from the port up the city’s hills, slathering the dyes on walls as
they ascended, those houses like hulls protecting precarious lives.
Today, Valparaíso rambles and throbs, shouting with color as the
dwellings of turquoise, salmon, periwinkle, peach, and lime green
cling to the hillsides through sheer stubbornness. The city is
a street art mecca, every wall an invitation to say something,
anything, the art by turns absurd, obscene, whimsical, provocative,
surreal, yearning—by turns human, in other words. Each afternoon
I set out, aiming to be as aimless as possible, so my eyes can be
open to the tiny abuelita struggling with her groceries, teenagers
in school uniforms atop Plazuela San Luis sketching the skyline
for an art class, balding Italo Olivarez hobbling into St. Paul’s
to play the century-old organ. Scents wash over me like waves:
buttery empanadas de pino and sugary manjar alfajores wafting
from the open door of a bakery; packs of wandering, sodden dogs;
whiffs of salty ocean spray on the breeze. Sounds ricochet all
around: the screech and clatter of buses careening down narrow
tangles of roads, jovial mutterings of neighbors bartering in the
markets, mellow peals from a cathedral belfry, disgruntled horns
of barges in the bay, the wild cawing of gulls, a young woman
whistling as she ambles along the sloping sidewalk. So much
around me can’t speak—espino trees, tarnished ascensor rails,
cobblestone streets, metal garage doors of storefronts—while
here we are given the miracle of speech, yet we seal our lips
while lying next to lovers, we withhold praise, we avert our gaze
as strangers pass by. These walls, on the other hand, have much
to say: On one, a drunk porteño resting by a fire with a dog, pipe,
and empty bottle; on another, fish creatures with human eyes and
legs; on yet another, a wooden cross wearing a suit and tie with a
clock’s hours—3, 6, 9, 12—marking where the beams stretch out.
Or there’s the elderly woman against a pink background, her bun
tight and fingers thrumming on the sidewalk’s edge; the flight of
stairs draped in piano keys. On one wall, a woman’s huge, green,
pixelated face, with rainbow liquid spilling from her mouth; and
farther down, a man clenching a blue octopus’s tentacle in his
teeth. There are the turquoise and violet tones of two dreamlike
figures emblazoned across a ten-story apartment building; and the
tiny cartoonish outline of a bespectacled man pouring a watering
pail on the side of few concrete steps, as if tending to the grass.
Wandering around this unkempt city, doubting my grasp of the
native tongue, I often retreat within myself. I have been invited
into silence’s lonely home. Yet I always smile at the sight of
the ardent but amiable declaration “we are not hippies, we are
happies” scrawled in white against a kaleidoscopic mosaic half-
way up Cerro Alegre. As if the art knows it’s more than its colors,
more than the hard surfaces it was born onto. Buses clatter down
the hills, gulls caw, bells peal, and the walls ramble all the while.
Ben Groner III, recipient of Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry and a Pushcart Prize nomination, has work published in Cheat River Review, Whale Road Review, Manzano Mountain Review, Louisiana Literature, Third Wednesday, and elsewhere. He’s also a bookseller at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee.
the world’s always ending.
bats falling from the sky,
the birth of a red heifer,
a pink moon rising.
but we’re still around.
when doomers stop
prophesying the end of all things
and assure me the sun
will keep bending the horizon,
then i’ll start to worry.
Sean Purio is an active duty Air Force officer with a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He is a fiction editor for War, Literature, and the Arts.
When Nixon resigned, I was in Champaign, Illinois.
An August storm had knocked out power, the stoplights,
and I’d run the light, gotten pulled over. I handed a cop
my Ohio driver’s license and active-duty military ID.
He took them, the cop. Walked back to the cruiser.
I was waiting with Butch Thompson, a fellow airman
from the Hospital Squadron at Chanute Air Force Base
who had dragged me to the movie Blazing Saddles—
we roomed together in a trailer off base, me and Butch.
I was lucky to know Butch Thompson. Laugh with him.
He was Black and from Detroit. Knew a world I didn’t
and said, If given a choice I’d not choose to be Black.
Butch wore a silver cross around his neck on a chain.
He twisted the chain if he was afraid or thinking and
was twisting it by a window rolled down in after-rain.
The cop wasn’t hurrying so we sat, the engine quiet.
The radio carried Nixon’s observations: I remember
my old man. I think they would have called him sort
of a little man, a common man. He didn’t consider
himself that way. Still giddy from the movie, we
were taking in Nixon’s tearful farewell-blather on
his way to Marine One. There was an ounce of reefer
on the console. Between the bucket seats. Butch said,
Leave it and keep your hands where he can see them.
Two deer moseyed over to the Firebird, but the really-
big news was that at least one Illinois State cop knew
how to create Luck. When he sauntered up, the deer
turned and took off. The cop handed back the IDs
and waved us off, Butch and me. And I waved back
like we’d been through something and were lucky not
to have to speak, thunder-and-rain-rinsed air weighty
with beautiful-smelling summer and something else.
Roy Bentley, a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City (University of Arkansas), is the author of eight books; including American Loneliness (Lost Horse, 2019). Poems have appeared in in Crazyhorse, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner among others.
It could be
you wake one day in a single blade
years down the road it could be your story
will have changed
like the color of the walls when the sun
reaches them it could be you
remember some clean obvious detail the red
orange curl in your brother’s beard
or Joe Cocker with a little help from my friends
when they slide the body
into a furnace it could be how little space
on your mother’s mantle it could be the neighbors’
hands curled around mugs
in the living room or something else that irks
you like at least
it could be worse at least you have each other
at least it rains in early spring
did you know the earth could be so quiet
under such pressure from the sky
that the future could be so flat it could be happening
all at once the way every
raindrop could be the first raindrop
to strike your face in a storm
D.S. Waldman is a writer living on Kumeyaay land, in San Diego, California, where he teaches creative writing. His work has most recently appeared in Copper Nickel, Poetry International, Los Angeles Review, and Tar River. In 2019, he received two Pushcart Prize nominations and was selected by Ishion Hutchinson as winner of the Foothill Editor’s Prize. He holds a BA from Middlebury College and is currently enrolled in the MFA program at San Diego State University.
While still in one piece each horse, half blind
half bewildered is led around
by the acid taste in your mouth ̶ the music
needs work too though victory is hiding
in the yells ̶ this pop-up carousel
knows only the sounds left as dust
from the cavalry that will arrive with the tug
some child is given by touching another’s head
with their own, comes to this park
where the sky expects its sunlight to leave
as the shrieks not yet in place
and only the hooves are still in mid-air
the way death offers its arm, adds its weight
without turning around ̶ lets you mount from a bench
that lowers your forehead closer to the grass.
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Reflection in a Glass Eye published by Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library, 2020.
We find respite in Montana
We leave behind the broken rules, the holy-
mother-of-god fool blathering at the podium
for a slipshod moon gold on the midnight water,
and the green grass gone yellow, the tick-tick
of grasshoppers endless as August sky,
sun-bleached bones as testament, the bee balm
gritty with dust and the few patches of mint
that defy the sanctity of heat. When the wind picks up,
a braid of smoke settles on the lakeshore,
waves slapping the snarl of driftwood.
A tyranny of thistle crowds every trail.
The ponderosa pines, a harvest of echoes,
vespers at the edge of remembrance.
The wild horses, wavery in the distance,
are coming this way.
Mercedes Lawry has published 3 chapbooks, including In the Early Garden With Reason, selected by Molly Peacock for the 2018 WaterSedge Prize. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Poetry, Nimrod, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has been nominated five times for a Pushcart Prize.
Tianjin, China, Jetlagged
Unable to sleep and convinced I’m going to die
in my hotel room, I walk the vacant streets
and river paths for hours. I find a supermarket
at the train station and wander its fluorescent aisles
but I have no visions of Ginsberg or Whitman
as I try to figure out what the unfamiliar products
may be. Candy? Meat? Some kind of drink?
I am functionally illiterate here, and I worry
that I managed to enter the store by mistake.
Maybe it is closed, or a curfew has been called.
Maybe there has been an announcement of some
impending disaster. A war. A storm. The apocalypse.
Otherwise how could I be so completely alone?
An employee appears and is startled by my presence.
I buy a can of coffee called “Deep Americano!”
to reassure him I’m a customer. He says something,
and I can’t tell if it’s a question or a statement.
Although the register drawer is full of change,
he shorts me a few coins, and I wonder if he thinks
I don’t know any better. I don’t bother arguing.
After all, what is twenty cents to a man about to die?
I walk back to the river, but don’t open the coffee.
Buying it was something to do. Drinking it will be
something to do later. It helps to have things to do.
Men begin to arrive to swim in the dark waters.
One paces the bank, beating his chest and yawping.
Women gather to exercise, yawning and laughing.
They stand in a circle, carving designs in the air
with their arms, and, as I watch, I feel something
within me untangle, and I can breathe more easily.
I know it would be sentimental to call them beautiful,
and yet I think they are very beautiful, and I know
it only looks like they are weaving the warp and weft
of the world, and yet as they move together, the sun
travels along the river, lighting the bridges one by one.
A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published six collections of poetry, including This Miraculous Turning which was awarded the North Carolina Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry. He also has published Bleachers: 54 linked fictions which takes place at a youth soccer game.
Giant Swallowtail Origin Story
Admire the orange dog caterpillar,
born to look like bird
crap: mottled splotch
dallying on key limes,
eating Edwardian collars of leaves
from moonglow to sun streak,
growing from speck of
hummingbird waste to splatter of
ibis, its very survival dependent on
junking itself as it pupates onto
knotted bark. Nature had a
lark, it seems, out of designs after
monarchs, metalmarks, mourning cloaks.
No extravagance goes without
overcorrection, even as the
penstemon’s purple bells,
quiescent for most of the season,
ring in the breeze under the
six-inch, diamond-cut wingspan
that emerges from the twig of chrysalis.
Undulating the salvia, porterweed,
verbena, its transfiguration
wants for nothing in this avid
xeriscape and fears less, except
you plucking fruit from citrus trees,
zest for your liquor’s dark light.
Jen Karetnick’s fourth full-length book of poems is The Burning Where Breath Used to Be. Her work appears widely in Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain, and Under a Warm Green Linden. She won the 2020 Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry and is a 2020 Deering Estate AIR.
one summer i studied liver transplant
patients their most intimate
cells scraped across plates & analyzed.
a girl my age dies two weeks prior to my meeting her
chart, entering her data. she too was
on the cusp of grown-up, perhaps further
than i am with my plastic reflex hammer
& white coat that bunches at
the sleeves. i stay up all night & fly
on a tiny private jet to a hospital
in another town just to watch the liver
removed from a petit person so otherwise
whole. she is me-sized. we both have brown
hair & i wonder if her liver were not for some
reason good enough could they take mine
(if the tiny plane crashed & everyone
else survived) & i decide that i want to plug in
& out livers—the delicate art of time stopped
of keeping the body lived-in for long enough
to allow sacrifice—a life somewhere else
soon to lose cirrhotic and huge
liver the body suddenly with enough space
for all of its packages & the liver
starts working right away
pumping out toxins & clotting blood
& nodding to the duodenum
snug against its underbelly
the liver makes no excuses—
gets right to work.
but i am not the liver
of my medical school. at best,
i am the small intestine—
absorb, absorb, absorb
occasionally, secrete. but still
in the OR i hold suction in the abdomen
of the me-sized woman looking
unconvinced at her shriveled liver
& am assured it is decades
younger than its host & well-suited
to the saving of lives.
a liver does not ask
if it is enough.
Joey Lew holds an MFA in poetry from UNC Greensboro and is currently a medical student at UCSF. Her poetry can be seen in the Journal of Medical Humanities, Channel, and Squawk Back, among other literary magazines, and is forthcoming in semicolon literary journal.
No Laughing, No Talking, No Red Light
“Let your regrets become egrets…” Marylen Grigas
Like trying to lasso the air this effort
to reel in my attention to the water
flowing around my little boat,
the blister on my thumb from paddling,
the birds calling in unfathomable foreign languages—
the memory of all the moments
I wasted on worry and regret.
Let them fly into the busy undergrowth
where humble muskrats nibble on stalks,
geese honk warnings from the sidelines,
beavers slap their flat tails on the water
and a black-crowned night heron
doffs his feathered cap in my direction.
I am only looking, I tell them. Trying
to be quiet. Just keeping an eye on things.
Angela Patten’s publications include three poetry collections, In Praise of Usefulness, Reliquaries and Still Listening, and a memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories From An Irish Childhood.. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she now lives in Burlington, Vermont, where she teaches at the University of Vermont.
Sitting in It
As I passed, a moment
in his mirror’s blind spot
or that truck driver careless,
his semi pulled left, and I punched
the brakes as hard as panic
demanded, locking my fastback
in a four-wheel drift up
and over the median
into the oncoming lanes
of the afternoon freeway.
I didn’t shout or swear or do
anything but grip the wheel
and slap the brakes again
until I stuck, face-forward,
to the opposite shoulder,
poised like the highway patrol.
I didn’t thank God for spacing
perfectly the high-speed traffic.
I waited for a clear stretch
across all four lanes and
humped over the median
to finish my trip, getting off
at an exit where that truck
idled at a stoplight,
the driver walking back to lean
into my open window,
beginning apology with
“I’ll bet you’re sitting in it.”
The truth? I said “No” so calmly
and so softly, it sounded
something like appreciation,
the light turning green to start
the horn chorus while that trucker
held his handshake, the two of us
sitting in that lengthening line
of cars, the light blinking yellow,
then red, reminding us to go.
When to pass a truck became
a formal question. Likewise, how.
I followed them to uphill crawls,
I waited for flat, open space
to the left. For miles, sometimes.
For the terrible seconds
of necessary side-by-side.
Tyman Place, my neighbor said.
expecting me to smile.
The Living End, he offered,
in love with passing along
streets with unsettling names.
That summer filled with signs,
a cloud stretched into a lifeline
on the sky’s palm. Every victim
was a stranger. The river through
our neighborhood drowned no one.
All the pets crossed highways
and returned to their children.
Those four lanes paralleled a set
of railroad tracks; a creek ran
so close to where my skid had
ended that I thought of what,
crawling below my heaving car,
might have been drawn to water.
My neighbor said that a highway
through Iceland’s lava fields had been
delayed because of fear it would
disturb a gathering place for elves.
One evening two deer stood
on the shoulder of that highway
while I braked softly and
veered into the passing lane.
In the mirror, I watched them
walk through each lane as if,
in some invisible spectrum,
a traffic light had changed.
In late August, at the same
afternoon hour, I parked
where I had skidded, stood
and waited to cross.
Three minutes it took
for even a sprinter’s space
to open. I nearly turned
an ankle on the median.
Gravel coughed under my shoes
when I braked on the far shoulder,
blinking against the grit blown up
by the first oncoming truck.
From across four lanes, my car
as if it would be stripped
by opportunistic thieves.
Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Mussolini Diaries (Serving House, 2020). Earlier collections won the Wheeler Prize (Ohio State), the Wheelbarrow Books Prize (Michigan State), and the Jacar Poetry Prize for After the Three-Moon Era. An essay that extends and opens the title poem appears in Best American Essays 2020.