Balancing Act by Ron Monsma
Renee Emerson | Dinah Berland | Kathryn Stripling Byer | Jeffrey Greene | Susan Elbe | Laura Davenport | Diana Whitney | Luisa A. Igloria | Bianca Diaz | Ege Yumusak | Tina Kelley | Florence Weinberger | Cal Freeman | Randall R. Freisinger | Karen Craigo | Maria Rouphail | Anya Silver | Lucyna Prostko | Candace Butler | Lawrence Bridges | Susan O’Dell Underwood
While You Worked Late
After your boss had a stroke
and slept in the cold anonymity
of the Gadsden hospital,
no visitors, only his wife requested,
as he was paralyzed on one side, bleeding
in the brain, unable to speak
in anything more than monosyllables,
I couldn’t help but think of our daughters’
Tupperware science experiment
of mosquito larvae writhing
in shallow water on the front porch,
dark with mildew, silt, fallen leaves,
and while you work late to cover his shifts,
I test the rhythm of baby names verses respirators,
the swallow test and stiff embrace
of a wheelchair to your strong legs pushing
up against me in the shower,
and the only words I have
for you are monosyllables—
pant, tongue, come
life, life, life.
Renee Emerson is the author of Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing 2014). Born and raised in the South, the only thing she says with an accent is “Pie.” She teaches at Shorter University and lives in Georgia with her husband and daughters.
Between the Lines
Sitting on the tarmac in the dark, waiting
for takeoff, I insert words between the lines,
words you will not find here, no matter how
hard you look, or in the flight paths we take
in opposite directions, jet streams reaching
the vanishing point. I think of you all the time
between the lines, in different time zones
at different altitudes, confounding day
with night. I live in a river of the impossible,
watching you forge a river of the actual,
every ripple in celebration of the now.
I think of you all the time, the way we are taught
to think about God, from the moment
we rise up in the morning to the moment
we lie down at night—interspersed by work
and all the people we encounter: the officer
with the fluorescent yellow vest in
the elevator, the baby who holds my gaze
as his mother carries him away.
I hunker down, focus on actions I must take,
like making it to the boarding gate on time,
making sure I haven’t left something behind—
failing even at that, leaving my jacket
in Walnut Creek, my credit card
at the wine bar, retrieved just in time.
There is nothing we can say
in that second before we hang up, the beat
after you say good night and I repeat
good night, so I fill that stillness, like
a silent prayer, with a whole world—
a luminous sky between the lines
where no words are needed
and every wordless thought takes flight.
Dinah Berland’s poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and many other magazines and anthologies. She earned her MFA in poetry at Warren Wilson College and an international prize from The Atlanta Review. She is the editor of Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women (Shocken, 2007).
The Vishnu Bird
greets me this morning. Vishnu,
vishnu, he calls. No Vedic bird
bearing Lord Vishnu himself on its back,
just a local bird perched in the sarvis tree
unfurling blossoms come Easter time,
calling the faithful to worship.
Barefoot, I’m walking out to the garden
in nightgown and bathrobe,
my coffee cup half full,
my head brimming over with yesternight’s
bird calls. A yellow eyed battle-crow mocking
my sentiments, bespectacled owl warning Soon,
Soon. No kingfisher diving
for bugs in the silt-strangled creek.
In the darkness, no whippoorwills.
Mourning doves mute beneath
crab grass, returning to dust
to await reincarnation as Vishnu birds,
singing the dharma of compost.
The scent of manure lingers over the pasture below,
though the cows have been gone
since our neighbor’s wife auctioned the farm.
If ever the kingfisher finds his way back
to the mud where the creek waits,
maybe our neighbor will be resurrected
as cow herd and gather his cows
on the hill where they used to graze
until he died of the usual cancer.
I’ll watch him toss hay from his pickup.
His wife will no longer look sad
in the check out lane. Maybe I’ll hear his flute
singing me forth every morning.
A jingle of Gopi bells.
Maybe I’ll dance all the way
to the garden like Lakshmi.
Who knows, I might even be soft spoken
when I behold what the rabbits have eaten,
the dogs trampled. Maybe
I’ll murmur in Sanskrit a blessing.
Or simply stand still and say nothing.
Kathryn Stripling Byer, North Carolina’s first woman Poet Laureate, has published six books of poetry (LSU Press, Press 53). Her chapbook, The Vishnu Bird, was a finalist in the Frost Place chapbook contest and will be published by Wind Publications this spring. She lives in the western NC mountains.
Ghazal: Making Love to the Barbarian Girl
after J.M Coetzee
Whose country is this whose very bones are invaded,
whose mossy lake, whose fated desert tortures the body?
Because bones are made to break, they will be broken.
This is the allure of the tortured body.
Her gray-bearded father heard her bones break.
He silenced his own tortured body.
Snow is the white face low in the sky,
the last face she sees, author of her tortured body.
In the first hint of snow, she begs at the high gate.
Feast your eyes on the tortured body.
Because the word for blind is blind,
who shall claim the tortured body?
She stands bare-breasted at the basin.
Wash your hands washing the tortured body.
Because darkness makes her whole,
part the scarred ankles of the tortured body.
Two figures merge, snow and snow falling—
only sleep mends the tortured body.
Jeffrey Greene is the author of four collections of poetry, a cross-genre book, a memoir, and two personalized nature books. His latest nature book, Dragon’s Scale, Wolf’s Tooth, is forthcoming. He is a professor at the American University of Paris and teaches for the Pan-European Low Residency MFA program.
In The Summer of Love Which Was Not
It was a wrecked world, and we were
wrecked and reckless in it, smoking weed,
drinking coffee, up with Gerry Mulligan’s
“In the Wee Small Hours” on a scratchy
turntable, under slanted ceilings of attic
geometry, one nodding off on heroin
and the other one, who drank himself to death
talking us through the hours, and we spent
all we had, those wringing-wet nights
with no wind to blow the war out of us.
Even the stars felt too close, too hot.
Down by the lake, men hungry for the pull
of any light cast their lures into the moon.
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, winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Press Chapbook Contest, and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press).
Every cigarette I smoked was sorrowful & so
I gave them up. I didn’t inhale, had to lean against a porch rail
with one floodlight behind me
and the yard below had to be dark.
In the car I was afraid
the ash would set aflame the back seat,
the fire would spread to the gas tank and the open bottles
of Zima. And the shame of drinking Zima
stays with me whenever I hear the song we played
which meant everything as if our lives
could be summed up, just like that, beautiful and full
of longing. Could be charted, verse and chorus,
like the staggered Tarot lines we read the future in,
a few short weeks in summer. Had I known
I would not miss them, the boys whose faces I traced
in sleep and in the day could not raise my eyes to,
I would have asked the cards
something else: What will I say to my daughter
of memory? That it is like the bright nail I picked up
in the street, carried for a block and hid, out of sight,
in the sewage drain
and the drain is not the one I floated boats in
and the boats you will make from paper
are not like mine at all. And there will be a woman
or man someday you would like to forget
existed, and you will be alone then, the last one riding
in the car at night. It’s easy—all you have to do:
don’t listen to that song again.
And once you are alone in the dark you must not
lean into it.
Laura Davenport‘s poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Meridian, New South, Best New Poets 2009 and Boxcar Poetry Review. She is the recipient of a Meridian Editors’ Prize and a Hackney Literary award, and completed an M.F.A. at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Racing the second bell I deliver
a hundred snacks for the hungry first graders,
zoom home to vacuum the glow-in-the-dark stars
off the Berber carpet—sticky stars, sticky burrs in the heart—
burr of resentment, burr of disapproval,
angry burr lodged prickling in heart-fibers.
Can you say it? Say I’m a good-enough mother,
flipping pancakes, slicing strawberries, mixing a secret brew
for giant bubbles in a bucket—who knew
an alchemy of cornstarch, water, and yellow Joy
could summon such glimmery tunnels?
Carmen screams and conjures
an undulating prism from thin air,
five-second mirage birthed from her magic wand
until pop! it disperses in ragged shimmers.
She’s lost her day-glo vampire teeth again,
begs me to search as Ava rips the wet-brush
through ratted tangles. I’m threatening scissors,
packing lunches, making lists. The dog’s ashes
wait at the pet crematorium, another body
I keep forgetting, like the gray mushrooms
growing slyly under the sink. I’m overdue
for a bikini wax or an act of discovery, sacred Braille
traced and retraced by an imaginary lover
memorizing an invisible poem.
Tonight I’ll cure henna and indigo
with lemon juice, beat the powder smooth
into a luxurious paste that smells of grasses
and wet wood, my scalp cool and spine erect
beneath that tawny Egyptian headdress.
I did everything I was supposed to, watered the
dry petunias till streams poured out the cracks,
covered the grays, planted the sunflowers,
seeded rows of Russian kale and sugar-snaps,
cradled your sadness, buried my father,
fed my mother and took her to the doctor, drove up
and down the hill to pony lessons past fields
lit with buttercups and a sick white cow
who wouldn’t get up. Weeded the garden
where green poppy buds crouched packed
with crimped petals, gathering themselves
for an explosion of potential, one week
of sheer beauty before they shed the rouge silks
and wilt, inconsolable, brown with dieback.
Meanwhile you tamed the back jungle
into a velvet lawn, headphones on, chewing up a chaw
of fresh dandelion leaves as the mower roared
and the whacker’s cord whipped any weed into submission.
Light the coals, my love— this is our fierce
barbecue, this is our one-hit-wonder Indica
bud in the shed, your six-pack in the cellar,
my secret poems, your prophetic dreams,
my insatiable fire. This is the salted rim,
the sweetly-sour Margarita always on tap,
these are the salad days—our homegrown
spinach and arugula, bitter rain-spattered greens
cut fresh in late afternoon, the family bed
and the animal medicine, the anemone’s tender white blooms
hiding invasive tendrils—everyone’s roots
tangled up in each other. My story is I want
too much and you, never enough.
So light the coals in their steel cylinder, I’ll shut
down the sprinkler, toss oil with vinegar.
We’re householders and there’s some dignity here,
no vision quest, no quick transcendence
but dignity in enduring the whole
teeming irreplaceable mess.
Diana Whitney‘s first book of poetry, Wanting It, was released in 2014 by Harbor Mountain Press and became a small-press bestseller. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Crab Orchard Review, and many more. Diana blogs about motherhood for The Huffington Post and runs a yoga studio in Brattleboro, Vermont.
In and out, the dancing bluebird
is how we refashioned
a children’s rhyme
I haven’t thought about in years—
Loose ring of girls sitting
on the blacktop, uniform skirts
of navy tucked carefully around
brown knees, chanting
as one of us— It, decoy,
unwitting sacrifice— wove in
and out, eluding pursuit
until caught. So far removed
from the northern hemisphere,
we did not know then
about the long-stalked campanula,
the rounded, heart-shaped bells,
heads that bowed along each
panicle’s length on grassy prairies,
amid the rocks, on dusty roadsides—
With each plaintive refrain,
Tappity tappity on my shoulder, who
will be my master? always
I imagine the trembling
bird, its little show of bravura,
its bid for more than commerce
in a world of stricken
webs. And the chosen ones
have little choice but carry on.
Did I think then how much
of this required unhoming,
a loosing into the periphery?
Who’ll want a wild bird more
than a weed that will grow
on any bit of tufted soil? Take me,
says the tapping at the window;
Choose me, says the tapping
on the sill—voice like a faded thread
of slender blue I lose and find
and lose, over and over without end.
Luisa A. Igloria‘s most recent publications include Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (selected by Mark Doty for the 2014 May Swenson Prize, Utah State University Press) and Night Willow: Prose Poems (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal, 2014). She directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University.
You and your own ghost wander among the streets,
do a quick-rain duck under maternal eaves. This block
holds more sunlight than most, even during a shower.
Sugar in the blood makes your pulse hustle, hers
throb with afterlife. You’ll perform cartwheels tonight,
cut each other’s hair to bobs, she will show you how.
When a citrus-slice moon appears, she will arrange
peonies and catmint in a coffee mug and remind you
to change the water every day—she has known
cloudiness too long. As if in a museum, you’ll whisper
back about the other side of darkness, about the way seeds
cling stubbornly to membranes, moths to light.
Bianca Diaz is the author of No One Says Kin Anymore, winner of the Robert Watson Poetry Award. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she will have new poems in San Pedro River Review and The Lindenwood Review. She earned an MFA from George Mason University in 2004.
She wore a blue umbrella skirt and a red vase blouse.
He entertained the possibility that the rusty bench beneath him
would turn to mud in the vinegar rain.
Her hands grew when she drank.
He went down by the lake to view his life upside down.
Her nipples bled rivers. Surely,
he was on his knees as he ate his children.
The mountains on the bed had no peaks; they rose shamefully
conscious of each other—
The willow trees tickled the water.
He had a frog’s body, a man’s head,
and a serpent’s soul.
The nymphs had gone for a swim, leaving
their flower crowns floating
on the surface, amidst the pink clouds and glitter.
How is it that the ornament is still ornament
when painted in dappled stabs and slashes?
She sat on the floor, legs crossed, bare, gazing
at the absent friend, absent lover, absent partner
in the naked wicker chair before her.
She wondered if somewhere in this city there had been,
a brothel offering a choice between Eve or Helen courtesans.
How fitting—a forgotten bottle, empty, the same color as the wall behind it.
Her body fat wobbled with every exaggerated act
and wasn’t distributed evenly after.
How did the paintings carry their voluptuous figures
and their expensive golden frames
for all those years?
He thought viewers saw his sketches with their hands
and his paintings with their eyes.
His imagination was tethered to negation.
When he thought about war, his mind would conjure masses of
weaponless men in uniform. He would sketch in the rifle;
he couldn’t bear to bring it to life with paint.
She was petrified by the intimacy of hearing a man sing to himself in the mirror
his voice cracking, and out of tune,
though she knew he wasn’t a real man.
He wore a mask face.
This is a man who walks, had said the master
(the object of his admiration being a peasant).
His tears as he sobbed, embracing his sculptures wrapped in cushions,
were the most sincere tears ever shed.
But is it true that the most contemplated image in this
museum, is the map of the museum itself?
Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Ege Yumusak currently lives in Cambridge Massachusetts, where she goes to Harvard University. She writes.
Sunday Night. Learned “Dark Family Secret.”
Now I know. My godmother is a rogue planet.
You want proof? Her gravitational pull
made me type “rouge planet” (she pretends
to be French.) She visits irregularly, moonless
nights only. She brings bonbons and bon mots.
She has no ball, no chain, no light, no anchor.
She revolts against the fact of revolution itself,
roams on an elongated, hard-to-track course,
pulling dark bodies toward her at their peril.
So few of our circle have ever seen her, ever
known her nicotine kiss, her gifts of glowing
stones, her heady confidings that we form,
indisputably, the universe’s true center. But
when we call her we go straight to voicemail.
Men fly to her for affairs that must never (so
always) be unearthed. Throbbing red, she can
magnify the brightness of any body she glides
in front of, a feat known as microlensing. No sun,
no weather, her temperature stays uniform by inner
volcanoes, by waters thick with never-discovered life.
For each Milky Way star, we can expect to count
one hundred thousand such orphaned nomads,
her sisters, rounded by their own gravity, spinning,
self-contained, confiding, adoring, free. I just wish
she would have children – I would love god-cousins,
naked skydivers saying “hold my beer and watch this,”
formed by collisions with the cardinal-numbered rocks
we’ve found, these earliest seconds of our looking up.
Tina Kelley’s second collection of poetry, Precise, was published in 2013 by Word Press, which also published The Gospel of Galore, a 2003 Washington State Book Award winner. She co-authored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope, (2012) a national bestseller, and won the 2014 New Jersey Poets Prize.
Dirge and Approbation
I couldn’t arrange him
he always escaped the frames I made
dabbled and ranged and remembered everything
showed me a two-stringed instrument
can sling a dirge as if it’s the beggar in Psalm 42
showed me never to hide the plot of myself
(he did not praise, he did not diminish)
pared me down to almonds and raisins
a daily walk
women refused to harmonize with his craze
for hot air balloons
so he soared in automotive eccentricity
now every time I take my foot off the brake
I think of him
and thrift, how he taught me the stingy drift
the downhill free-fall
Twice nominated for a Pushcart, Florence Weinberger has published four books of poetry, most recently Sacred Graffiti. Poems have appeared in Rattle, River Styx, Another Chicago Magazine, Antietam Review, Comstock Review, Nimrod, Passager, Poetry East and numerous anthologies. She served as a judge for the PEN Center USA Literary Contest.
How to Steal the Name of What is Lost
There are not many things I keep.
Even some of the books I love
with their folded corners
and scars of ink get lost.
That’s ok, I have stolen
plenty of my father’s books,
and I’m not sorry. I have adopted
a necronymic naming system
and shed my father’s name like molt.
He is not a bad man,
but he is better thought of
as a sharp-shinned hawk arcing overhead.
I have inhabited names
like Prayer to St. Anthony Dead,
Dross in the Phlox in the Meadow;
I have walked as Younger Brother Dead
while my shadow jangled
like a necklace with a tag.
Before we were married
my wife pressed a walnut leaf
into a book called Human Wishes.
I left it there to flatten and dry.
One February I am the Feeling of First
Falling in Love With Her Dead.
Do you believe that your touch
is less thirsty than before, John?
Do you ever sing your own name
as a friend who hasn’t seen you
in some time? My eyes widen
like the broad pistil of the sunflower
I passed on my walk tonight;
photographic, yellow, strong, and green,
tall without casting a shadow
in the light of the waning
sturgeon moon. Alive,
yet when I slung the cold coffee
I’d been drinking into its garden,
it didn’t even flinch.
Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit. His poems have appeared in many journals including The Paris-American, Commonweal, The Cortland Review, Drunken Boat, and The Journal. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in poetry and creative nonfiction. His first collection of poems, Brother of Leaving, was just released.
You read about the boy killing swans
in the Our World section of the evening paper
and try to understand it. You can almost see him,
naked, gliding toward that silhouette of island,
his path marked only by his wake, a widening V
through the pond’s moonlit stillness. You hear
the dares and jeers of his friends as they stand
drinking beer by the small fire on the beach.
And perhaps because you have been duped
by poets to believe the rape of Leda by Zeus
produced Helen’s immortal beauty, even now,
half way into this bit of filler story, you still want
to believe good can be kin to the ugly and bad.
But this is our world, where meaning is a game
of shells, the boy nothing more than a drunk
college student who tricked two cygnets with bits
of biscuit, kicked them to death, stunned
the mother with a rock, then hacked off her head
with the small dull blade of his pocket knife.
Next, as if jumbled fragments of ancient myth
yet tumbled in his blood, he sodomized her
and swam back to the beach, her severed nape
caught gently like a trophy between his teeth.
Nothing engendered there on that treeless island—
no broken wall, no burning tower of Troy,
no Agamemnon dead. Just an ice pick of rage
chipping at the frozen sea of your heart,
and the best you can do is turn the page.
Randall R. Freisinger has four collections of poems: Running Patterns (Flume Press), Hand Shadows (Green Tower Press), Plato’s Breath (May Swenson Poetry Prize, Utah State University Press), and Nostalgia’s Thread: Ten Poems on Norman Rockwell Paintings (Hol Art Books). He lives and writes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The Movement You Need
The key, you know, is emphasis. English
is a stress-toned language, and we listen
for the punch, in a word, in a sentence,
and that extra oomph, that little flex,
is all we need to make sense of a thing.
There is an exercise for this—to convey
that where we stretch a syllable matters,
gives resonance, expression, and that’s
why I am singing, my voice meeting
those of my students, visitors here,
people who have been misunderstood
by cashiers and taxi drivers,
the lilting mismatch of Arabic, Polish,
Yoruba, Japanese, but today in class
we layer vowel over vowel, and we sing,
no hesitation, all voices present and clear
from the first “Hey, Jude.” I tell them
they can swallow most of a word,
but if they nail the stress, we’ll get them,
we’ll know where they come from.
When I was a child, I watched
the black record turn, green Apple
rolling over and over, and I knew
every word, and I sang them all,
and I tried to understand—the movement
you need is on your shoulder, what
did that mean? Even Paul thought it
a bit of nonsense, and he planned
to revise, but John said that was the best
line in the song, and it’s in there still,
and we sing it together, and it means
something, some fluttering by the ear,
apple rolling, rolling down a hill.
Don’t you know that it’s just you,
hey Jude, you’ll do, and we do know,
we feel it, we punch each key word
to drive it home, into our heart,
then we can start to make it better.
Karen Craigo teaches English to international students at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. A chapbook, Someone Could Build Something Here, was published by Winged City Chapbook Press in 2013, and her previous chapbook, Stone for an Eye, is part of the Wick Poetry Series. Her work has appeared in the journals Blue Lyra Review, Atticus Review, Poetry, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, The MacGuffin, and others.
The Fig Tree
Eventually your life turns
into the courtyard of endings and beginnings.
This blueness could be a desert or the sea before dawn.
Naked, you’ve shed your costumes and masks,
you’ve emptied your sunlit room
of books that talked endlessly of men and their labyrinths.
Now there is only the fig tree, a cursed thing slumped over its roots.
You consider what desperation willed the tree to wither,
and you dream the other ending, the one where the gardener
pleads with the landowner, Give me one year to bring it ‘round.
You want the landowner to say Yes.
And why not? since you want God’s hunger,
You want the gardener’s hunger, too,
You want luxuriant limbs to bend with fruit.
Maria Rouphail’s first chapbook, Apertures, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013 as part of the New Women’s Voices series. She has just finished her second collection. She is on the English Department faculty at NC State University.
To smash each shrine, each smiling Virgin
For every thing to be in shards and irretrievable
Each charm, each vial of oil, each lit candle returned to soil
The name of each fickle, futile drug forgotten
Your flesh, refusing to be
No more weekly plasma infusions or bungled syringes, no brutal counsel meant in kindness
There is no curse adequate for time
So I curse it in its own foul name
And in your name, which is too holy to write. Who was tortured and toyed with and tortured,
who was not yet ready
May summer rain pit the earth. May the flooded field drown in its own waste.
Anya Silver is the author of I Watched You Disappear (2014) and The Ninety-Third Name of God (2010), both published by LSU. She has also published widely in literary journals. She teaches in the English department of Mercer University and lives in Macon, Georgia with her husband and son.
“I believe in miracles, most
definitely,” he says, searching
through holy pictures
and family photographs scattered
in the vast drawer of my childhood.
Just in case I beg forgiveness
from a power I must have neglected,
as the church spires grow longer
in the car window,
and my sister’s wedding dress
unfolds in wide ripples.
hang like hooks:
why wasn’t she spared
the stumbling years
I am a miracle, I think.
I ate stars on the plate of darkness
while my face
clung to mud.
I could’ve ended right there,
but I awoke, suddenly ready
for the life I wanted
to abandon, holding my sister’s hand,
with her thin veil dragging
through stubble fields
behind us. The sound of rain
among tobacco leaves.
Imagine the swarm of bees
Peeled off my body,
victorious, and still drowsy from
the honey of green hills.
Their work was complete.
My father fingers the tattered picture
of St. Francis, and a sparrow
settles, then digs into his palm.
A native of Poland, Lucyna Prostko came to New York City at the age of 19. She graduated from the M.F.A. program at New York University, where she was awarded the New York Times Fellowship. Her first collection of poems Infinite Beginnings was published by Bright Hill Press in 2009.
after Dalí’s “The Fallen Angel,” an illustration for Dante’s “Divine Comedy”
There’s an angel with papery skin
disrobed of his soft nimbus raiment.
That’s a common dream, I believe, nudity.
His holey wings are a sickly green.
Disrobed of his soft nimbus raiment,
the angel pulls open the drawer to his heart;
his holey wings are a sickly green.
His bones push through the skin.
The angel pulls open the drawer to his heart,
fingers claw at the drawer to his gut.
His bones push through the skin.
There’s nothing but emptiness inside.
Fingers claw at the drawer of a groin.
You never find what you’re looking for;
there’s nothing but emptiness inside.
Toes twisted, sinking through clouds,
you never find what you’re looking for.
My guardian angel has nightmares of falling:
toes twisted, sinking through clouds.
It’s not the same, he whispers, it’s not the same.
My guardian angel has nightmares of falling.
That’s a common dream, I believe.
It’s not the same, no, it’s not the same,
whispers the angel with papery skin.
Candace Butler is an Appalachian poet from Sugar Grove, Virginia. Her poetry appears in journals and anthologies, and she is working on her first full-length book of poetry. Candace holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University of Los Angeles (AULA). She is former co-poetry editor of Lunch Ticket.
A day of entertainment, blushing at its particulates, restless for beer
but sealed inside weight loss. My new pants are ridiculous and tiny.
Tuned out the hum of the flat screen at night. Tuned out the news all day. Skunk got in at dawn for the cat food. Left no card, fortunately.
There are terrific cars we can’t afford, but our shoulders won’t fit
through the gas spouts. I wake as a giant child with severe discipline.
I clock into the chocolate shop. Disappearing into a day means progress. I sit through the slow hours with the secret of flavor. Door chime.
The hand’s shadow moves down music. A memory of sex allows no reply like a light left on all week. The music I distrust stirs my inner fool.
Gray cloud rolls a dark side this way. People, heads bent, standing in doorways, wait out the storm like mannequins waiting through fashion.
July’s wolf wears a Citibank tee. Patrons ask me to jet with my faded paint, glad as ever there’s no draft. May I bring wolves on the plane?
The food comes out. I’m on business. I’ll be tomorrow’s unnamed protagonist dining at a table for five, paying them cash, using their cards.
The tents ballooned down. Said yes to a used car so I wouldn’t have to share the Honda and yes to a flick that showed never to make a movie.
I blog on paper with pencil so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Little bad guys trying to suffocate this? “This” must be our electrons.
So we’re paying for protection by uniformed people who are running from something? Not inspiring. I ignore them like furniture, at my peril.
My fate in black marks on paper. Old shoe on gas in dented car crossing river, cartoon hope in my head. Boredom or tears? Pick one, or both.
I’ll fall where I fall through oak light on light grass in a mud gutter
and rise, or not, on some winter road, both directions a puzzlement.
Inside and storm, all white with noise, I have no place to go with my small science kit. The forest of our best years begins with exception.
I run through the house panicked, trying to get out fast. An old man
runs past me trying to make things right, robbing time from my pockets.
I write “subject” on a blank sheet of paper. Then I crush it in my hands. I call it “object.” Then I notice “king” in the phrase no smoking.
All my friends who call me “best friend” are coming over today thinking I live here. I live in a shadow house up the street, but don’t tell.
Snow on every field. I wonder at hands. Afternoon is night. We go into town, a clan. Ghosts of future ghosts play little league at the park.
Enduring the ride behind the dark side of the sun, my shoes walk through the parting glass doors of the pharmacy in the warm December light.
Can I just say California-by-the-sea? We all cry about the rain and cold wind in our t-shirts. But by February, promise, I won’t say spring.
I roll on grass that fringes oak roads in winter. I know I can’t say it under the circumstances but I’m happy. I get in line for inspection.
Lawrence Bridges’ two volumes of poetry, Horses on Drums and Flip Days, were published by Red Hen Press. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Tampa Review. As a filmmaker, his literary documentaries include profiles of Ray Bradbury, Amy Tan, Tobias Wolff, and Cynthia Ozick.
God As the First Hard Frost
The way the basil leaves hang liked shamed hangmen,
like once proud shrouded beings
who are learning their lesson in the last sunrise.
The way their odor has melded into the odor
of every other wounded, green body,
the limbs of the impatiens and begonias gone limp,
tomato plants sunken with their shriveled orbiting orbs,
marigolds gone brown in their forked attention.
The way — just touch them — the leaves fold up, uprooted,
unrooted, lost into another self
to recognize the smallest difference in the air
which makes all the difference after all.
The way the birds come out of their dark night roost
quirkling about and chasing ice on the air.
The way one bird flies into the shining silver-blue sky of window,
a thud that shakes the whole house.
The way leaves and light and other birds and humans and cat
seem stopped to listen after such a blow, which
seems to move the brick house off its housing, foundling
toward the sooner dark each day.
The way, then, we all move,
no longer on the brittle scaffold, but having climbed.
The way no longer standing stopped with a cocked head
toward the difference, but dwelling now inside the difference.
The way that from so easily becomes within,
and moving still beyond.
Susan O’Dell Underwood is Director of Creative Writing at Carson-Newman University. She and her husband, artist David Underwood, recently started Sapling Grove Press, devoted to the Appalachian region. Her chapbooks are From and Love and Other Hungers, and she has published poems in a range of journals and The Southern Poetry Anthology Volume VI: Tennessee.