In Awe of the Brilliance by Kathrin Federer
Catherine Carter | Lois P. Jones | Sean Thomas Dougherty | Nada Faris | Maya Savin Miller | Matthew Murrey | Etan Kerr-Finell | Molly Kirschner | Sharon Dolin | Aevan Gibson | Katherine Soniat | Penelope Moffet | Eric Norris | Terry Ofner | Lorraine Carey | Carol Alexander | Russell Colver | Lynne Jensen Lampe | Abbie Kiefer | Pauletta Hansel | Jon D. Lee
The Man at the Center
Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes lie at the center of virtually all large galaxies, even our own Milky Way.
— “Black Holes”, NASA Universe
I suck and suck. Soon you will too.
I am lonelier than anyone.
Sometimes I try to claw out of my own horizon,
and always collapse back. No escape,
not for me, not for you, though you are not real
the way I am real, which is why I get to swallow
you: fast food. Invisible even to myself, I need
your attention, all of it, the kind you give
to what devours everything you love and takes
everything you need. Not that there’s any you, just me,
nor any love, which is just one more vast story I suck
down because I’m vaster, the space
in space, the blank around which all things turn, the null
never to be filled, not by parades or light or God or
sincere flattery or massive glossy desks, not by comets or
leaf mould or cruising sharks—would-be devourers I compress
into my own empty—or the sprinkled fires of stars,
since there were never live stars, only me,
dead star murdered long ago back at the start
of everything: the absence, the one-
way transaction, the hole made of hunger.
Come: try to fill me. Attend me, make me
real for half a second with your fear.
Don’t look over there, over there is nothing,
everywhere else is nothing. Watch me.
I need you like nothing needs you. Come closer to me.
Now: just a little closer to me.
Catherine Carter’s collections of poetry include Larvae of the Nearest Stars, The Swamp Monster at Home, The Memory of Gills (all with LSU Press), and Marks of the Witch (Jacar Press, 2014.) Her work has also appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Orion, Poetry, and Ploughshares, among others.
naked as a lightning rod he waited
until everyone had left the room
and his unheld hand lay open like a question
as he passed through the pale ceiling,
rising through the hospital roof,
rising like a prize fighter from the body’s defeat
to just beneath the cloud layer of Los Angeles.
He could see everything he had loved
and what had loved him and what had not.
He could see Dodger’s Stadium and hear
all the cheers of games that ever were,
could catch the high fly balls
and let them fall again, those diaphanous
spheres of desire, like men who hoped
to hit something which could never be caught.
And higher across the land where
a sister walks in Descanso, past the tree
he hugged and the Mulberry with its bones
breaking out of its body, gnarled and rooted.
He could see the ducklings as they once flocked
to their feet and the fleeting conversations
rising into spring leaves. Now further up
until his beloved Pacific became a chorus line
of reclining women, like Matisse’s blue nude,
the repeating waves drawing him into its perfect answer.
* Title from a line by George Kalogeris.
Lois P. Jones is the author of Night Ladder (Glass Lyre Press). Some awards include the Lascaux Prize, the Bristol Prize judged by Liz Berry and winning finalist in the Terrain poetry contest judged by Jane Hirshfield. She has work forthcoming in Plume, Guernica Editions, and Vallentine Mitchell of London.
Fugue with Feeding Tube
when spring snow becomes water in a stream,
or the fading red of canna blooms, perhaps the way the river
becomes the rain, and the rain the river, or how Miles Davis
might have been the only human who knew the exact point
where green becomes a Kind of Blue. Perhaps this long dying
we have endured is that, where are our bodies,
the space between you and I, as you sleep,
hooked up to a feeding tube, I reach but do not reach
for your resting hand: it is the absence
I have held so long. The body’s brutalities
and betrayals, its constant wage of pain,
and overhead I hear the rafters rustle with the wings
of all of our dead, or is it the distant hum
of the helicopter veta-evacuating in that woman
who drove right through a red light. The next morning,
I will read about someone’s unbelted daughter.
How easy it is to accidentally kill what we love.
And just like that, a space appears in the air
where once they were, and something like the distant
laughter of children on a playground passes
right through me. You are nearly snoring.
Miles Davis plays So What like a soft repeated slap
in my head. What more can any of us do but get up
and put on our shoes? I leave to go to work.
I pass invisible, nearly translucent, like a fish
through water, through the halls of beeping,
nurses on their way to rooms where strangers
gesture through morphine drips
tapping out a secret code,
the way the Steelhead this time of year travel
upstream to spawn, pulled by nothing
more than memory’s genetic map
which is a coded way of saying desire,
they push against the current, leaping
over the precisely cast lines of fishermen,
leaping till their rainbow-colored bodies
become part bird, part fish, part bloody
psalm—this Anadromous need to return
to the place where one is born
is what it feels when you are gone. Tonight,
the roads are black and slick with ice.
Minutes slip like water, like fish
leave nothing more than shadows
in their wake. What is home but this desire
to return, before we die.
So what Miles slaps into my brain.
I reach across the car seat
to touch your IV’d arm
upturned on the hospital bed
fades into the gray like the shadow of a fish
through murky water.
I push the pedal to the floor.
I glance up to notice how bright
a green light is at night,
I nearly expect it to change to blue.
Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 18 books including The Second O of Sorrow (2018 BOA Editions) which was cowinner of the Paterson Poetry Prize, and also received the Housatonic Book Award from Western Connecticut State U. He lives in Erie, Pa.
Every Day is a Celebration Worthy of Fireworks
There is a term for the ladybug,
all her legs wrapped around a chunk
of your eyelashes, the tender thud
of your eyelids surrendering their own light.
Who will tap you on the collarbone
to remind your beating heart: You both have bodies,
bodies full of life? There is a term waiting to be gifted
into the palm of the enemy hiding underneath
your childhood bed, not beauty, not God,
not the tangy smell of gunpowder
and dark leather boots crunching on concrete
and charred bodies, hash brown bodies.
There’s a thrill we won’t admit to when we keep wanting
to speak the complicated ritual of forgiveness,
and yet we must, for every male soldier
is both murderer and someone’s father,
brother, son. How will we pardon
the salivating fangs of old foxes
perched amid the family men with hookah sticks
rising between their legs,
serenading their audience with the light of oil lamps?
Every mass grave keeps groaning with bulbous desire
to erase the shame of its forgetfulness.
Yet, whenever I close my eyes,
my blood pumps oil, and I sing the body engine
all the way to Desert Storm, where we were taught to learn
how to yearn for golden bowls and to slurp warm gravy
with gusto, never question our way around our own bodies’
cartography of fierce teeth, and claws that grow after
our hearts relinquish their red and black beauty marks.
Nada Faris is an Honorary Fellow in Writing at Iowa University’s International Writing Program. She has earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, received an Arab Woman Award from Harper’s Bazaar Arabia for her impact on Kuwait’s creative sector, and authored three international books.
i write my father in jail
& soon i will be far from here
somewhere between these freckled windows and myself
the feeling of a paper weight in my belly
shower water made heavy
somewhere i heard that pigeons can’t fly high enough
to reach me but
that one night in december
the sky was so heavy
it carried a black-boned bird to me
wings like cigar smoke
that scattered broken pieces everywhere
one on the street corner
two by the lamppost
no time to bury the myth by the tracks
because the train ran you over too
let the shards be beautiful under the headlights
so maybe we can forget
give me a box of matches
strike me and i’ll draw a line
like cutting open the belly of a deer
like halving an avocado
like the c-section
that released my brother
and then me
do not enter:
this zone has been subject to natural disaster
this phone call may be subject to recording
scorched tree stomach
like crumbs leftover from the week before
a skeleton shrouded in scar tissue
i wonder what it would be like
to grow wildflowers in the cracked pavement
because here i am pressing weeds between my ankle bones
and praying for the scent of fresh bread and rosemary
but there is no time for history to undo isolation
so just remember:
there were shoelaces there once and
there is no broken zipper
no flag stained orange
no clock stuck at three
the barbed wire is not a suicide note
i promise it’s just metal
and i think you’ve got the giving confused with the taking
i mean the receiving
like the soot of some else’s cigarette on your tongue
or the way the inside of an orange peel feels like bone marrow
and now i can’t get the feeling of dust off my fingertips
fruit laced with dying things
here there are no rest stops by the interstate
to bury the dead
so you blow the flies from the windowsill
with quick breaths
and then swallow
try not to wake the man asleep in the attic
blue eyes scarred shut
like the soft part of an elbow
and the tip of a needle
and a doorknob that does not turn
try not to say
just swallow the honey
and let it scratch your throat
until your ragged breathing is all anyone can hear of themself
the way you hold each word between your teeth
but still holding
like bars on a cracked window
like an egg in the round part of a silver spoon
a meal for two minus one
i know now that it should be enough
to be of a pepper grinder with earthquake in the belly
so take my hand
and let them burn in my wildfire
burn in this wildfire
i have been burned by this wildfire
Maya Savin Miller’s writing has appeared in Cargoes, Up North Lit, Hadassah, Battering Ram Journal, Bluefire, Skipping Stones and jGirls Magazine. Her work has been recognized by Princeton, Hollins, Columbia, Rider, Scholastic, Library of Congress, Skipping Stones, Blank Theatre Playwrights Festival, and Leyla Beban Foundation. She was a 2020 finalist for L.A. Youth Poet Laureate.
Detroit, halfway, I waited
for my flight that wouldn’t leave
for over an hour. A woman
was working the gate,
took worries and questions.
“Is this my flight?” It is.
“Do I need to check-in?” No,
you have your boarding pass.
She smiled, was polite, even bent
down to distract a crying baby,
What a sweetie, how old?
When she left, she passed
so close that I could see where
her makeup ended, could see
the hair-sprayed brushstrokes
in her hair. The ironed creases
in her pants were almost gone,
the back of her blouse wrinkled.
I noticed her foot: strapped
in a dark-blue shoe, closed at the toe
and open at the back. She wore
a thin, black sock, and her foot
tilted, sagged off to the side
like an old tire gone soft. My feet,
too, are a bit off kilter: each shoe
wears out on the heel’s edge
though I can never recall
walking that way. My father also
was on his feet too much; his work
shoes wore out lopsided
from walking the length
of a loud, lousy bar every day.
Sometimes his leg would cramp
so tight he’d wake up yowling,
and it would wake us. We’d hear
the muffled soothe of my mother,
calm as a medic, talking him through it
while she held and kneaded
the back of his leg, loosening
that fist of muscle that struck
as he slept and left him like a boy,
begging for the mercies.
Matthew Murrey’s first book of poetry, Bulletproof, was published by Jacar in February 2019. Poems have recently appeared in Aquifer, Split Rock Review, and Escape Into Life. He received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry a while ago. He is a high school librarian in Urbana, Illinois.
In The Morning
A man comes up to where I am sitting by the water
and asks me for a cigarette.
I say I have one but no match
I just used my last match,
he says he’ll take it anyway.
He asks for fish and tackle
I tell him I have an old Shakespeare rod
I got at a garage sale
but the reel jams
I have no tackle but I have seen where the big fish are.
I say I have the water in the river
but not the water that laps up beneath
the rocks and pilings,
he says he’ll take that too.
I tell him, as I lay down to rid myself of the tingle
I felt in my toes last night
from something inside me getting pinched
at my hip or further up,
I have seen the water’s reflection
on the underside of tree limbs
He tells me he will take the release of the stretch
but not the stretch,
the water’s reflection but not the limb,
he says he would like my toast too,
pointing to what I brought for breakfast
folded in a paper towel pried open by the wind
but only to scrape the butter off it,
and I give it to him.
Etan Kerr-Finell lives in Kingston, NY. His poems have appeared in Rise Up Review, the Spadina Literary Review and The Cimarron Review.
Prayer with No Altar
In the garden of roses
your hands are full of reasons.
You have felt awe and thanked your cultivation,
your long education.
The bee in the zinnia sees.
Those tenors singing under lovers’ windows
are ripping off the birds.
Awareness of beauty is at least as old as beauty:
oak trees and oceans old.
No more reasons.
I know you have roses.
And if this isn’t the life you want
even stones can be engraved.
It can happen at any time:
the heart’s pouring out like so many improbable bottles of wine,
the slow infusion of memory, your feeling for the world
before you got involved.
Molly Kirschner’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including the Southern Review and the New Ohio Review, and in Italian translation. Her new manuscript was a semi-finalist for the Louise Bogan 2020 Award for Artistic Merit and Excellence. It is currently available for publication.
It May Be Spring
The chill still in the land we are almost
ready to choose the yearling
lamb to keep inside for four days
till the moon is full with its bleating
and we sacrifice it dip hyssop
in its blood to touch our lintels with
then roast it in fire and eat of it eat all of it
in haste even its head even its innards
I have girded up my loins my staff in my hand
my feet winged with sandals
ready for flight »
This time may I soar more swiftly
be the first to toe the waters
have the courage to do without knowing the outcome
trust in the full splitting of the sea of my life
Let leaving (our leavening) be easy
building a new life on the next shore:
what we need our faith for » Wandering
may be in our blood as is the search for home
and the unseen one to take us there » O Moses
we have learned to look up we are on the brink now
Sharon Dolin is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Manual for Living, and a prose memoir, Hitchcock Blonde. The recipient of a 2021 NEA Fellowship, her translation of Late to the House of Words: Selected Poems of Gemma Gorga is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in 2021.
The Calling of St. Matthew
Of the dark, of the before-time—
These we were deemed.
Our home country, ringed with medieval groves.
We carried pride like gauze in the mouth
But came to know that we couldn’t stay
Where we’d been born; that love, hard as we might,
The au lait light in the tiny chapel,
We wouldn’t see its façade again.
We would remember a few things.
The whistle of air beneath a willow-switch as it fell,
Scent of tobacco.
You turned up the heat on the way out,
Letting me sleep as you drove.
Aevan Gibson is an emerging poet and photographer from Oxford, Mississippi. Recently, she was awarded an artists’ grant by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (named for Faulkner’s fictive county). She has also performed spoken work for Quasar, a grassroots artists’ collective. Her writing is informed by the American landscape and by the working-class experience.
and they are goners too, the water birds losing
feathers—blue and gray, they stand on one
leg in marsh stench near the ocean.
Up and down
and for as far as I can see is trouble, as again this year
hobbles giant deep-sea mother that cannot find her turtle eggs
or go another heave in the sand.
My baby girl, you who definitely has it in those level eyes of blue,
hang on and don’t let go in mid-catastrophe.
A lighthouse casts brightness in the dark. Tattered red flags
signal human precognition but only for the dead. Parts of porches
and window glass most likely are the same flotilla of the damned
who passed this way last year.
And always there’s that creepy lane of cars (or people) searching for any
road upland, sideways, or northward—just not to meet the end
at a standstill.
And storms are getting wider and bigger by the season, closer now
to standards which thrilled Prospero and Miranda.
Infant child, I cover your small face with my fingers so you’ll remember
best my hands as I swaddle you in muslin.
The strongest of cottons.
For wasn’t it you with me in our watery life long ago in Chile?
I found you whole—pearl of a skull and damp blue eyes
filled with the salt wind.
Katherine Soniat‘s eighth collection of poems—Polishing the Glass Storm—will be published by LSU Press in 2022. In 2023 Etruscan Press will publish Starfish Wash-up. The Goodbye Animals was awarded the 2014 Turtle Island Chapbook Award. A Shared Life won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Poems have appeared in the Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, Poetry, and The Nation, among others.
She was curled on her side, skeletal, going away
five years in the nursing home, eating
her ending. I was not the one who eased her through
her less and less. Ragged breaths,
mumbling fragments that led nowhere.
She was my mother and no longer my mother.
Then there were no words.
Sometimes I wake in early morning
wondering when my mind will go and no one come.
Starfish arms of the ceiling fan turn and turn.
Penelope Moffet’s most recent chapbook is It Isn’t That They Mean to Kill You (Arroyo Seco Press, 2018). Her poems have been published in Natural Bridge, Permafrost, Levure Litteraire, Pearl, The Rise Up Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, The Missouri Review and other literary journals.
For Stephen Guy-Bray
I’m sorting through a box of fragments—black
And red—thin, sharply curved triangles—
Broken people—including letters—names.
Each has its own sad story to tell,
It will insist on telling. I compare
Edges. I follow tiny lines that lead—
Like lies—to nowhere—everywhere—despair—
Until my eyes are bloodshot with exhaustion.
I have a figure and a form in mind.
I think I know to whom those arms belong,
The couch-leg lion, that huge bowl of wine.
A disembodied lyre suggests a song:
In scope, immense as war and intimate
As us. The only piece that does not fit.
Eric Norris is a former co-host of the Carmine Street Metrics reading series at The Bowery Poetry Club, in NYC. His poems have appeared in: Trinity House Review, The New English Review, Mollyhouse, Impossible Archetype, Soft Blow, Assaracus, The Raintown Review, Ambit, and E-Verse Radio. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
The cat watches from inside the patio door
like the hawk she would be if she had wings.
I’m in the yard. One chore leads to another.
I gather fallen branches, turn the compost,
rake the last of the wind-blown leaves,
then wonder, what’s the use of the red
of this leaf, the only one of its kind among
the brown and gray others. Too late, I realize.
Now it’s in the mind, the crimson, like a burr
that’s caught a lift on the sleeve of my sweater.
It’s the animal crouched in the ordinary,
remnant of the dismembered god.
Many in the one. An open vein, seed in its bed,
flame hot for winter, red-tail circling overhead.
Terry Ofner has published poetry in San Pedro River Review, Flying Island, and other journals. He has raised cut-flowers, designed gardens, and washed windows. He currently serves as an editor for a publishing company headquartered in Iowa, where he grew up—not far from the Mississippi River. He is working on his first collection of poetry.
On autumn mornings the steam rose
in dancing nymphs from piles of manure,
a reminder to ready the soil.
Year-old rhubarb crowns were chosen,
their stringy roots disease free
and favoured to a seed packet gamble.
His garden fork in wait at the gable wall,
its tines caked in worm rich muck.
In late September, with planting complete
he stood and admired his patch,
hands clasped behind his back
chattering to birds and to himself,
often his only company.
The tendrils of cigarette smoke
spoiled the morning and day ahead,
an omen of a forthcoming binge.
A summer on, the rhubarb flourished
deep in crumbly, warm soil,
sprouted striated canopies of billowing leaves.
He gently tugged and twisted
rows of stalks relinquished from earth
heavy with claggy clay. He carried forth
his bounty on return from the pub,
a swaying pirate with an armful of loot
and a soliloquy on nurture’s
significance, as they dispersed through
the house, their little fires smouldering.
Lorraine Carey’s work has featured in Poetry Ireland Review, The Rising Phoenix Review, Constellate, Orbis, Prole, Smithereens, The High Window, The Honest Ulsterman and Poetry Birmingham among others. She has poems forthcoming in Eunoia Review and Foxglove. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her debut collection is From Doll House Windows (Revival).
Freud’s English Garden
Possible to prune a rosebush in early September
when bombs don’t fall. Knowing lives uneasily with mistrust—
memory the least stable homeland of all.
Waking’s an academic exercise. A smeared glass in the limp hand.
Each rose has a lip, audacious stigma’s sticky flirt. The apian way leads to escape
when in dry seasons bees nudge some incipient bloom.
The insects’ sex urge, then: that ferocious need to copulate. Out of love,
his view of marriage as serviceable. Stone mouth grimace. Chestnut hair of a twig.
The female with mimic pheromones, say the orchid, beckons and postulates
while annealed figures of dusky elms become compact as sky.
Vienna composed of afterthoughts. Filthy cobblestones. Dust coating the tongue.
At its zenith, a self is that useful thing for passing along crowded avenues
with eyes glued to the leaves of humming hedge. Later, it fits into a palm.
Through a series of erasures a canny rose, a smudged tree, and if I forget thee,
borders beneath clouds of steam, stamp of a hobbled horse.
We know scalding founts of unhappiness, subtract the prefix with a little colored pill
as gritty particulates lodge in lungs: and winter’s air, again cyanosed.
Carol Alexander‘s most recent poetry collection is Environments (Dos Madres Press). Her most recent poetry collection is Fever and Bone (Dos Madres Press, 2021). Alexander’s poems appear in The American Journal of Poetry, The Canary, Chiron Review, The Common, Cumberland River Review, Denver Quarterly, The Seattle Review of Books, Third Wednesday. New work is forthcoming in Pangyrus and Raintown Review.
It’s been so wet, what once was lawn pools the sky.
Already hard to imagine what’s no longer here –
fieldstone, windows, slate.
Emptiness has contracted the space,
opened sky for crows and mourning doves.
The pecan tree has spread.
In winter our mother knelt to bleed radiators
into a mason jar.
When the big willow fell the year our father died
we played in its branches.
After my sister’s return
blue spires of delphinium rose into the sun.
Rain drove the last grandchild’s wedding from the lawn
and we danced under a white tent.
The house went down so fast there was no time
to be prepared. No one knew about the spring under the cellar.
Some nights the wind in the hemlocks
still blows across my sleep
in the way of things that disappear
and never do.
Russell Colver’s poems have appeared in Rattle, the North Carolina Literary Review, Kakalak, and the American Poetry Review, among others. Her work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Web award, and she was winner of the 2016 NCLR’s James Applewhite Poetry Award.
To the Old Lady Eating Fries
Only a stranger like you can magic
me, wand-wave a greasy crinkle-cut,
expose all my hungers to the diner.
Mama won’t like it. You tell
the guy at the counter to look
at my curls, my Hollywood hair
& he slides into my booth
for a little banter. Soon I’m in his
’72 Ford Maverick, counting fields
& fenceposts. Then my feet crunch grass,
enter the old stone silo. I know nothing
but to lie beneath him, hold my breath tight
against the dirt floor. Muddy the dust
as my virginity flees to creek rock
& burial mounds & everything else
waits for him to end, waits to be
forgotten. Everything but sucking fresh
air when my body breaks
free. Standing up, zipped, straightened.
The ride back to town, the call
to Mama to declare it done.
Lynne Jensen Lampe is a writer and editor in Columbia, Missouri. Her poems can be found in The American Journal of Poetry, Rock & Sling, Small Orange, LIT Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a finalist for the 2020 Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize and Best of the Net nominee.
Revitalization Project: Levine’s Clothing
Grief is a throbbing monotony, which is how we find
ourselves at Don Pedro’s on a Tuesday—the third Tuesday
since our mom died. When we were kids,
this place was Levine’s. They’ve kept its metal ceiling
and one pale mannequin, wearing a wide sombrero,
holding a sign with the special: queso and chips, every basket
unending. The mariachi’s so bright it rattles our ribs.
A man at the bar asks about Pedro. Would you believe
he never existed? In the kitchen, something heavy and glass
gunshots into five hundred irredeemable pieces. Our waitress
arrives with a pitcher of water that tastes like tin
and a cheap notepad she shakes open, ready to help.
Her name is Brandi. She’ll be taking care of us.
Abbie Kiefer’s work is forthcoming or has appeared in Arts & Letters, The Cincinnati Review, Hobart, Spoon River Poetry Review, and other places. She is a reader for The Adroit Journal and lives in New Hampshire.
13 Ways of Looking at a Pandemic
The Bradford pear and related cultivars of Pyrus calleryana are an invasive species, …established outside cultivation in 152 counties in 25 states in the United States.
“YOU MUST STOP MOVING….Forsake the Open Road… You Do not “Advance,” You only Trample…”
— The Angel, Angels in America
“What is a week end?”
— The Dowager Countess, Downton Abby
At first I think they are everywhere,
the Bradford pears, their gaudy, gauzy
tutu white against a mostly leafless landscape—
one more dubious pleasure of this pandemic spring,
like our weekend trips to bike paths for walks we could,
yes, take on our own urban sidewalks,
and do, and do, and do…
But then I notice, or maybe my husband says it first,
that they cluster themselves where the people are;
when the endless tracts
of end-of-millennium look-alike houses end,
the pears are gone too.
Here’s a little known fact.
The first seeds for what became,
in our hands, the Bradford Pear,
made their way down the Yangtze
from Yichang to what is now Wuhan
in the bags of a plant explorer
hired by the US Department of Agriculture.
The seeds were shipped to Washington
after the explorer’s body was fished from the river.
Suicide, they think.
“Few people ever realized the tremendous battle that was raging in his soul,”
wrote the plant scientist who’d sent him on his journey.
Not about the seeds, surely, but interesting nonetheless.
We all want to blame somebody, and that’s a fact.
Millennials are blaming the boomers
and my friend in the UK writes on Facebook,
“People of America. I swear to god. Stay at home.”
I want to blame somebody, too, so I yell at my husband
for not fixing the damn windshield wipers back in January
when we still had someplace to go in the rain,
or anytime we damn well wanted,
“Without thinking much about it,
we have globalized our environment
in much the same way
we have globalized our economy.”
Peter Del Tredici, a Harvard senior research scientist, retired.
It’s not the seeds that are to blame.
It’s 100 years later now back in the Hubei Provence
and the pear trees there
have stayed in their place.
We took and selected, propagated and fused,
and planted them wherever we wanted
something pretty that we didn’t have to wait for,
that would look just like the ones our neighbors had
but maybe bigger.
It’s hard to say which we I am talking about.
Maybe the US; maybe the whole human race.
“Seed longevity likely contributes to the invasive tendencies of Callery [AKA Bradford] pear, enabling it to persist … despite efforts at surface-level removal.”
Scientists Theresa Culley and Tziporah Serotain
Neither drinking alcohol nor taking a hot bath will protect you from the coronavirus,
according to the World Health Organization.
Some scientists believe SARS-CoV-2,
AKA COVID-19, AKA novel coronavirus
was the result of natural selection and not the product of genetic engineering.
So maybe we didn’t make the thing on purpose,
like we did the Bradford Pear,
trying to make the perfect tree.
“Landscape, fragmentation, climate change,
transportation or illegal wildlife trade:
All these factors are creating new interfaces for humans and animals.”
Dr. John Brownstein, ABC News
It’s hard to stay home,
but mostly we do.
Twice daily walks around the neighborhood,
and on what we still call weekends we sit swaddled
in our car for a while, headed out to the burbs
to walk along the mostly empty bike paths,
every now and then diving into the brush
to avoid a gaggle of humans.
We try to not to be too coupledom smug,
to not say to each other,
“You can’t tell me they all live in the same house.”
We try not to feel too guilty
for being out where anyone can see us,
far from home.
Remember when I said those pears were everywhere?
Dr. Culley has a theory
and it has to do with robins,
the Turdus migratorius,
the most American of birds,
which unlike the European starlings
drop their poop deep inside a forest,
not just along its edge.
It was May 31, 1918,
when Frank Meyer, plant explorer,
boarded a ship from what is now Wuhan
to sail downriver to Shanghai,
from where he intended to ship his seeds.
He had been suffering from a stomach bug,
but seemed much better.
You are probably thinking about the flu
we used to call Spanish.
But remember, scientists trace that pandemic
from an army camp in Kansas
which sent men across the country and on to Europe
for the sole purpose of killing people,
and that’s what they did.
Pauletta Hansel’s eight poetry collections include Friend, epistolary poems from the early days of the pandemic, Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award; her writing has been featured in Rattle, Appalachian Journal, The Cincinnati Review, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and Poetry Daily, among others. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016-2018).
& so into the / Minotaur reflects
The end / this vacant glassy noxious sweat
Of mangle snotting face / all metaphor
And myth but real inhabitant of what
Begins / so man and not-man / bicep bulge
And grassy molar / bovine skull-slope up
To horn curve pointed at the madding eye
That punctures rageful outward as if self
Projected lanced the self of boil / could flay
The father / dry his skin-flag smeared with brain
Then gibbet him with leathered self /
The tale / no Theseus is worm-flesh gored
His socket skull a beetle writhe to grin
The idle kick / no heated Pasiphae
To justify the fuck-beast birth and soothe
The stain / no Daedalus to build the walls
And be ignored and fall in melted wax /
No Ariadne to abandon when
Her tits grow too familiar/ just this make
Unmake of suffocate semantic maze
In rise / eclipse to show the matted hide /
The flea bite pustule festered on the spine /
Distend of gut and buttock / bitten nails /
The skin flakes clawed from callused heels /
That blisters distal / scrapes beyond the walls
To hate the unfamiliar for itself /
A causal chain that eats its tail and snarls
At how the light disturbs / that fungal-worms
The cortex / iterates reduced to seethe
The pale collapse of nuance / argument
Descended into diatribe / a pith
Of monologue that gilts the shoddy ground
And fumes at how the scratched veneer reveals
The wasted hollows /
such illusioned I /
A rancid steely mind-sphere permanent
Against intrusion / grayish membrane built
To stop the plural noun-smear / validate
The negative of tension / place instead
Automata of validation / flat
And barren plain devoid of heat or wind
Or cold or rain / just pressured air that crawls
The open lungs and effortlessly swells
The alveoli / intake eased to all
But nothing / exhale floating just beyond
The lips to be rebreathed and coat the lungs
Again / again / again / a stale and matte
Exchange of abscessed halitosis fumed
In solipsistic impotence /
Not poetry / the target falls before
The hit / the bloodstains painted in advance /
The sutured rictus molded first in clay
To see how far the lips can stretch and still
Resemble / how the taxidermy’s eased
When what emerges isn’t meant to look
Like what was represented / stuffed with straw
And sawdust till the glassy eyes protrude /
A childish scrawl / repeat of loop without
A sense of end /
of course a tourniquet
Would staunch the spread / confine contagion to
A turgid sweating black extremity
To clinically examine and exsect
And place inside a Petri dish to see
What festers in the agar / what infects
The blood / if other organs need to be
Examined for metastases /
Could be revealed by such dispassioned scry /
The malady affixed to slide and raked
Beneath a microscope to map out how
The bullish cancer horns the walls and scrapes
Out emptiness it fills with loathing / how
It claws the cell as if it could survive
Without / a negative become a self
Defined / and so the self a parasite
Of self / a pair of leeches siphoning
Each other for survival / blood as food
As blood in toxic resonance until
There’s only husk / a desiccate that thinks
Itself a whole /
but these are merely ends /
The oily residue that rises from
A sinking ship / a pattern fray that cites
The underlying structure’s defects / man
And bull in forced distinction since the eye
Abhors the involution / execrates
Reflection as a pale compense / but how
To otherwise explain the walls / why lock
A beast alive inside a maze except
Complicity / to let it breathe and rant
And haunt the branching paths / a place that could
Have been for anything but now for this /
So is the world is not the world but is
Jon D. Lee’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Limberlost Review, Sierra Nevada Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Connecticut River Review, The Laurel Review, and The Inflectionist Review. He has an MFA in Poetry from Lesley University, and a PhD in Folklore. Lee teaches at Suffolk University.