Fear of Flight by Alicia Armstrong
Jessica Jacobs | Grey Held | Tara Ballard | Sandra Kolankiewicz | Erica Goss | Madu Chisom Kingdavid | Michael Mark | Emily Hockaday | Gerry LaFemina |
Roy Bentley | Kate Sontag | Bill Glose | S Stephanie | Bayleigh Fraser | Charmaine Cadeau | Carlo Matos | Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr. |
Gabrielle Brant Freeman | Susan Elbe | Richard Garcia | Liz Quirke |
Between the Shoreline and the Sea
shards of beer bottles are back-and-forthed into something
beautiful. With a clicking pocketful, we walked
Provincetown’s breakwater where a woman handed us rosehips,
urging, “Sailors ate them against scurvy,” their burnt
red skin taut and tart on the tongue. To thank her,
you said, It’s not every day
I get to do something for the first time. But the very next morning,
there we were, half-asleep, on the lowtide beach for our first
shared daybreak. The night before—can you even remember
what we fought about? Every argument leaves me
closed and fighting my way back to you.
So beside the metal retaining wall, I held you beneath
a set of mossy stairs, the wall’s elaborate rust
its own sunrise. Across the bay, the shore was sheathed
by only a skim of ocean, busied by beach combers. And every
one of them kept their eyes down. Chose against the new sun
to look instead for bivalves—oysters, mussels, clams—
small things that open completely
only when they die. Earlier though, do you remember?
From your sleep, you murmured, I love the robin
you put in my chest. It’s just a common little bird but it’s so sweet
and it sings. O, to have something singing
inside us, our bodies homes for such joy. To accept
strange gifts and believe the unknown we take in
will be enough to save us.
Jessica Jacobs is the author of In Whatever Light Left to Us, a memoir-in-poems of early marriage, and Pelvis with Distance, a biography-in-poems of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. She is the Associate Editor of Beloit Poetry Journal and lives in Asheville with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.
Shaking Off My Expectations
Blood worms stunned
by the sun can’t help
but retreat back down.
Moths can’t help
stammering at every street light.
The humming birds lunge
their slender tongues.
And the blooms
of the Epiphyllum cacti widen
into fire. I’m shaking off
my expectations of anything
abiding. How quickly
a grasshopper will sheathe
its wings, renege on
its attachment to a stem.
Tomorrow the pollen
that yellows paving slates
will wash away in rain.
Grey Held has spent 25 years in the corporate world, managing and mentoring teams and coordinating projects. He is a recipient of a NEA Fellowship in Creative Writing. Two books of his poetry have been published, Two-Star General (Brick Road Poetry Press in 2012) and Spilled Milk (Word Press in 2013).
They say we learn by doing / seeing / touching, so
a science teacher brings a rabbit into class
to better illustrate what it means to exist.
Eleven young boys gather ‘round.
A science teacher brings a rabbit into class
along with anesthetic and a scalpel.
Eleven young boys gather ‘round
as he lays the rabbit down to sleep.
Along with anesthetic and a scalpel,
the teacher strokes soft fur behind the ears
as the rabbit slips into dreamdom,
prays the man his soul to keep.
The teacher strokes soft fur behind the ears,
cuts open the chest cavity, and
murmurs: In the name of man, exposing ribs
like the segments of an orange.
The teacher cuts open the chest cavity,
and there is the heart, its red chambers
like the segments of an orange.
Boys push close, fascinated by each pulse,
and there is the heart: its red chambers
shimmer and vibrate like a violin’s strings.
Boys push close, fascinated by each pulse,
and the rabbit wakes inside out. He blinks
a shimmer and vibrates like a violin’s strings.
The rabbit wakes. Eleven boys shout,
and the rabbit wakes inside out. His eyes open.
He scrambles on the counter, tries to hop away.
The rabbit wakes. Eleven boys shout.
Their twenty-two hands fist and pummel.
He scrambles on the counter, tries to hop away,
as eleven boys beat against him.
Their twenty-two hands fist and pummel
until the rabbit’s red chambers hiccup surrender,
and eleven boys beat against fur / bone / face.
Handprints, also red, are left across the counter.
The rabbit’s red chambers hiccup—surrender.
They say we learn by doing / seeing / touching, so
handprints, also red, are left across the counter
to better illustrate what it means to exist.
Tara Ballard is from Alaska. For the past seven years, she and her husband have been living in the Middle East and West Africa. Her poems have been published by The Southampton Review, Salamander, HEArt Online, Wasafiri, and other literary magazines.
I Carry It
When I opened the door, the smoke came in,
knocked me down, the light bulb in my bedside
lamp on but disappearing into black
so thick I couldn’t breathe, clinging to the
floor, a child. At least I’m not afraid of
darkness now; I carry it in my bag
or pocket, give a lift from location
to place, easing it out because it’s one
of the gang, the one we wouldn’t know what
to do without, that in all truth holds us
together, grief as glue, as dark matter
connecting the stars, not to be confused
with dark energy, the space between the
atoms of things appearing to be whole.
Sandra Kolankiewicz’s poems appear in London Magazine, New World Writing, Gargoyle, Prairie Schooner, Per Contra. Turning Inside Out was published by Black Lawrence Press. The Way You Will Go and Lost in Transition are available from Finishing Line Press. When I Fell, a novel with 76 color illustrations, is at Web-e-Books.
I remember when my son
gave money to anyone
who asked. He said
God told him to. He was
an art student then, shock-thin
with brittle blazing eyes. Now
he paints in the garage,
his body weighed down
with medication. The faces
of men appear over
and over on his canvasses.
Once, a homeless man smiled
at him, called him
“preacher.” That was when
my son roamed the city
wearing a priest’s robe he’d sewn
instead of attending classes.
Maybe you saw him,
on Polk Street late one night.
Maybe he blessed you.
Erica Goss served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA from 2013-2016. She is the author of Wild Place (Finishing Line Press 2012) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press 2014). Erica teaches poetry workshops and works as a Development Director for California Poets in the Schools.
Forgive Me, Mother
Forgive me, Mother, that I returned when you’ve
grown a grey forest of wrinkles. When your eyes
see nothing but darkness and your ears hear nothing
but loud silences. Now how would you know that I
was that little boy who fell from your back and broke
his index fingers by the bloody roadside when you were
running and dodging the raining bullets of war? How I
wish you could see that I, who kwashiorkor emaciated
into a skeleton, am now a giant on the globe. My tales
are quite long. All I can remember was an alien airlift
brought us to a relief camp in Gabon, then to an
orphanage, where I was adopted by a good Samaritan
who read all the books in the world–and that was
how I found myself in the den of Harvard, coming
out as a rainbowed star. See, every mother’s tears
in war scenes bring you closer to me, fuel my agelong
bitterness of sweet separation. I’ve never been
ashamed of from where I sprang, for back is always
the Mother of front. In your presence dead childhood
memories come back to life: how your naked lullabies
wooed me to sleep, and I would dream sometimes I
will be chasing big grasshoppers on the farms, sometimes
I will be playing under the rain with little Ebuka and
Adaeze, my betrothed, who terminal hunger reduced
into rotten heaps. Mother, in this cobwebbed room
every picture hanging on the wall is a memory coffined
with pains: You and Father in wedding outfits; father,
whose blood was spilled through a pogrom on the soil
of Sabon gari. Father and Okigbo in a house of words;
Okigbo–bullets cut off his life at dawn. You and Agbonma,
my only sister, raped into absence by unethical soldiers
who did not chew the bitter leaves of war crimes.
Forgive me, Mother, that you won’t see or hear me.
Madu Chisom Kingdavid is an Award Winning Nigerian Writer and Poet. He is a graduate of History and International Studies. His work appears in some literary magazines, including Bombay Review, Kalahari Review, Indiana Voice Journal, AfricanWriter, Expound, Praxis, afrikrayons, etc.
Road Song of the Worried Father
My daughter’s upper body is hard-
angled forward, eyes raking her reflection
in the spit-splattered windshield, gripping
10 & 2 like I taught her when she wanted
something so bad she listened. Jaw set,
born ready, taunting the night, daring
the truckers, the lineless lanes, returning
us home. Lumberjack green and grey flannel
rolled up past the bars of her forearms’ equal
sign tattoos, bandana tight below a high wave
of self-barbed blond rising. “I trust you,” I say
but she can’t hear over her iPod—we share
the same ear: loners working out their shit
on six strings. “I’m not worried about you,”
I also don’t say loud enough, don’t dare. False
notes stink for states. But how will you get on
in this world of straight and hard dotted lines?
My eyes close; I’m hoping, no I’m praying
for a song to rise up from the road dust, sneak
in through the vents, say it for me.
Michael Mark is a hospice volunteer. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Cimarron Review, Cutthroat Journal, Pleiades, Poet Lore, Potomac Review, Rattle, Spillway, The Sun Magazine and Tahoma Literary Review. His poetry has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes.
Bisecting a Peach, Cleanly
I find a small white moth
inside the broken pit. It opens
and closes its wings on the kitchen
cabinet hinge. I don’t
regret the abortion; I don’t
torture myself with an alternate
reality, but what I think I mean is
I won’t regret it, unless. When I lay
the rug down by the armchair
in the corner of the bedroom, I know
this is where the crib will go.
We’ll need two chairs. I ask you
to cup the fluttering creature
while I open the window. I feel
lighter, though I no longer trust
the peach in my hands.
Emily Hockaday is a poet living in Queens. She is author of three chapbooks: Ophelia: A Botanist’s Guide (Zoo Cake Press 2015), What We Love & Will Not Give Up (Dancing Girl Press 2014) and Starting a Life (Finishing Line Press 2012). Her poems are forthcoming or have appeared in the North American Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, West Wind Review, Freefall, Qu, Newtown Literay and others.
Kind of Blue
There is no time of day when no one else is awake
so somebody must also be watching
the sky perform its singular magic trick, transforming itself
into daylight once again, channeling through
innumerable shades of blue that go
unnamed by the Crayon companies, though I imagine
one of the painters I know must try again to mix
the shade of 5:54 A.M. on December 10,
2015 above Cumberland, Maryland. Fails. Darkness
fading like a bruise, like the taste of coffee, like devotion,
even, yet lingering, too. It’s still too early
for the first joggers, & the one cop on duty clocks only the wind
on his radar gun. In a few more minutes a waitress will
unlock the door of our town’s sole diner, flip
the sign in the window from closed. The common ceremonies
of capitalism & community already at work
despite being too early for church bells,
& isn’t that why we’re glad to live in this country—something
so ordinary, so quotidian. For years I’ve forgotten
to be grateful for my right to complain,
to resist, & for the moon, which has already faded into obscurity
despite being so large it’s kept meteors away. How fortunate
we are even to have evolved—astronomers
call this the Goldilocks Zone, the perfect distance from the sun
& from Jupiter, enough heat & light. A scientific miracle.
Just right. The sound of Miles Davis’s trumpet
filling the rooms with warmth. This morning I mix oatmeal
balancing boiling water, milk, brown sugar. A chemist
studying conductivity discovered a new shade
of blue: how do you explain finding what must have always existed,
lost among a jay’s plumage or at 5:57 A.M., slightly
to the northwest. All the great discoveries,
after all, have always been around. Ask Columbus. Ask the First Nations.
That moment I discovered I loved a woman because she was
alight in laughter & said something witty & insightful
about Russell Edson’s work, & light through the window certain
in a way I’d never seen, ephemeral as a held note. Listening
to Miles & Coltrane together it’s easy to have faith
in American exceptionalism, a notion with quaint nostalgia
like recalling an ex-lover or unwrapping Christmas
ornaments kept from childhood. Other days
I go to that diner, amazed by how many of us are there so early,
each in our own booth. The waitresses startlingly
alert, perky even, as the regulars flirt &
cup their coffee cups between both hands, breathing in the steam,
just right after morning’s solitude & wind. Dawn coming
slowly, how I’ll flip through the table’s jukebox songs,
seeking the hits of adolescence, the ones I never chose to play.
Gerry LaFemina’s numerous award-winning collections of poetry. His essays on poets and prosody, Palpable Magic, came out in 2015 and his textbook, Composing Poetry: A Guide to Writing Poems and Thinking Lyrically was recently released. A new book, The Story of Ash, will be released in 2018. He teaches at Frostburg State University and in the MFA Program at Carlow University.
Waimea Bay is water over reefs until we recall
the last wish of the drowned is for land. An hour
silvering down as cold wet air. At the foliate edge
of the Pacific, what will not finish is a constant—
an ellipsis of crest and trough, crest and trough.
One theory is that the starlight-and-DNA is so
misused by those wanting to lie down and die
that many of the dead habitually petition to return.
If the premise is that the Beautiful nixes Suffering,
this isn’t that. This is light and wave as grieving:
half a Shakespearean play, half the soliloquies
and stage directions of surviving on an island.
And islanders wish only to be left alone to see
to real estate prices, a full moon looking back
on homelessness with roots in Eden (to judge
by the noisy epidemic of feral chickens). Still,
here, to exist is to wake constantly beside water
where a day will, and may, start with lovemaking
that relieves the lovers of everything and nothing.
It can come as no surprise, then, that any number
of stars are like mica-points over a night ocean.
Roy Bentley is the author of four books of poems: Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama Press), Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine Press), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House Press) which won the 2012 Blue Lynx Poetry Prize.
Draft By Drowning
Listen. I am water when you ask the question,
my word flow disabled, all lung spill and lake
talk that lacks precise breath. My brain glistens with
quartz grains, I babble between pebbles
in suspended animation, drowsy as any body
losing consciousness. No matter my affinity
for the elemental spring-fed cool, no matter the erasure
from memory and painless stupor that follows,
I still dread the vicious cycle of panicky gasps
and mossy swallows. Forgive such tangled speech
as it lapses through lily pads, splits infinite roots.
Plain phrases evade each arm’s length reach for syntax
to stay afloat. I frog kick, damsel- and dragonfly
dip, bluegill bite without pacing my river-driven
tongue for release. My future depends on
the kindness of silt un-sinking me full circle
toward a second birth. Who will hear my heart stop
mid-crawl or backstroke, clear and clean and quick,
never quite completely across? You see my
issue with drowning? Sometimes a swimmer
is just a swimmer. So come pull me out. Put
your mouth to my lips. Please resuscitate.
Kate Sontag has published in journals such as Verse Virtual, SoFloPoJo, Prairie Schooner, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Rattle, Verse Wisconsin, Poetry Daily and anthologies such asVillanelles (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets), Cooking With The Muse (Tupelo), The Crafty Poet 11 (Terrapin Books), and Boomer Girls (U. of Iowa). She has work forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review. She is co-editor (with David Graham) of After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography (Graywolf).
One plus one is two; two plus two is four—
such simple calculations scrawled
with chalk on boards black as dried blood,
tar-choked lessons that taste like ash
once you figure out that one plus one
can equal a million.
One mortar round.
One soft body.
A million bits of gristle.
How to snap together pieces of a puzzle
slick as cherry filling from a pie—
no one tells you that in school.
They teach word problems instead.
If Jack travels twenty miles per hour
from A, and Tom drives ten from B,
who will reach C first? What if
Tom’s Humvee crumples inward
from the geyser of an IED?
Will Jack rush into the swirling cloud
to pull him from the kill zone?
If Tom has two arms
and Jack picks up one from the dust,
how many does Tom have left?
Two minus one is one, but also
two minus one is nightmares;
two minus one is years of therapy;
two minus is perverse addition,
loss growing into reasons for revenge.
One of every five bullets is a tracer
in a machine gun’s belt, laser-limned
line segments that streak from your
position to the sandstone rooftop,
shortest distance between two points.
Puffs sprint on parapets, climb down walls,
lance through shutters and doors. Maybe
the trigger man was in this building.
If you’re a good little numerator,
never bite off too much of the whole,
they might teach you algebra,
substituting letters for numerals,
solving for X. But I need higher math.
I need calculus. I need to know
when the area under a curve approaches
infinity, who the fuck do I shoot?
Where do I point my muzzle
when there’s no end in sight? When
every round fired has as much chance
of doing harm as doing good?
It’s statistics, percentages, probability
and all its imperfect permutations.
One plus one is two; two plus two is four—
I can sum those figures on my fingers,
but I need a calculator to count
the missing arms and legs,
the flag-draped coffins.
One plus one plus one plus one
plus cemeteries and headstones,
plus seven men firing three shots each,
plus one flag folded into a perfect triangle,
hypotenuse squeezed between white gloves
that plunge the right-angled vertex
into a widow’s heart.
How many star-spangled triangles
must I count before I fall asleep?
One plus one plus one plus one…
Bill Glose spent the first part of his adult life as a paratrooper going off to war. Now he leads a peaceful life and reflects upon those earlier experiences. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including The Missouri Review, The Sun, Narrative Magazine, and The Writer.
Note to Gilgamesh after the Death of My Husband
He’s gone. The geese have spoken.
All the rabbits in me are running
and the cats have wandered off
into fog. The neighbors’ dogs
have taken to howling
at the unmanageable moons.
I can no longer speak with you Gilgamesh
about the challenges posed by the Bull of Heaven
nor can I listen to you sing the Boatman’s watery song.
I have taken to sleeping with my head
on the stone pillow, my feet in the long hall.
S Stephanie holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has three chapbooks Her poetry, fiction, and book reviews have appeared in many literary magazines such as, Birmingham Poetry Review, Rattle, St. Petersburg Review, Southern Indiana Review, The Southern Review, The Sun, and Third Coast. She teaches at the NH Institute of Art in Manchester, NH.
Cartography with Tears
Blue Eurasia. Blue city.
Blue café patio with blue-footed
chairs wobbling in the breeze.
Flimsy hazard signs
tearing over the blue
asphalt beneath your feet.
Be careful where you sit,
mind what you may shatter
with your blue bones.
What you make mountains of,
you leave rivers beneath.
Blue Mamara. Blue Black Sea.
Someone is always telling you
goodbye in the blue sand,
high tide swallowing
the message like a memory.
Azure. Erasure. Au revoir.
Blue, the continents
you couldn’t name peace.
Blue, the pieces they left
behind, floating, all pouring out
the same blue moonlight.
The same glaucous gulls
cutting through the hemisphere
for winter. Blue adieu.
A neon vacancy, flickering indigo.
We have to go.
We have bomb dust
on our blue hands.
We have bone dust
on our blue faces.
Blue, the arms you leave at the airport,
the departure sign spinning
above you like a compass needle.
Blue, the torn map of feeling
like you’re already late for something.
Bayleigh Fraser is an American poet currently residing in Canada, where she hopes to continue her education in poetry. She previously attended Stetson University. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 3Elements Review, Antiphon Poetry Journal, Forage Poetry, One, Qu, Rattle and other publications.
Charmaine Cadeau teaches English at High Point University. Her two collections of poetry include What you used to wear and Placeholder. For her second collection, she received the ReLit Award and the Brockman Campbell Award.
You may not have been sure
how many tantrums were above
the legal limit.
You may not have been able
to correct for the pursuit curve
as you chased the ones that always got away,
who said they did their best.
Nor could you convince them
it was not a failure.
Not a failure, not the doorknob falling
off one more time,
not the small cracks in the linoleum,
not even those things you forgot
to be subtle for,
nothing could tarnish
your perfect porcelain decency.
Decent, a world several fractures
short a recompense.
Carlo Matos has published four books of poetry, including It’s Best Not to Interrupt Her Experiments. His poems have appeared in such journals as Black Ocean, Pank, and Rhino, among many others. Carlo has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Fundação Luso Americana, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts.
The Eve of the Fiesta
Chained to a tree, a goat ready for slaughter.
Slaughter of the innocents, occasioned by a star.
Star lanterns askew from the window eaves.
Eavesdropping: an ear catches the water’s ripples.
Ripples of laughter, full-throated, contagious.
Contagious spread, or something like rumor.
Rumors fed to lips concealed by a folding fan.
Fantasia and fugue rasped by an accordion.
According to church, the order of days.
Days written in copperplate curl and flourish.
Flourish is to spring as crackle is to summer.
Summer punctuated by flashes of rain.
Rain’s dark signature, illegible, fading.
Fade: always that loses color, becomes never.
Never, not a choice but a habit.
Habit of starched linen, worn with a scapular.
Scapular of our Lady of Good Fortune, our Lady of Ransom.
Ransom raised and paid, enough for a three-day feast.
Feast of the heart’s hunger, deadbolt and chain.
A Filipino writer based in Singapore, Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr. is the author of Requiem, a chapbook. His poems have been published in Rattle, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Forage, We are a Website, and other journals and anthologies.
How a Living Organism Produces Light
On the soft lamplight dawn of the day you leave me,
I have you. A last match tucked in an inside pocket.
We crook into the brash belly of bed,
twist into the rich whiskey grip of thighs.
On our last night, just south of Gatlinburg, the charred oak sky
caught heavy in your wild hair. I opened my eyes wide
to adjust to the dark, and your hand breathed into mine,
a gasp at the mass synchronous flash of fireflies two years
in the making. They will mate and die, starved.
Their lanterns will turn to crushed husks.
That last night, I leaned into the worn corduroy
at your chest, the raging wildfire of want
cloaked in Tennessee dusk, in deep honeysuckle rush.
Brief, bioluminescent bursts followed by abrupt dark.
Our last night. Palimpsest. Hundreds of lanterns layered
into skin-glow. Russet shoulder. New honey hip.
Burnished copper breast. Palms pressed.
You kissed me with the deep kiss of thirst. Uttered
your luciferous whisper.
On the day you leave me, I have you, still,
like pressure, impressions of words removed
to make room for something new. I have you like
white cotton coils formed in the blush of afterimage,
like foxfire-flush, like thrust caught in a clear glass jar.
I have you like struck sulfur lingers in my lush mouth,
and, oh, my love, how art thou fallen from heaven.
Gabrielle Brant Freeman‘s poetry has been published in many journals, most recently in Barrelhouse, Grist, Rappahannock Review, storySouth, and Waxwing. Gabrielle won the 2015 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition. Press 53 published her first book, When She Was Bad, in 2016.
A Little Death in Wisconsin
Wading through tall, prickly grasses,
into an enormous late summer
dark I followed him
to the top of a high bluff
where we sat sweaty and star-bitten,
listening to the wallowed
whistle of a freight train sweep
up into us from far down the valley
until we became something
flinted and full of going,
pennies leveled by the crossing,
and when we couldn’t
find our way back,
an old dog named Lucky led us,
lit and torching the sere world.
Susan Elbe is the author of The Map of What Happened, winner of the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize and the 2014 Julie Suk Award from Jacar Press, Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry), Where Good Swimmers Drown (Concrete Wolf Press) and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press).
Retreat on the Edisto
The men around the fire,
all brandy and braggadocio.
How one stumbled over
ice floes, while below slid
the shadow of the
How one avoided a car-bombing
at the Friday morning souk
by napping on the couch.
How another stalked wild boar
with a caveman’s club.
Crows in the live oak chuckle.
Oh really, click the periwinkles,
slow-dragging across pluff mud.
Palmettos cross their arms,
a mallard in the spartina
coughs as if clearing his throat.
How Otis, the famed retriever,
was swept into the culvert
and reappeared, unharmed,
the next pond over—Otis, shot
at, rattlesnake-bit, gator-chomped,
stolen, his kidnappers pursued by
the FBI across several Southern states.
This followed by the account
of the amputated hand in the crab trap,
the saga of the insistent,
bare-naked Christmas tree,
the tale of the vanishing car keys,
and Otis rescued from asphyxiation.
The men pound African drums.
The women dance one behind the other,
a single woman with a wavering of many
bronzed arms. Forthwith, more libations,
the warbling sighs of bard-owl,
screeching of the bent screen door.
Did you know that female crabs are blue?
That shrimp roil and pop in the river
like a shower of gold and silver coins?
That when you fling a cast-net,
it swirls and hangs, suspended in time,
silvery, translucent, then drifts down
toward the water in a slow, slow circle.
Richard Garcia’s poetry books include The Other Odyssey, Dream Horse Press, 2014, The Chair, BOA 2015, and Porridge, Press 53, 2016. His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies. He has won a Pushcart prize and has been in Best American Poetry. He lives in Charleston, S.C.
Ri, Ro, Rem
With that known scent of chemicals hypoallergenic,
the nurse works over the hand far more year-worn than her own,
sweeps cooling wetness from heel to fingerwell and back again,
tender as charity.
The older hand, cannula in and stiffly set, leans into this kindness,
skin cardboard from lack of movement,
knuckles, creases and nail beds
accept the unrequested comfort, for the little time it lasts.
Hidden in the corner of this scrubbed space,
conversation as effortless as buttering bread rumbles,
listing names, places, where to get the good potatoes.
As the nurse drips me up,
all needles and clear tubing,
panic wrenches across your face.
It’s in the widening of your daybreak eyes,
the colouring stretch of your features.
We had the kitchen part of the morning together,
hot, buttered toast after eye-blink showers,
the girls dressed in bright pastels and out.
On the Coast Road, you talked
me through the colours of the Burren,
rendered Galway Bay through prisms of light,
ebbing greens and blues.
The plan had been a pre-anniversary brunch,
but all I offered was black coffee,
in a blank cardboard cup, communal milk,
a single brown sugar in the hospital canteen.
I wanted you stationed across from me
for a stolen while,
knowing that our eventual place
would be side by side
on the leather waiting room couch,
jitters threading our fingers together,
palms flat, except for the bowed concave
where unuttered words are stored.
Two floors above Poets Corner,
in a chair that my private purse is paying for, I sit.
The day moves in stages: conversation faked
so consent is gently gathered; three tablets, a pouch of steroids
while bones settle into a medically calculated recline; finally, the poison.
The hanging bag, heavy as autumn fruit that no-one picked,
casts its shadow from the space above my head.
I hear the roll call of names so familiar now: Rituximab (me),
Roactemra (old lady across the way), Remicade (next door)
Words possessing the oldest syllables, ones a teething baby
uses for comfort against cold pears. Ri, Ro, Rem,
part of my mouth has worked around these words before.
I unpick the phonemes, wonder why the tools of healing sound so hopeless.
In the private hospital, two floors above
the external water feature and Alice in Wonderland chessboard
I learn, at thirty-one, what it takes a body like mine to survive
but not what breaks it.
Liz Quirke lives in the west of Ireland. Her poetry has appeared in publications including The Irish Times and Eyewear Publishing’s The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016. In 2016 she was shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award. Salmon Poetry will publish her debut collection in Spring 2018.
Elegy for H-Town
In a city alive without reason: a reply to my insistent questions (Why was this done?
Why to me?). So specific was my grief for the years that went by unnoticed in twos
and threes. This city pulled me back across a binding string that, when plucked,
signals grief— but a grief so sadly general.
I find it beautiful still: the lone taxi at 3am, the couples pitching forth in the barren,
windless marsh. Each oil field’s ‘Praying Mantis’— mere cutlery for men of means.
The Parkway’s hairpin curves, a girl (who was she?) barreling through the floods,
a uniform soaked with the day’s rain, yet already drying coolly on the slats.
The city kept on digesting, but without me. It kept convulsing and laughing and deserting
me, even from this other coast. Until I came and bitterly betrayed what was on my mind
the whole time: a love so palsied in the cup of our hands, we agreed to bury it alive.
Whitney Vaughan has published poetry in Asheville Poetry Review, XNK, and Melusine; and arts-based journalism in The Village Voice, Curve Magazine, The Independent Weekly, Spectator Magazine, and Meridian Magazine. She is currently in graduate school for journalism at the Harvard Extension School. She lives in Durham, NC.