Issue 14

21 August 2017 (oil on canvas, 30×34″) by Lynn Boggess
Available at The Haen Gallery

Contents

Leanne O’Sullivan | Karen Mandell | Kelly Fordon | Fady Joudah | Sandra Kolankiewicz | Nancy Koerbel | Wendy Mannis Scher | Catherine Abbey Hodges | Alexis Rhone Fancher | John Davis Jr. | Richard Foerster | Tina Kelley | Kat Lehmann | Arzu Karadağ | Lola Koundakjian | Lois Marie Harrod | Kamal E. Kimball | Bolaji Akintola | Bola Opaleke | Michael McFee | Miranda Lynn Barnes

Second Look – The Great Hunger

 

Mes Aynak

for Qadir Temori
‘and now I also pray for Mes Aynak’

Out there on the blurred lines of the earth
you are trying to write faster than the light
is fading. Soon the sun will darken

like a thumbprint down the parched walls,
pressing everything gently into sleep.
Are you ready to go now? The shadows

that constellate on the page are endless.
Mountains and sky, sherds and coins
and amphorae, are never enough to tell

how all things pass away, how something
was here to begin with. Are you ready to go?
The dark slips in through a net of star-shine

and settles each blown and shattered reliquary,
unseeable, untranslatable, until you turn
to leave it—which is the point, after all:

that original hour of remembering
your place at the gates of the great city
and in light of such remembering, forget.

 

Leanne O’Sullivan comes from the Beara Peninsula in Cork. She has published three collections, all from Bloodaxe, Waiting for My Clothes, Cailleach: The Hag of Beara, winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2010, and The Mining Road. Her fourth collection A quarter of an hour is due out in 2018. She received the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award in 2009, the Lawrence O’Shaugnessy Award for Irish Poetry in 2011, and a UCC Alumni Award in 2012.


 

Just Like That

That evening I took a fifteen-minute shower.
When I came down into the kitchen,
I asked my son-in-law what happened
While I was gone. A lot, he said.
Another galaxy swam through the universe
And is trailing along next to us, just like that.
Course, it’s affected our gravity and all of us
Will have a better sense of humor starting now.
Other things too just becoming evident.
I looked outside in the gloaming, my vocabulary
Changed for the better, and locked eyes
With a wild turkey perched in the tree behind the garage.
A grizzly stood on its hind legs to the west,
Beckoning me never worry I’m on your side
And a wolf raised a protective paw.
The moon dropped low and clucked to the turkey,
Who ran across the yard, showing off his fine legs.
Crimson clouds turned cartwheels in the yard.
Try a cartwheel, they whispered. It’s not too late.
The grass stroked my ankles with small green hands
And tossed me in the air, where the cedars
Reached over and murmured courage, courage

 

Karen Mandell has taught writing at Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Mount Ida College in Newton, MA, and literature at Framingham South High School, and also taught literature at various senior centers in the Boston area. She received first place from the American Poetry Society/Oil of Olay contest in 2004, second place winner of the Muriel Craft Bailey award, 2004, and the Charlotte Newberger award from Lilith Magazine.


 

This Is Not a Poem

This is
not a poem.
It’s a house
and the sinkhole.
It’s the deck
and the sand underneath.
It’s the moment
the mountain gives way.
It’s the lake
and the storm on the horizon.
The sunset
and the clouds obscuring it.
The robe
and what he wore underneath.
The arms he lifted
and the place they landed.
God’s outstretched hand
and the crevasse.
It’s a small dog safe in her crate
whose vocal cords were cut
by an old woman in a trailer.
It’s the beatings the dog endured
and the day I rescued her.
The years she cowered
under the couch
and the day she surfaced.
No, this isn’t a poem,
it’s the only sound she can make.
It’s not pretty,
and she knows it,
but she still wants to live
and you can’t stop her.
You are not the worst thing.
You are not even close.

 

Kelly Fordon‘s work has appeared in The Florida Review, The Kenyon Review (KRO), Rattle and other journals. She is the author of three award-winning poetry chapbooks. Her novel-in-stories, Garden for the Blind, was chosen as a 2016 Michigan Notable Book among other awards.


 

Footnotes to a Song

Echo has no compass: we trace each other’s dermatomes
No ecstasy without betrayal: not all who live in flames are saints
Great art needs no nation: in memory country size is one
Great nations need great art: soliloquy a mother tongue
The surface tension of a Jesus bug: opiates me
We reach a cemetery: to each a cemetery
What is seen ends: even if its ending isn’t seen
Tethered to a trope: great nations need great despair
Great despair: needs nary a nation
My grief for a grievance: we’re radiocarbon
Your grief for a grievance: we’re mitochondriacs

 

Fady Joudah has published three books of poems, The Earth in the Attic, Alight, and a book of short poems composed on a cell phone, Textu. He has translated, from Arabic, the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, as well as Ghassan Zaqtan’s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me. He was a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007 and has received a PEN award, a Banipal prize from the UK, and the Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2013. He is currently a Guggenheim fellow and lives in Houston with his wife and kids, where he practices medicine.


 

Understanding and the Dark

And what can I say but we carry it
with us, the weight invisible. We’re burdened
by the tyranny of memory, an
inconsequential remark the key to
the problem, unforgiveable act part
of the background, the past a diorama
lacking enough supplies to recreate
the present, recalling over and over
what we want to forget, remembering
become the goal of the future. You’re like a
bird interested enough to cock its head,
perched on the other end of the bench merely
waiting for me to walk away and leave
you whatever I’m eating, fill the feeder
instead of paying the gas bill as if
recasting the straws I’ve been dealt by being
generous to a fault. Is it wrong to
say I prefer the night with its closeness, what
I’m bearing less heavy in the dark where
there’s no need to explain or be forgiven.

 

Sandra Kolankiewicz‘s poems and stories have appeared widely over the last 35 years, most recently in London Magazine, Appalachian Heritage, New World Writing, Per Contra, and IthacaLit. She lives in Marietta, Ohio, and teaches developmental English in West Virginia. Turning Inside Out is available from Black Lawrence Press. The Way You Will Go and Lost in Transition are available from Finishing Line Press.


 

Crow Road

After my mother came home from the hospital
she asked me if she was going to die
and I thought fuck, and I said, yes. Then
she made a quick animal gasp, then
was quiet. Then went to sleep.

From that day until it happened these
months went by:
September
October, November
December
January
February.

Each night of her dying I drove up and over
hills, the always there and nameless hills,
to my parents’ house, traveling
as the crow flies, which means straight
over everything, non-stop, except in truth
crows don’t travel in a straight line
or with such deliberation, as they are
often hungry and searching for food.

I crossed a busy avenue lined with cars
set out in lots. Acres of them
all in a row, waiting, while the chill rose
up the windshields—clouding their vision.
An avenue is a wide road, usually lined with trees;
it can also be a way to solve a problem.

There were no problems with my mother’s death—
it lasted almost exactly as long as expected—
but, sometimes the things that only she saw
got away from her, dead friends or the people
who moved in downstairs or the cart
she said left without her.
I imagined it to be wooden, medieval,
circling in the corner of her bedroom
and pulled steadily by a person dressed in rags.
I didn’t really know what her cart looked like,
though I promised her it would come back.

 

Nancy Koerbel teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh, holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and is a previous recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her poems have recently appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper and the Pittsburgh Poetry Review.


 

Through the Sliding Glass Door

How long she waited—there in the dark,
before I woke and took the dog
outback to pee, to bark at this neighbor
who knew our habit, who hid beyond

the view of her own fenced yard, who stepped
up onto the deck in nothing but a nightgown—
I did not ask. I led her, wrapped
in my jacket, to sleep in the extra bedroom.

She let me make her tea and toast
while she showered, chose the clothes sized
to make her disappear, and she spoke
of her husband (who I watched leave, suited

for work), of her plans to get away.
And she let me dab her cheek with ointment
before she tucked my scarf, my hat,
my long, black coat around her. Then she left

the way she arrived. Like a shadow through the door,
she ran across the frozen lawns
as if she were me, just a woman
racing against a forecasted storm.

 

Wendy Mannis Scher, a graduate of the University of Alaska/Anchorage’s Low-Residency MFA program, lives in the Colorado foothills. Her poems have recently appeared in Three Drops from a Cauldron, Wayne Literary Review, The Rise Up Review, and Lunch Ticket. In addition to writing, she works as a drug information pharmacist.


 

Shard

Praise what’s gone
the one who takes it
praise the match
the one who strikes it

praise the tinder
ghosts of grasses
air epistle
hymn of smoke.

Praise what burns
what keeps on burning
praise the things
that last past flame

blackened key
I’ll scour to gleaming
shard of pane I’ll
polish, keep.

 

Catherine Abbey Hodges is the author of Raft of Days (Gunpowder Press, 2017) and winner of the Barry Spacks Poetry Prize for her first full-length collection, Instead of Sadness (Gunpowder Press, 2015). Recent work appears or is forthcoming in venues including Chicago Quarterly Review, Miramar and American Journal of Poetry.


 

You’ve Got a Friend in Jesus (The Cross)

You see Him at your bedside, glowing,
a nightlight of calm in an unsafe world.

Your parents can’t help; they worship nothing,
while you sing hymns to Jesus in the dark,

bathe His bloodied palms in your dreams,
shudder at the cruelty of others.

At breakfast, when your mother asks,
you tell her you were practicing for assembly.

You wear a cross at school. En route, it burns hot in your fist,
but you fear your mother’s displeasure, that she’ll scoff

if you claim it repels the bullies who corner you at lunch.
Jesus protects you. He wants you to fit in.

Each day you pocket the cross before pick up.
“Just our little secret,” Jesus whispers in your ear.

Sunday mornings, your parents sleep in,
you slip into the church around the corner, sit amongst the choir,

delight them with your perfect pitch. You tell them
you’re an orphan. They stuff you with parables and longing.

One afternoon you forget to take it off.
Your mother confiscates the cross.

Now Jesus can’t find you on the playground,
but the bullies can, and push you to the asphalt,

your small palms bloody,
outstretched to break your fall.

For CMQ

 

Alexis Rhone Fancher is published in Best American Poetry 2016, Plume, Rattle, Diode, Tinderbox, Nashville Review, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Her photos are published worldwide. A multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly. Her fourth poetry collection, Junkie Wife, will be published in 2018 by Moon Tide Press.


 

The Dying Angler’s Timepiece

The drops of river caught in my father’s watch
surface daily at noon, lured to the crystal
by his pulsing wrist’s friction, a motion
like casting for trout, but more tremulous—
age ravages nerve lines, sending tics
where measured, certain degrees once reigned.

The drops are trapped. By night, they hover
among minuscule axles and free-floating cogs.
Clockwork glistens with ancient water taken
by accident from a dark and downstream hole—
the one he said never failed all these years
its irresistible eddies circling with fish.

The drops are rusting the moving parts, though
slowly. Like so many bed-stones tumbled smooth,
every wheel and tooth will one day round off—
caressed into corrosion, their reeling will stop.
For now, the face is obscured; numbers
and hands blur beneath liquid prisms.

 

John Davis Jr. is the author of Hard Inheritance (Five Oaks Press, 2016), Middle Class American Proverb (Negative Capability Press, 2014), and two other books. His poetry has appeared in Nashville Review, The Common Online, The American Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from University of Tampa.


 

Dead-Reckoning

After drinks and dinner at The Dockside,
alone by the shore, not wanting
the summer dusk to dwindle further

toward the singular darkness of home,
I watched the last few vessels
grumble out, dead-reckoning on the tide.

Somewhere in sun-glanced haze
the lobstermen’s buoys were calling
like Sirens from atop the swells.

Weeks before, the ruddy flesh
of one I loved, in less than a breath,
had left me adrift, staring at a map

of nowhere. When the boats were gone
I found myself wondering how the ancients
measured from the illusory line at vision’s end

to pinpoint place, a qiblah for every aspiration,
and I began to unroll their words in my mind—
astrolabe, azimuth, apogee—already composing

this page, trying to triangulate a way between
two lands. Dig enough, my Jesuits taught,
through life’s rust and rugged umbers

and they’ll yield a chart, a compass rose
and key. Sextant, zenith, star.
From our bedroom window, each morning’s

horizon curved into boundless exhalation,
as prayer should, before arcing back on itself,
an infinity circumscribed: two lives entwined,

one bobbing speck in the sea. Cor, corpus,
coracle—love was the vessel I believed
should bear us toward our distant destination.

In the twilit air, I tried to reclaim that breath,
flood my lungs with a burning I’d once known
when gladly I let every fixed mark unmoor.

It was then a great blue heron leapt
from the marsh grass beside me, oared up
so close I felt the wingbeats’ quake

of annunciation. Its rising arc tugged me
gasping into the briny nothing of that moment’s
fear, and I followed in the wake,

a silhouette trawling the dusk-deep sky:
its legs two useless rudders, neck
torqued, ungainly, until by sure degrees

the bird tacked toward some roost
beyond night’s smudged horizon
—and every way I turned led home.

 

Richard Foerster‘s most recent collection is River Road (Texas Review Press, 2015). He is currently at work on a New & Selected volume, tentatively titled Boy on a Doorstep, which Tiger Bark Press will publish in 2019. He lives in Cape Neddick, Maine.


 

I Wish You Had Known, When You Launched Me

how I loved my home pond, its aerated, bleachy smell,
the beech leaves around it, the skating, picnics,
scout ceremonies, my kids visiting now,

how I would feel at home in the sky, climbing high hills,
seeing bluegrass like tails of galloping horses
slowed down, like cirrus clouds sped up.

I wish you could know I buckled up every single time,
fell for a Miró painting called The Diamond Smiles
at Twilight, never walked into a bar alone.

Was it any comfort to picture me, cylindrical protoplasm
about five and a half feet tall, a couple feet around,
able to turn towards anything and take it in?

Could you guess I’d marry the kind of man who shared,
and gave great advice on what car to buy?
Did you have any idea I’d have a kid

who’d say “do you think I shouldn’t like you as much as I do,
being a teenager and all?” I hope you could hope
that, yes, I was meticulously raised,

that a friend would call me serene, that I got so old my scars faded,
and I learned of 100,000 undersea mountains,
only a thousand of them named.

Did the smallest thought of yours guess
how very much I would
love it here?

 

Tina Kelley‘s third poetry collection, Abloom & Awry, came out from CavanKerry Press in April, joining Precise and The Gospel of Galore. Her new chapbook, Ardor, won the 2017 Jacar Press chapbook competition. A former New York Times reporter, she shared in a staff Pulitzer for 9/11 coverage. She wrote 121 “Portraits of Grief,” short descriptions of the victims. She co-authored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope.


 

Love Letter to Gray

I am told I should hide you, like a forbidden love. You are a weakness, an indecision, a truth too complicated to tell. I brag about you, show you off. It is not everyone who gets to be with you. But they say I am not a tree, and each year will not make me stronger. Time is heavy; it is too much to bear. The world loves a summer full of wildflower meadows and bees gathering sugar. All you offer is the waning of autumn: you are glitter and confetti that announces a journey to somewhere grand, but really it is just a march toward sleep. You fade with the dusk and become colorless as night. I celebrate you for all that fades and never returns. I will polish my years like a silver crown. I will praise you as the ashes left after a fire, for the fire is what cleared the way for me to stand here.

 

Kat Lehmann is the author of Small Stones from the River (2017) and Moon Full of Moons (2015). More than one hundred of her poems have been published in journals and anthologies. She lives in Connecticut with her family, three cats, fifty orchids, and a river.


 

The Invitation

come to the day when i braid my hair
to my bosom on which i align the stones one by one

come to the laughing moment of my face
if i’m happy your coming won’t offend me

come to the land where i console myself with death
to my wounds i could wrap with the cities

come to the tired side of my mind
if i’m pensive your coming won’t offend me

come blowing in without being expected
i’m in the place where my eyes tend towards green

come dip me in love

donate me to the graves without prayers
to the starry nights of the east

 

Arzu Karadağ was born in 1979 in Tunceli, Turkey. She graduated from the Uludağ University, Faculty of Economics, Labour Economics and Industrial Relations and has a master’s degree in management. She is working in the logistics sector; she is the editor and coordinator of Ses and İz publications. Her poems have been translated into Kurdish and English. Her prizes include Ali Rıza Ertan, Yılmaz Güney, Kaygusuz Abdal and Ceyhun Atuf Kansu poetry prize. She has published 5 collections in Turkey. The Invitation was translated by Baki Yiğit.


 

Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos

I turn off the lights —
the soft music inches away —
turn on my right side and think

is this how it feels,
when the cord is spun and
measured by the Moirai

then cut, and the puppet
representing you, your life
suddenly falls?

And you, your routine
as you know it, excised
from this universe.

What day is it?
Did I sleep enough?
Is the sunrise visible?

Yes, the rain is finally gone.

 

Lola Koundakjian lives in New York City where she appears regularly at readings. She is co-curator of a poetry series at the Zohrab Information Center and director of the online Armenian Poetry Project. She is the author of The Accidental Observer and Advice to a Poet.


 

Binary

In those days there were two of us,
sometimes you were the one

sometimes me, though I often felt nothing,
you always on and I off or a little off,

a little young, a bit unready,
but we worked together, discovered,

how much we could generate,
and so it didn’t seem complicated

to be separate, single, particulate,
lone star, odd star, one and only star,

in an empty universe.
Then we grew pods with little peas,

each a perfect zero, off and ought, on or naught.
The power of nothing did its simple addition

under the trees, the grass nixed the morning sun,
it was just one great zippo everyday

while our children, our two and only,
played baseball from dawn to nil,

Zip the bat, Zilch the ball
from early moon until zero,

we switched them now and then
like bubbles, watched them pop

in and out of existence though our best psychologists
said this was more about sex than numbers.

At night they conspired to seethe
like two steam engines,

puffing their little ciphers
up and down the track.

 

Lois Marie Harrod is the author of 16 poetry collections. She also writes short stories and teaches at the The College of New Jersey. Her work has appeared in journals and online ezines from American Poetry Review to Zone 3.


 

Saudade Off Exit 32

A mile out of Lebanon, Ohio
all the Ryder trucks and Great Danes
long haul the length of 71.
They could be my father
in his 18-wheeler, flushed with pride
at the shiny hubcaps on his rig,
and fresh from the menthol dip
tucked in his lip like all the things
he doesn’t say. But it’s been 10 years
since he slid the keys over the desk
when the doc said his spine is rebar
that’ll never get unbent,
and I’m just headed home.
B105 for company and Johnny calls in,
says he wants to wish all the girls
in Campbell County goodnight.
Think of all those girls,
the clean, sweet smell of all those girls
when they lay down their heads
and their hair is golden and warm
as the last sip of Coors
or winter wheat coming up
and there’s Johnny cranking
his radio, trying to wring out
all the longing a country song’s got.
He doesn’t know but the word
for this pang, the word he wants,
is Portuguese. I think of calling in
to tell him saudade. He is
and I am, in a parking lot, alone.
Red stabs of taillight
and the weigh-station man
in his neon vest is a father.
And the fathers in baseball caps,
dashboard light on their faces,
are just stopping on their way home
to the girls in their beds,
girls dreaming of a Johnny someday,
a man who’s thinking of them,
wishing he could be there
to tuck in their lonesome.

 

Kamal E. Kimball is an Ohio poet whose work has been published in Rattle, Sundog Lit, Bone Parade, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal and elsewhere. She works as a grant writer and teaches creative writing.


 

A Discography of Boyhood

Boyhood is like a full stop
That cannot stop a laughter in a read letter.
A laughter that crosses the other side of a ribald valley,
For the chest of a boy is an ellipses, that the mouth
Cannot tell all about,
But asking motherhood of the story that makes
A child bow legged.
Why do we spell boyhood toughly as an unripe mango
On the crashing pieces of a broken window pane?
Perhaps because a boy’s leg is like the forest path looking
For the labyrinth’s path that touches the city’s highway.
If you inquire a boy’s lips,
You will wear the sweet song of tomorrow
Larger than a mountain’s big body.
His dreams are witnesses to the tall caroling
Palm trees swearing to sweep clean
The ravening sky’s face.
The quickened feet of a boy are the legs of cartwheel,
Meandering and perambulating in the scar of wounds,
The outstretched hands of wisdom.
The head of a boy is a big continent with his eyes as globes,
Day-dreaming the world’s countries in a song
Where a lineage name is the strings of the guitar
That accompanies the fluting inquiry of a non-western origin.
A boy’s skin is dyed on the canvas as the language of an ensemble.
The drumbeats of the house in the prodigious testament
Of Chief Psalm’s music of parables.
A boy’s body is like a stone hurled at a neighbour that vomits fire;
The neighbourhood vermin of heat and other uncomfortable things.
His voice is the coast of honks stirring a lonely town
Like the rippling story of broomsticks snatched away from witches
Wearing black clouds.
A boy’s name is the elbow of the house,
And every other thing lobbed in the air like a football looking for goalposts.
Boy’s names are the letters fathers printed on travelling city lorries.

 

Bolaji Akintola, a Nigerian born poet, is a top entrant of the poet in Nigeria’s 10-Day Poetry Challenge (September, 2016). His poems have appeared in AFAS REVIEW (University of Ibadan), Peregrine Reads, Tuck Magazine and elsewhere. Bolaji writes from Ikorodu, Lagos, Nigeria.


 

How We Invented Therapy

The girl who brushed her breasts
against my left arm did so by accident
but I never forgot.

But I never could

have imagined kissing her under the acacia tree
watching everything around us
with our ears closed as we paid half attention

to things rumbling inside of ourselves

warning us to not do what we do in school uniform
or in any uniform, as a matter of fact,
because we’re toddlers in the eyes of the law

& in the eyes of everyone that claims to know the law.

Like a flag tossed back and forth in the wind
we drift in and out of illusion
and call it our sweet world

call it a perfect escape from the rule

that is always asking us to be who the world wants
us to be without any simple explanation,
without any single exposition as to why

we are always covered in dust?

Or why the sun in our eyes shines only
at a specific hour of the day? We know
we will always be chased & chastised

but what can change us from being rooted like the trees?

What can alter our life & death seasons of the year?
I do not know if the girl
who brushed her breasts

against my left arm did so by accident

but who could forget
what accident brought us earthquakes?

 

Bola Opaleke is a Pushcart Prize nominee. His poems have appeared in Rising Phoenix Review, Rattle, Cleaver, One, The Nottingham Review, The Puritan, The Literary Review of Canada, Sierra Nevada Review, Dissident Voice, Poetry Quarterly, The Indianapolis Review, Poetry Pacific, Drunk Monkeys and others. He holds a degree in City Planning.


 

Smoking

Our professors would bustle into class bearing
the usual stacks of books and notes and papers

but also a pack of cigarettes in a jacket pocket

which they’d dig out, extracting the hour’s first
and lighting up and taking a drag and exhaling,

as most of us did, too, a symposium of smoking,

our breath clouding the room whether we spoke
or not, a foggy atmosphere for that discussion

of words maybe written by a fellow chain-smoker,

cheap fuses smoldering in authorial mouth or hand
at the desk or in the posed publicity photograph:

everybody smoked everywhere, not just my parents

filling long boring hours of work and commute
and home with dozens of little fires every day

set by lighters and extinguished in full ashtrays,

or fans at games or men after church or teachers
choking their lounge with smoky gossip or starlets

blowing oh-oh-oh-oh smoke rings at the ceiling,

but also my dentist, who parked his latest Salem
before leaning over me with nicotine-stained teeth

and my pediatrician, whose cologne was tobacco,

and our late-’60s governor whose full-length portrait,
executed in oils, hanging in the Executive Mansion,

shows him with a lit cigarette in his lowered hand,

a product locally grown and locally manufactured,
whose enjoyment imparted a bittersweet soft focus

to the day’s edges, for smokers and those nearby,

a thin haze nobody really noticed way back then,
like veiled blue mountains receding to the horizon.

 

Michael McFee is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently We Were Once Here (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017). His second collection of essays, Appointed Rounds, will be published by Mercer University Press in early 2018. He teaches poetry writing at UNC-Chapel Hill.


 

Waiting for Goddard

Just remember – when you think all is lost,
the future remains.
—Robert H. Goddard

It’s a different cherry tree to George Washington’s,
one with a ladder bent against it, a 17-year-old boy

in the upper boughs cutting off the dead branches.
But you stopped your shears and stared upwards,

the sky pulled at your eyes like a strong blue magnet
and out beyond, the red planet throbbed like a dream

of combustion, little explosions growing into propulsion,
your raison d’être flared then and burned for a lifetime.

Of course everyone called you a fool. You said the moon
was possible, that your rockets could reach it. The Times

shamed you, claimed you had less scientific understanding
than a mere student, eschewed Newton’s wisdom ignorantly.

Like Galileo, you were later pardoned, when Apollo
was launched to the very moon you promised

with three astronauts, two of whom would be
the first men to coat their steps with lunar dust.

You must’ve been proud. You never stopped believing,
out in the desert, paying for all the rockets you built

out of pocket. Yet you still went to visit your tree
in New England and recall your visions of flight.

Has anyone told you, we’ve had cars on Mars for years?
Little robot motors that send us photos, measurements,

postcards of data back home. Not only did your rockets
make it, they delivered the promise of other planets.

Maybe. One day. But Robert, there’s a lost thing, here.
What you found up in the branches of that cherry tree,

what you aimed for out in those desert places.
Perhaps you know of someone you could send

from up there to remind us.

 

Miranda Lynn Barnes is a poet and writer originally from the US, now living in the UK. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Under the Radar, The Compass, The Interpreter’s House, and Confingo. Miranda teaches Poetry and other genres at Bath Spa University, where she recently completed her PhD.


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