Issue 16

Fire Spirit by Conor Walton


Stan Sanvel Rubin | Anne Pitkin | Prathap Kamath | Devon Balwit | Trust Tonji | Joan Colby | Simon Anton Niño Diego Baena | Susan Ludvigson | Ian Dudley | Kathleen Hellen | Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto | Devon Miller-Duggan | Ion Corcos | Debra Kang Dean | Jayne Marek | Barbara Crooker | Terry Savoie | Lauren K. Alleyne | David Graham | David Kirby | Jessica Goodfellow

Second Look – Cat Puke and Flies


Kahve: A Fable

The lost, the wounded, and the exile
gather in a small café on the Bosporus
sipping Turkish coffee,
syrupy and bittersweet as life
when the keymak is skimmed
from the lightly boiling copper pot.
Each receives his portion.

Silently they watch the flowing river,
aware of its invisible undercurrent,
the long bridges that connect two continents
the way love tries to connect us,
the way migrating fish connect two seas
finding their way through deep water
that flows two ways at once.

If they were boys, they could dive
like the sea birds in autumn,
if they were young men, they could try
to swim the treacherous river,
to make of their strong bodies
a channel between shores.
But their only destination is the past.

The heart migrates like this.
It seeks what it needs in layers,
finding its way through the fresh surface
while the salt flow underneath
pulls it to depths it doesn’t understand.
Each thinks of someone he loved
and what came after.


Stan Sanvel Rubin’s fourth full collection, There. Here. was published by Lost Horse Press in 2013. His third, Hidden Sequel, won the Barrow Street Poetry Book Prize. His work has appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, Florida Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ascent, and many others, including most recently, Poetry Northwest, Sheila-na-gig, Shanghai Literary Review and Agni (forthcoming). He lives on the northern Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.



Dunblane, Scotland 1996

Christmas, the bitter season. The fat red breast
of the chaffinch brightens the hedgerows, sharpens the cold.

With the uneasy residents of North Sea winds
it sings, None escape the bad beauty. Sings Solace.

I climbed in the snow above our Highland hotel
to the top of the mountain, alone, my marriage just ended,

hoping to triumph. My son and daughter were off on their own.
No triumph after all, but relief to hear them, as I stumbled back down,

so afraid of more loss, their voices at first faint. How
my breath caught to see them emerge over the ridge behind me,

Paul’s wild hair, tall Emily in her red jacket, my two,
my grown children, companions on my escape from the ruined holiday.

At our hotel surrounded by hikers’ tents
sparkling with frost, a sign read Please do not camp here.

Heartrending, our host said of the deer,
down from the hills, under their saddles of ice.

He fed them kitchen scraps in the hotel parking lot.
He’d named them: Marianne, Miss Sophisticate, and Nestor.

They come at sunrise and sunset, he said,
When the sky glows on the horizon like a burner.

Sunset at three in the afternoon. Nights adamantine
in their black silence. Hoping for comfort,

I led us Christmas Day to Dunblane Cathedral.
We took our seats amid scraping chairs as children fidgeted.

Someone moved so we could sit together.
Someone showed us the place in the hymnal.

We didn’t remember, until startled by tears
when the choir sang “Away in a Manger,”

that we were in the sanctuary
with the parents, their remaining children.

The tall, black-robed priest prayed for those
whose pain and isolation deepen in the festive season.

Let streams roiling under ice, he prayed, map sunlight
seeking a home on the wary earth

Let the deer come trusting to be fed,
the wanderer find a hearth to shelter him.

What is the gift, he said, but the Birth
In a night of chaos, for the worried, hope,

for the lonely, love, for the frightened, courage.

We sang hymns in the Cathedral
with the bereaved, the remaining children now grown

and reaching across the world to us in sympathy
for our fear that does not abate.

We cannot trust. Forgive us

come spring and summer, come the Birth,
again and again.


Anne Pitkin has work just published in the Alaska Quarterly Review and forthcoming in Prairie Schooner. Work has appeared in One, Poetry (Chicago,) New Orleans Review, Rattle, Verse Daily, and many others. Her two full length books are Yellow and Winter Arguments.


Call it Syria

It will be less complicated to cry
looking at severed hands,
bleeding heads,
torn legs.

Opening the ears to sounds of rain
from bombers,
less strainful.

Easier to hold a still infant
while its warmth
drips down your fingers,

or to throw the dead in large pits
one over the other
like a card illusionist.

But to put Vivaldi’s “Spring”
on a gramophone
sitting in the ruins of your apartment
overlooking the shredded city
will be the feat of a hero.


Prathap Kamath is an Indian poet and the author of Ekalavya: a book of poems (Rochak, 2012), Blood Rain and Other Stories (LiFi, 2014) and Tableaux: poems of life and creatures (Cyberwit, 2017). His poems have been anthologized in The Dance of the Peacock: An Anthology of English Poetry from India (Hidden Brook Press, 2013).


Screaming Our Lungs Out

It follows that we are all sick, and that each of us would require a Sahara in order to scream our lungs out, or the shores of a wild and elegiac sea in order to mingle with its fierce lamentations our even fiercer ones.
—E.M. Cioran

Assume for a minute that we suckled
at similar teats, that the same five-fingered
hands match our bruises, that our thoughts
deepen homologous three-a.m. grooves.

We could swap clothes. Blindfolded
and given a spin, we would both stagger
in comedic misdirection, flinching
at the hilarity of unseen watchers.

We are exactly that part excised
from the other, that mercy, which
decades hence, we wish to recall,
to rescue like an infant from a dumpster.


Devon Balwit teaches and writes in the Pacific Northwest. She is the author of three collections and six chapbooks. Her work can be found in journals such as The Cincinnati Review, apt, Rattle, The Free State Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Tule Review.


Dear Bẹ́ẹ̀kọ́larí

never before had I seen
your Adam’s apple take
that position – pointing directly to God
your head raised heavenward
your lips a finger on this trigger
a banality – pulling and pulling
on the why word
as the bullets of the tears therefrom
hit your chest

you down glasses of vodka
and drown into a tautology that
keeps shooting and shooting
and disappearing into
the nocturnal void like a meteor

because life lurks
like tragedy behind blindfolds
poses like grandpa’s
open-mouthed hunting traps
like society
around your neck, like suicide rope

while, on a dark night,
you trace the trajectory of
a shooting star
cuddle the remnant memories
of the wife who left

because there is no love
without condition
ask your mother, she’ll tell you
to get rid of her if she doesn’t
give you a male child

you should have married the creator

*Bẹ́ẹ̀kọ́larí is a Yoruba name meaning ‘we are not what you think’


Trust Tonji writes from Porto Novo. He is the winner of the 2018 edition of the MLK slam competition, organized by the US embassy in Republic of Benin. His poetry has appeared in Eunoia Review, Prachya Review, Synchronized Chaos, Kalahari Review, African Writer, Praxis Magazine, The Electronic Pamphlet and elsewhere.


Now It’s Time

We pour into the sleeping world
Like people boarding a train.
The station dark with hurry.
Suitcases on wheels like companion animals.
The roar of the resting engines as they gather
Intent. We find our tight compartment, slide
Onto the facing benches. It is God’s voice
At the door of dream. We cross the trestle to enter
An avalanche shed. The elevation is eleven thousand
Feet. Breathe, breathe, I tell you. Even in the dream,
I know I’m dreaming. A house I’ve lived in for years
In this alternate existence is familiar as the beautiful
World of awakening, a world that quakes with relief
As pursuers vanish behind the pillars of morphia.
I am overwhelmed with grief, a blizzard of excuses,
How we rolled along the river where salmon leaped
In the dance of life and death. I don’t want to leave
This earth. Exhausted with the burdens of love and need,
I could lie here half-dreaming while the clocks
Cry out like roosters, red priests of sunrise.
I am planted like a garden, every seed another lie
That has made life bearable. The brakes shriek, gears
Grab steel. I forgive all my failings and yours.


Joan Colby’s Selected Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival from FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her latest book Her Heartstrings was published by published by Presa Press in 2018.


A Few Pages of Lorca

and windows are blurry
yet open. I hear the wailing
violin, the moans of lovers,
and that trickling drop of water.
I feel the moon rising over
the tavern where a poet used
to write and drink and howl
till dawn with the roofs
crowded with pigeons.
Here, the world is half-forgotten
like a fading portrait; weeds
sprout out of its ruins,
that light is in the rain—
when the eyes glimpse: nothing
but the dark beyond
the staggering Cathedral.


Simon Anton Niño Diego Baena spends his spare time on the road with his wife, Xandy. His work has appeared in Santa Ana River Review, The Cortland Review, Cider Press Review, Chiron Review, Catamaran Literary Reader, Construction Literary Magazine, Osiris, The Bitter Oleander, Rust+Moth, and elsewhere. His chapbook, The Blood Is Within The Architecture will be out this year.


How It Turns

I sit in the sunny cabin with the dogs.
A breeze makes young bamboo swim
through the blue behind. I think
how you used to interrupt me
in my study, your voice
always feigning surprise—
“Oh, were you working?” And I
mildly annoyed at the false apology.
It was my excuse to build this refuge.

The big dog sits as close as he can get,
the little one roams as if there were things
still to discover. Someone foolish
is raking leaves while leaves keep swirling.
Not much has changed since your death,
only most of what matters.


Susan Ludvigson most recent collection is Escaping the House of Certainty from LSU Press. She has poems published in Yale Review, Southern Review, and Five Points, where she won the James Dickey Prize.


Love Sick

Light falls on us from nowhere
and we open our eyes
in a derelict hospital—
red brick and white render,

sprung iron windows.
Silent empty corridors
reach out to a disused airfield
the rooms open onto,

nourishing patients with fresh air and sunlight.
We lie on the deck of a luxury liner
sailing through summer,
Brownian air

infecting our lungs with hooks of pollen,
slow suffocation
filling the gaps between the gaps
between breath

taking wonders—
the tree-ringed lake full of black leaves,
forget-me-nots with the eyes of arctic lizards—
a drug we would

beggar ourselves for
because war is not war without peace,
and illness is not illness without pleasure,
even when it’s raw and sour as this.

there’s peace in war too; it has its peaceful moments.”


Ian Dudley has published online at LossLit, Ink Sweat and Tears, and Zoomorphic, and in print in Aesthetica, The Dark Horse, Oxford Poetry, Poetry Saltzburg Review, The Interpreter’s House, The North, The Rialto, and Wasafiri. He was a 2014 Jerwood/Arvon poetry mentee.



—The Leona, Homestead, 1978

shadow-puppets dancing in this fire trap
this ruined palace, the sign collapsing—The Patti
Smith Group…Frid y…

she sings inside the belly of a song
the puppets writhing. I was riding on the shoulders
of a single cell, heaving in the swell
Let me in, taunting. The anthem of our discontent
to eulogize the last event—her angel signed to save
Homestead, the ironworks, the massacre of every shining moment
she sings as if she knows me (I could’ve sworn she looked right at me)
her eyes connecting sweat, fist
the history of misery
as if we’d met
under the bridge, under the radar of Carnegie and Frick
these massacres with sticks…this dance with Shiva
tick tick tick


Kathleen Hellen is the author of the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her collection The Only Country was the Color of my Skin is forthcoming.


The Way I Can Reach

A boy likes to stay and sing through the night,
which is to tell how long it is into morning.
Bless the day and call it Wednesday.
But some dreams die at the feet of amen.
Mother is a map of pains;
and prayers from her mouth drown in the sink.
The backyard grows flowers in reverse.
I am just a point away from another point.
And my dreams only stop in my dreams.
I wear a bag of origins;
it’s the way I can reach the world.


Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto is a Nigerian. He became a runner-up in Etisalat Prize for Literature, Flash fiction, 2014 with I Saved My Marriage and won the Castello di Duino Poesia Prize for an unpublished poem, 2018. His works have appeared in AFREADA, Kalahari Review, The Rising Phoenix Review and Raffish Magazine.


How to Accurately Predict the Exact Date of the Second Coming

1. Nothing will ever work
unless the bottom layer’s uncovered,
no matter how long it takes.

2. Because, my heart, I ran and did not turn,
though I counted each step.

3. Birds come in every color. Only serpents of the same
color can disappear upon meeting. Ditto, stars.

4. Because I did not see the salt
as every body’s season and keeper,
I turned the body inside out.

5. Try a new pattern.
It will take/require/demand/thieve
many failures to learn its rules.

6. Underneath the city that is God
I am salt and sand together
sifting through loosened fingers.

7. The order in which things are removed
matters or doesn’t, yet
it’s best to remove hearts & their nights
when they are closest to each other.

8. Take as much of each layer off as possible at one time,
as though archaeology were proximate to prognostication
or growing things, which need not match to gather power.

9. Though most of what I love survives because
the city’s dust will batter me,

it has been loved and learned to love

in spite of knives and hungers, even that and those

for which or for whom love consists
solely in stillness permitting observation.

10. I’ve been trying to decide
between learning to recognize myself true
or learning to know what I act/do/perform.

My true self was never a fire forest.
My true self was never a winterfogged city,
never a gondola/cardboard house/swaddle.
I was never thumbed scales.

11. I warned you.

Nothing will ever work,
even that which sings.


Devon Miller-Duggan has published poems in Rattle, Shenandoah, Margie, Christianity and Literature, Gargoyle, and has poems forthcoming in The Antioch Review and The Massachusetts Review. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Delaware. Her books include Pinning the Bird to the Wall (Tres Chicas Books, 2008), and Alphabet Year, (Wipf & Stock, 2017).


Mrs Mounter During the Great War

After Gilman’s Mrs Mounter at the Breakfast Table

You sit crooked at the table,
lumped in a chair and left alone.
Later, you will wash turnips,
peel them into the sink.
You hear leaves crunch outside,
fallen from the old tree.
Church is the same for you,
only your bones get colder
and the wooden pews harder.
You cut turnips into pieces,
watch a brown leaf fall,
tidy the red scarf on your head.
Your knife is blunt, and you look
to the empty sky.
No wild ducks fly near your home,
and the streets are narrow.
You roast the winter turnips
till they’re soft.
You don’t know where your tea comes from,
or how it is cut; how your pot is made,
and if it is fine china,
or made in England.
A black cat passes by your window.
You have seen too much already,
and the day has not begun.
It is damp in your room,
and it will only get colder.


Ion Corcos has been published in The High Window, Australian Poetry Journal, Allegro, Panoply, and other journals. Ion is a nature lover and a supporter of animal rights. He is currently travelling indefinitely with his partner, Lisa. His first pamphlet, A Spoon of Honey (Flutter Press, 2018), is out now.



How like a bruise the sky was before it grew, rose:
The sun. And the shade of something I drew: a rose.

“Mother—” it was the one word I could wedge against
The discharges she marshaled into accrued rows.

To perform a tarantella is not just caprice.
It’s more pluck and spunk, a long-stemmed (thorn-bestrewn) rose.

Solid or fake gold, with high stakes, the bids so low,
In these times the sign I wear is a tattooed rose.

How has it come to pass that a single word can
Refer both to people and furniture: bureaus.

Days on end one long alas & alack—but O,
Alacrity! when stars, undoing the ruse, rose.

Interminably indeterminate is how
I’d describe the matter. It leaves me unglued, Rose.

Sad when a date doesn’t laugh at your jokes. Sadder
Still, your own face looking a bit too morose.

“Well, that’s you all over,” said Tin Man to Scarecrow,
Who thought, Bud, I could be one of those loose-knit throws.

Cracks in the road at Leilani Estates—“It’s Earth’s
Me Too moment,” Madame Pele said, as plumes rose.

A day of rain and then, tapering, another—
The gray sky clarifies, deeply imbues the rose.

“A supple spoken word / framed by the text of things,”
Rilke wrote. Here. A bouquet, each verse a blue rose.


Totem: America (Tiger Bark Press, 2018) is Debra Kang Dean’s third full-length collection of poetry. Her poems recently appeared in Moon City Review and, in collaboration with Robin Lippincott, Diode Poetry Journal; a personal essay is forthcoming in The Louisville Review. She teaches in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program.



In the leafy handwriting I have not forgotten
his words look thin and young, as we were then,
basswood saplings stirring
in light breezes, their tresses filled with sparrows.

These old letters found again,
frail, and with frayed folds—how close they have come
to being discarded—simmer with light from those summers
we drove endless gravel roads
that dusted us with sepia, figures in old photographs.

The follies in this box of letters strike me today
as melancholy, and now, I bend,
gathering the weakness of years between difficult fingers,
finding in this box of papers
our days spelled out
more bare and plain than I wanted them to be.
As I read, the words constrict—a buzz

near my ears, like a bee that circles in wait
for the opening of green buds
that it will never sip.


Jayne Marek’s recent books include In and Out of Rough Water and The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling. Her poems appear in Amsterdam Quarterly, The Lake, The Cortland Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Notre Dame Review, River Poets, Raven Chronicles, Spillway, and elsewhere. She has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.


Still Life With Geranium, 1910

~Henri Matisse

The heart of this painting is a width of Toile de Jouy,
cobalt curves and flowers on a pale blue wash.
More blue: the flat boards of the studio wall,
backdrop of this domestic drama, the cascading
cloth, the repeating patterns. From a simple clay pot,
a sunny geranium’s red and pink flowers
commence their dance. There are always flowers
for those who want to see them, said Matisse.
I want to reach into the frame and crush
these green leaves, smell their acrid scent,
bury my face in the scarlet petals. You have
first of all to feel this light to find it in yourself.


Barbara Crooker is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves is the most recent. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse.


Homage to Thomas Merton’s Rocker

…”that ye walk worthy of a vocation
wherewith ye are called.”
—Ephesians 4

Crafted, hard-fixed for this life of fidelity,
in situ, the rocker knows
no manner of whining, no why why,
never once calling the vocation in-
to question while making its dutifully bound
repetitions back & forth, obeying a vow of stability.

Outside, beyond Merton’s hermitage, a sunlit airiness
but somewhere up in the shaded oakwood,
hidden, a single woodpecker, the resident
carpenter, lustily announces his presence as
he hammers on with spectacular rhythm,
the riven woodchips flying & fumbling

down about the tree’s skirt, & yet the rocker, impervious,
shuttles on, motion & stasis as one, each rock
back lifting the monk up & then settling him
down once more: a push of the foot,
God’s there, a bend of knee, God’s there as well.
Humble, the rocker has all the time in this world.


Since his last appearance in One, Terry Savoie has had material in recent issues of The American Journal of Poetry, America, Cortland Review, and Birmingham Poetry Review among a dozen other journals both here and abroad. A chapbook, Reading Sunday, won the Bright Hill Competition and was published in the spring of 2018.


Father, Christmas

You brought us the tree—a real one,
packed the pine into a bucket of dirt,
lay newspapers to catch the needles,
turned the tree this way and that
until it bristled, showed its fullest side.
You hummed and kept one eye on
the news as we sang carols and argued
over the perfect placement of candy canes
and lights. You lifted us—too small, then
— to the top of the tree, the silver star
gleaming in our hands. Christmas
morning, you waved us to church,
and we returned to a feast-laden table:
the bread you slow-kneaded; the ham
steaming, pink; chow chow laced with heat.
How we devoured your love, hungry
as only children are, we who knew so little
of the price of such sweetness—the full belly,
the brightly wrapped boxes of expectation,
the laughter gurgling over the surface
of next month’s bills, the prayers for grace—
we only ever wanted more.


Lauren K. Alleyne is the author of Difficult Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2014) and Honeyfish, (forthcoming 2019). Her work has been widely published venues such as Women’s Studies Quarterly, Guernica, and The Atlantic, among others. Alleyne is Assistant Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and an Associate Professor of English at James Madison University.


Losing Keats

At the annual library book sale tempers run hot
and so does the room itself, deep in the basement,
aisles packed with fellow bargain hunters all
shoving and shouldering each other like cattle
down a chute. Even the Poetry section is competitive—
one guy who looks to be a used book dealer
pulls volume after volume off the shelf without
even opening them, filling a big cardboard box
at his feet and blocking my view every time I shift
to scan a shelf he hasn’t gotten to. Then he starts
filling another box. We both put our hands at
the same time on a selected Keats I don’t recognize,
and he doesn’t even bother with Excuse me as he
wrenches it out of my grip and moves on down
the row. A murderous rage rises in me such as
I haven’t felt since first grade, when Mrs. Kenton
slapped my wrong hand hard and swept all
my misspelled words off my desk to the floor.
I’ll never forget her toxic perfume as she leaned
over me to hiss her redundant disapproval,
angry as a swan. She was indeed just like a swan—
tall, haughty, and vicious—and somehow in
sixty years since I haven’t been able to forgive her.
It makes no sense. I’m a great speller. Love
reading. And I didn’t even want the Keats.


David Graham’s six collections of poetry include Stutter Monk and Second Wind. He also co- edited (with Kate Sontag) the essay anthology After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography. Currently retired from teaching, he writes a monthly column, Poetic License, for the online journal Verse-Virtual, and lives in Glens Falls NY.


Pocket Guide to Psychotropic Medications

After yet another fine meal at Dominick’s restaurant,
Barbara and I are having a grappa with Dominick,
and the grappa is the best I’ve ever had, so I say so
to Dominick, who tells me that the guy who makes it
is outside smoking a cigarette at this very moment,

so would I go tell him that his grappa is horrible
and almost killed me? I go outside, and there’s this guy
puffing away, so I grab my throat and cross my eyes
and tell him I just had the worst grappa in the world,
that it tasted like poison, that my wife is inside calling

an ambulance. The guy shouts, “I don’t understand!
You’re crazy! Get away!” So I fall to my knees
and wrap my arms around his legs and hope Dominick
is looking out the window and laughing his head off,
at which point the guy breaks free and runs across

the street and stands terrified on the opposite sidewalk,
cranking away on that cigarette as though it’s
the only thing between him and total mental breakdown,
and when I go back in, Dominick is not at the window
enjoying the joke at all but explaining the difference

between cannoli and cannelloni to a couple of diners.
“What went wrong?” I say to Barbara, who says,
“I blame the grappa. Remember that night we were
driving around and ended up way out in the marshes
and didn’t think we’d ever find our way back and finally

came across this cottage that belonged to that guy,
what was his name, Richard somebody? Whoever
he was, he made his own grappa, and he offered us
some and then pointed out the road to the highway,
and somehow we ended up back at our hotel,

and when we woke the next day, we didn’t know
whether we had dreamed the whole thing or not.
If you ask me, grappa is a hallucinogen.”
Hallucinogen . . . the very word tolls me back
to my senior year in college, when my friend Bertrand

tells me he has yet another foolproof plan to make
so much money that we can retire before
we even start working, can skip the rest of the semester,
can, for that matter, punk out on the whole of senior
year, never take another class in Econ, Public Speaking,

Rocks for Jocks. His plan is simple: we’ll go to Mexico,
buy as many hallucinogens as we can for bargain
prices, and sell them in the states at a considerable
markup. “Fine,” I say to Bertrand, as I always do,
“only one of us has to be able to speak Spanish.”

“I speak Spanish,” says Bertrand. “You’ve never
taken a Spanish class in your life,” I say. He says,
“I know, but I’ve watched a lot of movies. Spanish
is easy. Besides, we can listen to language tapes
on the way down.” Off we go, then, and before

you know it, and we are in Monterrey, and we see
a bullfight, and after the bullfight, Bertrand
starts talking to some guys who are hanging around
outside the arena, and within an hour we are in
a car heading for the outskirts of town, and we stop

at a warehouse and go in, and by now I’m pretty sure
that I am about to be either jailed or kidnapped
and ransomed, which will be news to my parents,
who think I am spending the weekend at Bertrand’s,
but the guys in the warehouse look more like

business majors than dope fiends, and Bertrand
begins talking, and I can tell the guys
are bewildered and then incredulous and then
utterly disbelieving as they look at each other
and then us in amazement and begin to howl

with laughter. It turns out that what Bertrand
thought was the word for “hallucinogen”
is actually the word for “halogen,” that is, not a psychedelic
drug at all but an element such as iodine which,
when heated by a filament, provides a higher

quality of light than found in conventional
incandescent lamps. “Look around you,
señores,” says one of the men in perfect English,
waving his hand at ceiling-high stacks of boxes
of different colors and sizes, each of which is labeled

in Spanish but is marked with a line drawing
of what a four-year-old from any country
would instantly recognize as a light bulb.
The men take us out for tequila, which, if grappa
is a hallucinogen, is surely a hallucinogen itself.

Then again, what in life isn’t? Including life.
Bertrand challenges one of the men to
a pepper-eating contest, so a jar of hot peppers
appears on our table alongside a fresh bottle
of tequila, and Bertand and the other fellow

go at it mano a mano, each downing a pepper
and a shot until the bottle is empty.
“Bertrand,” I say as we drive back to the border
the next day, “didn’t you think
something was fishy at the warehouse

when you saw all those boxes with pictures
of light bulbs on them?” and Bertrand says,
“No. What do you think drug dealers are going
to do, package their drugs in boxes with pictures
of drugs on them?” We finish school. Bertrand

goes his way, I mine. And now I’m sitting with Barbara
in Dominick’s restaurant, and Dominick comes over
and asks me if the joke worked, if the guy who makes
the grappa I like so much thought it funny
when I pretended to be poisoned, and I say no,

that it didn’t work at all, that as jokes go, it was
el grandissimo flop del mundo, and Dominick
rushes to the window and says, no, not him—
the other guy. You were supposed to harass
the other guy smoking a cigarette. So I harass

the other guy, who begins to roar with merriment
and pound me on the back, and then
Dominick comes out wiping his hands on his apron,
and there’s more pounding and more merriment,
and then we all go in for more merriment

and more grappa. I hope the first smoker was a poet
so he, too, can get a poem out of this.
Bertrand won the pepper-eating contest, by the way.
But when I saw him recently and reminded
him of it, he said naw, never happened.


David Kirby‘s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please, and he teaches English at Florida State University..


Bilingual Childhood Cento

The word hand floats above your hand.
Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”
Once created it can’t be erased from the dictionary,
but multiples succumb to the sorrow induced by an inexact vocabulary.

Explain that you live between two great darks: the first
wanted to say that your father is still,
your father is still crossing the acres, a light on his tongue.
One blink, and he’s gone. Try to show him to your mother.
This is a mother who can’t finish her sentences and wishes she could but she is
quiet now in two languages.

The mother, the father—
orbiting the earth like coyotes—
how they come together: it’s jigsaw
of lip readers practicing
each other’s names, pulling the door closed behind us.


Sources: Margaret Atwood, John Yau, Julia Hartwig, Fanny Howe, Mark Strand, Derick Burleson, Joseph Fasano, Barbara Crooker, Marcia Aldrich, Jane Hirshfield, Robert Creeley, Grant Clauser, David Hernandez, Alison Apotheker, Sophie Cabot Black


Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout, Mendeleev’s Mandala, and The Insomniac’s Weather Report. She was a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Her work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Awl, The Southern Review, Motionpoems, and Best New Poets, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2018.

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