Dirty Laundry by Katie O’Hagan
Linda Pastan | Andy Young | William Wright | Tina Kelley | Tania Pryputniewicz | Doireann Ní Ghríofa | Aoife Lyall | Joseph Mills | Tony Medina | Joseph Millar |
Jenna Rindo | Anne Pitkin | Lee Colin Thomas | Amy Wright | Jeremy Penna |
John Davis | Cathy Smith Bowers | Ann E. Michael | Ted Lardner |
Michelle Hendrixson-Miller | Jessica Traynor
Like the brothers at the end
of The Good Earth who smile
over their old father’s head
at what they consider
his innocent foolishness,
so my grandsons, texting
for dear life on their iphones,
smile at my hopeless
commitment to the page,
my fear of their ghostly screens
which amputate words, then
swallow them indiscriminately.
And though I was only twelve
when I read The Good Earth,
the time would come
when I would smile meanly
at my own father—at his bowties,
his prudence about politics and sex.
At least my grandsons are gentle
in their scorn. They will learn soon enough
how each generation rushes blindly
into the future, wagon wheels
or tires screeching, leaving the good
earth scorched behind them.
Linda Pastan‘s 14th book of poems, Insomnia, has recently been published by Norton. She was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991-1995 and has been a finalist twice for the National Book Award. In 2003 she won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
The Pest House at Jaffa
by Antoine-Jean Gros, 1804, New Orleans Museum of Art
Before the Emperor’s commission
was presented at the Paris Salon,
before the Louvre,
more plague victims
clot the edges
of the sketch, and there’s no glimpse
of an outside as in the painting:
a distant burning,
a French flag
against the dust.
The country of the sick
is a small one and borders
nothing. In sallow air,
the dying blur
into their own
green shadows. A figure falls
into a sea of half-robed bodies,
arms fixed in a cross-less
Beige and brown
reach up to the soldiers as if to beg.
Whoever they are
won’t make it
to the final version,
will be painted over
with the bodies the painter
chooses to save:
two colorful locals
who proffer bread,
the afflicted soldiers,
oh so mercifully—
reaches out to touch.
*“Pest House at Jaffa” was the first sketch for Bonaparte Visiting of the Victims of the Plague of Jaffa
Andy Young’s collection All Night It Is Morning was published by Diálogos Press. She teaches at Tulane University and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Her work has appeared in places such as Los Angeles Review of Books, Callaloo, Guernica, and the Norton anthology Language for a New Century.
Elegy Where the Creek Quits Discussing Itself
Now there will be times when your words
disappear, taken into currents and sealed,
not only when winter shuts the water’s mouth
and frost builds its trellis-glow across
the banks of starlings and all the way up
through the hemlock and rhododendron
to blend with the moon’s axled light, but too in summer
when your body ebbs, nyctitropic as any bloom
that raises its head against the dusk—
and still the eye rooted in your sleeping brain
will dream the town falling, the cars
all rusted to a stop, the piles of tires
plundered by the woman with the scarred eyes,
the woman who took the fire of a burning house
completely into herself, whose face
is so close to the skull that it reminds others
that they are no bridge into each other—
this woman just wants a chance
to feed herself—and in the dark
where it never occurs to anyone to think
of her, she leans into her deprivation,
stalks the woods for berries, minnows, grass,
anything—for her, it might as well be winter
always, every grass blade a fleck of frost-light—
and little more for her than the dawn’s long
red cirrus, the unreachable geese
that blast the morning air and vanish
into the inconstancy of clouds. Then, you will leave
the thought of her, too, as wind flusters
over this erodible ridge. When the pines
tremble along the berm, you will notice, just for a moment,
the beast that shrouds itself in ciphers:
scarlet sage and harbinger-of-spring,
slushy driveways and red gas cans, the tall, lying
queen of this land, her galling silence.
William Wright is author of four books of poetry, most recently Tree Heresies and Night Field Anecdote, as well as four chapbooks. He is editor of eleven editions, including all volumes of The Southern Poetry Anthology series (Texas Review Press), two texts centered on Gerard Manley Hopkins (Clemson University Press, forthcoming, 2016), and Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry (USC Press, forthcoming, 2016). He is assistant editor of Shenandoah.
Music is an Underground River that Needs to be Discovered
– Philip Glass
The tune swallows its tail, a rich soundtrack for a movie of me sculling,
though I’ve never tried rowing, never wanted to. The anthem drove me
to work, started that overdue crying fit, formed the bass line to joy, or
proclaimed that no one would keep me down for long. Not the monotonous
brainworm, ricketytick banjo, or ballad conjuring bus tourists. Yes the milk-smooth
chant of the glee club, stately harmonies, progressions soaring: the song of my breath
when it smells cleanest, my fingerprint in good work. I fell down the well and found it,
strong current. The notes swoop from yellow to green, fold in, flowing. I hear the tune
again the next day, mistake it for an oldie, just as I recognized you when we first met.
It jumpstarts my pulse, puts the swing in my hips, gets me through chores. Music syrups
over a scene and reaches spots I couldn’t touch with bland, silent words. Listen to the sounds
produced by the body – I know the word for that, auscultation. Listen as closely to wind,
wood thrushes, first evening star’s less-than-plink, seismic motion, bell towers.
And a new favorite song will say once again: yes, this is my life.
Tina Kelley’s second poetry collection, Precise, (2013) was published by Word Press, publisher of her first collection, The Gospel of Galore, which won a Washington State Book Award. She co-authored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope (2012), and reported for 10 years for The New York Times.
Bless the peacock’s fan of astral eyes,
wolf’s winter face spoked and furred
at timberline, the fallopian oboe
of the whale sonorous with grief
you thought relinquished. In this dream
you are the hidden thing, rescued
by sonar of song, edges of your body
hazeled, silvering from crown
to shoulders, arms too, view
of hands prolonging lucid dream’s
brief escape from self as girl
barefoot on chilled wet ground
in hip high grass, field rife
with ranks of fireflies shedding
haloes the quarter mile
to the farmhouse. No one waits up.
Tania Pryputniewicz’s poetry recently appeared in Extract(s), NonBinary Review, Patria Letteratura, and Poetry Flash. Her debut poetry collection, November Butterfly was published by Saddle Road Press in 2014. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Tania lives in San Diego, California with her husband and three children.
Between Nectarines, a Genealogy
All winter, the infant inside me dreams
of nectarines. She thirsts
for dimpled clefts, jewel-juice, sweet guzzled flesh.
With each craving, I think of my great-grandmother,
stranger, girl who crossed an ocean
to scour grates and polish brass,
and returned home in a red
dress and cloche hat, brimful
with remembered fruits —
not our blackberries or crabapples,
no: she spoke of blood
-oranges, mangos, blueberries, nectarines.
I stand between them now
on the cold tile of this dawn-dark kitchen,
pressing my teeth through skin to pulp and pit.
In a hollow husk, it waits: small, furred seed,
hardy cargo, clenched
between future and past.
All winter, it dreams.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual writer whose poems and prose have appeared in Poetry, The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, The Irish Examiner. Among her awards are the Ireland Chair of Poetry bursary 2014-2015 and a Wigtown Award (Scotland). Her most recent book is ‘Clasp’ (Dedalus Press, 2015)
The sponge sweeps and swings
its slow dance with quick steps.
She leans forwards, whispers soothing
words, learns their faces. She studies them
like a love-struck parent- curves and contours,
age, ancestry. All the time, the brushes curtsey
into petals, curl into garlands on princess crowns,
spin in clownish circles, blush flushed cheeks.
They stretch themselves into snarling teeth,
crooked scars, stripes, snowflakes, rainbows, stars.
With steady hands she mounts antlers, whiskers, snouts,
and slowing, twirls the brushes into warts, and wounds, and hearts.
Stretching a little, she casts a glance
over the growing crowd, rinses her brushes,
refreshes her water, and pockets the smile
of pure innocent love that pours across each face
as they clamber from the plastic seat and wave goodbye.
We move one step closer.
The little hand in mine grips tighter,
Aoife Lyall is an Irish poet living in the Scottish Highlands, where she spends her time teaching and writing. She is being considered for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards 2015, received a commendation in the Neil Gunn Competition 2015, and was longlisted for the International Welsh Poetry Competition 2015.
Enter Othello and Desdemona in her bed
As his hands encircle her throat,
she wants to fight back,
but her training enables her
to stay passive because
this is how the story goes,
and then, in the audience,
a phone plays Star Wars,
and the moment is broken,
just the thought of Darth Vader
turning tragedy to camp.
how easily Desdemona can be saved
because we tell our daughters
Call us as they leave the house,
but she too had a phone, there,
within reach, on the nightstand,
so what we should say is…
There is nothing we can say
if they decide to give themselves
over to a tale and its teller,
and there is little we can do
once they’ve left, except hope
for a random act, a ring tone,
the forgetfulness of strangers,
something to disrupt the story.
A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills holds an endowed chair, the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. His sixth volume of poetry, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, will be published by Press 53 in April, 2016.
He took 2 energy drinks
And some donuts
From a corner store
Placed them along the curb
Waiting for the cops to come
He paced back and forth
Anger and frustration
Stalking his undaunted thoughts
He wasn’t gonna take it
The cops climbed the curb
With their patrol car
Drawing their semi-automatic guns
Right hand in his jacket pocket
Clutching a steak knife
He ordered them to Kill me
Kill me, Kill me now!
They lit him up
With 9 rounds
Till blood and smoke
Seeped from his flesh
They rolled him over like a log
His body’s pockmarked skin
Pouting like lips
It took all 23 seconds
For his 25 years
To leak out his bleeding lungs
When the coroner got him
He asked the officers
To take the handcuffs off
Tony Medina, two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (DeShawn Days and I and I, Bob Marley), is the author/editor of eighteen books, including My Old Man Was Always on the Lam, finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, Broke on Ice, An Onion of Wars, The President Looks Like Me & Other Poems (2013) and Broke Baroque. He has received the Langston Hughes Society Award and the first African Voices Literary Award. Medina’s work appears in over 100 anthologies and literary journals. He is the first Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University.
We listen to the loco sirens
sounding their cry below
chasing a thief like Vincenzo Peruggia
who you let sleep on your couch
and who stashed the Egyptian statue there
he’d stolen from the Louvre
so you got busted and they took you downtown…
with your kind heart and small moustache
your overcoat and yellow shoes
the head-wound you brought back
from the big war,
your tombstone with its heartshaped poem
your Polish mother’s gambling addiction
your father entirely unknown
your fine poem Zone
who loved the grace of the industrial streets
the rooftops and metal and smoke
who saw like Picasso and Braque
the different angles of being,
the cubist cones and jagged planes
like crystal formations stacked and locked
deep in the optical brain.
Joseph Millar’s most recent collection is Blue Rust (Carnegie Mellon, 2012). He teaches in Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program and lives in Raleigh, NC.
She Rides Bareback Into Babies,
abandons her school, begins their homestead,
a teacher on the verge of spinster sin,
brews coffee to ease his hung over head.
He throws it, scalds a pink lace scar for her skin.
He distills, farms, ignores the almanac.
Cows grind her flowers to a fragrant cud.
Bees dance in honeysuckle vines. He hacks
at the tangle, drawing nectar of blood.
Up on Blue Mountain, a haze hems her in
for a hundred years. Smoke from the woodstove
lingers and stains. She forgives and cures sins
rotting teeth, fever and auras with clove.
She pulls clock chains, waits for the cuckoo to sing
looks for some wildness left in wooden wings.
Jenna Rindo lives in rural Wisconsin. Her work appears in Bellingham Review, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, American Journal of Nursing, Calyx and other journals. She worked for years as a pediatric intensive care nurse and now teaches English to Hmong, Arabic, Spanish and Filipino students.
Zebra, Gemsbok, desert elephants, buffalo
came to the waterhole on the desert floor,
stark blue on the desert floor
below the lodge from where I watched.
A procession, two by two
in threes and fours, in small herds.
From plain and thicket they came and drank then left
and then the next arrived, peaceful, back and forth,
in to shore, away from shore, thirst, slaked thirst, return
to the desert, unforgiving, ferocious clarity of land and sky.
The blue of that sky rained all day into the thirst it could not slake.
Nights, the moon poured fathoms into the plain
razor shadows falling on hectares
flat against the mountain silhouettes.
A lion roared.
My life, my ordinary precious life.
Back home, my children, grown, each navigating a new wilderness—
the more I love, the more my life is fragile.
Ask me what it means to be human.
Imagine an infant’s miniature, perfect hands,
its terrifying fontanel.
Imagine what it means to thirst,
to find a watering place, drink deep
then hear the desert calling you back.
Anne Pitkin’s work has appeared in Poetry Chicago, The Malahat Review, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle and in many others. She has published two full length collections, Yellow, and most recently Winter Arguments. She is an editor emerita of the poetry magazine Fine Madness.
On the platform, waiting for the train, he wants
fish for dinner, berries for dessert, when a bird
darts across his plane of vision, and disappears
under the overhang of a falling-down
garage. Maybe to her nest, a wreath
pulling warmth in, even as the sky
swallows and spits wet dark
over her world, over his.
He plants a spear stance with commuters
angled into wind and rain. Wonders
how this small body withstands
such sudden wrath. Does he mean the bird?
Or himself? Because surely this man
understands relativity, how his math
may be many times hers, but not much
compared to whales and moons
for whom such weather amounts
to a pleasant spray, cool
on the cheek.
Or there’s the smaller immunity
of those who live completely inside
leaf fold or crevice of bark, spared
by providence of physics, and the trajectories of luck
that make hail into meteor showers far off enough
to go unnoticed by crevice citizens.
They go on, mind their business, and trust
the light that reflects off the aluminum
drainpipe will come again to heat
their world, as it has done, day
after day, like bells on a string
chiming their faith.
On the platform, he remains standing, a man
who’s amplified his eye via telescope
to search skyward for a third-grade picture
of himself as part of a cosmos, cheered on
by more distant stars. He’s magnified his right
to examine microscopic landscapes of fibers
the size of trunks, and reasoned
if things go outward and inward
so easily, they might go farther still
in both directions, making him god
and insect simultaneously. So he waits
for the storm to pass, scene to change, new planes
to shift like cells in a filmstrip
blinking by, as his eye goes and comes
back to itself, having retrieved
three new birds rising in flight
against the old factory, their bodies
lifted by the wind.
Lee Colin Thomas lives and writes in Minneapolis, MN. Lee’s poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Salamander, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, Water~Stone Review, Midwestern Gothic, Pilgrimage, The Nassau Review, and elsewhere.
New Logging Road
Dusk takes a bow rake to its sweetheart
puddles. Sallies slip into red clay mud, nitrogen
contaminant permeating their velvety
salt lick of skin. Mother turns the tongues
of our boots out, upturns the hubcap
and rebar sundial, draws the curtains
so we can be ourselves.
Upstairs wind scratches
screen rust. The waft of wisteria rot
lifts and catches the fresh lumber
smell of the wet sill.
Head on a pillow
of swimming hole-side clothes,
bare feet tugging the sheets
until she falls asleep, to cat
through the night-aired backyard
and question the left equipment
with the scent glands of our hands.
Amy Wright is the author of Everything in the Universe and Cracker Sonnets, both forthcoming in 2016. She is also the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press, Coordinator of Creative Writing and Associate Professor at Austin Peay State University, and author of four poetry chapbooks.
In Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Bede
Says, one winter, when the fire was rolling and cracking
And the earls and athelings were pulling drafts of mead,
A sparrow flew in an open window, escaping the rain
And flew across the hall and flew out the other,
Back into the static of night, and that’s all life is
The scholar says, earls and sparrows, a quick grazing
Of light and warmth, a boozed parenthesis
I fall through—I add—the halls I slip between
I call, like contrails of a plane, to follow. Fluttering
Room to room, carrying what I can: song and voice,
The quick bracket of arms. Going out, I gather
Jeremy Penna teaches at the University of Delaware and heads the Friends of Newark, a small arts organization that helps local writers and musicians. He’s been published in the usual gamut of journals nobody outside of the academy has ever heard of and is darn proud of it. He won the 2013 Der Hovenassian Prize in translation, though he may have been the only entrant.
Nearly naked in August, it leaned
its last purple bloom to the lightning.
It knew no language except
the language of lament
when the late sun released
the color of rust across the sand.
It knew no anger in its swollen roots
as the winds whipped through arroyos.
It did not kneel down and cross itself,
pray for the shadows of rain,
nor witness scripture in sand and forgive
the traveler who stamped his feet
against its leaves nor the dog that panted
frantically against the stalk
until the thunder had passed.
No need for dying or the blind ways
of the sighted, it hung on, bobbed
in a breeze like a wild mustang, no need
for running or eating berries, no need
for a home beyond home. Here was home
from root to bloom from leaves light
as moth wings to spiders that climbed
its stem and webbed themselves in twilight.
It did not blend in with the desert. It was the desert.
John Davis is the author of two collections: Gigs and The Reservist. His recent work appears in DMQ Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, and Rio Grande Review. He lives on an island near Seattle, teaches high school and performs in rock n roll bands.
After Reading That 957 Deceased People Appear To Have Voted in Recent South Carolina Elections
This is an alarming number, and clearly necessitates an investigation…
—S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson
I, myself, have seen them,
but unlike Ginsberg
who outed Old Walt
foraging the supermarket’s
artichokes and bananas
had not the courage
to speak up. Be nice,
the shade of my own mother
kept whispering in my
ear, it’s not polite to stare.
Still, I could not help
noticing in my peripheral
vision how they fumbled,
the Grimke Sisters, corseted
and gloved in their staunch
determination at the poll
contraption. And once, I
swear, there was shoeless
Joe, socked feet,
that still-pained look
in his blurry eyes as he limped
along the lengthening line.
Some were in bustles.
Cornrows and muslin shifts.
Massas on black horses.
Jews and crackers.
their invisible chains.
The not so freshly lynched
swinging low sweet…
and good Ole
bringing up the rear
of his own most infamous
trail. But once, I
could not keep myself
from turning toward
the growing dark, toward
a choir of familiar voices
who had stopped
outside the precinct’s door
for a final impromptu
jam. Shoo-bopping. Doo-
whopping. Riffing once more.
James Brown and Chubby
Checker. The smooth sweet croon
of Eartha Kitt. And Dizzy, still
grooving In the Land
of the Living Dead.
For whom would they
And for what? Hurry, I
heard myself whisper.
The doors close in an hour.
Cathy Smith Bowers is the author of six books of poetry including The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers, Press 53, recipient of the 2014 SIBA Award in Poetry. From 2010-2012 she served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina. She teaches in Queens University of Charlotte’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.
Arc of the Moral Universe, Bending toward Justice
for my father
I. (Montgomery Alabama 1965)
His advice is not to carry a suitcase
on a protest march. I think of him
sleeping in his clothes on the floor of a choir loft,
his head on the hard fiberboard of the luggage
he’d carried by its Bakelite handle. All day
the slow walk from the outskirts into town,
locals jeering—I think of him afraid,
and young, his senses heightened
& the strange clarities of those 36 hours, the suitcase,
the woman who cursed him,
the cologne popular among young black men
in the stress-heavy morning. Coffee,
cigarette smoke, state troopers’ chin straps.
Broad chests and dark bright boots.
He learned some people have to grow up alert
to the least provocation, sense unspoken perimeters,
detect which toilet is not restricted by law spoken or unspoken.
On the drive to Atlanta each small town had its speed limit,
which he observed. There are times to protest
and times to draw no ire.
“I felt afraid,” he says. He discovered that the long walk
was not analogy, not the province of intellectuals
or politicians but of busboys and sharecroppers,
barbers, maids, firewood cutters,
preachers, schoolchildren, manual laborers, tired old
women and broken men afraid
and willing to stand. In a line, walking the main street
into history. Seated on his little suitcase
on that hot day, statehouse stairs and colonnades so white
they set his head thumping— How long?
He told himself “I am here. I am nowhere else.”
He could have packed everything away,
gone back to what he knew but the universe had shifted
and he’d seen it happen, glare and shimmer, before his eyes.
Ann E. Michael lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, slightly west of where the Lehigh River meets the Delaware. Her most recent collection of poems is Water-Rites. She blogs at an eponymous WordPress site and is currently the coordinator of the writing center at DeSales University.
In the park back home when she was a girl,
in the dog days ending summer,
to the powwow, under the lights, Indians
danced the cicada-washed night—some of this
my mother told, some for myself I know,
and the two mix together. Mom said, and I, myself,
heard them, the old style, other-worldly voices,
singers bending the night with their songs
I realize now were scary because
they were human, only different. The powwow
drums (everyone who hears them recognizes)
sounding like a heartbeat, maybe a person’s heart,
maybe an animal’s, a bison’s, a thunderstorm,
a heartbeat bigger than any one creature,
which was what I remember it sounded like,
which was why it was scary. Singing, and camping,
like we did, pup tents in the edges of those woods,
summer woods sticky and hot, and still, Mom said,
inside which, in her room, as a girl, she lay, listening,
listening out the back of the house—it was red,
I remember it, when she was so little, but not
so little, it was after the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor, I had, for a while, the radio her
father used to listen to Roosevelt, or at least
he might have used it, she was old enough
to hear from the PA, the emcee’s voice
as a garble of syllables amplified into war-
time summer holiday weekends through
what I saw was, years and years later, a jury-
rigged cluster of those horn-shaped loudspeakers,
the night she held my hand and led me, or
my sister, out on the ground under weird illumination
of floodlights from above us, on tar-stained
telephone poles shining with the tinseling
where cicadas had molted, gold husks greying
into shining sound that burned the leaves,
the dive-bombers scored a direct hit on it,
the magazine of the USS Arizona
erupting, as everyone knows, the ship breaking
and sinking so fast I imagine the sailors
who could not have had any long time to
wonder or do anything, thinking the last split-
second, how? and the cicadas I have seen,
and heard, even in winter, in my head,
I imagined how they melted and flew, upward,
swooping arcs, up into black
of locust trees, limbs snaky and spikey
with thorns erupting, dangling bean-pods out over
the dry creek course, songs inside the lulls
springing out like dark thorns, like bright metal
wheels rattling over the crushed coral airfields,
the dollies that carry the bounty of the summer
that carried the A-bombs to the Super-
fortress’s bomb bay, the wide belly doors falling
open into the sixth day of the Moon of the
Drum, of the Yellow-Flower-Moon, the Corn-Is-
In-Silk Moon, Eighth Moon, Mother’s Moon—
Fat Man and Little Brother—she falls asleep,
the girl in the room in the house across
the creek from the park (I imagine falling) feeling
what must have brimmed and ebbed,
currents from the powwow floating her
out, I remember my brother and I in our
own room as children, lying, drifting summer
sleep, floating on the round of voices,
a murmur through the window screen,
and an answering, called back, through the floor
from the room below, back-and-forth,
moonlight on trunks of buttonwood trees
turning into the emcee’s voice announcing
a Veterans’ Dance, the cicadas chanting
their own seventeen-year secrets, like Masons
letting out the secrets of the hidden ratios,
rubbing their cellophane wings in a blur,
increments of time looping out lassooing
the Moon of the Discarded DieHard Battery
in Thistles Blowing at the Campground Gate,
the Moon when the Buffalo Girls Come Out
and Sing Taylor Swift Songs
Dangerously Leaning at the Edge of the Campfire.
Wanderers came, Mom said.
She called them “gypsies,” but I don’t know.
When I visited the USS Arizona
Memorial at Pearl Harbor I could see what
everyone said can be seen, which is
the escape of diesel fuel or oil from deep inside
the ship’s bunkers, it ekes its way up and out,
drops at a time, dissolving greasy rainbows
into a sheen that coats the surface of all that
gorgeous Hawaiian lagoon-like water, ghost ship
outlined in shadow beneath us, on the door-
step the gypsies stand back, waiting, it seems like,
as any of us could be, waiting for it, history
to straighten itself out
and give us the answer is, the how at least
if not the why, where we listen, arriving
at the door of the house on the back of the
creek, over and over, knocking, then asking
for work, then waiting for her to come,
to hand across the doorstep
the scissors to be sharpened, the knives
as they cry out their edge on the grinders,
while my wife beside me turns away
into a cicada herself who begins to sing to
our daughter the same lullaby that carries
her up those steep stairs to the dim room
at the back of the red house, while water fills
the basin and she slides the onesie off her
and the diaper and cradles her, smoothing
the water away, then lifting her up, fluffing
her into a towel as she sits and nurses
and rocks her, the infant who is sleeping,
wherever she goes, and the sailors, asleep
in the warm sea, and the babies in the garden
light in Japan, asleep on the edge of
the bomb’s flash wave, and the daughters
of the men who made the bomb or put
the small pox blankets out and the casks
of whiskey that rolled off the drop-gate
of the trader’s wagon in the crackle
of August—you can hear machinery in it,
the war all over the world, you can hear
the answering shell rattles, they still keep those,
they use those, those shell rattles are still
older than anything else in this story,
the turtles who are real and still live out there
in the dark of that old river, and in the light
of those scissors, you can hear, as well,
the whisper of history, of steel and the other,
the tiny blades of their wings, sparking,
touching the buzz from the spinning flywheel
of sexual heat and in the faces of those
powwow dancers, you can see the sharpening
as they lean, stepping close, closer to
the present, from their arms with the feathers
and fringes, the tssch-tssch / tssch-tssch
from the Levis and buckskin leggings from
dresses stitched with hundreds, hundreds
of tiny shiny silver jingling bells, the swaying dancers
said to be “trying to move their fringe as many
places at once as they can.”
Ted Lardner‘s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gone Lawn, Blue Fifth Review, Arsenic Lobster, Tupelo Quarterly and elsewhere. He has two chapbooks, Tornado (2008) and We Practice For It (2014).
Jody tells me that in Taiwan the astrologer names the baby.
And I wonder how this might change the trajectory of a life.
Yesterday, I watched traffic stop for one long-eared dog to cross.
It was raining. I rained a little too, but did not go back.
When Darwin thought about shame, he wondered
how far down the body does the blush extend.
It’s true that a diagnosis changes how you live.
You could lose your sight the doctor said.
I don’t remember how he held his face or voice
when he told me, but I no longer take moth flight for granted.
Of course, I’m not the only one who drives by and looks
into the unshaded windows of others.
I never know what I’m looking for, but mostly I find it:
amateur landscape hung above a blue couch.
One man, on the edge of a chair, bath of yellow light,
his whole face hidden behind both his hands.
Leah, she would have gone back, found that dog a good home.
Writing her name, I see how the letters also spell heal.
Michelle Hendrixson-Miller lives in Columbia, Tn. She is currently an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte, where she served as poetry editor of Qu literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poem, Poems & Play, The Lake, Main Street Rag, Shot Glass, and Josephine Quarterly.
The Writer’s House
I’m there again, the basement room,
this catacomb disturbed
by passing ghosts, by the turn
of pages on an unseen breeze.
His family peer from photos –
faces like ossuary skulls.
I hear him and his woman above me,
and though the stairs have vanished,
know they might at any minute
come tumbling through a cupboard door,
or appear crouched in the cold hearth.
I hear their noises in the air. I trespass.
Outside, if I were to look, I would see him,
hands black from the earth of a grave,
holding, root-side-up, a stripling tree.
Jessica Traynor’s first collection, Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press), was shortlisted for the 2015 Strong/Shine Award. She was awarded the 2014 Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary. Poems have appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, Hallelujah for Fifty Foot Women (Bloodaxe), The Irish Times, The Penny Dreadful and The Stony Thursday Book.