Issue 26

Gateway Arch, 2005, Alexis Rockman

Gateway Arch, 2005, oil on wood, 40×32″ by Alexis Rockman


Greg Garner | Claire Hermann | Stephen Gibson | Mike James | Alexis Rhone Fancher | Tony Medina | David Giannini | Shei Sanchez | Ben Groner III | David O’Connell | Maryfrances Wagner | DeWitt Henry | Taylor J. Johnson | Zara Raab | Molly Kirschner | Edison Dupree | Steven Winn | Katherine Hoerth | Katherine Riegel | Mike White | David Kirby

Second Look – Jean Valentine


The pink tutu

alarmed me.

I wasn’t bothered that my boyfriend did drag, I saw it as performance art. Kevin’s whole existence was art and he was my muse. Still,

pink tutu, fishnet hose, black disco sandals and ballerina bun.

We had prepared the dining room for a Mid-Summers Night Dream party earlier in the day—

branches and bramble attached to walls and ceiling; billowy clouds of satin and ribbon;
flowers and origami birds; cushions, pillows.

A dozen of us ate a feast on the floor with our fingers. After dinner, poems were read, songs performed. When it was Kevin’s turn, he laid on the floor on his back, put his legs
in the air

and began to sign.

He told us how much he loved us, how good life was.
And for a little while, we locked fear out of the house and had a party.


Greg Garner is a visual artist and writer living in Asheville, NC. His photography and found object sculpture has been exhibited in Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina in numerous venues. Greg is currently working on a poetry memoir addressing his experience in the early years of the AIDS crisis. This poem is part of that memoir.


A tithe to Hell

Ay at the end of seven years we pay a tiend to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh and feared it be mysel.
—Tam Lin, Child Ballad 39A

I walk alone in the winter field,
and men in camo stomp over to inform me this is private property.
I look up at Orion in the still of midnight,
and the neighbor’s security light comes on.
The forests out east are pulped and pelleted,
and the swamp rises salty over the roots of the cypress,
and we pour exhaust into the mouths of the sky
until it spits back hurricanes and heat waves.
The hills above the ocean char to black.
I am done with petitions and marching.
Let us leave bowls of milk on the steps for the fae.
Let them creep from underground
and pinch the ankles of men in fields,
and unscrew lightbulbs,
and tie knots in the hair of energy executives.
Let them gallop out of the sea on their flesh-eating horses
and tear the guts from cars and coal plants.
Seelie and Unseelie Courts, crones and banshees and sprites,
let them have their vengeance and set things right.
Let them drag the rich men to their halls under the green hill.
Let them instill fear in those who have forgotten them.
Let them drink our milk and eat our bread and grow strong.
Let them steal us from our beds and leave in our place
something that resembles, but is not quite, us.


Claire Hermann‘s work has been selected as a finalist for the North Carolina Poet Laureate’s Award and as a Split This Rock Poem of the Week. Her chapbook, Mixed State, is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has a weakness for cats, farmers markets, foggy mornings, and justice.



After, they sifted through the ashes looking for her,
one of the sanitarium’s unaccounted-for women
when a fire in the kitchen raced up the dumbwaiter
and trapped those old girls who’d been locked in
as “dangers to themselves or others”—like Zelda—
and no one could get up to them, doctors, firemen,
in part because the fire escapes went up like tinder—
they were wood and decades old, in poor condition;
when they were done, locals hunted for souvenirs—
a charred leaf or piece of wood to put in an album;
a dining hall flower vase, in fragments, was repaired,
and it sold on Etsy last year as if it were Sumerian,
not just Depression glass, because Zelda was there—
a city retiree tells us this on Asheville’s trolley tour—
Zelda, identified by dental records; others, dentures.


Stephen Gibson‘s collections include Frida Kahlo in Fort Lauderdale (Able Muse book finalist, forthcoming), Self-Portrait in a Door-Length Mirror (2017 Miller Williams Prize winner, University of Arkansas), The Garden of Earthly Delights Book of Ghazals (Texas Review Press), and Rorschach Art Too (2014 Donald Justice Prize, Story Line Press), and others.


Burnt Up Outside Eden

The opposite of your body is what can’t be touched.
This is known best at sixteen in a long summer field.
You hope to kiss every bit of jewelry on the person
You are with. The moon won’t help, out early
In late afternoon blue. The moon’s been touched by gloved
Hands long ago, more than once. More than
Once is a logical progression past one. The most infallible math
You know involves desire. Desire is a key instead
Of a lock. A matchstick inside a letter. Gasoline in a glass bottle.
Desire is the ruler beside an open math book.
Measure distance by blessing or by touch. Secrets plus loss plus
Memory baked in the July sun. In cool grass
We might know burning. The freezing man’s last thought is fire.


Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His many poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog).



After Mark Rothko’s Blue and Grey painting 1962

Like the appendix or tonsils — parts you can live without — overlooked by Nature, not bothersome enough to delete. You and me? We’re a downhill slide, stubborn as November in Los Angeles, all the leaves still green and clingy, the weather hot one day, chilly the next, no benchmarks, that’s us. We’re that sad Paul Simon ditty you hum off-key every morning in the shower. “No good times, no bad times…” You, asleep by 8pm, all liquored up, me, just coming alive. You said I seduced you in my sleep last night. That we had passionate sex before dawn. I remember nothing. Did you come? I ask. No, you said. But you did, several times. So it wasn’t your dream? Not even the part where you said you love me? Not even the part where I was the gum on your shoe, followed you everywhere. You needed me there, a buffer between you and the concrete. Sometimes I watch you sleep, tossing side to side, and I wonder what it would take to hold you still. Sometimes I ask you to Just. Stop. Moving. A moment’s respite, so I can fall back asleep. But you can’t. It would be too much like kindness, and we don’t do that anymore. These days I sleep late, awake alone, Simon’s insipid lyrics stuck in my head. Maybe I should fall asleep sooner, seduce you more often, stop binging true crime past midnight. Wake up with you, instead of squandering the dawn.


Alexis Rhone Fancher‘s six collections include The Dead Kid Poems and Junkie Wife. EROTIC: New & Selected, from NYQ, dropped in March, 2021. She’s published in Best American Poetry, Plume, Diode, Rattle, and elsewhere. Her photos are published world-wide. Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Daily.



There were lockdowns a few months ago,
A year ago, we were locked down,
Shuttered away from a virus lurking
And misting the air like a sniper
Invisible to the naked eye. Now, as masks
Come down and the virus seems to dis-
Appear, a new one rises in its place. Only
This one we can see as if looking out back
To our neighbor, his face indiscernible from
An uncle’s or brother’s, a cousin calling you
Out to play, even as such strange familiar
Smile is silhouetted by flames. The shelling
And air raid sirens trembling the toy gun
In his unsteady hand.


Tony Medina is the author/editor of 23 award-winning books for adults and young people, including Che Che Colé; Death, With Occasional Smiling; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy; I Am Alfonso Jones; and Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University.



And always I return to the room with its pine walls waiting
for nothing, but nevertheless containing
live hands inside them, fingers in the door.

It takes tenderness to hear faint taps in the wood, to sense
knuckles rapping, an occasional nail
scratching across.

Sometimes the boards, hot as summer, bleed with sap
as if it’s forced there. Sometimes the door
opens slowly as if brushed by a cat.

There are pine knots the size of my knuckles. Squirrels
and others in the walls, sure, but I know
one of my hands is knocking close today,

so I tell it to come in. Welcome, I say, then sit again and listen.
Always there are sounds in the walls,
the small and larger hands of my years

on earth. Surely they must unclench sometimes, wanting to receive,
be received, then close again, hoping to enter
raw, fisted, and so restless, restless.

I sense judging hands will soon be upon me, the walls broken down,
fingers moving for an unknown reason
toward an unknown destination.

Already, I’m at a table under stars again, and close my eyes.
Sensation of falling again. . .the case against darkness
is dropped in the light

always returning to the room with its pine walls waiting
for nothing, but nevertheless containing
live hands inside them, fingers in the door.


David Giannini‘s most recent books include The Dawn of Nothing Important, The Future Only Rattles When You Pick It Up; In a Moment We May Be Strangely Blended; and Mayhap (each from Dos Madres Press 2018; 2019; 2022.) He has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.



We enter this world whole, but not
without breaking flesh, without

letting blood. Our first cry, a pierce
through a firmament any language

can hear. Root tendrils find purchase
through cracks in the earth. Seeds

burst from their dark seclusion
as a chrysalis would

to free the quickening life
inside it. Water seeps into rock,

cuts through land, gives birth
to beauty. On any given afternoon,

I walk up wooded hills, spot a clearing,
climb strata of stone whispering

stories of people and conquest,
stories of breaking up, breaking in,

breaking through. On these given days,
I remember the ribbons

of stretched skin on my stomach
from a marriage of disease, drugs,

determination. My palm tracing
the two shades of brown

running up and down my belly,
stripes of a liger fusing

life back into her veins,
like jagged fault lines

of a broken pot healed
with lacquer and gold.


Shei Sanchez is a writer, photographer, and teacher from Jersey City, New Jersey. Her poetry has appeared in fine journals and anthologies, including Main Street Rag, Sheila-Na-Gig, Change Seven, and most recently in Women of Appalachia Project’s Women Speak: Volume 7. She lives with her partner in Appalachian Ohio.



Though the vistas and fossils are magnetizing
us to Badlands National Park, the refrain pulses
we don’t have time. We don’t, we don’t

go, but we do fuel up at Jay Bros in the middle
of nowhere Nebraska, gorging ourselves on
coconut chicken and garlic naan inside,

laughing as we laughed over jerky and tangerines
after ascending the museum’s stairs in Flagstaff
to discover Tony Norris, a leather-vested Merlin,

gesticulating his cowboy poetry, crooning about
a long-lost blue bandana. Such speckled radiance.
Why can’t we be more like century-old saguaros:

wise, waving a greeting, offering a hug goodbye?
Tomorrow, a placard will tell me Black Elk once said
some moments in a man’s life remember themselves

and I wonder if this evening is such an event,
the elements of gas and food becoming remnants,
so though time tumbles on, their imprints remain.

The days stack up, the minutes tick down, while
ancient ammonites and stone staircases spiral
ever downward, ever upward, ever inward,

further and farther, faster, until the absolute
locus of focus is so close, so infinitesimal,
it lies a field away and cannot be seen at all.


Ben Groner III (Nashville, TN), recipient of Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry and a Pushcart Prize nomination, has work published in Cheat River Review, Whale Road Review, Stirring, Broad River Review, Third Wednesday, and elsewhere. He’s also a bookseller at Parnassus Books.


Cathedral Ledge

All afternoon my daughter, wife, and I eddied
in and out of overcrowded shops in a slow stream
of tourists drawn by a shared, unspoken desire
for something more than fresh-tapped maple syrup
or moose T-shirts, moose keychains, felt pennants
sporting antlers, postcards of the mountain range
from every angle, in all seasons. The mountains

rose over our shoulders, a chord of bass notes
bowed slowly through our high-strung pizzicato.
October, the leaves had been the draw, though
they weren’t peak yet we were told. And told. Told
Cathedral Ledge was where to watch the sun
come down, we drove the fifteen minutes up
to find a chain-link fence, like any we might see

back home, drilled into the edge of a wide granite
shelf worthy of its name, so we might safely lean
and peer over. Below, wind-bit scrub pine
clutched wherever lips of the cliff face pouted
into weather. There would be snow come nightfall.
The incoming clouds were in formation, dropping
shadows across the Saco River Valley. Look there,

my daughter, just seven then, exclaimed, pointing
where (it took a moment to register) two men—boys,
really—were tied together and to the cliff with what,
from that distance, seemed little more than thread.
Painfully deliberate, splayed against the rock wall,
they made their way, fingertip and toehold, up as
a crowd swelled, lining the fence like a ship’s rail,

all of us excitedly whispering as if we might startle
these creatures in the wild. Why climb a mountain?
Because it’s there offers nothing that could explain
what we witnessed as, at last, they made the summit,
stripped off shoes and socks, stood barefoot at the edge,
while we returned to our car, reliving what we’d seen,
careful on the winding road down, back to our hotel.


David O’Connell‘s work has appeared in New Ohio Review, The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, Tar River Poetry, and North American Review, among other journals. His first full-length collection, Our Best Defense, is forthcoming from Červená Barva Press.


What Sticks Around

Tree frogs screeched their rusty voices. A walking stick
and a June bug inched around the porch light. We slurped
root beer. Counted stars. When we remember this night,

we’ve forgotten if we were on Becky’s lawn or Cynthia’s
porch, unlike our dog who remembered each tree she marked
in search of underground voles or tree-stump news.

Our trained fingers know which letters to type except
when we look, but we don’t remember the Battle of Lexington
or what was on hall walls when we headed for the leaky

fountain. We remember Larry’s cliff leap, and Gretchen
remembers the route two states away to see the war hero
gone longer than she could wait. Alice still remembers

her locker combination, Megan where she sat in Mr. Miller’s
biology class with its undercurrent of formaldehyde,
and I the first day I took a shower in the locker room

but forgot to take off my underwear. We can still recite
the linking verbs like an auctioneer, the way we did
when our comp teacher called on us, but we can’t

remember how to get to Sandy’s condo or Eddie’s last name
even though he gave us Bubble Yum every morning and went
to prison for stealing cars in Nebraska for a chop shop.

Some remember like the buttonhole knows to snug its
familiar button or sandals to preserve their worn dips
lined up for toes, but phone numbers, directions, and where

we parked the car vanish. Some remember the fight
in the school cafeteria, where the boy with the heart
condition never woke up, and you and I remember

the shepherd who waited wide-eyed for the daily biscuit
and the signal to venture along the trail, our pack of three,
not knowing we were making more history.


Maryfrances Wagner‘s newest books are The Immigrants New Camera, and The Silence of Red Glass. Her book Red Silk won the Thorpe Menn Book Award. She is a co-editor of I-70 Review, serves on the board of The Writers Place, and was Individual Artist honoree for the Missouri Arts Awards, the state’s highest honor in the arts. She is currently Missouri Poet Laureate.




Each fall we anticipate peak foliage,
drive north to take in blazing hills
before the change spreads south.
Towards Halloween, scattered browns,
reds, and yellows fill our yards and
we rake and blow them into waist-high piles.
Years ago, after kids had fun jumping,
residents burned their leaf-piles,
and tanged the air. Now we pile
armfuls into biodegradable yard-bags,
and put them out for town collection.
Each tree sheds until it’s bare. The last leaf drops.
Dormant and skeletal (give or take
squirrel nests), the limbs and branches
bend with snow and ice, sway in winds,
and sometimes snap. But then
the sun’s arc rises, days lengthen,
ground thaws, first buds appear
on branches. We see the tint of green.
And then full leaves, and blossoms.
It’s pollen season: spring welcome, allergens not.
Each tree fills out, a photosynthesis
factory. Thick canopies of shade. Birds
sing in the reaches. Squirrels chase.
Layer on layer, separate branch clusters
are enlivened; they dance and shimmer,
whisper and whoosh. Have voices.
Look up, see greens glow; look down, see
patches and shadows keep time on the ground.

2. FIG

According to Genesis 1:3, Adam and Eve
“sewed together fig leaves
and made aprons for themselves”;
not for camouflage, style, or warmth,
but for shame, particularly of genitals.

They’d lost their blissful ignorance,
and realized that the obvious way
their bodies differed from their Creator’s
was in their reproductive organs.

Or so it seems to me, whose fourth-grade class
was told to draw the outline of a human body.
Puzzled by what our teacher expected,
I never finished mine; left its crotch blank.

Masaccio in his 1420’s fresco, “The Expulsion,”
painted Adam and Eve, once free
and perfect as pagan gods, now driven out
by an archangel with sword. Adam hides
his face in both hands, penis exposed; while
Eve weeps and covers breasts with her right hand,
pudendum with left. Some time later,
a censor added fig leaves for both loins.
For Stephen Greenblatt, Masaccio’s Eve evokes
“the naked women in those infinitely
cruel photographs taken by the Nazis.”

The fall of man. Exit, east of Eden.
Aware of good and evil, but not yet of loss,
not of frailty, mortality, pain in childbirth,
predator and prey, war, or seasons’ cycles.
And not of dreams, either: of love, growth,
mercy or redemption.


Our formal dinner table, inherited
from my mother, normally seats six. But also
can be expanded to eight or ten, thanks to
two extra leaves. We release a lever
underneath and pull the ends apart,
slide in each leaf, then close and lock.
It’s all mahogany veneer, with only six
matching chairs, so we add kitchen chairs.
Occasions for full leaves are rare
since our children left. Shortened, the table
collects household clutter; and our habit
is to eat, plates in laps, in front of our TV.
But when we gather for holiday visits,
we’re packed as close as an overbooked flight.
I’m at the foot, and Connie the head
(having brought in turkey, roasts, or ham
and other hot dishes); our children on both sides,
along with their partners and children (Ruth’s at nine
and sixteen; David’s with booster at one).
Sometimes a guest. Sometimes, my ghosts:
my parents, sister, and brothers. My missing friends.
Connie’s absent loved ones. We pass dishes;
eat, shout, laugh, make toasts. Our seasons turn.


DeWitt Henry‘s recent prose collection is ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS: FAMILY ESSAYS (MadHat Press, 2021). His first collection, RESTLESS FOR WORDS: POEMS, will appear in 2022 from Finishing Line Press. He was the founding editor of Ploughshares and is Prof. Emeritus at Emerson College.


Chinati: 100 Untitled Works

Each of the 100 works has the same outer dimensions (41 x 51 x 72 inches), although the interior is unique in every piece.
—The Chinati Foundation

To me, these metal boxes look like half-
Open women untitled on purpose: half-
Divided, fully divided, undivided, half-

Life lasting nearly a million years. Death
Prefers to echo aluminum shadows.
Meandering the measured gaps, I study

One—clean pinned skin with an elegant
Metal throat—while the film of sun lilts light
From within itself onto her refined frame.

One inch thick, she could never bend
By hand. Stillness has a way of holding
Gray at further distances. I draw near,

Thin lines reminding me of my fingertips,
And I look long enough to remember a year
Ago today, how I lay in a hospital bed

Bound between unforgiving sheets. A small glass
Of water, untouched, rested in its puddled
Sweat on the table. I was never purer

With my fingertips facing the ceiling.
Somewhere within the stiff and unpreserved
Air, the silver boxes sound like wind-

Stroked doves. Or maybe, more
Specifically, they seem like a museum
Of silver burials above the concrete ground.

And it’s true that I, having reached the end,
Know so little of them. When I look back,
I catch a faint reflection of my face.


Taylor J. Johnson‘s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Review and She is currently a graduate student in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University.


My Shadow

A deux, we two. The shadows
out of sight at noon,
at night attend the meadows
where all our bones cocoon.

Out of sight at noon,
at night these umbral fellows
dressed all in black, will croon
to me among the willows.

At night each umbral fellow,
each a provocateur,
tempts me to peccadillos,
my shade and I, a deux.

With each provocateur,
unspelled only by light,
I dance a pas de deux
on any moonlit night.

Once unspelled by light,
like some soothsaying widow
one dreamy, moonless night,
I’ll say Adieu, my shadow.


Zara Raab‘s most recent book is an expanded new edition of Swimming the Eel. Raab grew up in the West, and lives north of Boston in Amesbury, Mass., where she joins the Powow River Poets in sharing poems. Her poems appear in Think: A Journal of Fiction, Poetry and Essays, and elsewhere. Her literary reviews have appeared in Poet Lore and Poetry Flash.


The Fastest Way Out Of One Endlessness Into Another

When the brick is missing from the convent wall
When the tears have outlasted the face
When two lizards are fighting for territory
on a wooden statue of the Buddha
When the Cup of Life has no rim or stem
When you’ve let the mint leaves rot in the heat
When you’re dreaming of passionfruit and lose your anger
gently, unintentionally,
the way the sun takes the water from your hair
before you know it’s gone
When an apple tree sapling appears on your lawn
When you think, Thank god, finally, a minute alone
and the fragrance of jasmine like a lovestruck stranger
comes at you from behind.


Molly Kirschner is a poet and playwright. Her poems have appeared in journals including The Southern Review, The New Ohio Review, and One. Her new manuscript, Sweeten It With Salt, was a finalist for the 2021 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry. She has published two books of poetry.



The heron halts
on its hinged stilts.
It gives me the wild’s

blank-eyed look;
then arches its neck.
Will it strike?

Clacker and clacker
press together
their dagger;

a century
ticks by.
While here beside me

a sunning bullfrog’s
paunch sags,
heavy with bugs;

so placidly,
it seems already
run through the body.


Edison Dupree is the author of Prosthesis (Bluestem Press, 1994) and two chapbooks: Boy With a Ball (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019) and A Rapid Transit (N.C. Writers’ Network, 1988). He lives in Cambridge, Mass., where he recently retired from working as a library assistant.


The Illustrated Life of Saigyo

The samurai life was not for him,
he who longed to write of geese and sorrow,
dawn and the chiming of a sunset’s bells.
So here, in screen panel five, already
monkish in his robe and slick-shaved skull,
he slips through a gap in the family
compound’s fence, shoving his daughter
to the ground as he goes, his heart locked
on the tiny mountain hermitage two panels off.
How full of pain is the world of men.


Steven Winn is a San Francisco arts critic and former Wallace Stegner Fellow. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The Able Muse, Antioch Review, Colorado Review, Nimrod, Poetry Daily, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, Verse Daily and elsewhere. His memoir, Come Back, Como (Harper), has been translated into nine languages.


Manifest Destiny

God anointed you the caretaker
of this prairie. Mold it in your image
acre after acre after acre.

First, you beat the wildness out of her—
the gamma grass, the brambles, and the brimming
patches of leadplant. You’re the caretaker

with a plow, an ox, a boot print. Nature
won’t easily surrender. She’s like Lilith—
acre after acre after acre

of struggle—stubborn sod, a tiny crater
then a million of them dug by timid
marmots, tickseed. You’re the caretaker,

and after endless hours of grueling labor,
you will make this wild wasteland grimace
in rows of fertile crops that cover acre

after acre. You’re the vindicator
of this land, won’t stop until you’re finished,
and acre after acre after acre
bows, with gold, to you, the great caretaker.


Katherine Hoerth is the author of five poetry collections, including Flare Stacks in Full Bloom (Texas Review Press, 2022). In 2015, she won the Helen C. Smith Award for the best book of poetry. She is an assistant professor at Lamar University and editor of Lamar University Literary Press.


Dear Night Skies of the 1970s,

dear open barn door, dear hay forts and hawthorn trees
blooming as extravagantly as you thorned,
dear shared bedroom, twin beds with blue spreads
printed calico, dear calico cat catching mice in the barn, dear horse smell
on our clothes, dear last night I slept there, dear children
we were, dear books read aloud, dear 23rd psalm
on the wall above my bed,

dear sun tea with lemon, dear diet bars
my brother and I stole because they said
they were covered in chocolate, dear dirt I put in my mouth
to see what it tasted like, dear strands of spiderweb
in the rafters, dear rides across harvested cornfields, dear dark mornings
before school when we pounded ice out of the water buckets,

dear dance of dysfunctional family, dear family, dear dinner table dramas trying not
to anger my father, dear brother’s spilled milk, dear sister standing up
from the table, dear shaggy dog jokes, dear animal-shaped placemats,
dear quiet, dear chasing the dog across snowy fields before he found
the neighbor’s chickens again, dear dirt clod fights between brothers,

dear now dead mother, dear now dead father, dear now dead sister,
dear three of us left, it will take everything, all of you,
to carry me to my own inevitable ending, unforgetting,
vivid, your damned light going out across the universe
forever and ever, amen.


Katherine Riegel is the author of Love Songs from the End of the World, the chapbook Letters to Colin Firth, and two more books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Offing,, and elsewhere. She is managing editor of Sweet Lit.



Days before the angels
got wind of God’s
risen son,

flies divined
in that dark hole
the cold, forsaken one.


Mike White‘s second collection, Addendum to a Miracle (Waywiser, 2017), was awarded the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. Individual poems have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Threepenny Review, and The Yale Review. He lives in Salt Lake City and teaches at the University of Utah.


Fine Gentleman

Did you know that, when two people are about to whale the tar out of each other, you can calm
them just by standing close to them?
Today in the playground where I go to do my pull-ups, a man and a woman with some kids were
having an argument—well, he wasn’t, but the woman was losing her shit left, right, and
sideways, and you could see the kids were upset.
So I walked up to, oh, say, fifteen feet away and just stood there silently, which prompted the
woman to say What are you looking at, fine gentleman.

Actually, she didn’t say fine gentleman, which I regard as a moral failing on her part.
Not ten minutes earlier, I had passed a fellow on the sidewalk who is someone I see almost
every day, and he’s this gangly guy who always wears a drip-dry shirt with a pocket
protector and a clip-on tie, meaning he’s either going to or coming from his job.
Thing is, there are no stores or offices within miles of that playground, meaning he’s got quite a
trek either ahead of or behind him.
Or both: who’d take a sweaty two-hour hike to or from work and, when it was time to go in the
other direction, call a car service and be picked up by a limo with a variety of liquors in
the passenger area as well as surround-sound stereo and one or more flat-screen TVs?
In other words, this is a guy with an unmistakable career assistant manager vibe about him.
If anyone’s entitled to feel like Ishmael in the Book of Genesis, of whom it was said he shall be
a wild ass among men, his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand
against him
, it’s this guy.
Yet every time I see him, I say Hello, to which he always replies Sir, I hope you have a great
day today and an even better one tomorrow
See what I mean? Fine gentleman, indeed.

Other creatures are thoughtful and kind to each other. Why aren’t we?
Naturalist Barry Lopez says geese fly in a classic V formation with a single leader and
everybody else following behind, so if the leader fails, so does the flock.
But when cranes migrate, each searches simultaneously for a thermal, and when one crane
finds a thermal, the other cranes zero in, everybody benefits, and off they go as one.

Too, did you know that “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100
in 1964 because of the strategic use of a single pronoun?
When the Dixie Cups sing we’re going to the chapel and then we’re going to get married, you
don’t have to have a PhD in Advanced Song Lyric Interpretation to figure out that, initially
at least, the we refers to a pair of young lovers.
But here’s where it gets interesting: the audience for romantic ballads has always been teenage
girls, a demographic that, in the era during which “Chapel of Love” was released, bought
45 rpm records by the millions.
So about the third or fourth time the Dixie Cups say we, the song starts to come across as, not
as one person’s boast that her boyfriend proposed to her and yours didn’t, but the
anthem of a nation of hopeful young women.
The young women are like the cranes! Off they go to an uncertain future, yet their hearts are
bursting with hope.

Or they’re like the phlebotomist who drew my blood last week as part of a routine physical
and whom I always praise lavishly.
Why? Because, one, everybody likes praise; two, nobody ever gets enough; three, the
phlebotomist deserves it because she’s very good at her job; and four, I’d like her to
think well of me and be gentle and efficient in the future rather than harsh and clumsy.
So I say You have such a professional touch as she sticks labels onto four little vials of blood,
and the phlebotomist replies Couldn’t have done it without you.

When the woman at the playground asked me what I was looking at, I said I’m not looking at
anything, I was just hoping you weren’t going to whip this fine gentleman’s ass here.

The man laughed, and one of the kids shot me a vee sign, and the woman didn’t do anything,
but at least she stopped escalating.
Now I wouldn’t have walked up on a bar fight at 3:00 a.m. and done the same thing, but this little
trick works just fine at playgrounds.
And I actually did say fine gentleman when I referred to the man.
Other than that, I was just talking.


David Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His latest books are a poetry collection, Help Me, Information, and a textbook modestly entitled The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them.