Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.
The volunteers for April 2018 are Anne Bower, Martha Brenckle, Kristi Carter, C.W. Emerson, Deborah Kelly, Darby Lyons, Sana Tamreen Mohammed, and Shanley Wells-Rau. Read their full bios here.
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please fill out our application here and and warm up your pen! To read more about the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, including a complete list of our wonderful volunteer poets and to read their poems, please click here.
Day 19 / Poems 19
Skirmish / by Anne Bower
When our leaders erase words,
censor phrases that speak truth
of destruction, discovery, doubt,
how can the small battles
we artists wage succeed?
Some days I can
take my job seriously
I speak truth to power
beauty to drudgery
wonder to dismay
these words my tiny weapons
on the huge battlefield of greed and ignorance
against dense troops of rich
and powerful tyrants and bosses,
and on the smaller plains
attack self-doubt, past errors,
dullness of aging faculties
Some days I retreat,
hide behind the vacuum cleaner,
snow shovel, the woodpile, hoe,
and hope the soup I’ve cooked today
restores my stength,
wait for others’ words
to arm me again
Tattoo / by Martha Brenckle
Until now my history has been the markings of men:
mother lover lesbian woman daughter Eve Jezebel
My life’s work grieves for a new geography
a new litany for the landscape of my flesh.
I name my body beyond what earth imagined for me
freshly sprung stories for bone, blood, muscle, and marrow.
As the needle fires skin with the smallest of dancer steps
desire designs the black ink of martyrs in miniature
and burns with the benediction of terrible stars
and loosens the thousand lucid tongues of my voice.
My spine’s expansion like the slow build up of prairie wind
releases my back, my shoulders to psalm’s fontanel
angel wings make dust of the whistling my flesh has been
pulling my spirit from the aperture of my soul
marking metamorphosis in lambent liquid
that covers my skin with the sleekness of the newly birthed.
Heller Happened / by Kristi Carter
Put down the book.
Raise your glass
to the ones you won’t miss.
It doesn’t matter if the glass
is a mug of coffee.
It doesn’t matter if it’s empty.
It matters that your ex
kept a jar of your hair.
It matters that the woman
wrote, is this person really here
to have sex with me? It matters
that he was. It doesn’t matter
that he is blond, though it should.
He can’t control it. It happens.
Something happened, he wrote,
yet none of the female characters
had emotions, except for
the fourteen year old with
the seeping lip
and the missing teeth. He left
her an extra dollar
after he was done. She
had a baby. Is this person
really here to have sex
with me? He was. It matters.
Sea Salt / by Deborah Kelly
I cannot discover this ‘oceanic’ feeling in myself.
It is not easy to deal scientifically with feelings.
None of your salt shakes out
of the shaker, Freud,
harvested from waters
your ego claims it long-ago outgrew.
I will taste the ocean, Freud. That feeling.
Salt of life and art and love and food.
Better Vocabulary in Thirty Minutes a Day! / by Darby Lyons
After years of assiduous sifting,
the corporate gods of education have managed
a reduction in force of words for memorization,
readily available to download in preparation
for the digitized, sanitized tests for advantaged
students who wish to benefit from this grifting.
A master list rolls down McGraw-Hill and passes
through Pearson’s powerful press
soon to arrive—clean and lifeless,
ready for consumption by the standardized masses.
Rest assured, even in Spring, no more savoring petrichor
through open classroom windows, no temptation toward persiflage
inspired by fluttering pages, no fear of children becoming solivagant
explorers of language, falling prey, one day, to vellichor.
Memory of the Wind / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
I walk along the sound of my name.
Wet prints on fine sand
and water receding.
Sun hazy on your body,
the shape of palm conch shell.
We follow them.
The promise of early stars
filling up tiny holes in the sand,
a map to tomorrow.
April Still Burns / by Shanley Wells-Rau
April fires bring May flowers
no—showers bring end to fires
flames glower sparks shower
April snow brings May tornado
embers flower into raging fire
unchecked winds turn again
fire burns back into black
faster this time over ashes
until it hits fuel / smoke clouds
April horizons as the Dirty ‘30s
tax day burns by another week
lands on Bombing Day 4/19
lone column of smoke changed
OKC changed us changed U.S.
Day 18 / Poems 18
And I feel fine / by Anne Bower
with apologies to R.E.M.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
though reading today’s news
it feels more so than ever
air poisoned by chemicals, words, greed
and I feel fine
In my kitchen wi-fi working
sunshine spilling through the window
snow melting, coffee steaming
all those young white arms flung up
exuberant as the band plays–
where are the Black arms,
mestizos, latinx, gay, trans,
the gray-heads, the old?
No hoodies, harpies,
The Berlin wall’s about
to fall, Peristroika,
We’ve got a lotta
end of the world as we know it
soldiers, drones and
bombs are smart and bombs are dirty,
fires and famine, droughts and drownings
coral’s dying, glacier’s moaning
and I feel fine
and I feel fine
If It’s Too Quiet, You’re Too Young / by Kristi Carter
My life is a country song except… -ZT
My life is a rock song except
the tropes are inverted, the way a petal
ripples into itself on the sidewalk
trodden over by footsteps.
My life is a rock song except
I can’t stay up to watch the sun rise
anymore, and secretly, have never
relished witnessing the sutures of night pulled loose.
My life is a rock song except
blood is thinner than air. My family
is a shy man I met in school and my dog
who refuses to succumb to winter.
My life is a rock song except
it can be too loud, it can be too rude
when a woman I know blames others
for her hangover, a shiny dollop of vomit on her blouse.
My life is a rock song except
I want to live. Scientists have newly engineered
a plastic-eating bacteria, and I’d like to consume more chocolate
before cacao is extinct.
My life is a rock song except
I grew tired of being gaslit and changed
my phone number. Only so many lines
worth repeating in agony, before a fresh record is required.
Luck / by C.W. Emerson
You tell me I’m lucky,
blessed by fate, able
to recreate myself
into whatever person
I need to be.
Is that such a bad thing,
to me, it’s resilience;
equal parts sweat
and will and grit,
with only a pinch
of good fortune.
Was it luck
to have found
that narrow footpath
through the blazing canyon
on the night
all of Santa Maria caught fire?
That was luck,
pure and simple,
a bona fide four-leaf lucky star—
see how we cling
to amulet, charm—
that’s how disillusioned we are
by the daily things
the universe lays at our door.
In her first book of poems,
my teacher wrote:
I wonder if any life /
goes far enough /
to ever heal itself.
Doesn’t it seem
we always come short—
of time, of money,
of people to love?
Sometimes you wait
for your luck to change,
but what if it never does?
I won’t be fast enough
to outrun the next disaster.
How lucky (or fast)
do we have to be
just to make it through the day?
And what if we tire
of the lives we live—
if the days continue
to begin as they begin,
end as they end?
Maybe we’ll only
heal what we can heal,
abandon the rest, hope
that the morning
arrives on time,
not on fire.
Georgia O’Keefe / by Deborah Kelly
Beauty is transformed over time and not without destruction.
—Terry Tempest Williams
Shrouded and sumptuous, dusty nude,
she carried canvas to light-soaks,
to pelvises sun-bleached clouds blanched horns still—
the contours of Abiquiu,
of blood-blue lily, iron-blood in rock.
A world of fingers and fur-tips,
her skulls and flowers.
Until her door, black filled-with-colors, knocked.
One Year, the Teacher’s Father Went to Vietnam / by Darby Lyons
Mrs. Lassiter’s hair was auburn, and she favored
flowered dresses that swayed as she leaned
to turn the pages of the yard-high Dick and Jane
reader at the head of the kindergarten class.
Mrs. Mountain, a newlywed, wore pearls
against her throat, and freckles scattered
across her face. Her fingernails, clean and curved,
clicked against the board in the first grade room.
Mrs. Mayer worked macramé and disapproved
of Santa Claus. Her honey hair brushed
her shoulders as she leaned over multiplication tables
and Bible memory verses in a parochial third grade.
The teacher held on to nearly all her teacher’s names,
habits of speech, quirks of character, the signs
of fluctuating moods, pet peeves, and passions.
She studied them, loved them, wanted to be them.
There is only one empty space, one name
she cannot dredge up, one person’s habits and rituals
escape her. Although she went dutifully to school
in second grade, her attention was focused
on the other side of the world.
Think of Rivers / by Shanley Wells-Rau
When I say river, you see the Mighty Mississippi
or better yet: icy delicious backdrop to Western dreams.
When I say river, I see the Arkansas from a limestone bluff
after the dam went in: no more floods. Sand bars
replace water. You remember fishing holes;
I tell you my grandfather used to noodle catfish.
You think of spaghetti and meatballs
but turkey balls because you’re cutting back on meat,
and I think of the fat turkey who sways a garden swing
snuggling close for hugs from his humans.
I tell you about the wild turkey who strolls past
our front door like he’s looking at rentals.
I tell you we’re clearing brush. You remember
a president who spent days clearing and clearing
when we all started counting his vacation days
after he said being president was hard.
I think of thirsty red cedars we’ve been sawing
some left with thumbs for branches
leafy cedar bark* *stripped
Day 17 / Poems 17
A Fib / by Anne Bower
not a story or lie
but you could imagine
the heart’s stuttering
as rebel’s flick of the switch
a trick, a dare, just for the hell of it
as thief stealing your strength
your breath, your clear-eyed focus
as guerilla troop with guns and knives
leaving blood and chaos throughout your land
What’s drearier than a hospital
its long corridors a blur
seen from the gurney,
this maze of pills and tests, IV’s, injections
the special procedure
to shock heart’s confusion
to banish the invading force
No signed treaty,
no promise of lasting peace.
Any day it can return
jump the fences of routine–
trembling, slumping, leaping,
Magic Tricks / by Martha Brenckle
now you see her, now you don’t
queen of hearts hidden in the shuffle
I need to know where she goes
when her mind misfires and mimics carnival tricks
her nerves spark spikes and waves on the roll of EEG paper
uncontrolled by Depakote, Dilantin, Tegretol
mind chemistry stiffens her arms, frightens one perilous pupil
the iris whiter than the bloodless jaws of hooked fish
the doctor cuts the deck, makes three piles
tricks of the confidence man
her soul floats in blue possibility
iridescent as the eye of peacock feather
tiny limbed for seven, breath puffs
misspent as chick down or dandelion seed
her thin fingers claw, clutch air
without the subtle spring of twigs
her hair parted to make room for dangling wire ribbons
I reach around the colored leads
rub her arms, shoulders, what tiny limbs I can reach
pull the dark hair from her open mouth
shh shh mommy’s here
her soul a blue peacock feather
her flesh clouds, turns to smoke in my gambler palms
In Memory of David Buckel / by Kristi Carter
Most of the students laugh when I tell them I made a moodboard last week
though in my day we didn’t call it a moodboard, but a collage. Except the one with
listening eyes who nods slowly, does not demand to see it.
This morning I wake up to a tragedy that isn’t mine,
more linked to the state I live in than its tenuous
blanket of grass and gold pollen that invade me,
no hills to interrupt the spores with an open green palm.
The headline reads Lead attorney in Brandon Teena’s
mother’s case dies after setting self on fire in N.Y.
and my mind snaps to the dark engraving of his deadname
on a headstone—here they are again, getting it wrong,
misjudging the weight of the flint. My students
do not know who Brandon Teena is, though most of
them were born in here on the plain, and some of them
mention Hilary Swank. I can no longer
draw for them the pyramid,
the graph, the matrixed birdcage
of identity, of social slurs. Instead
I drag images over each other,
arrange them in some pastiche
that echoes this. There is a knock at my office door.
Genesis / by Deborah Kelly
We must learn to speak the language of women when there is no one there to her us. —Hélène Cixous.
A god called after Eve, with a voice like iron striking iron.
He demanded to know what she had done.
And so, she walked away, out from his garden into wilderness,
past the god and his sword.
She and her man went out as if leaving a fortress.
And it was good, though now they saw themselves as individuals,
and found this somewhat clumsy.
Eve had brought the sieve made to separate good from evil.
She up-cycled it as a basket, for food and children and love,
having woven its gaps with sweetgrass.
And man worried his beard.
He made clothes of animal skins and ate their meat. He also gave Eve to eat.
And told her to get dressed.
In the night, Eve and the man made songs to comfort their spirits.
For, now they were afraid of each other, and they were ashamed.
They still are.
Legacy / by Darby Lyons
When the funeral ended, the father left the church
ahead of the rest of the family. They held on
to each other. He left a wide empty space
between them while the rest of us sat,
absorbing his anger, the blame
he aimed into the distance.
Years later, his daughter wrote about him,
about her wish that one day
he would keep his promise, that one day
he would be there in the stands
when she looked up.
That one day never came.
A New Trend In Rape / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
Here I present You a rape case.
A couple of days of rape in a single case
keeping it hidden under the modern roof
of Your temple or a church or a mosque.
If it falls, it will split into many jokes,
roll down the Holy stairs of spiritualism,
shape-shift into flags fluttering
not-so-empathetically in the concrete
hands of some mystic men
(They create a sense of awe in me
and I wonder, I wonder, I wonder…).
Now, these men may not visit You but
keep you involved in their conversations.
How innocently foolish some men are!
If God listens to your cries but does not
help how can law do any better?
Justice in the name of Holy Law is made
into a deity in the house of government.
A statue well-trimmed from every angle
by the hands of visionary men.
So, here I keep God mute in my mouth.
Now our particular case is sensitive as
are all the other cases in the making.
They can be picked from any place,
from under the sun or a starlit sky,
porch of our homes or a meadow in spring.
Little girls, our little girls if you go out
in the meadow in warm daylight,
let the sheep graze on their own as
grasses might be green for them, not you.
And Mothers, if you meet another woman,
tell her about our case as they
demand to be told as to be heard
But tell it as a joke so that she could
laugh as frantically as we are now.
Oklahoma Burns / by Shanley Wells-Rau
The river is gone
buried by valleys of smoke
we know drought
here in tornado alley
today we burn a deep red
rage fighting change
raised fist at the world
over my cold dead body
we cower in churches
fingers in ears
Thoughts & Prayers
for you standing in ashes
we see you on the news
wildfires ate your barn
house and tractor
Day 16 / Poems 16
Swans on the Line / by Anne Bower
In the misty Clare County morning
could I have heard correctly?
Swans on the line, the man said
explaining today’s power’s failure.
He’d send someone out to check.
With all the places they could perch
why out here near our centuries-old
rented house at the edge of Lake Inchiquin
with trees and ruins aplenty
would they curl their big webbed feet
around tenuous power lines?
We weren’t strangers to swans—knew their
swimming and diving, the slap
of wings as they rose from the lake,
and all those stories and myths told
in Corofin’s pubs when calm
settled after shouting about
IRA and Ulster constabulary’s latest,
when as the night came thicker,
the room filled with sweat and wool,
pipe smoke, Guiness and whiskey,
sawdust under our feet,
they’d sing of magical swans
bringing treasure or harm,
and who could forget what
happened to Leda?
In that misty Clare County morning,
as I stirred oatmeal at the big Aga cooker,
its peat-fired warmth, its earthy smell,
candles lit against morning shadows,
missing the radio’s music
I wondered. . . .
Show-offs perhaps, high wire artists,
their huge white bodies swaying above us
as if to say–
You people with your
politics, your battles, your churches,
your roadways and power poles,
you don’t know a thing.
We’ve been here centuries
it’s our land, our lake,
and we’ll run the show–
lights on, lights off.
Sonata / by Martha Brenckle
from the fine braille of freckles on your shoulders
my fingers read the lyrics
of muscle memory and shadows
the long blue curve of your back
swells to a puddle of moonlight
I could breathe in and not drown
I could drown and not care
Of Curse / by Kristi Carter
Just a typo
in an email to strangers
about the weather of the current climate
in matters personal, and I miss the key of O
that would resemble the dark mouth pert and receiving.
In the sentence regarding my emotions I have done my best
imitation of an adult who has no emotions or at least a firm leash
on them, much like the grip of the lips on a straw as the inner chamber
of the throat unhinges, so water can enter and replenish the cells wasted in wondering
what these strangers will make of me
and my frail offering of words.
The Wanting / by C.W. Emerson
Please click here to read the poem.
Immortality / by Deborah Kelly
We cannot fall out of this world.—Christian Dietrich Grabbe (1801-36)
I learn the organism of this canyon,
the music people made here, sounds given them here,
voices in reeds and cottonwood trunks and skins.
Place of music, light and heavy as
small leaves and large thunder, of lightning and boulder.
Where an ocean dissolved and bent its bed to a body
that still hums with newborns and ancients.
More than immortality, it has held a skull,
as yet unfused, of who passed into this canyon
that moves, that has and does not have a boundary.
Portrait of the Teacher, Grading / by Darby Lyons
The hardest part, she finds, is getting started.
Getting started requires coffee and a clean desk.
A clean desk, for her, is novel.
Novel ideas, in her rubric, are usually As.
Usually, As are recognizable in the first sentence.
The first sentence sometimes makes her angry.
Her anger, she believes, is over predictability.
Predictability, she has declared, is a cardinal sin.
The cardinal sins of writing are many.
Many times, she longs for surprise.
For surprise, she is willing to forgive other sins.
Other sins fall away in the shimmer of insight.
Insight receives accolades, exclamation points on the page.
On the page, she leaves a final mark, the hardest part.
Zip-line / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
The trees wave me goodbye
as I cross a waterfall
with straps around my waist
going up my spine.
For a moment you hold on
to something, a rope perhaps?
before you release the screem.
A loud noise drifts toward
the low hum of an unseen bird
and then you hear the soft
breathing of the waterfall.
Yoy wonder whether the mountains
too yearn to stir.
Prairie Thoughts / by Shanley Wells-Rau
Switchgrass knows no one is coming for the guns
Buffalograss knows all things are connected: drought,
bison, Sonic Styrofoam cups, pioneer women
Little bluestem sees bermudagrass encroaching
and flashes crimson warning before lawnmower
equalizes all grass
Mallows stretch leggy limbs horizontal into flower beds
it’s not an immigrant but is considering Canada
Indian blankets haven’t bloomed yet
the past year has been too much
Day 15 / Poems 15
Massage / by Anne Bower
What do I want today, you ask
as I lie between clean sheets on padded table
in hushed quiet
twirling sandalwod incense
trembling in lamp’s glow
Could you please, please, please
rub away this tarnish of worry
til the knobs of my knees and shoulders
ankles and wrists shimmer
stroke the long bones of arms and legs
to banish the years of doubt
polish the bones of my cheeks
brush anxiety from my forehead
shine belly and back
cherish pads of feet and hands
until as I rise, naked light
bounces across the room
One Summer / by Martha Brenckle
Pain is fond of bright colors
red pinches on a summer
freckled arm, blue and green
bruise seen through a filmy dress
Pain is all about the dreadful stuff
that bleeds out in worsening pigments
Pain is a wind slammed screen door
yellow kitchen curtains stirred over the sink
flower petals dropped, floated vividly to the floor
these are the details I remember
Ode to Kathleen / by Kristi Carter
(TW: sexual violence)
providing free counseling
post-concert, side stage. The girls
quaking from the songs
that saw them. She’s done,
hair still jet as ink,
eyes blue as the sky
people think they want
to die under. Body
out in the open,
as if sunshine ever
between two nations
or the body of a girl
then limp under a man.
She’s done. She is not
empty, but saw how
the spool of silver voice
she started with
was unraveling so fast—
she needed to set aside
a portion of herself,
to have more left
than gristle from the lean.
From the machine-
destroying web she tried
to weave with a shriek
and a gyration
and a manifesto
whose goals are yet
to be realized, she’s retired.
Who is wired
to fight forever
with no breaks to
nibble red grapes
walking the dog
in the forest? She’s done.
And someone will
excavate her anthems
as evidence she never
really cared: proof
no woman can ever do enough.
A Third Dimension / by Deborah Kelly
Astrology impatiently finishes the Aether’s sentences.
It’s net stretched across our sky,
caught Betelgeuse on Orion’s belt, and Sirius to ride on his shoulder.
Think what we would see in a sky with no pictures drawn on it.
Creatures among creatures of light and matter,
waiting a measure for the third dimension.
Close Reading / by Darby Lyons
Vigilant readers may see it coming—
the first parenthesis, interruption
looming. A curve stops
forward motion, makes us look
inside, though some ignore
the content, certain
it’s irrelevant. Later,
when lost, they wish
they’d paid attention
to what seemed trivial
at the time. After
the first parenthesis.
The final parenthesis, a cupped hand
holding details apart from
the moving storyline. You can continue
now; this is the close.
Experiential Learning / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
We are now young to talk of old age,
of retiring in a place we could call home.
Every country has its own sunset.
Birds sing the same songs
but not always on the same boughs.
Our songs are love,
boughs are joy and sorrow.
When all is done and so much left to do,
we will be two wrinkles
in the vastness of the sky.
When it is time for us to depart,
we emerge from life as divers
emerge from water prepared
to embrace the air; triumphant
in discovering the many delights
of the ocean in the quest of a pearl.
Wildfires Follow Teacher Strike / by Shanley Wells-Rau
Smoke blows in from the prairie
on wildfire winds pushing hard
from the west.
Fires like that can make tornadoes,
not F-5s that level swaths of Bible belt states
rather, columns of flame twisting with an anger
at today’s news of tomorrow’s change already here.
Scrubby oaks smolder atop underbrush blackened
to charcoal. Tallgrasses hide their deep roots
aground to wait out the catastrophe like so many
years past awaiting greedy wheat farms,
dustbowl, and Depression.
I step from the porch and look west. Smoke
hugs the woods. I search for flame, a source
for the smog. Nothing yet, but that doesn’t
mean rage isn’t coming.
Day 14 / Poems 14
Weather Advisory / by Anne Bower
Mid-April, tax deadline looming
and today’s busy plans for tai chi practice
and meetings, fifty miles from home
x’d out by threat of ice,
snow, wintry mix as they call it up here
in the mountains
Our yesterday alarms raced internet paths–
better safe than sorry
damn, this crazy weather
do we have to?
Yes, we have to
go beyond annoyed
these demon weather gods
still ruling our lives
love that we’re out of control
still mere bags of bones and flesh
one good wind
one hidden slick of ice
one swipe of blinding snow
can x away
The Long March to the Mountain / by Martha Brenckle
In three poems by Mao
the mountains are at the beginning
of the sky and river.
The mountains keep the sky from collapsing
when the sea and river boil over.
He crosses mountains on his war pony
The snow, the sky, the warm breath of horses
wreaths the peaks as he sits. There is no peace.
watching other men on horseback in the fiercest battle.
Dali drew these horses with red bridles
and wavy manes, teeth set to bite
their rumps and thighs circles on circles.
Dali’s horses are wild, riderless, alone
as if there had been no war, no boiling river
no mountains in his drawing for Mao.
Instant coffee / by Kristi Carter
The gift I want to give
is the dark brown warmth of life
in convenient crystals. Yes, it’s true,
I was born American
so should better cherish
the drip of gold foam
from the holy opaque percolator—the machine
rigged for this very beverage. Yes,
American, where you better drink
what rich people drink
no matter how much you make. Here,
take this jar of rebellion,
which I afforded for you,
and knew you might drink, and think
Barry Lopez / by Deborah Kelly
No doubt he writes what happened, that
he sat on a rug woven out of the mind of a Navajo woman.
What excites me most is that he knew it was.
Visiting Teachers / by Darby Lyons
Every spring, Scott Fitzgerald visited us,
suggesting we look at the lights
we follow like guides to our dreams;
he asked if we could trust the pink clouds
floating in the aftermath of a storm
to be sturdy enough to hold our hopes.
Eugenides pushed boundaries we thought
we knew, shuffled assumptions and pronouns,
challenged the myths we heard and held as truth;
eventually, we all stood in a doorway,
like immigrants, carrying our names along
with our most precious ideas in olivewood boxes.
When Toni Morrison taught the class,
she made us discuss whether we’d prefer to die
by fire or water. We drew no final conclusion,
but we decided friendships lost are like deaths,
and when their fire dies, we drown in circles
and circles of watery sorrow.
Tenderness II / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
The sun and its yellow flowers
bear in their youthful bosom
the seed of first summer.
Morning air perfumes the calm
of a face asleep.
We are blossoms of many trees
traveling the lightness of future
as a sparrow’s feet leave soft prints
in the memory of earth
and summer gradually grows
into a fair damsel
listening into the wind.
We sing on the boughs of joy,
gather the distance between us,
transform everything into flowers.
This Is Not A Drill / by Shanley Wells-Rau
Even though it feels unreal / You cannot say it’s a drill
Take precautions immediately and proceed to your
nearest shelter place of safety muster station
rally point / Don’t dally for you may be lost
and we need you have needed will need
all of us in these hours days history books to come
Everything sounds surreal but this is not a drill
Don’t grab your loved ones and head for the hills
stick the assembly point and count heads
see who’s there / You may be delighted
to meet old friends or find neighbors unscathed /
Together you may answer the whys from the future
Today is not a drill
Day 13 / Poems 13
Word Video / by Anne Bower
Each weekday morning, among Second Street’s jostling trucks and taxis,
she bundled her bags of loaves, knives, foil-wrapped butter, her bulky self
from a clattering car that left as she opened her bare-bones storefront,
men idling outside, smoking or talking, one in a wheelchair,
their Polish and Russian and English hellos
growing her taller, stroking her brow, her full, broad cheeks
She’d leave the door open, unpack her goods,
the men waiting as she sliced the first huge loaf
scent of coarse rye ground with wheat, sparks of caraway,
the sour of hours of
working dough, rising, kneaded, rising, kneaded
her hands, her knowing, in a kitchen
in Jersey none of them saw,
With a wave of her hand she beckoned them in,
and one at a time they stood before her
while her wide blade swept
west and east, left and right
spreading butter she churned from
milk from cows her neighbor kept
across a thick slice of rye
held forward on her palm,
an offering to the waiting man
his quarter already on the table
Interstate / by Martha Brenckle
Black lines on yellowed paper
stand in place of magic
I read to my grandmother
the directions to the next town
She flicks her cigarette out the window
turns on the car radio, calls me “butter bean”
Nothing but static and farm reports
we’ve been looking for music for hours
My sister sleeps, slumped in the back seat
her face flushed and hair stuck to one cheek
The sky to the west begins to cloud and ash
the moon appears, a soft dusty thumbprint
Later it will grow to a perfect silver disk
when we have crossed into another state
Last Diet / by Kristi Carter
He hung at the edge of the counter
watching me eat
my plate with linked meat and mustard—
a palette he knew from navy days,
fat, gristle and acid. He was thin
then, and still stone-fast,
resisting the doctor’s suggestion
of hummus. Shaking his head,
cranking his stiff fingers
back into place. Drinking
quinine to help the joints
soften back into function.
All the omens
of the body loud as the earth splitting.
He moved slow and silent
as always, the tact that
got him the 12-point buck
mounted with a black marble
to replicate its eye bloated in terror.
Caution like that made him appear
without the hint of footfalls
in my doorway to beg me
to buy my mother some gift
of jewelry when he might as well
have suggested brick and mortar
to rebuild us, or poison.
requested a piece
of the meat I had slivered open
with my knife. The doctor
had warned about sodium.
Still, a salt daughter
knows her origins.
I did not deny him.
Evening Poem / by C.W. Emerson
I watch you move
through these inexorable days—
how tenderly arranged
are the morning flowers,
how thoughtfully chosen the vase—
you take great care to curate our world,
but still, it contains intolerable things,
your absence would be first among them.
A god, a ghost, an invisible machine—
I don’t know the power behind the dawn,
or who delivers the morning;
and the heart—
such a strange duality:
site of desire, locus of pain.
Only a cruel and mighty hand
would edit the world
in so reckless a way
and erase. . . any trace
In My Kitchen / by Deborah Kelly
Dough is rising, vegetables fermenting.
Fruits float wrapped closely in beaded skins
while drunken drosophila push at gaps
from crock, to bowl, to sink drain,
to feed and breed and rest.
Behind cabinet glass, two glazed cups.
I see how perfectly they are lonely.
Senior Syndrome / by Darby Lyons
I’m reading a book about a kidnapping,
and though it’s fiction, it’s familiar—
the way the hostage observes his captors,
hoping to find weakness, an inclination
to talk about family or register complaints
about other kidnappers, the ones
who are too harsh or too lazy. The captive studies
his captors. And they study him,
the longing way he looks at the covered window,
how he chats for distraction, becomes silent
when he’s afraid. They suspect he’s plotting
a getaway until they get caught up
in the stories he tells about home,
his hopes, and they forget to fear escape.
He is uneasy under their power
until he identifies the ones
who can’t help but care for him,
they way they care for someone
who needs to believe in something–
home, hope, or escape.
Tenderness / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
Winds from Mt. Kanchenjunga
tousle my hair,
I skirt along a bright Nursery.
Buddhist monks fill the young
ones with the art of silence.
Prayer flags repose mid-air.
The night is muslin
and the stars so close to us,
sterling silver night beads,
brim with conscience.
Nature pours out sweet cadence.
Embroidered ranges rejoice in
the soprano song of the days.
I follow you with chants in my heart.
Day 12 / Poems 12
Dirty Clothes / by Anne Bower
Each midnight’s brief bathroom stop
on the trip from my parent’s tall four-poster
to the narrow sleigh bed in the front room
only the street light’s filtered glow to show the path
I’d say to myself, like a magic spell to ward off evil–
it’s just the hamper
piled high with laundry,
just dirty clothes
But each night the charm failed–
a bear hulked, hiding his claws,
his acrid stink stinging my eyes,
his growl pitched low for my ears only,
ready to pounce on my mistakes,
to snarl and bite failings only he defined–
even when all clothes were washed,
ironed, folded, and laid peacefully in drawers,
his bulk persisted
He grew shape-shifter devious–
I became an A student
He became a bully
I became a flirt
He became a flasher
I became a lover
He became pain
I became a wife
He became doubt
I became a mother
And he flew into multiples
daily threats of cuts and broken bones,
flus and ear infections, car crashes,
drugs, pregnancies, failed loves
Now I live where bears are real
waking each spring, roaming for food
fur and claws and sharp teeth
hundreds of pounds of strength
no charm or knowledge can banish
Perspectives on Apples / by Martha Brenckle
This is your orchard; I am alien here.
We are walking on ground firmed by ice.
I watch you talking trees
stepping over their roots’ snake like hold on earth.
You speak of sap warm and running through branches
curled like fingers framing clouds pale with snow.
Although it is winter, you know your trees bare
can imagine summer’s blushing fruit.
Apple names fall from your mouth
red gifts for me—Cortland, Macoun, MacIntosh—
while your thumb rubs circles in the smooth bark.
This is not what I came to learn.
I clutch a piece of ice; it melts in my hand.
I watch your teeth and tongue touch
desire something I can bite into.
The Young Female Professor is Late / by Kristi Carter
They are waiting
with their mouths open
as if I’m going to run in
with some pitcher of golden
smelt, the opaque liquid
easy to pour and thick and filling.
As if knowledge is like this,
letting no light in, no hard
edges to the facts. And really
most of them are fine, still
lit with the spark life
hasn’t put out in them yet.
It’s just the one in the back
who keeps carving swastikas
into the desk, despite my glib
shake of the head, him seeing it,
despite the fact I do not own
the desk. Here, with the adults,
I know I own nothing.
V. Van Gogh, Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun / by Deborah Kelly
Me, Age Five
Gravity was where I stood
while olive trees poured
leaf silver into trunks, into roots,
and the Sun was an aura of snipped ribbons
around light that stung.
I’d been told Earth is round.
With this, I knew.
To this day, artists who paint what arrives alive,
before their labels, are my favorites.
At the museum, I’m not the one
tipping her head to the text, first.
That’s not how the artist knew it.
I Speak Now in Defense of the Woo Girls / by Darby Lyons
because you think you know them, but you don’t.
You don’t know that girl who wears sorority sweatshirts
while she’s still in high school is her family’s sole supporter,
works nights and weekends, arrives at school before the teachers
because those early empty hours are the only time
she has to do the work that will take her away from here.
And you have no idea about the girl you say is “basic;”
you have no idea she’ll receive the President’s Award
for Volunteer Service because while you watch Friends
reruns on Netflix, laughing with your buddies
in your suburban bunker, safe in your smugness,
she serves the homeless in the part of town that scares you.
If only you realized the girl you call “the ultimate woo girl,”
the one who loves to wear her cheerleading uniform
even when her teammates balk, the one with the boyfriend
you call “dumber than a sack of hair,” made a perfect score
on the ACT, but she doesn’t brag about her brilliance
because her mother told her boys don’t like smart girls.
You love to mock the woo girls,
the basic ones, the ones who are so
extra. Their first impressions left you
unimpressed, and you don’t give second chances,
but one day, those girls won’t give a fuck
if you’re impressed by how they run the world.
Let Us / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
A tree, in many halves, produces fire.
Today we leave our jobs,
stone cutting, building
tearing, rock blasting
to walk forward
with nothing in our hands
but the power to cause spring
in the heart of all things.
Kindness Took a Break / by Shanley Wells-Rau
On a day when kindness wouldn’t come
a hot wind rustled the dead sage
mostly twiggy with a few silver leaves
blowing so hard houses fell over
and trees lost their branches.
You fought me online over red or blue
or walking teachers or who wants to remember
where the kernel first popped into full
greasy popcorn’s scratches leaving
sharp remnants in our teeth and slimy
chemical butter on our finger tips.
Day 11 / Poems 11
Worms / by Anne Bower
My three kids wiggled, twitched, itched
and I’d know once again
worms had invaded their young bodies
small creatures alive in Ireland’s soil
where the ground never froze
and where even as Troubles
destroyed lives north and south
history and myths and these damned
worms marched on
the doctor’s prescription tasted like paint
we all had to take it
a solid week of dark red spoonfuls
the kids got a candy chaser,
their dad and I took shots of Irish
across the bridge near our Clare County rental
locals wrote—Brits go Home–
but the fighting raged on filling graveyards and jails
bomb after bomb, corpse after corpse
and though we left Ireland and worms behind
returned to lands where frozen ground each winter
kept worms away
we knew what continued across the sea
our bodies remembered that
Relieving the Nurses / by Martha Brenckle
There are things you do for people
you have known your whole life.
Siblings connect the dots:
this will no longer get better on its own.
You spoon thin white soups
into her baby bird mouth
the excess runs down her chin
(which you wipe with a cloth)
and think of Victorian gruel and know she is wasting
and wonder why she eats anything
as you help her sip water through a straw.
After the meal, you bathe her body
a bed bath with a washcloth and Ivory soap
like the baths she gave you, although there are too many
decades and words between the acts, the script is the same
her skin is as delicate as a baby’s.
Snap on a new gown and she is ready to sleep.
Her heart contracts without a will of its own
on and on in the darkness without respite
the pink muscle has no knowledge of its own sacrifice.
A Platter of Spam and Phish / by Kristi Carter
Dear friend, be blessed:
there is a wink waiting for you
and the Russian Federation has released funds
near you, there are women waiting.
The sweet burden of my everlasting soul
can increase penis size at a discount, waiting for you.
Without fail, improve your credit
impress colleagues with this webinar. Leave them waiting
for slippery young cam girls with your zipcode.
My daughter needs a tutor in maths. I’m waiting,
dear sweet beloved angel; remember me
as I am held up in the airport customs, waiting for you.
(All the Harsh) Blessings of the Body / by C.W. Emerson
There, at the juncture of money and love,
A slight indentation at the base of the lung,
Where muscle cleaves in a masculine way—
And still there’s something vaguely
Avian in the breastbone’s dip, a possible
Take-off if not for the femur, and
The ill-fated heft of the pelvis, hip.
Earthbound, piebald, humorous-looking
Human child, no velvet horn or bumpy
Hide, the body devoid of hirsute protection
As though it emerged from an aqueous egg—
A wonder, he thinks, that we even survive,
And with all the diversions to tempt our kind,
A miracle to find one good mother at all.
Crowds / by Deborah Kelly
“We are a crowd of others.”—Elena Ferranté”
We are a crowd, each of us.
Reflections and interjections of friends and strangers, remembered.
Some work a chain-gang, freely, some fill a tent and caucus.
We are pots stirring with spoons, mouths to feed with thoughts,
pans to bang in the streets. Lids to rumble over hot water.
Like tinkers with pushcarts, we each clank into towns,
a plausible jumble of fragments.
With wheels for what’s ours, we cart
the tin and tools, some hammered objects.
Our horse has a bell and the wagon has chimes.
Some people always follow us.
School Library, Poetry Section / by Darby Lyons
The librarian says
the ticking sound I hear is
a malfunctioning fluorescent bulb,
but I can’t help imagining
a bomb, of course,
set to explode when
books leave the shelves.
Every time I return, I hear it.
Though the sound fades over time,
it never really dies.
I like to believe some years back
a mischievous teen hid a clock
behind Shelley and Yeats, unaware
she was making a poem
behind the poems.
The Song of the Bubbles / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
Absurdly, midst the crowd,
my mouth opened for
a microsecond perhaps.
Fishes gape quite often.
What thoughts they yield, I wonder.
A multitude of thoughts
refuge in bubbles, escape,
only to lose the identity
in the seamless sea.
Less confident ones
die at their birthplace.
Fat, arrogant bubbles
surface with pride, ignorant
of the caustic truth
that all bubbles face
same inescapable fate.
My restless mind wanders off
to the day mother braided
my hair, both unidentical.
How I snapped at dear mother
in a voice spoken only with
the closest ones unafraid of
its quality being judged.
Later that day my teacher
displayed flash cards of fishes.
I noticed my reflection
on the pane of the window.
Strangely, I eyed discreet
bubbles mutedly spurting,
Hey Girls / by Shanley Wells-Rau
If it’s too hard, you can be a girl.
We all have girl-friends and girls-nights
and girls-trips. My vet is called Dr. Judy
not Dr. Last Name. She’s a cowgirl.
But I ask, do you despise wo-man womb
or the “man” from hu-man? Use caution.
That’s where patriarchy shovels sod
so we fight and giggle and bat our eyes.
Be a girl, gurl. Girls are 10 years old
with long braids, maybe braces
and a skinned knee, or two.
I just ask, please, don’t make your lawyer one
“girl lawyer” “girl pilot” “girl soldier”
those grown human females aren’t Barbies
in pink dream mobiles. They buy their own cars.
Women have vulvas and blood
and cellulite. Women grow other humans
inside their bodies, if they want. Be a girl.
You can sip wine from a rhinestoned glass
just don’t look too far past its rim
anger lies past the white zin.
Day 10 / Poems 10
Wake-up Call / by Anne Bower
Gray morning light seeps in at curtain’s edges
synapses begin their ticks of awareness
waking muscles feel blanket’s heft,
nightshirt’s twist, scrunched pillow below cheek,
mind begins its clicks of choosing
how to be, who to be this singular day
when anything can crash into our hours
with the beauty of a rolling wave
or the ugly snap of bones if a trip or
a slip takes you down–
where each small spider, striped pebble,
hillside of dimpled snow in slurrying melt
each thrum of the furnace,
each pile of magazines,
each seedling’s lifting leaves
When Cows Pray / by Martha Brenckle
Rain falls in a drizzle
pricks your fingers
new flowers exchanged for faded brown
The cows wander up to the wire fence
heavy bodies give off warmth
peace in a low amen
The cows sit vigil with you
rain falls harder as you pray
seeps into your clothing like a cold grace
Tsukino / by Kristi Carter
If only I could give them pine saplings
instead of names. The river
sprawls out under the city,
and the fog reminds us of this
as we walk over, through. I did not
want to become a mother
which is how I became the leader
of hundreds. My face as bare
as my history is clouded. Still,
men pawed at me as the hound
digs through the sand. Not in search,
but for the joy of separating
something already whole.
Once in her life, a student
looks up at the full moon
while the gash of the sky
bleeds rain. Somewhere, a bird
is trilling to comfort itself
in the downpour. Somewhere,
a harp is being played, a song
learned, then swept away
on the silver breeze of sleep.
If only I could give them shrubs
to plant in place of grades. Each
dark green branch a reminder,
the sun will return in spring.
Poem for Mid-Afternoon / by C.W. Emerson
You, rising up
at the height of high noon,
the plaits of your hair
now silvered with time,
won’t you let yourself settle
back into my arms—
let me dampen the light,
tamp down its sharp edges,
we can go down together
until evening falls.
Devil’s Thumb / by Deborah Kelly
It’s an accident, not art.
Like how my window overlooks
the slope from where the thumb juts.
It’s a curious or generous sky come down
as fog, that sometimes wraps that up-crop.
I consider the hips of earth
who rest on their sides.
One day they’ll swat away drones,
pluck off the gorging tick,
when the fog rises,
and the wind helps a bit.
It’s Veterans Day in My Classroom Again / by Darby Lyons
(after the Favorite Poem Project video of “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa, read by Michael Lythgoe, USAF, Retired)
My teacher voice fades,
and I listen behind my desk
in the darkened classroom.
I said I wouldn’t
cry this time, like all the other times
I’ve heard this veteran’s voice,
this man who is not my father, but
whose voice always becomes
familiar as he reads.
He stands in the light, turning one way
then another—in front of the stone
shining behind him—he’s beside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the words
of Yusef Komunyakaa to tell us
how he feels when he touches the names of
friends now lettered there, shimmering
along a V cut into the earth.
Every year I return to this video,
this man I’ve never met,
so when my students stand
before the wall, they will recall
the man whose voice broke
as he read his favorite poem,
the one tracing a kind of loss
we never want them to suffer.
In My Country and Yours / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
She lives down the lane
that opens up new roads.
A church old in its vision
finds her walking with
such a sway that
hips broad as daylight
make sky and earth one.
Decorated flower head,
fierceness of mouth,
clouds above her burst with pride.
That curve of smile
draws on her face in peace
the kind that reaches a dying man
just before his death.
As for you, when you stay low
in the comforts of your car,
she holds a placard
in rain-covered delight
almost half the size of her sky,
almost as a flag,
“I can fix anything”.
I’m Trying / by Shanley Wells-Rau
I’m trying out this thing where it’s good
to get off the couch
and move around walk
my ankles surprised at movement
my feet wondering where we’re going
I act glad to be there pretend
to be someone who often moves
around in the world
that busy person I used to be
daily planner filled with meetings
and action items go dos to dos
deliverables driving adrenals
now I’m trying out this thing
*first line from “Poplar Street” by Chen Chen
Day 9 / Poems 9
Three wishes / by Anne Bower
When I pull that large, perfect silver fish out of the sea
his scales gleaming, delicately blue-striped,
unhook the cruel barb from his jaw and
feel his desperate twists,
torque of body and tail as I grip hard,
he’ll rasp out
yes you get three wishes if you’ll put me back
Only one of his eyes can see me
the other focused on the briny deep
and this is hard for him—the waiting
here in the air while
I, oddly unsurprised that he speaks,
try to think, my mind
as blank as the cloudless sky
until…big as the ocean
my wishes flow
that you school happily with friends
that your seas grow cleaner as we
humans get smarter
that the water’s depths, the air above,
the ice up north retrieve proper balance
And before he can gasp out thanks or surprise
I’ll toss the fish back
walk away, rod dragging in sand
wishing and wishing my wishes come true
On Washing Dishes / by Martha Brenckle
Her hands washing dishes are small and white.
Transparent as ghosts, they circle the china plate covered
with tiny sprigs of cornflowers echoed in her garden.
Her figure backlit and framed in the square kitchen window
the tender arches of yellow curtains wave in the heat.
Folding one over the other, her fingers make
the dishes breathe, the window frame pulse
with longing and the inability to touch
to reach the dreams held in between her fingers
the fragile rainbow skin of soap bubbles.
Tired of Being a Woman / by Kristi Carter
Anne Sexton peels off her yellow nightie. Sexton
peels off her epidermis. Says to her father’s skeleton,
I’m tired of my mouth and my breasts, tired
of the cosmetics and the silks.
Every man is named after a neon sign this year. Every
time you open your eyes, there’s a reminder
to measure your waist. To sear your face, that
the pores might close and gleam, virginal as plastic.
Be an acrobat. Be a marketing consultant. Be the
wings of a bee plummeting in the carbon-thick air.
Be owned by something bigger than you in order
to muzzle the itch of thoughts about your body,
your nation on a map with the great phallus of
nuclear war just a click away. Close your legs.
Open your eyes. Outline them in turquoise. Outline
your life with the pink pastel grease crayon
you were designated at birth. No replacements
are allowed unless you fit into the mandated yearly income
bracket. And be shiny. Wear silk, wear satin, wear
whale-oil all over your body, its color peeking
through the holes of your clothes, cut
in the approved places. Further surgeries
may be required for those who speak too loudly,
too often, or refuse to let the teething abyss
twist their nipples in its gorge-funnel beak.
Don’t yawn. Rise from your knees. Wipe the sand
from your eyes. And ignore them, ignore them, the ones
in gold jeans, speaking plainly, as they go by.
The Older Poet Considers Sex, Love, Tradition / by C.W. Emerson
Please click here to read the poem.
Blind Date, Set Designer / by Deborah Kelly
We agreed, we weren’t looking for romance,
in a white-on-white cafe,
a menu of ingredients to self-select.
He’d worked on big Hollywood pictures,
colors, materials, and artifacts.
Norwegian lumber interiors, Manhattan in neon,
slick and derelict.
Then, he retired into retreats
and private lessons
to practice being fully-self.
But he painted trees,
like blue dancers, above and below
the blossoms of ground truth.
He, in scene-stealing glasses,
like owl glasses on Scorcese
and paint-splattered sweats.
Describing all private
functions in text-book style
while the table was set.
Yet, it’s hard to live up to ourselves,
with the cinema vérité of others,
their sounds and scents.
When, on the one side
there’s Nanook of the North,
on the other, The Blair Witch Project.
Ghosts in the Halls / by Darby Lyons
There are ghosts in the halls of this school,
boys walking past lockers, jostling their friends,
dragging backpacks by one strap,
the weight of the unfinished
homework they carry as proof
they don’t need to follow the rules
to be loved. Some of them care
more than they will pretend,
more than they want the others to know.
Some of the ghosts are celebrated,
the ones who ran faster, studied longer,
were stronger than the weight
of anxiety and doubt. They are the ones
the reporters call good kids, the faces
on the front page wearing uniforms and medals,
beneath tragic headlines. All of them leave
empty hearts behind, unreported, untallied,
They wander here, where they’re always sixteen,
believing they’re immortal, unable to imagine
a hole in the chest, a skull blown through,
blood and brains washed from a sidewalk,
an apartment lobby, the floor of a bar.
Here they always hover
between boy and man and good and bad,
laughing with their friends,
never taking time to think
what their headlines will say.
Facing the Outside World / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
Before the flood,
her room intact
reeked of scented life.
From the window they
hear her lamp gasp
once every night.
She moves her hand
wiping them off.
Often in a silk gown she
stands by her window.
Sometimes for days
while those grasses
played in the rain.
Until the flood took her out
along with her suitcase
empty of all clothes.
Go Outside / by Shanley Wells-Rau
Will you step outside with me?
Looking through the window
Into sunlight flat behind the glass,
No. Come with me into the garden
Let light drip through the leaves
Spilling dappled into your palm.
Raise your hand to feel the breeze
As it rolls in from the prairie. Do you smell
The sunshine? It threads the pink phlox
Leaning into the day. Follow me into
The blue lit sky where dragonflies
Zipper patterns like hashtagged z’s.
Our ears will fill with robins’
Chatter or sparrows’ chirps, maybe we hear
Cardinals puffing for space. Breathe
Deep and look around. The world is here
Atop a dandelion puff, and I will hold
Day 8 / Poems 8
Regret / by Anne Bower
Popocatépetl blew smoke
into perfect blue skies
constant backdrop to our rambles
through narrow streets with
pink and purple and turquoise houses
cut-paper Día de los Muertos banners
idling in soft breeze
where I helped you haggle for
a fat wooden flying angel,
my Spanish more fluent, your German-tinted
efforts no use,
and Popo steamed on our dusty bus ride to
Chalula’s pyrámide, topped
by a dilapidated church, where we tasted
grasshoppers toasted with chiles,
and Popo kept breathing all that week
against the horizon
during outdoor receptions, lectures,
shared meals at the university or
Puebla’s restaurants and tavernas.
I should have read its signal
known beneath our hugs and promises
through weeks and months of drinks
and research and talk of tenure,
parties and drag shows
under gray Ohio skies of ambition and doubt
where we settled into jobs
dull highways apart,
hidden doubts grew–
pressure of our histories, heat of our needs,
and the miles between our days.
Until years later, against another blue sky
where Maine’s rough waters crashed and fell,
where my family laughed and cooked, danced and swam,
where we had no private moments, no secret giggles,
no scholar talk,
your angry lava spewed into hot words
crashing against my cool withdrawal,
my stumbling attempts to hold you back
as you threw clothes into suitcase,
slammed out the door, drove away,
leaving the small village
of friendship and love we’d built together
in crumbled ruins.
Constructing Border Quilts / by Martha Brenckle
“The Migrant Quilt Project believes in art and activism. The quilt-makers sew quilts out of migrants discarded clothes found in the desert and embroider them with the names of migrants who died while attempting the journey.” Angela Martinez, 2018
looking for justice with thread, pins, needle
and scissors, cutting shirts and dungarees abandoned
out of necessity for the weight of the journey
sharp mountains, miles of windy desert
the owners needing to carry water and food
more than excess clothing and empty bordados
the quilt pieced still looks like clothing
so one can read these quilts as covering
the brown limbs of individuals walking
so one can protest the erasure of people who wore them
lament their lives and thirsty feet funneled to America
who walked from poverty
who walked away from injustice
who walked from certain death
to possible death
their full names embroidered
or desconocido on material
torn and stained with blood
a little girl’s pink dress carefully mended
stitched next to her mother’s ripped blouse
a woman leaving her shoes behind and running
Severance Pantoum / by Kristi Carter
No gift like water to wake the face.
It took years for me to learn, you were stone,
though you’ll change your name twelve times
before we speak again. My warmth for you was the wish
it took years for me to learn. You are stone.
Warmth can fuse toxins together, chemistry has shown.
Before we spoke again, my wish for you kept me warm.
The way a fever does, or when blood pools around the vital organs
in a wound: its warmth can fuse toxins, medicine has shown.
You’re living in a nightmare. In an action movie. In a soap opera
at a fever pitch, blood speeding to the vital organs,
flushed to remember me. You build me out of tar.
Your life is a nightmare, bank heist, dead twin.
You’ll change your name twelve times,
flushed, to chase me. You build me out of tar.
No gift like water to cleanse the face.
Bridge in March / by Deborah Kelly
There was a man that day
with his leg over the bridge rail.
Why he took off his hat,
I don’t know.
But I saw it as a sign
he was persuadable,
to take off his coat and shoes
and give them
to the traveler
(dialing the hotline).
While he unbuttoned and untied
a cell phone rang bongos.
Someone said, “It’s for you.”
And, winter flailing his shirtsleeves,
he took the call—
while holding himself tight,
to get warm.
Teacher Education Pantoum / by Darby Lyons
No one tells you
when you start
how little learning hinges
on all your diligent plans.
When you start
you believe the magic of a ringing bell
and all your diligent plans will
make them ready to learn.
Before long, that magic ringing bell
is the only thing that saves you,
and you’re ready to leave,
uncertain you’ll return tomorrow.
The only thing that saves you
is what experience tells you:
when you return tomorrow,
those little learning hinges just might open.
No Stars Shine Tonight / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
The corridor fills
with the absence of
What if the alarm slept
A swing-set turns
into a balloon,
reaches out to the sky.
If dreams had a longer life,
the stars would shine tonight.
By the Candle Light / by Shanley Wells-Rau
Sometimes in the small hours, when the flare is out,
you may hear a rifle shot. Roll over and imagine
a man standing close pointing a long gun
at the candle top. One eye closed, trigger
ready again, hoping for ignition,
before his coffee gets cold.
Lean back your head, look upward:
Can you see the top? Where the flare
rumbles, a lit flame way up there?
It’s burning off excess. It’s preventing a blow,
an explosion. Are you relieved
by fiery declarations from metal flowers?
Do you see their lilting beauty pointing
from the refinery below? They flume
into washed out skies expecting a plane,
not a flame, leaving all hues to the westward
I can mimic that rumble in the back of my throat:
it’s a phlegm clear with puffed cheeks
and loose lips. When you lean out the window
squinting to the southside, your brain screams
“Fire!” You want to run. But they say:
Nightlight. Horizons are not aflame.
Brimstone is not raining down in judgment.
It’s excess: Burning off the glut.
You can go back to sleep.
Day 7 / Poems 7
“If you have to be sure” / by Anne Bower
with thanks to W. S. Merwin
“If you have to be sure don’t write”
for no muse, no critic, no lover
will ever give you what you want
If you have to be sure don’t dance
don’t compose or paint, sculpt,
never draw bow across violin
If you have to be sure dare not
yoga, tai chi, or tae kwan do
karate, jijitsu, or lord help us
football or those other ballsy sports
That need of surety
It’s a killer
That’s for sure
(W. S. Merwin, “Berryman”)
Emma Livry, 1862 / by Martha Brenckle
Eyes pulled tight behind spectacles
the young artist strains to see across the stage
at the Paris Opéra House
seeking a story, a movement he tries but cannot
capture with his tight charcoal lines on drawing paper
In the wings where she waits
the air is thinner, the light plaintive
her body stripped of everything, distilled
to a romantic presence, flesh consumed by art
Her lightness, her light is everything
and in everything like a flicker, like a sun
A plain girl with a doll’s body
when still–skinny limbs, too large elbows
collarbones jutting from her neck
until she dances in Le Papillon
a butterfly princess attracted to light
Except butterflies are not attracted to light
This night silken tutu and tight corset outline
her graceful moves, she steps out of her robe
it falls to the back stage floor like a whisper
and she floats over the floor too close to the gas lightening
a final fluff of her skirt, a skirt instantly aflame
and the harsh tang of fear, like the skin of a walnut
lined her tongue, en pointe as fire burned her wings
and the artist draws her out there in ashes
where the dead waved in memory
Each Gem a Separate Color: Rainbow Ghazal / by Kristi Carter
In her best Farrah Fawcett wig, Hedwig sang of the origins. We were children
of the earth, sun and moon, before splitting into men and women.
There’s a sign downtown where contours of a faceless body twitch: legs,
ass and spiked nub of breasts beckon toward two entrances, dividing men and women.
I live in the state where they inscribed a tombstone with his deadname
after he was raped and murdered by men, by the headlines hissing he couldn’t separate men and women.
What that old man couldn’t wrap his head around. As we walked the city
in its neat grid, he blurted, I’ve never heard of someone able to pick between men and women.
Carry the remainder of infinity divided by infinity, multiply by
the supple curve of your waxing face: my affection for you feels more than man and woman.
All of it, as she sang, written in mud and butter
and barbecue sauce. But nothing of the rest, outside men and women.
In the amphora of my voicemail, there’s been the sad scar of a certain voice’s absence.
Different years, different owners, and much the same between them, men and women.
As the god with his flute lifted his hand to form spruce, ivy, vetch, magnolia,
chaos, confusion, and farce—there’s a little me I see in most men and women.
My name floats from your lips over the heads of the real Italians, Kristi,
male savior. You pinkly stowed behind the aperture’s quick snare. Me among men and women.
To You, Ben Sasse / by C.W. Emerson
I’m offended, now,
most grievously so,
by compliance, complicity
of all those compiling lists
to classify journalists
by tone by intent
by political affinity
the how and the why
of which when held up against
our First Amendment,
within which is found
the beating heart
and the willing body
of a free press,
last bastion, protector
of the peoples’ rule—
moving quietly, at first,
and now, unashamedly
just below the surface
of the quasi-urban sands
of this small desert city
like a scorpion’s tail
that national security
stands solidly behind
this project to deny us
our foremothers’ and fathers’
intentions and goals—
so it falls to you,
(at least in my mind)
to you, Ben Sasse,
a man I once heard on the radio
lecturing on some semi-
obscure sociological topic,
to raise your high plains
drifter voice, and sacrifice
your own goals and ambition,
hell yes your own family
if it comes to that—
and save the republic
yes you Ben Sasse;
because I know the truth:
that every night you
and Mrs. Obama
talk to each other
on a special red phone
connecting up Lincoln
and Rancho Mirage,
just down the road from me
up on the Lykken Trail
above old Palm Springs
where I can pick up
the merest trace signal
so you let me know
when you’re ready to rally
and I’ll take michelle
and both of the girls
to wherever you tell me
it’s safe and secure
then you and the rest of
your low-grade grifters
can start the revolution
to reclaim our country
and make American great again
one small revolution at a time
your friend and admirerer,
April Snow in Boulder / by Deborah Kelly
April snow falls wet, straight down,
then picks up speed and angles-in, colder.
I think the crabapple buds will survive it.
We’ll all drink this snow.
My garden is numb and brown,
its lovely worms, though, sensing a drench,
just burrow deeper.
Can’t send all the water downstream
to the rangeland and plains,
to Sandhill Cranes
mating and migrating on the South Platte River.
Small calves I’ve seen, just released onto pasture,
will see snowmelt urge forage through substrate
and milk to press against udder.
Let’s simmer old beets
in a pot of April snow.
I want to sit inside and watch it.
Meanwhile in Ohio / by Darby Lyons
a collage* for Otto Warmbier
(*all lines comes from
news stories about Otto)
We want the world to know
we’re holding our breath
in waves of shock and joy.
We tie blue and white ribbons
for this college kid
who was going to set the world on fire.
But he never fully returned,
and all the outrage now,
the games of brinkmanship
won’t bring him back.
Governments have to prioritize.
Sometimes we feel so small,
but the simplest interactions
the memories we’ve created
make us smile.
This is our season finale,
the end of one great show.
We’ll have the reruns,
a small saving grace,
ribbons of white and blue,
the end and what comes after.
The Ranting of a Young Heart / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
I pick you from the deck
of an empty ship, aboard,
disowned by the Pacific.
You adorned the hat
of a pirate,
I wore you on my head
Zipped at the back,
spread over my chest,
tightened at the sides.
Only the eyes were bare.
The naked eyes.
You mock the mocking birds,
kiss your reflection that
walks on the muddy roads,
tramples on hypocrisy,
parades down the shipyard
to board the polished deck.
Closets / by Shanley Wells-Rau
When accumulation of stuff became too much she shopped for baskets
Years searching style for shape antique new artisan crafted
Looking always looking for a basket traveling wine country or Bermuda
Visiting me in small town Oklahoma if she could just find another perfect
Dress the dress for that banquet and shoes what to wear
Shoes were a problem I inherited her foot pain & disdain for tennis shoes
Hers too small for me / full size too big for my sister
When we cleaned out her closets we wept over the loss of her
Expensive taste and money spent on shoes Italian designers leather
We could never wear but we each kept some a few pairs of the hundred or so
Baskets of cosmetics perfumes French lotions filled the master bath closets
Her confused widower bumbling about asking what he should do we pulled
Tags and hid receipts bagged her underwear drawers because daughters
Do that not strangers / she would have been embarrassed at the state of things
Her clearing-out projects half-done organizing never finished when she cleared out
Her mother’s things anger kept her moving / she yelled at her dad bagging rage
Trashing it all before she’d let another woman touch her mother’s things
We were other women / my sister our married-in aunt and me
And we touched her things keeping only a few.
Day 6 / Poems 6
Blind date with a funeral director, 1995 / by Anne Bower
A grinding noise, metal on metal,
scrape and clatter of plane’s ripped body
wind pushing trees, pushing weeds and debris,
bodies and body parts, crash site chaos
Scrape and clatter of plane’s ripped body
he wants me to know, in the candle-dim restaurant,
bodies and body parts, crash site chaos–
his volunteer effort—return bodies to loved ones–
He wants me to know, in the candle-dim restaurant,
light glints on glassware, his hand brushes mine,
his volunteer effort—return bodies to loved ones–
can I see who he is, embrace all he does?
Light glints on glassware, his hand brushes mine
he’s trying so hard to revise my assumptions–
can I see who he is, embrace all he does?
But the scene’s too clear, all those torn bodies
He’s trying so hard to revise my assumptions–
wind pushing trees, pushing weeds and debris,
but the scene’s too clear, all those torn bodies
a grinding noise, metal on metal
Note: In the U.S. A., 10 regional “Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams,” made up of experts in victim identification and mortuary services respond to disasters, identifying deceased individuals and storing bodies until they are claimed.
Moruna / by Martha Brenckle
The dark foliage of your hair
is bound tight for we have become our morning selves
not the slick skin promises and breathing of last night.
I brush my teeth naked, your frown creases your forehead
the creases say this bothers you.
You are already dressed, white blouse tucked into
navy skirt, sharp heeled and ready for work.
I bend over to spit in the sink
my nipples brush the cold porcelain
grow hard and darker pink.
We are talking about him
he is part of our morning lives
part of the coffee you drink
on your way out the door.
You say he has grown thinner from worry
from what he suspects.
I see him shrinking inside his suit
shrinking, shrinking, disappearing.
Although that is not likely to happen
the thought pleases me.
Winter For Swir / by Kristi Carter
The broth is red-brown,
thinner than the spoon.
It’s grey and white outside
with a blue underhue
on the stone face of the building
across the road.
Someone is being born, someone
is going to sleep, and
there’s a woman, who meets
herself at the corner of the street.
Dry Lands, New Mexico / by Deborah Kelly
Ekphrasis on a Felt Umbrella and Felt Moccasins
Maria Hupfield, Institute of American Indian Art, Santa Fe.
The snow basin is dusty at the end of winter.
Accumulated, only warning signs
of low rivers in warmer months to come,
where color-changing hares hide white winter fur,
best they can, from predators.
Already, the piñons shrink from the Sun.
I drive north from Albuquerque to Taos
and my head aches down the middle
like the raspy Rio Grande.
Mountains ache too.
How Pueblo Peak worries over Blue Lake.
I hike near a reservoir, a low pond
with old frogs, who know.
Stones in the arroyo cramp.
The sands will blow away
and our thin solace will be sands’ colors
in the famous New Mexico sunset.
I try to think of a prayer.
Make a ceremony that begins with wool
from Spanish sheep that over-grazed here.
A walking liturgy for Earth:
in the absence of rain,
I’ll carry a thirsty wool umbrella.
In the absence of snow, I’ll walk in thirsty boots.
Mother’s Day / by Darby Lyons
for Helen on her 80th birthday
She drops me off at Kiddie Kollege,
(Reader, that was the name;
this is not a fiction)
and off I skip, ecstatic, oblivious
to my mother’s day
continuing without me.
Without me, surely she cannot exist.
Her world must revolve
around my words, my worries,
my joy in mastering Dr. Seuss,
my demonstration of the way
my new Keds enhance my speed,
my rambling recital of
my day’s events, including
my devastation over a red mark on
my arithmetic paper and
my afternoon hunger,
my endless chatter.
My my my, how selflessly
she endured my selfish years.
(And thank you, reader,
for playing along
as I describe my selfishness
and her endurance
in past tense.
That is a fiction)
Reading the Wind / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
“beautiful swift sparrows whirring fast-beating wings….above the dark earth…through the mid-air”
-Sappho, fragment 1
“I pause too and face north searching for any allure”
Between the age marks on pine trees,
pools of honey birdsongs.
Winds emulate green dusts of pollen.
The wood blooms luminous
tortoises on a fallen dry oak tree.
In her hand an empty mushroom can:
trinkets, crimson rose petals and
a shadow of absence.
Smell of chestnuts, crumpled grasses
shifts in the cool midday air.
She walks her dog straight
toward the face of the wind.
The Office / by Shanley Wells-Rau
I dreamt the office, more than the office, my desk
and the people. Lots of the people. My former boss
who was not my boss, and the real boss who would stand
at my desk and fiddle with his crotch like a 4-year-old
deciding if he needed to pee. In my dream I was sad
that I left and worried about money and trying to get back
in the good graces of the man who would stand
at my desk and handle himself like a pitcher on the mound
crabs itching. In my dream I kept forgetting that I
had stopped going to work there that I left oil for poems
and I tried to cover up my tardiness with explainers
stuck in my mouth in front of scowling office women
who frowned at me but seemed charmed
by the jokes of our crotch boss. Squirmy and panicked
I could no longer fit myself into that office chair
so I wake up and walk out
Day 5 / Poems 5
Crossing Guard / by Anne Bower
Bright lime green vest over thick jacket
heavy insulated boots–
the elementary school’s
crossing guard holds us back,
her face obscured as she watches her charges
cross east to west
in their thick coats, back packs jostling
the school’s yard and doors familiar
its playground still mucked with slush
then waves us north and south.
Far south of here the guards patrol–
frontera force in hot dry air
if only they’d care for those children
their thirst, their hunger, darker skin,
Does pain clench the guards’ holstered
bodies as kids cry out from behind fences
as parents are lost to sight
or does satisfaction swell their chests,
laughter shake their bodies
as they drink cokes and joke at day’s end?
Red moth / by Martha Brenckle
I wanted to tell you
about the red moth
stuck to the sleeve
of my sweater
blue wool and feathering
wings fast as flame
and the smell of burning
fields of sugar cane
Scooped off my chest
held in the hollow of my palms
it beat like a heart
like an offering of blood
I let it go in a blink
a little red dance in the sky
heading toward the harbor
The Erebus of Epic Vermont Sunshine with Cats / by Kristi Carter
You tell me the manx returns—the creature
we called that,
whatever she is. She skulks
in, as the neighbor’s cat
descends on your shorthair,
bites her neck
to pin her beneath him, to stab her
with his barb. Here’s Manx
with her slim grey paw swiping
his black nose. The clamor
of cat war is almost a cartoon,
then it isn’t.
The blood, the rape, her chest
heaving as the manx and the tom
flee in separate directions. The neighbors
who don’t give a damn
about how he shows up every afternoon
to rip your cat back open. Animals,
these people will say, aren’t people.
And they are right:
this war isn’t a high-tech, skin-melting,
campaign. It is a symbol. Just
for how far humans let shit slide. Like you
and I, standing paralyzed
at either end of the yard
framed in pines and sunshine
to witness the rape again. Questions
that kept us stuck, Do we bash
his face in to save her? Is one cat
more valuable than
another? Why do they continue
to let him out?
And this truth: seeing you
over the ring of grass their tumbling
bodies made, two women
with a clear view
to chaos, both of us
knowing it was inevitable,
is how we’ve always been. Over
the divide, we are bound
but do not touch
in our silence. I grew tired
of swatting him away. I grew
tired of watching her return
to the yard anyway, sun better
than prison, like
any daughter would fight for. Your voice
calm and tinny
on the phone, She came back.
I am gone.
The Argument (or A Discussion, in which the Names of Famous and Not-So-Famous Poets Drop Like Flies) / by C.W. Emerson
Please click here to read the poem.
White Rage / by Deborah Kelly
Bunkers of White churches.
Bagfuls of sermons.
Bunkers on channels. Award committees.
Banks bunkered. Hospitals bunkered.
Bunkers of schools.
Bunkers in schools.
I shout about bunkers of suburbs,
bunkers in cities,
where to cross
Broadway is to cross
a red line, and traffic stops are bloody.
The crack of White policy—
lilies on boxes and boxes
of Black boys
and girls, Black women.
Lilies on their boxes.
My lips drain of blood,
with shouting heat lightning
in the sun.
Freckling, my face,
White as a page,
* *waiting for the ink of justice.
For Granite / by Darby Lyons
“I no longer take things for granite,”
the college application essay begins,
and I freeze my face, try not to sigh
or smile or slash a line across the page
as I point out the error to the earnest writer.
I want to laugh, even mock the mistake,
one I’m certain every English teacher sees;
it’s as laughable, yet understandable,
as “It’s a doggy dog world” or
“The flag is at have staff.” We share them
among ourselves in quick email shots:
“Have you seen this one yet?” Sometimes
we share the outrageous mishearings and
manglings with the rest of the world
in our blogs, or posts, or snaps.
But with our young, oblivious offenders,
we work to swallow laughter
and calmly correct, nearly always
meeting surprise or embarrassment.
But this girl defends her error
even after I explain the difference
between believing something is
dense rock and assuming
it is permanent, a given. In fact,
she embraces it. “Then,
it makes more sense,” she insists.
“My grandfather was like granite,
at least we thought he was, but then…”
Then, she describes his bewildered face
that morning he couldn’t raise himself
from the chair, how he crumbled,
mouth open and silent, gone all at once.
She pauses, recognizing her need
to revise: “I guess he wasn’t really granite.”
And now she knows
nothing really is.
Topographic Math / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
“in the spirit of maps that tell you everything except how to get there:”
-Meredith Stricker, tracking Sappho
Winter slices bearing spindle trees.
Nights yarn loose threads
Slip down the moonbeam slope,
layer after layer,
until the fields spring.
Oklahoma / by Shanley Wells-Rau
In a state of drought you get used to dust
Taking it into your lungs and calling it freedom
Not choking thick mud that soaks the bedsheets
Inside a full-bodied inhale of iron red dirt some call home
You nod as it slips lower on the measuring scales
Forty-second this, forty-ninth that, oh we know
We know where we fall, we’re in this land,
We see the neighbors and bless their hearts
Before the next wind comes for the trailer
Day 4 / Poems 4
Ode to the Compound Sentence / by Anne Bower
While not a cure, the long
curvaceous river of a thought explored
in words well chosen
banked by grammar and punctuation
can irrigate the brain, perhaps hold
back old-age failing memory,
and so I paddle an invisible boat
full of stories, images, half-thoughts
across and down this lined yellow pad,
my one oar, a green and white plastic pen
inking me onward, my evolving idea
both guiding star and rudder
mind free to wander but not aimless, not passive
focused, seeking, shaping, connecting
and just as an oar leaves trails in the water
my pen leaves phrases upon the page
and like water swirling then calming after boat’s passage
my phrases will change – shaped anew by revision
or perhaps thrown away, wafting into air:
Even if held in time, preserved in print
they’ll swirl and settle anew
when read by you.
The yellow crane is gone / by Martha Brenckle
For Mao Zedong
only the tower remains
in the blue of nightfall
his handwriting opens slowly
intimate as skin
and the rain
when it comes
is not what he expected
on this hill where he is banished
he watches the sky swallow the crane
bends to write “what if there is no other place?”
Broken Mirror Poem / by Kristi Carter
The town I live in thinks it’s a city. When
you were dying, I was asleep. My mother
eclipsed the doorway to my room, the fringe
of lamplight from beside the sofa made
a halo around her, This might be the time
to say goodbye. The soft jolt. The nine
pints of blood that they ran through you,
did not improve you, simply glued you
to our plane a little longer. Talking plains,
now I live where the grass is king, roots
longer than a man’s height, hydra-like
and stubborn. I want to say goodbye
in some formal manner, instead
I tore into a hummus wrap mixed with
the salt sleet and slag of my eyes and face
oozing—next your body. It would have been nothing
to wait another hour to watch the coroner
file you away, but the law required us
to be removed first. Soft shuffling down
the grey linoleum hall.
Soft shuffling first, as the law required us.
The coroner, another hour, nothing: your body,
oozing with slag, the same of my own body,
eyes and face like mine. Wrap torn,
the formal wear of terminal patients. So stubborn,
made it hard to believe this was goodbye.
Grow back, like hydra. Your height, a smudge,
in the field behind the house on weekends,
watching the wind stir the grass. Listening
a little longer to the blood of the earth. This
jolt of absence does not improve you, nor glues you
to me. This might be the time to say goodbye.
The halo of light around the face of the woman
you made me with before you were plunged
into the final dark eclipse. I wasn’t asleep
when you died. It thinks it’s big, knows something,
this town I live in.
Breaking Nice / by Deborah Kelly
You can let them go slowly,
(you’re so busy now)
what you mean by
your hard-earned mind,
just to leave them guessing.
But you can’t call that “kind”.
You are hungry
for your life.
Not a manna
of wet bread,
of pigeons smitten
from the sky.
They already know.
It’s just, “goodbye”.
First Days / by Darby Lyons
I can’t recall
I can’t even
say I remember
All those first days
blend with the smell
of Elmer’s glue,
peppermint and sawdust
for that one redheaded kid
who threw up and
went home sick
(not the first time
for him on a first day).
I’m sure I laid out
an orderly Crayola pack
and pencil box and
clothes, not too
dressy, not too
casual, not too
new or old or
(obviously), because I was told
first impressions matter.
So those first days followed
hundreds of nervous summer dreams
before fifty years of first days
The Fall of Icarus / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
(Inspired by a painting by Pieter Bruegel)
A woman walks her pony,
gazes straight at her world below.
Ships sail to distant shores
dodging the rippling lights
of the low sun.
Sheep graze in the field
of pale forgetfulness.
Every one of them have a name.
They nod to the grasses,
to the melting of his wings
flying too near the sun,
to a man with a fishing rod
in his trembling hands
trapping every calamity.
Out of Sight / by Shanley Wells-Rau
It’s a sly start,
in a designer kitchen,
brushed stainless fixings
a nibble here, a tooth-mark there,
life goes on.
Brine ferried to a cave
deep in the bedrock
“Injected,” they call it,
like Botox in a forehead crease,
but this is wastewater
and aquifers slink in retreat
seeking limestone nooks
where it’s cozy and clean.
We shoot inorganics like space junk
and all’s good and well
until the ground starts shaking
earthquake cracks into tornado country.
Somewhere else, a mouse chews
through the dishwasher hose,
flooding restored hardwood floors.
Day 3 / Poems 3
Senses, senses, senses / by Anne Bower
Once I was a census worker
gathering data, door to door
Now I am a senses worker
with words—to gather, lure
you into what I see, taste, smell,
with nerves and cells
alive to notice what’s near or far–
!patterned silver cracks in ditch ice
!smooth slide of finger on turned wooden bowl
!woodpecker’s racket, racket, racket
!raspberries sharp dark red tang
!inhale of damp earth as snow retreats
At the open door, I held out my badge
and the elder inside urged me in,
answered my list of questions,
offered coffee, a cookie
but I had to scurry off, keep up my quota
and I knew she was thinking–
Me–I don’t really count, I’m just a nothing
But I want to say, across the decades
Yes, you do,
we all do,
it all does,
it’s all we have
Growing Angels / by Martha Brenckle
We are asked to grow angels
God’s faerie children left wombless on our doorsteps
miniature fingers flutter like cautious moths.
Without instructions, we touch their newness
nurture the shapes of their bodies, their tiny bones.
Intuition means all here.
With the fertile weight of dandelion down
wing feathers vine our hearts gentle as prayer’s breath
strong as memories of what we have forever lost.
Angel souls cover the skin
outside their limbs, clear as jellyfish.
For they are not our children
not infants learning color, wind, the whispers of trees
seasons mean nothing to those
whose bones are not necessary for work
whose souls existed before the fall
before the calling of thaw and frost
before the orchard’s bare branches
uncovered our fruitless pain.
And there comes the single moment
when we, too, know heaven’s dangerous grace
the pain of new blood
the lung’s sheer sucking of celestial air
and the awful second of clarity
when one knows God’s wind driven power.
Their naked feet hover
over the colors of fire and fall
their round toes lift from the last full crunch of leaves
as our prayers waft skyward
ringing Christmas kitchen smells
the vanilla scent of petitions:
don’t forget us here
earthbound in our desires
Briefly their faces grieve
for what they must leave behind.
Wingtips brush the bursting clouds
and they are gone.
Pekmez / by Kristi Carter
From a tree
in a cold forest
because white elderberry
can easily be
rendered into poison,
mixed with the fat
of some amphibian.
But that talk
is for Sundays,
her lips bow-shaped
because dark stain,
not as dark
as the black syrup
in thick rivulets
and flour. Oh yes,
even the powerful
have fallen for a human
in their time.
Things I Am Learning in the Desert / by C.W. Emerson
clerestory windows are desirable things;
there is such a thing as a specimen cactus;
with my arms raised up like the ocotillo,
I cup the waning moon,
My hair is thin as desert dusk
and soon will be a shining dome
just like my brother’s,
a peak in the distance,
the brittle surface of a lake.
I will miss your hands running through it.
Here, the sky can be still with stars,
or threaded with gold, or cloud-laden,
dense as lead or shot.
It trembles under its own weight,
like this marriage, its steadfastness,
its silence your silence,
a darkness I bear
I am learning
that just as this desert turns
its brooding mood to morning,
sooner or later you’ll turn around,
and tell me exactly what it is I owe.
You are who you are.
I am no different.
One-Year Memorial / by Deborah Kelly
The one tragedy I’ve said
I’d never survive.
You are eighty-years-old
and compelled to survive it.
I see your ladder’s been leaning
while grief packed your gutters with leaves.
Inside, sepia rain soaks your walls
like tea stains on fabric.
Stains like wind-rolled cumulus
on a field squeezed by sunset.
Let me ask about Donny.
Let you cry. Let me cry, too.
We drink tea and wine.
Washing these walls daily
will not make them dry.
But it readies
your ever-strong heart and legs
for our hike again,
around the reservoir in the canyon.
Elegy for Chalk / by Darby Lyons
I miss the smooth, cool feel
in my hand, the sense of making
language, pushing light across
darkness with mythical authority,
powdered words hovering
in our memories.
Chalk proclaimed bold, stark
truth, but you could touch it
and lines changed, truth
so easily altered—
just the brush of a fingertip.
Chalk loved the truth of the moment,
saying, Here, know this now,
today, but tomorrow words fade,
their dust floating in air;
the truth of every moment
somewhere hovering still.
Now we’re wiped clean,
our white boards bright,
no old school feel,
no dusty tradition,
bold momentary truths
swept away. No more
floating on air.
A New Map To Home / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
I fold the blanket
just the way you do.
I keep the bangles in a box
and the box in the drawer.
You never liked my room messy, Mother.
Moon was not in the right place last night
and there are street lights below.
Too bright too full.
I wish I could drag the piece of sky
still hanging outside the wild window
of my old room to where I stay now.
It is not too far from home
but the stars don’t move,
Mother, I have ocd.
It still needs perfection.
When I Say I Teach Freshman Comp What I Mean Is / by Shanley Wells-Rau
(after Darby Lyons)
no they are not adults yet but they’re living in a world more complicated than you or i could have imagined . . No, you do not have to ask my permission; just go to the bathroom. This is college.
no the comma is not as important as you wish to believe . . i’m teaching them to think
let the run-on sentences slide . . i’m teaching them to sleuth accuracy under the spin of alternative facts they have a lifetime to learn commas . . Your essays must be formatted in MLA style.
i helped a boy figure out how to best help a roommate who kept banging his own head against the wall and shouting into empty space . . i let a young woman sit in the back and weep as she watched live iphone footage of her Gulf Coast home town blown away by a hurricane . . Homework assignments are due at the beginning of class. I do not accept late homework.
i extended deadlines for a student whose mother died unexpectedly and i thought she wouldn’t make it back to school because my mother died unexpectedly when i was in my 40s and i’m still trying to pull it together but that kid came back to school she did it
i was the first adult a student told about a suicidal friend and he paced in a little circle as he told me he didn’t know what to do . . I can see when you’re paying more attention to your phone than class. I will mark you absent, but I will not call you out. This is college.
The textbook is required for this class. You must also bring a notebook for in-class writing. . . i teach the young woman who grew up homeless and lives in her old car so she has money for food and can keep saving for a laptop
The attendance policy allows for six absences before you incur penalties. i teach the kid whose sister died whose dad lost his job . . whose family lost their house . . whose father is terminally ill . . whose grandmother just died . . whose high school friend was killed . . and i teach the kid who drinks too much . . At ten absences, you automatically fail this course. Please don’t make me fail you for attendance.
Day 2 / Poems 2
Passover / by Anne Bower
Two candles burn low, their humble light glints on wine glass
shimmers the pattern of our table’s oilcloth–
bright orange background, pattern of fanciful flowers
No storied words tonight, no seder plate of ritual
no lamb shank, bitter herbs, sweet dates
and it’s not even sunset
as he eats ham and I eat shrimp
sinful foods my ancestors shunned
And we plot this year’s garden
another cycle of planting and growing
backs bent to weed, to harvest
We know our luck
know the world’s travails
raise our glasses and ask
that one day all those enslaved
We’re old enough to have seen
how everywhere and too often
with famine, rape, guns, words
enslaving our bodies and minds
Grief / by Martha Brenckle
tonight I sat on our roof
holding a flashlight
while tiny moths swirled
around me like petals
making a place for dreams and memories to merge
I switch off my little light
your absence is a black hole
sucking cold air rich enough to drink
my fingers trace across the sky
marking lines between stars
could Ursa Major, a lumbering bear
just as easily be something else?
am I looking for patterns
some desperate attempt at order
because I fear it might all be random?
grief is a lonely place
of storms blowing out doors and windows
leaving empty walls and forgotten fields
I trace your small frozen smile
wonder if you have learned the final secret
Wolfseed / by Kristi Carter
We are taught to blame so much on our ancestors.
The nightly ritual of hunching
near fire, telling ourselves we resent shadow.
Observe in film how the main player walks away from the flame
as it closes in on itself, then expands. The thin escape,
the slow walk threading the same wire of adrenaline
that has tired us. We wish to hide in the bathroom
of the theatre, trembling. The triumph
over fire has worn us down, meek as kindling.
Let’s return to the night as it unrolls
its black blanket of soil over the yard.
Let’s join the wolves that grow there.
Affair / by C.W. Emerson
The briefest of interludes, it seems to me, now—a faint inscription, a palimpsest, the trace of an ink-filled brush on vellum—to be here, in late spring, and to finally see that you, that summer, and the path we took were the rise and fall of a legato line, no more and no less than a change of season, as the planet cools, and the frog fails, and the song of the honeybee falls away to nothing. . . the hard green apple of your body pressed its way up and into mine, and the bliss of believing we’d stumbled upon true and perfect north could do nothing but fade, and gradually lose its magnetic charm, and finally deliver us back to the places we knew: you to a snow-covered lake in the wilds of Saskatchewan, and me to a dock on Canandaigua Lake, where the ice was anything but deep and safe, the world far from reliable. . . to be still just a boy on a dock on a lake, waiting for his life to begin.*
* last lines of “Summer Before Fall,” a 30-30 poem from 2015, and the closing piece in current manuscript
Basket / by Deborah Kelly
Baskets of our photos,
cut to ribbons and woven:
Every face, separated
by a spoke or a weaver,
with a stitch from a baseball,
hand from its stem,
A face offers Grandfather’s eye
above a pair of young lips.
A plum tree offers one bud,
A tie’s knot. A knot’s tie.
Someone’s summer hair,
This is art, not memoir.
Proved true by scents of
nicotine and motor oil,
grass and gravel.
when i say i teach teenagers what i mean is / by Darby Lyons
no you don’t want me on your jury if you’re guilty
yes i know what pot smells like but thank you officer who offers to burn a simulation for an entire high school faculty what are you thinking
no your child does not need to apply to 20 colleges
yes it’s okay to write a college essay about her eating disorder about an awesome lego collection about being the child of an alcoholic about disney princesses about struggling with anxiety about that sad funny embarrassing amazing thing that makes your child human
no that college isn’t too far away from home
yes i see through bullshit because
no they won’t let me pass off any bullshit of my own
yes i’m the one in the movie theater who’ll turn around and tell that kid to stop putting his feet on your seat but really i’m lying because i won’t say a word i’ll just give him the look
no you can’t shock me and i really don’t mind the word fuck because i’ve heard it used more creatively than you can imagine though i suspect you’re feigning shock when you say you’re shocked
yes your child has internalized your expectations
no that B is not a problem
yes the gender binary is a lie
no i’m not surprised by much anymore not by the girl finding an empty condom wrapper in her copy of dubliners not by the arrest of the class president not by learning that one kid who never said much has written three books owns an international corporation is about to run the whole goddamn world
yes i’ve cried at work
no I didn’t cry because the students misbehaved
yes I cried with the girl who lost her father the boy whose best friend never made it home from school the boy who lowered his brother’s body from the noose over the rafter the entire student body who lost a classmate a teacher a coach
no the students don’t laugh when their teachers cry with them because they’re human and they know we’re human the secret’s out
yes they know about that they know of course they know
Half-sung Notes / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
I’m stowing a thought for you
but you can pass through it now.
That moment, the music,
the table full of faces and I.
The thermocol plate pinned down
by the weight of half-finished food,
and you think you can see through me
but the song is incomplete.
The shadow cat has no tale.
The room grows vast,
the music grows long.
I’m holding it all together.
But you can hear the music playing,
running down the stairs
Reading the Wind / by Shanley Wells-Rau
My old dog stands lanky legs gangly from arthritis
and wobbly uncertainty of age
He dips his head, eyes no longer useful
nose pointed windward to read the day’s news
I step from the porch to coax him back inside
he doesn’t hear his name
When we’re inside, he can feel me speak
but outside, nature’s pull paralyzes
I pause too and face north searching for any allure
coming in on a late winter wind
For a moment, my hair his ears float the gust
my eyes his nose, face into the day
Old-dog urine pools the dead grass
and glitters in the morning light
Day 1 / Poems 1
Mount Ascutney / by Anne Bower
Twenty miles away
beyond stacked hills
ranging blue and purple
in mist, in distance
from here, no bigger than my pinky’s nail
. .Small triangle visible most days
. .remnant of ancient flume and fire–
. .its dark, silent core covered now
. .with earth, brush, pine, maple, birch,
. .ski trails, cottages, bars, cafes
. .I never visit
Yet my eyes seek this silent monument
my routine dirt road walk stopped
to honor its pointing apex
its past violence
insistence on standing tall,
enduring what roils and scrabbles
Easter morning back in the world / by Martha Brenckle
there is a slippery instant
seen through the tips of your lashes
before you open your eyes wider
light beckons slightly green and wavy
coming from under water
it reflects off cold stone
seeps into the grotto’s walls
a stillness you may not hold for long
before you know you must rise
to continue the work
a slim thread of peace
before the warming breeze
the warning bird call
the soft sound of an opening lily
before you remember
Meditation, with Negative Space / by Kristi Carter
The yellow core of bitter frills
in the center of the cabbage.
The mountain where the convent was kept:
a prison for anemic virgins.
The lowest shelf of genealogical records
missing a stolen volume.
All these scalloped edges on the ultrasound
that was never taken.
The Lake, In Season / by C.W. Emerson
I grew up
near bodies of water
formed by glaciers retreating—
aqueous craters, deep and long,
the group of them
like a human hand.
the lakes renew themselves,
glacial waters brimming with ice—
come late December,
. . . . . . . . . . . each is a mirror,
dusted with fallen snow.
the water returns once more:
liquefied body, meant to endure;
her daylight water
. . . . . . . . . . . crystalline, bright;
by moonlight, black and gleaming.
And if we were ever to visit again,
the lake would be as it’s always been:
beyond the lattice
of our winter-summer cottage door.
Retirement Planning / by Deborah Kelly
I contemplated the lamp,
the socket of my eye,
the way bulbs burn out
like wicks burn.
Sixty years, and the wiring is still supple.
How many more bulbs and watts
can I afford to buy?
Beannacht* for Emma’s Generation / by Darby Lyons
May school become what it should be
for you again—a sanctuary.
May your mind find refuge once more
within walls one day desecrated
by six minutes and twenty seconds
May time stop for you only
in moments of joy, on days your face hurts
from smiling, voice hoarse
May you be wrapped
in the arms of loved ones who rest their heads
on your shoulder, knowing you
May the walls echo
with laughter in all the rooms you enter,
your smile weak from use,
your arms a promise
of safety, care lifted
off your shoulders.
And your laugh,
ragged with wear—
may it be
the laugh we hear
like a prayer to shelter us
after you leave.
*Beannacht = Irish blessing
The Ghosts of Sighs / by Sana Tamreen Mohammed
At the rim of a lake
in the curve of the wood
among the twisted roots of pine trees,
a string of geese refuge.
Sunken rocks clearly visible.
A tree half-bends as if
to inspect what remains.
Feet away a fanged soldier
forms a circle near what seems
to be a hiker’s resting point.
The crushing of mulches
make it slither away into the water
bobbling out its head.
“Oh my God, there’s a baby, too,”
shouts a fisherman far in the east.
The newspapers speak.
By afternoon, colorful photographs
of lost lives float in the world.
Ghosts of their sighs faint inside us.
We talk about the birds’ nests
being destroyed by the army of creatures.
They broadcast the shows in the television.
We watch them while eating,
show our children silently thanking
it does not happen to us,
put out the lights of our room
and sleep without making a sound.
See Our Refinery / by Shanley Wells-Rau
Without it, we’d just have flat flyover plains
another nowhere town too far from the interstate to visit.
But that’s not us: we’re an oil town.
We have stacks and stanchions and towers and tanks
and billowing steam that most call smoke—
it’s not smoke.
You’d probably see smoke too, because you don’t know.
But it’s steam: pillows of whipped cream
pouring from a tower, tall as if a rocket launder sprouted from the red dirt.
We have empty buildings too. A boom gone bust
when a corporation ate a corporation
ate another company that squatted here
since the 19-aughts. Vacant buildings house offices
and cubicles and old phone lines and desks
and trash cans no one uses anymore.
We’re used to the bust. In the boom, we sometimes forget
though we’ve seen it cycle through town like a stranger
from back east in his fancy big city clothes
and know-it-all ways. He takes the jobs. Mouth drooling for more,
he’d take the refinery if he could
figure out a way to pack it up. The money men tell him no,
so the plant remains. The stacks and stanchions and towers and tanks.
Steam billows from a scrubber top.
On windy days the puffy cloud stretches horizontally,
a giant’s finger reaching across the tallgrass.