The 30/30 Project

 

TP3030-logo-360Welcome 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 August 2018 are Jenifer DeBellis, Kasha Gauthier, Nina Gibans, TJ Jarrett, Daniel Jenkins, Elisa Karbin, Matthew Landrum, Clyde Long, and Kate Madrid.  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 18 / Poems 18

*

Found Love: A Triptych / by Jenifer DeBellis

Panel 3

Their new panel was painted with brow sweat
in an achromatic scheme screaming for color.

Pregnant again, the wife scoured their apartment
hallways & stairs—all four floors—to lower

the rent while the husband juggled two jobs
& poker with the guys two nights a week.

She hand-washed her only maternity dress &
the landlord’s clothes each night & hung them

to dry on lines in the bathroom because hanging
them between buildings absorbed the city

odors. She was alone when labor began.
Walked to the hospital by following the signs.

Please help, il bambino sta nascendo! she pleaded
from her ER bay, but nobody took notice until

they heard a sharp wail & found mama & figlia,
their bewildered eyes behind marble expressions

a perfect mimicry. They’d gain two more mouths
to fill in the next three years. Their relief came

when Mama learned to help with the alterations
Papa brought home. Her hope was restored when

the familiar texture of silk, linen & wool passed
beneath her fingertips. Their value as a team grew

& showed in their bank savings. Craftsmanship
changed their world to polychromatic—what would

depict the dynamics portrayed in their next frame.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans
A place for mastering one’s soul

Mastering one’s soul is easiest when
Memories return non sequitur and we spend time—
all the time—sorting them for self summaries
that hold us steady moving us onward
peacefully.
Fretful confrontation easiest in dreams
that disappear with daylight
Disagree with daylight
Sometimes reappear the next night.

*
*

The Wave Organ, II / by Daniel Jenkins
Zadar, Croatia

History and music both wear their blood-spills,
so I’ll try to be plain with you, but failure is sure.
In all those fixtures, marble, competing there
below the sun-seared orange gloss of the lost day,
for a single evening, at no second did I feel ugly,
like the competing voices in the Adriatic’s capsuled
tones formed in the crosswinds pushing, pulling
the air against this stepped concrete, brick-sized
squares, this harmonica made of cement, nor
at any moment would I abandon this dissonance, or
abandon its mournful dirge to be distracted by
the plain truth, scouring this old planet for the face
of someone I’ve not met yet, and see vanity in
the epochs, vanity in the personhood of an idea.

Barefoot children raced down the full length of
the organ, where some of us heard the top-glass
bottle-blow of the wind and water sieved, heard its
imperfect coordinated sound, as the reckoning dirge
of aquagraphic, blood-soaked wave, of bone-fed soil,
heard its legions beneath old Roman squares, heard
Zadar’s fortified walls, straddled and stretched along
the caress of water and wind, as redemption for
the illuminated pages of its history, and ours,
illustrated with graves amassed roadside, or prayers
muttered by men lined up, shot, and covered over,
pitches from the brick-sized portals in the organ
like the whir of Allied bombs pinholing a new Dresden,
or the Yugoslav Hapsburg reliquary of the 19th century,
or the swapping ages of kings and captains, to the
scriptoriums of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, their
Glagolitic script making of jots and tittles gospels,
or back to the Byzantines, back to the Western Empire
where, under the same sun-seared orange gloss I saw
the Imperium had its colony on the yet voiceless
waters here and now made by wind and wave, to
the Liburnians, to the Illyrians, to the Neolithic
survival and savagery of ourselves, made motionless,
incantatory, indivisible of the simple, mundane
motions our urges shift in the air when making,
and I’ll say this, love, and yet making love in
the ignorance of vision, of the daily detail one finds
on the stone face of an old man on a bench
here by the sea, studying the sea and the burnt sky
for clues to his life, decades stretched, or her,
the young woman, knees to her chin, her arms
wrapped around her shins, stirred to self-questioning,
white bloom in her hair, or these racing children,
under no oath to keep sacrosanct Croatian history,
for they are the ones who love in everyday details, for
they are the ones who laugh, before it’s too late, at
the seriousness of our faces, at the hopeless want of love,
at the kings and captains, at bombs they never saw fall,
and live delicately, infinitely, running over and down
the wave organ as it gargles, as it blurs deep tones
in the air, whir and buzz, glass pitch and salt-sea,
harmonic tide, blurs our want for the faded aesthetes
of a world which never existed, and so it is here,
chasing you, the orange gloss of the setting sun
over the Adriatic Sea listened to me, and not I to it.

So it is here I sit, forced to stay, for heaven’s spaces
were written in the visible. And if I wish to stay, I must
supinely lay before its whisper, drinking from its river
making glad the colony of our God, like the men who sat
before me beneath the sun, to see the ceiling of His
footstool, who saw the face of His peace, rippled across
the ageless, cyclonic sky—and now I know: this, love, is love.

for Kate Hoyle

*
*

After Symptoms, Before Diagnoses / by Elisa Karbin

Clarity’s brut fist struck in the eye-
blue gleam of morning’s long-sigh,
in front of the market apple display,
as I held Braeburns in loosely in each
palm, appraisal tilting me like a scale
until the pull of something unfamiliar
seized me by the gut and shook and
I suddenly understood what it meant
to be beside oneself with grief, how
sorrow is a scalpel that can cleave us
apart so cleanly we barely recognize
our fracture— how we can depart from
the self and trail, in our grief, behind like
the ring of a stain embedded in
the etheric charge surrounding us as if
it were some terrible mirage we only
see sideways, the specter of trauma
we radiate, are haunted by.

*
*

Ephemerides / by Matthew Landrum

after Christine Darragh

Summer draws its conclusions softly —
a difference in the way light falls across
worn flagstones on the street. Wind shifts
toward the east. Does it matter how
long a season lasts, as long as it is true?
Today, you and I tempted fate again,
hopping subway stiles to catch the train.
Then I instagrammed about it. That’s so like
us, always in such a hurry to couple
the mundane with the divine, find meaning
in the particulars that make up our lives
though they can seem so poor at times.
Maybe they are poor but they are what we have
and we will build a paradise out of that poverty.

*
*

Appalachian October / by Clyde Long

Leaves showing off on ridges and
in hollows blaze in their final days.

Hardwood trees pose garbed in
rainbows of crimson and yellow.

An untilled field of cornstalks
murmurs brittle in fall breezes.

The husks are shorn of ears,
gone to fatten cattle for winter.

After rainfall the stalks soften,
the cornfield is razed for spring.

Gleaners arrive to sift the soil
for shards and arrowheads —

ancients long ago grew corn
in this field, lived on this land.

*
*

Day 17 / Poems 17

*

Found Love: A Triptych / by Jenifer DeBellis
[circa 1962]

Panel 2

His new wife was his tragacanth, the bond
that held his world together. His inspiration.

Back to their former routine, they resumed
letters & planned their shared days. She wrote

him often. His most recent note highlighted
the break in the heat wave & early olive harvest.

She noted, if her calculations were correct,
they could expect their own first harvest

about the same time the olive trees began
to bloom again. He parsed her abstract image

instantly & was joyed & dread-filled at once.
This new palette was the future he dreamt

of but he was not ready to bring mother & child
to the land of opportunity. Work dried up like

maple & elm leaves began to do on the boulevard.
It will be eighteen months, two weeks & a day

before he meets his son, who hides in Mama’s
shadow when Papa says, vieni qui, figliolo.

The son’s soft pastel tones clashed with his
solid frame. The man’s youth reflected back

from his child’s almond eyes. Still hidden
in Mama’s dress folds, figliolo, his colino,

deconstructed this stranger. Abbiamo tempo,
Papa reconciled, much time to muse. He returned

the boy’s glazed stare—his original look—& knew
this mosaic moment would mold a beautiful thing.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans
A place for everyone

Sunday is “Times” day
for those who still read;
Big screen day
for those who can still hear
memory café day to help us remember
the stories we may have laid aside for awhile
waiting for a new audience.
Can you hear them?

*
*

Dvīpa Sukhadhara / by Daniel Jenkins
Socotra Archipelago

The clefts and caves in the steeper drops
to the water, somewhere once called very good,
a relief from the shades, some eternal
effect of self-knowledge, Socotra—word a brazen
arrow swiftly flung from Sanskrit, meaning,
island supporting bliss. The rhetoric of her waves,
the hills billow the down-cone tops of trees,
kindled roots in the air, pores opened for Thomas
the apostle, his finger jabbing at his side
to show the space between two ribs the centurion
pierced Christ. Thomas in tatters, waving a staff,
recalled his face-falling, crying, my savior
and my god!
Once Thomas left, a stone hut
stood molten gray, barely holy. I think he left
not from failing faith, but from boredom.

You, however, only came at night, shifting
wisp of claw prints lizard-made, spaces opening
decades: yes, I heard you say, we are quite rare—
you’ll find these genetic lines made nowhere
else.
Nothing else but silence. I wait for you, I said,
the fishermen, shepherds and vinedressers
building huts, docks, boats, homes, years and years
still going, still in longest being. On the brown
hills the trees loosened from the dirt and marched
louder than the sultan’s armies or the Portuguese,
and as the down-coned trees sunk into the sea,
leaving their holes, glowing embers in each sprung
to form like marionettes, and from them came
the bones of the dead redressed in skin, in hair,
with lips, with blank eyes. These reformed Socotrans
danced in the basins of unbundled churches,
waiting for the day’s catch, where I prayed you’d be,
tangled up with fish—your throat, mezzo, loosed
to liberating rage, to song and songs sung, of
this free, ageless thrust, glaze of sun dying off
its red haze, giving life, giving life, giving more
than the life I’m a fool to believe is my own
to waste. So—there you were, there kneeling
in the black dirt by the sea, the rocks wiped clean
of briny whitewater, singing to me, plant here
what no one from this time till then plants elsewhere.

*
*

A Place on Earth / by Matthew Landrum

It is at least possible, that this life
contains every possibility of life after.
Behind the illusion of islands greening
in the grey indifferent salt, of knit sweaters,
nectarines, the latent truth of the thing itself—
fiber and rock, sea and sugar shot through
with being. Today the harbor was full of cars,
a long line queueing for passage to Denmark.
While tourists snapped pictures of the ferry
and fisherman sold enormous slabs of fish,
I walked the quayside head down, head full
of noise, half-seeing. Then for a moment, I saw light
over Nólsoy, smelled the stink of fish entrails
shucked in buckets. It lasted only a moment,
but just then I did not want to leave this world.
For so long I thought that love happened to us,
that it waited beyond the bend of the particular.
I am tired of believing this. I am so very tired.
So let the kingdom of the everyday show itself
in all it’s mundanity and beauty, seen afresh.
We will call it heaven. It will teach us to stay.

*
*

Aretha / by Clyde Long

Diana Ross? Supremes? … pfft!
When I was in my teens,
when my music mix was
diverse, omniverous, not
the firehose we try to
drink from nowadays,
there was only one soul
goddess, the star of stars
(though my mom flinched
at her gospel exuberence):
Aretha Franklin. Even Mom,
a hard working widow, liked
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, viscerally.

RIP blessings are cheers for her
today, but I step back to the
late sixties and early seventies
and also say, thank you, ma’am!

*
*

Kampango Catfish / by Kate Madrid

Bagrus meredionalis
many also have chemoreceptors across their entire bodies,
which means they taste anything they touch

The fish-pout mouth?
The sea-waved hair?
The things I say and what I wear?

You see my dear here’s what I’m due
my husband’s eye—your husband’s too

*
*

Day 16 / Poems 16

*

Landslide / by Jenifer DeBellis

Two scorpions living in the same hole
will get along better than two sisters
in the same house. ~Arab Proverb

There was a path they hiked to reach a mountaintop.
Peat moss & mulch covered foot trails gave way
to limestone steps cut into steeper parts. Throughout

the years, the sisters navigated these hidden trails.
Shielded from the world by mature oaks, maples
& elms, they shared fun & hardships & everything

between. As the sisters grew, shallow roots crowded
paths, weaving trails into a tangled mess. Life got busy
as life often does & one would hike alone—sometimes

passing or joining the other on her journey into their
woodland sanctuary. One sister hit the finger trails
on an overcast day. High winds rushed from the south.

The lone sister stumbled, climbed faster to reach
the top. She found her sister already there, her back
to her & the persistent wind. She’d pulled the earth

up around her & sat, lost in thought, contemplating
the ruined valley below. Whether wind or thought,
she didn’t respond to her sister’s shouts behind her.

The lone sister called louder without response until
she reached her sister’s side. The ground gave way,
sent her feetfirst into a landslide. She uprooted stones

& decayed roots but couldn’t stop her downward
descent, finally landing on a ledge. Down here,
she yelled. Her sister above just stared past her.

Roots broke from the mountainside as she climbed.
She couldn’t go more than a few feet without
losing her grip & tumbling back down to the edge.

The imminent rain fell softly, despite the wind’s
storm warning. From her ledge the stranded sister
called once more, then sat & observed the barren

region. Steady rains showered her, washing
away dirt & grit layers. She’d never spent time
in the rain before. Liked how it cleansed her,

body & soul. The storm broke in the eastern sky.
Rattling leaves overhead filtered sunlight, cast
kaleidoscope shadow patterns over her resting spot.

A clearing on her right revealed a lush meadow
in the lowlands & waterfall springs that traced
the crag’s face. She followed her ledge eastward,

around a curve that led to granite stepping stones.
The narrow path broadened as she ascended,
ivy & phlox dressed its sides. Her climb was easier

than imagined. Atop the summit, pre-dusk sun rays
peeked through clouds, warmed her upturned face.

*
*

Breakfast Blues / by Kasha Gauthier

When you left this morning,
you left without saying goodbye,
I mean you said it but not really

and I know why you did that, on account of the late meeting
or the traffic, the coffee you spilled,
or the call coming in, but still I didn’t like it.

I’d like you to take me in your arms, desperate with desire.
Like Rhett Butler- like a younger, blond Rhett Butler, late for an accounting meeting.
I’d be an enlightened Northern woman who doesn’t need a man to save her.
I’ll wear my blue jeans forever before I’d sew the drapes into anything.

But still, I’d like a goodbye kiss like that.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans
For the dogs that visit

Molly slow and sleek
Oscar just plain comfortable
Lucy a true lap dog
Fur soft as new fuzz on an old dog
All like the treat I have
The secret of my success
And I get to pet them.

*
*

On Miracles / by TJ Jarrett

When you walk on water, do not think about water as water,

something slipping past like light. When you walk on water,

you seek what in water is most like stone. Look closer.

Within most everything there is what is like stone.

It may be easiest to think of stone and earth and find

that within it what is most like water. Some find this easier.

We see how we are swallowed in it, how it will sweep the flesh

away leaving nothing but bones and teeth. Maybe it’s best

to think of your impermanence, how it doesn’t even matter

if you walk on the water before you, because it has been here

for a long time, has seen you and will see what will become

of the world after you have long passed from it. If it is a miracle,

it is the smallest of miracles. If it is physics, it is the easiest part

like bicycles or echoes, easily explained. It is the bending of light,

the swirling of leaves, a dandelion clock swept up in the current.

*
*

No Shovels Left in Saada / by Daniel Jenkins
Saada, Northern Yemen

I saw you standing five feet before
the arachnoid hulk of metal, not the color
of night, but the color of a school bus,
disenchanted from the song of its substance,
charred frame like sulking tent poles.
I saw you checking blue tarps, concealing
the little once-lives, trying to console
a father, he pressing tear-glossed cheeks
into the ground, leaving dark pools
of shade—you must’ve seen them playing
tag, chasing and laughing, in this, one
of the last parks in Yemen left alone by
American missiles launched by Saudi Arabia.
So you played with them, the days before
fully their own, or this day seconds before
fiery flash and blowback, force wind,
making of the two days—before, and then—
one space of memory, single, theirs.

But no, this life—a dance with the devil
and with happenstance, mortality baffled by
blast force, and the boys, their little birds lifted
from their bodies. This life, what else to do
but dig? You asked for a shovel, tried to find
a shovel, but no. Begged for a shovel, begged for
something, anything. There the boys’ teacher
met you, saying look, as he cast his hand laterally
to survey the graves pocking the white earth.
There are no shovels left in Saada, he said.

*
*

Bolt / by Matthew Landrum

Untended, the asparagus
you planted runs to seed,
a shoulder high thicket
of implausible spindles —
we have not spoken
to each other for months now,
another thing let go
on longer than intended.

*
*

Lucy has retired / by Clyde Long

A scared black puppy from Provo, Utah,
Portuguese Water Dog with “incorrect coat”,
arrived after dark on Christmas Eve.
My son and I brought her home.
She quaked wild-eyed seeing the
bedecked Christmas tree amid tipsy
guests and singing, and everyone
clamoring to pet the cute puppy –
she hates crowds still today.

For months her fearfulness persisted
despite the dog pack’s bonhomie.
Her likely early trauma from a
breeder’s evil hand kept me at it
with embraces and space and calm
chatter. But oh – such daily sorrow
to love a dog who fears you!
A dog trainer counseled me,
she will never get better, give up,
return her or adopt her out.

On the verge of giving up, loving her
despite her sadness and fear, I
arrived home from work one day and
came in the door. There she stood –
a switch of hers had flipped. She
bounced across the floor, tail wagging.
She nuzzled and licked my hand,
her eyes closed in bliss. She stayed.
Twelve years later she’s still with me
and the rest of the pack.

She lies at my feet in fathomless sleep
retired from being our protector, our
lifeguard, our mailman biter. Still
salved by Prozac, she’s hungry no more.
The pack has adjusted to the change.
The spaniel is exerting leadership
in the vacuum of command. In the
manner of all sound dog packs
Lucy has ceded her mantle of control,
a peaceful transition.

*
*

Jackal / by Kate Madrid

Poor mistreated me.

I have nothing.
Just this carcass.
My mind (it’s true!)
wants justice
But this jackal’s hide—it’s jealous
Wishes all your joys

be spoiled.

*
*

Day 15 / Poems 15

*

Found Love: A Triptych / by Jenifer DeBellis

Panel 1

He came to this country a blank canvas,
the only stain on his new linen backdrop

a failed engagement that he realizes now
he should’ve withheld from his note

to the new landlord. His dream of starting
a family & building a legacy grew

smaller daily until it became a vanishing
point somewhere outside the frame.

Back home his sister knew a gal who knew
a gal who shared his vision. They began

writing each other. He admired her
pen strokes, her cursive loops & curves—

how her word endings blended toward
the next word. She was a watercolor

thinker, a touch of impressionist harmony
meets daydreamer. She inspired him

with refreshed focus. In his day-to-day
that resembled a landscape painting,

her face took shape in the foreground.
He crossed the Atlantic to go back

for her. Gained her hand & so much
more, which he’d continue to learn

while they exchanged new letters
& he secured solid work & a place

they could fill with kindred love.

*
*

Poem 15 / by Kasha Gauthier

rain meets salt
fills the belly of the whale
they rise as one

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans
For Nancy

Heart in music
Heart in painting
Heart In storytelling
Hearts anyone?

Nancy was a nurse.

*
*

Night of a Thousand Cassandras / by TJ Jarrett

The world announces what it is always.
We move through it as if it has not.

When the world falls around us,
we sigh and wait.

The angels whisper:

this is your fault, the way the world is.
Because of who you are, what you are doing
and what you have always done.

And we will talk about the stars as if
we have hung them with our own hands.

*
*

The Red Rains of Kerala / by Daniel Jenkins
Kerala, Southern India, June 1896

with Jason Frasher

If science decodes that mystery,
does it lessen the sense of wonder?
asks the oracle.

I tumbled into Bharat, into raining blood, Bharat with blue lights
In swamps. Bharat hurling birds at buildings, cracking their bodies.
In the village, pilgrims pray by the clay shrine, laying flowers,
Wreaths and sacks. More than a century has left me without you.
The air is warm with water and the villagers say an omen comes.
At the shrine, a girl points at the sky. The instruments of our day,
. . . . . . .O Blood, tell this girl the rain
Bleeds red from algae, and in its hieroglyphics does not say omen,
but says science, says wonder. I look at a boy running in the street.
His mother begs him inside; his white tunic turns pink.
I tell the boy’s mother the millions who heave meaning on events,
superstitions as troubling weights in the pockets of the swimmer,
the fisherman, the rice farmer, or the shepherd. Now, wagons,
Rickshaws, bicycles stream like driftwood down redden streets.

Asks the oracle:

Does that species of algae, blood-grains in rain,
Still effuse its brick-red magic with any less purport,
The hieroglyphics and symbols and visions writ large
In the whorls of discolored silt like a medium,
Her futures in the patterns of dregs in tea leaves?
Or is it the collision of probabilities of sound and fury,
chance and happenstance, signifying nothing?

Asks the oracle:

Why then does the wonder, with its insistent fingers,
Trace delicate designs on the crenellations of my brain?

Nature makes messes. Nature’s fingers insist on some beyond
Unencrypted, the delicate crenellations of a brain overwhelming
Green and vine and branch. God remembers for us the futures
Made very good to explain ourselves, explain our origins.
. . . . . . .A desperate search for connection, for revelation?
. . . . . . .Who knows the truth? Who reads the signs?

Do you know this, O Blood? This is a land of jaws,
Hungry and snapping. Who comes, presaging the unfurled scroll of
Heaven? Who cares, when today we can bathe in garbage?
Listen to Pilate in his Praetorium, asking of Christ, what is truth?
The procurator’s restless wife at his side. She already knew,
& what she knew of truth kept her restless in the night.

Is it that rich ochre a darker whisper, presaging
Apocalypse of pollution, the drain-spilled, the lost,
The familiar unknown?

So this wonder, my Blood, hemorrhaging into the ocean,
Is the gift of a removed tunic, awe spoken of in the drier squares
When the awe of red rain and water recedes, reveals the past,
Awe being itself, purely awe, wonder of the faceless earth.

*
*

Reading the Classics / by Elisa Karbin

Unsure if it was me or the earth
slanted sideward, I rose uneasy
from the bed that was not a fainting
couch, the graying mattress that was
a rubbish heap scrabbled & set adrift
by a hydra I thought I loved, who cut
the tether with his teeth.. . . .I’m thinking
of odysseys now, how sea was once
called wine-dark, a fathomless canvass
to ferry a hero. I know this is not
my sea. The waves, the savage swallow
of its undertow salt my tongue, swell
my eyes, themselves a wine-dark
like tragedy unspooling, like a rising bruise.

*
*

Aphelion / by Matthew Landrum

A going in the gardens, last flush
of melon and cucumber — you
remembering and you remembered,
two sides of the season we coined
and kept in our pockets, to sort out
later in the wash.

*
*

Halfway in the middle / by Clyde Long

Loved ones live
in the middle
half way dead,
others loved are
not yet born.

Arms spread, our
arms pointed to
six o’clock headed
to a finish at twelve
lines tic by toc.

Test the well, half
empty or half full?
The gas gauge —
do you trust it so
far from home?

We write toward a
poetry challenge,
we climb its back
to glissade down
gravity’s poems.

Candy bar, nougat
trimmed in chocolate,
the middle is best.
Half gone in a bite —
another it’s no more.

*
*

Indigo Snake / by Kate Madrid

Drymarchon couperi
it is of note as being the longest native snake species in the United States

All
throat
you
choke
on
pitch
blue
black
hard
bitten
that
snake
pit
flat
eyed
bath
water
tap
open
your
veins
snakes
drain

out

*
*

Day 14 / Poems 14

*

Late in the Day / by Jenifer DeBellis

The green peppers sizzle on the griddle,
spurt grease in a light rainfall
atop the granite countertop. Spiced summer
sausage sautés for dinner. She watches
him through the kitchen window
raise the ax overhead, as silver &
sturdy as a pre-storm sky. He stands
in the field’s mouth, breathes
deep, then drives the ax into ash.
He brings the blade down hard, breaks
the timber with precision between
two wedges. His body drops
beside the fallen logs & she knows
this is the moment they could no longer outwit.
They took their time this morning
making love. Skipped lunch to lie
in each other’s arms & revisit forty years
of a shared life in an afternoon.
They’d given him three months, tops,
fourteen weeks ago. They’ve lived
all 99 days like it could be their last.
The reports said his insides were rotted
by now. Yet his energy levels improved
daily for the past week. Holistic
stuff works that way. Yesterday
he cut the grass—walked out the entire
acre—& cleared the downed trunks
toppled by a recent storm. Sweat
glistened from his brow & ringed
his neckline when he came in
for the night. His triceps were tight
beneath his soaked tee. Her pulse
quickened. For a moment
he was the image of his twenty-something
self. He hasn’t moved since
he dropped to the ground. She turns
off the burner & rushes out the back door.
She doesn’t need to check his pulse
to know he’s already gone.
Propped sideways, the ax handle presses
into his hip. His head is bent
at an impossible angle. His slate eyes, skyward.

*
*

After the reading / by Kasha Gauthier

Thoughts are often described as light or heavy
heavy like a sweater one wears
heavy like cloud cover. Tonight’s fog was
thicker than usual- on the way home
ocean on one side, bay on the other,
fog consumed her. But that was not enough-
she wanted to stop
on the side of the highway-
leave the car and walk into that light
heaviness, let it steep right into her skin-

she says she wants to take more risks.
Thank god you didn’t do it, I say.

Thank god I say-
you might have gotten lost.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For those who can see

The hallways are trails
like former forest paths
Bird feeders for the clan of sparrows
who can smell the roses too.
Friends reading, helping each other see or hear
The chatter.
Everyone goes to their rooms or trees until tomorrow.

*
*

Certain Tuesdays / by TJ Jarrett

I hated that job. I went in even when I was sick
so they would get all of me, even my sickness.

I hated them that much. When I did call in sick,
they figured, Shit— that must be serious and they

didn’t ask questions. Certain Tuesdays, I’d stay in bed
an extra hour and get up at ten to head down

to Robert’s Bar and Western Wear, called that because
they were a bar and they had boots and shirts for sale.

Around eleven, the professional drunks would come in—
The kind of drunks who drink until they about stagger

and then head to the bathroom and do a bump or two
so that they can keep drinking. The kind of folks who plan

on living completely in the dumb animal body like horses.
That dumb body that bucks intellect and trots to the well

to drink freed from all that. And I would drink with them.
I’d time it just like a work day. 8 full hours. I’d drink and

complain loudly to the bar until it felt uncomfortable,
until the other patrons would tell me that I was lucky,

until the other patrons told me all their country music
plotlines of loss—missing wives, children, jobs – until

we got to the guy at the end of the bar whose son
drowned in the pool while he wasn’t watching, and

how the body came up among all the other children
and he asked himself how he missed it, he had done

everything. I can’t tell you how many times he told me
that story. I can’t tell you how many times I’d tell him

about the fifth or sixth or seventh miscarriage or how
T would look at me like I’d left a baby unattended

and loss would come by to snatch it up again.
When I got back at the office the next day,

they’d say: Hope you feel better, You look beat up,
It will get better soon
and I’d say Thanks and Yeah

and I’ll survive it and I’d slip back into my life
like nothing was happening. Nothing at all.

*
*

The Girl of Sindhrot / by Daniel Jenkins
Vadodara, Gujarat

Along the sand-brown length of the dam,
Itself a horizon smaller than the cradled edge of the sun,
One can limp along and not hear voices, but see.
Your being is in the hush of a couple, youthful, free.
Water, brown sand, tiny crabs, a black bird, a sun,
Though the sun, like the couple, leave in their ways,
Gesturing toward sleep, toward dawn, and I am alone.
Again, the silent water. Again, slivers of silver rain
Making puddles—a sudden burst of hazy light, near-white,
In a figure wearing a salwar-kameez, extended arms
Seeking what—embrace? Harm? Even the memory of you
She warns me not to bring into the village of Sindhrot,
The memory itself threatened, her face half itself,
half-built, a shattered and imperfect symmetry.
She leaves no footprints in the moon-planed draught of
Water centimeters deep, the gargling brown sand,
Recedes even to the flintlike decahedron lingering when
The sun rises, I am tired and terrified, and the birds
Slap again at the air, returning song to the village.

*
*

Entropical / by Matthew Landrum

They are burning woodscrap in the factory yard next door / again. Say nothing about the young couple / that sleeps fitfully in the bed, / how they are too hot to touch each other or how / the bed is too narrow to avoid it. / Smoke billows over the compound fence, seeps through / windows left open in vain hope / of a breeze. Say nothing / of how they fought all night over nothing / and went to bed because there was nothing else / to do. It is easier to make love / than make a life / work. But they are young and don’t know / about life. The scrinch of a cicada wakes the man, keeps him / awake for another hour. Describe him / losing patience and stumbling, bleary /into the jungle dark / and beating the bush with a broom and the silence, / momentary, before he goes back inside / and the shrilling starts again. Focus / on that so you don’t have to say he would read and drift / and think how other women maybe would have made him / happier or been happier with him / which is to him the same. Once, the power went out / and he rushed a paper bag of birth control, / a mile on foot, to a friend’s house / terrified of something binding him tighter. It doesn’t need saying / that they are young, a year married / and in a foreign country where she never wanted to go. / Tomorrow she will set / the table with patterned china. They will stand each other / on ceremony. Talk about that, talk with mercy / on their small acts of kindness / toward one another, because these existed / too, were frequent if not enough. Between the stars / and the scraggly startfruit bush in the yard, the air is thick / and acrid with smoke. The fire lifts / into the darkness in the west / and a rooster begins crowing the false dawn.

*
*

Cipher / by Clyde Long

Cipher is ancient, derived from
Arabic sitr which introduced

the mathematical concept of zero
to the Western world. Absent sitr

computer code would not exist.
So, neither would our laptops,

our web-enabled fridge, texts
from our boss and selfie sticks.

Without cipher how do we label
nobodies who extol con men?

Hillbilly Jethro ciphered by
the cement swimming hole.

Now, software engineers with
spaniels and free lunch at work

cipher like Jethro, coding and
dreaming of stock, VC green.

Cipher is Zen’s breath after
words, before more.

*
*

Hercules Beetle / by Kate Madrid

Dynastes hercules
Not dangerous to humans

You think you’re just a little monster
Regurgitating news you heard somewhere
or other

You try to keep your mouth shut
but your tongue is its scutellem
Its eggs are in your epiglottis,
larvæ in your naval cavity

*
*

Day 13 / Poems 13

*

Found Targum: A Forbidden Text / by Jenifer DeBellis

She had accepted her husband’s betrayal when his scheme
led her into Pharaoh’s harem. She assumed her beauty
would eventually land her in trouble. When the plagues

ravaged Egypt, she recognized the Lord’s redemption.
What she couldn’t stomach was that she held the future
in her barren belly. We know how the story goes, Sarai relents

to Abram’s pressure to bear him a son by offering her servant
Hagar, who is quick to deliver a son they name Ishmael.
What neither husband or wife realizes is eternity rests

on who will mother many nations, not just father them. Nearing
ninety & post-menopause, Sarai fears she’s a laughingstock
when she fulfills prophecy with Isaac’s birth. The couple now

realizes their folly in not waiting on the Lord. What are they
to do but raise both sons under one roof. Some versions claim
jealousy drove Sarai-now-Sarah to banish Hagar & her bastard

son. Legend has it, though, that rivalry rooted in Ishmael’s
soul. He saw his inheritance slipping from his reach as Isaac
grew. So he devised a plan to kill his half brother in a game

of chase the arrow. What’s been lost from the oral tradition
in this tale is Sarah’s character. She was kindhearted to all
who passed through her home. Known for her generosity

& gentle ways, her quick insight & wit were dismissed—
her silent restraint seen as weakness, blind ignorance even.
Isn’t that how it often goes, though? We underestimate

our rival. Become lazy once our plot begins to unfold
as we planned it. Even write off our disengaged opponent.
Sarah knew her call & its promise. She turned mama bear

not just for her son but for future nations & their savior’s
blood that must flow through her son’s sons & daughters
as if the whole of the world’s lives depended on it.

*
*

Ars Poetica, PTown, 2018 / by Kasha Gauthier

I think maybe she’s right,
he said, looking down at his breakfast plate,
while I wonder what choice do we have but to tell our stories-
in any case we answer and anticipate what one might
say, what one might
do, tomorrow or in a year
based upon the evidence of what has been done yesterday
and today we noticed what has preemptively occurred,
became preoccupied and fortified by the forecasting and the recasting
of our lives, what was meant and what was said-
is our story mine to tell or
does it exist only in a space between us,
a space with no author to claim it.
I claim stories with each step.
Others faces as I walk past them.
He doesn’t want our story told.
But maybe, someone does.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans
For Mary

Hand in the cookie jar
Now it’s her turn to snitch
With the whole room watching.
Leftovers from childhood
“smarts” and innocence
How many times has the hand
Been in the jar?
Now no on one would mind
Since she does it with practice and grace.

Mary always knew better.

*
*

The Whispers of the Dead on Dumas Beach / by Daniel Jenkins
Surat, Gujarat

What if one of us comes to look for water?
& we wander, stiff-footed, to the beach of Dumas at dawn,
So the albatross and seabirds skirt the sand
While landing, hear the whispers of the dead, and fly off,
Not toward the land, but back to the manic sea.
Even if I sit down in the lapping tides, the soft cries
Sound the same: you asking for tea, punctuating the request
With thank you love; you picking up driftwood,
Admiring their shape, what the piece would look like carved.
Every light, scattershot, is monochrome here, humid air
In every pore of the land kissing the sea.
The dead whisper because the seabirds, the tides,
& the living even—though after dark, forbidden to visit—
Desire genuine friendship in grief. So I limp in the midst.

An excerpt from a short sequence, “Bharat”
for VB

*
*

Persistence / by Elisa Karbin

Everyday, a thousand small violences
slip through our skin. Grief plaques on
to our marrow, a kind of scrimshawed
narrative of how we hurt, how we
carry it with us always, though we barely
know. Blood still pumps it’s blue through
the body’s closed circuit, lighting us enough
to torch through one day, then the next.
We, small and pathless specters, dim
candles tarrying storm-wrought dusks,
are thin filaments in the vast pocket
of space; weak but surely lighted.

*
*

Seville Clickbait / by Matthew Landrum

after Lorca

Fog whets the blades of grass in a thousand fields. Come, soon the sun will devour the sky, revealing the hidden spires of Granada. But stay beside me now and look — you can just make them out, a rain of white birds alighting among the cattle. What happens next will surprise you.‬

*

‪Ignacio, you sought death out and threw the cape of your talent over its ugliness. Now you have gone, taking the flower of Andalusian manhood with you. Professional bullfighters hated you but I remember how, after your funeral, the wind whistled a little sadly in the olive grove.‬

*

‪This one weird trick will help you get over a breakup: muffle a horse’s hooves with velvet cloth so it will make no sound as you ride east through the Cabra pass and through the foothills toward Gijón and the sea where you will bear your chest to the crescent moon’s silver blade.‬

*

‪Three things only a poet in New York would understand — every morning a squall of pigeons sweeps away the last dark, waiters prepare platters of vomit, wheels and chains spin the moon around in its socket. But what becomes of the iguanas that come to bite our toes while we dream?‬

*

‪The moon is like an orange or the orange is like the moon. I can never decide which is which but am happy nonetheless to peel and eat the orange and the moon alike or to stare up in the trembling night at the orange light of the waning moon or the moon light of the waxing orange.‬

*
*

Brothers in amber / by Clyde Long

They embrace me in absentia.
All the family there save for me
and my wife laboring our son
due in Berkeley sometime soon.
They ordered a beer in my honor,
drained it right away toasting
their first and only nephew to be.

It seems so long ago as I hold
this photographic amber.
Such handsome men they were,
how doomed they were later.
Will photos of us later show our
beauty, presage our doom?

*
*

Day 12 / Poems 12

*

A Coming of Rage Tale / by Jenifer DeBellis

Rush hour brought out the best
worst version of some drivers.

One driver made it her mission
to reduce road rage. She drove

the dotted lane line to stop cars
from rushing ahead in the left

lane that merged with the right
a half mile away. In the traffic

that backed up behind her van
was an impatient driver who

demonstrated mad horn skills.
Through her lowered window

the lady heard the kid behind
her shout, Move, lady. Move!

In response she wagged her
finger uh uh uh out her window.

She noted drivers in other cars
shaking their heads, laughing.

It made her feel important
to do her part to hold back

these narcissists now taking
over the world with their all

about me attitudes. Traffic
budged a few feet, opening

access to the left turnaround
lane, where the procession

gridlocked behind her van
could now pass the road block

to turn & be on their way.

*
*

America is burning / by Kasha Gauthier

They say the wildfire smoke
is drifting across the country. They showed a map-
dark cover- not weather, not quite clouds
creeping across America.
She could not breath for days after
she rode to the peak and watched from above.
Our forests are burning, our cities are burning.
Soon, even the peak will be consumed.
From where will we watch our world burn?

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Irene

Sitting at lunch
With the discussants of today
daily glee club practices in a living room
sang again;
ice cream melting from Ben and Jerry, Mitchells, Honey Hut
dripping over the years
chocolate drizzle, coffee mocha, mint-laced
tongues licking our words.

*
*

Sixteen / by TJ Jarrett

With R because R had a Jeep & no license & I had a license and no Jeep. Winter. Sixteen. The sun was bright & falling & we found a flat road out in Poquoson. It was just me & R & road unfurling itself into a distance as uncertain as what would happen to us & R pushed the pedal all the way down toward whatever that was & I was standing in the wind & screaming as much as I could & in my mouth all I could taste was the salt in the air & my fear. R had U2 playing as loud as it would go & for a minute with the wind & the screaming & the tears I’m not sure if I could hear it, but in the remembering I could & Bono was screaming & I’d just stumbled into knowing everything could fall apart around you & you can survive it all just to say the body doesn’t stop just living just because all its reasons are gone. By the time we reached the beach, the water was glassy & the air still cold but we waded into it anyway & stood in it until we couldn’t feel our feet anymore & the river rolled on without us & the day was ending & the time my parents thought I’d return from the library was upon us & when R kissed me, I felt like a spool unraveling, a sky lantern lifting into darkness. Undone.

*
*

White Peak of the Three Spiritual Brothers / by Daniel Jenkins
Gangkhar Puensum, Bhutan, 1836

You must climb, one of the monks said.
The other refused to reveal his face hidden in
Tanned skins and fur, his face immaterial.
I was called like a phantom for my pale skin,
but not a true phantom. Whether I lived
Or whether I died climbing the White Peak,
Light would result.

I lay the yellow birch walking stick while
The two monks prayed between poles with stays.
Red cloth hung above them, and as their incantation
Troubled the cold air, sprouts of twig, of leaf
Appeared on the stick—I caught the ghastly white
Surface of the peak beneath the sun, three feet of
The path lined with gray stones sloping up.

I was given their words, the knowledge of them.
The language, Dzongkha, throat cadences.
The one monk stood and handed me the living stick,
Dead until just then, and the prayer beads, saying
I’ll need them when all flesh disappears near
The peak’s ghostly summit. Deities will unwrap
Our skins and coats, our faces naked to the ice.

I limped my first few steps on the path, steep
ascent, gray stones sinking in the snow, and I looked
Up at the peak, a white arrowhead, I wanted to see
the peak, scan its ridges, its faces, its crevasses,
See the contour of its lines, boundaries, limits,
but the present day would reign again as I saw your
Form, like vapor, rise from the wind-dusted snow.

If there are gods here, I won’t be in their vanity.
Without the two monks, I was proof of distance,
A trekking measurement, fading flesh climbing,
Steadily losing substance, cells dematerializing.
We climbed because that is what is done when
One is not climbing, and there, higher still, every
Bitter wind: your memory kisses a searing blade.

We were ushered to some past: I remember now,
Sitting beside one another, somewhere domestic,
Eating pineapple chunks, your breath wine-drenched.
I found them in the yeti’s footprints, the beast both
Monks warned would hunt me higher, cavernous
Impressions in the snow, in the ice, hard, peak-rock.
What wind I could grab, I breathed in. Ice, thin air.

Closer still, I felt I could accuse the peak, demand
It account for your vanishings, distances, coldness.
My stiff leg locked up at the echo-rattled avalanche.
By now the monks left me, voices, dozens, chanting,
Cyclorama of scene, weaver’s beams of light, crystal,
Light wrecking the lowness of that world below me,
Translated to this world, alien and new, like Eden.

Now the closing peak: a tongue, a cartouche of rock,
Missing machinery of human avarice, unconquested
Bouldering hill, when I woke the Three Spiritual Brothers.
Their footsteps whispered threats, you’ll die in vain here,
Loving she who isn’t yet
. Despite them, the sun stayed
Similar to the size of itself, the birds spiraling above me.
Their wings, though, could not steal the cold air in lift.

Upward to another planet until I, a generation, cold,
Approached the peak with the dead who shed their furs,
Naked skin reflecting sun like mirrored glass, spirits,
a dozen, hell-froze to climb because climbing is what is
Done when one does not climb. And only then, leaving
This peak for your gilded hand spirited to form by God,
Would I reach for the final inch of the mountain’s height.

*
*

Matrilineal Line / by Elisa Karbin

My mother was motherless before
she became a mother herself, which

I sometimes forget about, given all
the mothering I’ve needed, have had

and blithely took like it was owed, not,
as my orphaned mother knows, a matter

of chaos, blind providence’s dark and
swirling collision that splits the earth’s

hemispheres and reveals the black cavern
of grief’s underworld so casually you don’t

realize the gravity at work, the sudden
arrival into the gray and unending wilderness

of mourning, how it howls through you, hollow
body— light unlatched from a snuffed-out lamp.

*
*

Argir / by Matthew Landrum

We took the searoad / past the glass-clad hospital and drydock / where a huge Russian freighter lay / its hull spangled in Cyrillic and rust. / Jetty lights blinked out / their red-green, red-green. / Movement in the island-colored dark — you said foxes / but it couldn’t have been foxes. / Here, nautical miles from the nearest landmass, / the mountains showed their delibility, the slow faith / of rain returning basalt to the salt sea. / There were no foxes dogging our steps / toward that basement apartment, / toward aquavit, an undoing / though I heard that once there were foxes, / a half dozen or so / escaped from a farm and on the lam / in the mountains. They survived / a few months before being shot. / That was a long time ago, a long before we fell / asleep on a kitchen floor in Argir / after the whole bottle and pop music. We would wake together / a tangle of limbs and headphone cords. / I want there to have been foxes / so I can keep us / following the bay’s salt parabola / into a future left / uncertain. I could describe the copper lit shadows, / a slinking in the verdure, / a rumor of flame instead of this / reality and the regret of knowing / how distant a life can feel, / a wife, how cold / the salt-thrid Atlantic, how irreparable and irrecoverable / a warm body in a far country / utterly bereft of foxes.

*
*

Our lord of flies / by Clyde Long

The maggots mature
into blue hued flies,

a cloud from the head
of state impaled

upon a stake driven
deep into dirt

as into body politic;
littluns care not,

cast not a ballot
while red-capped hunters

in Baal-loving zeal
prostrate and cheer

the bloody severed head
as it rots

*
*

Falcon / by Kate Madrid
the largest genus in the Falconinae subfamily of Falconidae…these birds kill with their beaks

deadly mouthed
she eats the lives around her
she feeds to feel needed
greedy for devotion
she preens then feigns fatigue
Why won’t they let me be?

hooked on the heroin of heartbreak
she hunts for hurt in all your utterances

every trouble is her prey
every tragedy her stage

*
*

Day 11 / Poems 11

*

Natural Instincts / by Jenifer DeBellis

She knows she will get wet today & this doesn’t deter her
morning games. Since she’s chased away the blue heron,
she hides in the knee-high arrow arum & watches the cattails

& reed grass like the hobby hunter she’s become. Moments ago
she nibbled the dry food in her dish with disinterest, scratched
the back door to go out, then slinked to the marsh outskirts—

a kindred image of her panther ancestors. Above grass blades
her head bobs in mimicry of her prey. Missed dive after dive
brings her back to the patio without a win, her black fur spiked

on end. She circles my ankles as I drain my coffee. Her purrs
are in mutual understanding, not defeat. Last week she found
a bunny nest, left one’s ears, guts & buns on the stoop as a prize

for me to find. The next day, I ruined her fun when I rescued
the newest bunny—still alive—she brought home. We fought
for hours. She’d re-catch the dazed little thing & I’d pry it free.

That night she forgave me my trespasses with neck kisses
& rumbled bdddaaas, bdddaaas. The next morning, as I sipped
coffee, I watched a red-tailed hawk ascend the blue spruce,

Douglas fir & white pine tree line. Its heavy wing beats
labored against the writhing bunny seized in its curved beak.

*
*

Evaporation / by Kasha Gauthier

The once-green pasture bakes in the sun.
Water is leaving the living things.
A blade of grass browns,
steams in its own skin.
In the air surrounding, the object appears
to waver, exhaling upon itself,
haloed in the heat.
The object ripens-
the smell, pungent and sweet.
skin pouring out what was within,
what we knew and what we didn’t.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Jim

Lying under the skin of night light
I listen to the music we both hear even now
It keeps you here with me
The shadows of light and night
Defined our future and leave me to define mine.

*
*

*
*

Flood Subject / by Elisa Karbin

And suddenly, with inexplicable height,
the cresting foam of sorrow’s cold
residue, wall of opaque sickness, its wet
grief come to douse us, who, like flotsam,
have already been so wrecked.

I can’t pretend to understand, want to make
metaphors to pad the landing of the sudden
heft the shortened future’s now taken.
But see— I’m being unclear, willful in my
withholding of fact, the way I did as a child,
nightgown soaked, bathtub overflowed
and dripping through the can lights in
the living room ceiling below, who lied when
asked if the mess was mine, who couldn’t bear
to tell you how the still water whispered to me,
promised a sure hold among the waking riot.
I couldn’t tell the truth because, even young,
I knew the truth, like any sharpened knife,
only heals when it doesn’t wound.

But here we are, metaphors again, and I’m
beginning to understand that it’s not water’s
glass-bright clarity I’m after, but the grace
of surfacing, the pull of gravity’s certainty
toward some harbor’s shore, where there’s
earth underfoot and the waves can’t reach
and this time, no one drowns.

*
*

Honey for Paula / by Matthew Landrum

after Machado

Last night, I slept and dreamed that my heart was a beehive –– that golden bees worked busily, sipping the astringent nectar
of past bitterness, transforming it into pale wax and sweet honey.

*
*

Querencia / by Clyde Long

— as explained in “Death in the Afternoon”

it’s not how I will
haunt you

it’s where I will —
from my safe place

my home as I face
blood and dread

here I am inestimably
dangerous

almost impossible
to kill

*
*

Day 10 / Poems 10

*

[Re]Naming Things / by Jenifer DeBellis
For Catrina

When she was young she insisted on naming things with proper words.
Come si dice [ ] in Italiano is a game we played to learn new words.

She’d kick & scream when she didn’t get her way. In a thundercloud
of clashing wills, I rode out her storms so she could learn new words.

In school her peers teased her, said she’d never escape this small town.
So she built her career, cut ties & relocated to teach them new words.

She called to share her diagnosis: a C word we didn’t dare say aloud.
We refused to name it, though she was still forced to know new words.

They drilled a hole to sever tumor & memories. The void is a phantom
limb where recall backfires & means she must (re)learn new words.

She learned her loss was vast; entire conversations & concepts had been
wrenched from her past. How could she reclaim these as new words?

Words aren’t all she lost. She lost years on her lifespan & two years
in her studies. Hope & desire deferred are a few of her new words.

Come si dice I’m nothing in Italiano? Come si dice what’s it matter
anymore?
Tia asks. & here’s where I refuse to teach her new words.

*
*

Discovering Thompson’s field / by Kasha Gauthier

The dog runs ahead, bounds through tall grass,
the meadow flower field in August regalia-
Cornflower blues, black eyed
Susans and Queen Anne’s lace,
milkweed pods cocooning
soon the goldenrod will give away its gold.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Beth

the sound of words
against the found idea
matted against surrounding
music, maybe?

Beth was an English teacher

*
*

Hang Son Doong Cave / by Daniel Jenkins
Khe Bang National Park, Việt Nam, 1991

1.

There will be rifts. There is one now.
Don’t ask how, ask when.

With you running from me,
I’m sure there are boundless worlds ahead, running with you,
So I imagine holes of you.

2.

It’s 1991. A 22-year old farmer searches for aloe.
His name is Khanh. This is central Việt Nam.
The farmer walks six miles into the jungle.
It is getting dark. Khanh needs shelter.
Looks for shelter, rests against a boulder.
Vast wind behind him, suction of air, falling water.
A dark hole in the limestone: Khanh judges its size.
The width, the depth. It is a massive cave.
He calls it Hang Son Doong: Mountain River Cave.

“I didn’t have any aloe,” Khanh said,
“. . . but in my mind I had the image of a great cave.”

The grandest cave in the world open
Before me, making its percussive water suction, sink.
I see you. I am stiffened into rock. I am awed to a pillar,
So unable to repel, to enter, what I love most.
I need to descend. I don’t have the right equipment.
And the cave is over 600 feet high. You’ve locked yourself in.
I forget, for twenty years, where the cave is.
My friends call me a fool. But the cave is there.
Right in front of me, in the mind.
It is clearer than what’s seen each day I live.
If I could I enter, I’d see a subterranean jungle.
It sits, an anomaly, below a gaping hole of light.
I need to climb the 240-foot flowstone, a wall of mud, calcite.
I’m sober now, but I can’t see the entrance.
The cave I see isn’t made of blood, or a torn out IV.
The cave is not an arm, or a spittle of blood on the floor.
The cave is not an officer of law calling me to get you.
I want to enter, I want to find stalagmites 100 feet tall.
Forge the river chewing limestone. Find bioluminescent lice.
Etch my name in the cave wall, half of two lovers inscribing trees.
Know what? I don’t have to curate your anger anymore.
That’s his fucking job. Let him find his way out, find exit light.
Let him crawl through, climb the flowstone, wear the crown.

Imagine finding the largest cave in the world.
Just imagine. You know it’s there. But how to get there? How?
Like Khanh, imagine resting against a twilight boulder,
In the inflow of wind below. The hope of water below.
Just imagine the chance of vastness, the chance being wholly in,
Its echo, the thing it is, nightly pulling him back.

For Peter, his Ba, his Ông Ngoại

*
*

Aphasia / by Elisa Karbin

Where I’m are going and
no one can follow, the clear-
throated conduit of a cable’s
reach coils a thrown pencil
length from the bed, curls
in on itself like a sulfured
stomach and now, cupped
in the fist of Irony’s mute
power I turn, like poppies
at night, inwards and away
and, whether moon-damp or
drowned and drawn naked by
the ward’s fluorescent hum,
the joke I’ve been dying
to tell you still kicks its rash
in the back of my throat, the
itch of telling still burns.

*
*

Preterm / by Matthew Landrum

We knew a few of the gestures —
a folding of the hands across the chest
which your mother favored,
a sudden standing and walking out
of rooms, my habitual choice,
but you came early, before we were
conversant in the language of grief.
Daughter, you would be no longer so
young if you were here. Did you know
you have a half-brother, a viable
continuation of the part of you that is
your mother? I’m glad for that. Daughter,
I want to speak to you a little longer,
even though I am only speaking to myself.
A week after you came and went,
your mother burst in on me shaving
and threw herself against my chest, sobbing,
and I cut myself badly. We stood there
for a long time, blood running down my shirt
and into her hair. It couldn’t wait;
it demanded to be spoken. Preterm —
before the term, the terms, the lexicon.
I am a slow study; it’s taken me so long
to find words to string together missing you
which tied irrevocably to loving you,
which feels at times no different.
I didn’t know how to speak it then
as you were fading and just repeated
daughter, daughter, daughter.
It will have to be enough.

*
*

Outscoring Steph Curry / by Clyde Long

Steph Curry golfs at Lake Tahoe
“humble a couple over par”.
I’m not humbled dozens
over par. I don’t feel bad for
me or for Steph’s low scores.

Green fairways – I love “fairway” –
beckon and threaten with friends
all of whom outscore Steph
and often me with my tally
system — each swing a joy.

Our golf bags are insulated,
filled with beers and legal weed.
It’s our engineered excuse to
explain lost balls and scores
dwarfing Steph’s numbers.

Sunburned at round’s end
we share fictional scorecards —
no one believes a single number,
not even his own. But sorry,
Steph, you lose in double digits.

*
*

Day 9 / Poems 9

*

Past the Pane / by Jenifer DeBellis

We watch the coastline
slip beneath the horizon.
Sun sets the western
skyline to a simmering
flame. Miles from port lightning

lights the night sky, casts
electric blue hues over
our entwined bodies.

As our twisted limbs
relax, we doze in the rock
& swell of post-rain
waves. We rise refreshed, released
from a spell of toil & loss.

Past the pane porpoising
stingrays wind surf our wake, their
sportiveness their guide.

*
*

Vines / by Kasha Gauthier

To tangle something, add thorns
for grabbing, thorns
for holding onto one another.
When the vine is pulled,
up from the underbrush
comes what could not be seen,
endless vines,
no root in sight,
only connection-
to its children,
to its offshoots.
To cut its lifeline
trace along the spiney stem
watch your thumbs on the thorns
and find the root.
To kill the vine, pull hard.
The main root holds them all.

*
*

In the Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Blanche

Creator of lines
Shaped
Small sculptures
Pendants for women
Fractured by age
Gloried by color for the queens in all of us.

Blanche designed jewelry for 31 years for an iconic jewelry store with master goldsmiths.

*
*

The Children (Part II) / by TJ Jarrett

When the men lead the children by their tiny hands
one by one into the abandoned malls, anointed box stores,
and office parks, when the children weighted by tears drag
after, when the sky bears down against the men as to contain
the shame they have lost, when the girl in the pink jacket and
white sneakers pulls back and sits with her legs crossed onto
the asphalt in her own kind of protest, when the man pulls
her up by one arm without regard to her screams, when the woman
takes them and asks why they worry when she knows full well
that they are filled with worry and the cause of it, when the women
ask them to draw and tell them that the sun is shining
so why not draw that, when the sun leans westward as if to say
that even it is done with us, when the nightguards whisper to the children
that they are abandoned, when the nightguards whisper to these children
that they are unloved, when the nightguards separate them in cages
like kennels, when the nightguards police their fury with pills,
their dreams with guns, and their attempts at comfort with billy-sticks,
when the woman in the class says, let’s make a face, let’s make a mask,
let us make them colorful
and make the children to queue up
(we have seen this before) and demands their quiet
(we have seen this before) and to wear these rude masks outside
so that the citizens cannot see their faces or eyes
that could remind us of anything familiar as children—
Citizen. Citizen. What has become of us?

*
*

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove / by Daniel Jenkins
Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan, 1550

You saw the twelve warriors before I stopped to awe
In upward lines at the clatter of bamboo trunks, a kind of
Giant’s percussive chime, and you pointed—not toward the sky,
Where the sun was muted, but toward the twelve,
A hundred yards into the grove, all kneeling solemnly,
Their monstrous helmets and armor lying like bodies on pyres
Beside them, and as the grove insisted on giving roar and tempo,
Wildly humming outward to inward, you knew that yes, the forest
Called me in because it called you. I choked on tears. I left your hand.
And once inside, the death poems of the twelve called out to me,
Inwardly chattering from the grove’s rustling leaves,
From the parchment at their knees to my mind’s muddy basin.
No, I told you. These are too familiar, but instead of
Insisting I face the twelve, you stayed silent on the path.
In a semi-circle each knelt, eyes closed, their being inwardly
Raptured by failure and honor and duty. I trembled. The expression of
Your face said neither drive them out, from their final ceremonies,
From the grove to elsewhere, and neither let them stay,
Reciting their incanted lives, of the blue after the blue
When one dies. My holy rage at death and burden for you—
Cheeks and hair, lip of hip bone, back dimple, neck nape,
Constancy and ecstasy, pulsars one-flesh joined—
I rushed in to the grove with my sword drawn, slashing at them.
The sword is the ocean, you said, and when the twelve
Saw their maniac master, startled to their feet, their seppuku blades
Became cranes in a flash and flew far from the grove,
And the kisses of you I imagined spirited away the words
The twelve herded on their parchments, a sad, unceremonious end
To death, another sacrosanct delivery of life, forward perhaps,
Into limitless blue which comes after, and beyond.
And I swung the sword until all twelve, their armor, their death poems,
Vanished, with those in the village already telling the tale to
Each of their eager children, but only by whisper, only by gust of wind.
Empty of being. Empty of clattering bamboo trunks, dead leaves.
I wanted only to kneel myself, smothered by the wild nostrils of
The living God, but I could not. I must’ve desired your empty hand.

*
*

Ars Poetica / by Elisa Karbin

endless hum, the first forged bell,
clapper cut from God’s own & gleaming
femur. & violet, the sound needle-
purled from our mortal mouths.

Yes, ease the whisper-throb of all
deaths it echoes through. The poem
& you, who lie in longing
. . . . . . . . . . .[come cool hand,
. . . . . . . . . . .come palliative]
dream the poem, the poem’s sweet
ringing & cool roil. Poem, your balm
to smear across the too-much cut.
Hope shouldered against the scraping
wind of trauma. Hope & so begin again:

Start with steel ting, hollow bone
chimes, their ring & the body’s human
music under the purpled wake of scalpel
drag & sting. Sing to sharp precision &
deconstruction’s muscular pull—
Sing ars poetica until its ringing strips
your sickness & peels you back to the before,
when you understood it’s not painless death
you wanted, but the pain of being, here.

*
*

Fatberg / by Matthew Landrum

Yes. You can imagine its beginnings —
hot turkey drippings poured down
a sink, globules of fat adhering
to a clump of hair, a small thing
finding purchase against porous brick
or in a sewer bend where it accreted,
gathering like molecules to itself
from the stream of kitchen waste
and fermenting shit. Nondegradables
lumped in its mass as it blocked up
the pipe. Wet wipes stitched together
rancid islands. In the fettered flow
fetid diapers and oily tennis balls
made for rat-warren, cockroach colony.
By the time it was discovered, it had saponified,
hard as concrete and the size of a jumbo jet.
It took workers two months to glop it out,
hazmat armored against sulphuric rot.
They brought it back to the surface
shovelful by reeking shovelful,
this collective subconscious,
this triglyceride democracy,
this thing we made together.

*
*

Anodyne Tides / by Clyde Long

— for C

Anodyne quells pain,
is calm routine

sometimes one,
sometimes both.

Some hunger for a
blur of chaos

where anodyne is
a buzz kill,

where friction sears
the sauce

scotch bonnet hot.
We hug rather in

a sweet spot
where love lazes

afloat ebbs and flows
and storms

and many full moons.

*
*

Day 8 / Poems 8

*

One More Hallelujah / by Jenifer DeBellis

For Tanya

The train bumps through the Appalachians. Plow-
combed farms stitch the mountainside. Light refracts
off metal silos & jagged granite that juts
from the landscape. A church steeple pokes
through a shield of balsam fir & red cedar
as if it were hands raised in prayer.

Well I heard there was a secret chord

we’d sing as you strummed that first C chord.

Rungs of powerlines peek from the treescape
like forgotten guitar necks. It’s your smile I see
in the face-shaped clouds, your voice I hear
as the train lulls through a sleepy mill town.

But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room & I’ve walked this floor

As the Potomac River worms alongside the train
tracks, my thoughts drift back to our last night together,
which—like your life—was cut short by the cancer
that ravaged your throat. We watched you eat yourself
sick against our cautions. But who could blame you?

Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

It was the simple desire to eat for pleasure
you were after. You cut & chewed your bocconcini,
button mushrooms & roasted eggplant slowly
like the event you traveled cross-country for was this
cocktail hour meal. You knew you wouldn’t keep it
down, that you’d get sick & miss saying goodbye
to us all. Yet you couldn’t stop yourself
to save yourself. & maybe that’s the point here.

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya

Maybe you couldn’t stop eating like you couldn’t stop
the cancer anymore than you could swallow
one more dose of our sorrow or sing one more round
with the elephant turned mountain that now divided
us into land of the living & land returning to dust.

Lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

*
*

The Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Dorothy

Since the “elementary school” of my life,
Your performances have made my day, my year,
When you perform, they bring life to this day
Fresh with the vigor of 90 year-old youth
Pathos and feisty energy catching the stars of the years
For all of us.

Dorothy is a major actress. I heard from her this week!

*
*

The Knife / by TJ Jarrett

The boy brought the penknife
to school. It was spring and
full of wind. A kite wound itself

around a tree. The children
gathered in a circle on the
playground as he drew it out.

He’d brought it for a girl.
The sun was high and the
knife, thin as a pinky

finger, glistened between
them. The girl’s mouth made
the shape of an o and she

drew her hands to it. It
was spring. The spring was full
of wind and wonder and

this is how the teachers
found them, the girls covering
their mouths, the boys making

a high pitched noise—Oh! Oh!—
and reaching for the sharp
part. Then fast as wind the

boy was kicked out. What
about the mother? they asked.
The father? The mother? Not us.

In which direction did it
point? But when I asked the girl,
she remembered the sun was

high, how bright it shone between
them, her hands lowered one, then
another, then the reaching.

*
*

Cat Island / by Daniel Jenkins
Aoshima, Japan, 1550

Buze, you say, no longer the Yupik woman.
When we see the mountain from the sea, you sing this:

Gray wave on wave,
Wreckage of the dark,
Boat beneath the sun.

Bow dips, bow rises.
Sails slacken, vessel to the peer.
Men fasten the ship to the dock,
Knotting the rope.

Aoshima, you say, leaning over the bow.
When the ship moors, and the first cats come, you sing this:

Divine wind blows.
Fisherman cast their nets.
The cats and the silkworm.

A strong sun remains.
Glistening fish in a net,
The cats eat the mice.
You are not alone.

I look at my hands. I look at my blue robe.
When I feel the sword at my side, heavy steel, you sing this:

Mountains and stones,
My hand in my lover’s hand.
The temple and bamboo in Kyoto.

Cranes and water blooms,
Moon, sun, and cloud.
Love by the lakes and streams.
There, I will be someone else.

Fifty hungry cats: gray, orange, and black.
You have bread, you have fish. You have fifty new children.

Only the cats sing now.

*
*

Erronea / by Matthew Landrum

after Lorca

The moon weeps,
wishing it were an orange.
The horse wants to be a bee,
the bee a dog. Nothing is settled.
The sky longs to be the ocean
but can only stare
at its own reflection
caught in the perturbation
of the waves.

*
*

Sustenance / by Clyde Long

— for Peter Petroski

Long before network routers
webs snared and connected,

whether spider and prey or
old friends and new ones.

Our online world mimics
organic webs of yore.

How are friends dead or
demented different from

messages lost in the ether
never to return?

We survivors remember them
and sometimes ourselves.

New friends made cannot
replace the old ones,

maybe just add strands
snaring new sustenance.

*
*

Cuttlefish / by Kate Madrid

All brain you, and tentacles
Still. . .how little you fathom

Love plumbs
the deep sinks
beyond light

You scuttle along the shelf thinking, thinking, thinking

of yourself

*
*

Day 7 / Poems 7

*

Not with Me / by Jenifer DeBellis

I don’t like the starched towels here. Or the bed linens, how they grate my skin when I toss & turn, trying to find sleep beside my snoring husband.

I don’t like the all-white bread options at the free continental breakfast. Don’t like my toast under-toasted or burnt around the edges, like my husband brings me when he brings me something from the breakfast bar.

I don’t like the way the attendant smiles at me or raises his eyebrow when I pass the front desk. I don’t like when you lean close & say you look goooood. & I don’t like how you touch my back when we talk.

I don’t like the way chlorine burns my esophagus when I exit the stairwell. Don’t like how it mixes with the fresh coffee & burnt bagel that kid keeps forgetting to come back for—that kid who’s like my stepson, who—thank God—we only get for holidays & a month each summer now that his mom’s new husband took a sales job two states away.

I don’t like the way the sun blasts through the lobby windows. Don’t like the way the steamed tile feels beneath my bare feet. I don’t like when you call me sweetie or honey. & I don’t like how you touch my back when we talk, pretending we’re a couple.

I don’t like this hotel or the chain it’s linked with. I don’t like this coast. Don’t like that the sun sets where it should rise. & I don’t like the way your wife watches us from her peripheral when you touch my back or how my husband waits until we’re alone to talk about it.

*
*

I heard Cicadas the night Emmett Till was killed / by Kasha Gauthier

Cicadas have an exceptionally loud song,
produced not like other insects-
but by vibrating
drumlike tymbals.
Most are cryptic,
they sing at night
to avoid predators.

Raised underground,
they emerge-every 14 years-
which may reduce losses
to the population
by starving their predators
they will eventually emerge
in huge numbers
that will overwhelm
& satiate any remaining predators.
In cornflowered fields,
they live in trees,
feed on watery sap,
lay their eggs
in a slit in the bark.

Cicadas go by the names cherry nose, brown baker, red eye, greengrocer,
yellow Monday, whiskey drinker, double drummer, and black prince.

They are covered with waxy cones,
blunt spikes which roll the rain,
remove dust and dirt,
Dew condenses on their wings-
the droplets leap (leap!)
into the air,
which also serves
to clean the wings.
Bacteria that try to land
are not repelled, rather
their membranes are torn apart
by nano-sized spikes,
making the wing surface
the first known biomaterial
that can kill bacteria.

To the human ear,
it is often difficult
to tell precisely where
a cicada song originates;
the pitch is nearly constant,
the sound continuous
to the human ear
many species have a distinct
distress call, usually a broken
and erratic sound
emitted
by the insect
when seized or panicked.

*
*

The Garden of Aging / by Nina Gibans

For Jane

Shares stories graciously
Introduces friends to be sure we know
Each other each day every day.
Red lipstick and rims for glasses
Brightening her day and ours
the color lady’s good advice.

Jane lived across the street

*
*

Jennary: The Wilderness / by TJ Jarrett

I kept moving, but when I did sleep,

terrible dreams were visited upon me.

In each one, I was back where I started and

I would flee into a wilderness without form,

trees that were not trees, water that was not water,

and voices, so many of them just beside me and

disembodied eyes floating in the thick sepia toned air.

You do not belong here whispered to me and

I would move forward through the thick brush

until I would fall back into my body. In the thicket.

To flee into wilderness without regard to this body

Or its safety, that I would rather entrust myself

to the burrs and beasts and quicksand of its unblessed

ground, that I would fly to God’s unreliable arms

with this quickening womb— describes the nature

of my imprisonment. I am moving. I know only thirst

but not how to sate it. But freedom. I am moving.

This freedom, at last, I know. I am moving.

But freedom.

Move.

*
*

Whale Bone Alley / by Daniel Jenkins
Yttygran Island, Chukotka, 1377

A close, pungent blood stink—
Burning fat—tall grasses blood-splashed.
Black hills. White bird and person chatter.
Men in thick hide-coats, faces wrapped,
All fileting a large, immoveable blur
On a cold beach. Putrid smell of flesh,
A slick-dark hide rank with slime and sludge.
A fin beside me. Four whales, five.
Crackling campfires with laughter, children
and women by the tents, tanning, making.
Meat settling in pits. One man strikes
A flintstone, rises to meet me.
Work songs about us, joy in their singing.
Yupik, the man says, but he laughs,
Handing me a knife to help flay the hide.
There is, after all, a feast to prepare.
Quyanaghhalek tagilusi,* a woman says.
I am shocked. It is you. You scan the cold,
Black sea, yellow gems of flash
Flickering off water planes, seas concealing
burdens, heaviness, revealing home.
Your voice is a stranger’s. Your voice, yours,
& I wonder: I remember caves, and ice,
I say, and I hold you close. I spit you out,
Pulp, no pigment, half-digested, hair
Grizzled and milk-white.

I see in long stretches
of grass plain bone tusks fixed in the earth,
Unswerving, fifteen or so feet high.
Then he mimes a large mouth,
Widening his forearms, pointing at the bones,
Then pointing at the whales.
The slightly curved bones upward piercing,
Half arches of ivory jaw.

I stand roughly.
I miss my the walking stick.
The cold stiffens my spine while
My reformed leg aches,
Wind-chilled.

The sphere in the sky is whiter here,
Fluid like water.
It sinks faster.

Tomorrow we go, you say.

Later, when the fires are numbed,
the orange cinders
dust-settled, we’ll set out
by boat in the cold night, riding waves
South for striding islands,
Seaward for the homes of holy cats,
places of cranes, bamboo groves.

* Quyanaghhalek tagilusi means roughly welcome in the Yupik language.

*
*

Crypto-Judaica / by Elisa Karbin

Nothing here was ever ours. We,
with our mythically sharp teeth
and nails that have trailed along
the silk hem of centuries. We covet,
it’s said, bullion and bones,
the glinting gems of infant eyes.
In truth, we steal everything but riches.

We live in the carved-out pocket
of abundance, that feral space a short
pace from hunger, desperate son
of death. Like the tangibility of death
turned over in the palm like a river stone.

No, none of this was ever ours, not
orchard nor count-house, neither
the silver nor scale. But winter is ours.

Its chill was borne in our gut, the hard
earth packed by our pogrom-gone gait.
The cold season, god’s dull metaphor, is
our due. Ours is the magpie who rocks
the sapling skin for its fool’s gold fire,
who sharpens her nested stones for
the rough, time-yoked work of spring.

Strange neighbor, we have seen your
desire through the keen lens of a jeweler’s
quartz-ground loupe—such a yawning
multiplicity of black holes releasing from
you all, like screws from a window’s
ledge. Your cream-fed piety is a waiting
catastrophe. Your sovereignty, the rock
the magpie honed and wrought.

*
*

Asymptote / by Matthew Landrum

Remember the lesson on half lives,
how elements shed atoms predictably

toward zero on an approach
that never arrives? It means nothing

is ever over though everything advances,
the way the human race runs headlong

toward judgement that never comes, looks
for an apocalypse that keeps

from revealing itself though sometimes
you can smell smoke on the breeze

and catch a rumor of brass. Zeno imaged it
as an arrow dividing the air, half by half, infinite

narrowing. What was it I was going to say —
something more about the end of days?

But now am thinking of how I once stayed awake
through the train-crossed night of your city,

my head full of you, and felt another life
opening. That world without end

is divided now by sea and silence. Loves keeps time
with its slow decay, asymptotic, on a line

that reaches neither you nor zero.

*
*

A Gate Swings Open / by Clyde Long

— for OG scholars

A gate swings open —
to what?
It can shut again
so I lean ahead
like a soldier.
I march for family
who can count on me.
I see a future ahead
my shoulders bearing
rare precious things,
clear-eyed, eagle-eyed
zeroed in on knowing
the past is not my future.

My gate is open:
I strive, I learn —
I march!

*
*

Vampire Bat / by Kate Madrid

That mother is mean in her meat, not misunderstood

She knows where blood
flows closest to the skin

Bites when she’s bored,
when she’s ignored

*
*

Day 6 / Poems 6

*

After the Rain / by Jenifer DeBellis

“I’m only happy when it’s complicated,”
Shirley Manson belts. “Though I know
you can’t appreciate it,
I’m only happy when it rains.”

Swept into the tempo, I crank the volume.
In the gutter space amid “Pour your misery
down” & “Pour your misery down on me”
I get a glimpse of the storm that rages
within a broken soul caged by conflict.

Yet, unlike the song, this soul’s comfort
is the night turned bright. Where there’s nothing
to pull from the shadows, she’ll use
what’s within reach to cast shadow
puppets in amateur skits.

Do not be deceived when she tells you
she hates drama. Her survival depends on
drama-churned storms that fuel
the tropical cyclone’s rapid rotations.

She has learned it’s the time
just after the storm, when rain & wind
wane, that the rescue mission begins.
She knows there’s no relief
effort without casualties & devastation.

She’s spent so much time in the storm
eye, though, she no longer sees
where the storm ends & she begins.
She sucks in surface air to feed
her inner fire. The broken soul forgets
she’s after what follows the rain,

forgets how to escape
her own self-destruction path.

Lyrics from “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage

*
*

The Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Eugenia

I am Russian
Packaged with stories
About my past and holocaust heritage
Like my missing bags relatives memories
Deleted from my lifetext.
I have been here nearly 50 years
And learn new things every one of my days
Lectures, music, especially Boris Gudenov.
I thread them into my cloth.

Eugenia came from Russia in 1977 and does needlework

*
*

Aya / by TJ Jarrett

—What of the gift of water? The over and under of it? The hard of it? How softly you are held? You ask me what it is to walk upon water and I will tell you this about miracles—it is not that they are prayed for, but given without asking. The miracle is not even miracle to the bearer of it. I could be miracle in that I made it out alive at all, or that my voice follows you now, so many years, generations after.

—Beware of those who would call it blessed, who would claim it in the name of their own gods to make you claim them. Those who claim dominion over the earth must believe it unchangeable. So for you, bearer of this light, you too must be miracle, aberration, something unaccounted. They need you to believe the world is outside you, acts upon you. This unchangeable world, that one they built and demand you accept.

—But what of the water, the in and out of it? The voice I set out long ago upon the sea until at last it reached you. Call it anointing, call it baptism—I offer this gift. I give you wilderness. I give you a heart of brambled thicket, the nagging doubt that says: We don’t need to live like this. I give you the self. May you never be parted.

*
*

Mendenhall Ice Caves / by Daniel Jenkins

Please click here to read the poem.

*
*

Vigil / by Elisa Karbin

Black lanterns flag the oak-armed
branches lining the wintered field
where ospreys dive blind, savage

the dusking acres for trauma’s carrion.
Squint to the east. See the lingering
glint of ghost scythes poised in their

cutting down. The half-timber tower,
undulled razor wire reclaimed by time’s
twist of vines, these crude sentries stay

their terrible vigil, rise from the earth
stark, before the blank center square,
a black mouth hung in an unending wail.

*
*

Mournful Expectancy / by Matthew Landrum

for Harrison Parker

We tire of the church service, the sermon
running long, concerned with minutia

of theology or askancing the furtive
pleasures we are so sure we need to survive.

When I was a child, I thought of heaven
as the same song played over and over,

a billow of ungainly choir robes in white
corridors, a harp recital. Today, my back aches

and its easier to think of resurrection as release,
but still hard to envision an eternity divorced

from difficulty –– the plot of every novel
gone, no more smarting of a sort of pain so akin

to pleasure it can be mistaken for the real thing.
How we would ever know without the sea

of unhappiness the way to chart archipelagos
of joy? I do not know, but I must believe

that everything good and perfect thing taken
from us will be given back again, more itself

than it was before, even as my hands grip this life
until they ache and its ragged edges score my palm.

*
*

Stivali rossi e mio figlio / by Clyde Long

— for Willem

A few years before he existed,
during lunchtime in North Beach
near Washington Square, on
Grant Street with its pizza
and cappucchio and smoke
I espied the boots, Italian leather
hightops, red, velcro’d, no
strings attached. Euro size 42.
They were instantly mine.

Fast forward twenty years.
The red boots were still intact
albeit with glue and duck tape.
Title had passed, my son stole
them, he a size 42 too.
Footwear so hard loved never
lasts. He and I finally eulogized
them and confessed seedy times
shod shameless wearing them.

*
*

Alligator / by Kate Madrid

It’s always later
in my lizard brain

Always already
the disaster

That dull eyed beast
splits my spinal column from now,
sets me adrift in what if

*
*

Day 5 / Poems 5

*

Body of Potential / by Jenifer DeBellis

In her prime she was regal,
a splendid vessel christened
Vedava, a water goddess
whose spirit is sea itself.
She bowed to wind & waves
in greeting, heeling but
never submitting.
Her silky sails kissed
salt-sweet winds for hours
without breaking for breath.

As journeys often go, though,
what drove her hit its bitter end.

Once her core’s strong point,
her mainsail boom & spar tip
sit stripped of purpose.
She’s that abandoned sailboat
in the sleepy harbor’s
neglected slip. Shifting
tides have aged her. Frayed
sun-bleached line braids tangle
into knots that tether her
to patinaed dock cleats.

If asked, she would say
her name is now anticipation.

Anticipation like siren
songs caught in swelled
waves beating the seawall
surrounding the lighthouse.
Anticipation, this forgotten
watercraft, weathered
by waves teeming with
exotic sea glass.

She’s anticipation that longs
for familiar hands
to unstrap her lines, longs
to tread open waters until night
consumes her—the lighthouse
her beacon of hope
in an otherwise starless night.

If asked, she would say
she’s a body of potential
energy, longing to be carried away
again.

*
*

The Garden of Aging / by Nina Gibans

For Helen

Gently forcefully
softly, deftly she walks her days
mindfully.
The roses get water, the bird feeders
Are tended; the readings in the papers; we throw up our hands.
She is capable of handling almost anything
But..

Helen headed the Art History department at a college

*
*

To the Women Who Never Returned from War / by TJ Jarrett

Lucky. They say we are lucky to have made it out alive.
They say we’re lucky or dead, but I insist there must be
something between, the twilight we live through
before we’re drowned. I can’t tell you how many died
simply because they didn’t know they were allowed to live.
And the war. The knives that where held against us, the children
they took screaming from our arms. When was there not
the war? What is it except our accumulated disasters?
L, my comrade—she died trying to slake an insatiable thirst.
She thought it would be her mother, no—her father,
just anyone, really, to protect her until she became
just a body in which she could retreat while they did
what they wanted to it. It, being the body and not herself.
Never the self. It was Christmas when we lost her, and as that body
lay near us, we piped Christmas carols into the air, the tinny notes
wafting down the corridors. We stood to protect what was left
of the thing that housed her and we all knew a room inside the body
made for retreat because we each had found it in our own way.

*
*

Thor’s Well / by Daniel Jenkins
Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, Oregon

While photographers steadied their tripods
On the water-glossed basalt, the boy, about twelve,
Stood above the well tossing mussel shells
Into the upwelling water, briny-green, bright sunlight
Above us, and as he began to speak,
Sharing the myths of the Alsea people, the wind,
Cool and persistent, stiffened the titanium in the raw,
Meat-pulp of my reconstituted leg. I leaned
On the yellow birch walking stick, listening to the boy
Tell me there is a spirit greater than Coyote,
A spirit which made The Wanderer. When the boy
Ran out of mussel shells, he picked up black sticks,
Tossing them in. Below us, the basalt lip
of the well here on the Oregon coast, a black scab
Hardened over by the air and wind and sea,
Appeared to breathe out water, like a chest heaving
Once pulled from drowning in the careless sea.
Hikers, photographers and tourists
Slipped through the noise of the waves crashing
While the boy went on, telling me
The Wanderer was once a whale, but became
One of us to slay beasts where he wandered the earth.
Then the waves shrugged, white froth tips
Fizzing over black rock, much like the plucked blooms
In your hair, like the blue fire I saw in you
On Hyperion, when you pushed me off the colossus.
I turned from tree to tide when the boy said
She-uh-kuh, pronouncing The Wanderer’s name,
Telling me Seuku. While the wild water
In Thor’s Well splashed and sank, made gray
By a reappearing sun, the boy told me
He learned the Alsea language from Great Spirit,
Who told him these myths in dreams
While he prayed in secret here, at Thor’s Well,
When the twilight dawned with bird noise.

I asked the boy why here, then, with oceans,
Why consult with water and wave, to find only
Your footprints, only the aftershocks of your quake?
Then the laughter of children splashed around us.
The boy came closer, his eyes the kind which say death.
Wanderers like me, the boy said, cannot tell
Between the faces of the living and the faces of the dead,
So I should go, taking the word of this well,
It’s fathomed sea-spray, its epochs coolly ushered in.

for Scott and Teresa

*
*

Touring / by Elisa Karbin

Land around trauma absorbs.
Whetted earth, land becomes
heavy, clots like a river mouth,

too full of the overgrown. Restless
as winter roots, hunger hums
it’s want, yawning jaw set wide.

Hunger, into whose eternal ache
we curl, against the chill of empty
space, god’s deserted hearth.

Here, white-limbed trees finger
the pitch-thick tarpaulin of a provincial
night, cauls even the birch eyes blank.

Absence spins itself into the black,
weaves a shroud for the lost relic
of names— what wounds, who fell here.

Knife-bright and sharp as a waking
cough or sunk fence post deep, hunger
barbs up from earth’s belly, licks the wind

*
*

Arrival / by Matthew Landrum

At a distance, the rain was metaphor —
a violet lash whipping sideways
and downward,
each stroke breaking across the bare spine
of the mountain — a ragged flotilla, galleons staggering
westerward dumping cargo overboard to ballast —
broom sweeping the mountains clean of summer —
reverse sunbeam cutting through the steppe-light —
oncoming traffic with inscrutable window tint —
until it reached our car and then the rain was only itself,
not hammering, not pummeling, not driving, but falling
hard against the windshield, spattering.

*
*

Smoke these days / by Clyde Long

Evaporated moisture,
spring’s lush weeds

brittle and dun —
we are parched.

Dogs lie panting.
In the hills critters

burrow below Diablo’s
wind and ignition.

A smoke tendril rises.
Evacuation ensues,

gestures of what matters
and what doesn’t.

Ashes of family life
are a pyre blown

toward San Francisco Bay,
a Ganges these days.

*
*

Wail / by Kate Madrid

Dissatisfaction is brackish
She’d prefer some beached,
some heaving tragedy
Rather chase after madness,
after salt stink,
than face her kitchen sink

*
*

Day 4 / Poems 4

*

Pillar / by Jenifer DeBellis

In this story, Lot’s wife is a pillar in her community.
She’s the image of a Proverbs 31 woman. She does things
with an excellence her family can take pride in,

as it should be. In the end, what good is a half effort
or what comes from it? Her faith in her husband & God
above is unshaken when they follow the call

placed on them to set down roots in a botanical land
flowing with an abundance of food, wine, good cheer
& progressive power. She’s a savvy entrepreneur,

after all, who turns nothing into something of value
worth its weight in the metropolis trade market.
While Lot establishes himself as trusted town profit,

his wife keeps his home matters in expert order. Her
given name is Ado, but here they call her Edith—
a name that means blessed, a name that fits her well.

It’s important to Edith that her daughters carry on
the virtue & hard work ethic ingrained in her own bones.
The daughters aspire to bring favor & honor to their

father’s house. They blend into this new world
without being of it. When Lot’s uncle shows up
unannounced with two men for a visit, the gathered

townsmen debate Lot’s intents with the otherworldly
exotic men he snuck through his back entrance.
Edith is not surprised by the mad mob’s pounding

on her front door. She knows how fast word circuits
this busybody town, how nothing gets past those
who lose entire days watching others. Lot’s refusal

to release the men angers the swarm outside his door.
Their pounds turn to full body blows that shake
the home’s foundation. Edith pleads with Lot

when he offers their virgin daughters in exchange.
How could a sin for a sin be Yahweh’s way? she
argues. He shakes free of her hold, offers them again.

But the men are not interested in the girls. They
back away, plot their next move before agreeing
to try again in the morning. They do not know

they will not see another morning & that weights
Edith’s mind while she packs what she can carry
from this place she worked so hard to make a home.

She & Lot came to this place in peace to spread
peace & the word. Surely their time here has made
a difference. Surely more time here is all they need.

Her heart in turmoil, they retreat under the starless
cover of night. She wonders if she could’ve done more
to make a difference. Surely she could’ve done more,

she thinks, turning back toward the thundering firestorm
now ravaging the sin-filled city. She’s stung into silence.
Her face turns to stone as it catches the seismic scene

over her husband’s shoulder. Her last human emotion,
now etched into a salt pillar, is one that mirrors Lot’s.

It’s the mask of grief the righteous wear to shroud defeat.

*
*

Fish / by Kasha Gauthier

I saw a shine beneath
the surface, hard to tell
if he was really there
or simply sun, reflecting.

But from the bridge
I thought I saw
what others couldn’t-
a silver shadow
camouflaged
against all but me.

I wondered what cunning
kept him from hungry gulls
what slip he took
away from others
who ran upstream-
fought the falls, spawn
as instinct told them,
while he sat in the shallows-
alone and so beautiful!

I wanted to touch him-
I’d slide in smooth
never disturb him.

I could not reach him
the bridge too high
and my kids were calling me.

I blinked, and he was gone.

*
*

The Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Marge

Folding my napkin simplifies my life
I have almost finished
My meal is too much
It wraps my life neatly
Into the eight squares
Eight children unwrapped my days
Stirring the soups.

Marge was a stewardness and had eight children

*
*

Home as Literal / by TJ Jarrett

When it was just the three of them left— the older brother,
the sister and the youngest brother—the younger brother was dying.

He asked to see home one last time. But why? They were from Mississippi.
The white boys spit on them. There were fires. Boys slipped out of sight.

Girls each waited their turn to dim themselves like streetlights burning out.
Bodies emerged from the shallows one by one. But the younger brother.

He called it home, and in the twilight, he asked to return. The older brother
called it was crazy but the sister ordered the car and demanded they drive

from the far north down. Home, the older brother mingled with tour of duty.
Home, the sister endured like bad marriage. To the dying man, home

was secret he told no one. The sister says the drive was silence, punctuated
by arguments about everything except what they were doing. The sister says

they spent most of the time watching the trees and hills, like a slip coasting downriver.
And then about hour after they crossed the state line, but before they were home,

the younger brother was dead. The older brother and the sister stood at a rest stop
waiting for the ambulance. I asked the sister if the trip were wasted. At first

her brows furrowed, and then an opaque smile drifted across her face like a cloud.

*
*

Hyperion / by Daniel Jenkins
Redwood National & State Park, California

Eyes opened.
The nauseating white light.
Nurse in purple, plugs, chirping vital signs.
Jaws wired, stiff and silenced, right leg flesh-wounded.
Words—“I’m telling you. No one falls that far and lives.”
“3.5 BAC, Jack. Didn’t feel shit.”
“Still, it’s a buck-fifty to the ground
From the canopy.”

Eyes closed.
The wave organ said
You’d be there. One day’s hike.
Coastal redwoods drinking
Waist-deep streams. Moonlight
Scattering in falling blades
Past black branches, silver ribbons
On streams. The rain came.
My cheeks wet, crackling on leaves.
Knotted roots. Dank, grizzly fur-stink,
Damp roots, gray-orange sky.
There. Hyperion, the tallest in the world,
Drenched in petrichor. The brush
Of the high wind, that blood moon—
I saw you there—gesturing me closer
With your finger.

Eyes opened.
Aluminum on my tongue.
Plastic shoved in my throat.
My being is electricity. A monitor.
A sink. More white light.
“Back pins, shattered femur . . .
He’ll limp, yes,” the doctor said.
“The ribs though?” the nurse said.
“They’ll heal. 4-6 weeks, maybe more.”
“You know, I’m shocked—
It’s a miracle, to live after all this.”
“I don’t believe in miracles,” the doctor said.

Eyes closed.
You, barefoot again,
a white sundress, moonflower.
I climbed the massive root, met you
At the base, and we began our climb,
Our fingertips digging in deep bark.
Heel to heel, in the giant tree’s hide.
We climbed over rivulets the full height
Of the tree’s dark skin, wood-musk,
Salt wind from the sea, a flacking
Black hawk wing in periphery, somewhere.
“Don’t be surprised when I do what I do,” you said.
“Do anything you like,” I told you.

An hour of the impossible: hands and fingers
Like insects, sticky pads to the grain.
Closer to the top, I saw the little trees bellow
below with the wind, streams braiding
Hills with little veins in a near-dawn.
Then at the top, the highest we’d climb,
You and I rested for the first time.

Eyes opened.
Nurse holding x-rays, studying
My inner metal and titanium repair.
“No one knows who he is,” she said to someone.
“Maybe the poor bastard wants it that way.”
“The jaw looks like it took. You know—
I’d hate to be mute the rest of my life.”
“Therapist will flex the jaw tendon.”
“What about this?” the nurse said.
“It’s his new third leg,” the doctor said.

Eyes closed.
“I don’t think you’re ready,” you said.
“I am,” I told you. “You can do anything.”

God painted the moon a crimson plate
Just above your head, though—
“Please forgive me. I have to do this,” you said.

Then you pushed me.
I fell away from you,
Downward sprawling, a sad sack
Of limbs kicking, body clipping
Tree limb by tree limb,
Branches scraping, breaking me,
My head knocked to black sleep,
& in that sleep, there are no dreams.

Eyes opened.
Wheeled through the hospital lobby.
Yellow birch walking stick, knotted.
Pain in my right leg, my ribs and head.
But that’s fine.

“Try to get some help,” the nurse said.
“You know. For the drinking.”

“Sure,” I said.

for Andrew & Aimee

*
*

Patience / by Elisa Karbin

Like the dried nightshade fronds falling
from the wreath of Circe’s hair, I am
stilled in the unmagic march of the seasons—
the body’s relentless linear push that makes
my bones pumice-light, casts every artery
and vein to chalk, weightless as milkweed’s nap.

Unmagic, come untether me. Make me a boreal
specter of my spring-ashed self. I want to ghost
my own body, lace through my blood like the
smoke-vine of nature’s hook and eye. Dull fact.
Sure faith, this forecast, I understand Earth’s wild
tempers now. I see myself in her strangling green,
her frenzied whip of fire that smothers, makes
the heart beat mute as quartz; fructifies the blank.

*
*

High Desert Postlude / by Matthew Landrum

Santa Fe

After the sudden storm, sand sage bushes dripped pale green,
leaves lit by a just-as-sudden sun. The mesa wore a day moon

over its shoulder and the scent of wet juniper filtered over
the ozone tang of hot stones and rain. I’ve heard that kitsch

is a portrayal of the natural world as perfectly arranged for us,
the way it is in the painting they sell down at the tourist galleries

in town. This landscape is still unfamiliar and sometimes tricks me
into believing it could be that perfect. The storm was this afternoon

and now that the sun has set below the stalwart ridge of pine,
a fling of stars pinholes the purpling horizon. Coyote punctuate

the mesquite quiet. None of this does anything to convince me
that this world isn’t sometimes a sucker for itself too.

*
*

Household Service / by Clyde Long

My Zen ethic
regrets my joy
at the rat’s demise
but it was my cat
who did it
not me.

Its corpse lay
warm intact
cast a shadow
long tail still.
Cat’s meow,
I said good boy.

I do not accept blame
for who did this
who is my good friend
who works like this
every night
in household’s service.

*
*

Chronic / by Kate Madrid

illness is a coal bed, a cold bed
Coal smoke blows black blue back through
the back bones. Coal seams burn briefly
Grief is a coal fire, a cold fire

*
*

Day 3 / Poems 3

*

A New Wilderness / by Jenifer DeBellis

Picture this, it’s a quiet Friday morning. You sip
your second cup of coffee while you watch a cackle
of crows pester a red-tailed hawk, driving it
from snow-dressed ash branch to ash branch
in the marsh out back. Your view through this wall
of glass is picturesque. The sun is out for the first time
in weeks. Frosted tufts of indian grass & hardstem
bulrush glisten as they reach skyward like winter
has hardly bitten them. This view’s what sold you
on the house you’ve spent two decades making
into a home—a fact you point out to your spouse,
who lounges across from you. Your phone vibrates
mid-sentence with an incoming call from your daughter
who now lives four states away. Are you alone,
she asks once you’ve returned her hi. No,
I’m with Dad. Good,
she says, I have bad news.
They found an astrocytoma glioma on my right frontal lobe.

Your breath constricts. In English, you demand,
though you already know she is about to say
brain tumor. You stare through the pane, past
the bleak lawn until your eyes settle on the wilderness
beyond. Barron Michigan maples, white pines & oak
trunks blur into a tangled shadow. You think
she’s just said surgery is set for next month
but you can’t find your way out of the shifting
tree trunk labyrinth now caging you in.
Sometime between shock & anger, you find your way
to her pre-op bedside, where talk turns to advance
directives & complications. Surgery was a success,
the neurosurgeon beams when he finds you
curled in a lounge chair, watching the sun rise
over the rolling horizon of the Blue Ridge
Mountains. What you’ll soon learn is surgery
was the easy part. Memory loss, mood swings
& relearning will fog the days that lead
to radiation + chemo. Nothing you do quells
her headaches & heartaches. Nothing you say
makes any of this go away, any of it better. Yet
in between prescription pick-ups & inventing new ways
to braid her hair to hide her scar & hair loss,
you make sure she eats, has clean sheets, remembers
to shower & brush her teeth. Then treatment begins
& you’re reminded—as she grows weaker, sleeps
whole days without waking, turns her resentment
toward you—none of it is enough or makes a real
difference. But you do it anyway because
your own healing comes from the simple service
you’re able to offer her. You’re sure she hates you,
hates that you can’t make it all better like you did
when she skinned her knees or had a nightmare.
You know this because you know that look
she gives you when you ask what else you can do.
It’s the look she used through her teenage years
to let you know you’ve ruined things again,
that you always ruin everything. So you back away,
find an escape like you learned to do when
her inner fears morph into outward frustration.
There’s a private lake path you discovered
on a previous hike. It’s a comfort place
you return to when your head clogs with regret,
with deferred hope, with your own frustration
brand. As you walk, you’re enveloped in hemlocks,
birches & halesia trees, their newly bloomed
silverbell clusters bursting from over-dressed
branches. You compete with the Cackling
Geese & their gosling for your share of the path.
You envy their simple life, their determined
ways. You recall when your own days
could be simplified to keeping your little ones
in line & the resolute focus such simplicity required.
You marvel over how prepared you were
to witness each growth, each milestone. How ready—
excited even—you were to watch their wings unfurl
as they entered the world, their bright lives before
them. You realize, dodging fowl dung droppings,
how unprepared you are for your daughter’s
uncertain journey. This new waiting burrows
a hole in your visions of her future. This new waiting
has a name you cannot name, fills your visions with
an endless wait there is no preparing for. You welcome
it just as you welcomed a life by faith. Though,
if given the choice, you would not answer this call.

*
*

Muscle Memory / by Kasha Gauthier

My family fought dirty.
My childhood, a series
of training matches, winner
take all. The practice made me
strong, to withstand impact,
agile, to throw a punch
before theirs lands.
By 15, I had a hair trigger.
I looked for fights
would take on anyone.
Violence was bred in me.
We called it strength.
Now, I feel my scars
from that zero-sum game.
I’m learning to surrender

*
*

The Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Jim

Pearl grey music now
Solumn low sterno
Bach’s ostinato too drilling
Mahler too expansive
Gillespie perfect
I’ve lived with every one of their works
Heard them daily
Mooring my thoughts, anchoring the hours.

Jim was a major architect

*
*

What I Will Tell the Girls about Exile / by TJ Jarrett

These dark mornings, Venus rises like a lighthouse
in the gap between planets. How bright it is
like rock crystals I have held in these hands.
Low, thick enough to pluck from the horizon.
Before I go, I am thinking about distance. A world
drawn up as if I were already across the water. A man
speaks love, but already it is like whispers by a river.

The trees and their northerly moss, the frogs and their song—
every bird, every tree, the clouds, the weather—will all become
things I will tell someone in a café far from here. “You do not
understand what rain is,” I will say. “What could you know
about the still air or how the clouds build upon themselves
like celestial cities and the hot tears cast down on the earth
because they expected so much more of themselves?”

I pray you will not know this grief. I know you will learn in time.
I tell myself I can bear the grief better from afar. Again, I am
thinking about distance, shining cities on a hill. From a distance,
the fire looks like a shining. From a distance, I could begin to mull
what faith means in a world like this. I might even begin to call
what I am about to do as something short of exile. Let us not
begin with lies between us. I am leaving. I am meant to save myself.

*
*

The Wave Organ, I / by Daniel Jenkins
San Francisco, California

for CDY

Let’s say I write you a letter.
I’d tell you what I saw, the gray waves, white caps
Splashing against the concrete,
Children racing each other up and down the blocks
& every now and then
Listening to the gargling ocean, their ears
In pipes conjured from beneath the cement.
Chilly mist, a couple leaning in to the sea. One of them
Pretends to fall in so the other is forced to catch.
I leaned in myself to hear the wave organ sing.
The letter I’d write you would say all this.

“What did you hear?” a woman painting the sunset asked.

I told her frequencies. I told her road signs,
High tides, northward currents, and the bellows
Of whales, Leviathan, speech of God.
I told her basso continuo, I told her empty stomach,
& I told her dry lips, kissing, & silver
Settling in the ocean’s opened scars, heat vents,
Abyssal steam, the gift of our bodies to our bodies.
Seagulls, lineages of singing
Emptying from the ocean’s unlovely orange cinders
As it assumes the sinking sun.
Expanded gasses, bubbles upwelling the PVC pipes
Of the wave organ.

Again, the woman painting the sunset:
“What you’ve seen is not an invitation,
but a warning. Don’t go after her . . .”

The letter would say the artist still pointed me
Toward the docks I saw the night before, and how
Steep the streets, and their houses, rose to escape
The shore and the sea and the night,
Closing in on me leaving without your song.

The letter would say you ran from the banshee
Swooping and circling above the docks,
& how, when I woke up, before I fully saw the earth,
I drew your running. I drew your hiding
Inside the warbling iron gut of the supertanker,
Headed for the caves of ice nearly as blue
As the eyes you choose to open
Unseen, of the deep, northern cold.

*
*

Suburban Legend / by Elisa Karbin

We dreamed a sun-flushed idyll—
a south Florida shore, a brimming

bowl of sand gleaming blanched
bone white. We closed our eyes

again, and here we dreamed the tide
that washed her head onto the shore.

Cleaved from her body by a force
we couldn’t reckon, we spun rumors

into a cruel net to catch her— imagined
her fathomless, salt-cauled eyes, gray

mouth gaped around a seaweed tongue.
A grotesque siren, she beguiled us:

Her myth and our family name, her
whispered death and the hush-hissed

secrets only tragedy promises. We never
thought to dream the reek of her adrenaline,

or the tobacco wheeze from the man
who trapped and tore and pitched her

body out to sea. We didn’t think to dream
her terror— not of the black omened echo

of footsteps close behind, nor the cresting
crash of recognition’s flashbulb fire

before the small eternity of her neck cracking.

*
*

*
*

Goodbye Little Rock / by Clyde Long

Met my brothers in Little Rock,
one at the Greyhound station,
one sitting in a black Monte Carlo,
all smoking in the humid hot air.
My little family was itching to
settle into a Stuttgart motel, pool
for the kids, us steeled for Mom’s
memorial next day at Lone Tree.

The motel was air conditioned.
Nature gave us yowling tabby
cats mating in the parking lot with
millions of mosquitos emerging
at dusk from nearby rice paddies.
We fled the pool to survive.
Supper was catfish and fried food
and ketchup and sweet iced tea.

Next morning we put Mom to rest
right next to Mamaw and Papaw.
My brothers were struck mute so
I spoke for us and shed our tears.
After lunch at Mamaw’s church
we said goodbye to cousins and
skedaddled back to Little Rock,
Mom at rest in earned peace.

No need to linger in Little Rock.
Brothers headed to Maryland.
We decided to eat in town.
We found a Mexican place
overlooking the Arkansas River
a mile from Clinton’s Library.
It’ll be like home, we thought,
so we entered and ordered.

The waitress sweetly described
their Mexican condiments —
salsa was ketchup packets labeled
“hot”, “cream-a” was ranch
dressing. I drank real Mexican
food, a cold Dos Equis. Later in
the sky I waved down to Mom,
doubting a visit any time soon.

*
*

Day 2 / Poems 2

*

Coward’s Game / by Jenifer DeBellis

Survival makes you miss things, like a cheating spouse
until he gets careless or decides he wants to get caught.

Maybe the babies have invaded your starter home
& it’s all about diapers, sore nipples, weekly play

dates where you finally get to talk to other adults
about the things you never expected, never planned

for. Or maybe it’s your weight gain that’s decided
to stick around no matter what you do to lose it,

because you know he’s not into fat chicks, which
is why you hit the 24-hour gym each night

once the kids fall asleep. Maybe your baby days
haven’t arrived yet because your post-grad job

hunt consumes your time between barista shifts
& your admin job. You just know your break

is close because you’ve been searching for two
years & your husband landed a job a week before

graduation—a fact he points out when he questions
the time you spend online or reviews the monthly

bank statement. Or maybe it’s your golden years
& he hasn’t touched you that way in a decade—

not since menopause wilted your edges & he began
testosterone therapy to get his levels over 100 again.

You respected his manhood when he refused
your company for his doctor visits—something

you’d always done together. Instead, you embrace
afternoons with grandbabies & rack volunteer hours

at your local parish. One day it hits you, you’ve
been trapped in a survival season so long, your focus

has been trained on the wrong details. You know
this because you’ve walked other girlfriends through

the obvious stages of infidelity, told them exactly
what to look for. It’s a coward’s game, you’d say.

& here you find yourself:

opening a credit card collection notice
in his name & that of another woman

getting a text from a friend who snapped
a shot of the lovers handlocked at lunch

discovering their IMs that got backed up on
your cloud when he upgraded his cell phone

spot-treating a foundation stain near the collar
of his golf shirt that’s a few shades too dark

hearing “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m filing next
week,” when he returns from a business trip

realizing the diamond studs on your nightstand
aren’t yours because you’re wearing them

& here you find yourself:

the player on the other side of a game
board for a game you swore you’d never play

stuck between worlds—the one you thought
you built & the nightmare now your reality

not ready to confront this beast you were
assured could never exist in your marriage

forced to make the next move when moments
before your problem was what’s for dinner

ill-equipped to escape the advice, comments,
judgment & transparency of your new insight

the one who must be honest if you’re now
being honest with each other

So maybe you begin to lose the extra weight
because you can’t swallow food & the irony

is what you can’t shed these days. Maybe you work
it out because kids, because finances, because alone

is scarier, because you’ve shared more than half
a lifetime, because he says it’s over, it only happened

once, it won’t happen again, he only loves you.
Maybe he’s telling the truth this time &, though

you know this hand’s odds aren’t in your favor,
you push yourself all in. You’re committed

to the win. You wonder if you’ll ever look over
your shoulder & not feel like you’re the one

everyone now sees as the coward. You wonder
if you’ll ever look to your future & see past

the cynical lens that now fogs your focus.

You wonder if you can forgive yourself for
forgiving him. Wonder if you can forgive again.

*
*

Escapes / by Kasha Gauthier

After the fight in the Home Depot
parking lot, when my father told my sister
to fuck off, she drove us home on back roads.
At 50 miles an hour, he opened the car door,
tried to escape.

He wandered off at the little league game,
no longer knows which team to root for,
which kid, his grandson. Panicked,
I searched the fields, found him
across the street, waiting by the car.

Since the stroke he can’t drive anymore.
His wife hides the keys, he hates her for it.
One day he found the keys and drove into town,
walked in to the new house, not yet his,
sat on the couch, ready for his new life.

So easily he leaves his past behind.

*
*

The Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

For Richards

Cranial creases
Beautiful lines
Shape Creative thinking In oranges, yellows, reds
A little purple.
New forms like old friends
we see and we remember.
grey stone
softened
by years of kindness.

Richard was a major ceramic artist.

*
*

Fly Geyser / by Daniel Jenkins
Gerlach, Nevada

Then the geyser sprayed.
Blood-colored, frond-green, hot mist in the air
Thick with haze and heat.

“Thermophilic algae,” the rancher said.
“The colors, in case you’re wondering—
So . . . who’re you looking for again?”

I showed the rancher the sketch I drew
The last seven days: your face, honeysuckle bud
Above your ear, a silver amulet, a small blue gem.

Then, I described the dream, and he replied,
“This is a first. Well. Can’t say I’ve seen her.”
The geyser sprayed again. Its colors seemed to swirl.

The rancher shook his head at the geyser.
“Petrochemical outfit tried,” he said,
Closing the back of his truck. “No one comes here,
‘cept to gawk at this lumpy old hot-spit.
Look, here comes my daughter. She might know.”

The rancher met the girl with a broad smile,
Lifted her and twirled her, kissed her cheek,
When setting her down he introduced me,
Told her I was looking for a woman my age,
& showed her the sketch.

“You’re looking for The Singer,” the girl said,
Pointing across the highway to the desert.
“We saw The Singer a week past picking purple blooms
Off the gray cactuses a mile past the highway.
She sang like the sea, if that makes sense,
& she were pale and sad, slow, just wandering.
It was me, and Sissy, and Zeke looking for rattler tails.
I wouldn’t make something like that up, Daddy—
You seen the tail I gave Mama, hollering
‘No more hunting rattlers!’ You seen the tail.”

The geyser hissed again. Buzzard’s squawk
Overhead, shadow circling, high, black wings on dark sand.
The lopsided geyser cone’s green and red skin
Sucked in the last sunlight like paint.

I asked the girl why
She felt you sang like the sea.

“Well, she sang like a shell, if you put it to your ear
& you plug the other up. & Zeke says if she’s
Walking toward the sun, she’s walking toward the sea.
She intends to find the song she lost. A medicine man told him
The same thing once, from a dream, just like you.”

Then she looked out into the desert. “Better hurry,”
She said, “If you want to catch The Singer at the sea.”

*
*

Landscape with Doubt / by Elisa Karbin

What can I say of omens, except mystery,
like nature, isn’t magic but a coincidence
of collision, an eyeless gamble in time
and space. Yes, I wanted luck to chart me.
I wanted the crows in the eaves to chatter
their secrets to me. I wanted anything
but the white belly of a fawn, cloud-soft
beneath my headlights, kicking legs and
the low keening from a tightened throat—
What fortune could I want that might be
read in the strain of terror rising through
this song; how slight is the comfort of knowing.
Still, I could not predict how she suffered,
nor the blunted axe suddenly swung to end it.

*
*

Ghost Ranch / by Matthew Landrum

A road sign misunderstood for an instant
. . . . . . . .and a vision of a vast acreage
flocked with the departed, a ghost-herd glimmering
. . . . . . . .in the juniper night.
The massless mass transluces through slot canyons, passing over
. . . . . . . .sandy arroyos without a trace.
Spooked, the dead hem and stamp, rush this way and that,
. . . . . . . .always together, turned back sometimes
at the bare-tooth snarl of a sheep dog
. . . . . . . .or smoke from burning sage.
In life, they were us, and are now little different,
. . . . . . . .herd mentality and hunger still
urging them ever onward. Shadowy ranch hands
. . . . . . . .lead them on toward fresh pasture
and in the spring they’ll be taken north and shorn
. . . . . . . .of their silvering curls.

*
*

June 16, 1991 / by Clyde Long

– – For Lynne Burnett

Fathers’ Day many years ago
when I saved my life
and made a commitment
to be a dad who lasts.

See, my dad was a good dad
who learned to smoke fighting
under the gun, killing in war.
Peacetime was work and smoke.

PTSD was unknown then.
He and Army brothers medicated
over the years and one by one
they joined the war’s casualties.

My little brothers and I and
mom left him to rest at
age 42. He was too young
or old to be felled by war.

Fast forward 25 years to me
sipping a Carlsberg beer outside
and smoking, my young daughter
and toddler son here with me.

That moment: my loss: them.
A commitment hugged me.
I drowned my last cigarette in
the dregs of my bottle of beer.

A year of nightmares every
night hounded me yet
my commitment persisted.
Years have passed, today we thrive.

*
*

Wrath, / by Kate Madrid

a gnashing of teeth,
heaped coals
would be preferable

to nine polite minutes
in the mortuary chapel.

Your allotted time
on the unassembly line.

*
*

Day 1 / Poems 1

*

Genesis / by Jenifer DeBellis

1. It’s wisest to start at the beginning—her
beginning. There are moments in every woman’s

existence when her position determines her
perspective. Yet, just as winds shift a landscape,

so too will her position shift & her perspective
follow. She may be flesh of man’s flesh & rib

from his rib, his life & his work partner. But
what does this new student learn from a teacher

who fails to instruct, then fails to take the lead
in life’s first real lesson? While man & woman

met with the serpent, man stood mute until
it was his turn to bite into the fruit of knowledge.

Man said nothing to refute the snake’s pitch—
never countered the difference between God-

like & God’s image. So, woman, eager
to gain kingdom wisdom, snatched a fig

from the ripest branch, ate a bite, then handed
the once forbidden fruit to her silent partner,

who finished it. Modern reader, consider this:

The mind’s nature is not a quest to know good
& evil. Rather, a mind is wound of moral fibers

that seek to understand a divinity & its universe
created in its maker’s image for eternal purposes.

2. Nowhere is it recorded the exact instant woman
assumed her role as mouthpiece. What is implied

is that she’s the one addressed during their fall
from grace. But do not be deceived like the others

whose accounts paint her the traitor. Rebel, yes.
But to label her betrayer misses the context

that informs her charge & orders. The rest is a test
of knowledge. She is wired this way, to query truth

through tests. The serpent knows this about her.
Yet there’s a lesson here even for the snake.

The science of it’s simple: what drives woman
begins in her blood. & like blood that flows

through her, the blood she sheds is life.
She is Ḥawwāh. She is our living life source.

She’s the spine of humanity. She was
bone material long before hipsters coined

the term that reduces her to object of desire.
She’s the original lionheart & like her

feline friends, she has many lives to live.

3. Like every lionheart after her, she carries a soul
song that notes purposes larger than the life

she gives & molds. Her name means more
than life source. Her name means create

so it is known, make visible to reveal.

You can change her role from garden goddess
to spouse. But her name is forever charged

as one sent to gather & declare her findings.
What good is a song never sung? Or a world

without music? A world without end
without music? Though her voice was forced

underground over the millennia, it was never
idle beneath its earthly blanket. Do not confuse

her prostrate position as weakness. Her view
was on the creatures & things above. She fed

what she saw to each root & hand that moved
through the soil. When she hears her song

carried form shrub to tree, from mountaintop
to valley, she’ll climb out from her dirt bed

& resume her role as humankind’s equal partner.

*
*

Independence Day, 2018 / by Kasha Gauthier

We are the nation that eats ourselves sick
on chips and dip, too many mules
in a copper cup, heart stents and pinpricks-
we are dying from too much of ourselves.
I celebrate like an American-
at the baseball game, everyone’s white,
except the players. The sticker on the pickup truck
America, it says, now great again.
I learned of wars and lynching,
suffragettes and freedom riders.
No blood was on my hands.
I bore my babies from a cut at the bone.
Today in my swimsuit, my daughter touches
my half-moon scar, sutured skin,
while elsewhere, babies are torn from their mothers,
held in cages. Another black boy shot
in the back, his toy mistaken for a loaded gun.
I sit on the beach, await the revolution.

*
*

The Garden of Old Age / by Nina Gibans

Raking through our pile of Fall leaves
burying joys that once were
Puppies nibble at our heels and buoy us
Digging into our own success
(and everyone has a secret one)
My color may be maple red or sun yellow
Or flat tan. What is yours?

*
*

Maxine Waters: Telegram to Bill O’Reilly Who Was Talking About My Hair While I Was Talking About Russia / by TJ Jarrett

I’d been black 28 724 days before you came for me STOP

Forgive me if I am unsurprised STOP For every black woman

standing there are three pulling her up like a barn raising STOP

For every black woman standing one is screaming one is weeping

and another lying down saying It is so much I am so weary STOP

The other day the woman weeping asked the woman screaming

how she stays so angry STOP The woman screams Easy STOP

You just stay angry all the time STOP There is no magic in it because

there’s just so much to be angry about STOP Bill we are miracles STOP

We were raised on loaves and fishes miracles every damned day and

when there was no fish or money we had love and sugarbread STOP

If we are unafraid it is because fear don’t serve us There is no safe

place for us on this earth STOP Safety is for white women STOP

But you know Bill better than most how this too is a lie STOP So we rise

and then we fall STOP 28 724 days and as I am falling another rising STOP

28 724 days and what did I tell you Bill about coming for us STOP Don’t

*
*

One Square Inch of Silence, I / by Daniel Jenkins
Olympic National Park, Washington

For Brooks Haxton

Eyes opened. Dizzying.
Metal-mouthed and sandpaper-eyed, surprised,
Awake, circling and circling. Crunch of leaves.
Trickle of stream, breathing.

Listen.

An open leather sketchbook in my hands.

Listen.

The grimy fingers of the world’s everything else
Kept out of a single inch, there.

Look.

A mossy log a foot long.
Green skin, nearly lime-luminous, sitting there.

An open leather sketchbook in my hands,
A blank page, a pencil in my hand.

In the middle of the mossy log
A red pebble, one-inch wide, half-an inch high, rhomboid,
Sitting louder than the trees around me.

Trickling stream, scratch of pencil,
Branch-scuffled breeze, scratch of pencil,
Till your face is formed, till a space is made
For you . . . scratch of pencil till it breaks.

Listen.

Whoever you are or were, or will be, you’re missing,
From me and from the earth. I don’t know what’s worse.

I listen.

Go, you tell me. Go now.

*
*

Rewilding / by Elisa Karbin

Late summer has me at it again: the up
early hours and this howling hunger
for a wilderness waxing gibbous in my gut.

I wake and ache a small fire, as if I could turn
branching hours to tinder, as if starting again
were easy.. . . . .Instead, my tongue turns over

and over the dim wonder that the nameless
season coming still has not arrived. Blind oracle,
Earth’s axial tilt and this cyclic chemistry

has me waiting again for death like a watering
fawn alone at dusk; I know how this will end,
feel the press of phantom jaws at my throat.

And still I marvel at the brutal beauty of nature’s
compact neatness, how sharp it keeps its teeth.

*
*

New Earth Orchids / by Matthew Landrum

Santa Fe

When asked by the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) who a seven-times remarried widow would be espoused to in the age to come, Jesus answered that on the new earth, people would neither be married nor given in marriage but would be like the angels in heaven. Here, kaleidoscopic orchids body forth the desire of all earthly bodies, lift filaments to barren air, expanding, expending their scent on the air-conditioned air, neither pollinator or pollinated in this new earth.

*
*

Innate Grace / by Clyde Long

— for Stephanie Harper

Grace is twined in our DNA
innate to our humanity.
23andMe misses it yet
we all carry its blessings.

Fruits and rice balls honor
the virtue of Buddhist monks
who accept grace’s blessing
of giver and receiver.

My church of youth was Grace
with its cut glass rainbows.
We sang for grace and salvation,
for blessings to be bestowed.

A scarred table has been set,
three generations sit together
grateful with hearts full —
hands held, grace said, amen.

*
*

After the Casseroles / by Kate Madrid

Death remains ungainly

We check our phones
Bored with the urn
Yearning toward some
Better tragedy

*
*

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