Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.
The volunteers for September 2018 were Alexis Bates, Ellen Black, Olivia Braley, Claudia Fell Conger, Andrew Ratner, Janel Spencer, Jihyun Yun, and Micah Zevin. 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 30 / Poems 30
If October Was Two Years Ago / by Alexis Bates
for Morgan and Alex
I choke on your words
and spit them out
which you didn’t account for
this year I promise I’m leaving with
the leaves of fall
I prayed to no one, anyone
that while winter would be like death
in the spring I’d find new life
away from you
away from him
away from long poems like this one
no more tears and bitter peach metaphors
the end of not being enough
and the breaking of perfectly good hearts
and you’ve found a love you actually want
may he love you as much as I do
so I hope he doesn’t write you
unrequited love poems
like I wrote him that summer
you showed up
remember when you hated yourself
and now everyone hates you
but you don’t believe me
because I didn’t believe you loved me
I don’t hate you. I never did.
Your imagination is in full stop
yet you don’t care they’re
hating you to your face
when I ask about you the do not wonder
about the time you were not my first choice
I wasn’t even second best
I don’t get a ranking
a medal or even a proper goodbye
and I sure as hell don’t get you
the way you profess
then deny like drunk truth telling
doesn’t come second nature
like my heart is still a responsibility you didn’t ask for
and you did ask and I didn’t listen because
I can’t afford to choke today
So maybe if I stop
I can breathe
I can find new life by November
Goddamn first waffle… / by Ellen Black
always sticking, ruining
that golden feeling, like the day I slipped
into my new black flats and felt cute enough to saunter
around the neighborhood, the daintiest of breezes blowing,
the chill of the day innervating, the sun just the right kind of mellow,
like Baby Bear’s bed and a cup of chamomile, allowing me to relax
into the scariest , most dangerous belief – thinking
that change was finally nearby – just around the third corner,
or the next, but definitely close enough to feel. Buoyed
by daring and dreams, I didn’t see the masticated
monster waiting all stealth on the sidewalk, daring me to step
on its trap, knowing it would end the pleasure
of a walk that now consisted of nothing more than the futile
scraping of shoe against concrete, forcing me back
home, dejected, sticky stepping all the way, wishing I’d eaten breakfast.
Litany ending with a quote from Tanaka, a Hiroshima survivor / by Olivia Braley
To exist in an after charred by the memory of an untorched before
To see water clear and glimmery like princess cut diamonds and to crave it
To die of thirst or
To quench your thirst just to die
To be betrayed by what has always helped
To burn unnaturally
To burst like a blister
To not recognize your own child burnt and bubbly like a boiled tomato
To lose your appetite at this equivocation
To march the burning streets
To trample corpses to survive
To apologize to the dead for your footsteps
To wonder if the dead, so fresh, can still feel your flattening soles
To evaporate to shadow
To lose the house, the dog, the heirlooms, the child at school
To lose all vocabulary for home
To change the meaning of alive from a thriving thing to simply somehow not dead
To change the meaning of lucky from having good fortune to simply somehow not dead
To change the meaning of before and after to make way for this heavy instant
To think back, years later,
and forget the blue-white flash,
the blue-white heat,
only a child feels like this,
but even though
I was in pain,
when I looked up
at the sky
it’s a beautiful
How to Reconcile, How to Be Honest / by Andrew Ratner
How to invite you in.
Do you ever journey.
Do you mean what say.
Say it. This is graphite.
These are your thoughts.
Do not stand. Sit. Open.
You swivel in place; you scratch your belly—
Do you ever journey.
Whisper like a long dash
onto the blank surface.
Swivel your pen. Invite yourself in.
Look outside: the world breaches
against the window
inviting you in.
Sit, open. Prepare by organizing
Thought like acorns
Scream inside your head one solitary thought.
Do you mean what you say?
Invite yourself in.
Dialogue with the Husband Stitch / by Jihyun Yun
Please click here to read the poem.
The Bully Pulpit and its Culprits… / by Micah Zevin
Can we confront you in hallowed halls?
Who will remain big? Who will remain small?
Will snowflakes cry in elevators?
Maybe these motivations are pure and full of pity,
or maybe it’s a cover for future years of feeling shitty?!
Over threats and bribes from the powerful litany;
lowered heads, screaming, snarling, fuming
bulls, dragons and weasels tearing up, tearing us apart,
running over, burning down their easels. Forget about
the Bible, give us what we are entitled, to peddle the
most outrageous conspiracy theories until eyes are
cracked and red, and they are bleary deniers all to please
crooked liars with eyes glued to television sets like they are
waiting to see who wins the bet(s). We will
mislead until you veer off the edge of the cliff,
until you lose all lines of defense, until you bleed.
Tight ropes, are you being tackled and unraveled
and put at risk by disinformation campaigns and
history? Women have a message for the unfit
injudicious men who cannot ever seem to learn
with wild melodramatic abandon. Oh Beer, friend,
foe, fear, I can become another person
so I don’t remember where I am
therefore no longer responsible
even if it’s reprehensible!?—
On the worst of our days
we feel grimy, glorious, gone
when on the 7 trains trying to listen to music
avoid news updates and the other stressful not
baloney we must stitch together our present
or let fall apart altogether and
start fresh before all boundaries are gone
and you must run faster and faster
before the fall and the
end of believability—
Day 29 / Poems 29
Iridescent rain melts / by Ellen Black
into a yellow-lit Paris night,
wet, puddles forming
tiny-round rainbows, ignored
by lovers walking, slowly,
hands entwined, unfettered
by an umbrella, eyes shimmering
like the Eiffel Tower watching, smiling,
cascading magic. A couple unaware
of their ruined shoes or the smell of butter wafting
through open restaurant doors, ignore
the supper talk and laughter, and listen
instead, to the song of their summer shower.
vignette: hyde alley, thursday night, 12:43 AM / by Olivia Braley
the streetlamp splays a fat yellow light
that bleeds through the humid night
thicker than liquid it oozes
a shadowgray tabby cat yowls
retracts his claws
darts across the alley suddenly
like a gasp
El barro no está revuelto / by Andrew Ratner
There is a tree
. . . . .I always pass on the way home.
I watch it constantly
. . . . .waiting to see if and how
. . . . .The reds of autumn
remind me, almost, of
. . . . .burnt pumpkin seeds—
splitting them cautiously
. . . . .a crack resounding
in the head, sweet seed.
. . . . .Also time. Also dark greens.
A life of falling, nothing ever lost.
. . . . .Once, I confused your argyle sweater
for the pattern of my life.
. . . . .I stole it, brown, cashmere,
the crack of fallen leaves
. . . . .that weren’t dry in the first place.
It’s the dirt that was.
. . . . .That’s what we really stepped on.
Nocturne in Koreatown, NY / by Jihyun Yun
At 11 E 32nd St, New York, NY
Because what is young is hungry
and what is fed is monstrous,
because morning is
a mousetrap, and everything aches
by proximity; why not erase all that is not
here in this cellar bar, alive with diaspora?
Outside, the torso of this city is livid
with sirens, suggesting a life’s commencement
or departure. The waver of the streetlamps
orchestrate odd music. Two girls cling together
holding a bottle of soju between them,
a spoon slipped through the thin green neck,
impromptu microphone, singing
and suddenly in love. Dear stranger,
I am lonely for a sister that was
and then was not. A bud clinging to a vine
that lives only to cancel itself.
The Plot / by Micah Zevin
When the rain pours and
wind blows and the cars
swoosh past through giant
puddles, and it becomes dark,
I must generate my own sunshine.
I must straighten my own spine,
not develop a cold or think about
how on those days I start to feel old.
Do you wish you could boast of your connections?
Do you wish they weren’t totally evil and were
more like confections?
The news can be a trigger
leaving us worse for the wear
not bring you down to earth
but below and in need of a
fiery hot toddy.
What’s the difference, little
Maniacs, if the answer is simple
or complex if everything is a plot
against you, an attack by an unlikely pair
with a high deficit
redefined by our mortality
an identity crisis shooting
us while we nap.
Honey can line the irritated
throat but cannot coat tears
or righteous anger blistering red
with a positive sheen.
Once the fist waiver/pointer
version of you is seen they
can’t be unseen where you are
now or have been. Who will be
persuaded? Who has not lost
their sense of empathy?
I you are transfixed
but can you listen? Will you
filter out the noise of heads
talking? Why must things
fester? If you only had an
inner being not a tyrant
you might be a confessor
and attempt to learn from
your life’s mistakes, not
just shiver and quake.
I cannot afford a countdown.
I cannot afford a collapse.
No one wants to hear about your
relapse but there should be help
and someone to speak to. If you are
high, can you pretend this American
insanity has not captured us and does
not exist. It is not hilarious dysfunction
any longer in our daily lives, not when
pain and paranoia reign and unless
you close your eyes, shut your ears
every day is a descent further into
Day 28 / Poems 28
Etheree for Hillary / by Ellen Black
I sit at my
desk, trying not to
cry as Peabo asks can
you stop the rain from falling?
Fact that Mister Bryson looks like
my ex doesn’t help. Then a cool guy
drops by to say goodbye. He’s leaving our
company. I say adios as tears
threaten to fall. I open Twitter
and read how two women—strangers
wearing Still With Her tops, found
of crying on a
bus for the gal
bloody knuckles / by Olivia Braley
i first learned in those post-playground, prepubescent days of limbo, in the heat of the summer when the girls huddled on benches to giggle and gossip about the boys that stood nearby in clusters on empty blacktops after dark.
as a girl i watched from the bench while the pack of boys broke like marbles leaving two at the center while the rest orbited. they started off gentle, almost a friendly dap, first one boy, then the other, increased the windup each time incrementally. while one swung, the other made himself rigid, braced for impact. hit, reset, hit, reset, hit— it went like that, a bodily bloody metronome bound to break.
one orbital boy cheered for his friend, by which i mean yelled don’t be a bitch. these words were still novelty, burned good like liquor in the mouth, got us in trouble at home. bitch was still an abstract, not yet us girls on the bench.
by now the boys were swinging to hurt. by now the boys were hurting for sport. by now the center boys were bleeding at the fists, the orbiting boys were laughing. by now us bench girls were not gossiping. one of the girls said to the boys, okay, you can stop now, don’t be stupid, but the boys didn’t listen. by now they’d learned to disregard a girl’s voice.
as a girl in this small city half-lit by flickering street lamps, i observed some boyhood ritual full of carnal sounds: grunts, the comic book whap of fists, an occasional ow fuck in a cracking voice. then one boy, pale, long-haired and freckled, yielded, i’m done man, and the other, stockier but still soft in the face like a child, screamed in triumph, wiped the blood in rusty streaks on his jeans.
then one girl, post-growth spurt but still elementary lanky with a white blonde braid and pink training bra straps peeking out of her tank top, the one who called them stupid, broke the divide. she approached the champion, grabbed his hand and said let me see— the same hand that he later put shakily around her waist, the same waist he held as they kissed the way they thought they should against the backside of the grade school later that night.
as a girl, early on, from a bench, i learned that violent boys get pretty girls, that power is with whoever can give and take the most pain.
Orbits / by Janel Spencer
after Rilke’s line “I live my life in growing orbits”
which move out over things, people, places.
I am circling around Tucson, around San Diego, the United States,
circling places of birth, California, Utah,
around knowledges of death
in all these places. I travel near to the lands
where cacti weep, where roadrunners peak
from behind parked cars,
where mule deer leap and curled snakes with ribbed tails reach their necks out
for a better look, eating rats gathering junk.
Where lizards sunbathe on the screen door.
I have been circling for lifetimes from hand-me-down
sight: gained knowledge from generations
who talk of what was as it still is.
I still don’t know if I’m a raccoon, a hawk, a lost key or a stranger.
Questions posed to the peach / by Jihyun Yun
Do you still recall the orchard
Neat rows of you heavying the trees,
Freestone, Saturn and you, my nectarine,
sweet to the quick of your bones.
Do you still recall the bees collecting
From the blossoms that foretold your arrival?
Did you love them? Those blossoms and bees.
Do you resent these hands, that amidst all other
peaches, picked you. Did you hate being held,
spun gently against a knife and plated just so.
When I get to your shrunken pit, should I spit it out
or suck what clings as eulogy. And if I came to you
desperate or desperately hungry,
then am I still your beast?
(Lacking) Certainty / by Micah Zevin
Thrill list, I need to know
who is calling, who is outside,
who will aide me in a time of need?
I need to know how I can’t live
socially and how I cannot become
a bandit or an overstocked hoarder
who takes in too many borders.
I need to know or not when will I take
a short survey, when will a lizard
climb down the drain pipe, when
I will figure out how to snap my back
into place, besides you walking all
over it and pushing. Do you seem
like a guest in your own life whether
true or not? You dream of climbing
higher, ignoring bullies or enablers,
I need to know today what is the
antidote to lack of nerve.
Sometimes, my response
is to riot, to blame others,
myself, to re-open dormant
wounds stuck in my body
broadcasting old fires
and faces. I cannot quit
independence. I will not
wither and die with the
weeds. Good news and
bad news, I am and will
not haunt you. I will not
ask for a transcription
of all our conversations.
I am not a desperate man
or am I? but oh how I would
love to crack to down on greed
and hate and fake austerity at
In the moment I would choose
to be a piano, to avoid cautionary
tales, impromptu visits and being
deleted. I need to know how to
repair a cracked beam so
everyone has a home and is no
longer stranded in flood waters
aftermath. I need to know how to be
excited, not disoriented until I go
pop, until I dance my way through
the day with delights, not doubts.
Day 27 / Poems 27
Who’s That Girl? / by Ellen Black
On this hot, lonely, almost Friday, I find myself having a bit of a borderline
moment. Am at work. Can’t reach for the tequila, but YouTube is nearby, so…
I return to the ‘80s, realizing it wasn’t my best decade. Not that I’ve had even one
good year, much less ten. Listening to Madge, I think back on the horror of a tale I’ve lived
to tell. Should have expressed myself about this hell sooner than I did. Too busy dreaming
I’d find myself under a lucky star and wake up one unexpected morning a cherished girl.
Try to tamp it all down, but it’s hard to find reasons for the beatings, explain away the loss.
Keep burning inside while dressing myself up in a costume of nonchalant silliness. Take a bow.
Desperate for a holiday, need to cause a commotion. Tethered where I don’t want
to be, but have to be. Not really a material girl, but even a commonplace life costs.
Like a prayer I refuse to offer, I step into each day with earnestness, needing to believe, true
blue, that my beautiful island is out there. Crazy for no one. Need to find a new groove.
vulva / by Olivia Braley
this physical fleshy word / that hangs on the tongue / throbs guttural in the back of the throat / this lovely latinate that like us all begins with its source in womb / that grew from the verb volvere which means “to turn, twist, roll, revolve,” but also “to turn over in the mind, to ruminate” / a distant root that also conceived evolve and revolution / so that these words share a singular origin / they are born from the same ancient mother
Before the School Year Begins: / by Andrew Ratner
crisp buttons on the shirts I ordered
and khakis (which I can never spell right the first
time). Lovely, these songs are for you,
whom I trust, who has loved me for months
and at times I wondered stupidly why.
While listening to my feet drum, and a terrible album,
and checking available apartments then going
to the bathroom, evenings are cool and magnificent;
expensive cars swing their way down the street;
sweet pollen drifts with an easiness, a devil-may-care
attitude such that, suddenly, flowers: flowers in summer
then honeybees disappearing.
Who will pick them up and carry them, lining up
at school: the mothers, guardians, the walkers.
Wisdom / by Janel Spencer
What else should we know
but push and pull,
the long hole down,
I demand of myself
my world held up
for fear no one else
(like an accident
of birth, like love, like mothering)
has shown this
to be true.
So I ask, what is this
will, what truth
but to live before the day
all my work on this blueish-green home
upon which we rest our heads
(fragile as mirrors,
beautiful as eclipsed suns)
until that day
The Funhouse Mirrors Are Afraid Of Their Own Shadows and Are Beginning to Shatter / by Micah Zevin
Private, Alcohol, Culture!
Here Come the Vultures!
They poke at you so you can’t sleep.
They force you to eat PEEPS.
They make you walk around in their
vaunted circles, wearing pig snouts,
protesting the convergence of
other people’s emergence
in new prestigious glorious lights.
Whether in rage or revelations
in body, drama with themselves,
they expose how basic they are;
they endanger themselves caught up in
their own games when they threaten to
beat chest, maim and say they don’t
remember the earliest form of power
play, where you make people feel below
you and in shadows. Can truth be sifted
from memory? Trauma, does time change
our recollections? Scorn and shame
false courage are the acts of todays daze
where who boasts most or is most blatantly
horrifically honest is considered a hero of
their movement and therefore right?! When
the world laughs at you and you say that’s ok
is the chip on your defensive shoulder a small
petty criminal boss smoking a big cigar
saying I’ll get you all, I’m in charge
cackling insane? Can we unfold ourselves
from the rising seas? Can we protect our
structures past, present and future? Can we
bend all of our sutures? Are we a secrets
based tricks based Ponzi scheme propaganda?
Can we be retooled and be revolutionized,
not just resist/persist, not just better? Can
we live a live unfettered? We need to make
our leaders answer.. We need to become a
giant pressure cooker of results. We need to
learn what we need to know, the silence of our
history of transgressions as conquerors and more.
The limits of uncertainty own no limits and
cannot always be change or blocked without
a dramatic event. Is it merely guesswork and
intuition that can take us to the promised land?
We cannot let any more be disenfranchised.
We cannot reform. Place your bets, America!
Hide your pets! Protect what’s left of your
health’s offices! Maximize your crusades at
rebranding through evolution/revolution.
Drop your chains into the bottomless pit.
Do not shy away from horrid insults!
Engage them or they will rise again,
and not be vanquished—
Day 26 / Poems 26
Poem as Defense Mechanism / by Alexis Bates
I asked for the brooding night sky
and I got gods over-familiar
with the inside of me
turning me bad at
Still I wrote Evelyn
alive after killing him off
we are both immortal
ghost and god
The day I gave up… / by Ellen Black
on God, I started stripping,
not on a pole, slick
with promises and shame, but rather, as a small child, peeling
away sticky-tacky paper holding
a Tootsie Roll safe, hoping
the candy’s gooey sweetness would sate
the pain of being an orphan with parents, remembering
too late, the sugary clamminess that follows
even before the high has disappeared, being let down
with nothing to hold on to, as Heavenly Father, once again, showed his absence.
For some things there are no metaphors / by Olivia Braley
I’ve heard that adage, write the poem you need to read, but I’m learning some things shouldn’t be poeticized just because they can be. I could say that her pain is the fertilizer from which she grew, that the girl burned to ash and that this woman is phoenix, that the rainbow after the storm is more vibrant because of the rain that came before it, I could use these trite metaphors for rebirth, remind her every scar tells a story— but what if her beauty didn’t have to come from suffering, what if she didn’t have to earn her power, if her accomplishments weren’t littered with despites: despite the men who tried to take her power, take advantage, despite her trauma, despite the impression his hands leave on her even now, miles and years away. There is no metaphor to ask: what would she have accomplished if she were him, if she had never met him, if he had never believed himself entitled to her, to her hips, her time, her future. There is no poetic way to say: if he was 17 when he committed sexual assault, then he is just a boy, a child, naive, far too young for it to count, yet 17 is not too young for a girl to be assaulted, girl in the shape of a woman, no matter if it follows her, a lecherous memory trying to steal her days. I don’t need to read a poem, I need to read an apology to the girls whose pain was worth less than his potential, whose words are valued less than his name, who had to grow up too soon in a world all too ready to lust for her. I need to read these words plain: it is not your fault, it is not normal, you are strong despite it all but it’s still not fucking fair that you’ve had to be, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay that your suffering is not pretty, you shouldn’t have to be scared of this world but of course you are, you’re not some beautiful mysterious damaged coquettish girl for boys to grope at, for men to fantasize about fixing, I know your mystery is just protection, self-preservation, I hear you, I believe you, these things are not okay. Do you hear? These things are not okay.
Agile Poem / by Andrew Ratner
Please click here to explore the poem.
My Grandmother Tells a Story II / by Jihyun Yun
I walked for an hour along the tracks until the rattling of a cart halted me. Why are you alone, little girl? The man on the cart asked, his oxen snuffing flies off their snouts with sighs that reminded me of mother’s strange heaving in the night.
I told him of the dying and the train to Pyongyang. He must have taken pity because he sat me atop his mound of dirt-caked radishes and off we went. The sky flexed with migrating birds as he drove his oxen forward, the cart clamoring over gravel.
In time, we came to a small building in the outskirts of a town. The police will help you find your auntie. I held his hand and let myself be led until I saw the building flanked with imperial soldiers. I knew them from the blades strapped at their hips, their strait- backed gait. During rages, Mama used to threaten the Japanese would come get me if I was bad. Perhaps these soldiers meant me no harm, but who would trust chance in an occupied land? I ran like a hunted
Does it surprise you I didn’t liken myself
to animal here? A rabbit outrunning a fox,
a soft-bellied mammal in the shadow of a hawk?
The time is past for such milk-blood analogies.
When men hunt, girl is prey enough.
What magic do you hope to hear with this tale? What long-ago whimsy?
Perhaps that I walked until day converged with evening and my soles prickled
with blisters? I stopped to rest beside a pile of wet peat and picked my feet
to blood-mulch. No, I don’t remember if I was afraid, or if my child-mind knew
the possibility of never being found. By then, I’d wandered away from the tracks,
the train and Pyongyang a faraway fever-dream. I didn’t know where to go,
so I bode my time digging refuse from the peat. I played gonggi with stones
and halved animal bones. I may have cried, I don’t know. And then another voice
cut through the evening. Girl why are you out here alone? Where is your mother?
I thought it was the radish cart man come to get me, but this man was old,
His gray beard wired down to his sternum like a low hanging icicle. My mother
is dead, I told him. Have you nowhere to go when the night comes? Of course
the answer was no. Then you may come with me and stay with my daughter.
I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid. He kneeled and let me climb on his back,
and through the winding fields of rice paddies, he carried me.
Grief is a missile found at tiny desks everywhere or The Revolution is a rocket on the highest mound. / by Micah Zevin
I know your sounds.
I’m not your basset hound.
Yet I do dream of bounding
in fields of poppies like a child
and chasing you and rolling
around in the wild. Is there
anything better than being carefree
and hand in hand at your own choice,
an exchange of one another’s sounds
and voices. Do I have a public
versus a private image? Do I like
to eat my spinach? I want to start
what I finish. I would climb the
highest mound and dig for the
origins of your jigs, our chants,
our murmuring prayers, the bones
of our ancestors and their (air)(stairs).
What was their style? Did they have
Guile? Did they know garlic was the
cure of all? Did they know the difference
between Summer and Fall?
I do not want to be horrible and hurtful.
The live nightmares pick at my brain and
Smell like moldy defeat and propane.
Get up, drink coffee, feed pets, get in shower,
Sometimes, I’m awake without being wakeful.
I’m going nowhere when I become fake.
Who would not want to be a rocket man?
What remains could be a lasting trend
and become infamous like rising sea levels.
We all need partners in crime and peace.
We all need the best raincoat during
downpours, the warmest of fleece.
In Eden, there is no guarantee of closure
or so the imagery suggests, or not
yet grief is a missile found at tiny
desks everywhere. How can we
invest in our and your protections? How can
we stop endangering one another.
Instead of saying things are grizzly and
shrug your shoulders or turning off
we can continue the revolution
use positivity not bitterness
start a reinvention
not just against de-evolution
no more subversion subjugation
transformation of a new generation.
Day 25 / Poems 25
Spring Rolls and Discarded Women / by Ellen Black
Another Saturday alone
daughter away, cats playing,
when my almost-son knocked
on the door and whisked
me to the barrio, where he parked
in front of a Vietnamese restaurant that looked
not at all Asian. Non-descript, plain – it stood
between a slightly sleazy pool hall
and an abandoned building that gave off vibes
of having once been a drive-in,
a place where bold teenage girls defied
their poodle-skirt worlds
and stayed out late with boys who rolled
up cigarette packs in their t-shirt sleeves and slicked
back their hair with oily products that left almost as many marks
as their sweet-word mouths and cheating
hands. When we walked inside, I was greeted by gentle-wild smells
of ginger, curry, and sesame. This spicy mixture wove
around golden-composed Buddhas and mingled
with hot jasmine tea. The child I didn’t birth and I sat
next to a foreign family that chattered
away in a language undecipherable while they casually flipped
through trashy American magazines. Rene talked
about college and cute guys while several couples shared food, laughing,
their lives intertwined, contented.
She sat alone – 40ish, 50ish – a pale, unremarkable woman
with gray-streaked brown hair. She ate slowly,
deftly using chopsticks while reading a thick book that looked like it contained
more than cheap gossip. I suspected this woman had already lived
whatever fun she was ever offered and I wondered
if ethnic food and big words were enough
to fill her up during the quiet years yet to come.
It doesn’t feel like you actually died / by Olivia Braley
when the mailman still delivers your mail.
Capital One wants you to sign up for a credit card,
they’ll even cut you a deal on interest rates,
the dentist sent a friendly reminder via postcard
and voicemail that you’re past due for your 6 month cleaning,
it’s almost time for you to renew your subscription
to the New York Times, though you’re already
a few weeks behind on the crosswords by now.
It’s this dogged daily drudgery that’s just too much to bear.
How dare the world keep going like it did when you were here.
Haiku Upon a Toddler / by Andrew Ratner
Pan the swash buckler–
a stone drops in the water
ringlets, a missed bedtime
My Grandmother tells a story / by Jihyun Yun
Because all tales start with the exit of the mother, so too does mine. A deathbed, a matrilineage expunged and covered whitely with a cloth over her leaving face. I was young then, maybe five, and so remember very little except her mastery over hunger: her way of passing food into my bowl
and watching me eat with only fleeting pity for her own belly.
After returning her to soil, I mourned myself to sickness. My sorrow afflicted our bird coops and failed the crops, all that I touched ripened itself to rot. Father sent for my auntie to take me away. Would you like to come with me to Pyongyang?, she’d asked in her pretty pressed Hanbok, looking of the city. If I’d known the war would happen, that I’d never again tend to mama’s grave, I would not have gone. But I didn’t know, and so I did.
A country girl, it was my first time on a train. I pressed my cheek against the window-pane and let my breath obscure the view. I was taken by the bull-whip scenery, the engine’s ululations and the plumes of black smoke trailing us like squid ink. In excitement, I forgot my grief like a comb by mama’s deathbed. I watched the landscape smear into stripes of color through the mosaic of crushed insects. At no point did I think to mourn the dead. At each station, I rushed towards the door just to watch them open, all that human jostling.
Halfway to Pyongyang in a stretch of country so whole there was no village for miles, I got bold, stepped off for just a moment to breathe the dusty rural air. I didn’t notice the door closing behind me until the train whistled its retreat. There was no one around to watch it leave me behind. I was alone in my abandonment, both culprit and victim. The train thundered on, and I chased it until, in the distance, it became a mere suggestion of a train. The tracks stretched forth like a life-time without me in it.
Positive Negativity (Tupelo Press #25) / by Micah Zevin
I’m not a platitude.
I’m not made of gratitude.
The smoothie may or may not
turn me green.
It will not leave you as the leaves
break from trees in the Fall.
I miss playing basketball, baseball and football.
Now as humid and sweat dripping as it was.
I miss the summer and feel suddenly sick.
If you poke me in the neck after I shave
I will bleed. I will be pricked.
This morning we are cold not bold.
We must work up our strength so we do
not fold: and of course it makes us
believe we are quite old.
I’m not in peril (yet).
I’m not a spectator
but things can get messy
if there are postponements
due to misconduct
and the struggling goes unnoticed
as I sneeze, and the sunshine
suddenly shows its faces.
I will not misrepresent you
As you reach the pinnacle of success
or failure a scandal shakes
the earth with endless tremors.
I will not become a drug.
I will not make friends with the bugs,
the severe heart will not
fail you or me; it will become a
device that will change my attitude.
Lying is a contagion. Contagion is a
lie, a memory loss,
chronic dishonest threat pets
that outlast the seriousness of them
and their promises.
I am not food yet.
I am made of moods.
The eggs will fill me and not make me
beg for more. Along with a
strong cup of coffee, they will
lead me out the door…
Day 24 / Poems 24
The Tile Deceives Me / by Alexis Bates
Mother loved marble tiles.
. . . . . . .slate.
Clean cold start.
Mother moves so fast
across the country.
across the district.
away from our good life.
Camila’s family ate
together played games
together and there’s something
to be said about softness
in a home’s foundation.
My toes grip carpet
/then and now/
Creation / by Ellen Black
Stars flirt with each other and dance
around the black cashmere of night who unbuttons
his shirt and invites
me in, providing a front-row velvet view of new life forming
out of swirls of pink dust, orange magic, and silver light. I reach
out and feel the course hairs that blanket
the skin of our Universe. I hear
the loud-thump heartbeat of Mars as he keeps a steady, fierce rhythm going,
a rhythm strong enough to shake
new worlds into existence with every thirteenth beat. Twinkles of fast-twirling
fairies skip across my lashes, gently brushing
my face towards Saturn where I watch
many-colored rings undulate
and I think back to a frosty November evening, when I was fourteen and I rode
a yellow and green and purple merry-go-round, feeling
beautiful and hopeful, like I do now as I witness
new souls arising
from the thick, chocolate-brown primordial molasses that is life. I watch
as each new creation flies
away to its new home – some traveling
to the soft gentle lands of Venus, with grass
as soft as the wool from a baby sheep, woven
tender by the soft-kiss touches made
between this planet of romance and her satin-tongued lover, Mercury, who plies
his poetry on other unsuspecting beauties but always returns
to the Milky Way’s star attraction. I hold
my breath in awe of those birthed with iron-smelted courage – wild ones who propel themselves out into the far darkness of Pluto, where they will make their homes on a harsh land of jagged, rugged dirt and underworld streams, borne
from emotion-stripping arguments that have long since lost
meaning but provide a source of strength to those who seek
valor. The gamblers jet
off to Jupiter, happy and excited – because they know they can’t lose
in a world that is kaleidoscope bright, in a world whose people speak
a language that includes 3,452 words that mean lucky.
Those who crave the unexpected zoom
to Uranus, architect of all that is startling
and new, and I wonder
why, after seeing the other possibilities, after experiencing
true delight, after riding a resonance of sound that cannot be described
in English, French, or Pleiedean – why anyone would choose
a life on Earth, a planet that seems
out of place despite its varied and multi-toned complexion, from azure-green hills, scorching
hot deserts, natural healing springs to milk-foam clouds that dress
mountains men try to conquer, hoping
to escape their own failings – a planet dotted
with mystical temples, plain-spoken churches, delicately ornate mosques – buildings
that sometimes offer
shelter to those living in places where streams of dark-red blood flow
from far too many bodies with far too many consequences – this dark, clotted liquid spilling after men war in the name of God, shouting
honor and duty – not knowing that all they’re really doing
is playing chess with a devil that has a skull-splitting hangover and is ready to drink
down whatever he thinks will erase
that cold, bitter-gray taste in his mouth. My hands shake,
try not to spill the chamomile tea I sip; I try to calm
the horror inside my head, where picture after ravaged-wrecked picture of the dead plays
over and over again – where I see broken
innocent bodies – lives mutilated
into shambles. I rail
against the lost, narrow minds of those too weak
to think for themselves, those who follow without question and I wonder
if these people of bile-laden hearts knew – when they agreed
to come to this awful, beautiful, gut-ripping planet – that they would be struck
blind during their trip, becoming – despite any grand plan or vision – dealers of destruction.
the boy from the bar / by Olivia Braley
he wears a single silver bangle on his right wrist,
you’re adorned with a stack of engraved bracelets
from your mother on your left, each one marking
a different date in your life, your life distilled
in silver & gold along one arm: 21st birthday,
high school graduation, christmas 2010, & so on,
even the oldest from 5th grade still fits.
holding his right hand in your left, you’re linked
together like you’re handcuffed. the metals clink
& clatter, it sounds like you’re sorting silverware
or fumbling with a set of keys.
Sound Poem (Findings) / by Andrew Ratner
You throw an artifact into the water it becomes
the well within it. A landslide, a glowering
physical presence looms in the pinpricks of mornings
such that it feels inwardly like the homonym
retching a tad and clearing its throat
like a final letter or clatter of stone against
a grave face, shifting in eyebrow and
pulling up to the curb, perforated grill and everything.
Something to observe over the course of
a long dinner: the long exhalation. Map it
with a minute, the colors go mute and long
and tip upward like a crowning wave
ebullient and visceral and then none of any
of that, a tired silence smelling of raw words
set to smoke over the fire pit that once held a tool
which rotated like laughter does when finding
its mate. The long road, the long grooming
of the roadway, the painting of the lines between which
cars are destined and purposed. When I touch
my body to my body, like two stones in two hands
exercising desire to balance, what will wish it upward.
Why / by Janel Spencer
after Wislawa Szymborska
In our times
for reasons unsought
and wisdom lost
estranged souls endlessly scrawl nonsense.
This goes on forever, fools
challenging superstitiously concocted darknesses
while real danger boils just out of sight.
Why does it slink sudden under gravel
like death shuttering inside us?
What justice can puppeteers who puppeting puppeteers
invent by word-playing freely like shepherds?
Ego side-eyes us
squinting into oblivion.
Jealousy masquerades itself
special jewels violent around the eyes.
Virtue lifts with the weight
of others’ sins.
Ugliness chases its own tail
and Darkness, most clearly
self-pitying and endlessly circling itself
for left-over meat.
There must have been an explorer once
who sought the truth to these contradictions;
yet, in our times,
we concede to them,
believing there are too many
to gain true wisdom from any single moldy
overturned scrap of shore. So we step
ourselves into a shallow bed
and sing our shadows to sleep—
inside us, rumbling.
The Haenyeo Talks about Work while Getting Dressed / by Jihyun Yun
Currents stitched overhead
the blue expanse,
a pressurized sky. Who
can tell the difference?
Yearly, they pray it will not
siphon sisters out to sea.
The risk is: at our age
it can be hard to know
what’s happening to the
heart under water,
One says to me. Sometimes,
without warning, we just go.
See, the ocean is beautiful, yes.
And like all beautiful things,
it is hungry. It is no small feat
to come back alive, and still,
every day, they do.
Did they want this life,
or were they given it?
Praise be to the women
who go to work in the other world
and return to feed their children.
For their toil, praise.
Their blood and sweat, praise.
Ode to Apocalypse #1 (Tupelo Press 24)/ by Micah Zevin
Do you live at the apex of a struggle
or do you keep residence in the comfort
of your bubble? On the blue wall
I am slowly cracking as I am
driven crazy by the fluctuations
in temperature and the refraction of light.
Are we on the home team?
I am not a detective or ex-detective
Like anyone I have pivotal points.
Everyone should be able to give
their account or collect their evidence.
Fear threatens our way of life.
When will we bend? We will
be conquered, our habits will be
manipulated, the white flag
will be waved, our language
will be dissected for toxins.
I am the moth that swarms.
I am the sleepy sloth that consumes.
I am never one to presume.
It leads to presumptions
even though we all have assumptions
about what makes one another tick(s)
than ring with alarm(s).
Are we coming of age
with the threat of (all of us)
being detained? We are
be divided, told our home
is not ours, that we should
go back to our ancestral home
we never or barely knew.
Do we burn down all the supremes
on the patriarchal power grid?
Will the storm drown us?
Our lives are on display.
The moving truck is ready
to go always.
We are sick and
ready to explode
and should we just
let it happen
instead of searching
for the elusive antidote
so things can stay in stasis
and we can start going
None of this is a film reel.
None of this is surreal
The pigs are squealing
because we are keeping
them breeding in cages,
Day 23 / Poems 23
Evelyn Lonely / by Alexis Bates
I ask about touching. Evelyn says
that is a morbid act of trust.
He hates a correction of truth
so I let him have this.
Six months later I’m justifying
What is a life without
gestures of love?
Evelyn leaves me careless untouching,
and that’s how I wrote The Lonely.
This does not justify loving
The Reading / by Ellen Black
I wait by the door and watch him court
by a firestorm of words that wave
upon us, moved by undersea earthquakes that shake
from the sweet music of his voice.
A busty blonde lusts
for him through a thin blouse that begs
in a stray-dog way.
A quiet woman who no longer dances
dreams of waltzing
against his broad chest and wishes she could tell him
that June is the best time of year
to listen for meteors.
He tosses verses that ride
rough and rowdy
over emotions that quickly evolve
into creatures yet unknown to nature. I ache
with each syllable that pours
from his soft lips. I know I should say
goodbye bad boy
but all I want to do is cross
this jungle of desire and pull the space between us together.
in certain cities / by Olivia Braley
the vulnerable ones, the ones with tremors,
built on tectonic fault lines, engineers use
base isolation to minimize the damage
of seismic activity. skyscrapers sit atop
flexible bases that absorb the majority
of the shaking. when the earthquake comes,
the buildings move only a little
so that they don’t fall completely.
i’m trying to be like this—
to be stable at the core,
to bend with the force, to give
something of myself to stop from crumbling.
Omniscient Narrator / by Andrew Ratner
from Kate Chopin’s “Night, Coming Slowly” and Roxane Gay’s “Broads”
The katydids began the night
the night came slowly–loud, brassy
men exactly in the significance
of their lives and thin, precise.
I am losing my interest–
the oulines of trees and foliage
skin stretched smoothly over,
bone like little warm love thrills:
the valley, a grateful kind of thinking,
came stealing out from them, too,
the significance of their lives
without demeanor and manner:
they do not chatter like people,
circumstance stealing out from them
— they, their slumber
song, see nothing stretched
like geography, to tell me they have
seen the night, creeping.
I am losing my interest.
A White Tourist Jumps before a Haenyeo Work-song Performance for a Picture and Makes them say “Kimchi” / by Jihyun Yun
Dear tourist, I wonder in your eyes,
where does the spectacle end
and the women begin?
January in Seongsang Ilchulbong
or Sunset Peak in my adopted tongue,
the weather loves then rebukes us in turn.
Island of wind, rock and women, today
there is also snow, also gossamer frost
beating the dead brush down.
Twice a day, the Haenyeo make show
of their harvesting. Let ogglers arrest them
in film, fill their blogs with intrigue: look
at this primitive work, hook and buoys
the top-shell’s filigree. Do you understand
this is a dying history? Women wearing my
grandmother’s face prepare their wetsuits,
their tewaks and nets. They line up to perform
their work song before the dozen mouths
of cameras, those hungry apertures. It is a living,
they sing, a living. They call and respond,
dialect so foreign I only vaguely understand
but a woman knows ache when she hears it.
Nearby, the waves lap the shore,
Self-Hostage Negotiation / by Micah Zevin
I demand an extra day to sleep.
I demand to isolate all the creeps
from the accusers to lower the
creep to abuser ratio. Will it teach a
lesson to all those thoughtless cold
Blathering diatribes can be enlightening
but are often righteous, and we should be
wary because they carry lots of smoke
and no funhouse mirrors with them,
dripping sweaty fake language passions.
An apology is not an erasure but a
sentence to keep learning, fighting against
vehemence, institutional, cultural, societal
violence whether of ones’ past or present.
I cannot deflect. I cannot point a finger or
be my own pundit although pretending so
could bring hilarity.
I demand to be another man with another plan
not a biohazard without a hazmat suit.
I would breach the toxicity and send
its ash and liquid out into space
before it tarnishes our faces further.
I demand to ease my nervous system
and reproduce the naïve carefree
curly headed me if he ever even existed.
Parades do not save lies
although they affirm and celebrate them.
Last week some of the best sounds
listened to me and my frustrated
anguished tears. It was surprising.
It had a roar.
If you give me more time and not
simply ultimatums. Maybe I can
flourish, be nourished, not triggered.
These are not merely stories but the history
of human gendered power struggle.
Young people, commerce, employees,
young people, pregnant thoughts against
always for loan forgiveness.
Free speech, Maria! Pray
to the mindless partying
elephants who they
are gods firing back
rarely if ever listening.
Am I glistening with the glow
of my weapons, my purchases,
my remembrances of the dead.
I swam across your lake.
I jumped over your lily pads.
After sharing, I sent you a
postcard from all the way over here
to all the way over there.
I demand a fair and stable income.
I demand a workplace with big
and small incentives.
I demand privacy, a home.
Why does their have to be a cost?
Why do their have to be cuts?
I might respond faster
if you listened like a radiant
radical raisin and were more
Day 22 / Poems 22
Untitled / by Alexis Bates
Exhibit A on touch:
You remember the feeling
of alcohol poisoning kissing me and
Exhibit B on touch:
I only think of the peach
burn ecstatic tension
Exhibit B fear of abandonment:
You smile so sweet
I remember alcohol
poisoning and starting this riot
but now we’re both sick
Exhibit B fear of abandonment:
and tired so you
wife. . . .me. . . .knife. . . .me
Exhibit B fear of abandonment:
trust a madwoman
but don’t touch her Evelyn
Of Youth and War / by Ellen Black
I used to dream about my father’s death – a long, harsh death.
I would lie awake at night, breathing pain and watch
movies my spinning brain created in the darkness, wicked stories
each ending with his demise, though I was never the killer, despite being tired –
so tired of the constant anger – sick and sore from living as a reel-to-reel punching bag.
I wanted to breathe easily and stop cowering, timid and afraid.
I doodled a comic that showed me powerful and unafraid.
It was a fantasy, but also my solace until I was of an age to escape. I packed a small, red bag
and hid it under my bed, needing money and maturity, wishing I owned a watch
to mark the exact time of my exit from this worn-out, tired
family whose bloody fighting delighted our bastard cousin, Death,
an ugly relative who reveled in the non-stop screaming and drama-filled stories
my parents created just by inhaling. The TV news blared nightly stories
of broken bodies and falling bombs that painted a bright red, muggy death
across a canvas called Vietnam. I didn’t know the politics, but watched
as lives were shredded, stunned by the violence, horrified by the body bags
carrying home soldiers I knew had been young and terrified, afraid
to die before they had the chance to live long enough to be wrinkled and tired.
In the background, my mother would shatter whatever she could grab, tired
of a loveless marriage, her eyes puffy from yelling and crying, heavy bags
and dark circles the first signs of a slow, rotting death
eating her brain, little by little. I would sit in shadows and watch
her become incoherent, knowing she was also afraid
and empty of everything but hate. I would wince when she told stories,
jagged with lunacy, to neighbors and church folk, worried that these stories
would somehow cast me as the villain and then no one would know how afraid
I truly was – no one would recognize my mute cries for help. I’d watch
her animate into the perfect martyr, waiting for the death
scene – wondering if anyone thought her sane – worried I was too tired
to keep on going – thinking I should probably just bag
it in, not plan on becoming a future runaway, heart pounding, red bag
in hand, skidding into an uncertain future. I was still young enough to be as afraid
of the unknown as a harsh home. So I lulled myself into calmness singing stories,
played with poetry, grew older – heartbeat by heartbeat – wore my scars, danced with early death
in a black-and-white film that ended with me alive, searching, still torn, tired,
and aching, but ready. I waited, exhaling intermittently, and watched
your ikea loft bed / by Olivia Braley
the way it rocked back and forth on stilts,
not like, sexy… more like structurally
questionable. you never stopped making
me birthday cards, by which i mean: acts of love
become habitual. our arguments, too, circled
the same things, we grew ever closer
to a resolution a half step past infinity,
& what would we do if we got there?
the same hurt still sat in me like an ulcer & when it bled
you said i can’t believe you are still talking about this.
Poem 22 / by Andrew Ratner
In the waking hours in which sunlight
draws flipbook movies on the floor
I spill ketchup on my shirt and pants
and wonder why Stanley Kunitz
wrote, in “The Testing Tree,” that a walrus
huffs down a well, has the gentlest
eyes. Large looming things,
like cartoonishly ironic, heavy-set ballerinas
(I am thinking, also, of walruses), dangle
on strings above my head and dammit, sometimes
they drip a bit of sweat on me, only
it feels like tears only they feel
like the spray of that Chilean salt lake,
the salt that rent my bones inward,
quivering. It’s not that I am
afraid of seeing animals so much larger than me,
I’d just rather them farther away:
in the distance that leather leash, broken and languid,
is for something. And then suddenly it’s dark
and you feel the pavement thrumming.
The Repatriate’s Granddaughter Arrives / by Jihyun Yun
And this is how she welcomes you/ with a clamor of car horns and sudden heat/ party anthem beats blare/ from phone shop store-fronts screaming/ in technicolor lights/ CHEAPER THAN CHEAP!/ DUG UP FROM THE GROUND/ AND SOLD FOR NOTHING!/ with trucks parked on the side of the road/ overladen with fruit/ fog-skinned grapes the size of baby fists/ apple-pears, the oblong yellow melons of your childhood called chamoe/ a megaphone attached to the hood/ announces the price of it all in a voice/ whose master you cannot see/ motorists weave loud music through the streets as they run their deliveries/ She welcomes you/ with hawkers peddling their blankets, trinkets, gadgets, shower shoes/ with boxes of iced hairtail sold from the backs of cars/ old women who wear my future face hassling wild chives from concrete/ who brandish their spades and spoons like small artillery/ she welcomes you with fish markets smelling more of sea than the sea/ with industry and cheap drink/ with lovers and hack-tailed strays shrieking their fright under car bellies/ with sprawling blocks of neon faced motels built specifically for love/ lighting up outside your window/ and oh, why should there not be alleys dedicated/ to even brief love in this life? Asks the city/ You want so desperately/ to be loved by her/ who you’ve only met through memories/ sieved through many blunting years/ a childhood of chestnut trees/ your grandmother’s voice as she once rocked you to sleep/ home is wherever I go/ though other waters may sing to us both/ you will always return to me.
Proclamations, or Sometimes I will, I am or I am not…. / by Micah Zevin
Eating chips and salsa
and drinking Cabernet Sauvignon
after work before my wife
records the podcast is a lot
to engage in post commute
post grocery shopping line-up.
It creates the mirage that
it has straightened my spine.
Sometimes, libations are the answer.
Sometimes, we should be dancers
and prance, not stuffed into boots
What is an aberration but a chance
that has been taken because you gave
yourself an ultimatum and wrote about
a crumbling ugly beautiful nation
without being full of citations.
Young people fire weapons on
social media against discrimination
and sue and sue and sue hashtags.
Sometimes, influence is a carbon copy
Sometimes, it’s a vice that affects a fast
or a slow reversal. How do we thwart
constant hit and runs against the fragile
and the strong if we cannot stun, if we
are unspun. Sometimes, I am uncorked
when I see constant unseen tragic footage
the previously alive recorded on their phone
and it produces oily tears mixing with my
sniffling dripping nose hose not used to
fertilize waning earthly crops.
Little opposition is good but the
energy of real change against the greedy
I can not be divisive.
I am not a gun.
I try not to speak in deceptive cadences
unafraid of taking
Will you jump over the biggest hurdles?
Will you register your offense and your
At work, I say thank you and
Hello and have a good day
and more times than not I am trying to
As a child, I used to roam on
abandoned tracks covered in branches
and weeds and garbage on our
way to Fleet Street baseball fields.
One day we will all be posthumous.
How to keep the water flowing
and keep it clean? We all
love attention and despise impostors.
unless they are clowns and make us laugh.
Dare to read biography and pray to the
sea, take a journey pure or messy but not
You must say I will pave the way.
It will be powerful without making others
I will begin to go over my promises
against realistic or not. I will not
deviate in an uncertain future.
Is the alliance between science
And war truly unspoken?
Day 21 / Poems 21
Girl Talk / by Ellen Black
Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women.
Rape will tear you in half,
and a wound is a blossom.
… never knew survival was like that;
I want to go in the back yard now,
where I will not be moved by the grief or gratitude of men.
This is for the dangerous words hiding in the pages.
I’ll do what I must if I’m bold in real time;
but you… you broke the ocean in half!
A cento (Latin for patchwork) poem is created using lines from other poets’ work. I created this poem using poetry written by only people of color:
The House – Warsan Shire
Untitled – Rupi Kaur
Aubade – David Mura
Before – Ada Limón
A Song in the Front Yard – Gwendolyn Brooks
Casa – Rigoberto González
A Remix for Remembrance – Kristina Rae Colón
Ghazal – Agha Shahid Ali
Salt – Nayyirah Waheed
Lovesickness / by Olivia Braley
Do you know how cripplingly I love you,
how your eyes burn something awful in me,
so to meet your gaze is scalding, how I recoil,
have to ease into the green of them, how it crushes
me to see your hands, their veins and bones and
ligaments, the way they all work together to grind pepper
or write a letter or sometimes when I’m really lucky
hold one of mine, how I think I have an extra organ
near where my liver grew that detects you, that sat
as a useless lump of tissue and blood like an appendix
before you, and that you have, with your eyes and your
hands and your simple fluid being, so utterly ruptured,
so that I crumple and wretch and sputter when you leave,
though I’m ashamed to admit it even now, and no one told me
love would be such a physical affliction, something I want
to amputate like a gangrenous foot, that is doomed
to follow me even after in phantom tingles and throbs,
something chronic and arthritic, some awful festering
infection that I don’t remember how to live without
Imaginary Self / by Janel Spencer
Those who go home at night and stay asleep in bed
don’t open the window
but my imaginary self
hungry for where dreams have gone
rangles a dance partner.
Fascinated with the sound of trains at night
catches one small piece of rain
in diagonal flight on the tip of the outstretched tongue.
Savaging / by Jihyun Yun
Dear daughter, when the mind leaves
it leaves so swiftly. Today I woke having forgotten
which country now held me, or if those love
motels stringing neon cords outside my window
were those of Oakland or Seoul. I woke having
forgotten even your face, but I remembered
my dreams of hunger. What if this is all I am left with:
memories of my young body rifling through refuse
at the US bases, the slow arc of a dust-bloodied moon
illuminating garbage: Animal bones I picked through
for their tears of toothed on sinew, wads of spent gum
studded with gristle and American spit. We did our best
to rinse off the dirt, but that too is sustenance.
Afterall, we’d seen the desperate drink slurries
of mud or their own upchuck and if pride serves
no man, then let us be animals. Animal, full and unmoored
from whatever shame names us human. We boiled
the trash in a big pot, watched the chicle bloom
into nothing and broth, the animal bone’s faint bouquet
of rot brought us kids to drooling. The stock boiled
itself white. We spiced it with crushed cigarette butts
and wild weeds, called it 꿀꿀이죽, or oink-oink gruel
for the swine we had become. To this day, nothing
has ever tasted as good. At home that evening,
my eldest sister’s human pride made her seize me by the hair,
throttle my face raspberry for the dishonor of eating American
garbage. You weren’t raised like this, you weren’t raised like this,
but what is dignity in such a life? In a year, my sister
in all her beauty and pride would be dead. It was like
we already knew it back then, my girl body half-transformed
into a pig, screeching its pink surfeit. My sister thrashing
my wire-haired skin, weeping for the lives neither of us
would live. I still remember it.
On The Border of Living Dystopia: Sins and the Sinful, a Self-Help Technique / by Micah Zevin
Are we unraveling like a giant flag?
Have we forgotten where we put our most
I’m home but I’ve misplaced body and mind.
I want to go in a cocoon and never came out again
not to be too dramatic, until I see not bright lights
threatening to burn out my eyes or hear peeps creeping
up and down our walls.
I’m not a spy but apparently I know how to
come up on you ninja low that you jump.
What is fair and ensures our safety
in this country when it’s all about power?
The ruins are buried below us like decade
after decade of the Roman Empire.
We are attempting to make the past
the present when we should be fighting for
I need repairs but I want us to sound the
alarm, not just wave or ride
waves to unfounded victories.
I am pickles, cold cuts, cole slaw and
lox and everything bagels after a fast.
If I snap my fingers will I snap my kneck.
I am dozing on the twisted wreckage.
How long will I last?
I am often surrounded by giants of
their industry who possess vast vats of
knowledge about (how)(why)
we sell ourselves short,
why we are obsessed with evidence
and religion and delivering/submitting reports.
Do you care what your cohorts think?
If you abort your missions are you
compelled to take a drink?
Will your life drain away in the sink?
The infestation of moths in the kitchen is
driving me mad.
What is it that will make me glad?
It’s difficult to avoid the toll
or being killed by it. We are
all capsizing just to avoid the
oversharing uncouth of social
media who say too much worth
and not worth repeating
all for righteous indignation?!
Painless death let me never turn
orange while I get high in front
of a landscape painting of an
unknown war. I need all the vaccines,
all the antioxidants, all the cleansing
tools to remove the toxins from
My is nosing is running away.
Is this a promise of things
to come? Can you maintain?
Do you recognize the burden of
Proof? Fun is not simply an
echo or a distraction in a
distorted mirror. Where
is our contrarian voice going
to travel? How will our spirits
be replaced? I am not a maniac,
sometimes. I am not a dream
machine, sometimes. I live by the
book and against demons, the family
dramedy. The humming birds and the
pandas can save the planet. Come hither—
Day 20 / Poems 20
Poem 20 / by Alexis Bates
Poetry Pickup / by Ellen Black
Suffering with sickness, longing for that wenchy blue sea,
need to find fresh worlds. Loll on hot sands that snuggle new seas.
Some escape in a car, others on a bike, all okay;
as long as restoration is near, close to that one view! See?
Timid and shy of misadventure, never went too far.
Now the nearest planet is too close, must move on and renew! ¡Sí!
Would love a margarita, want a salty-sour respite buzz! Yes…
…let me linger… in this warmth… and daydream ‘bout the… Ooh! Shoo! Sea!
So Miz Ellen, whatcha gonna do? Sulk? Samba? Howz about…
a respite of words? Yes! That’s it! Write it, girl! Ghazal on! Cue… sea!
In Which I Compare Love To / by Andrew Ratner
There is a groundswell in the body. There is a mousetrap. There is two vertical axes, a vibration, a prism, a vision of flux. There is light, there is a location of blood in the vein, a vibrant heart, a match struck
and the body-given flame. This a marriage. This is the ventricle supplanting all others
and the pump and breath and movement of the arm, the shape and width of air, a branching out
a division story. When we open the door,
when there is a scamper filling in the blue of the flame
and there is a lick of something familiar
floating, ballet-like, into the murr and bower of a tear already fled
when, in the moment in which two palms wish to touch, when the wish to touch outgrows
the wish to part.
Killing Conch with the Diver-women of Jeju / by Jihyun Yun
Stone in hand, I thought, may leaving lives land mercifully in the next world. Do not be fooled, this prayer is only selfish. If I think this, I can kill with less guilt. Fall has burnished the trees in Samyang to the color of a well-loved kettle. Crouched on the black rock of a basalt shore, a Haenyeo teaches me how to harvest sora from its shell. It is a beautiful creature of unfair symmetry: tarnished lilac spires punctuated with horns, the soft animal cowering inside shielded by a whorled and boney buffer. She shows me to place it so its aperture faces skyward. The volcanic rock in her hand swings a lazy arc and lands hard, shattering the sora deftly. She pulls away the shell piece by piece, then relieves the conch of all its viscera, its frilly mouth, the undesireable meat. A cursory rinse in seawater that has pooled in the depression of a rock, then she slips it unexpected between my lips. It tastes of sweet musculature and ocean, firm like broiled burdock or the beaked cartilage of a bird’s breast-bone. Now you, she says. It doesn’t come easy, I’ve never gutted a living thing, though I’ve borne witness many times: my grandmother’s hand pulling the broad plate of bone from a still writhing squid, a fish quivering on a board, a crab pulled open for innards before the legs have stopped dancing. If the purpose is to feed and be fed, I do not believe this is cruelty. I try my luck. The conch cracks, a cleft forming on the lip of the shell, but it holds. I strike it again and again until the shell’s ground down to opal at my feet. When I’m done, the stomach has ruptured over the meat, its dark green coating everything in bitter offal grit. There’s no need to be brutal when gentle works just fine, she says, continuing her labor, when something dies afraid, you can taste it. I eat the one I killed, and realize she is right.
Ways to Expel and Push Boundaries / by Micah Zevin
A subversion of pizza, buffalo chicken style,
if not done right will give you a stomach ache
unless something else is poisoning your system.
I want to wake up with songs in my mind not curst
in my eyes, not agitation and regret on my breath.
We all have claws we must take out or retract
from time to time, depending on the situation.
Why are the right life decisions the best way to deal
Fluctuations in temperature and humidity
and fasting and dust and pollen can make me dizzy.
Sometimes, there are too many plots and they are hard to
follow, and they are convoluted and diluted.
My roots have vanished; does this mean I have
forgotten or no longer have my vanity?
I often eat my oatmeal with mashed up bananas,
chia seeds and honey. This can make me and
fortify before I walk out the door and quiet
indigestion. I am seeking bright colorful supportive
low arch sneakers on the internet, not anonymity;
this is the end less quest to shine. Viral rumors
wrap your brains electronic spiders until they
penetrate your psyche and will not let go.
Everyday I am flooded with scripts of dialogue
bits and pieces of good, bad and indifferent. Damage
never dies in the story that tries to live
wrestling with you as you try to survive the
blame. Can (I) (we) (you) take the year off
and still be able to eat?
Am I simply made of water and meat?
What do the critics have to say about it?
Can you express it to me in verse
and without creating a spectacle,
a charade in the process of
taking me down and devastating
my building blocks with dirty little
secrets until they are no longer
affordable and ringing ears.
If great and Sicilian often, a slice of
Pizza should be a savory sweet
rich thing of worship even as
our rations wane and a war of
words is ignited.
Day 19 / Poems 19
The Lady’s Gospel / by Ellen Black
Inspired by Titian’s The Penitent Magdalene and
Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks
It’s rumored she is penitent.
She stares upwards, hand over heart, red-gold waves of hair flowing
around plump breasts, daring him, face-to-face, lips parted, voice verging
on the rant she’s been waiting for decades to share.
She lets loose…
You called me a whore and let everyone believe
it true, even though I was a lady of education and means, making
my own decisions and living as I wanted. I could hear your screams, ripping
open the heavens when your son happened upon me in the marketplace, stopped
still by a connection so sudden and powerful, that even the “greatness”
of his father couldn’t prevent it blossoming.
We learned and loved and shared
a truth not of your making, helping thousands, healing
and harboring the wicked and the bereft. You watched, jealous
of what we had created, and when the anger boiled
over like lentils on a too-hot fire, you put a hit
on your only child. I was powerless to stop the nails that were pounded
into his hands and feet. I choked as he slid down the stake on which he was hung,
life being squeezed out of him. I wept, as he had once done, and then waited
for my own death, waited for my ripped-apart self to disappear.
But, he surprised me in my sorrow and astonished existence. I relished
the after-death dream he visited upon me, whispering desire, promising
a future wedding, leaving me one final kiss, seared in sage.
Why I was granted immortality, I’ll never know. But, I am very aware
this talk is long overdue. Out of respect for my beloved, I have pursed my lips together, forcing
no words toward you for millennia, even as I wanted to chant
a spell that would end your reign forever. I built new families. I spun magic.
However, I’ve grown weary of your ass-kissing ministers making bank
with their wanton-woman lies about me, so I’m forsaking
my one tiny vow of silence to let you know just how I feel, naked in body and words.
Oh, you don’t like it?
Maybe if you’d been a better father, your one child wouldn’t have spent
years hiding, waiting for a new time for the two of us,
for all of us – a forever time – a time without you.
I have nothing more to say, so while you bellow
in a not-so-righteous rage, I’m going to jazz
myself up, as I have friends waiting
with coffee and conversation at the Nighthawks Diner.
Meditation on The Garden at Les Lauves ca. 1906 by Paul Cézanne / by Olivia Braley
There are so many ways to look at a horizon
but only one way to catch it
like I am caught in her now, treading
between saltwater and cloud
with paint in my hair. I want to strip her
of her layers so I can hear her breathing.
I want to know how to be just enough,
when to put down my pen, retreat
inside the slanted strokes of sapphire.
I want to learn how to turn a landscape
into a hurricane and leave the smell of dirt
unsettling. I want to understand
how the leaves blow on their branches
in hushed collisions at once natural and cubic,
poised like questions:
How do you know when to stop?
In Which I Compare Love To / by Andrew Ratner
Will you be my alerce tree and caulk this ship—blankets line the floors
and I am not a dog lying on the ground, not a flower anymore.
Any longer and our smiles will refuse to point, seem only slight, like an impotent cactus,
slouching, as if carrying within it
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .the weight of a k, wandering, somnambulant.
Imaginary Self / by Janel Spencer
Not among those who go home at night
and stay asleep in bed
I open the window
and my imaginary self
hungry for where dreams have gone
floats down the long-missing fire escape
tripping over hills
in search of flashing lights and festivals
eager to make friends at parties
looking out energetically for OPEN signs
ready to rangle a dance partner
fascinated with the sound of trains at night
catching one small piece of rain
in diagonal flight on the tip of the outstretched tongue.
Happiness / by Jihyun Yun
For one shiver thin year
we slept on the floor on a hill of blankets
with one pillow each to cup our backs,
cushion our bones.
This is how we spent our time:
you loved fun facts.
I collected them for you,
a shoebox full of Snapple caps.
You tapped your feet, humming as you read.
You passed the finished husks to me,
they rattled and sang in my hands.
You made the suitcase your closet,
cardboard boxes your nightstand,
your desk, our dinner table.
We had: a TV, some pots,
the yellow eviction letter clinging
crooked on the pale blue paint.
To find my way, I follow the sounds:
a constant low drone,
the tinkering shuffle of bottle caps.
Mama sits cross-legged on the carpet.
The fan blades mangle her laugh,
is fed to me in bits, extending
The Nomad Remains a Nomad (Until Returning Home to Friends). / by Micah Zevin
You are the wanderer arriving in both morning and night,
bringing things practical or made of junk to be played, admired or eaten,
and all your stories are victorious or sad and defeating.
Blank faces can mean sober or drunk, quickly turning to smile or fight,
or after long deep conversations wobbling out to mornings first light.
There are always funny videos, movies and encounters worth repeating,
yet digs and slights win at every turn from friends, colleagues, loved ones and cretins,
who have the same name and follow your shadow until you eat or bend.
All of us hope to repent sins whether we are believers or inside forever frozen.
Years ago you studied many things to make your rebellious spirit sing
In the park with the chorus you were occupied and of two minds.
As the extremes moderate, you go left, picking what or whom you think is chosen.
How can we reverse the wildfires, not just urge protest, but conspire to revolution.
You are a wanderer not in search of absolution but to end all corrupt corporate pollution.
Day 18 / Poems 18
Home Sweet Home / by Ellen Black
Greasy flowered wallpaper peeling
downward, like her aging
breasts. Grease pot sitting
next to a stove with only two working
burners. A round, scarred
wooden table wobbles
on peeling tiles, brown from decades inhaling
fried food. The Captain’s Chair remains
the throne father plopped
his butt on each meal, proclaiming
girls were never allowed to sit
in such glory or cook professionally.
An almost-empty fridge hums
off and on, its faded-brown exterior blending
into the rest of mother’s depressed kitchen.
A tiny window hangs
atop a sink with no hot water, breaking
the darkness and glinting
off a silver bottle of Gibson’s gin.
Untitled / by Olivia Braley
Mathematically, some infinities are greater than others, you tell me
from behind your laptop in the dining room. You probably tell me more
but I’m not listening, now I’m thinking of infinity and its multiplicities.
In my mind they’re oceanic creatures. A big fish gulps a smaller one,
then a bigger one swallows them both whole, and on and on.
I love you so much I could eat you in one go. They say love is infinite,
but scientifically, the human body is finite. So love is a bigger fish than we are.
Meaning the best we can do is swim freestyle alongside love until the body gives out,
muscles pull, tendons rip. Meaning, love until we break, until it devours us.
Found Poem: Dictation / by Andrew Ratner
. . . . . . . . . .Joan
Minty smells grass, and looks up to the moon, says, “I don’t like that,” and went home. She ate candy, went to bed, read a story, dreamed
with her friend, the dragon. They dreamed about each other. Then they shut their eyes and woke up. They went to school at the mermaid museum with lots of mermaid statues—
Open my belly—
I closed my belly
—you will eat it—
I can’t eat anything
if you ate my belly—
What can I do—are you finished
—See dad, I almost can reach!
Everything / by Janel Spencer
Here I am: I’ve accidented into a future
where truths strike like rage.
Better off then when I happened into the past
like a shut-off star, one hundred years young.
Everyday, days like terrible planets are studied in their orbit
around an invisible order, as though the future could be foretold.
The cosmos accuse: What are you afraid of?
They offer up: Love is consciousness.
We give ourselves over to time,
the only thing that will expose our flaws to us.
In truth, it unlayers us vulnerable
until we are left with ourselves
and, looking close, we notice: everything a part of us
is a part of everyone.
A Mollusk’s benediction / by Jihyun Yun
Blessed be the blue
that cradles the black
rock, this archipelago
and her froth
creaming tidal over
expanses it can only sometimes
reach. Glory be to the sea
that returns us
and returns us.
Sheen of the sora shell,
we praise thee.
For resilience, praise.
For beauty, praise.
Praise to the moon
that marionettes the tides,
that pull waters high
overhead for evening’s
sanctuary where no one
dare hunt us for fear
of asphyxia. Praise be
to my kin mollusking
the bed-rock. One hundred
sisters stippling the floor.
Our myriad deaths and myriad
mournings. When the gods
plunge under for their morning
harvest, we pray to be
The Shadow You / by Micah Zevin
Waking up in the dark is eerie
but not as eerie as the news, lately.
It’s an assault on the senses, an echo
that never seems to stop bouncing off
the walls of caverns.
When you are perpetually tired,
you forget yourself
escalating aches, pains and blockages
that lead(s) to dwindling options,
ambitions and opinions.
Am a becoming a stranger to and in
my own body? Am I a cloud hovering
over myself in humid air
about to burst with rain.
When operating partly in the dark
you must find a high powered flashlight
to navigate the forest and
find your way home,
if you have a home.
Oh Mockingbird! Every
breath I take, you are
burrowing into my bones
until I pray to be in fine hands
to move to another land
where life is not only a
stage and you are turning
the now browning pages.
There are no thrones for
me to sit on nor things or
people I have ever called
marvelous. Live from
jokes about reunification
and peace I am greeted by
a nations dismantling sanity,
the crowds in and outside my mind
trying to avoid high stakes missions
instead to be persuaded that all
I can do or desire to do is
play it safe. The sun peeks through
than hides. The words are a huge
deal and true but you and they must
have boundless curiosity or
be left behind by hope
that there is a better role to be had
Day 17 / Poems 17
Small Town Scenes / by Ellen Black
While other girls went to slumber parties
wore too much makeup and giggled
over pimple-faced boys, Ronni turned tricks.
She had a father, though few knew his name. Ronni survived
ignoring a town that taunted
her gimp-legged brother and ridiculed her acne-scarred mom.
I didn’t turn tricks
and I never got an invitation to any kind of party. I walked
to school alone and hid
in books. Each afternoon, I ran back to my house and sat
next to the window in my lonely teenage room. I would stare
across the empty field between our house and the school’s cleat-scarred
football stadium. I would sit and wait
and hope – hope that just one boy – any boy would call
and ask this odd girl out so I, too, could get high on mums and touchdown glory.
On Friday nights Ronni stroked
beer bellies while I listened to cheers that scorned
me into plans of escape. Across town, moans
of cheap passion held Ronni and her future flitted a drunken two-step.
LA Times 9/17/18 / by Olivia Braley
Today I needed you here
to help with my crossword;
You would’ve known
67 across, Fermented quaff,
8 & 9 down, Take for granted
& “Was ___ hard on you?”
respectively, & the names
of all the baseball players
I don’t know.
After Milton, After Child, For Long-Time Friends / by Andrew Ratner
When I get to think of where my light is spent,
and how much, and how long, and where, and why,
wrestling with the dog and the child not far behind,
my mind shorts. The child, a marvel, gets sent
to her grandparents for a day or two, I bend
and pick up her clothes and smells the smells
she leaves behind: some like powder, seashells
and things that make me wonder how frequent
her trips to the bathroom are. There are not
many friends in the world who can put foot
to ground and make the world, of a sudden,
bloom. How fascinating to know you’ve got
an ascendant world in them. When they took
your hand that time, pushed you, gathered you in.
At the Comfort Woman Museum, Seoul / by Jihyun Yun
Please click here to read the poem.
Pattern Recognition (Who you could be if you could be who you think you want to be) / by Micah Zevin
Are we all a collection of habits?
I like crunching carrots like cartoon rabbits
but have yet to learn the Tango online or in-person.
This morning it’s humid, my t-shirt is too tight
yet it is also luminous although my eyes
are crusty and droopy yet partially open.
At these times, I think random thoughts
such as why have I never owned a trampoline
or rode the waves of my very own wave machine.
The laundry may be a chore I despise
but I can put in my earbuds and listen to a
variety of sounds from Heavy Metal to Jazz to R&B
as I transfer from one machine to the next
and go back upstairs and make you chicken cutlets,
dipping them in an egg wash than flour breadcrumbs
spice mixture; In here, as fatigued as I may be, I am
left to my own devices as cutlets are flipped and timed
and as salad is eaten each piece cools off than it is time to dine.
Are we all a collection of habits?
I like to drip honey on an Eggo and
peanut butter and strawberry jam on toast and put out my outfit
for the day. I enjoy watching my guinea pigs
run around in circles, butt heads, flip their houses
full of hay and play. If I had more money I would
feast on the fanciest of takeout. All comedies
I watch would be transcendent, a feast of words,
not a diagnosis of a disease from a society of
sleaze who would take a payout and then
fade into the breeze. I would be obsessive,
fanatical even about why work doesn’t work
any longer and who wants to keep it that way.
Am I the man always on his way each and
every day from point A to point B until I return?
Are we all a collection of habits?
Inquiring minds need more than
breadcrumbs to survive. I wish my
interior was fluffy and crunchy
and full of joy. What is the
antidote to poverty, economy?
The pernicious lies consume me.
Beware of constitutions with no
conscience and no constitution.
Do I yearn for a more simple and
You can’t let the symptoms go untreated.
To offset the chaos, you must
try to repair the hearts that are hurting
before the tensions rise
Day 16 / Poems 16
Miscommunication in August and Again in November / by Alexis Bates
I am accused of parsing truths
and only suddenly
remembering why I am living.
A wishful girl wonders if..
did last night really happen?
an exasperated kiss carried on wind
making them less foreverish
Evelyn. I take a hit
. . . . . .them and miss you.
You make me remember why I’m living.
. . . . . .Evelyn,
. . . . . .I love you
I accuse Evelyn of not remembering love.
. . . .did that night happen?
I think you loved my desire more than me.
. . . . . .as much.
Possibilities / by Ellen Black
What if the Garden of Eden were a place of love,
kindness, pleasure – a dream filled with dignity and laughter,
joy and art, poetry flowing off the tips of each touch.
What could we become without the lies, the deceit – the fear of being ourselves?
Is Paradise a fairy tale found only in racy romance novels read
by lonely women? Or, is it a heaven awaiting men filled
with so much hate they devour the world with bombs and beheadings?
If we looked into each other’s eyes, calm and still – naked
in our total truth and devotion, could we rid the world of snakes?
What could we have become had we met each other first?
Poem Ending with a Quote by Henri Matisse / by Olivia Braley
The thing is tangled up
with the memory of the thing
and of the person-thing
looking at the thing
and what they imagine
of the thing,
past present future,
and with not being
any other thing.
That’s the real thing.
Peel back its physical
shape size weight,
gnaw on the mishmash
feeling of the thing.
So then, why did you paint your tomatoes blue?
Because I see them
and I cannot help it
if no one
Confessional / by Jihyun Yun
As if wine could erase the white
wreck of the hour before,
as if the marrow of this home
didn’t whisper, trip-wire,
your hands open a new page
in the night, and I am a good animal,
licking tannin off my wounds. A kiss
of bruise and chafed knees. Naked as Adam,
you splay the bible across your lap and read,
The body is not meant for sexual Immorality,
but for the lord and the lord for the body,
by which you mean, your fault.
You let me lick
the nectar from your life-line,
a carnal amen, before pressing
a blue palm to my throat.
My throat, soft fruit bruising
in the hand, the dam
of some ancient city. I want so badly
to forgive this body.
My Wounds have a Message (The Toxic Truth Soothsayer) / by Micah Zevin
My wounds have a message.
If you see spies
splash water on your eyes
and look again out the window
with binoculars as if at the birds.
If you hear a humming you might
be bugged or not, but do not
worry about the fires to come.
It may be paranoia.
Have a cup of chamomile tea.
The playbook of your worry newsfeed
is constant upsets, not sore
throats and sentences with the
word death in them and headlines
continuing to damage hearts and eat
package after package of lifesavers,
your sugar addiction fever no longer
undiagnosed as the poor are often when it
My wounds have a message.
They plea with you to make
top secret friends so that the
contamination can end,
all that is out of whack
technological and political.
I am not contaminated, right?
I am not made out of high fructose corn syrup,
hydrogenated oils, MSG(and)(more)
(other acronyms turning us a dark orange shade),
too many carbs, the wrong carbs, too much sugar,
not enough sugar,, greens which list have I missed
that says what’s the best kind whether broccoli,
cauliflower, nuts, blueberries or other combos.
My wounds have a message.
They are not saying you will no longer
have long ass commute, or a super high
energy bills, or neighbor children
that seem to be climbing and banging walls
simultaneously, and keep their bright lights on
all night in living room and kitchen.
I am not a curator but my accumulated
cuts and burns and scrapes have been told they build
character when I know they are characters,
and get ornery when not stretched out or recognized.
At night, I do not come alive but keep calm if sleepy
during the everyday endless days at risk of mania and
delirium, even psychosis pushed up against metal poles.
How does fascism work when the improbable fall
And these palaces, these truths we took for granted
begin to vanish as the heartland vanishes.
I have not recently taken an oath
yet I’m not a rule maker or breaker or
try not to become transformed or shaped by them.
Sometimes, my minds microprocessor’s wish
I was a puppet or a sculptor on farmable land no longer
My wounds have a message.
Day 15 / Poems 15
Vulture Culture / by Alexis Bates
Clear blue skies and too many thorns.
The skull bone bleeds nearby
a lingering life holds out to be
championed or maybe he is
and I am led to a crown
royal by generous inheritance.
I give new life and am made
happy playing god out here.
L.A. Afternoon / by Ellen Black
She wasn’t sure whose idea it was to roast that man on an open fire,
but the air smelled like cars and caramel. Feelin’ a little disco, she did a jaunty jeté
over to the nearest bar and collided with some candy-nasty wafting
of lust tendrils, whispers chilled lethal. Still wanting to shake
her tailfeathers, tangoed over to the jukebox, threw away
some change, and when he looked at her, the scent of the ocean wafted
past, mixed with a lingering touch of Chanel – the original, sensual
but not sticky sweet scent, earthy as if a sunbeam had kissed the beach.
Music started, and a foghorn called him back to a shore he had stopped visiting.
During the storm / by Olivia Braley
When it comes down hard enough, water leaks in through the chimney,
floods my metaphors. Lightning jagged-cracks open the sky
like an egg on the lip of a bowl. We scramble four with spinach
and goat cheese for dinner. Outside, the rain hushes everything.
After Miles of Scorched Trees, I’ve Had Enough / by Andrew Ratner
I think we all wear beards.
Honeysuckle and bees
bees and honey that drip
like a final curtain. Beards
made of hair and polluted whales
like the ones you see on TV sometimes.
Sometimes beards get sick
and throw up white ugliness.
We wear them pretty,
lovely like some trees.
They itch like scorched, dead earth.
Untitled / by Jihyun Yun
After so long
do you still kick the apple trees
in August? Such weak feet
were never meant to make
even the most wizened of fruit
. . . . . . . . .lose hold
I wonder where those trinkets went,
little monopoly pewter terriers,
something small and constant
to slip into a pocket, or the cup of
our training bras, thread us together
through twelve different towns.
Maybe she could have had them. Like us,
imagined the terriers colossal, wrecking paper towns,
nicked her breasts on its hard metal corners,
begged the trees to throw down their fruit.
Unalarmed / by Micah Zevin
When you’ve overslept
and must get to work
it’s difficult to get
anything done, let alone
write, shower, eat your
clichéd almond milk
feed your guinea pigs
their favorite lettuce
stretch, oh no!, I forgot to stretch
do jumping jacks,
brush my teeth, get the Sunday
paper hugging our door like a fat baton.
I am in perpetual in-between state,
no time to renovate my conscious senses.
I make the coffee, briefly listening
to the hiss, steam and drip of it.
I’m past ready for my next hit.
When you’ve overslept
and must race to work from
bus to trains on weekends,
skipping stops due to construction
you must ignore people, your own
heavy breathing running up and
down stairs, the sweat that
envelops your entire body.
Yet, there’s magic in
your hands as you remember the
bright lights, hanging metal stages,
La Terraza bar last night
at the Queens Homecoming reading.
You hold a paper cup, drinking
Colombian coffee, a chocolate frosted
donut, and deliriously think,
Oh Sugar Messiah!
Thank you for your blessings
at Junction boulevard
if not because of Junction boulevard.
When you’ve overslept
you have flashbacks of
last night’s reading, encounters
with old library colleagues,
writer friends, the one with the
fancy ‘stache ordering the cold
draft of Negro Modelo
which you copy with relief
and glee as you listen to the
final featured reader of the night
reading from their novel about
Far Rockaway, nurse your beer
through trivia, polite stranger writers,
future friends and featured readers for
your reading series and beyond.
When you’ve overslept
and are not on drugs
it’s as close to
not being real as you can be,
almost outside your body
floating on sidewalk video games
trying to avoid, outsmart human obstacles
or be penalized, trying to ignore your
aching body, bloated stomach, drooping
eyes, to have a pleasant, dare I say,
a fun day of helping people
whether they want it, listen,
need it, or not.
Day 14 / Poems 14
In Between / by Ellen Black
Sacrificed to an unruly bed by a migraine, I ride a nauseated
roller coaster of sheets, all twisted and uncomfortable, and wonder
what happens inside the beats between words…
Does silence reign, or do gavottes glide around, sometimes bumping
into each other like the worst of giddy dancers?
Perhaps, two quick-staccato sounds tap tap, like a woodpecker rapping
against a tree stronger than skin. Is this where koans are birthed, providing answers to no one, creating only more mysteries never to be understood.
Does the space between words mimic the beat of a heart or mock an empty stillness?
Is this the origin of thunder or the demise of love? Or, are these tiny moments
actually large wounds, festering, blistering, causing everyone to itch.
Could these in-between beats be something as simple as a snack, licoricy and chewy,
fortifying us through the larger, wilder, woolier moments?
Or, are they just thieves, stealing time we think abundant…
The couple argues during dinner (Chiloé Island) / by Olivia Braley
On the balcony of a restaurant I choke back tears with soft bites of porkchop,
throw provocations across the table in low, rapid English, hope no one will notice
though the pain on my voice breaks through the language barrier.
The tide here is extreme, its highs and lows shift at least 12 feet.
I don’t know enough about anything to know why this is, but I know the moon
looms larger here. I’m afraid of everything I can’t control, so I focus on what I can:
I am done letting boys tarnish this place, the space that I occupy. I say, I will not let you
ruin my meal. I savor the tart carménére in my mouth, ignore my hurt, hollow out
until all I know is what I see: it’s low tide and the palafitos balance atop rickety stilts
like a flock of Cocoi herons, teetering on lanky legs that, defying logic,
still hold them up. Old brightly painted fishing boats litter the exposed seabed
like corpses, or a fleet of children’s toys abandoned in the sand.
Found Poem: Dictation / by Andrew Ratner
Joan and Jacob
Minty has over, over
minty. Have you ever made
a poodle in a toddle toddle
in a coddle. How could minty
discover a parrot life: life
from cereal: you take a quick
eye. You see it’s really big.
Oh, how could children over
dinosaurs. When you take
a quick eye, the water is big.
An Angler Fish’s Benediction / by Jihyun Yun
Enough of the endless dark
so thick a blade could cleave
a door to hell in the deep sea’s
soft gullet. Enough of the hunger
I’ve inherited for my sex. I’ve grown
tired of being my own master
in this kingdom of never light
and never food. I’ve grown tired
of ache, your sweet scent
both tempts and terrifies.
I have nothing, am nothing.
woman, I will give
to thee the flesh
of my underbelly. Suck life
from me as milk
or wine. My body
will grant thee
sanctuary and sex.
Be fed, housed
and follow me
and forever. Lust
for me only.
Know it is my light
you luminous. I
shall touch you
alive, in my own way,
birth you. And when I order:
your lips, eyes and all.
know there have been
worse prices paid
in the name of worship.
When mating, Angler-fish males will fasten themselves parasitically onto the much larger females by biting into their bodies. Over time, their fins, brain and other no longer necessary body parts atrophy away or are incorporated into the female until little more than gonads remain.
Or Am I? / by Micah Zevin
I’ve been ground down like cornmeal
and made into a tortilla by hand, rounded
until I am warmed in a hot oiled pan and filled
I long sometimes for a city far away from this one,
(I know it sounds crazy), far from its persistent nagging
traffic noises and perils, its screams and dramas, its cries
for help, its draining commute/commuters.
But then I think where will I find the same
music to blister and soothe my ears, my mornings
and nights on the rails , the same wild odors to
make me hold my nose one second than open
it up with my eyes to curry and sweets and favor.
I am neither watchdog nor whistleblower
yet I understand their necessity. Will we all be
forced to resign? Will we all be crunched like
cornflakes by many trampling feet
up and down stairs, banished to basement
rooms until we forget who we are
or give up, believing we are in too many
I am not a living drug, or am I?
We must all wipe our tears away
so we can see even if there is
nothing worth seeing or hearing.
Is this ever really true?
I am tired of listening to I don’t know
how to fix this from myself or anyone
else not willing to dive off the deep end
and figure out how to rise and stay afloat.
I am not a living drug.
Will I ever really die
or be mended?—
Day 13 / Poems 13
Untitled / by Alexis Bates
After Ke$ha’s “Cannibal”
I consume you
I dare to be a messy eater,
Every satisfied sigh,
post drink of you,
craving more of you
until I am left with your pride.
I wipe my mouth
and the satiation stays.
Rocky and Bullwinkle Trash Berlin / by Ellen Black
I awake in a strange city. It’s dark, yet a light too loud
to be the moon dips and tap dances
an SOS on my bed. Like a dancer on speed, I pony
to a window whose panes sag
beneath layers of white paint, brushed
across their splinter-chipped wood, war after war.
The streets glisten wavy with a lava-lamp glow. I have escaped
a rhinestone city called home, so I fly down to the cobblestones, marveling
at my new-found aerial skills, forgetting
my thrift-store pajamas. I pad
barefoot on a sidewalk that softly sinks
with each step and wonder how rocks can mush down like marshmallow fluff.
Beyond the blue-green trees, along-side
an orange-aged carousel, psychedelic notes rock
caramel: Lucy in the sky with diamonds…
Colors spark out in brilliant fragments and then disappear
into a magician’s night, where nothing is as it seems
and everything is the way it should be.
Old grey buildings speak of better days, when lager was cheap and
Ethiopian peddlers didn’t holler and push
dark-continent spices in front of modern towers built
to hide a genocidal past that still causes cringes.
I drift by bakeries smelling of opium and spot purple flowers growing
out of garbage cans, waiting in silver sadness for someone to pick them up.
Aluminum sounds clang against the sidewalk and I tip-toe
to a corner and peer around its jagged-brick edge, expecting
to see dragons doing a belly dance or fighters clinking
steel-sword blades, each blow a crash that could wake
more than just me. But, before my eyes can focus, my ears are dusted
with: Bullwinkle. What’re you doing in the trash?
Uh. Tryin’ a pull a rabbit outta the can.
Instead of answering his moose-witted friend, squirrel-pilot senses
my stares and turns his rodent eyes on me, scanning
my nighttime attire and slipperless feet before questioning: Who are you?
Startled words stumble out: I’m a poet.
Rocky nods: Ah, an anarchist.
The doofy one cocks his antlers: Hey, Rocky! What’s an anteater?
An animal with a long nose and tongue who eats insects. But…
When Moose Finger points at me and orders: Lemme see your tongue,
I open my mouth, feeling as silly as Natasha, forced
to take commands from a short, oily guy whose botched foibles get cleaned
up by Her Lankiness just in time for Mother Country to reward him.
Flying up to make a point, Squirrel says: I said anarchist. Not anteater. Anarchist.
Huh? What’s that?
Someone who can help us overturn Berlin and restore freedom.
I’m mission-ready, wondering whether we’ll run
into that dastardly Russian duo and after the cannons misfire
and the hot-air balloons blow one too many holes, maybe – just maybe, Natasha and I can find
a quiet bar in this land of jasmine drinks and marmalade soup and can chat
about being women in a world where silly men tell us what to do, ignoring
each disenchanted frame of our own fractured fairy tales.
Tender objects / by Olivia Braley
In the kitchen she tenderizes meat mechanically/ The mallet connects with the flesh in violent smacks/ The meat gives itself to the force of her blows/ like she gives herself to the man/ flattens under the weight of him/ There is the same violent sound/ of hard on soft/ The same methodic rhythm/ of two bodies brutally colliding
Sound Poem (27-23) / by Andrew Ratner
Having it all. Or half of none. Prone
To dialogue, the inner machinations of
The brain stem afraid and suddenly all
Is loose like freedom gutted of its own
Rewards. If I am to believe in the small
Beginnings of life, if root and failure
Are true and equal to one, then why must
Thunder muse its way around bends
And break into the shelling of neurons
Ready to fire. Fear tends and roosts and
A sudden cry at the break of joy guts
A moment thrilled by breath. Reminds me
Of death, a ballooned thing, a beach bottle
Rotted and drilled into sand. I belong
To my body. It is best beloved by me.
Like a night given to the bends, current
To take it, incorporate, what is over, rend.
Meditation IIII: Metaphor / by Janel Spencer
Every moment, image, action
represents a meaning.
Nothing but in meaning:
it is through it we exist.
Everything we see near to us and farther
creates our perception, us—
we are what we recognize.
who we become
we are choosing
The Repatriate Eats Raw Chestnuts in Winter / by Jihyun Yun
Habit despite fire,
Halmoni peels a chestnut
the hue of a dog’s nose.
Her blade hefting skin
and spoil until it’s bared
in her palm. Quail egg,
small thing. Eaten raw
they grit the teeth
with starch. Taste of earth
turning into earth.
Over time they may fail
the liver, bring fever and ill.
Still, she won’t try to resist them
Nal-bam reminds me of my mother,
She confesses. Not because
we used to eat them together,
but because we never
had the chance. During war,
she thought she would live
or she would die.
Not that she would live
and never return to salvage
her old life.
We empty the plate under the blue
light of the television screen,
gathering the glow beneath out skin.
We are luminous all night.
Outside, Ganeung kneels
to another long winter
and I think it is a season
for leaving. These wounds,
these un-cauterized histories.
But still, such slender glee,
to be here. To be living.
Tomorrow, she will take me
to the DMZ to breath air
still black-fire in her memory.
To bow towards beloved graves
she’s unsure were ever dug.
Whose broken bodies received
burial? Whose were stacked
onto trucks, already half leaving
this world. But for now,
let us turn away from grief.
No loss of loves no homeland’s
impossibility. There is only us,
two generations lucky enough to be alive
concurrently. The plate of chestnuts
gutted between us, the clack and flurry
of a game of hwatu, cards reddening
in the hand. Her laughter
rises up and tangles with the lamp light,
brings the glow down so I may reach out
and touch. In it, I can see the peach-pit
wounds of our histories, and the skin
stitching forth over its glistening meat.
In it, I can see the pages of her face
opening over mine.
All For One and One for Himself / by Micah Zevin
The monster approaches in oversized suit and tie
His name is Will and today his pills are working.
Every night he pretends to learn harsh lessons from his lies.
He never told anyone that they were hardworking,
only that they were small, weak and would ultimately fail.
Like a ninja or ghost he would see if your duties you were shirking.
After being covered in dirt and grime you would wait for his mail.
The check would never come and he would act like a disappearing storm.
He would be someone else when you’d call than laugh and maniacally wail.
Fake or real, with family or friends, he’d come off as lukewarm.
He’d say he was giving you a big birthday than go play golf and get high.
When they asked where he’d been he say he caught in a massive swarm
of bees, and that he couldn’t see below his knees.
He ignored your judging looks, your upturned nose your angry prose.
After the deal was done, as a joke, he told his lawyer not to pay your fees.
He was the worst Super, father, boss and loves to bulldoze,
put on a pose, a show, and if you whine he starts to doze.
Day 12 / Poems 12
For The Gentleman of The Jury, I Just Came To Say “I Love You” / by Alexis Bates
But you turned it all stuttering ‘forgive me’
f/or ‘I’m sorry I lost myself.’
Now I’m sorry I lost myself.
Tell me how you feel about
burning bridges you
didn’t build? Grant me mercy:
show me how to find myself with
the knowledge nobody left
unscathed from our latest wildfire.
Tell me it’s okay that letting go might mean
I don’t love you anymore and breaking
the promise that I always would.
Street Poet / by Ellen Black
Barry is thirteen and homeless, dodging
drug dens that jailed his parents, spending
his fun-free days wandering
New York City, ragged
and lost. He folds
an extra pair of jeans carefully
into a small black bag, their blueness snug
against a roll of cheap toilet paper he considers
currency. With no plans cluttering
his time, Barry visits
his one friend – an old, legally blind man who withers
away in a dying Bronx-torn
building. Barry practices
his poetry on this wrinkle-ravaged friend, who mutters:
The great tragedy is that Barry escaped youth.
Barry bends reality with words that nourish
him on park benches, shape shifting
them into beds, molding
manholes into heaters, turning
half-eaten sandwiches found
in smelly trash cans into a feast. Barry tells
the journalist his poems use some words more than others:
home, warmth, love, dinner, home, love, home, home
Bread and Butter / by Olivia Braley
“I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread:
the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god.” — Pablo Neruda
My grandma taught me you can fix anything with buttered bread:
softened honey butter on farmer’s market sourdough, salted butter
on toasted rye— in a pinch, even manufactured-yellow margarine on
Wonder Bread will do the trick. As a girl when I had a stomach ache,
she would bring me two slices on a paper plate and I would lay on the sofa
wrapped in a white handmade crocheted blanket, chomping away
as the Peter Pan tape rewound in the VHS. In reverse, the kids escape
Neverland for London, Peter’s shadow detaches at the end. It’s said
that when an obstacle (say a parking meter) forces two people (maybe
they’re lovers like us) to separate to get around it, they should both say
bread and butter so nothing comes between them. It’s because they’re
inseparable, I explain to you, you can’t unbutter bread. You think I’m childish.
One morning, I wake up hungover in our bed, remembering we had a fight
but forgetting why, and beside me on the pillow, where your head should be,
lays one slice of whole wheat spread thick with butter. I think maybe
anything your grandma gives you is comfort food. Maybe all grandmas
are poets. Maybe like bread, even love goes stale. Maybe the bread
and butter of love isn’t forgiveness, but forgetting. Maybe bread and butter
are just that— maybe not everything is some greater metaphor for you and I.
Our lease is up at the end of May and though we haven’t said it yet,
we won’t sign another. There’s something about the buttery early summertime
that makes people crave change, a friend says. And maybe she’s right—
the air on those elongating late spring days carries a warm bakery smell
that seduces you just by breathing, the familiar almost-summer feels
just like butter on fresh bread, all smooth and light yellow and nourishing.
Sound Poem (Reclamation) / by Andrew Ratner
Seven times today enjoying
bus and seats, arcane or holy buildings
past and people filling engine-hums
with twine and myriad feelings:
I have enjoyed the body I am in
today, a piecemeal budget of
arm and leg and ticker, a powerful
co-ambulation between breath
and biomedical procedures, physical
therapy and a coming-to-terms
with death. Give me a joyful moment
and there are hunters in words
that are me and rip it asunder, give
me Death and pain and the grief-
joy like a wrapped, blanketed child
whose name also is a whisper in the
heart. I am flung apart. And then
there is a bus, a summered fingering
of the yellow cord and pull it so
hard that it is a culmination of feeling
everything too familiar, every
given a spectacle pushed into like-
ness of the green world: a promise to
fulfill when the night sparks its new mystery.
Meditation III: On Language / by Janel Spencer
Rarely culturally do we speak directly
or exactly how we feel when we feel it
whether out of politeness or discomfort or
simply because of the genetic failings
inherent in language.
Sometimes we dress it up with music
like morning birds, everyday oversharing;
like continually typing primates
a few beautiful lines ring true.
Poetry, her majesty, appears.
I bow to her subtext, honor her image built upon images
like the glittering sea-rocks,
neon amphibians shuffling underneath.
Her language is ready like boats to drift
into everything and nothing: to discover
repeated masses of blue
over an ever-bright, exposing sun lamp.
Unbind fearless words from troubled mouths.
We’re drawn to the voices we cannot hear,
intent to capture what cannot be said.
So it must be said.
At the Epicenter / by Micah Zevin
Inside and outside our bodies
we are about to go boom
or be crushed like flies
high on paint fumes.
Can we regain what was
lost if hosts, bosses,
superintendents won’t be
fair about what it costs.
Why does being in the middle
spark class? Is it because
we get to see and smell real grass?
The warning signs say brace
for the worst, Crisis, who has
been told they are the
‘solution’ to poverty.
All forms of abuse must be
wrestled with if we are
going to survive this next
election storm surge.
In the blood thirty
dogfight to come
will any dog save the day
or do the power brokers
like blood on their hands
so they can say they are
say they are all the merrier.
The heartland is a nonstop
Contrarian fire-show where
failure and asking questions
happen but are frowned upon
who only care about
their ventures and
not any of the people
carrying them out.
In the land of quick fixes
we can’t admit we
are broke(n) or wrong
even if confronted with
proof by the throngs.
We can’t continue
to travel down the
big hole if there
is no reckoning
about our past atrocities
or provide emergency
kits to begin healing
caught in the giant
sticky trap and can only
struggle, and be
bitter, and can’t
even get high to
forget for a moment
all their hardships
Day 11 / Poems 11
The Cause and Effect of Time and Space / by Alexis Bates
Everything is a working
heart in progress
This time and space coming
from yours and us
admitting we love our distance
Admitting my attention was all give,
and yet more ‘please stop taking
this from me’ affair of selfhood
The space between us lost
when I fill it with myself
for myself once again,
for special effect,
I love you without wanting to
Rue / by Ellen Black
I’ve forgotten the man’s name who rode with us to church. He gave me green gum
and never knew I was told not to sit next to him. He walked slowly—knees rheumatoid
stiff—behind my family into a converted gym that a self-proclaimed messiah had confiscated
as a place of worship. While my mother flaunted her beauty and my brother punched me
in the arm, the black man stayed a step (or two) behind. We followed father-man into a building
that was never warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer. When he thought
it okay, the man of color would ask, in a cigarette-stroked voice, what time he should meet us
back at the car. He then scuffled slowly to the last row of folding chairs, where he sat alone,
except for the occasional dark-skinned person who showed up for reasons unknown,
always startling the white brethren who could not help but muse about these strange coloreds,
thinking them maids or gardeners trying to leave behind their Cain-spotted lives of sin.
The man who rode with us to church did not live across the tracks. His time-worn home stood
on a small patch of grass that never changed its withered-yellow color. Sometimes he sat
and smoked in a swing hung dozens of seasons before from a giant oak that stood soldier-tall.
Because he lived north of the railroad, this man was graced with an invitation to share
our white god. While Daddy drove us back from services that had thundered commands
from on high, I would steal looks of this quiet man in the rear-view mirror and wonder
how he could maintain such dignity, how he could worship surrounded by people who thought
they were earning points in heaven, giving an elderly black man—too poor to own a car—a ride
to a place deemed holy, but where its flock were told to keep a distance from his kind,
as the good book teaches they will never share the dove-colored kingdom of glory.
Shark Facts / by Olivia Braley
Consider that, like a tree, a shark’s age can be measured by counting
the rings on its vertebrae. Consider that sharks have a sixth sense
called electroreception, so sensitive they can detect the pulse of a resting
heartbeat for miles. Consider that they have no vocal chords with which to ask
you what you are, leggy bony creature that you are, no voice with which to ask
you your name, tell you they are scared, tell you they are sorry for scaring you—
consider that this is why they are called the silent killers, but they also eat, swim,
mate, socialize, are hunted, and die without sound. Do they love? Consider that if so,
theirs is a soundless love, and therefore purer. Consider, too, that great white sharks,
Carcharodon carcharias, live an average of 70 years, homo sapiens an average of 79.
Consider that most species of sharks don’t sleep because they have to move
to pump their gills with water, that is, to breathe, to stay alive. Consider a life without words,
consider a life where to be still is to die, consider silently wandering an endless
sunless ocean decade after decade. Consider the calm or the loneliness. Consider
that sharks cannot move their fins to change direction and thus can only swim forward.
Consider never being able to turn back or stop. Consider that neither sharks nor humans
have any real natural predators. Consider that on average 6 humans are killed each year
in shark attacks, that in the same time over 100 million sharks are killed by them
for their fins, their blood, their threatening jaws, their lack of a voice. Consider again
a shark’s extra sense, its sensitivity. Consider the fact that a shark’s skin is textured
like sandpaper and that whale sharks, Rhincodon Typus, are the largest of their species
and have the thickest skin of any animal, above or below sea level. Consider that
their skin is 3 ½ inches thick, as thick as the human heart is wide.
Sound Poem (50) / by Andrew Ratner
Now that she / is there she is / become two people / in this / inquisitive lilac laughter she / is the child / I am / in the hands / of whose name we gave her / voluminous / she is border and country / boundary around landscape and loss / both of she / trip / into her and what tumble can ever be named / canceled by her voice shrill sunlight / a bath a bed a woman / a cancer a birth an answer / welcome and in her arms / I am ravaged, I collapse / into joy / grief like a bucket /—when is ever over / I look / my body is her bones / her bones / in the ground / her body / a thunder / her body / all sound
Meditation II: On Grief / by Janel Spencer
This perpetual foreign state: grief.
Stays a while, flustering about.
Here disaster feels almost fortunate:
its presence means we’ve survived.
In grief we prepare to give ourselves fully
to life once again, renew the vow:
to live on means
to collect the dead.
Our Footprints / by Micah Zevin
Anonymity, why are your nostrils flaring in the putrid air?
Aches and pains bring tremendous gas and fire.
We are potent and blaring like frustrated foghorns.
Is heaven a bag of kettle potato chips, crunchy pickles
and toasty Panini?
The mind often needs to be evacuated of flooding
yet the negative thoughts creep in and find their corner
to haunt once again.
Our footprints have been erased in real time.
The court is the drive-by that will silence us as
we lose our health and care and what it means to be credible
as the fanatics and maniacs take over and not just
on small big screens.
Obsession is a cartoonist that draws dominance and
Where is the joy and positivity?
Will future you and present you
unload the bullshit into their markets?
Anonymity, why are you yelling?
Why are you afraid
of appearing weak?
Why are you partial to money
laundering and hamburgers?
The library is the hidden enemy but could restore
In plain sight we will be learning, not just battling,
little fish versus big fish until we collapse,
a permanent short circuiting of our synapses—
Day 10 / Poems 10
Bridges Burned / by Alexis Bates
May the bridges I burn
only light the way home:
like I am a being lead out
of a haunted house reality
like I am intention being
sent to the right plane.
Woman on a Cool Concrete Porch / by Ellen Black
I wish I lived in a house with a big front porch.
I long to sit outside
on blue-faded concrete that is always a little cool
even when summer blows inferno
over a mirage of sticky days
and nights, leaving me
wilted and soggy, breathing in the earthy smell of life.
I want to revel in sweet-green grass
freshly cut, looking trim and neat
ready to show off its new hairdo to each
and every rowdy dog and haughty cat that pads by.
I want to sit idly and watch cars saunter past.
I would create a different destination for each driver – sending one man
to a secret bedroom that has been cooled
with lavender and tightly drawn curtains.
I would wave slowly at a woman in wrinkled yellow, knowing
that she’s on her way to a popcorn afternoon
where she’ll lose herself
in a dark, chilly movie theatre, forgetting
for a few moments
that this is her loneliest season.
I dream of swatting flies away
from a lukewarm glass of lemonade that sits
next to me, knowing I should get up
before my rear end starts to ache
but refusing to move, listening to the shrieks
of kids happy to be out of school
remembering younger-year days when the heat tickled
me with whispers of something exotic
and far away, and I saw a future me – a woman
who was unafraid – who would show up to dinner, wearing only
a black slip and red toenail polish.
Unprettying / by Olivia Braley
She drinks until she’s shoeless
in the middle of the street in the middle of the night
on her own kind of center stage,
explodes like a supernova—
and it feels good
the way her gentle face contorts,
the wrinkles forge through soft features,
and it feels good
this self-inflicted pain for a change
it feels good to say fuck
feels good to feel so
So tonight she lets the black tar anger
bubble over and seep out of her eyes and mouth,
lets her body run as fast as it can,
feels her feet scrape
against the unyielding black concrete,
feels the hard smack of the impact
surge its way up her legs,
feels her torso swell and hollow
in rhythm with her lungs,
and maybe this is what it means to fly
off the handle—
to be uncontrollable, unashamed, unstoppable, and unafraid
of her life and all of its ugliness.
Plane; Drift / by Andrew Ratner
Lemons glowing in the afternoon
of late winter in Florida, the townships
I know of in Massachusetts, coated
with teenage desire like a purple-bathrobe’d malaise,
give you a sense of quiescence–
the world above seeming to pause against
an almost-gridded world of somber, joyous dreams.
On a plane, inside the thrum of
safety and caution that vibrates from the machine
to our chests now inside the cabin,
we can do only these: read, talk, or sleep.
In the long journey of breath, the patterns,
the windows, the meandering rivers. The drift.
Benediction as Prey and Predator / by Jihyun Yun
Please click here to read the poem.
The Staging (An Entertainment Game) / by Micah Zevin
Have you ever gone on a post journey-journey?
In our hands serpentine puppets seem to shine
dark grappling emotions after drinking too much wine.
They water their perennials to bring back their buoyancy.
In their button eyes they are dictators and do not listen to attorneys
yet they are on their thrones, always blaming, always crying.
No one has heard their true voice and they must be lying.
Will their desperate egos entertainments end up on a gurney?
Just kidding is what puppets say to close a vein of sorrow
and coax our fellow players to the top of their game tomorrow.
Even if they are not in a laughing mood
they are wary of the perception of falling to absolute zero
like a goofy oozing piece of toxic waste and not a singing sparrow.
In their nightmares so lewd, nothing is worse than getting booed.
Day 9 / Poems 9
Poem 9 / by Alexis Bates
I can’t stand that.
I don’t know why she hates my teeth.
I can’t be certain she even does…
My teeth chatter sacrilege.
Finally! She sees me now.
You’d be fine if you stopped playing
The Chase / by Ellen Black
BAR-B-Q signs beckon
and I enter places that greet
me with signs that read off
the towns’ populations: 367, 482, 854.
With dirt as dark as your moods cresting
north and south, I drive
the solitary miles with no escape
from your face.
I pass a worn-down building that says
it’s America’s Only Salt House and I picture
a girl, sheltered
under an umbrella, trailing
white crystals into mud puddles the color
of cows being milked
on a slow-moving summer day.
Cut-rate liquor stores tempt me to quench
the dryness and I think
of how far apart
we’ve become. Handmade quilts hang
on lines strung
between trees and I envy
women who have the time to quietly stitch, waiting
for the dogwood to bloom.
the blue place / by Olivia Braley
when my mom calls my phone to ask where the hell I am,
we pull your quilt over our heads
it’s faded navy on the outside and light blue on the inside,
that bright kind like the crayon a child chooses to color the sky—
a color I wouldn’t like if it weren’t on your bed
we hide in our blue place where we’re cocooned and warm
and our breath is stifled and the overhead light shining through the quilt
tinges your whole skin cold like you’re dead or alien—
but it’s not that morbid because I can feel your human body,
humid next to mine
here, we giggle and kiss and you whisper
it’s just me and you in our blue world…
my love, I wanna live on a blue planet with you and no one else
and it will be whatever-temperature-your-quilt-makes-our-bodies degrees every day
and the ground will support us softly like your tempurpedic mattress
and the phone won’t ring
and it will be a muted dusky shade of blue forever but we won’t miss the rest of the rainbow
and we’ll have a different moon and invent our own constellations
and we’ll write our own myths where we’re our own gods
and the blue world won’t spin or have money or death
(and there are no lies to hide from each other
and besides that nowhere to hide things
so the fighting a few years down the line won’t happen
because there’s no drinking so there’s no 3 a.m. screaming in an alley off Main street
because there’s no Main street and no 3 a.m.
and no one’s slamming doors when we get home because there’s no doors
and we are content with just ourselves)
we’ll stay suspended there like underwater
or the movie left on pause so we can have sex without missing the good parts
there, everything else is muffled and make-believe and lightyears away
and nothing can touch us— only I can touch you
Gratitude #2: Garden / by Andrew Ratner
You can posit it
like this: position
cascade of sweetness
can only detect
in the fantasy
of the elements
imperfect stones pushed
no desire but
an inward parade of
than you thought them
because they were
once added up
and their preponderance
a glance at the naked
of the sun–
the gift is less
than a carousel-though
here they are
two monarch butterflies
alight on a riot
of purple and peach
fit enough to spread
on the thickest
slice of bread
Small Dog / by Janel Spencer
After Carl Phillips’ “White Dog”—for anyone who’s lost a canine companion.
Second September without you—
release you? What good? You always came back
eagerly barking at the front door
unlike other dogs, adventurous and dumb,
who’d run away when they got the chance.
You were content by my side
curled up, often sleeping, in every position
imaginable: ball, belly-rub, big stretch, burrito.
No, I’m not ready to release you.
This is different, see,
you were mine through-and-through:
you slept in my bed, always my “inside dog,”
you were my Christmas present.
When I was 14,
my parents took me to get you, surprise:
the smallest of your litter
and you were scared
but I held you like my baby
because you were
and before long you fell asleep
and my home became yours. Every Christmas after
the familiar hustle-bustle and you, curled up
atop the couch nearest the tree.
You were my present every year since.
Who knew all the love a small dog could give:
14 more years of it.
Ruby, I survived you,
as we humans tend to.
What good would releasing you do?
You always come back.
Hidden and Seeking / by Micah Zevin
Elusion is not a bunny
but confusion can be and is becoming
our masters, I’m afraid, ruling any
chance we have of rebirth.
A tower of voices echoes in the wind,
America, and we have few choices:
poorly built walls, electrified fences,
moats filled with piranhas, alligators, iguanas.
When I made my movie at Socrates Sculpture Park,
there were no words in this one scene, only you my
friend, contemplating, much more than your navel,
as the bells tolled again and again and you stared
into the Hudson in search of friendships character.
Elusion is not a bunny but you still try to deliver it
affection if you are able, if it will be received.
It was just 100 degrees in and out of the shade
and now I wake up to freezing air and colder rain
so that I must bundle myself up before opening the door
and getting the Sunday paper that tells me the world
is coming undone and cars passing by sound
like flood waves honking, we safe in our caves
even if we do not trust but need antitrust so desperately.
If we are to disclose our true identities
and get our loved ones out of detention
we must stall for time, make secret plans with the
dissidents, secure our ties.
Elusion is not a bunny
only tinged with blood and decay
and what gets trapped in the fray,
yet contusions are becoming the norm.
Farewell, culture, boxing us in and
out of the ring until we no longer sing
your praises, expose your bullying ways,
removing the flashy wardrobe, your illusions,
Elusion is not a bunny;
its darker and odder, a laughing mood
about to make crude impressions,
end its silence if not its journey,
and release its exploding depressions,
thinking big in all shapes and colors
about the state of our disillusionment.
Day 8 / Poems 8
Untitled Excerpt / by Alexis Bates
Where is your self-control?
“I think I am sick, Mother.
Where is my blanket? Where is the good doctor?”
She emits a pitch
I am not ready to make familiar.
I do not know to brace for impact.
When I was your age,
I forget it all.
I create my own truths to fill in the blanks.
My new old neurologist sends me an EEG that never arrives.
I discover later my brain is in a state of decay.
Waiting / by Ellen Black
Lately, my heart pounds
for no good reason. I feel like something big
is about to unfold – something more than the unfurling
of a circus tent. Clouds waltz
by and I try to read
hidden messages in their mutable faces.
a southern beach and I wait,
my phone silent.
Deep-green limes and chocolate-toffee candies snuggle
together in a sea-foam blue bowl.
I long to dive
into their tartness, lap up
But my mouth remains closed and dry, fearful
of the storm I taste each time I breathe.
SMALL FAME— A REALLY BROKEN SONNET / by Olivia Braley
ARE YOU THERE GOD HEAR ME OUT I WANT THE SAME AS YOU—
TO BE REMEMBERED MAYBE NOT FOREVER BUT JUST A LITTLE WHILE
IF THATS TOO MUCH ID BE OK WITH SOME MINOR STARDOM—
HEAR ME OUT SAME AS YOU I JUST WANT FAME OR A SMALL SLICE OF IT
MAYBE THREEE BITES OF THAT FRESH BAKED RHUBARB PIE TYPE OF FAME
CUZ ITS MY FAVORITE— I THINK WHAT I MEAN IS DONT LET THEM EAT ME
BEFORE IM SWEET AND READY— ARE YOU THERE GOD SOMETIMES
I FEEL LIKE IM DYING BUT IM NOT HAPPY ENOUGH TO BE IN HEAVEN
NOT SUFFERING ENOUGH TO BE IN HELL— LISTEN IM FREAKING OUT I THINK
THERES A SINKHOLE IN MY STOMACH EATING EVERYTHING GOOD— EVERYTHING
I LOVE AND EVERYONE LIKE US WHOSE EVER BEEN STUPID AND INNOCENT—
I THINK WHAT I MEAN IS IM TRYING TO BE A KID AGAIN— I WANT TO CRY
OVER DEAD GOLDFISH AND BELIEVE ALL THE BULLSHIT PEOPLE TELL ME
LISTEN IM STILL JUST A KID PLEASE HEAR ME OUT DONT LET ME DIE YET.
Sound Poem (Reclamation) / by Andrew Ratner
What does it mean to claim the
body again. How does the voice
recognize its variance—little vine
little dalliance, little caress and trill
so that it fits like a glove into
what is truly real. In the itch on the
finger, in the curb-side sweetness
of ingested air, there is a proclamation:
linger in me, gently sweep me
under the eyes and fill so that I am
lung and the sound of lung all at once.
When I am in pain, when the nervous
system of the body feels weak
and wretched in the midst of lifting
joyful daughter-weight into the air
sifting sighs into water like a gleaming
surprise, when joy seems altogether
numb, what does it mean when joy
must remember again it is not struck
nor dumb. It’s this: in the inward gathering
of the body, there is a piped feeling,
teething: three systems of the
brain vying for attention. I am looking
toward sound and a lessening declension.
Notes from a Past Life / by Janel Spencer
He taught music to kids.
I sat overwhelmed by the music of poetry
and sometimes we’d debate the world
determined to do right despite its deceptions.
I’d listen to him compose on the piano; sometimes he’d use headphones
to better hear the world
I imagined opened up to him
not unlike the one words opened in me.
Their magic offered false protection;
love, sometimes, a mask.
This masquerade of youth:
we feared losing everything
we thought we had.
At the turn we discovered we knew
nothing we thought we should.
Self Portrait Diptych as Animal and Womb / by Jihyun Yun
“These wombs belong to us, not the idiot creatures they are attached to. They were given to us by God to reproduce ourselves with. We need to look for ways to get these stupid animals to give us back the wombs they have stolen from us” — Posted 23 hrs ago, Reddit
what flurry of knives/ what small gods beasting through the needle-grass and thorn-thistle/ whipping the deer flies into such fury/ what rare stones inside me/ what tessellating skin/ animal and performance/ what nephrite and bug glint/ blood mad and hunger/ whose womb wounds who/ not you/ not you/ what clot of hair and meat unzipped to sunrise/ Poacher, what joy tears your face into a h(a)unting/ To you, the body: abstraction/ cruelty: abstraction/ the knife slips past the pelt/ a pulsing city lifted from my belly/ What beast would gift me this body and name itself God/ what borrowed rib and rain/ what stories/ what ownership of that which grows/ in another/
You fools, grinning
as you bloody your hands
on my meat. Nothing
has been won. This city,
I will evacuate
until my master wakes.
Closing In / by Micah Zevin
Are you a burnt hash brown?
Should you be wary of petulant clowns?
Middle age is that page you don’t want
to turn to because it can show you have
scrambled egg brains and have forgotten
the lyrics to your favorite 90’s pop/rock/metal songs.
The sounds outside my windows are a headache
pulsating at my temple as the flies try to eat me and
you and you and small children climb our living room walls.
I feel like the crust of pizza that has sit out too long
and overnight, and has become dry and tough.
Sometimes, you must feed your itch for cookies, candies
Sometimes, you must refrain, especially if overcome
by stomach pains or anxiety’s ups and downs.
If you eat too much bacon do you become oily, crunchy
Today is a cooler day but you don’t want to go out
Vacuuming our carpets is purifying.
Hammering a hammer is electrifying.
Sometimes, it seems necessary to
pound and slam your fists on countertops
and into the abyss, just a release to smooth
out all the creases.
Are you a burnt hash brown?
Day 7 / Poems 7
Blaming God For My (Thieving of Nature) / by Alexis Bates
A single leaf is
brought to me
Through a stare, a single
leaf is blinded by…
from a death of vision,
I didn’t realize
of a leaf.
Rush Hour / by Ellen Black
The lanky worn stranger stepped into the subway car
where a man in a suit read
about money sitting next to a fleshy girl glued
to a magazine whose cover glared
the latest diet.
A tired teenager held a baby – tried
to get her other kid to sit still
and a woman wearing tennis shoes stared
at what the city could do to her by looking at a sister whose face fell
with age. His voice boomed
when he asked for money. Eyes hit the floor. Mine stared
at the book in my lap where Langston Hughes returned my gaze.
I looked up, though, when I heard the man say:
I am a poet.
. . . need money to publish my book spread
a smile across my face. I was ready
to savor the scam. Opening lines were drowned
out by the screech of a hot train riding
electric rails – yet stanzas refused to die and rode
with underground captives. When the weathered hat was passed
only a man who had lived long enough to care and another poet gave
to a clean-tattered black man heading uptown.
While brushing my teeth this morning / by Olivia Braley
I realize everything on my side of the skin is green:
toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, herbal face wash, cold cream,
all wrapped or packaged or bottled in containers
colored like peppermint or algae or avocado.
I’ve never planned a minute ahead of my hands
but somehow this morning
everything matches anyway and
I guess this is how life happens,
a bunch of random things
that one day fit together.
Gratitude #1: Ode / by Andrew Ratner
Oh jealous flies! You’re too many
and I am ungrateful that
you are here, though I am
for the following items:
globules of rain; patter of feet
next door; gliding discs of
wind slipping in and out
of adjacent bedrooms; the scent
of dalliance and dirty footsteps
exiting the rain; anticipation,
ground coffee, the seven
first sips, and milky deliverance
in its mixture; the wind
once more seeking a mate
outside and finding
only tree and fence
hand holding hand holding
axis after axis. Oh flies,
I followed you and
found your resting places
but you really don’t
give a damn, do you.
I am on my way to
and her all-encompassing
The Truth of It / by Janel Spencer
“Success in Circuit lies.” – Emily Dickinson
“Lies are dumb,”
I tell everyone.
The truth is smart—
from smart mouths.
Lies feel smart
like witty lovers.
Every truth is a half-lie
(at least) though I’ve kept this
from my past lovers.
In dreams, we lie about
I’ve dreamt of past lovers:
their names naked
on the tongue,
their blurred truths.
In every lie there is some truth—
thus art exists.
I am trying to learn to love
as no one has loved me before.
If I offer it pure,
perhaps it will be given back.
In every purity there is impurity;
the beauty in the hurt of it.
And in this world of lies, of truths,
the superb surprise—
we swoon, we create, we learn.
Are You Pressed to Explain Your Secrets? / by Micah Zevin
I am a pile of bedding
I am a being that requires no vetting.
Chanteuse, where do you harbingers of sorrow reside?
By whose laws will you abide?
The King and Queens of Pies are spies!
Why is the point of these eyes if not to be thick with
thieves camouflaging themselves into leaves
becoming the frontrunners defeated by their
overrunning mouths until blown away by the breeze.
Are you beholden to deliriums tremors?
Do you engage in ungodly pleasures others view as leisure?
You will not press me like the purest most organic
of juices now or in the future.
You will not grill me until I spill the green beans.
The mystery writer has his main character
extract his lighter to heat up the fake
chocolate chip cookie that he bought from the
I have or will be caught in bankruptcy’s netting.
The jury is out on whether my guinea pigs like or require petting.
Today is a soupy day, the kind that turns you into
a muddy puddle, a permanent expression of confusion
on your face one might call befuddled.
Are we all stirred by centuries of pain or
is it easier for psychopaths to forget the math
and remain in their skewed but exacting logics domain.
Will the frontrunners in the campaign ever self deport
before realizing they must abort?
Day 6 / Poems 6
Nothing to Forgive / by Alexis Bates
She lets the grotesque in
her faint on a holy day
Forgets her father
rocking on his noose
Forgets the alternative
in her mother’s death stare
She wished that night
he was rocking
in shaking space
Optimism / by Ellen Black
Early morning, I lie in bed.
Not calm or still, just a jumbled, jangly twist.
What to do with my brain a’ bangin’ head.
I think about the last thing I read.
Was it a book? A tweet? A shopping list?
Early morning, I lie, way too long and fretful, in bed.
Oh, here’s that always unwanted visitor, Mr. Dread.
Pretty sure he’s not here to find out if I need to be kissed.
Need some tea. Hot & sweet. What to do with my twisty-dizzy head?
I know my body needs to get up, needs to get fed.
But am too lazy, lethargic as a slow-moving hazy mist.
Early morning, I lie (longing for lost sleep) in bed.
’s all good. You’ll be fine. It’s okay – they’ve all said.
Proving they didn’t get the drift of it, not even a gist.
Craving… cornbread? What to do with my crunch-crunch head?
Can’t they smell the waste? See where I’ve bled?
Do I need to yell? Throw a hissy fit? Flick them a loud, gnarly diss?
Early morning, I lie, suffocating and strangling, in bed.
Wanting to shut it down. Wondering… what to do with my still-buzzing head?
Fertilizer / by Olivia Braley
After the boy
who thought himself a man
where she slept—
shrouded in moonlight
that came through a window
with broken blinds—
the whisky on her breath
as she told him
She held a funeral
for what was once
dug a shallow patch
in the side yard,
disposed of the girl
wearing soiled clothes:
the bruise-blue shirt
used only once,
a pair of gray jeans
with a split in the left knee
running seam to seam—
the muted hues
mirroring the February sky,
and in the turned dirt
she planted seeds.
The girl is still out there
beneath the green tomatoes,
which are doing
especially well this season
compared to last year
now that their roots have room
to burrow next to earthworms
instead of being constrained
by terracotta pots—
not just as the body rots
but because of it.
Autumn at the Metro Entrance / by Andrew Ratner
Glossy, shirted, stacked, so many people
peeling out of the grounding:
it seems criminal at times to write,
to gather forest wood and pretend
not to be insipid. Mushrooms sprout suddenly
of wet wood, and there are more browns
in the world and everyone passes by you
and you think which is it: the circular motion of ochre
or the jingle of a cellphone message?
There are friends whose fathers have died
and you barely even know who they are,
just that they write plays and
made a character that depletes herself
invigorates herself, knifes the
biochemistry of the air with tongue and
yellow moon light, only it’s stage
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . light like stars.
Meditation I / by Janel Spencer
If I can undo my own coarse history
like unbuttoning old skin playfully
and stretch into a so-called “future”
that can be imagined but never lived
because we are transitory
and our minds powerful overseers of story
while our lives
have no beginning end after or before
the egg the chicken
always taking shape
nothing has meaning but motion
God drifts timelessly
tirelessly inside us
the booming voice of
#죽는다고_성범죄가_사라지진_않는다* / by Jihyun Yun
Neither the crematorium nor the ash
forgive the body, nor does the spoil
if you let yourself spoil, nudging
the bundled vessels apart. #Your dying
does not erase your sex-crimes*
What did you hope to achieve?
What latent, womanly pity? Death does not
forget your hands clawing beyond
the lace-hem eye of a young girl’s
dress. The buffer of a university desk
doesn’t protect you here. Can’t you see
the black water rankening at your feet?
Your name fails you. Your fame
and your face and your accolades too.
I’ve known a hundred of you with your
hundred whip-frothed horses, in schools
in pews, in streets transgressing in plain view,
but I’ll never know you again. I’ll never know you
forever from now on. If I sound callous,
it is because I am. Me too, says the girl,
the city, the continent, the world,
Me too. With chalk, she draws a bared
camphor tree, and the branches ignite,
alive with yellow birds. With ink, she sketches
a new, blue globe, and we must, together,
become it. Already unbecoming, what
can your body hope to be but gone?
The brief recollection of a man forever
running in memories. Unwanted tongue.
Is this what you always dreamed of?
To be broken down to your constituent parts:
hated mouth, unasked hands, covetous eyes
lighting up the room like blood-hungry
gnats. In the overgrown meadow of every girl’s
testimony, when caught in the bramble
of milkthistle and thorned weeds, will you die
or will you turn to face the dark earth you have split?
On March 9, 2018, a South Korean actor committed suicide after being accused of sexual assault by nine of his students. In response, the hashtag #죽는다고_성범죄가_사라지진_않는다 (Dying does not erase your sex crimes) trended in South Korea for many days.
After Quiet Resistance / by Micah Zevin
Will I ever be able to retire with the ducks
who lounge by lily pads in the park in Saratoga Springs?
Or, will I forever remain broken, unglamorous and
unable to care for myself, applying an internal forty lashes
instead of batting them at the one I love.
Oh Gutless Slime-balls! How do you repeatedly trip over
your own feet and say you are preventing the next apocalypse
when you are merely shielding your own hide, privilege and ego.
Have you ever vowed to be the worst you can be
even though you don’t know what it really means to be the best?
Are unsung heroes really heroes if you can’t hear their song or
see them and must hire a ghost writer to make them seem a fighter or patriot?
I am so brave. I am not amoral or depraved.
Will I ever be able to retire with the ducks?
Day 5 / Poems 5
Melting Point / by Alexis Bates
You teethe me molten: turn my metallic
softer. Ask me to kiss you there. Malleable,
Alexis. Good girls bend without breaking.
Better girls break and give thanks. ‘Never
again’ means you coo at me politely,
and I think I miss your desperate lower,
girl. Your torso sighing. Your hand pressuring
my crown; I gag. Just like the movies.
You think I’m a star and this is close
enough to metal. We are both hot and
shining. There is too much friction there.
I need to be oiled, but you like it too much.
You demand more flexibility. I tell you
‘I don’t do that.” Still, I bend. Fake orgasm.
Climax sounds like breaking metal and a ‘thank you.’
In the Time of Scorpio / by Ellen Black
On November 9th, in the last year before the riotous 60s, the Devil bent
over my new-breath body, wet with womb water, and welcomed
me with these black words: “Did you know God always rests on this day?”
The demon then sneered through his razor-filled mouth and snickered
about a different eleventh month, back in 1928. He laughed, telling
of the sharp-shiver-cold day in Newton, MA that delivered
another nine-day girl, Anne, also called to paint pages that would dance
with images startling to humdrum people living blind.
When she was too young to know, the sound of shattering
glass fell on a dark Berlin night of nine, boots crunching
away the sound of people who never thought to hide, incapable
of imagining the awaiting ovens. In America, Anne found
safety in silence – words held in place by a mouth that practiced
a pretty pout as she grew into the right kind of woman – one who could make
Mom and Good Housekeeping proud. Quiet was difficult, though, and words leaked
out on to paper, while constant shadows whispered and taunted.
And each ninth day of each Thanksgiving month passed without succor
or rescue for a tormented woman whose name meant grace.
Anne married and pushed out an approved number of children. She tried
to live a model-mom life but could not endure its plastic feel. As 1956 was ending,
she realized she no longer believed in fairy tales and gave herself a birthday present – suicide.
However, she was too weak to unwrap this gift, so with her next breath she gathered
strength and continued writing for a drowning world.
This thin, beautiful poet swam back to shore, her strokes taunting
us with words heavy in their search for solace. After a while, people recoiled
from work that did not hide menstrual flows or sticky sex or mad faith – too few could help
her with that awful rowing towards a heavenly father. At 46, she forever ripped
apart the partially opened gift she’d given herself decades earlier.
Years pass – each tearing me asunder. Still, I roar and refuse
to give in, carrying the hope of one who survives
a concentration camp inside my well-worn life. I also use
words to help me forget, to help me breathe.
I have tried to create another reality – once I even thought I smelled
a future free of despair when my birthday shared the spotlight
with a German wall that crumbled, uniting a country.
Haunted, I can’t ignore the blade-shredding whisper
of that hell-bound rogue who reminds me of all I have lost. I stand in the ruins
of a burnt life. I scream, plead, cajole, and beg
of whoever, whatever God might be – but I’m beginning to think
he, she, it, whatever doesn’t hear me and I question
each day as I drift across an ocean too vast for anyone to cross
and I know I must continue my own horrible rowing, alone.
Gingerly / by Olivia Braley
On a whim, I buy fresh ginger at the grocery store, enthralled
by its knobbiness, how it looks almost like a fossil, some dug up relic
perhaps once useful as a rudimentary tool our modernity has long since replaced,
then go home and without knowing what I will use it for,
begin to peel it with a spoon over the sink, fumbling as I dig
just under the papery brown skin of it, as juice creeps down my hands
to reveal the pale yellow insides, as its zest saturates my senses—
almost burns. Ginger is one of my favorite words: the even syllables,
its own distant Sanskrit root meaning horn plus body, the way it morphs
from a peppery-sweet flavor to a word that carries on it something
delicate, a gentility conveyed with just a subtle transformation,
simply a different ending.
Homecoming, Anywhere / by Claudia Fell Conger
I wasn’t born here, but I could have been.
The cheap green of my vibrator’s packaging
lies intact in the dresser drawer.
I bought batteries but never needed them.
The woman behind the counter
had her hair parted down the middle.
Her eyes followed me into the parking lot.
I remember my mother’s white station wagon,
that first kiss in the backseat
on the way to the AMC 24.
The car rusts now, somewhere in a landfill,
and never thinks of me.
Sonnet to the Beginning of the School Year / by Andrew Ratner
At the book festival, at the back of the room, at the
mention of their teachers, of poetry, of the basic
physical need for line and meter and the triumph of image,
of the wonder their teachers instilled, at the material
beauty lowing like a soft calf on a cool night, falcon and glove
listening each to each, in unison but at opposite ends,
and the teacher winking at his students, the ones who know
that poetry lives like this, on their hands, both back
and front, in small wedges of food or the sounds of
hastened backpacks, or the tiniest freezing feeling of a line
cut too short that it inclines into question—just as I had heard
the question asked to me, “Oh you’re not teaching anymore?
When are you coming back?” and the response, a lintel bent
within me, escapes, a putter of mourning; and she smiles knowing.
Day 5 / by Jihyun Yun
Somewhere, the idea
of me pricks her finger
on the thorn of strange
flowers clipped from
What the sap waters,
grows to a city.
I’ve always wanted
to populate myself.
Mama, if lore has taught
me anything, I know queendoms,
like seasons, can’t last long
childless. Why must all
the tired stories start
with the exit of the mother?
A matrilineage expunged
and covered in moths
mouthing what’s left.
Flip the page,
and gone is the matriarch,
Close the book
and blood seeps
Now, men with bayonets.
Tomorrow, dogs. In no version
are they not hunting us.
Ghosts, living and dead, who boast, or A Man on Delay / by Micah Zevin
Can I graft my shadow onto your shadow?
What’s graft if not your money in the shadows.
Painful symmetry is the name of the latest
beach villain, rapper or big drug company
trying to keep a competitors generic off the market.
Who is this everyman that we should trust?
Rising star, your clouds are filled with toxins
I have been ingesting my whole life.
I, my friends and love ones, have been
lost and found for so long we do not know
where to look for our disparate parts or
how to rejuvenate or restore them
rather than watch them decay or
simply abhor them as they empty of energy.
Can I graft my shadow onto your shadow?
I am not a lark in a field that you will never see again.
I yearn to run track and catch rebounds
off of net-less basketball hoops at school parks.
Fear, you are dysfunctional, a blame game, a
bounced check that makes your stomach churn
like a cement mixer about to build the latest
Anecdotes are gathered by nameless bureaucrats
to explain away their convoluted actions and appointments
as for the people and therefore necessary
as opposed to nepotism and corruption.
I will depict myself as a man on delay.
I have been told its hard to make me laugh.
I’ve always wanted to gamble and win
but I am afraid of losing money I do not have
to stereotypical gangsters and strong arm men
who I imagine will break my legs and throw me
into trunks never to be seen again.
Burning your shoes is not a form of protest
I recognize as a vehicle of change that can be
I will never become a spectacle
although sometimes I can be irate.
Is change meant to be gradual like a tumor or
can we bury that lie and say we want the whole
I am not a perennial but perennially cranky.
The fight is against redundancy and pollution,
The reprimand is not the reprimand if
you demand honesty from bosses and
loved ones, the strangest of strangers.
Sorry, you are not poor because
you’re crazy or crazy because you’re
poor but it can make you so—
My valley is made of silicon and
hamburgers and predator and prey.
The vicious are not nutritious.
Authority is a nerve agent attack
without a check or a balance.
Can I graft my shadow onto your shadow?
I am not a flower but will eventually
bloom and snatch defeat from victory,
a classic story of our time,
of damaging divisions, one grueling day
Here’s what’s at stake—
Day 4 / Poems 4
One Night Stand (Spine Chaser) / by Alexis Bates
I kiss the hard knobs of your spine
. . . .chasing your spine and
run my nails over
the division so
you gasp. You name me:
. . . .There’s
a shiver following
nails over knobs of spine.
You gasp. Moan under a hard kiss.
. . . .Grasp my spine and run
a finger down my back.
We are both ruptured breathing now.
. . . .I laugh at a tease. And chase it still.
. . . .The muscles of your back
. . .tense, and I rub into you.
Push my nails into new softness.
. . . .You gasp. gasp. gasp.
You grasp my spine and run,
my dear, I’m still gasping.
I Go Back to Work for My Purse / by Ellen Black
after Billy Collins
I turn the car around on the road
and go back to the office for my left-back handbag,
something necessary at the grocery store, bank, doctor’s office,
and while I am driving, thinking of the stupidity
that let me walk past rows of cubicles,
a dizzy-tired me that did not think
to go back to my desk for the pocketbook-of-all-things,
thoughts rolling around my head,
walking to the elevator,
and stepping in to go down,
a lost woman in her lost life,
another moment in the succession of days,
a nasty ten years behind other gals—
a decade that will now destroy
for the remaining hours of this lifetime.
Sometimes I imagine I see the future me
several women to the right of me in the hair salon
or walking out of a clothing store
always getting the goodies well before me,
stealing into the life I want as they dance on to another stage.
There is no mimicking them,
no intricate steps to pull me forward
and set me down on the better,
unless a million horrors later I determine to fuck it farther
to the wished-for-life of love,
which I can dream
of, the breath of me that could exist.
But, she is number one, always the better of me,
destroying my path, visible demon,
monstress that keeps me strangled,
beauty I am scared to best,
I, the imperfect twin,
She, moved an ocean away from my existence,
and so much better at twinkling than I
in the cursive letters of Romance—
I who returned to the office
that lonely-hot afternoon and got my purse.
For Cole / by Olivia Braley
I remember the night you stabbed me
with ink and needle so careful to get the lines straight
and maybe I was imagining this, but you seemed a little sorry
for hurting me. How when I showed up at that yellow rickety house
you were waiting in the rocking chair on your porch,
swatting mosquitoes and smoking those Marlboro Red 100s.
How we drew, erased, restarted, redrew the design
on tracing paper until we got the shape and size right.
How when at last we did you said, okay,
are you ready to have this on your body forever?
How I was sweaty and overly chatty from the adrenaline
and you had to pause once in a while when your hands got clammy.
How when it was over we drank cold beers on that porch partly to
calm our nerves and partly because that’s what we always do,
and how now, I think I’m lucky because I carry you with me
in a black heart stippled on my thigh.
Sertraline / by Claudia Fell Conger
I refuse pills and morning-afters.
These languid dreams are distinctly
American—neither animal nor myth.
Warmth drives my cats
to nest inside the bedframe.
Here they ignore the luxuries
of self-made men.
Only the most familiar
motivations are subjunctive,
and I extinguish them
as if they have found home.
There is nothing more glamorous
than intimacy’s slow death.
It staggers toward $25 copays,
feasting on misaligned
performances. The cats
grow tender, deliberate.
In another age they might
have begged for reparations.
Elegy Walking into the Body / by Andrew Ratner
Grief like cloves mistaken for honey, like a
ship inside of a bottle, like bottled molasses,
like the sudden sharp knife of February,
like December, like March in mud season, like seasons
like militaries, like edges of quilts that
stack upon the smallness of your used-to-be body,
like a million and one bricks smoldered onto one shoulder,
like one shoulder, like one initial tatooed
onto your eye, like the iris that quivers
. . . . .like cadavers when the morgue shakes with rage,
like the numbers of millions that moan
into the mouth of slavery, like mouths,
like the equivocation in the voice
when language is underdeveloped, like unfathomable
illnesses that scratch at the belly
at the rocks that empty out onto the toes
like broken windows, broken books, broken doorbells
unanswered mail, cacophonies that
do not dispel the sadness, the road that elegies walk on,
the yellow and dusty dirt that etches
. . . . .an ink mark down the troughs of muscles
on the bodies of crying mothers, like blueness and blackness,
like the emptying out of rivers, like the movement
of time on the body, like grown arms
and legs and lips and speech, like a pencil
or bell that both echo like footsteps.
In the ecology of personal suffering, the world
passes by like a bi-plane, turns and gyrates and gives and gives,
thirsty like a philanthropist for its giving.
. . . . .There is love and there is the hand that trembles
like piano wire when the hammer strikes it,
there is memory faded and there is memory
that is a permanency, grafted onto the skin, a kindness like
a beautiful body. Once I woke and thought
you had gained your body,
but if that were true, your hands would not be whispers
nor your whispers and smile drips of water on the edges of my eye.
This grief like a cushion I rest on, like a bread I dig into when I am thirsty,
edges away, returns and leaves.
There is no distinct reason why a memory is like a caged crocodile,
but there it is: silent, motionless, mouth
Love is / by Janel Spencer
sometimes saying no—never, I can’t, this isn’t it.
It moves on with the violence of a hurricane.
Sometimes it lays low
rumbling from your pit;
sometimes it lets you go, and you take up the opportunity to run into the sober future like a crazed insect, fighting for your life among humanity.
Love is also kind like the drizzle of low-covering infantry clouds in the too-early morning.
Love is patient like some kind of animal
you didn’t notice you were.
Love is always
slowly slowly unraveling from your throat,
swimming close like a mythic beast.
Love never claims you like a stray dog.
Never shames, like your mother-voice.
Doesn’t blame like a sibling, without justice.
Love is letting yourself see and be seen; it gently becomes a mirror held up to the world’s unending flaws as revealed in you.
The trick: continuing to embrace all that is.
Scar Watching / by Jihyun Yun
In Seoul, there are no stars in spring, only coal smog
and dust from the Gobi Desert choking the lights out.
Beneath the lamplight, Grandpa eats a sand pear stripped
down to his dignity. His body appalls, but I can’t stop
looking. Years ago, salt took my grandfather by the hand
and lead him near the next world’s lonely hem.
Salt, which we would have thrown over our shoulders
after the wake to keep his ghost away. But he didn’t die.
No. Salt let him go, and he resurfaced on a steel table
with constellations of scars over his heart like a salmon
-mesh sweater. His chest, a mess of gnarled avenues,
writhing their filaments with each new chew and swallow.
The sand-pear runs its sugar down his palm, carving
a river of nectar. If I cut him, would he bleed
milk or blood? What runs in the aqueducts
of his interior city? The salt-wrecked squalor of viscera
where nothing can live, his vessels, fine lace.
I hate to see him this way, but don’t miss the acrid man
of my youth whose love was seesaw and conditional,
or the way his wife used to tell time in upturned tables, fountains
of fish-spine soup turned on their sides. I don’t want to be angry
at one who may die soon. I love him, but don’t need his love back
and therein lies the difference between wound and want.
But is this not a manner of bonding? To be awed by his scars
which I watch in place of stars in this city of no-stars.
To pick out familiar parabolas mapped out in this wreckage
of human meat: the bottomless kite of Libra or the chaos of Orion,
there where the flesh knots and purples. And my Grandfather
at last bovine and familial, slowly returning to whatever
flooding city he fought himself back from. When we rest,
we will rest in ourselves.
Invisible Strikes and Incongruities / by Micah Zevin
The sun is microwaving me
The alien beams scheme to dissect my mind.
You can never diverge from you
no matter what anyone says or pays you.
I am the screw that will unscrew you.
I am the informer that suddenly falls ill.
The ghost carries bits and pieces of you away
as the cookie crumbles.
The pill is god and even more so, the shill.
I hail no one, I am anonymous, I aspire to
wear dark cloaks so it seems as if I don’t exist.
A failed secret is a form of anguish.
To languish is endless peanut butter cups,
a brain hemorrhage on a helicopter,
a crisis worker in the ancient bursting
pipes of the subway where giant rats go to play.
The ghost carries bit and pieces of you away
as the cookie crumbles.
I clap my hands together to crush a moth
in the living room as we catch up on our favorite shows.
I stumble in a crack on the sidewalk on a dark
residential street smelling of marijuana on my way
home from the grocery store, the cold freezing my
spine as I prepare to face the humidity.
A failed secret is a form of anguish.
Do you want to live a charade?
Everything has become biblical
or like the next financial crisis
lurks in that direction unimpeded.
The bedding is coming off the bed.
You’re on fire and are prepared to take another hit.
The ghost carries bits and pieces of you away
as the cookie crumbles.
A failed secret is a form of anguish.
Day 3 / Poems 3
What Opens Her Mouth (Deserves A Dedication) / by Alexis Bates
There are tongue and teeth and
desire for utility.
I get stuck on the gag reflex.
Now it is hard
to brush my teeth.
And Grandma’s love
is a tough pill
I’m watching it happen again: skin
sallow from my mind
deserting my body.
No doctor (I can afford) willing to treat
this draught of self-help,
draught of motivation,
or inability to cope with a draught.
I pray to my gods for rain.
But they only bring hurricanes
I’ve survived before.
Slow Death / by Ellen Black
Ricky lay on his bed and wondered
where his sister had slept
the night before. She hadn’t come
home, again, and their father sat
in his torn chair looking out the window, waiting
for a daughter to walk up the driveway.
Ricky knew his mother was on her knees
next to the master bed, telling
God it wasn’t her fault. Ricky got up, avoided
looking in his parents’ room and walked down the hall to find his father.
He sat with his dad and babbled
on about the Dallas Cowboys and the Super Bowl
but when his father refused to respond
Ricky walked out onto the porch, careful
not to let the screen door bang shut.
He sat on the steps, and despite the heat, shivered
remembering other days clouded
by his sister’s absence – days spent
listening to his mom rag on, as she stood in the kitchen tearing
wild mint into tea, talking
about how Satan had led her firstborn down a pot-holed road of sin.
Ricky swallowed his heart, picturing
the pain on his father’s face during these tirades.
The smell of chicken-fried steak drifted
through the door and Ricky knew his mom had stopped praying
and instead, ranted at her husband while she cooked
a meal that would be eaten in silence.
Ricky looked up but did not ask for help.
He just watched the sky turn
from blue to orange-pink as the sun set and danced light
off the shotgun resting
in the hold on the back window of his dad’s rusted truck.
A Lady’s Guide to Spilling Guts / by Olivia Braley
Choose to meet at a mediocre Italian restaurant that’s a little out of the way for you to get to, so that you won’t be upset that you can’t return. Find him there, waiting at a table, scrolling distractedly on his phone, leg bobbing rapidly updownupdownupdown beneath the napkin in his lap. He’s well-mannered.
When you sit, skip over the small talk. Get to the spillage. Reach into your purse, on the floor by your left foot, and feel for the dagger, sharp and cold with a camel bone handle. Pull it out and slice like you’ve practiced at home with blunter objects: a sharpie, a tube of lipgloss, chopsticks. First, a quick and steady cut from right to left horizontally, just under the rib cage, then, before the nerves bombard your brain, one long, deep cut down the center from the bottom of the sternum to the top of the belly button. See his eyes and mouth move in horror or disbelief or something like concern.
The pain sloshes in your brain by now— you are dizzy drunk on it. Don’t stop there. Stand, bend forward at the hip, take a bow and let the organs dump out of you. Watch them flop around on the floor, floundering like— like a fucking flounder, sputtering in this sudden, unnatural place, gasping for air. Remember going fishing with your dad as he reeled them in and watched them almost die there, getting blood and brackish water on the bleach-white deck of the boat. Sometimes they did die. Other times he threw them back.
At this point, he’s standing in shock. The white cloth napkin in his lap has dropped to the floor, where it sops up blood. The restaurant looks on in awe. Forkfuls of spun spaghetti are suspended midair. Your server is frozen partway to your table holding two glasses of red wine he must have ordered before you got there. Now remember your manners. Adjust your posture, smooth your skirt and say I’m sorry for the mess let me get a mop quick before the blood stains your linoleum.
Sound Poem (Invocation) / by Andrew Ratner
This is how it starts: a well-spring of joy
the daughter climbs up screams
not unlike the tea kettle you have, her
smile that teems like glistening concrete life,
a bubble and forget-me-not, a marigold
wonder. The god of spring climbs up and settles
in the chest as if it were alive as if
it were the rest of a line of poetry
you thought you heard. If only it were written.
It pricks up, hidden, and begins to want,
and this is how it starts: something that’s dangerous
something like want, something humane
an empathy like a broadsword taken
to the air: her rip curl fingers
drawn up into my sides, the yawp of morning
a feeling not unlike mourning
at the gutter’s edge of joy, my
face at its axis askance tests for
something wrong, some boron
in the air, and drinks it in. So listen.
I make and I feel and I water these stories
but the stories stay in me and exhaust
carbon-fevers my steps, no matter where
I went. This is how it starts:
I make and I feel and I tense, question
precepts and tunnels, afire like dots on a grass-lit field
but do not build. To build is to sound
out the signs block by beam, and like a deer
seam fear and beauty together and sit stable
like two stones placed in two hands: pitch them
to the ground. Make it sense, make them sound.
The Story Does Not Have to Be True to Be True, or It Is What It is Until It Isn’t / by Micah Zevin
Do we covet juggling acts in a hurricane?
I will say my face is not my face in front of your face,
and that I have many faces yet to go through.
I was forged out of you, pockmarks and perfections.
I cannot hear prayers, I can only hear screams
on a hot Monday morning two minutes before noon.
The price of being direct can be silence
if delivered with judgments and paradox.
The gunshots are not gunshots; the delusion is not a delusion.
The protesters are not protesters but fake news actors
Working to eat one more day.
Will you let us be? Will you continue to bother me?
Why isn’t anything clearer looking into a mirror?
I am fascinated by your teeter-totter of views and actions.
Incumbent, you will be pickled and left to think about what
you have done until you become pickles crunched out of existence
at a holiday barbecue where no one is campaigning for you.
The forgotten are being forgotten again and before their funerals.
My hypocrisy is your hypocrisy; I am the last butterfly.
It is what it is until it isn’t (anymore).
Day 2 / Poems 2
Of Dirt and Small Creatures / by Ellen Black
As children, my brother and I would sit
for hours under a Southern sky and play
with roly-polies found in heat-hidden
shady spots. Sometimes, we discovered
these black-curled bugs hanging
out in small cool corners on our immovable
front porch. Other times, we stumbled
upon these round balls hiding
underneath the house, where the black ground
was the temperature of sweet iced tea.
We didn’t have friends or a TV, so we amused
ourselves with dirt and small creatures. Still, I longed
for a girlfriend and dreamed
about dolls, teddy bears, and other frilly stuff
until my dreams turned
me into someone else and I sneaked
into our neighbor’s garage and found unexpected treasure when I spied
a little girl’s playtime tea set. I stole
this forbidden treat—one piece at a time—and hid
my secret stash underneath our house, covered
in the dark dirt I knew too well. I planned
a grand party, invited all of the horny toads I could find
told the frogs and inchworms they were also welcome, and hoped
a stray cat would show up for my first fancy shindig.
When my brother made it clear he would have no part
in a spot of East Texas make-believe, I took back
my booty before my butt felt the long lash of Dad’s belt.
I returned to the comfort of my always-stylish ladybugs and envisioned
myself wearing red with black polka dots. Far too often, though, I wished
I could ease out of this small world. I envied
the butterflies as they floated by me, to distant worlds,
seeing things that I could only imagine. I wanted
more than just dirt and small creatures and big dreams. I wanted
something glamorous. And then, when I least expected a treat, the wind would blow
just right and the honeysuckle would bloom,
a blue jay would fly past and my brother would wink
at me and then I’d forget—for a little while—about my deep need
for city streets, bright lights, and an Easy Bake Oven.
Waking Alone at 6 AM / by Olivia Braley
At this hour, the sunlight is tinged with blue night
that drenches the curtains drawn to keep out the day,
slow to break on itself. The still silence of morning
calms me, like the whole city’s breathing deep and evenly.
I haven’t slept enough, so I count backwards from 300
hoping to doze but at 135 the leftover baby potatoes
from yesterday’s dinner interrupt me— they must still be
on the counter where I left them, uneaten.
In my restless, half-awake daze I shuffle through the flurry
of dust motes that float around the house, see the still-full bowl
as I enter the kitchen. The small round pile of them look like
beige and purple rocks. The ants have gotten to them overnight.
Dear whoever is listening: I’m swear I’m trying not to be careless
but it’s hard to unlearn the way I treat things, just as hard
to learn how to cook for only one, hard not to blame myself
for wasting your time making love and blueberry pancakes.
I think the lack of sleep’s made me unstable. I cry
as I dump the potatoes from the floral red bowl into the trash.
The heavy thumps as they hit the bottom of the can
pound in my head as I hope the wasted potatoes will forgive me,
promise I’ll do better next time, crawl back into bed.
Episcopalian / by Claudia Fell Conger
George carries himself well
for a petty theologian.
He never finished his thesis—
it’s common knowledge about town.
Easter Sunday, he’s telling the story
about groundhogs. If Jesus comes out
of his hole and sees his shadow,
there’s six more weeks of hell.
George prods his wife for criticism
on the sermon, ending the conversation
with tears. Afterwards, George
drives off in his dilapidated Mercedes—
he wants to feel like a rich man.
Sound Poem (60) / by Andrew Ratner
Body is an inward spectacle. Bloated
and jaunty, a tick spliced into the wind
it is not terror and terror all at once, a bottle
and not a bottle of tongues tipped up
and glancing out, burst and blue. I remember
the brain and its chiasma, the mirror and my best eyes
looking at limbs set together, or rather, a body
so already-formed, so poised to do what
may bring teeth or joy or something like wires
into the brain. Sometimes I have a game: I am
feathers flown against the wind of the garden.
And what if the garden were my body.
I remember me as a child and I am talking
and spitting out words tugged against the people around
me, who said yes and no and yes. Once
in a while I am a river bloating out my sides, slipped
from joy the body felt so much it used
to be sand I must have dug myself into once.
Sometimes it is useful to remember. I am
standing now and am wind and decide
to say yes to something in the rephrasing
memory out my eyes: look at the flowers
at their concentric completeness and sound.
Ballad / by Janel Spencer
after Charles Simic
What’s that approaching like a little midnight gloom an on-and-off storm
My childself picking costumed weeds, twirled in color, soaking in warm drizzle
Harm side-eyeing us
In another universe another one:
Memory’s untidy entryway
Locks unhinge into dust mites
Sailing through the wind’s sea-cradle
Monsoons playful as cats on the old cheap piano of my childhood
In the last room down the long white hall behind the singing door
The rain drowns the streets in garbage
The flood floods out of sight into the wash’s veins
The old man writes me into a poem as the young flower-picker, soon to discover
Shifting thunderstorm clouds fill her shoes, a minnow’s island
Words smile, curtsy as they please—
And all that we call happiness swims
Day 2 / by Jihyun Yun
Spilled no matter where I hold my palms across the vase I cracked setting it down ungently on our hardwood floor, home-made omija wine escapes its stinging burgundy through the sieve of my fingers. Halmeoni deems it ruined, orders me to throw the wine out, carafe and all. If you serve from a broken vessel, the drinker will suffer glass in the throat. Part of me can’t believe this archaic undertaking, to labor over drink in a city where soju is cheaper than water. Where every store buckles under mazes of mass produced bottles to surrender the night to: blackberry, herb wine, seoljungmae with whole plums suspended like preserved hearts. Her country has moved on without her knowing. After thirty years away, she’s no less other here than in America. What nation will have her now? She returns to the one of her memory.
My sister couldn’t send me to school, and so we learned women’s work. We couldn’t hope for good work, and so we worked to be good wives. Your Grandpa’s college degree cowed me, I’d then only just learned how to read. He asked me to marry, and so I did. My sister did too, to a soldier who heckled her long enough for her to yield. He would eventually come to beat her. What is no to a man? At least my husband never hit me. Besides, back then, living was dangerous for an unwed woman. What else was there to do, for us sisters, unlearned as we were? And so—
Still Processing / by Micah Zevin
The broken fight speaks volumes.
It predicts next victims’ revelations.
Will the paychecks ever arrive?
The anguished are rejected labor.
We all need a holiday.
Sensations are sound wave bombs
killing so they can eat.
I am pending fallouts song
bleeding false memoirs onto protest.
Where has backbones culprit vanished?
Small animals are preyed upon
while bespectacled turtles rob us
until we thank them or
forget who they willfully abuse.
The broken fight speaks volumes.
Day 1 / Poems 1
My Daughter, Deviant / by Alexis Bates
trusts a broken heart,
all useless to love.
If I love him,
the breaking ends.
I forgot to tell her
she is more than love,
she is also healing.
She is also moving on.
Don’t Make Me Leave You / by Ellen Black
“It’s a quarter past noon,”
my narcissistic co-worker hisses
into the phone. I wonder
why time has made
him so angry. Did it promise
more than the standard tick
tock? Did it stop
this young man to pull
his spiky-coiffed blondness out of a bloated head?
I’m as dumb to the reason as he thinks I am just dumb
each minute of each day created only to worship him. I decide
his issues are not mine and return
to Pema Chödrön, who tells
me that if I can hold sadness and smoothness—simultaneously—in my tortured
heart, then I will be able to make a perfect cup of tea.
I am no longer aware
of the continued angst spurting
off the little yellow god’s tart
tongue, until another teammate sends
a message, letting me know our golden one has just left
a voicemail for his gone-astray girlfriend, insisting
she’d better figure out what she wants, that very day! I smirk and hope
she is out honing her tea-making skills.
Have a safe flight / by Olivia Braley
I always place my palm on the outside of the airplane before I board
like I’m comforting some giant mammalian beast
the cold unfeeling metal doesn’t soften under a gentle touch
the way my love does when I pull him towards me in my half sleep
but I can’t help reaching for peace of mind—
Days like this I’m reminded of the difference
between man & machine:
our human tendency to try & control
things larger than we are
the way we resist the fact that there are
things larger than we are
& wholly uncontrollable—
How when they find a cancer in his father’s bone marrow
they hook him up to monitors & lifeless things that beep & whirr mercilessly
how I watch him wilt & weaken, see him grow more superstitious
so when the chemo kills his taste buds & he salts every meal
he always tosses a pinch over his left shoulder
clinging to what power he has over his own luck—
There are things we do to protect ourselves
from the car crashes & collisions & catastrophes
that compose the cosmic chaos of each day
& though our mortal rituals can’t save us
sometimes it’s enough just to feel safe.
Hip City / by Andrew Ratner
I am vigilant. I am a carousel figuring out its course.
I am raucous neighbors filling out forms to fit into the hip city.
I am a political calculus, number of houses thrilled
into forfeiture. I am severance pay. I am a loving
family of me. Diet of soda and deliverance. Diet of soda
and fear of change. I am aschadenfreude leapt into the
mouths of the two tiny children across the street.
I am lamp-lit. I am lamp light casting two shadows
side by side on a night of muchness. A political process,
a devouring of gods, a sightly trio of gardens leapt into
by the mouths of two tiny children across the street.
I am across the street. I am witness and brute all
at once. Friendly neighbor, king of delivery trucks, I heard
ice cream bells ring on a corner and a fire truck wailed
after it. I am not in my back yard. I am trying to be careful.
I have figured too long like a body of pearls: too careful
but still a body. I am a peach at night: still there.
I am trying to figure out how to keep percentages from rising.
I am the sound of the shivering person I thought I heard
on a metro car rail. Dim night, I am an open mouth.
I am a singing neighbor. I am the opera voice I thought
I heard on a metro car rail. Mental health clinic at dawn
and I am the porous building material clutching at air
again. Unabashed gravity holding down two hands
kissing each other on a mound of dirt. I am construction
sites pushing and halving the ground. Have I discussed love.
There is a window on my porch and inside is inflection.
There are too many definite things digging out of my sides
that a whorl of indefinite like spirits and summer firecrackers
pick me up again and send me as letters and numbers
in envelopes that people open, confused and taut and frail.
I am a gigantic bean I have dug into the ground. Midmorning
beats it smile against the window-buildings and someone’s
paint dries in the back. I am a string, longing. Pour open
a can of wires onto the pavement. People are standing there
and they are gloved and muscles. Have I said that they are
gallant and unnerved. Have I said how I lend slim pieces of them
to the air and other people. Have I groped your sidewalk
into coffee stained jeans, dyed hair and gardens. Have I explained
my boundaries. Have I said I am powerful.
Have I said what I am.
Paradoxical Love / by Janel Spencer
All I’ve ever wanted has been wrong
before. The fall hurts
much like a stubbed toe.
Earth, life, and love are paradox.
How to be in a world
of lost innocence with you.
But if you are here (and not there)
can I fairly say that I called for you?
That it was my song
killed the spirit in you?
Or, our arms, swift
(as in brief memories of things shuffled from under them),
lift at the sweet-salt corners
of this earth-bound
meek in its claim to forever—
again and again each hour.
Day I / by Jihyun Yun
This is the swelter which demands
nothing and receives nothing.
We are garlic shoots stripped
of our firm white filaments—
snap at the knot-root
before the blossoms can bundle.
Blossoms which Halmeoni snipped
lilacing from the garlic bulb she planted
in the hangari to save it from disuse.
Where there once was salt, silt.
Where there once was baechu,
sleek green stems. Where there once
were daughters cleaving heads
of cabbage with time-blunt knives,
air and nothing. What use is a gimjang
with no family to eat what it yields?
Alive and elsewhere, there is a man
I’ve grown to love with the countenance
of moss. I almost said it to him once,
on a day as clear as wonder. You know
the way it climbs the oak’s northern
face to tell you where you are,
that is you to me. It’s all very silly,
I know. I can’t help that I’m human
and the heart humiliates. Why must love
for a man feel traitorous to my mother
and hers? Why must it feel like leaving?
We yield tender to the heat, let it cicada
the mind white. The skin of Halmeoni’s hand
in mine is mere suggestion, crepe-paper
dappled by grease. How many years of grain
bringing the table to kneel?
How many thankless meals set before
a husband who should but whose pride will not?
This is the truth for all girls, She says,
If his mother demands of you a grandson,
you’ve no choice but to conceive.
What if I’m alive in this body and no one
believes me, what then? Tell me again
of my girlhood’s slim silhouette.
How it stretches forth without permission.
How it fails and falls. Womb-thing,
nothing, bringer of blood. I am sorry
you think your body auxiliary.
If You Think You’re Home / by Micah Zevin
Does years in the making describe your whole life?
In dreams that vanish you swing from chandeliers
and eat chocolate mousse in ancient caves in France.
You do not want to be all alone seeing live or dead
spooky boys or girls pulling teeth in the silences
where they think no one is listening but do not guess again.
On red bricked porches in Queens you used to watch
wasps come into your space and you did not
yet see it as rewarding although you were
simultaneously intrigued and alarmed.
All alone in the splintering, identity, dignity
and resentment burn a hole in the fog of your mind.
Here, there are no safe houses or memorabilia to obsess over.
Listen to the notes of cracking staircases adolescence, and guess again.