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 volunteer poets for April 2023 are Jennifer Betz, Ellen Ferguson, Laura Gamache, Kate Gray, Alice Letowt, Seán Mac Falls, Kaecey McCormick, Steve Mueske, Suki Sun, and Nikki Ummel! Read their full bios here.
If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please fill out our application here and warm up your pen!
Day 15 / Poem 15
Hold Tight / Jennifer Betz
Walking into the only pub in this milltown, much lost to opiates and despair.
A lady touches my shoulder, smiles. A man on the guitar,
couldn’t remember the words of Sweet Caroline
so I filled in,
“Look at the night,
And it don’t seem so lonely,
We filled it up with only two,
And when I hurt,
Hurting runs off my shoulders.
How can I hurt?
When holding you”
And the lady held fast my shoulder and another man that couldn’t walk well played dissonant notes on a saxophone. It was splintered and unpredictable music and felt like a memory.
Played with what was left before the mill closed and before their eyes became dark and their
pain too much.
The good old days
Madder / Ellen Ferguson
Sunny Afternoon Soundscape / Laura Gamache
Jet kerfluffle, traffic thrums, a dog barks – a single syllable,
sounds big. A bell, from where? Backup beepers, fire engine’s
low siren, another jet whuttering on the flight path south
to SeaTac, helicopter rotors ratchet west towards Pill Hill.
Car whoosh like river flow along Madison, large truck
momentariy braking. Another honk, possibly someone
turning back to lock their car. Crows comment, argue,
scare littler birds away. Another jet mumbles south.
Unmuffled car blare, the airy whoosh of a Metro bus
sailing across the intersection to the stop the other side of
Lake Washington Blvd. Chickadee calls its name, pauses,
calling again, over and over, announcing its territory.
There’s another chickadee answering from a closer tree.
A car horn click as someone else locks a door. Chuckling
sound of a bird I don’t know, caw, caw, back and forth
between two then more loudmouth crows, more caws
as the murder flies low to congregate and grumble from
another tree. Truck brakes and back-up beeper, more brakes.
Rumble of further away traffic. Robins chatter nearby.
Are they nesting or passing by? One has much to say
in their changeable amiable way. Human sneeze from the couch
indoors, a lull with undercurrent of undifferentiated traffic.
An arf arf of punctuation from a dog probably left alone.
Someone pushes a metal shopping cart behind the bakery
storefront, a murmur of breeze through Doug fir boughs,
the whum of an idling fire truck far below across 32nd.
Accelerating car engine then Doppler effect as a vehicle
passes then slows for the light, plane noodling, fire truck
air brakes release, it tutters and moves north. Ratchet
as a gate is pulled closed, unseen birds singing descant.
Nomenclature / Kate Gray
The victim gets the snakes, the bad
rep, the head lopped off, raised
like a lantern from a sack, an automatic
weapon, sight-firing flesh to stone. Her sin
her beauty. When praying, she’s
raped, and the rapist rules the sea.
A wild ryegrass growing through three
seasons, Medusahead beats squirreltail
and barley to topsoil and loam, its awns
spiked and twisty with barbs, better to spread
on fur and feet. Even in death, it lasts
to add thatch layers, perfect fire fuel, and
even fire doesn’t kill it.
The myths that limit women to marriage
and set sexual positions live in names, insidious
as sessile spikelets, sticking to passersby
and textbooks. Why does a dry grass
with twisting parts have to conjure
trauma made myth? Why not call
the noxious grass Poseidon’s Crime?
some small purple flower I don’t know the name of / Alice Letowt
the last-red-buds contrast
a circle on the floor the cat follows
into afternoon delirium park walk
a train stops for cleaning the kitchen
before bed in a before-bed voice I read
to myself and I read Ceravolo again
you appeared at the door and
the room smells different
and the cat paws the door open and
the room smells different.
past easter dinner
it seemed suitable for pantheonish
scores –dog wood petals –
in an albuminous place
you standing outside
in freckle shade
In Order the Heart / Seán Mac Falls
In order the heart, keep running without knowledge
Of the living torch, of the soiling fires that wipe
Hopes memory, the boiled blood must breathe
In a sea of borders, of waves and rushing tides.
In order the heart, beats time, though it knocks,
Near breaks, as the wind that swoons is divining
Treasure, the jewel in the box of flesh must hold,
Must shore the rivers of the branching bleed.
In order the heart, is closed, and dry of touches
Towering keep, let the eye know mercy, let the seas
That travel with the bones never feel the marching
Desert, the hollow caves of the discarded lovers.
Dreamscape Serenade Under the Cage of Night / Kaecey McCormick
Pink clouds in the sky stretch like chicken wire,
reach over the valley like a cage, their cotton fingers,
their lacey underclothes, and the sun is a distant marble
rolling under the atmosphere’s blue shag rug. I can’t tell
where the day ends and my body begins, my arms rooting
the earth like tree trunks half in air, half buried alive. In my
dreams I’m an open mouth, a siren singing home the sailors lost
in the stars, red lips dripping poison in the curve of their ears, licking
sweaty skin with my tongue, my eyes gone full black with desire, my hair
writhing like snakes in the windchimes of their cries. With a warble and a trill,
I disappear their tomorrows from my throne upon this rock, a perch above
the hills where the light becomes first green then blue. My mouth closes
and I wake up alone in my bed, the imprint of a long-gone lover
still cooling beside me. If I could understand what it means to love,
I’d map the constellations of it on my flesh, let it ink my skin in its blood,
if I understood it, those electric signals between eyes, those rhythmic beatings
inside a bone cage, that invisible thread tugging at the spaces between a palm and
the side of a rib, if I understood what it means to be loved.
The Wild Black Roots / Steve Mueske
Little Mail from the Wind / Suki Sun
the moment I open the garage
i begin to float in the fragrance
cascading from the second floor
just one skinny plant
blue hyacinth in the glass
quiet on the kitchen table
It reminds me of
the Chinese name for hyacinth
little mail from the wind (风信子）
Is this plant
planning to send
pearly white roots
the drumming patterns
from Earth’s typewriter
the round bulb as a speaker
magnifies the sound punctuation
in the seasonal choir
pulses of the green stem
elevate the buds to sign the letters
sealed with Sun rays
each purple flower
a different shape of
teases me to peek
inside the six-petal envelope
the yellow stamens
whispering the first line
of every story
reborn in spring
Traah / Nikki Ummel
Poverty layers my skin like lotion
and I know they can smell it on me,
no blazer or pantsuit or designer dress
can mask the musk of plantar warts,
Mickey D’s dollar menu, wood-planked windows,
and my baby says remember you deserve
to be there and it’s because our poverty
is not the same— his separated by train tracks
and math teachers who tell him it’s just not
your thing, a home fat with stacks of Sunday songs
and love in the form of don’t be out past dark,
you know our neighborhood isn’t safe,
mine a bankrupt love, fleas in the house
and no health insurance, the vodka pretending
to be 7-Up and ketchup packets on spaghetti.
I know the men in this meeting want to fuck me
and leave me, another woman to claim,
tell the guys at the next Saints game
they double-bagged it because my kind of trash
can’t be trusted to take the pill, too ready
is my womb to snag a wealthy man’s spunk,
collect a check. I’ve heard it before: nineteen,
a barista serving half-caf skinny lattes
to Lakewood Ranch plastic surgeons with
bronzed wives, platinum blonde waxed trophies
yet my calcium-stained smile meant I wanted
their Hyatt key cards and $500 Christmas gifts,
and even at thirty in a golf polo selling charity
raffle tickets, their kids in the cart next to them,
asking what would I give in exchange
for their goodness.
After the board room empties, after the man
who runs a Fortune 500 company holds my gaze
until I look away, after he says poverty is
our natural state, we all begin the same, after
I bag the leftover cheese plates, I turn towards
home, heat my leftovers, stream Shameless
on my phone, watch the older sister scrape
rent from three jobs, and I fall asleep as
a customer at a Cubs game sees the older sister,
turns to his friend, says would you smash that?
The friend replying maybe, but I bet she’s got
crabs, plus hood trash don’t abort. Better double-
bag it. And the older sister hears, and she serves
their beers anyway.
Day 14 / Poem 14
Misnomer / Jennifer Betz
Loaves / Ellen Ferguson
Passover ends at sundown
Until then, let’s celebrate these pretend loaves:
to leaven the mood, let these rolls play these roles:
Toast: In the Cart
Croissant: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
Bagel: Cat in the Rain
Baguette: Lamb to the Slaughter
Dinner Roll: Puppy
Untoasted Bread: Grand Budapest Hotel
Let’s break bread and talk Chekhov
Until sundown finally comes
Out of Doors / Laura Gamache
an erasure poem from “Economy” by Henry David Thoreau
Sit on a pumpkin
crowd a cushion
ride on earth in an oxcart
the fancy car
a sojourner in nature
in a tent
threading the valleys, crossing
the plains, lo! men
become the tools of their tools
admiring the gewgaws upon the mantelpiece
look at your baubles
the cart the horse
our lives stripped
taste for the beautiful cultivated out of doors.
Perchance to Dream / Kate Gray
“Stop it,” she mouths, then turns from the cantina
in heaven where she’s picking up her daily packs
of Kools and a bottle of Crème de Menthe. Her hair’s
lightning-streaked purple, so au courant, but she’s back
to those Eighties’ frames, bug-like, bifocal with a ridge
across her glare. “All those mother poems,” she raises
her hand like a traffic cop, flashing her Big Apple Red nails,
and I, her youngest, her witness, write her back to her
twenties before bruises and marriage and babies she bears
in Canada, and watch her walk, hips swinging, shoulders
swaying, into the Great Hall with double St.-Peter doors.
She’s turning all the men’s heads, balder than not, their eyes
two harvest moons. Smoke trails behind her, wraps her head
like a shroud when she stops. Maybe she’ll finally find a match.
Part of a Thing / Alice Letowt
a winter boyhood
in purple-green sage brush
and want to change
the shape of this body
purple-green sage brush
feels like Christmas
the shape of this body
was different once
feels like Christmas
again and forever
Ruth said why not call it home
on the road
Ruth said why not call it home
just as visible as the soul
on the road
a winter boyhood
just as visible as the soul
and want to change
Black Bird / Seán Mac Falls
I see myself in you—
With a spike we two spoke out,
Vagaries of wind, verisimilitudes
And the moon gives us her light.
Black bird, black robed Druid,
We both are spinning round
The hills draped in psalms
Of the oak and windy leaves.
Your words, I hear, go unsaid,
My utterings babble, ring in a rill,
Cold and cascading to mosses,
Bleeding from a lone escarpment.
Once Upon A Time / Kaecey McCormick
My sister signed up for show choir in the spring
while sieges broke out from Waco to Sarajevo. By fall
she’d registered for radiation and chemo. In between
I got my driver’s license and drove us to Sleepless in Seattle
and Jurassic Park, so when her treatment started my father
said I was good enough to drive her there, too. Every afternoon
my mother fell into Donahue and Day of Our Lives and boxes
of doughnuts, building a shield thick with sugar and soap operas,
but the pain pierced her bones anyway. Sundays we all piled
into the blue station wagon for 10AM Mass, even the baby. Fingered
holy water and rosary beads, watched the sun move through
the Stations of the Cross, feasted on the body and blood of Jesus.
The rest of us complained she was only trying to skip Confession
when my sister said she could no longer rise from her sheets.
The day she died, two blue-clad policemen rang our bell, ticket books
in hand. My father had parked the station wagon askew, rear tires
sticking out over the sidewalk, too close to the street. The neighbors
tried to intervene, explain away the fineable offense with the body
of a dead child, but they couldn’t say too much. What was a 150 bucks
compared to resisting arrest? My father thanked the officers and watched
their black-and-white cruiser turn the corner, then dropped the keys
in my hand. My brothers slinked down the basement stairs, put a record
on repeat and screamed into the couch cushions. My mother lit a candle
under the painting of Mary and began to pray. And I started my father’s car,
lifted my sister’s hospital band from the backseat, and laid my hand on the horn
until every bird in every tree took flight.
The Point aux Barques Lighthouse / Steve Mueske
Between jagged sunlit shoal and purple sky,
it rises over northern hardwoods
on the tip of Michigan’s thumb.
Light cast like a spirit’s lamp
to warn of daggers in the narrow
waters near land. Like everything now,
automated. The keeper’s house—
where Catherine Shook, recently
widowed, rose in the cold
to feed her eight children before daring
the winding stairs—burned down
her first year and rebuilt.
There’s a museum now where travelers
learn of hundreds dead in the storm of 1913;
ships mercilessly ripped apart
on the two-mile reef; even the court
battle to bring the 1,400 pound
Fresnel lens, replaced in 1969, home.
Imagine a different era. No cars, no roads,
only jetties that followed the coast.
With hundreds of miles between lights,
captains learned to respect the dark
and the weather. On clear nights,
16 miles was a fair warning. But when
the wind kicked up and rain lashed,
the light one saw could easily be remorse:
if caught in its sweep too close to shore,
one could be miles away from the deep
waters of safety, yet miles away
from land. A hard lesson on hard
waters, but clearly better than
no warning at all. An idea with the kind
of totemic power to draw a man,
his wife, and eight children to the edge
of the liminal world. Where they could,
despite nature’s caprice, do light’s work.
Meditation Journal on April 13 * / Suki Sun
my left earlobe
with your lingering scent and
you know today
is so special
i will be
wearing this silly earring
you just gift me
* April 13 is national silly earring day
Self-Portrait as Circe: A Golden Shovel / Nikki Ummel
after Again love, the limb-loosener, rattles me, Sappho
The moon slivered to a shard and here we go again,
half in bed, half in a fight, half in love,
you a poison snake, and me another, the
terms we accept and use to please, you my limb-
loosener slurping our time, greedy, me your tongue-loosener,
your voice I bathe in, steaming with life, it rattles
behind my second rib, bristling as if to break from flesh, me
in the bed in the shape you left, your leaving bittersweet,
running through my fingers, your leaving irresistible,
below the sky stretching it’s stars, it’s empty hands, and I know this is a
perfect thing because it is already crawling
away, our feast, and so, for now, you play the beauty, and I’ll be the beast.
Day 13 / Poem 13
The lion / Jennifer Betz
I want to climb inside
the ridge line
the place where the mist becomes
I want to lie down in the moss there
and have the wet air web my hair
I want to shiver in the shadow
I hope to feel afraid
of the mountain
of the lion that lives
I hope to see her
I will feel her
and a chill will snake down
no control to be had
destiny is with that
perhaps her belly
and she will be
and I will
the sun shone
on the left side of my face the fog
stripped me of clothes
Luke’s Diner / Ellen Ferguson
It’s impossible to suffer unequal childhoods at Luke’s Diner,
Due to coffee
Rereading Annette Lareau’s book at “drop everything and read,”
video fireplace crackling,
reconsidering decisions, who says what, to whom, choosing words,
none of it matters at Luke’s: coffee, pie, mothers
using coffee and pie to create meaning, intimacy & language are never wrong
Meditation With Rudimentary Beige / Laura Gamache
Colors are words’ little sisters.
How could yellow be younger than daffodil
or dandelion? Does magenta traipse after
the magnolia tree, begging for attention?
Are all words older than all colors?
What about “barf” or “duh” or “mama?”
Burnt sienna has far more gravitas. 1
My friend is painting now in Puglia,
has been great friends with colors
all his life. Fell in love with Rome’s
walls with their centuries of tones
overlayed, older seeping into newer,
subtle blendings, bleeding history.
I love the color wheel, Pantone
fan deck, hardware store paint chips, 2
chose wall colors partly for their names. 3
I painted my writing studio “Labyrinth,”
a gray more aptly named elephant hide,
more oubliette 4 than inspiration.
The Claim / Kate Gray
When do you get to call yourself a country dyke?
The chainsaw tuned, the Husqvarna chaps strapped, ear
plugs and safety glasses, you walk bearlike
through the woods. At the feedstore you like
the checker who never calls you “Sir” or “Dear,”
but she doesn’t get to call you a country dyke.
Maybe the wildflowers on the Rowena hike
with names so generous like Bear’s Tears,
will make you feel safe to walk birdlike
and use your sharp beak like a shrike
to block the trespassing hunter. How near
you come to fitting the image of a country dyke,
but you can’t measure up to those dreamlike
women who cut and dragged the way clear
for you to call yourself a country dyke
and walk steel-toed and fearless into the fire.
Aeolic / Alice Letowt
three blocks from the Japanese maple there are some tulips
and a hill behind trees slurs two syllables one
easily humid light takes to the woman returning the shopping cart
I shake my head and wait for the light to change always surprised by
grace appearing in small things
tangible warmth outlining a couple fighting in the park
and neighbor clomping upstairs
shaking the cabin how much longer in the air
I become my father
don’t say transitionary period anymore
stop asking we’ll get there when we get there
in the in-between I collapse out
into Joy Joy Joy while thinking what purple sounds like to bats
as if it had never been any other way
one long tunnel taking us through air
In the Pool of the Lost Maiden Song / Seán Mac Falls
Down in the shrouded wood a wanderer walks
And dreams the dreamers story he has lived.
Sidled by the stream that sheds blue waters
By the beds, trailing the rail of loves unknown
Kiss and a voice that conjures truest bliss,
Down in the drink where sweet Ophelia sleeps;
In the pool of the lost maiden song.
And the dreamer, he is dreaming . . .
Hair, that ropes the stoic man upon his mount.
Hair, making souls’ lost ending breath a shout,
And hair that weighs the wind, teaches it to sing;
Hair, wending whirlpools waving fools to dive in.
Lost at land’s end the sea lions, washed-up, wail
And buzzards coast where eagles flail, rip tides
Assail and chop the collected bones they drop;
It is a chalky bone-yard break, golden escarpments
Wake and a seamen’s salty sermons shake;
Where gathering ghosts glom and chide steeping,
In the pool of the lost maiden song.
And the seeker, he is seeking . . .
Eyes that turn the sands and are mirrors,
Eyes that taught the books of Alexandria,
Eyes that shook the flesh and are seers,
Eyes that lit the pyres, burned true believers.
Deep in the dark wood the waters rush, hush,
Cramp, crew and creep, melodiously tread,
Trammel, and burn as furies in keeping true
The melting moon, the onerous owl, fluttering
Things, muttering wings, cones in darkness
Flings and filmy time flicks by the wayside;
In the pool of the lost maiden song.
And the lover, he is longing . . .
Love, lithe and lyric, he sees your sweeping shapes.
Peace, parsed and pained he hears the voicing gape.
Blind, bliss’d and shamed he wears the votive drapes.
Hungered, thirsted and gone; seeks your pearly gate.
Out in the forest maze the jarring sun seeps
And swirls, only to roust the traveler onward
Where soon he must meet the faces in the grotto
Down in destroyed lands by the seas’ unreasoning
Chime, deep in the dark whine of the shining mermaids,
Where the doomed cry, round the navel of the world,
In the pool of the lost maiden song.
And the doomed, they are crying . . .
“Opiate beauty bade us, in a star crossed chrysalis,
Made us, choose a desert’s winter of loneliness.
Heed our fate and leave this valley torn of bliss;
The many millions of locust fall in ripest fields.”
I Cannot Leave These Poems Behind / Kaecey McCormick
I had most things in place, was
on my way up, my house was in
order, the lawn was neat, the bill
collector two doors behind, kids
in pressed uniforms, dinner thawing
on the stove, a full tank in the car, a
desk and a paycheck waiting but on
my way out the door a poem hit me
by surprise, another pulled me into
the back room, their friends waiting
in the dark, they whispered promises
into my veins of pleasures proved,
beds made from roses and posies,
of dark skies lit with the love songs
of a thousand suns, of a single stone
tomb waiting by the sea, and a voice
riding the wind, I grew hungry,
addicted to their silver tongues,
returned each day for a hit, took
them with me, their lines tangling in
my brain, tugging my gaze to the
window where my thoughts drifted
lonely in clouds and over dreams of
sunshine hills and flower valleys and
those things I had mostly in place fell
away with these poems, each day
grew dimmer against their light, I
had to search in the dark for my
keys as vines took over the windows
and walls and our dinner melted and
turned to mush while the kids cried
hungry but I couldn’t hear them, and
eventually I had to grab the poems by
the skin and hold them up to the sun
so I could trace their letters in ink on
my arms, light them on fire and cup
their ashes in the hollow below my
heart where they grew roots, and now I
collect their seeds and plant them in my
overgrown garden and feed their fruit to
the kids while we dance in moonlight
with the ghost poems keeping time
On Failure / Steve Mueske
When Mentioning “Make Love” Makes My Article Disappear In China / Suki Sun
love love ( 爱爱 ）
it is not the love
it is the love on top of the love
it is the love underneath the love
it is the love behind the love
it is the love in front of the love
love riding love
love grinding love
love sucking love
love wetting love
in whatever position
in whatever angle
in whatever move
even the faintest
in the blindest
has to agree with me
long live love love
love live full bed sheet of love
long live full mouthful of love
love love love love love love
love love love love love love *
The Declaration of America / Nikki Ummel
Day 12 / Poem 12
The days never cease / Jennifer Betz
I am away
I start to understand
A way to say
i don’t miss you
you are missing from me
A strand of my DNA
A new way of looking
Another hot pot
The smell of lilies
This time of year
The back of my throat
spines of sorrow
A praying mantis
On the window sill
Duck Chart / Ellen Ferguson
Check these items on your duck chart:
Fat naturally dissolved?
Meeting after the first blowout, after the sidewalk sale, after these unfunny years;
Standing outside before the closing coffee, before hot duck, before revelations,
You tell your story:
its properly cooked skin separates,
Offering exceptional flavor
Crisping while fat dissolves
I’ll take a story well told with duck for dessert
Any day of the week
But on Sunday it’s divine.
So Much Light / Laura Gamache
After more than a week of rain and gloom, low sky
clouds crowding our head spaces, looming, rain
tapping our hoods, I walk the neighborhood today
without rain pants. Colors reveal their intensity –
daffodils yellower than summer buttercups,
the magnolia tulips blushing rose pink above
the double-blossom Yoshino cherry, its
little-girl tutu pink petals strewn around its feet,
like pointillist promises of more pleasure.
People and dogs stride the sidewalk with purpose
and grass is technicolor green, even the live stuff.
New leaves cascade down the stems of a weeping
willow like someone’s newly washed long hair.
A seagull, feathers brightly white as a bleached
sheet lies in the alley, eyes closed, toes pointed,
graceful as a dancer, all of it swooped into
a curve so composed, wings furled into line,
it appears an altar to its kind. So much light
today I don’t mind its death,
or even dread mine.
Homage to Hedgebrook1 / Kate Gray
evergreen and lusty
red currants ring a breakfast bell
tubular drooping clusters
sweet as April sun
attracts hummingbirds, bumble
planted outside the writer’s window
the gardener having rested at the desk
the windowpanes beveled
spreading rainbows across page and pen
leaves, ridged and hairy, shaped like little maple leaves
some say smell like cat spray, some say
every spring when magenta blooms dangle
hummingbirds dance like dolphins in air
soon summer’s bland blue-black berries
and I write a poem like the ones I did then
little homes for queers exiled everywhere
drought-tolerant, we grow now in the open
¹Hedgebrook: Women Authoring Change is a global writing community with a residency program, craft talks, and
salons on Whidbey Island, WA.
Often / Alice Letowt
An ugly sentiment as persistent as
the beauty of street lights wrapping trees in orange.
And today, we are trying to wise up,
before we move forward
explain to me the ontology of two women sitting
on a park bench.
One day we will see things as they are.
I am sitting and listening to birds and
I had a dog I played fetch with.
A tree needs to come down. It is crowding the holly.
The Moon Undresses You / Seán Mac Falls
The moon undresses you, little bird,
Your eyes are indigo skies without stars,
Your breath is summer grass after shower.
How you hold your arms before the night,
A lance of milky sheen and flailing bliss,
Your arms arrest as they softly surrender
And your breasts overflow in moist shores
Of white sand and shells, little ears to kiss,
I am drowning in your curves on the waves
From the sea, delirious with eye of moon,
Drunk with wild ocean as it consumes me,
Your hair is new grassland to run through,
Windy as a child breaking for the beach,
I latch my fingers to yours like driftwood
Tangled in kelp, the salt we share, steeps,
Is tart and deep and our lips are shucked
Oysters, blind, iridescent, sliding with eyes
Into the famished throat of lusty heavens.
IN WHICH THE MOTHER RECALLS HER SON’S LAST BIRTHDAY IN LVIV / Kaecey McCormick
imagine a heart-shaped balloon
lying flat on the cold kitchen floor
imagine the ribbon that bound it
still tied to the old kitchen chair
imagine a single white shoe
untied on its side by the door
imagine a red mushroom sky
growing horns through the cracked window pane
imagine his very last thought
floating past with what’s left of his skin
imagine a heart-shaped balloon
Glitching Sylvia / Steve Mueske
Inventory Count* / Suki Sun
As I Physically Reenact the Last Scene of Shadow and Bone Season 2 Episode 8, My Boyfriend Asks if I am Feeling Manic / Nikki Ummel
Gently, like the brush of fingertips on the hips
to lead in a desired direction, and all he wants is for us to be in step
so we can waltz a safe distance
from this moment.
And all day long I have wanted to feel things and not feel things,
the moment on the metro passing Arlington Cemetery,
the sun a sudden razor causing a seam to stretch inside me, and I
heard the threads plink, the ever-expanding universe collapsing like a slinky,
the woman to my right with the too-tight curls switches her face with the man to my left
and the metro doors open with a ding and I can’t remember
where I am going
this aliveness pressing against me like fingertips on the hips
leading me to a desired location, like Alina Starkov in Shadow and Bone
led on a rope by one man and then another, but also, in a way, liking the rope,
liking the leading, the not feeling, the quiet existence under someone else’s
fingers and it really is all too much to feel, to say, and so I
step into the noose my boyfriend offers and tell him,
no. I’m not feeling manic today.
Day 11 / Poem 11
Wasted Days / Jennifer Betz
But was today wasted?
Swimming in a warm sea,
my heart quick beneath my ribs,
My daughter placed her ear to it
It is beating!
I sipped a coconut empty,
Had the cask cut open,
Scooped out the soft flesh,
with my fingertips,
I’m afraid here,
Like a child,
But if we do not test our hearts, With newness,
Do we fail to notice?
It rained in the sea,
Drops splashing sun pink skin,
Shivers and another plunge,
Am I wasting today?
This cycle of rain,
Returning to sea now,
There is a coconut waiting,
To drink it
Anagrams of Yorgos Lanthimos / Ellen Ferguson
Joe Alwyn and Elliot Page share a birthday,
February 21. They are Pisces(es).
Joe Alwyn loves but left singer Taylor Swift
Elliot Page loves but left dancer Emma Portner
You loved but left me, city of Brooklyn.
You sing and you dance.
Joe and Taylor: not married
Elliot and Emma: married
Brooklyn, not married, soulmates still.
Overheard at the egg hunt:
“I’m married to my vet.”
What is married?
“Just keep swimming,” Disney Fish say to Pisces everywhere.
Joe soon stars in “And” with Emma Stone.
“And” is by “The Lobster” man, Yorgos Lanthimos.
Pisces on land, like lobsters in “Annie Hall,” hide behind the fridge.
Joe and Taylor should have spent her birthday together.
Pisces live on land, but it’s hard here.
Post Total Hip Replacement Revision Physical Therapy Exercises, A Partial List / Laura Gamache
Thank you for coming in today. Please take the time to follow your home treatment plan
as recommended. If any exercise makes your symptoms worse, discontinue it, and let me know.
Supine Short Arc Quad
Set up: Lie on your back, foam roller under one knee, heel resting on the bed.
Note: Buy foam roller online, use a rolled towel until it arrives.
Movement: Tighten upper leg muscles to straighten knee, then return leg to bed.
Tip: Keep back flat against the floor, instruction says.
Note: I can’t get onto the floor without breaking my maximum 90̊ body to leg rule,
can’t put on my own socks or lace my shoes, pick up anything off the floor.
Short Arc Quad with Ankle Weight
Set Up: Get your husband to put the ankle weight on! (See above note.)
Lie on your back, leg resting on foam roller,
weight secured around your ankle
Movement: Tighten thigh muscles (upper leg muscles, quads,)
and slowly raise foot, straightening knee.
Bring leg down slowly for maximum benefit.
Tip: Do not let your leg (that wonky knee) rotate to either side
Set Up: Lie on back with knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
Movement: Squeeze stomach and buttock muscles
(Engage your core) and lift bottom.
Breathe out with motion, in while holding bridge.
Out while returning back to bed, vertebra by vertebra.
Tip: Do not arch your back during the exercise.
Half Tandem Stance Balance with Head Rotation:
Set Up: stand in upright position with one foot staggered
approximately half its length back from your other foot.
Movement: Keep your eyes open and slowly turn your head
side to side for ten reps. Repeat with opposite foot forward.
Tip: Make sure to maintain your balance during the exercise.
Note: impossible the first time, but day by day less flailing.
On Sundays / Kate Gray
We took St. Bernard’s by storm, whole rows,
our grandmother in front, her tiny body
bent over the railing, her pearls dangling,
her mantilla draped over her blue curled hair, as if
she could be spared aging if she prayed
hard enough. Next to her, my aunt knelt, too much
rouge on cheeks used to laughter. Then in
filed six cousins and an uncle and aunt, and three
cousins and an uncle, then all six of us and
our mother, her soft hands, rivered
by blue veins, laced together in front
of her face, a place to rest her forehead when
she closed her eyes and prayed. Sometimes
her lips moved, and maybe God
was so tiny he could hide in her palms. Maybe
He could hear her whisper the wants she never
said or the shame she locked inside. But before
the priest walked down the aisle behind a cousin altar-boy
holding a tall gold cross, during the first hymn
the organist played too slowly, after our absent father
surely teed off the first hole, one sister would lick
a finger and stick it in my ear, and that’s how I learned
to read my mother. “Stop,” she mouthed.
a scene where a man stumbles upon time bleeding out under a tree / Alice Letowt
The thin shade under the tree is the last place
on earth. Cornfields and strip malls
from an identity as episodic as telephone polls on rolling hills
as nostalgia suffocates futures
no adequate adjectives
to project onto the world
left with reports. Reports of what is natural
for the red-breasted nuthatch
the person with sunburned shoulders
the person with green sheets
stirring in their sleep
Way Words / Seán Mac Falls
I have seen couples,
So far from each—
Other, on a platform,
Waiting for the next train,
Never touching, yet how
They fondle their mobile
Devices, how softly, sweet,
Without guile nor agenda
They swipe the glass—
As it swoons back in return
With blue lights and alerts,
So dearly needed and answers,
In way words for the machines
Of flesh and the ghost within,
With such personal aplomb
In real notifications of text
And instant message.
empty nesting under light of new moon / Kaecey McCormick
Ten moons pass through my body and at the end
I birth a scythe that slices through my skin like butter
dripping through the layers of a biscuit, flaky and fresh
with the heat of baking. No stranger to pain, I pick it up
and wrap the gleaming curves in a blanket of pine needles
stitched thread by thread by my grandmother’s hands alone
in the dark. I carry it with me, ignoring the cuts and pricks
it gives with every step and after ten thousand miles it cuts
a new row through the field of weeds. Now I follow its path
under the crescent moon, trailing behind as I search these fields
for ghosts. But they scurry and scuttle away like beetles before
the tremors of each heel-step. When I find you again after years
of missing each other by a shadow we fall together, your leg
against my hip, my hand inside your chest, our tongues moving
in waves together to form the same question on their tips—
how did the time slide? In the distance the scythe keeps slicing
as the moon fades to black and we stack bones for our nest.
Genesis / Steve Mueske
The Ringer / Suki Sun
ing to watch
you from my
pew in LlifePoint.
A handbell ensemble
as one instrument. You
embody only particular
notes. No multitasking, just waiting.
Lips counting, heart pounding. Listening,
breathing. One swinging pedal of the flower.
One vibrating color in the rainbow. One drop of rain
from the monsoon. Until your time comes, you swiftly
raise the bell in your right hand, from your chest up, until
it pauses high above your wavy hair. The precise tenderness.
The graceful determination. You’ve sculptured concentration
into a Statue
Therapy, Wednesdays at 4 / Nikki Ummel
This, the third day of April,
I rise and forgot my dream:
Something about fleas, or figs,
and bouncing to a mariachi band.
There, that’s all I have, I tell you later.
Now tell me what it means.
You have fake flowers in your waiting room,
perpetual flourish so real I smell lavender.
Somehow, always the same song on the radio
in the closet-called-waiting-room.
Static sound machine and Wild 108,
forever “I Want it That Way.”
Tell me why my dreams end in dolphin hunting.
Tell me why you change the water weekly
in that purple plastic vase, and
why, when I speak of dreams,
you spin your wedding ring, tongue
the space between your two front teeth.
Day 10 / Poem 10
The great beyond / Jennifer Betz
I watched a kestrel take a mouse today,
that bucolic field,
draped in shawls of fog,
not on the side of the mouse,
life, so it were,
the mouse seemed content,
his fate secured,
no more wondering,
living sided with the mouse,
when most alive,
in Death’s escape,
purest joy was his,
into the great beyond,
digested back to soil and carbon,
to Great Creation
Chester’s First Egg Hunt / Ellen Ferguson
The most enchanting part
Of the original get smart,
the telephone shoe,
is not for everyone:
Finding things in surprising places?
Challenging when you struggle with
the way Chester does.
foxhounds finding runaway eggs
in trees should be nature’s way
yet eggs running for their lives
would make more sense
yesterday a purple bookshelf came to play.
Chester would know his role if it
Fled like a bunny, but
as it stands now, we understand very little
about eggs in trees, shelves that just sit there
but we still like telephones in shoes
Another Gray Morning / Laura Gamache
Dawn takes its time developing on this dreary day
loons resolve into, lamenting, bodies
slowly darkening from mist, sound carrying over
water the clearest nearness about them,
a part of the lake landscape in the exurbs, reedy
threshold of a bay. They complicate their echoes,
share call and response, but piercing, as though
together what they know we can’t guess at, moving
forward into the morning at our groggy pace,
shore of the bed indistinguishable under its quilt,
alder poking up out the window, baffling their
calls, spreading them across the view, until our
laughter upstages their longing, and we’re awake.
With All Her Might / Kate Gray
~for Emily D. and Susan G.
When Infinite is Love, a two-fold path
through Memory to Eternity, where
loaded guns and things with feathers
pass by letter from hand to hand.
When Power is Love, no chains contain
its Force, the Fire will char the Body,
wicked white sticks for bones, so lock
the Love in hospital to make no Harm.
Proximity is all we have, a hedge
to reach through, a blind to hide.
Let no Man know this Might, the Love
that breaks iron and flings us into Fire.
withdrawing / Alice Letowt
you have to go back to the edge
the dogs are waiting to be let out
in the other-side-of-the-sunset pink
heron against the grass
air splits along body
my arms warm
legs cool through the holes in my pants
the comforting trace
holds water the way hands do
there is nothing you can do
to make them see you differently
I see you differently
pooling into a desire
to not be other anymore
the dream house maps the geometry of the mountain
shades the slopes into the roofs
Loves Prisoner / Seán Mac Falls
I wanted to know the sighs
Of mercy. On the bed she lied,
Laid bare in the shocking light
That twitches, as she rolls
I hover and cage her in question,
With moist eyes, abandoned
By loves interrogations,
I stab at the untruths and confusions.
I wanted to hear the supplicant
Murmur of indolence and shame.
With windy caresses I break
Her arms, she ropes me red
In tangled hair and I struggle
To let go. I wanted to taste
The twin defeats of victory
And indifference, when in the light
Of darkest night there are cries of yes
And no and false accusations,
There is consuming pain and excruciating
Pleasure and as we squirm
And seethe, she teases,
Goading me and then,
I loose it.
Skin Cancer Treatment in Summer / Kaecey McCormick
The middle of a briar patch, every cell pinned by a barb
The slimmest wrinkle, the most microscopic twitch
And what’s left of the skin tears away
Emotions are the root of movement
One seed of feeling and the weed grows
Spreads across the face like poison ivy
No sunlight until it fades into a pale reflection
The nighttime air holds droplets of the sea
Cold and salty tears that can’t be wiped away
We walk the streets under Orion’s watchful eye
Did you see that, you keep asking. That house we’ve
Never noticed before. That family through the window.
I pause to watch entire lifetimes play out through glass
Orange light tinges their skin pink as they laugh or cry
My face a stone, silent, still
I let the night move through me like an X-ray
It offers no relief and ideas float like omens across the moon
In the rustle of the palm trees I hear my dead sister
This isn’t bad enough, she says as the flames heat my skin
Blisters of malignant cells bubble to the surface and break
The assembly of ghosts nods
They will wait
You lie sleeping in the hollow my body leaves behind
I walk to the window and look through my reflection
Above the palm tree my eyes float like blue stars
Welded to Orion’s Belt
Do You Know Where You Are? / Steve Mueske
When You Type “Y-O-U” on the Keyboard in Chinese Mode / Suki Sun
Very likely Yǒu (有) is
The first written word
That pops up
The same word
The same sound
Has two meanings
When you type “Y-O-U”
It blurs the boundary between
Ownership and relationship
I “Y-O-U” a book =
I have a book =
With me, there is a book
You “Y-O-U” anxiety =
You have anxiety =
With you, there is anxiety
We “Y-O-U” one earth =
We have one earth =
With us, there is one earth
The second written word
You might get is Yǒu (友)
And this word means friend
Sounds the same as
There is and to have
I “Y-O-U” a book = I friend a book
You “Y-O-U” anxiety = You friend anxiety
We “Y-O-U” one earth = We friend one earth
Can “Y-O-U” own a friend?
Can “Y-O-U” own something?
Can “Y-O-U” really own even one thing?
Fantasy with Levar Burton / Nikki Ummel
Teeth lie sometimes, ya Levar? This feels goodbye-sized /
you, all consuming, said when I thorax books
and this too, an adult attempts to nest in your rainbow,
a place watched for years. Levar I’m sorry I goodbyed thousands
and too hurt to lucid needs / tell you this heart a down down soaked,
you calling because you lost your slivers / saying I’m dangerous /
I am literate in you / I am your rainbow fleshing goodbye
around your worth, clinging to light, chunks of you sliding gleefully
around me / you told me empty told me hugs for a stubbornly insurance /
you know I’m a throat smooth stuck with dreams, ah,
there’s the emptiness, a lifetime / 26 years of children godsaken,
the flash of heart tear, you beginning
a legacy with me
Day 9 / Poem 9
Now is not the time / Jennifer Betz
I couldn’t say goodbye
You’ve seen me through
Such beauty and tragedy
Your amber eyes
I told you
I can’t let you go
With your lion’s mane and sharp teeth
I’m still here
The vastness of love
Will always be
But My Doctor Said Caffeine Makes Me Nervous / Ellen Ferguson
Oracles of Tomorrow / Laura Gamache
A Cento from Middle School Poetry Anthology Titles
Pathway of Words
A Conduit and a Possibility
Freefall in a Cloudless Sky
A Curious Reality
An Abundance of Boisterous Kids
The Cheery Clarity of Water
Spicy to the Tongue
Every Shade of Earth
The Undiscovered Planet
Spark Inside Our Hearts
Swirling Inside Out
Roller Rink Waterfall
Mesmerizing Your Senses
The Canvas of My Mind
Creating a Ruckus
Follow the Fire
Breaking Through the Silence
Rapidly Moving Sky
Like Oxygen to Our Minds
Stepping Into the Air
Motioning the Birds to Sing
Breaking Through the Silence
The Wild Buried Deep Inside
My Name Has Dreams
The Echo of Owls / Kate Gray
At woods’ edge, barred owls growl,
“Who cooks for you,” the call
and response echoing in this valley of oak
and pine. Where toothwort
and prairie stars now dot
sun patches, my land is a small parcel
of their 100-acre claim. Above
my head one dusk, striped wings
stretched, 6 feet wide, then tucked
and landed. Its eyes as black
as gun barrels, the owl glared, then dropped
in silent swoop and came for me, grazed
my fingertips raised above my head.
Another time a juvenile, its cry high
like a mouse screaming, scowled
from a fir top, pumped its body up
and down, a sunset dance with a sibling
in front of a vermillion sky. When I brought
binoculars to my window to watch, one
hopped up another branch, and one
dropped. “It’s coming,” I thought, and it
slammed the window above my head and
dropped to the deck. It wasn’t dead.
Kind neighbors took it home, fed it mouse
meat and water, their little boys singing
to it, stroking its feathers, walking “Owly”
on their shoulders, for days until the swelling stopped.
When it could see, they walked it to my deck and set it
free to swoop and dive. Maybe now
when my loneliness coats
craggy oak bark, when glacier lilies make way
for arrow balsamroot, I’ll hear
the song the boys sang in owl hoots
and gurgles and know
I am a visitor and they belong.
Injection Day / Alice Letowt
I pick the leg that didn’t have a bruise
and by some means of arrival
the moon appears in the window
and my ovaries blush
the moon can’t be in the window
moon out window and the moon
is in the window
you can say whatever you want
After Rain / Seán Mac Falls
Rain, softly falls in old deer valley,
All the woodlands swimming underneath
The steaming fog. What peaceful sound
I hear, softly rings out of the sparkling
Woods and meadows, chimes like a thousand
Sleepy bells announcing the rising sun,
Who sings loudest, after the rains.
STITCHING WITHOUT A PATTERN IN THE DARK / Kaecey McCormick
after Dorianne Laux
Champagne light unspools, filters
over the hills like spider webs, its gauzy
edges, its narrow siphon mouth.
The fog smothers, a muffler muzzling
the noisy evening songs. I can’t tell
the crickets and coyotes apart.
When I sleep I’m an owl, my sharp
talons knuckle deep in the chest of a rabbit,
my wings wind spread, my bright eyes
done with hunting. I ride the night
with my prey, consume it whole
head first, crushing its skull
from a nest of twigs and redwood needles.
When I wake, I turn back into a seamstress
searching for the thread
separating life and death.
If we knew the depth of our delusion
we would let it pull us into its gaping mouth
if we let it, the black hole
inside us swirling inward like a funnel
of fists, holding us in place
at the bottom, that breaking point
of space and time: the singularity,
casks of dark matter, dying stars
the size of pinheads, shining their
fractured light, spinning
closer every second to the end.
Improvisation in Beige and Gray / Steve Mueske
Polish the Piano for the “Beautiful Country” National Anthem in B-flat major / Suki Sun
119,301 nail technicians are currently employed in USA.
84.0% are women, and 51.7% are Asian.
The median hourly wage for them was $14.05 in May 2021. #
* This is a cut-out poem using the actual names of the black and white nail polish
“Beautiful Country” is the literal Chinese translation for the USA
# Date is from US. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Zippia
Hurricane Parting: A Duplex / Nikki Ummel
The sky as if someone decided to draw the drapes shut.
Is this the promised end?
This, the end of his promise, my belly Wild Turkey sopped,
Zeta breathing wetly against the roof.
Against the roof, Zeta breathes, rinses the flowering tree cathedraling the coop.
Life, tranquil in the face of death.
In the face of death, Mr. Herman mows his lawn, a hum below hurricane hussle.
The inside of my head peeling like one long scab.
Inside my head, I bend over my hopes, let them lift my hands
to Zeta’s whistling mouth, the rancid scent of overbloom.
My relationship, overbloomed. I press my lips to my fingertips.
When it’s all over, we collect the branches, leaves, bargeboard siding.
When it’s all over, we collect our things, split the kitchenware, the sheets, his eyes
as if someone decided to draw the drapes shut.
Day 8 / Poem 8
The day became a noun / Jennifer Betz
She turned the page,
Her tea, spilling a bit,
Atop the lacquered table,
Earl Grey pooling,
The scent of wet,
Betraying a secret,
A Memory inhaled,
You can have too much bergamot,
He remembered reading,
As his eyes blurred,
He heard his Mum calling,
My wild god,
Do not overwater the flowers,
There is no death worse
Boarding the Train at Princeton Junction / Ellen Ferguson
Tennessee Waltz / Laura Gamache
Tennessee politics on display yesterday
floor session, amplified, protestors horrified
three children sacrificed. They call for stronger laws
limiting gun access, common sense law making.
Sexton acts, calls a vote, expels two lawmakers.
Pearson, Jones, both are Black, Gloria has their backs.
These Justins sought justice, need justice as we watch
fascists file from the floor, overplay underscored.
Nothing But / Kate Gray
her hand stretched from behind the curtain, palm out, as if
reaching for rescue, circled by spotlight, her voice offstage
lamenting, We smile, but O great Christ, our cries,
until she took the light, the stage, her face
a mask. She laughed, read, danced
for 300 Miss Porters girls in the Seventies, and I, raised
under that white sky, clapped like thunder, split as if
everything solid turned liquid, as if Brit Lit and Puritans,
the Mayflower and Greek myths were nothing but storm.
After reciting Shakespeare, Hughes, and more, she
bowed, and we sprang to our feet, climbed our seats
to clap, and she walked to us, up and down the aisles
applauding us, applauding her, the room all echo.
Since then, poetry has split me like quicksilver,
tiny shimmering beads of tears and sighs.
First Friday / Alice Letowt
Fours days before leaving the city
I am saying goodbye to my friend
on the mile walk back to our cars
it is lonely to be leaving on the first warm night
and Renée Jeanne Falconett’s expressions tender
moon behind clouds
at the airport
or on a picnic
arriving in the middle of my second youth
there isn’t much room for shame when learning
to live with your choices closing the door
a hand puppet waxes poetic on how to feel better
nothing I haven’t heard before send pictures after I’m gone
I want the ones with your fingers accidentally in frame
Poet and Goddess in a One Bedroom Flat / Seán Mac Falls
He wrote in the mornings, she recited to him at night,
He always made breakfast, she made dishes disappear,
His garb was quite frumpy, and hers, made of spun gold,
He struggled with fashion, song birds would dress her,
He thought his poems looked best in moving candlelight,
She made all the fires and lit candles with her eyes.
Once, he was embarrassed and said to her,
‘How can you live like this with me in a hovel?’
She said it reminded her of Plato’s Cave.
At readings he looked out and saw sinking eyes,
Now he has her read all his poems, it works
Wonders that way, and after-parties are strange,
Everyone keeps staring and asking for her
Name. She gives cryptic answers and winks
At him. The poet was running out of words
And thought his days with her were waning.
But she said her heart was kept in a precious
Box of symbols, of words, only he could write.
She said that it was written in the sky, that poetry
Was dying and that he was the cure. He told
Her that the stars were lost at night, and fading
While she sparkled unfailing, and many times
They tasted each others tears, many times
The world stopped spinning, he knew
It was her, she felt it was him. To all
Others, their one bedroom flat was small,
Yet to them, it was the Palace Athene.
DEAR TURKEY VULTURE / Kaecey McCormick
When I picked you up
and set you on my shoulder
and fingered your blue-black feathers
as you bit my ear, sharp
pointed talons buried in my skin,
and I felt the pull of your body
on the tendons in my neck,
and the wet thud of your heart
in my ear—
Buzzard, I whispered to the children
you were harmless, but even as the words
left my tongue I felt no certainty—
only a need to feel your weight mix
with mine, one body for a time
a long line of entrails glistening
in the leaves and the slick of blood
on my skin, the breaking down
of one life into another. I set you free
in the field at the side of the road
and walk away, haunted by your shadow
flying beside me all morning.
In the Unspeakably Beautiful Now / Steve Mueske
a moment, rarer
than air, distilled
from every moment
we first looked
into the sky and asked: Why
do I know I'm alive?
Why this moment and not
Why this sun?
of wind on my skin? 16 thousand
hairs on my arm
to my brain. And what is this
sense we call
Being Alive, for we know it
in no other way
than an answer
to The First Question. And still
it comes, again
and again, the unspeakably beautiful now.
Its name is Yes.
And there is not an isolate moment,
but an infinite river of them. Each
one just as unique
in the flow. We are made
and remade every second
in the heart of experience
the same question
were words. The ache
of beauty so deep, so profound
we can only understand it as time.
The Trail / Suki Sun
“I stepped the dirt all over the place”
saw me walking upstairs
you apologized in the kitchen
for not taking off your shoes
I guessed that you just
grabbed the newspaper outside
was about to ask you
why you were in such a hurry
two kitchen paper towels
already landed timely as parachutes
one each under your feet
transformed into bespoke ballet slippers
one step left and one step right
i watched you retracing
the black dotted trail on the floor
like a seasoned choreographer
soft black T shirt highlighted your silhouette
comfy lounge pants hugged your body loyally
your movement blended the air
with gentle enchantment
kungfu master in the demonstration of
an ancient routine in slow motion
zen teacher fully immersive
in an open-air walking meditation
i listened to the familiar
humming sound of our furnace downstairs
punctuated by the song of birds outside
harmonizing your improvisation
suddenly i realized that
it was not the stubborn ice or the melting water
following you into our house
it was the fresh wet dirt
that blinked under sunshine
and deciphered the code
of mother earth as a messenger
impatient for the season change
the daring naked skin of the land
the brave backbone of April
It was the dirt dancing you
It was the spring trailing us
Sonnet for Your Absence / Nikki Ummel
You disappear for three days, resurface in the Gulf
and call me from a borrowed satellite phone.
fishing with a friend you met six shots in
at Cochon after
your shift. Your new friendship
as old as your absence.
I imagine you, soaked shirt,
seaspray and sweat, a human
salt lick, rolling
on the deck, grabbing a ladder to stay aboard,
waiting for the waters to relax so you can
cast again. I imagine
the tip of your nose sunburned,
new freckles already
toeing the surface.
The signal drops and you don’t
When you make it home, you smell like spit,
sport a shiner. Your knuckles cracked and lip split.
No fish. Not a single one.
Day 7 / Poem 7
Once and again / Jennifer Betz
There were too many drinks,
A corn husk cigarette,
Hanging in faith,
Inking beautiful rivers,
And misspelled anger,
Requiring pink morning light,
And blue solitude,
Large crowds of drums and dance,
But most often,
Like a mango,
Falling after weeks,
With sticky dew,
Under thick air,
And a cloudy night,
Words strike mouths,
With purple pain,
Love in its before,
Bright orange smiles,
Mostly in it’s wake,
All white and cinder,
The bird that struck the window,
Startled and falling,
A drying earthworm,
Dust and death,
Memory, as such,
Rains as they fall,
And in their end,
A eulogy, once,
Electric Company / Ellen Ferguson
A Bit of a Diatribe / Laura Gamache
Remember AI, that fake
kid at the bottom of the pool,
intelligence, a sliver of the pie of our
our worth, means
is measured on a spreadsheet,
reduced to ones and zeros,
it gives no joy or gratitude
or gumption or grace.
compose an essay to garner you
a college A, hurray,
you didn’t write it anyway.
It is a disgrace
to overpraise it.
It plots a course
to the moon, but doesn’t
builds bombs and walls,
by the powerful
us more at home with verses
than with versus.
Remember the bodies strewn
the mountain face.
We already know
because it is there
is no reason to pursue it.
In the Dark / Kate Gray
Somedays the bear
hugs them so tight
winter in, the grubs
buried under leaves
in the hole barely big enough
for a curled behemoth
to sleep. Other days
the bear bounces them when
it lays on its back, whirling
the ball of them above
its paws, its claws somehow
soft and sure so they feel
safe, spinning in the air, safer
than church where men
used bell and stick to turn
their bodies to food. They could
wrestle other cubs, but they
crave only honied dark, despite
spring and all the damn flowers.
Sideways / Alice Letowt
a Klint-forest sound
gestures quiet excitement
drape a velvet smoking jacket
around the chair’s cold shoulders
placed in the spare room memory
threading glass flowers into a vase
monuments to second-hand sweaters
Thirteen Thoughts on the Blue Guitar / Seán Mac Falls
In the corner stands
My blue guitar,
Mirrors my grimace.
I have played you
So like dream was the dear song
Where you playing me?
Your body makes mine
Shudder as I imagine
A woman in my arms.
At the top of your body
Are keys unwound at the ready,
Silver spirals of tunings.
My soul is near hollow
But the blue guitar
Is filling in the foundations.
What makes the blue guitar
So shining in the mundane,
All the world is makeshift.
My fingers wet with you,
What water sounds like,
As it kisses the earth.
Deep in the strings
I summon my being,
Always blue as sheer sky.
Blue guitar, silent, singing,
My fingers grope your neck,
Never do you scream.
Once I heard music,
The sweetest tabulations
Of sorrows in rosewood.
My fingers ache on steel,
These are your moved guts,
Strings that I borrow.
At an open window,
All the day obtuse,
I hear birds in your vibrations,
Untouched air of blue guitar.
I do not know anything,
Music is lathed on an open fret,
The heart is beating to a note of bliss,
Hole set in the body braced by wood,
Time cuts as it is sectioned, a staff fires,
All the chords are listed in primes,
Is the ear a window or is the eye,
Blind in the choral songs we make,
All things are ephemeral, wonderings,
Variations we work as structure fades,
As the blue guitar is touched, turning light.
MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN YOU EVER IMAGINED / Kaecey McCormick
for Susan, Lucy, and Reyna who died together at least
under the oak canopy the roots
and a crow
pecking a bone
above a thousand birds move as one
and behind me
a body bag moves through the door
inside three bodies
in the distance the scream of a hungry baby
or maybe a hawk
the cloud of birds gather closer
before me two men push three bodies
into a van
no lights required
over red taillights a hawk rips a starling
from the air
pulling it from the flock
beneath my feet the earth warmed
by the dead
breaking them apart
breathing them out
Blue-Tailed Skink / Steve Mueske
Happy Birthday Song to New Words to Webster since April 2020 (G Major) / Suki Sun
Deep fake deep web dawn chorus
Hap – py Birth – day to you,
D D entheogen D
Dumbphone doorbell camera dad bod
Hap – py Birth – day to you,
Galentine’s Day F#
Dear (n a m e),
Copypasta crowdfunding B
Hap – py Birth – day to you.
Headlines / Nikki Ummel
Benjamin Stork Sells Fish for 75 Cents Per Pound
200 Pound Barrels of Fish Loaded on Trains and Sent to New Orleans
Hermes Stork of Pecan Holds a Prize Speckle Trout Caught in Bayou Heron
Blooming Oyster Reefs Swollen with Shells
Bayou Heron in Pecan and Bayou Cumbest in Orange Grove Dredged for Deeper Draft Boats
Beaches Replace Mississippi Marsh
Conway Twitty Performs at Stork’s Nightclub on Old Hwy 90
Johnny’s Smokehouse Jumpin’ on Saturday Nights
Gulf Coast Earns Thunderstorm and Lightning Capital of America
Pecan Suffers Hurricane, Tidal Waves
Prescribed Burn Conservation Priority
Milton Southern’s Shell Midden Endures Loss
Trash Attached to Oyster Reef; Burning Oil Lamp, Tractor Tire
“Can’t Take No More”: Flash Flooding Flusters Pecan and Orange Grove
Margaret and Milton Southern Lose Last General Store
Brown’s Boats Closes
Brown’s Bait Shop Closes
Katrina Re-Works Fishing Industry
Bonnet Carre Spillway Kills Oyster Reefs
Seafood Capital of the World Threatened
Manatees Dying of Starvation
Mississippi Gulf Coast People, Land, Animals: Katrina at Fifteen
Katrina in the Bones
Katrina Still Killing
Day 6 / Poem 6
Dear Mum / Jennifer Betz
I sewed them on the jacket,
I’d traded for yours a decade ago,
Did you notice?
I’d lost a few buttons over the years,
And polished gold would be nice,
The rope chain around your neck,
The garnet ring of your grandmother,
The tooth you tried to hide,
When you laughed true,
Did you know?
My daughter has your eyes,
But only in the center,
Crafting a Coca-Cola Antimacassar with You / Ellen Ferguson
after Frank O’Hara and John Milton
Joan’s curves captured in glass
Lifted in light with each toast
Thank you, Don Draper, “seer of seers.”
“They also serve who only stand and wait,”
John Milton clinks his Coke in the light —
John Milton and Don Draper share a Coke
In a sunny field, resting their elbows on
Antimacassars of grass
Watching The Bourne Supremacy After Trump’s First Indictment / Laura Gamache
Jason Bourne was maybe not happy – he had a murky past,
but he had a supportive partner who urged him to write things down.
She was killed by a bullet meant for him as they fled their coastal
sanctuary – following his inkling of danger – shot as their tiny car,
mid-chase, careened through a bridge railing and dropped
into the Mediterranean, where he gave her mouth
to mouth underwater. It was futile, she was dead. He had
to surrender her to the deep, hair halo softening her face
as she fell away, and he returned to the surface, all
in the first five minutes of the film. He still has amnesia
and killer reflexes, bothersome headaches, and is now doomed
to dip into his duffle bag of currency and passports, alone.
Who was he before Logan Roy got hold of him? Joan Allen,
leaning in despite misogyny and misdirection, tracks him
through Paris and Berlin, her minions losing and marking him again.
She learns of Treadstone, now defunct. He’s been off that clock
two years. Logan Roy and his Russian cohort use Joan to blame
Bourne. If she kills him it buries the evidence of their evil deeds.
Logan Roy kills his honest aide in a basement, and then himself,
in front of Joan Allen. We are spared that special effect, camera
trained on her drained expression as she realizes – the movie’s volta –
Bourne is not the villain. He commandeers a rickety taxi, drives
furiously away from the killer in the Mercedes SUV the wrong
way through traffic, spewing debris and collateral damage cars.
Bourne lives to tell the grown child of his first two victims
that her mother did not kill her father, that he slew them both.
He says he’s sorry in a small voice, slipping from the room.
And we root for him, who lost his memory and his lover,
even his real name, slept badly, knew the exact number
of possible foes in any given room, was never his own man.
One Direction / Kate Gray
East and West think they’re so
sexy, all sunrise and sunset, where many gods
meet one, and both think they’re
all that. What about North?
Maps put it on top, and everybody’s
going there now that South has spread
like oil. But North dreams
a world all blue and white, where ice
breathe in squeals, and whale cows
hear their calves sing. South
would rather stay home, but we
feed it. And what we feed gets
big. So, East and West had best
remember that sun is fun,
but cold is gold.
Should we stop writing about light / Alice Letowt
Repetition turns from intensification and worried
that one gets tired of holding hands up to the window
and from skin and desire springs a little glow
the light on the other side of the mountains makes blurry
the want for the distance between dates to hurry
along a slant through the dirty window behind you unfurls
the wings that come with surgery silhouettes that grow
and press the room into a forgetting and berry
ripe present that takes the light and holds it up to the light
I see Abbey at the table with her coffee
the morning mountains sharpening against
the damp and dewy sky the grass and the moss might
one morning feel the same under her bare feet
walking out into the yard to make amends
Holey Trinity / Seán Mac Falls
Man of science,
Only sees what is there,
Wants to build the fence.
Man of religion,
Out of nothing sees everything,
Wants to envision the fence.
Man of philosophy,
Out of everything sees nothing,
Wants to sit on the fence.
Residue / Kaecey McCormick
“The residue will be stronger if the memory
has been edited or altered quickly.”
—20th Century Fae
She came to herself in her car thinking
dinner time and the family will be waiting—
that spill of sky sliding over the hills
silvering the trees. The kiss of solitude,
may she rest in peace. Her mother
ushering the phrase in a breath, exhaled
as she passed one hand over her breast,
raised both eyes to the sky before filling
nanny’s favorite mug with rum. And yet.
Her mother hated rum and nanny drank
from a flask, filled mugs with stinking
soil and nettle to ward away her gout.
What fairy told her this tale, dropped whole
as a seed in the shell of her mind? It was
morning, or else midday. She saw her family
yesterday, or maybe the week before. It didn’t
matter because the women all were gone
and she must be on her way back home.
Tomorrow / Steve Mueske
Is the smoke-free, thinner version
of today. Half
of regular days, & sweet
as a child’s first popsicle.
Imagine: The new you! Flossing!
Starting the day with the sun,
you’ll start taking
those A1C numbers seriously,
buy enough dynamite
to blow off
the rock of lassitude. Fling
open the gym door
like the beast you were born
to be. You’ll start
running. Order nutritional meals.
Become a saint. A ninja.
A media mogul.
Clean out the garage.
Think of it. Tomorrow!
What a glorious day
to put money down
on a sleek red Italian
your mother, drink
more water, less liquor.
No more hangovers!
You’re going to get it together,
finally! You will! You’ll love
with ferocity. Like
you always wanted to.
Tomorrow. Only a day
away. And so close
You can almost
Tell me More…Behind the Curtain? / Suki Sun
Helen / Nikki Ummel
Outside is brushing against the windows. I listen for human rustling from beyond the stern
oak doors you erected to protect me. There lies the afternoon, on the hearth, warming its
belly. My brain is bored and I am so stupid for you. I was once your celebration and now,
your penance, your broad hands like winter air against stones. My father’s grief is many.
Those early days, you, feathered and flashing, me, cooing goofy. Language was an engine
we rode together, your voice outside my chambers bidding me come. I’ve sewn this poem
into my undies hoping you’ll peel them off and see yourself in me. let’s stack up a
thousand days together, brace the doors from their battering rams. But this isn’t the poem
you’ve chosen. I desire morning as it will never come.
Day 5 / Poem 5
Don’t worry / Jennifer Betz
There will be a potluck tomorrow,
What will I bring?
It’s your first day, so
How could I possibly?
My dog will die, tomorrow
A humane death,
They tell me,
And I tell them,
I don’t know how,
To play god,
On a Thursday,
Perhaps I will make guacamole,
How you licked clean the shells,
Your funny teeth,
Your amber eyes,
You’ve never been, soft
You trusted, me
Have been my gift,
How will I ever stop leaking grief?
51 Years Later Divorce Crew Aims for Moon / Ellen Ferguson
Misreading today’s headline
Lifting bags lunar light
Landing Coffee Labs sidewalk
O Crazy, Stupid Love
Casting loose hammocks, catching breezes
Vowing this: over the moon
One way or another
The House on 33rd / Laura Gamache
I prowled empty houses without permission
when I was eleven, our suburb hammering with new
construction. I crawled through openings that might
become windows or doors, buttressed from the inside
by bracing struts nailed awkwardly but that held,
clambored through those spaces under no roof but sky.
This house burned on Saturday. We didn’t see
or smell it, though we heard fire trucks just after five.
The fire blew out its glass, licked black all up its side.
It sits high on its lot, like ours. The fire crew
had a rough go bracing themselves on that hill
with their hoses. Too hot, they said, to go inside.
It was a quirky Northwest Modern, first house
in the neighborhood listed for $1 million. It boasted
privacy and vantage point,
had been rented out for years.
Nobody lived there now.
Fire crews kept the neighbor houses from catching.
The big Doug fir nearly flush with the house front
This morning we passed three fragrant daphnes
to stand silently across the street
from its husk.
Last Rites / Kate Gray
My mother lay beneath a frayed blanket, her face
a different mask than the one she lived. The hospice nurse
clicked the stethoscope into one hand, “It won’t be long,”
she said. On either side of the bed, my sister and I ran
fingertips over Mother’s purpled arms for hours, her hands
already lost to pulse. On her tape player, we pressed Artie Shaw
to play, his horn summoning her to dance after the war
was won. In red wine, her favorite Bordeaux, we dipped
a tongue depressor to baptize her one more time. Her priest
had already wiped water from his thumb to her forehead.
She told us she would hate this, her daughters hovering, tattling
to strangers all the schools that had kicked her out, how
four children under the age of five had run wild in the house
at cocktail hour when she climbed into the kiddie corral
with her martini and the latest New Yorker. Maybe we were
cruel. Maybe we were fools. We fried bacon, toasted
an English muffin, slathered it with peanut butter, and set it
in front of a fan. Dear God, we wanted her to see you with a smile.
Tilting / Alice Letowt
music overlaps with rain and something singular
from a harmony of jewel tones stands outside the apartment
it is a spring last frost which put the day
into the pile on the floor the wrinkling laundry
the skin of the desert emollient embrace the company is and the emotion is
leaning into the regularness of blisters and a fondness
for earnesty it is the aftermath, and I am helpless to communicate
in the mispronounced present
a truck sounds across the desert
we stopped talking and walked for a bit and became frond-like-wind-offshore-breeze
and thankful for grief and the afternoons
spent grieving and tripping up the stairs and
skinned palms, and the loveliness of the sky and
the orchard colored striations on the rocks and the stretch marks the same color
and a careless optimism when crossing a double yellow line
when there is no one else on the road
Red Colleen / Seán Mac Falls
Your lips, soft and full,
Are tearing at my heart.
Your skin, freckled and bumped,
Is at play with my palms.
Your eyes, of water and stone
Rain, storming like fists of hail.
Your breasts, are blooms, pouring
Like white chocolate cupped.
Your hair, is a loom even
Penelope could not weave.
Your little feet, are drumming
Like puddles by the sea.
Your thighs, make me mutter
And sigh into the winds.
I will, not go wondering now
For whom is master and who
Is slave, are you the Morgen
Or are you Fand my gentle
Ocean wave? Your voice
Is song, your breath is air
And your pooling, marbled
Face, torso, hair, how they beckon
And your words, gifting melody,
Such words must be forbidden.
THE FIELDS / Kaecey McCormick
Poets have argued about whether life is or isn’t
a walk across a field, but among the golden swirl
of poppies and the yellow dandelion balls, who
can worry about semantics? We are both here
and both living. Underfoot the ground licks skin
while the wild grass grabs at our naked hips.
Each day we grow more real the harder the crossing
of the changing land becomes, and there’s no shortage
of suffering. The shadow of a hawk against the old
barn wall, an empty rabbit hole, the motherless fawn.
Sometimes we wonder if our fields are instead vacant
lots overgrown with strangling vines and spiky weeds.
For twenty years, we watched the sun slowly set
through time and the horizon felt so far away, but
now it’s in front of us. Behind us, the pastures turn
over again. Every night, we lay down our futures
and pasts to rest in the cradle of each other’s dreams,
listening for the final owl’s wings above the field.
Coronado / Steve Mueske
Worksheet to Hear Peace in Homophones Class / Suki Sun
和平 (hé píng)
禾瓶 (hé píng)
a jar of grains
壑苹 (hé píng)
a valley of apples
盒评 (hé píng)
a box of discussion
纥屏 (hé píng)
a shield with tassels
颌平 (hé píng)
涸评 (hé píng)
dry up criticism
合屏 (hé píng)
put screens together
核平 (hé píng)
put down nuclear
劾凭 (hé píng)
荷凭 (hé píng)
lean on the lotus
荷平 (hé píng)
restful lily pads
河平 (hé píng)
合萍 (hé píng)
mix freshwater plant
和鲆 (hé píng)
join in the singing of the fish
翮平 (hé píng)
flatten a bird’s feather
和萍 (hé píng)
compose a poem in reply to the wondering
Type / Nikki Ummel
Women who smell like magnolias.
Women who smell like sweat.
Women who sweat.
Women who wear floral rompers with a peek of ass cheek.
Women who wrap themselves in thrift store fur.
Women who wear slacks.
Women who quit when a job no longer fits.
Women who counter salary offers.
Women who kiss their reflections and leave the stain.
Women who smear lipstick on bathroom walls.
Women who never figured out how to tie a cherry stem with their tongues.
Women who forget words, facts, quotes, movie titles, podcast names.
Women who listen to NPR.
Women who snooze the alarm.
Women who cover their faces with pillows when the light demands recognition.
Women who enjoy the sun and the moon equally.
Women who bask in adoration.
Women who write poetry.
Women who read poetry.
Women who order a large popcorn for themselves.
Women who talk during movies.
Women who laugh loudly in movie theaters.
Women who smile with their whole face.
Women who look me full in the face.
Women who flutter their hands like hummingbirds.
Women who forget to brush their hair.
Women who ignore the baby hairs at their temple.
Women who slick down their edges.
Women who shave inconsistently.
Women who sit with their legs spread.
Women who slurp oysters in public.
Women who order dessert.
Women who lick the sides of ice cream cones.
Women who talk while eating.
Women who find bread in their bras.
Women who pay for meals with boob money.
Women who arrive late to dates.
Women who leave in the morning.
Women who get bored easily.
Women who go to therapy.
Women who are therapists.
Women who smoke occasionally.
Women who hoist beer steins.
Women who fuck.
Women who use the work fuck.
Women who gaze forward.
Women who gaze back.
Women who knock things over on accident.
Women who aren’t afraid to own things.
Women who aren’t afraid to break things.
Women who feel swollen with opportunity.
Women who cradle the whole world in their palms.
Women who choose not to smash it.
Day 4 / Poem 4
The sun in winter / Jennifer Betz
It swirls around never fully rising,
A lazy dust,
Brushed off closed blinds midday,
Fleeting and pale light,
It chokes us,
On clouds and rain,
And swallow untapped grief,
Remember that midsummer afternoon?
In August sweat and mosquitos,
Sharp and biting,
White hot and fervid,
Today, we will make bean soup,
And spoon it into our hungry mouths,
Burning our lips,
To remember summer
trembling / Ellen Ferguson
at the end of
“Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV”
A fine film directed by
A young artist goes up to his hero and says,
You are Nam June Paik, may I have your autograph?
Nam June Paik is in a wheelchair
Sitting still, unlike most of the film
Through which he whirls,
Walking a violin on a leash,
Risking it all on television.
You can feel the young man trembling
In the presence of greatness
As the audience has
This whole time;
Rapt, we watch Paik anticipate the
Electronic superhighway, and then name it – pre-neologistically,
A term for things that aren’t yet, as
Opposed to solastalgia, longing for things that still are.
Outside the theater, most people walk through wind,
Trembling gusts, early spring cold and cracking.
These same streets Paik walked with his pet instrument
We greet like new eggs in
A nest we didn’t know about,
In a tree freshly planted,
In dirt studying phenotypic plasticity
For when it grows up
To be dirt.
Rule Follower / Laura Gamache
They are written on a ditto sheet, game enclosure card,
a sign in the parking lot. There may be a box in front
to check off the steps you’ve taken, tasks completed,
monotony endured. The rules may be secured by posts
pounded into concrete growing stronger as it hardens
in the ground. The paper may shred if you spill
coffee on it or set it on a wet counter, may lose parts
of itself if your partner rips off a corner to compute
or secure gum. Rule of thumb is internalize the steps.
I love a form that begins: “Your Name,” that asks
for my phone number and address, lobs me easy fill-ins
before the stumpers begin. I am canny as a gambler
thinking in between these lines, comfortable
with these certainties, expect to perform beyond
expectations. Meanwhile, three dun rabbits –
the invasive kind in my neighborhood – dare each other
to stand on the doormat of the trim house two blocks down.
Or anyway, I watch them, one at a time, emerge from
shrubbery to perch a moment there, skitter back into thatch
of crumpled dead leaves and this year’s pea green growth.
Every Year / Kate Gray
On one anniversary of the day you drowned, you breached
the river, leapt up the falls, your scales turning the air
to rainbow. The salmon flew moments after I asked the dry light
of the Deschutes if you wouldn’t mind sending
a sign, hours after I typed the last word of the last page
of the story of you and me. On the first anniversary
I spread my arms to the full moon, the Pacific crashing
on a sandy beach, and the clouds parted to show me
the moon we had promised in college to look to
whenever we sought its aching gaze from wherever we were.
Every year I return to water, rivers mostly, like the one
that took you, swollen with spring rain, swirling
in snow and sun, and sometimes I float a candle
on a bark boat. It bobbles in the current, the banks
so wet it won’t land and burn the shore, or I launch
paper cranes, their orange and pink, an offering
to the whale-blue of Pacific rivers.
Yesterday I saw a bobcat that was you, the sunflower eyes heavy-
lidded, its red and brown fur rippling the pine-cone floor
of the forest, the undertow of energy, and today
on the day you died almost forty years ago, I’ll walk along
the Columbia, remember your 80s hair, your signs.
Defending my Thesis Tomorrow / Alice Letowt
Regrets appear in the sounds
the wind makes. all colors
the transparent distinctions surfacing
double-crested and long-necked: a hunger
not anything that can be mapped the Blue
pale sky is also the color
of falling out of love biking
downhill in august
see the shaving scars and
so boring so boring the bustle of personal history
My god who cares, boy
Boy I don’t know her
standing nameless next to the sound of cicadas hanging in evening-bricked air.
Sun and Moon / Seán Mac Falls
I have seen her playing
With light, edging her hair,
In crescents so fair.
I have watched her fingers
Twirl and twine, beaming gold,
Threshing precious hold.
I have witnessed the taming
Of the sun’s rays, captured,
Spinning in rapture.
And I feel for the pale moon
Who offers his frail, vestige light,
While she sleeps at night.
BLOSSOMS / Kaecey McCormick
The trunk breaks through from below,
its branches curved and swaying as it rises,
twisting skyward until a spot of white, a cloud
in a navy sky, a bud
held like a whisper in a mother’s arms.
This is a flower in girls’ skirts, tied tight across the stem.
At the tip an open mouth ready to speak
Instead an inhale of breath,
the silence before the audiences’ applause.
And me, hoping to stop the show
before it starts
a slow unfurling of the dress,
the lifting of the gown in a showy flash of skin
until it fades and drops
to the ground.
Confessions of The Chicken Magnet / Steve Mueske
The Word Death in Chinese / Suki Sun
belongs to the water family
in its ancient meaning
it refers to the ice floating
on a river during
the spring thaw
a threshold to
the regained fluidity
the death of the ice
its previous rigid identity
triggers its journey
into the bigger flow
a picture of liveness
no darkness or sadness
it gives birth to
a unique Chinese word to
往生 (wǎng shēng)
meaning something or
somebody has gone
in the direction of birth
because death moves us
when I say
I love you to death
the dormant sensation in my cold veins
has started to warm again
when I say
I am painful to death
the refusal to numb
cracks open the window
to receive the first air of clarity
when I say
I laugh to death
I cry to death
dying in every emotion
reborn in every emotion
to the ice in the water
to the water in the ice
is the best way to
Rosaline / Nikki Ummel
Lipsmackers cherry red, my lips two rose petals
to press, ah, what did you say, as pilgrim hands do.
What a small way to live, inside of her ribs, you
a reverse Adam. I would tell you, you’re not
my home anymore, but truly, you never were.
I wake every morning in this killing machine
called Verona, focused on the pale stretch of her legs,
the way her ankles flashed when you danced.
I want to rent her gown to a party space and dance on it.
I want sugared tits and blow in the bathroom.
My pussy, the biggest pothole in this city
you once loved to lose to. I once was fluent in you.
The language of your body is different now,
her in your veins making everything hurt.
I am a foreigner in your house, my spot on the couch
gone. You pass and I unsheath my grin, my knocking
teeth. I think I’ve seen this film before and I didn’t
like the ending. I would say I’ll remember you,
but I don’t think that’s true.
Day 3 / Poem 3
Treasure / Jennifer Betz
A hummingbird chirps,
her beak dipping into the hibiscus,
as bright as sliced papaya,
Bem-te-vi so it’s called,
and so it calls,
the Great Kiskadee,
a black and yellow bird,
of which I once dreamed,
many moons ago,
“good to see you,”
as it translates,
it is good to feel seen,
do they know?
how lonely I get?
how soothing their beat of wing?
a feather gifted?
The heavy stone within my heart?
do they feel it?
“Then Comes My Fit Again” (Macbeth Act 3 Scene 4) / Ellen Ferguson
working on incredulity every Monday at 6 with a professional incredulity worker
it still befuddled the bibimbap out of me
when they didn’t care –
watching Chekhov in sign language meant nothing to my students
so that was the end of the beautiful
“Drive my Car” directed by Hamaguchi. Still searching,
you got in yours I got in mine &
we pulled onto the PS 30 tarmac, clouds blackening —
Oscar Isaac came to mind, walking this very street in “Show Me a Hero.”
PS 30 parking lot, did he eat a sandwich with you?
after I skipped sixth grade after I was mocked for not knowing
raspberry had a p –
right here on these stairs, how cold those morning shadows –
did Oscar Isaac drink his coffee here?
what a place to learn I was never your mom
and why did that hug feel like goodbye?
PS 30, show me a hero, since
after my father tossed the first line
of The Odd Couple up to your sky,
“Geez it stinks in here,” it’s been mostly
downhill, a big circular driveway winding past the silent
classroom, quieter than Chekhov in sign language,
how I wish, PS 30, you could have closed before teaching me anything at all how I wish
Not Officially Easter Anywhere / Laura Gamache
We begin with waffles and berries, maple syrup
and vegan butter, with pressurized whipped cream
in a red can, roasted brussels sprouts in a red bowl.
We boiled two dozen eggs last night, handsome
brown ones. Will they take the classic PAAS
dye or wind up dishearteningly murky?
A child drops one tablet per empty mug,
another anoints each with distilled white
vinegar and watches over until each dissolves.
Jim adds a half cup of tepid tap water.
I hunt light colored crayons we’ll use
to draw or write a secret message.
We handle the smooth shells cautiously,
dipping each gently into color. I’m the only one
to try yellow, which is laughably invisible.
The eldest child, now a teen, leaves the room
with his egg curing in the blue we all covet.
We set a timer, the teen moves it, now
darkly shellacked. We croon approval,
each of us eyeing the blue mug. Our
eggs nestle in to darken, one at a time.
One child writes “there’s an egg in the Ridwell
Box,” on an egg, writes, “You’ve found me,”
on the one she hides in the Ridwell Box.
We don’t know this until later. All but one
of the 22 are in our baskets when the youngest
gestures towards the hillside of English ivy.
We love each other, munch purple PEEPs
and imported chocolate chicks, pick through
confetti for jellied eggs with hard sweet shells.
Do we believe in angels? “Peep, peep, peep,”
we pipe, as Jim squirts a throatful of cream
into each laughing mouth.
Grass Widow / Kate Gray
Just after snow melt, the crack in the gravel path’s puddles,
after Barred Owls’ nesting in oak crevices, after desert parsley’s
rank smell, after bluebirds swarm bug hatch from lichen, spongy
on oak branches, Grass Widows bloom. Clumps stick up
in the moist meadows where the forest opens, secret gardens where
deer feast and lie in toppled grass. Bright purple-red blossoms hang
their heads from six-inch stalks, their yellow anthers like gossip forked.
Each spring when Grass Widows rise from mud, I think of women who laid
on the grass with lovers before they wed, or laid with others after
they wed, or their husbands were working in distant lands and wives took
lovers “out to grass.” When I find the four-petaled flower bowing
in the breeze, the meadow turned magenta, I wonder
how many women laid with women in hopes of spring?
On Letting Go / Alice Letowt
Over the line, reverence aerates
my want to lay a little longer next to the shuffling
sounds of a life on the other end
and there might be no more words
to place after the lovely things you say so casually,
letting the full-eyed corners of a kite leave your hands.
Delicate things–belonging and boundaries–
sit collaged in the spackled rainbows on the wall
from the prisms in the window telling the time in
a paradise the way Ruth chooses who to be and
a clean kitchen table and a considerate guest
loft onto the air above trees.
You didn’t want to be right, and neither did I,
and we sit in the parking lot
looking out the windshield the way two kids look up
at the second tallest tree in the park that took our kite,
and disappointment appears in forgetting to hold my resonance
with the weight of summer on the redbud. A window shares
a genre with a mirror, and I want to see you write your way into a clearing;
I understand, and I think you do too, that the tree didn’t take anything,
the tree is there and imaginable, and so is the red kite and the heartbreak taut in a line.
Circe / Seán Mac Falls
Tired, I awoke upon a lonely island beach
And gazed on a Goddess above the shore,
With sea foam hair, coral skin, what dream,
My salt eyes, blinded, open, wanting more.
Conspiring with rays of summer she shone
So bright, this daughter of the sun, we stood
I and my castaway crew, to that siren prone
As she led us to her mansion in the woods.
Her potions tamed the forest wolf and lion,
Spellbinding warrior poets to liven feasts.
Why then must she turn lusty men to swine,
By what she most desired contented least?
Desert falcon, my moly held Pharaohs’ breeze
And what nil escape above the wine dark seas.
TOUCHED / Kaecey McCormick
Behind the suburban sprawl of Silicon Valley,
we pull our ten speeds onto the trail. The hills hold
back the sun, and everything becomes the fuzzy
lavender-grey of twilight. Even the old mines soften,
dark with promise. From the redwoods, a woodpecker
calls a greeting, and we step over the barbed wire
into the hollow earth. In the corner, a litter of coyote
pups. Without a thought, we kneel and they come, bodies
trembling, ears still folded and round. They can hardly hold
back their happiness at our touch, the heat of our bodies,
trekking dusty paw prints along our tan skin. I wanted to hold
one, cup its dark fur against my chest and drift off to sleep
amid the pile, dream of wild grasses and field mice on the run.
One grabbed my finger between its milk teeth, slid its silky
tongue along my sweaty skin. My sister leaned her head
on my shoulder and stroked its nose. We exhaled one breath.
I knew in that moment if I opened my mouth, my shadow
would rise before the full moon, head tipped back to howl.
What It Means to Be a Ghost / Steve Mueske
Sunday 4pm Found & Lost Poem in Next Chapter Bookstore* / Suki Sun
joy off why
spy yes big
dry age gut
knit loss room Marx
fold myth bone cell
exit last geek lamb
mini echo womb neck
after grief bless every feast
pinup witch Paris bloom drawn
tarot fault doubt great tools
twist shady river panic issue
solar horse upper Andes bingo
byways puzzle crying common bullet secret
purple poetry tender spider ghosts murder
sliver bandit burned zodiac demons fisher
unsung binary pillow normal period comfort
Celtic travel inside sexual closet season
beyond simple native golden desert plague
prophet balcony masking therapy assured utopias shadows
cultish shrines outlive solitude through prayers paradox
madness island almanac burning mortals bookish chapter
banned feather unfolds anarchy between written battles
showers dinners Ukraine private matters overkill forever
monastic journey through strange sleight culture massage
mothman pockets liberty mystery perfect thieves appétit
All the words in this poem are found in the Next Chapter Book Store which holds poetry reading on the first Sunday afternoon of each month
Mary / Nikki Ummel
Mary scrappy like she could throw a punch or
nice china if crossed. Mary skinny-armed
from travel, from youth, from thirteen years
of dipping clay jars in wells and tending pregnant ewes.
I see Mary and her arms and beg God
for skinniness like her, alluring enough for God’s
seed. One second of attention–and suffering, too.
In exchange for eternal worship. Age so tender they flee
Nazareth and their ancestor’s bones. Mary screaming at Joseph
get the fuck out as God crowned. Mary grieving her son dead at 33,
Mary already a widow, left to Jesus’ friend, John.
John unraveling with grief, Mary demanding grow a pair.
How many girls have ground down their clits while thinking of Mary?
Mary’s undeniable girlness. Mary in all of us. Mary in all of us.
Mary strapping on a dildo, her thin arms outstretched, hands on the back of my neck.
Day 2 / Poem 2
Meatloaf / Jennifer Betz
Parked out front
One lightning bug
The daffodils are late
How lonely I am
After your wedding
With a Sunday hangover.
At the corner diner
The chalkboard special reads, meatloaf
But only a mother can make that well
In a kitchen with a dirty oven
To stretch it into six stomachs
And a pinched off bit of raw
Gifted to the cat
Sliced Bread / Ellen Ferguson
Hard Upon Winter, It’s Spring / Laura Gamache
Try to keep trying I admonish myself, cultivate my shade
garden like sun might kiss it through Doug Fir boughs,
pleasure it golden as new aspen leaves,
a line of embryonic daffodils to burst below the window
shade, an embarrassment of crayon yellow
disobeying winter’s drab propriety
here in Seattle’s Lalaland of early spring, now blue now
graphite sky holding then puffing out its breath
bright as Tang stirred into tap water
by distracted mothers staring towards July.
You shadow today’s hours like a sneaky teen,
lean into its windy light as long as it will let you.
Take Hold / Kate Gray
So many of us,
in the loamy silence
shoving, so many
crumbs. It takes
one civil servant draped
in the Georgian colors who
swings her EU flag back
and forth, her body
bracing against water,
in surf. Then, one
her, and another
hugs them, and another
the 47-year-old swings
the blue flag until
gold stars pulse
in a blue field, and
the meek muscle
the government, and with
smooth knuckles, shove
fat dark heart.
Coming Back Hungry / Alice Letowt
all gloaming and glinting
almost a city
in pockets pregnant with parallel lines
sutured shakily to half-sick pines
I don’t know anything
and mostly a myth anyway
evening scatters the sky
and mountains mauve
I don’t remember what we did for dinner
when we got back to my apartment
and I still remember how the car smelled
seeing you seeing the light sprawl
Empty / Seán Mac Falls
Patch the room.
Small plates of food
Half eaten, dusted,
With leftover crumbs and papers.
The phone never calls
And shades are drawn for days
Only opening for small, dropping lights
That move in the eves.
Not look at all the photographs I took
Even though I want to,
Even though they lie
Close to me
With my unmade bed, on the floor
But never to sleep, without you,
DRIVING BY CATTLE FARMS ON HIGHWAY 5 / Kaecey McCormick
What hits you first is the smell, miles before you see them.
The bile-raising, throat-kicking stench of waste and death,
pouring in through the closed vents and wheel wells and
the spaces between window seals. Then the green fields bleeding
brown and grassless. Acres of dirt and hoof-trampled mud
and frothing streams of piss and water and piss-water funneling
through, dissection the pens into colorless Mondriaan segments,
squares of doom. Flying by at fifty-five, you see them last, bodies
pressed together, writhing amoeba-like against metal bars, horns
locked or broken, udders caked. Then across the highway, one
standing alone. Looking like a dog off leash sniffing the wind,
she lifted her head. Tipped her nose to the sky. When our eyes met
her ears twitched. I watched her in the rearview mirror for miles,
a speck on a hill, never moving closer to or farther from that space.
little by little the house disappears / Steve Mueske
That Was Close / Suki Sun
what is he doing?!
I shouted in my passenger seat
stiffing my finger ahead
a giant snow plow
suddenly shifted to our lane
coming towards a head-on collision
after 8 inches of snow
on this unplowed street
our fishtailing car came to a full stop
in the mania of a fatal attraction
the monster got closer and closer
without a sign of slowing down
is the driver drunk?
how can he not see us?
is he losing control?
before we unfroze our confusion
a most timely right turn
the vehicle slid back to our left
wow! that was close
bright yellow beanie
short white beard
what a crazy grandpa!
why is he doing this to us?
an April fools’ day joke?
one second of the familiar waggle
the road started to hug our tires gently
oh, he was plowing FOR us!
my boyfriend realized
ahead of us all cleared
miss-judged his intention
miss-trusted our fear
not the snow
needs to be plowed
under the midday sun
I stared at the street glittering
like black velvet with diamonds
so blazing it pierced my eyes
and burned a scar
into my regretful memory
the moment he passed us by
with a sunny smile
I wish I had
Time Travel / Nikki Ummel
I think of my father when I hear the word doughnut.
I think of the sticky box, fragments of glazed shells,
the lone survivors that will be consumed between midnight
and two. The six am trips to Tom’s to be the first
to taste a maple twist or old-fashioned. When I eat
a doughnut, I time travel. Summers in Indiana or
Christmas in Fred’s frosted one-room cabin, my sister
and I piled on the couch or Fred’s water bed. Every year,
in April, as the night jasmine blooms and termites begin
their quest to consume, I buy a dozen doughnuts,
a six-pack of Coors, and hole up in my house, desperate
to feel. Doughnuts are time machines I eat until I’m sick,
full of Rays games, Napoleon Dynamite references,
short cuts on road trips that take twice as long. Dancing
on my father’s feet at Father-Daughter dances.
I do not think of my mother. No, my mother’s
time machine is fudge, the one thing she kept
from her children, hidden in upper cabinets in the kitchen.
She loved Rocky Road the most, the marshmallow
sticking out in gooey chunks. Sometimes,
if the moment was right, she’d give me a piece,
a secret I let melt in my mouth without tonguing.
When I wander French Quarter streets, rushing to my car
before a meter maid gets me or escorting my visiting friends
from one bar to another, drunk on New Orleans,
seduced by her flashing scales, the way the light
hits just so– I’ll catch my reflection in a fudge store
window. And I’ll go in. Pretend to peruse, holding tight
in the closed fist of my gut that I know I’m getting Rocky Road.
In this city of crescents I’ve often heard, tend not your ghosts and they’ll
come back hungry. I’ll walk to my car, or to the Chart Room or Santos Bar
or through my front door, clutching my parcel of fudge or dozen doughnuts
to my ever softening middle.
Day 1 / Poem 1
A fish on Tuesday / Jennifer Betz
Just after 5 am
On the last day
A pile of coconuts left in the garden
A week of coconuts one might say
A fish on Tuesday
Needing a proper burial
Silver scales like fillings in teeth
Enshrined in what lasts
Not this life
The tides will take care of that
And someone will walk upon its bones
As carbon and flotsam
And drink coconuts in the sun
Unstable at 3 pm / Ellen Ferguson
Recovery / Laura Gamache
Leaf buds bulge along the kiwi vine that snakes
over the rhododendron in perpetual recovery
from kiwi incursions and diggings around
its roots by – I thought – raccoons, but more likely
are Steller’s Jays bored with pulling branchlets
from the Pacific Dogwood on the other side of the stairs
in recovery from loss of understory – the shrubs
we transplanted to make way for the garage we’d never
build at the cusp of Madison Ridge cut through
a hundred years ago for the cable car line to the lake.
We are all recovering, never begin afresh, even birth
a trauma to recover from. We step forward on crutches,
with phantom limbs, bruises, missing teeth. Nobody
is whole, even the uber rich have fallen on skis.
Behind us is the unmade bed, soiled carpet,
garden choked with weeds, boxes crammed with
old photos of family members no longer recognized
or mourned. We recover the couch but its ratty
innards poke through, the surgical bandage crumples
the fabric of my new pants. I lost two units of blood,
my surgeon tells me, no surprise I fainted in the shower.
My husband caught me, I didn’t fall and dislocate my hip.
In 1995 my surgeon sculpted the curve of my ilium
to hold the hip socket from a slurry made from my mashed
femur head. It’s lacy looking in the x-ray, punctuated
by steel screws like a delicate ear lobe punked
by a line of self-pierced safety pins.
Many Ways to Love / Kate Gray
To love an oak in dry country, limb it, snip
its shoots from the base to eight feet, and whir
your chainsaw through
fir trunks, especially greedy green ones, to release
light and water for oaks to grow. Never before
have I known how much sky a tree takes, how open
a forest must be so each tree can breathe.
Thank you, my love, for living in these woods where
silence is the ground we walk, where we learn
by listening to woodpeckers and owls, their call
and response, by finding hope in wildflowers.
Knotting in the Wind / Alice Letowt
all the trappings around transparency tunning
the movements water makes against a boat moving
toward waist-deep spring snow; a
side of the beach I learned to drive on
there is a cloud-like burn on the back of my hand
like writing that will make me like the sky
the poached pale and pink clouds trailing
off into thoughts about a modernish marble building
mooring the sheepish excitement
for tomorrow and the day after to
something real the fogged mirror,
the loneliness of missing a dog
legible as a west-facing sunroom growing
warm in the afternoon
Anatomy of a Mermaid / Seán Mac Falls
Her fine hands gentle
With lithe and spiny fingers
Of bone and fin.
Her eyes are opal,
Essence of emerald and topaz,
A hoard of treasure.
Her hair is sea gathering
And dances in the blue currents
Deadly as the sea snake.
Her skin is coral,
Made of mineral and sorcery,
A fatal beacon.
Her lips are urchin,
Set in a whirlpool of face,
A spiral of doom.
Her voice is dream,
Rocking the lost wrecked ships,
Ground into sand.
Her long tail is fable
Of paradise, beyond faraway seas,
Cyclones and waves.
In Motion / Kaecey McCormick
Sometimes, when I can’t find the map and we’ve
run out of things to say, I follow the splinters of light
tossed by the cracked glass of our windshield. It makes
stars against the dark flesh of your thigh, and my
fingers long to connect the constellations. Still, I’ve
never been one for astronavigation—one fixed body
looks much like another under the cover of night. In
the silence, each breath comes faster, volleying back
and forth between us, but I can never catch your drift.
Instead, I float detached like a bird over the sea, searching
for a place to rest, an outreached finger.
I Want the World to Be Easy Again / Steve Mueske
Freudian Ship / Suki Sun
I wanted to ask my boyfriend this morning
did you take your blood pressure?
But what came off my lips was
did you take your blood pleasure?
We both laughed
What kind of pleasure profile
is whispering based on your blood type?
What is the key to your blood pleasure
F sharp or B flat?
What is the rhythm of your blood pleasure melody
a waltz or a parade march?
Or does my tongue find more joy
to say pleasure instead of pressure
The “r” in pressure
like a person bending over from pain
The “l” in pleasure
upper body straight and stretch high
Pleasure ends with a “sure”
A sure pleasure waking up each morning
Despite your high blood pressure
Even your heart is working harder than it should
Your heart is your ally
So am I
I watch you place your feet flat
sit in a relaxed position
Do not move and do not speak
perform your measurement like a buddha
I am also quiet with my pen
by the calendar on our wall
Waiting for you to tell me
your readings that I will log
Like a captain of our relationship
makes the nautical charts in the open sea
long day / Nikki Ummel
cotton tongued & cheeks clawed,
i am trapped in terminal restlessness /
its clanging cymbals. this body a living current /
my meds popping buttons to keep the electricity
contained. i cannot get enough breath in this body,
or water. lamictal comes dragging her rope /
scorches my fields. where are my brave?
my cousin texts me, says he can’t sleep at night /
asks, am i a ghost? then tells me i am not real.
two different words in my mouth: living /
alive. time is a puddle in my hands.
i keep living because i don’t know
what else to do.