The March, 2023 30/30 Project Part 2

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 March 2023 are Ashna Ali, Carmella Braniger, Caitlyn Coey, K Dulai, jawno okhiulu, and Alexandria Regilio! 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 30 / Poem 30


after Alison C. Rollins

I just wanted to be good, and learned that to be good 
one has to learn, and learning comes from books. 
The way to be good is also to be good according to god, 
they said, and to find god one has to read god’s book. 
My Nanu loved god’s book. She recited His poetry 
to herself five times a day, even late at night, but would not 
tell me what it means. I bled suddenly, copiously, in her bed. 
Eyes wide, she ran to find my mother. She would not tell me
what it means, the secret sacred death petalling her sheets,
so I thought god might speak to me. I pulled down the book, 
sought refuge calligraphy’s curvature until Nanu returned 
and knuckled blood into my mouth, too. This is how 
I first learned that I am dirty. 

I just wanted to be good, and learned that to be good 
is to be easy. To be easy is to curl, bend, stretch, 
duck, shrink, magic into a plume but never speak. 
Never take, but lay myself out on the grass like a picnic
blanket to protect everyone’s knees. Absorb spills, 
insulate against the earth. But I am brittle and I broke. 
I spoke and I need, and need, and need. I never stop
being hungry, and I cannot help but be loud. It hurts. 
This is how I always learn that I am ungrateful. 

All I ever do is write about love. Listen to pop songs
like a schoolgirl long after I start teaching schoolgirls
who do not. I’m no crooner, but I see where Swifties 
miss the point. To you who are reading me, all you see 
is the lovers. They have no names, marching through
my pages like toy soldiers. You don’t understand. 
I love them. All of them. Individually. Even in all 

of their horror and spite, even with their hands
to my throat, even thin-hearted and seething, I wrap 
my arms around them all and hold their stories close.
This is how I learn that I am gluttonous, and bad
at learning.

Ode for Ketanji Brown Jackson / Carmella Braniger

For Elizabeth Grubgeld & Jeanelle Keck

Now, while the Oklahoma skies bleed pink,
And while the Oregon rainforest awaits
my ever-so-soft landing in the valley of giants,
your measured voice floats through the radio;

and to me there comes a quiet kernel of grief.
I hear them grilling you, over and over again. 
NPR is broadcasting it live for the nation to know
just how unapologetically vitiate we’ve become.

Held high on the shoulders of generations 
who never before had opportunity for justice,
you poise with grace, smile lighting the room,
each eloquent utterance a defense of your record.

How lonely to stand against the hands of oppression,
to be asked to define what it means to be a woman,
and, when you respectfully decline to comment,
to be called dangerous, deft, artful–a threat.

The politicians press on unsatisfied with your answers.
What personal, hidden agendas do you harbor?
How do you really feel about packing the court?
You are too soft, too hard, too close to the truth.

They don’t understand why you won’t weigh in.
You have an opinion, but you don’t want to share it.
Your silence speaks volumes about your integrity
to uphold the law in the face of irreverent disparity. 

You will be contentiously confirmed without a doubt,
only after we’ve been made to witness your plight.
Yet, this is only the beginning of your not being persuaded.
Each prescient lone dissent you write will be absolute.

I Have Seen Cities  / K Dulai

I have seen cities
Gutter valleys
Now I live with
Have learned 
Each grain
of sand
can nestle
in crooked streets
or soar away

for the sea goddess of many names / jawno okhiulu

we wear white in her honor
we see her
we don’t run
we freeze
we bow
we kneel
we kiss the ground beneath her feet
we listen

to see her is to be blessed
to feel her, i wade in the water
i sink my toes into the mud
i close my eyes.
i say a little prayer
i call out to her

what is the weight of our prayers

             the ocean is vast enough

where do i call home

             in time home calls to you

how will i know

             listen to the ache

may i cry

             may i break

wanted to say hello today / Alexandria Regilio

put on a gray coatwalked the few blocks
to the liquor store
like some small town
not a city full of strangers

bought flowers there (like before)
and a lime
so the cashier would think
party not grave
or i love you
not i messed up sorry

in front of your name
i feel the space between our hearts
it’s pinkish 
and fluttery
with an unspoken promise 
to turn ourselves inside out over bowls and bowls
tiny bowls of olives and almonds
like little girls trading cherry chapstick
without an agenda
except that every moment spent together
would be spent dissecting love

we were so good at talking about love
it was our favorite thing 
how it cools 
knots up like yarn
turned us both into kittens
all purr and battering paws
then cheetahs
      around between 

every time 
we confessed we forgave 
each other’s evils 
as if we were perpetrator and victim
each other’s woman in the mirror
shoulder to shoulder in the wine bar 
across the table at rose’s tap room
on your blue couch every time we would cry
and offer each other forgiveness

Day 29 / Poem 29

Another School Shooting (March 2023) / Carmella Braniger

For Alexa Royden

We are degenerates.
                                      We are complicit.
               What else is there to say 

(while the news focuses on the shooter
and the president eats ice cream)

                                      about the little girl 
who smeared herself 
                                      with a friend’s blood 
so the shooter would think she was dead? 
               About even the smallest 
                                      of children learning 
how to cower in classrooms?
                                      Would I have the courage 
to block my students’ bodies 
                                    with my own?
               Could I wrestle the monitor 
                                    off the podium,|
hurl it at a shooter 
                                    before he cuts 
my body in half 
                                    with an Armalite 15? 
                         (Will I be impervious to bullets?)
               Or could I get the windows open 
(they don’t always open) 
                                    To get my students out 
before the door 
                                    that never locks 
fails to stop 
                                    the shooter’s barge?
               These bloody bodies of dead children  
is a reasonable 
                                    price to pay 
for second amendment 
                                    rights, right?
(Nothing to see here, move along).
               And what about the survivors? 
The little leaguer 
                                    who in his terror 
               will throw up 
                                    his birthday cupcake 
during the next 
                                    school lockdown?
               Or the lead in the school musical 
whose nightmares 
                                    will feature 
               rows of dancing 
                                    machine guns 
ricocheting through the theater?
               We try to shape these horrors
                            into something hopeful; 
our hate gets in the way.
                            But hatred only leads 
in one direction 
               and there’s no heroism
in violence.
I turn on the TV 
                            and turn away; 
it is too much and never enough.

After Natalie Wee / Caitlin Coey

Always attend to yourself
before anyone else.

Limbs start itching
with post-trauma adrenaline.

All we know of survival
is exit strategy.

The secret is: be
bigger than your alone.

29th Poem for the 30/30 Project at Tupelo Press  / K Dulai


Okhiulu-ism / jawno okhiulu

noun: The art of second guessing one self
A word since sixth grade
Even my teachers knew I doubted my voice
Running over myself to make way for others
I leave no space for self assurance
To wrap her loving arms around my gut
And pump my truth from out my belly
An Okhiulu-ism
“I was gonna say that”
As in I had the thought but thought it wasn’t worthwhile, 
wasn’t right, wasn’t for me to say
As in I am only confident saying something 
after I know its the right thing to say
As in strong when not wrong
petrified and paralyzed otherwise

Feeling So Well, Part 2 / Alexandria Regilio

I was right before, 
you know, 
California is for lovers. 
The innocent 
who sit in the wine bar 
and know nothing but interlocking lives 
to make babies and discuss colors. 
The sweet who have made that last. 
Then there is us.
The ones driven by desire
who want dark caves 
that stretch into the unknown.
Secret pools in the moonlight 
where we grow claws,
where we embody the taboo.
The women are frightening here,
they don’t fit into the story.
They will shred you with their fangs 
and put you to bed 
for the best sleep of your life.
The men,
oh the men are capable here.
They will hold your head while you cry 
and pull your hair 
while you cry.
I imagine a heaven that blends all three. 
But for now, most of us must choose 
which waters to swim.

Day 28 / Poem 28


My first day without pain creeps in quietly, an interloper 
reversing the hangover of years in my sleep. I woke up 

lungs full, and hungry after a winter carved by angered gods. 
The sun rose long and high, my limbs, miraculously, with it. 

This is the curse of the American miracle. It prompts
the question of possibility and participation in the same breath. 

Are we recipients, or the ones simmering the pot that oozes
them from our skins? Consider whether this haunts you. 

The difference is whether the gift of a day without pain 
is a crisis of existential consideration. Send you bounding, 

as if gallops are your body’s natural gait, across 
the borough to drink the streets, its wild faces

Stories tumbling down the stoops. All those braided 
fates and open questions, bodies that move in the world, 

dancing with time. How I envied and mimicked them. 
Drank wine in a feeble patch of sun, chatted about Gwenyth’s  

court outfit, the premise of Succession: curvatures of time 
carved more gently. Air so rarified the clock 

was always curling it at the edges. Every embrace
 something other than an ignition to the soreness 

I crave, learned to find delicious. What a concept. 
Hegemon epistemologies, those powerful ghosts 

from whose whispers we create our breath. 
Sometimes, in the right weather, we can see it. 

Observe its shape like a plume of smoke, 
and lose a god. Pain, my buried diamond battery 

powering sleep, dance, eating, love-making, my mind. 
It’s trickster cousin, some celestial puck, chose this day

to take a honeycomb to my brain, scoop out 
its grammar and, a poor scientist, not wait to observe

the results. This guy, They like to get involved. 
They took up immediate residence in the swirl 

of Their new office. I woke up to Them draped 
on the furniture, my real body place back in to me,

and Them holding my gaze, poised, yet nameless, 
but ready to make demands. 

On Becoming Someone Else / Carmella Braniger

For every woman in academe who goes unheard

When I walk into your office,
tell you I am becoming someone else–
you don’t believe me, shrugging your shoulders.
Then, settling in nicely to your look of apathetic sadness,
you try to argue this isn’t about me.

We don’t turn blue overnight. None of us.
Becoming is always happening.
No need to mark this one off from another.
Besides, every organization has its problems.
This wasn’t misogyny, this wasn’t the world against me.

This was about passing. About forgetting
no one out there quite heard or even listened.
One didn’t become more woman over time.
This wasn’t me standing before him, he said.
Early snowfall outside the window.


Come spring, they gang up.
Change is hard. Loud voices agitate.
No one likes to see the open wound of becoming.
Such gaping madness must be contained.
A letter of concern will do the trick. 

Signed by every single member.
Dismantling my process of becoming,
Quieting the voices of dissent, my objections
to unethical values and double standards.
I listen when they cry at being passed by.

Still, they remain in power over everyone. 
They cry so loud that other women,
even unknowing observers pity their plight,
point their fingers, “it was her–it was her,”
Magnolia blossoms tossed by wind.


I tell you again, I try explaining a second time, 
when I come to you about the new office,
how I am becoming someone else.
The repeated refrain of my existence
since her father passed not so long ago.

And left before that anyway
And I had to change to survive it all–
not just the death but the way of dying.
I am convinced that this time around
I have made a choice.

Or maybe I haven’t. Or won’t.
Maybe this new becoming is still survival.
And you turn me away,
Say to stop playing the victim.
Summer heat presses through the panes.


The next thing I know, fall comes back.
With little earnestness left between us,
You finally make a last and lasting slip.
It’s of no significance to my becoming.
Nevertheless, questioning my advocacy,

you advise me not to speak for others
and insist they stand up for themselves.
I notice your eye twitch.
I pause to collect myself, what I know,
my gaze shifting from your open mouth

to the almost bare branches
outside the window behind you 
then back before my final question.
Straightfaced you lie,
the last leaf falling from the tree.

Still, I look to find a reason to be me.

Self-soothing / Caitlin Coey

Sometimes I only watch
the scenes where the villains
are caught, just to activate
my mirror neurons,
remind myself what empowerment 
feels like.

Song of the Chiru  / K Dulai

I don’t know what the body remembers of war
I want to forget
Our marrow is hot as the grit and heme that stew after battle
it is best we forget. Once the chiru lived unbound
Long before the Tommy’s march, please don’t remind me
I want to forget
Long before the Mongol horseman on his steed
before folds of shahtoosh filled the hollow of our bones
You carried me from Africa, a journey of millennia
Over ice ice cold that my flesh shudders to forget
Before the Tundra tried to engulf us, and the Indus almost drowned us
Let us not forget
The chiru leapt unbound
for every bloodied man we found at our feet
let us not forget
for every horde that stole a womb
for every breach that birthed a tomb
The chiru sang unbound

How we sparked a Black Renaissance… / jawno okhiulu

How we sparked a Black Renaissance in the 21st Century that wiped away racial capitalism and replaced it with realized Black dreams of Black freedom and love and solidarity: a retrospective conjuring


we gathered ourselves
FUBU ass spaces
and we fed ourselves
and we dreamed
we stopped asking for permission
asking for recognition
asking for dignity
asking for publication
asking for admission
we stopped explaining Black punchlines
we stopped being the punchlines
we let em’ know
dem niggas ain’t playin’
we insisted and declared
that we be us and we mattered
and we built many homes
that allowed us to be so
we ran away from our impotence
but not the kind that tickles the balls
we escaped our defanging and declawing
we rewilded and reclaimed nature
and reclaimed our sanity in the process


we partnered with Afropunk, Lost in Riddim, and AfroNation
to put on a global music festival tour that spread our dreams
across the entire (insert phrase for diaspora 
without the pestilence of erasure)


we wrote and performed sci-fi
but not the played-out aliens-vs-the-world, us-vs-them-shit
none of the aliens invading and murdering Wakandans shit
we wrote and performed the expansive reality of Black brilliance
without the apartheid, 
in partnership with our hometown engineers and comic book whizzes
we let the kids know that we had the tools we needed
to build the world we’d love to be apart of and


that world we danced, we shook, we broke, 
we cried all that shit out. we allowed ourselves to feel
real feel, 
like every bone, every muscle, every cell,
every memory, every feeling of ours
was exactly where it needed to be
we bore witness and we renewed


we plastered the internet with our roots
we planted the heritage seeds of our resistance
snippets of Nikki and Jimmy,
Malcolm and Martin,
Zora and Octavia,
Aretha and Whitney,
and Frantz,
and we watched the trees start to grow


we planted gardens all over the chocolate cities
we reclaimed our spaces, we birthed life into our worlds
we revived our bookstores, and our hair salons
we dismantled the urban apartheid


we remembered
that Black love
is Black wealth


we took hella notes
we saw our siblings out in Palestine
heard them shouting “no more!”
and so we gathered up our voices and
decried that shit too


we took notes
we brought our people home
from all the war stations
we stopped serving the burning house
that wasn’t serving us
we took hella fucking notes


we sang freedom songs like they were
the only anthems that we knew


the drums cracked gaps in every piece of concrete meant to bury us


for every heavenly soul bound by the belief that they weren’t worthy
we rebuilt the tower of babel and graffitied it with every blessed language there was
and it – and we – were beautiful


and this Renaissance was all of us
for us, by us

Feeling So Well, Part 1 / Alexandria Regilio

It’s true what they say:
California is for lovers.
How can it not be when every
trail a prism, every sunset 
an opportunity for forgiveness? 

From my perch, I know
that the vole, who glides silently 
through cattails, is king of the lake, 
of eternity. 
That nothing is greater 
than the sum of the horsetails,
those breezy ballerinas.
That love
is dizzying and holy.

From my perch on this bench,
I am feeling so well I can barely stand.
and this is not a problem when
yesterday and tomorrow begin
to lose significance.

Day 27 / Poem 27


I wish I were not such a sun worshiper.
It whips my soul around, Jack Russel chasing 
its own tail until dizzy with glee. I always said 
I am something of an  unhinged puppy. What can I do? 
Can you blame me? The sun is bathing your face 
with promise, so primed for dozens of kisses. 
How could I not place my paws on your chest 
and show gratitude for this most blessed of gifts? 

Wax Phonograph Cylinder / Carmella Braniger

You didn’t exist, I know, 
before I thought of you,
swaddled in hospital sheets,
or was it my bridal veil,
or an old copy of lost news.
an unwanted package
out of which, just in time, you unabashedly burst forth.
The long-awaited night howls,
silenced only by my own
amber moans of abandon,
reverberate across the river.
Your lost wax cylinder spins
Just one song at a time.
Those loud sweet grooves
turning down church aisles
until it sounds like the blues
The old, slow, low-down blues.
But they don’t exist, like you,And never did except as virtu.
All I think I have come to know
about your being here at all Is 
only half of what we call truth,
the other half sown by you,
who spent your childhood
unknowingly teaching me
there’s more than one way
to cut a groove, to convert
vibrations into sound that–
like the sun, or earth rumbles,
or a sperm whale’s cry–
no one may hear, like the way
your violin sounds when it shivers 
in place, nerve pulse of strings–
almost ready to snap.


Spring Sunday / Caitlin Coey

   After Ross Gay

A balm of light,
stove top sweet potato biscuits,
flowers in a vase on a big wooden table,
the last of the cake, the Norway
maple, the clover’s bloom,
fig tree, a galaxy
of wildflowers

Great Barrington  / K Dulai

Under a cold star
brown skin stretched over vines, over
white, roped bones
This is the you
who is not you
Away from potted cityscapes,
in-love in a snowbound forest
exchanges of simple words
with future sophisticated men
taking a break from their ambition
Under open night skies, 
behind a llama’s cry
frigid jeans covering hips, covering lips
against fevered kisses—
against another night’s anguished heat
lust wide open on white snow
Love lost in a jungle of it, of snow

In My Mother’s Kitchen / jawno okhiulu

Daddy may call this his house but this is my mother’s kitchen

In my mother’s kitchen 
there is always something to eat

              In my mother’s kitchen
              there is food memory
                           In my mother’s kitchen we don’t read the recipes
                          we taste them

                          A smidgen of salt, some nutmeg and cinnamon
                          A hefty helping of brown sugar
                          Sliced ripe peaches, make sure they real sweet!
                          A whole lotta butter
                          Get you some flour and a dash of cornstarch
                          Combine all of that
                          With some boiled water
                          Always top it with extra cinnamon and sugar

                          I sho’ did inherit my sugar love from my mama

              In my mother’s kitchen

                    Unless I came in picking out the meat from the pot
                          I was always welcome
                    Even when I came home with paint on my fingernails
                    And them dangly earrings I love to wear
                                  I am welcome
                                             The whole neighborhood is welcome

In my mother’s kitchen
I learn my grandmother’s kitchen
Talkin’ tradition baked in cobblers of compassion

                                  I was fed
                                             Never had to beg
                                             Prayers were always said
                                             In my mother’s kitchen

First Aid Kit / Alexandria Regilio

For Abby

I wish someone had told me
how much wisdom we hold at
eight. Often, this is the age

of change. Pull the strings of
Little Kiddom through the
holes of the number, top and

bottom, and bring your dreams
through to the other side where 
you will soon grow taller than 

some parents, and if not taller, 
certainly smarter. You’ll want to 
keep a lock of horsetail in your 

pocket for strength, seed paper 
for poems and offerings in your 
notebook and chamomile in a vial 

for a hint of psychic spf. Consider 
these items your eyes and ears, 
your first aid kit for summers between

school years when structures melt
like orangesicles and boredom is
anything but your best friend. When 

in doubt, turn toward the plants. 
Sit quiet with them. They’ll remind you
of what you already know.

Day 26 / Poem 26


after Richie Hoffman 

The movie ache of a young thing, waiting. When the coil 
of the phone cord could muscle between rooms, suffer 
the squeeze of sweaty palms, recounting surges of hope
before a dance. Eyes wandering toward the oblivious 
during class, the indulgence of sighing over 
what I’ll never have. Some of us had no choice 
but to nurse the unrequited. One does what one can 
with what one has. Which is to say that I was well-versed, 
can still remember how to  yearn as the practice of joy. 

I walk twenty minutes from the subway past the male 
springtime ritual of choral hollering, purchase nicotine,
keep working on my phone right until the door. Order a glass 
wine alone, catch up on the bartender’s week. As they enter, 
I hug my friends, ask all the requisite questions, feel the jolt. 
Anachronism of cord coil in my fingers. Oh. Oh dear. 
Friend, I am anticipating the scent of your hair, soap, 
deodorant. I conjure its cut across the beer and bodies 
the moment you enter. I inhale. Drop my phone 
in a pocket, zip it closed. Smile. 

The next morning I make eggs. I know you must be running, 
imagine your trek under the sun. Sip coffee, remember 
the squeeze on my shoulder. Perhaps it was stolen. 
Perhaps just warm, which you are, always. In the evening, 
I drop my jaw to curl my lashes with mascara, induce 
slow-motion replay of your mouth saying my name. 
Your satisfied shimmy across the 2am floor, the songs 
you’ll choose that send me back to that young thing
belting to the radio, delighted to feel, wanting nothing back. 

The Türk to His Coffee: Stillwater, Late 90s / Carmella Braniger

For Miriam and Siyavus

For you who keep my eyes wide open
in this foreign land of brilliant, wide skies
as I stay awake and watch for her to come
and join me over a cup of you–black coffee.

I wait for her with you in hand, my mug 
full to the brim, steam clearing my head.
Your aroma fills my lungs with energy
I will need to court her properly tonight. 

Oh deepest dark coffee from silky beans,
you know the secrets buried in my core.
My longing for the homeland, my mother,
the son I never knew I would have.

Even so, dark brew, you see me through
the night, the golden wave of desire,
uncertainty pulling me toward her legs,
her thighs, the purse strings of her heart.

When I wear the guise of a poet I’m okay / Caitlin Coey

After Lucy Grealy

 but when I try to wear the guise of a woman, it’s a disaster.(1)

And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for – but I’m so lonely.(2)

I feel like there’s a hole inside of me that at times
                                    Seems to burn.(3)

When I have anxiety these days, it’s all about being alone. 

(1) Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
(2) Saoirse Ronan as Jo in Little Women
(3) Sandra Bullock as Sally Owens in Practical Magic

San Jose Fools  / K Dulai

Those first years in California
we learned to live with the absence of rain
We landed in a river city in the middle of a drought, not far from a crackling Guadalupe River
that once flowed heavy with salmon. For generations, the site of celebration
I sought comfort in driving the highways, past dry brush and Ebay, Apple, JDSU HQs
the right distraction from not feeling at home
We had moved here like fools
thinking the valleys still had gold to give
only to discover all that glittered were ranges mounds of hairy, yellow earth in the distance

Girl, Find Your Phone / jawno okhiulu

I wanted to tell you that your poetry tore me a new one
Filled holes I didn’t even know I had
Milked, gagged, and spanked me numb
I wanted to let you know
That your words sent me on a furry flame course
Through all the haters and the traumatized lenses 
Beloved, you helped me burn my inner demons

Damn, I wanted to tell you to your beautiful face
Sitting pretty above your beautiful beating heart
Bearing audacious self love and divinity, my god
how much your excavation dug up out of me

But dammit all, i didn’t get your email address or nothing

Just your Instagram that you can’t access
Because there are two steps to your verification

You well secured muffucka you I hope you feel so safe and secure
Even without your phone, I hope you’re finding peace without your phone
I hope you know you’re still out here impressing the girls
Even without your phone but selfishly more than anything
I hope you find your phone!

a note to men / Alexandria Regilio

don’t be afraid of dreaming in keys
that unlock doors to blue-black winter nights
where you will lose your breath
at the beauty of a woman who has lost track of time 
wants to know how you drank your coffee at twenty-five 
versus how you drink it now 
and what you want to plant in spring
watermelon or zucchini

where you will have permission to stop feeling so fucking old
where you will have permission to die and die again
until your veins run the darkness as freedom
from the desperate pursuit of joy, that little minx you think hides in plain sight at the beach and yet you can’t find her

until you know the taste of your own blood
until you master your own heartbeat, shed your skin and are willing to learn the language of desire in her eyes so you can take without asking,

until then


Day 25 / Poem 25

These Stories We Tell Before the Loom / Carmella Braniger

after Rita Dove and Elizabeth Bishop

It is strange learning to let go
of something you’ve harbored—
the ultimate movement
away from the center of self.
We move slowly, in concentric circles,
without asking or saying why—
only to find ourselves as close to 
or far away from where we started 
as we need to be. Patterns vary—
watch the way, great-grandmother
        crochets afghans for hours
        on end with no end in sight,
        they keep bringing more yarn 
        and pills, and she continues on, 
        no longer in any more pain;
We all find ourselves before the loom
weaving and unweaving our stories,
hoping someone might be listening:
love, loss, heartache, betrayal, glistening
gold birch tree leaves in the dead of winter,
light shimmering down through branches
casting shadows onto the sheen of snow—
or the summers spent on our stomaches
crying for hours, sometimes drifting
off to sleep in the late afternoon sun,
occasionally arousing for public display—
almost entirely broken save a few postures
of integrity moving us through our days
still, we swirl back in, and then, out again—
the story changes each time we tell it;
        she stretches out an arm 
        from beneath the awning—
        a daring bold gesture 
        for a Midwest prairie girl—
        to turn oceans of grass into salt, 
        another cool pillow
        on which to rest her tired head, 
        inlets of respite,
        a quiet third-floor loft, 
        dozens of white down comforters,
        out of sight, not in view—
never fully giving up the mystery of it.
And what about this story, daughter?
The one where I gave you a mirror
to look at your own vagina,
mistaken bit of nomenclature,
what a stranger cannot touch.
You were only seven,
and you called it your baby hole—
I silently tried to tell you about 
        the power
        the pleasures
        the pain
        the deep deep love—
        oh, what love comes 
        from such holiness
and you, in your beauty
and innocence and simplicity
asking “how can it be so ugly?”
Oh, Bishop, and those horrible breasts
and every woman who’s been repulsed 
by or attracted to our burdens—
Oh, Dove, and the pink within us all—
these voices rush in on me as I stand 
in my bedroom holding the mirror,
watching your eyes take it all in, I say, 
        no baby, you will learn
        in time just how beautiful 
        it can be.
You smile, gold rings already starting 
to spin out from your glorious new center,
as I watch you take off down a new path 
so much joy in my heart, it aches wide open.


Self-gaslighting/ Caitlin Coey

I have a low tolerance 
for bullshit
but a high rate of clamping 
my mouth closed over
my own feelings
second guessing
                 third guessing
compassion sometimes,
consideration and also
ask me how I feel some days
and I’ll look at your face 
for the answer

Leaving Salome  / K Dulai

In Rue d’Aerschot, somewhere along its flashing streets
a lonely man slips in and out, between the legs of a dark-haired woman perched behind glass
 just minutes before.
On the bed
between the press press prowl of her body, 
she does not contemplate love.
She knows the night is almost over, 
a warm drink of Turkish coffee and a precious memory of the hum and drizzle 
of her grandmother’s restaurant in Ephesus, not long away.
She no longer bothers with longing for morning or counts time backwards to a bus stop in Izmir where she abandoned the ghost of Salome.
Her body has journeyed west from
Istanbul, in a plane that stutters like her clients as they 
push through their Hail Marys 
on their flights back 
to their wives.
She thinks of the emptiness in the sky from the arch of an airplane window, 
speeding against the hint of night—
stupid, cranking love, that damned machine, nowhere in sight.

Prayer / jawno okhiulu

I grew up praying with my family before we ever left the house
And singing hymns on Sunday mornings to keep the bad spirits out
See my family knew the world for what is was

Knew that out there was a lot of loss and the remedy was a lot of love
I love the loveful lovelessness of my upbringing
Under urban apartheid, where the caged birds keep singing
We stared statistics in the face and said come try it
We knew a Black becoming beyond destruction was possible
And we ran there, we stumbled, we fought,
But we kept on

One day, I pray, there will be come between us
No more fear and anger to negotiate with all the love

Rewind / Alexandria Regilio

“Does this remind you of dad?” 
she yelled at me, across the dance floor. 
I only nodded
and we both sang out every lyric, too loud
and not loud enough.
It was my wedding and she was my sister
and the song was Call Me Al. 
She had a different girlfriend then, 
I had a different heart. 
Almost twelve years later, 
I wish I had held her in that moment, instead of making
sure whatever fool told the DJ to play the song, thinking it would be funny,
knew that I knew
every single word from that beautiful track,
played on a cassette tape in a beat-up blue Toyota pickup truck 
over and over again. 
I was too busy being brainwashed
by the bride, 
to hold her, really hold her
and ask her,
“Does it remind you of him, too?”
I’d put my whole life on rewind 
to go back to the moment and trade the white dress for a t-shirt and jeans, 
the dance floor for the ground above our dad’s grave, 
my sister’s hand in mine, 
like two bodyguards
who are both named Betty.

Day 24 / Poem 24


Liver paté, red wine, chicken overnight brined, we are golden, I insist, 
when you tell me how much we have aged. Remember when we’d drown 
our last dollars in the dive bar, battered shoes slick with stick. We’d unspool 
as we do now, shot glasses and salt shakers staging the most perilous 
of our recent plays. The man who chased you across three states. 
The window through which you threw out your mother’s memory. 
The groom gone mysteriously missing, the cursed pregnancy. 
How many rounds of hope horribly thwarted. Thickened with thought, 
we got grown, still garrulous and gorging ourselves on our griefs, 
egging each other on to be brave again, and again. My girls, how you get me. 
How we make trials light for our banshee braying in the back, 
spiraling, but stacked around one another’s blocks 
in getaway cars, armed with wisecracks, prepped for war. 

Memoir of Desire: An Address to the Lover / Carmella Braniger

Reach for me only    at your own risk.
At the beginning,                on the high branch.
(Your moans are        shuddering horses,
Not quite delight,                but almost danger).
Sweetfire dilemma     of body and senses.
Sappho sings                        the blues to lure time.
Erotic missiles              tempered in honey.
Greedy to please,                  you learn to weep;
replete to live,              you learn to die.
The heart is an                        ancient descant lyre, 
strings pulled taught   enough to snap.
(So much hunger                    for what is missing).
Crying above                 the pain; I forgive you.
Lack loosens limbs,                 limbs loosen heart.
Pleasure begins,           on soft wings departs.
Perceive only sweet                rapture’s undulations,
soaring, holy                 delectations of the body.
No chords of desire                 as a cold fire ignites
the hot tongues of        lovers; even Sappho
sings the pain of                        longing in latent beds.
What free-range-           roping western cowboy
wastes precious                        time reaching for me
with so much left          to conquer?
Deserted, I leave                        you to your burning.
Quiet the buzz so          you may hear the coming
of wild horses                           across the vast prairies,
and remember the       wake of their shudders. 

A Mood Soon to Be Forgotten / Caitlin Coey

After W.S Merwin
Dragonflies were 
made of light
as common as 
sunlight, crosshatched 
backward and forward.

Crowd / K Dulai

The lords of play
operate swiftly 
rock and muscle.
Your life is
In a horde
of sinew and bone.

Tango / jawno okhiulu

Let me tell you about our dance with the fruits
This one setting sun adorned by the tangy flavors of the Amazon

Let me tell you about the dented knife that unveiled each of their secrets
one by one, Chris twisted and pulled their bodies apart as juice poured onto
the wooden slab in his lap.

I could use words like succulent, tangy, juicy, creamy, intoxicating…

But I’ll leave the flavors up to imagination, to be honest it wasn’t all about the flavors
No, It was the tango of it all, the sinful reflex that turned the sweet fruit spicy
Our laughter filled the gaps that the soft flesh left to be desired

We did not come here in search of lovers but we found them
In the afterglow, in São Paulo, 

sharing fruit together under the fading light

Holy Montezuma Cypress / Alexandria Regilio

Your spine is a root,
a holy montezuma cypress 
burning in the distance–signaling
the start of a new cosmic year.
We wait for your opening move,
for you to turn our petals 
into thicker skin, our breath
into a breeze that will carry us 
to safety when life feels a little off–
or like a tsunami. 
Since childhood, we’ve watched 
you map the way with fingerprints,
love hard when others couldn’t.
All this when humans have made 
truth the most complicated thing. 
Aries, you remind us truth is 
best distilled 
down to something so pure 
it evaporates like water wisdom on the tongue.

Day 23 / Poem 23

TARAWEEH / Ashna Ali

The day before Ramadan, I eat Korean fried chicken 
at Peter’s. We watch raptors fall out of the New Delhi sky
in the hundreds, their carnivorous souls as unwelcome 
as the Muslim brothers who save them, heal them, or grant
honorable burials. That morning, the Yemeni brothers 
threw an Afrobeat party at the bodega in preparation. 
They asked me my plans as I ordered an egg and cheese
with ham. We integrated, I shrug. He smiles broadly,
offers me a Yemeni husband with whom to fast. 

A cluster of dead kites, vultures, and storks 
arranged delicately on the rooftop before going
in the ground. Contemplation of finitude to lend 
meaning to so many abundances. A Jewish Italian
therapist from Staten Island once told me that most of our 
problems are blessings bumping into each other.  
They are still driving brothers and sisters out across 
unknown borders, burning their homes. Side-eye us 
at the airport. When I was twelve, the men at the mosque
put me too far back in my body to come before God. 
I smoke on the stoop as the sun rises, imagine 
my mother ten hours ahead choosing the silkiest 
of shawls to cover her hair, silently doing ablutions. 

The next day, I will eat as I always have, 
have a cocktail at a poetry reading where 
I will listen to ourselves milking our own macabre 
for amorous declarations. While my mother 
recites on her janamaz, eyes closed, who will ogle 
her shape? How many? Will God hear their prayer?
Or is it hers that will be silenced, the signal 
jammed by prurience? Do I ask her if it is 
too late for my American character to shed 
everything, cleanse my bowels,  
purify my soul? Do I have one?

 Conversation Not About Race / Carmella Braniger

For C. Beck

We sit outside at night, in your buick,
planning which set of plants
to put in your window next,
and watch your neighbor’s tv reflecting
in his Jeep that sits out front 
where his cats come and go.
You say you haven’t seen him
with Fox News on lately. 
We both chuckle as a dark-haired 
damsel in distress flashes across 
the big-screen broadcasting 
all-day-every-day this white man’s 
picture window full of shutter.
It’s not always about race, you say, 
which might be true. 
The neighborhoods here are mixed.
I change the subject\
to the surreal play from last evening,
and you ask for a summary,
and I don’t say race, I say, 
(the reflection wobbles like jello)
it’s about how who you are affects 
how you see, except we both know, 
when the child steps off the stage–
out of the story–and asks 
the white audience to switch places 
with the black cast onstage,
it’s not supposed to be
about how I feel or see
(cubes of gelatin tumbling down).
He notices my step to the side.
Exchanging glances across the dash,
we are off talking hypermasculinity,
and over-feminized culture,
not about how we are built, necessarily,
but about how they build us. 
How they inscribe onto us all
expectations for how to be.
I say, remember the cactus
the owner of Taqueria La Perlita
gave you last December
on that day you asked about her 
winter harvest of them 
all stacked right inside the portico 
where we come to pick up
our tacos al pastor?
The prickly pear cutting
came with instructions for drying 
on its side in the shade
before planting in the bright sun.
You look in the rearview mirror
at how you took your time
picking out the one you liked best.
I poke you in the arm to bring you back.
Remember what she taught you,
“no seas un pinchazo.”
We chuckle again as the engine purrs,
your long dark fingers against 
my white thigh against 
the moonless night.


Things we say to each other / Caitlin Coey

I’ve got my arms wrapped 
around you.

You’re doing so well,
keep going.

My days are so much richer 
with you in them. 

Forget half full or half
empty, you see 
                          the whole glass. 

Legacy / K Dulai

They appear before us, the divine and destructive, mocking 
our reprimands—the swirling echo of sands on a gut-drenched beach

In the shudders of our howls our daughters wield 
swords, swinging their wrists

Every jagged word they have swallowed 
billowing into corrugated triumphs 

What does it mean to be made from stardust? / jawno okhiulu

For all the star-children curious about where they come from:

A star dies of burnout, billions of years pass,
a planet is born from dust and frost.
Divine order Divine chaos Divine happening.

Divinely we happened,
children of star death and time.
The cosmos is our birthplace.
Everything we are is outer space.

Water is the tears we cry,
The carrier of our lessons,
The source of our life.
Am I a fool to fall for water?
In love with the unconcerned fervor of it all
Paradise in fluidity
The deep blues
Like Langston Hughes
Is calling out to me.
What is out there for me?

Something’s in the water
A deep, quiet, rocking sea
A boat untested
A course of unknown possibility

I hope
After we are all gone
That the universe remembers how cool it is
That it was able to create
Such ludicrous creatures
And absolute anarchy
Out of thin space

I hope the universe takes notes.

goodbye, alcatraz / Alexandria Regilio

the coast guard
is perfectly timed.
she flies over the bay bridge
at the exact moment i should be parking. 
i am late. 

the motorcyclist in the left lane
knows it. she shakes her head at me
inside her helmet and roars past
toward the coca cola sign.
it is my lateness she resents, 
not the fact that my blinker has been on for a mile. 

i exit fremont street
and admit that i secretly want to miss this boat
to scatter her dad’s and uncle’s ashes.
maybe i lost track of time on purpose
and am a bad person. 

halfway down the embarcadero,
it hits me why:
i am no longer the earthquake support beam
i used to be. 
how will i comfort her
when my heart is no longer rock?

on the water, 
i cry behind giant black sunglasses. 
suddenly, everything i have is black.

black pants,
black blazer,
black shoes, 
black journal, 
black tourmaline,
brought, of course, for grounding,
something i always need in air
or on water.

grief, she says, is learning who you’ll be in a world 
without them.

i stand in the bow
and accept myself as weak,
as someone who cries at funerals,
as someone who is brought to her knees
by how beautiful 
the ashes look circling the water’s surface.

i cry for two men who raised my best friend,
i cry for two little girls who raised each other.

it happens.
i cry for the strong one inside of me 
who has finally surrendered,
wonder what life will be like now
without her. 

goodbye, mitch. 
goodbye, mike. 
goodbye, alcatraz. 


Day 22 / Poem 22

EXODUS / Ashna Ali

I am the kind who leaves. Walking out scrapes closer
to the raw material. Digs under the false parallel
between repetition and comfort. The body knows. 
The body knows better. The body puppeteers. 
All the things we have backward. Consider the mind 
that drives the nervous system that drives a body 
that spends its days making itself dizzy, hurting,
bursting into flammable paralysis. We read that
as a problem. But the body knows. The body knows
better. The body knows that the mind is a poor
listener, and that too many minds in a room 
breeds dangerous blindness. You tell me I’m sick. 
I tell you: listen. Listen with me. These ancestral
hieroglyphs we call limbs, their magic. We can 
start there. We can amass what we have always
known, thank it for its efforts, and walk away. 

Variation on Bishop’s “Little Exercise” / Carmella Braniger

after Elizabeth Bishop

Think of our daughter, swinging recklessly 
in the balances, like a monkey swinging 
from branch to branch. Listen to her screams.

Think how she would play now, violin strings
vibrating indifferently to the bridge of mourning, 
joy-filled melodies floating down from the sky,

to which a sparrow might suddenly turn his beak,
maddening our neighbors with his glistening black 
unwanted shine, and choke down a worm.

Think of the power lines and evening dusk,
birds snaked in circles across the skyline,
the quiet hum like a possum in deep sleep.

They are singing now, the power lines,
lowly hanging among stars in every sky,
longing to be free, the birds to be gathered.

Then our daughter spins out again in a series
of large, graceful arches across the lawn,
each one another little bit of something.

Think of her walking along the top of a tightrope 
tuned to a violin or the undertone of a comment;
think of her as unstoppable, barely bothered.

Aha Moment / Caitlin Coey

Per my last email
We need to redesign your goals
for OOO during TO,
so notify me if you’re AL
hasn’t added the deliverables 
to the EO ASAP at EOB COB
POS POC QT time-tracking 
the all-staff at the strategic planning
meeting to the values and the mission 
Empower you to leverage your best practice, core competency your 
key takeaway, jumping the
shark 110 percent, reinvent
mission critical
boil the ocean! 

The Fruitpicker / K Dulai

A peril in an orchard
coiling and distressed—
a soiled thumbnail, 
a spoiled fruit
Then, a fall from a paradise
no rib can recreate

Ten Sweet Things Worth Saving / jawno okhiulu

Bischoff cookies and you
dip them in coffee and
they melt into delicacy

All the little ones

Playing laughing
crying tinkering
dreaming thinking
learning breathing

Honeysuckles and the
tradition of pulling them
from their vines in the
summer, like bees in
need of sweet nectar

Record Players, Vinyls
and the machines that press
‘em into existence

the strangers that find the whim
or the courage to fling a
compliment your way and
brighten up your day

the poets

some type of frozen sugar ice
for the sweltering summer heat
cause that right there ain’t
junk food, it’s medicine

love and dreams and
dreams and love


The one song you have
On repeat in your head
As joys Hail Mary

Sad Girls Party the Hardest / Alexandria Regilio

It’s all fun and games for the Sad Girls. They have nothing left to lose. Everything has already been lost. Innocence. Safety. Purity. Now it’s high time to destroy; finish what they fucking started. To sleep with vultures, you must become remains. “Look at us now!” the Sad Girls say, hanging from the roof of complete annihilation, splitting a pill because it’s cheaper, then splitting another. Wooden Dr. Scholl’s sandal dangling from her toe; her hand dancing under the water of a bathtub filled with goldfish. There is nothing more boring than a freshly showered boy. Dark alleys taste delicious. A messy car makes Sad Girls salivate. Lying is like a lemon on a sunny day. At the first sign of real love, Sad Girls say, “Nooooo, you can’t be serious. This can’t be serious. I will fuck this up for you.” Certain boys need people to know they’ve been with a Sad Girl; it makes them seem less scrubbed clean by their mamas, less homework at the dining room table, done under the watchful eye of a parent who cared. So they announce it. One writes a poem about it and reads it to the poetry class he has with Sad Girl. Another says something crude about her pussy into the mic at a show his band plays. Sad Girl doesn’t blink an eye. Doesn’t blush. Sad Girl doesn’t care. She quit feeling a long time ago, remember? 

She tells another one this. He says, “I know, that’s why I like you.” It stabs her in the gut. The realization that everyone knows. The jig is up. She’s in the crosshairs. Terrified, she begins to cry and doesn’t stop for three days. The bathtub overflows and the goldfish swim to safety. 

There stands the Little Girl. Ready to use her sadness as strength. 

goodbye, alcatraz / Alexandria Regilio

the coast guard
is perfectly timed.
she flies over the bay bridge
at the exact moment i should be parking. 
i am late. 

the motorcyclist in the left lane
knows it. she shakes her head at me
inside her helmet and roars past
toward the coca cola sign.
it is my lateness she resents, 
not the fact that my blinker has been on for a mile. 

i exit fremont street
and admit that i secretly want to miss this boat
to scatter her dad’s and uncle’s ashes.
maybe i lost track of time on purpose
and am a bad person. 

halfway down the embarcadero,
it hits me why:
i am no longer the earthquake support beam
i used to be. 
how will i comfort her
when my heart is no longer rock?

on the water, 
i cry behind giant black sunglasses. 
suddenly, everything i have is black.

black pants,
black blazer,
black shoes, 
black journal, 
black tourmaline,
brought, of course, for grounding,
something i always need in air
or on water.

grief, she says, is learning who you’ll be in a world 
without them.

i stand in the bow
and accept myself as weak,
as someone who cries at funerals,
as someone who is brought to her knees
by how beautiful 
the ashes look circling the water’s surface.

i cry for two men who raised my best friend,
i cry for two little girls who raised each other.

it happens.
i cry for the strong one inside of me 
who has finally surrendered,
wonder what life will be like now
without her. 

goodbye, mitch. 
goodbye, mike. 
goodbye, alcatraz. 


Day 21 / Poem 21


A day I wake up overwhelmed by love,
neuropathy numbs my hands, floods my hip

with needles. A day I walk in the sun humming,
hug my colleague’s bug-eyed dog, I sink to the tub floor

Weeping with tachycardia. A day I flirt text 
with a friend who sways me to pop ballads, 

eat cake, sing into my concealer tube, 
I cancel my calls, dim the lights, give up 

on flexing my forearms. First, I was born 
with a girl body. Then, it was stolen. 

I was convinced I lived there on accident, 
renting from the rightful and their tyranny. 

It churned rage in the basement 
until it seeped into the walls, fungal, 

rhizomatic. That’s when they handed it
back to me, a problem never theirs.

This one lives so many kinds of life. 
I am a thespian by day. By night, a neon 

organ, pulsing, all its nerves turned out. 
Almost everyone can dance, sometimes. 

But me? I can cyclone into flame 
at a moment’s notice, sprout new heads 

like lusty nightshades after dark. 
See, I have skin that talks. Who can say that? 

Who says it’s not some kind of better
living with my insides on the outside, looking in?

Double Sonnet: In Praise of the Child / Carmella Braniger

My child, early have you shown me grace:[1]

not only light of innocence,[2] but everything,
all we know, cries with dark joy. You came

to me one quiet night, faceless, in a dream.[3]
When you rose from heavy golden plains
from rich, dense woodlands of memory,

veiled, my hidden heart drum[4] beat hard.
I passed, trapped, between empty rooms
of shifting moonlight. But you were always
in the open, free, and resolute. A never-
ending spotlight of transparent strumming.
When you play violin, nothing matters, not

the voices,[5] not the still and now of your
bow’s silent swing. Do you smell smoke?

Like piles of autumn leaves, your song burns.[6]
I tell you you are always enough. All stars
all shoulders, all oceans wide to swallow,
just big enough to hold your ancient heart.
You meant to return with spring’s red tulips,
tall as children, with the sound of your bow
bouncing lightly along strings. When you
arrive, you croon some semblance of form.
You belt forth your song in this empty room.
I lean in to clean myself, remove all vestige
of you. These dark purple spring crocuses
inside me turn up. Leave me to rise from fire,
for this is all I know, this, and your grace,
curtain of love, pulled against its coming.

[1] the void, the pulse, that pure crystal beam
[2] like possibility or truth
[3] woke in me deep hope for a new distant place
[4] rhythm of illusion
[5] in the alley
[6] not for me, nor this redbud, but for the winter ahead

Dream / Caitlin Coey

Dear Mr. Dicaprio

I’m at a party 
with Kate Winslet.
We’re both in floor-length
dresses (but not ballgowns)
filling tiny plates
with roquefort and Gouda,
sipping on Veuve Clicquot
and we’re talking about Leo.
“It can’t be that he
doesn’t like women, right?
You’re his best friend.”
I’m thinking about all those YouTube
compilations of the two of them
at award shows and premieres, 
all heartwarming gratitude 
and significant looks.
“Can you talk to him?
About dating women 
his own age? We all like him,
but it’s getting creepy.”
I wake up before 
I can hear her answer.

Disjunction / K Dulai

You are the girl who is left behind on that little grassy hill somewhere on the fifth grade retreat in the Poconos. You cannot believe your parents, who never let you go to slumber parties or school dances, let you go to this overnight school thing and you are excited that you are going to get to play spin the bottle for the very first time (and consequently get kissed for the first time). But before all that (a prelude to a thing that doesn’t happen until college, it would turn out) when it’s time for an outdoor game of Run Catch Kiss, your long black hair plaited to the side because you think it looks cooler, your Gap jeans and glittered Thriller sweatshirt on, you’re sitting on a little hill at dusk because no one cares to go chasing you for a kiss. You are chopped liver.
And that’s the comforting moment you always go back to in your brain when you find yourself clicking some guy’s remote control as he calls out from the shower asking you when you’re planning on leaving for work (adjunct MSOffice teacher at suburban community college, night fact checker at a big city newspaper, substitute teacher for special needs kids, waitress at Belgian bar, janitor).
And when you get to work you expect to see a text from said some-guy saying what a good time he had with you and how lucky he feels that he met you in the bookstore in this lonely, dark city (but you’re dark).
You don’t hear from him, but it’s not like it was back on that little hill, it’s not that you are a weird Indian chic (which you certainly still are now, but in a Boolean sense: weird + Indian + chic) but that you’re just not very special.
And even though for a while between the hill and now, you got pretty, really pretty, you lost all that to hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.
And time. Not that your age will make you ugly (it won’t) but that time and the things that happen in it will leave you constantly feeling like you’re being throttled in a wormhole—by a goddamned giant worm.
And that’s as meta as you want to get.
And that’s why you dropped out of English major school. Not because you felt stung by this school of thought, but because you just weren’t very smart (no, you weren’t).
And you realize that when you finally get fired from one of your jobs after almost two decades of skating from employer to employer on your weird + Indian + chic charm.
And now since you’re nowhere, and always will be, you can finally shift gears. You don’t have to go back to that little spot on a hill where you could wait forever (and it seems that you have) to never get kissed. You can roll down the grass.

And the three of us held hands / jawno okhiulu

The lights were the opening act

To end of our night of celebration

To a show we’d seen before and

The lead was an asshole dressed

In authority, the badge delivered

His lines as the three of us held hands

We delivered each other safety

No Regrets / Alexandria Regilio

Friend, it’s a good thing we know nothing and everything about loss. 
Pain has always ripped us straight down the middle – like the cracking of an egg. 
The yolk slips out of the shell and into a bowl, where we’ve not been 
careful before: let it sit too long, like our wild, restless hearts. When 
they showed up after forty, we let our wild hearts roam. They wandered 
the canyons, like coyotes looking for a home. When some new love asked 
to press an arrowhead into our skins – for the first time, in a long time – 
we let it bleed, and had no regrets.

Day 20 / Poem 20

Conversation on Stolen Summer Desires / Carmella Braniger

You ask me what it’s like inside 
the skin of my summer soul self–
that place which mere palaver evades– 
and all I can say is peaches.
You repeat the word. Peaches.
We fall into the silence of memory.
You were just a boy at the market
with your mother. Quick legs kept up
with her weaving in and out of vendors 
until you stopped without notice beside 
the peach stand, pink and golden bulbs
resting easy in wooden crates.
Your seven-year-old arm stretched up 
to grasp a perfectly ripe peach 
from the top of the pile. Without thinking, 
you sat down, right there in the middle 
of the market, mothers everywhere cautiously 
selecting fish, herbs, vegetables, remedies,
You sat alone on the curb and ate 
the most delicious peach, intense in flavor,
all the way down to the pit, which you stuck 
in your pocket before rushing to catch up
with your mother, who would never know
of your afternoon’s stolen desire.
When St. Augustine stole his own 
inner lack—not the pears but the fall 
itself, he loved the destruction, 
the leap into ruin. His pleasure lay not 
in devouring pears in spite of himself, 
but in doing what was forbidden.
Despite his shame, despite the fall,
the temporal honor, the lack of holiness,
the driving urge toward self-assertion, 
he tells us there is beauty in lovely things, 
inferior objects the body traces, 
attaching to the rapport with each touch.
In an orchard somewhere in Oklahoma, 
lush peaches fall from bramble branches.
Blazing mid-July sun soaring high,
warm flesh hanging heavy from trees,
soft fuzz lines bare arms as I reach.  
low-hanging fruit slipping gently from skin.
Bending my head into my hand cup, 
I slurp the flesh like an oyster. 
It slides down with ease, 
juice dripping from a half-open mouth, 
the taste of honey on my lips. 
How desire opens itself each time you reach.

Condor, Canada / Caitlin Coey

The snow on the farm is two 
feet deep. A real winter 
playground, complete with 
a slide and swings. 
Up the driveway,
there is a pasture of 
highland cows. The famous 
long hair, dog bangs over
their eyes, horns spanning the 
length of my arm. 
At dinner four deer 
walk through the woods
facing the house and watch
us watching them
                  watching us.

Kindle / K Dulai

It has been thirty years 
since she has had to 
cremate one 
of her children, 
but her grief is 
the same.

never just a poem / jawno okhiulu

cleaning as we go is my favorite flow
so we get to enjoy our meal
and rest afterward.
this is not a metaphor for how
to leave the world, and this is
not an aside to my housemates
who i love with all my heart.
this is just a poem
i promise.

Home / Alexandria Regilio

The carnival lights, a million miles up,
sit backwards in their seats tonight. Like fire speed

toward the day’s prayers made with rosaries,
worry stones, tea leaves, bread.

It’s nights like these, apart,
when I think of you as a child,

traversing the country, already beginning
to trust the open road and where

it would take you. Somewhere deep inside 
you always knew it would take you home

and home looked like the soles 
of your own feet, sounded like the beating 

of your own heart. And even though it’s sometimes
hard to follow them, you know you have, you can

and you will. Again and again. 
You already know I’m not afraid to tell you

what I want. (Sorry that’s usually more.) 
But what I am afraid to tell you

is that you feel like home. And, like you,
home looks like the soles of my feet. Sounds like

the beating of my heart. 
Your home will always be your own, mine

will be mine. But when they’re side by side
I feel like a child, held safe under an endless night sky.

Day 19 / Poem 19


Outside my window, 
there is enough haggard sun 
to submerge my face. 
A deluge: sirens, allergens, 
distant chainsaw. For the length 
of a single poem, I can pretend 
that truth is not laying wetly
in my hand, gills gasping. 
Its life beguiled me no less 
for being temporary. Artisan 
of stolen time, you kept
the furthest possible distance 
until I carved us a silent tunnel 
with the machete of my mouth,
pulled you through its cavity 
to inhale another planet’s night,
together. You do not ask me
to pretend to be sorry. We never said 
we would live there. The sound 
back on, I trace how our black hole 
suctions this gravitation, drains the tank,
though we know it will keep filling.
The chainsaw shifts to minor key.
I swallow our little fish, metabolize
shared dimension. You told me: 
nothing matters, tugged my sternum 
toward stars. What could I do but agree?
The bluejays, pissy little punks, 
are back for the spring, heralding 
new desire’s unabashed meanness. 
How it plays peekaboo, offers 
nothing, demands reverence 
even as it slides down the
esophagus, stubbornly 

Poem to Take Back the Belt  / Carmella Braniger

–after Josė Olivarez

In this story, I am wearing the belt instead 
of crouching in the corner enduring its stings.

My ass stays soft, my head hard. In this story, 
there won’t be welts this time. Because I snatch it. 

And bury it. I take back the belt not in his hands.
He is watching porn at my uncle’s. Or whatever.

He might try to stop the belt if he felt it coming. 
In this story, I grab the belt and beat him with it.

In this story, it is my own hands. His hands stay 
idle as I loom above him for his own good.

In this story, I fasten the belt around his neck,
and lead him like a cow through desert sands. 

I bury the belt in a bowl of orange and green jello,
And wear the colors on my lips for days at a time.

In this story, I do not wait for the whip, it waits on me.
In this story, I am already crying as he reaches out.

The belt floats like fruit in the wobbling waves of gel.
He reaches for my heart and squeezes it. Hard.

I tell him it’s okay. In this story, I am already dead.
This story ends with cement burial vaults six feet under. 

No more hands. No more belts. No more crying.
My dad. Me. We will take this to our grave.

After White Oleander by Janet Fitch / Caitlin Coey

A parallel universe

Dear Astrid,

Loneliness is the human condition. 
Love is temperamental.
float in a turquoise sea, dance 
by moonlight to flamenco guitar.
write a play, paint a painting 
Allow your soul room to grow
Always learn poems by heart. They have to 
become the marrow in your bones.
Make sure nothing is wasted. Take notes.
 hope to find people who will understand you. 
understand yourself, know what it is that you want.


Please Don’t Touch / jawno okhiulu

I’m fly! Just look at me! 
One modern molecular mess, Take a look!
I’ve found myself so you can see me all you want!
See my eyeliner pop! See the way my locs dance!
Look if you want
but please don’t touch.
Your hands might wipe me away
and derail the meticulous detail
I’ve fashioned for myself right here
in this skin.

Look, don’t touch
As I carry my burning cross,
Heavy on once weightless shoulders
Watch as I carry it back to my burning house.
I tried your home on and it just didn’t fit.

Wading through the storm of men,
Strangers they became, they
pulled my shoulders close to them,
might have even looked romantic as they
ruffled my hair like one might do
a child. They laughed.

I wanted to cry as you stood over me
My face pressed into the warm of your belly
Your hands held me together, you
Held my pieces as we walked
And I loved you more and more
You bade me safe
Pleaded me worthy
Fashioned me whole again.
And we danced as we spilled over one another
And we laughed as my cup runneth over
my goodness, what a night.

Poem to be Read in Cases of Unknowing / Alexandria Regilio

For you: at thirteen, twenty-three, thirty-three and beyond

I might be in bed,
huddled under the covers.
A thick quilt in winter / light sheet in summer. 
No matter, I’m scared to death. Of what doesn’t really matter. 
Did I say the wrong thing? 
Wear the wrong thing? 
Make the wrong choice? 
Yes to all three. No to all three. 
A juicy, confusing blend of yes’s and no’s. 
Who knows? 
It could be a full moon.
A new moon. That pretty in-between. 
I open my mouth wide. Try to breathe. 
Suddenly, they are there. 
The voices of one thousand women. 
The hands of one thousand more. 
I remember that I am never alone.
When I come here, to my edge,
they are there. 
Bachendri Pal. Ellen MacArthur. Emily Dickenson. Frida Kahlo.
The list of wild women is long.
I am held by their creative passion fire spirit.
I will never know how salty
their tears were when they cried from fear,
from insecurity, from lack of knowing. 
Perhaps enough tears to fill a thousand oceans. 
In the morning, I will put their tears, my tears,
in a paper cup, 
and let the rain dilute any lingering

Day 18 / Poem 18


for emily brandt

Dire and diminished, there is enough 
haggard sun to submerge my face. A deluge: 
sirens, distant chainsaw, a city rousing. 
Allergens. I pretend that hope is not on its guard, 
pineconing away from me. I cling with bloodied 
fingernails regardless. I too am stirring. 

That I know it is temporary does not 
beguile any less. In our shrug away 
from aspiration, we learned to borrow 
time. You sat the furthest possible distance, 
knowing it was our first, and our last. 
I carved a window, climbed you 
through its cavity so you could inhale 
me like a morning we shouldn’t live to see. 

And now we haven’t. The cost of that. 

Black holes suck on all light, 
radiation, this gravitational wave, 
too. The chainsaw shifts to minor key, 
sweeps my sternum to nocturne. Erasure, 
you insisted, is a kind of north. You buried 
your hands, said, nothing matters. 
What could I do but agree. The bluejays, 
pissy little punks, are back. Forever heralds 
of desire’s unabashed meanness, 
how it offers nothing, demands 
to stay beautiful.

Silence to Die By  / Carmella Braniger

The unlikely daughter of ignorance, I kneel 
at the wall of humility to clone my demons.

This lack of knowledge not unlike the narrow 
strictures of stairwell we call concealment.

Diminished, acquiesced by the sky, 
my rest slighted, all rage dismantles into dust. 

The lands writhe, spurned by a veil of dry skin.
Robes of thunder rumble over the dead. 

Looking at you now, on the edge of the bed,
I rise, by spiritual apathy, from the belly.

I forget the captive woman in the attic’s garden.
I forget the silence she taught me to die by.


Ketamine Therapy / Caitlin Coey

On ketamine, at least this way, in a doctor’s office with an IV in my arm,
all the content I consume floats to the surface.
I cut down on the true crime 
after I have a panic attack during my third session
and switch to listening to white noise 
when guitar chord changes prove to be too jarring.

Four days before one appointment I watch Lady 
Gaga perform her own death by 
Papa-papa-razzi at the MTV awards
 and on Friday I can tell I’m coming on 
 because my brain turns into 
 a kaleidoscopic Gaga-extravaganza.

The nurse mentions something about 
other patients having a nice, relaxing time. 
No tripping, just nothing.

Leaves / K Dulai

Somewhere from far 
East a lonely mother calls 
out to her daughter, 
“Autumn in California is a wine 
beneath giving.” 
But leaves fall here, too. 
Their veins spread like fingers 
on an angry hand, a wave goodbye. 
Alla Salute.

air conditioned / jawno okhiulu

i scream into the ether 
cause the white men don’t listen
i fantasize bout a divine
that might hear me and care
i wonder why sometimes 
i shrink and other times you bet i glisten 
maybe because the best i know is
to lean my faith upon the air

Spring is Calling / Alexandria Regilio

Is it true
love lives in the vanishing 
The flash of lightning
that signals the start of spring. 
The child’s easy laugh. 
The queen of the night,
as in the desert bloom,
but perhaps the one that lives
inside every woman, too. 

Is it true
love expands after it is
The secrets grandma told you
just before she vanished.
The way she plaited your hair
and called you the golden child.
Said things like—
“The bee with the sweetest honey,
mija, will sting the most”—
when you were too young
to understand. 

Is it true
we’re born with all the truth we’ll ever
What true love feels
like. What it doesn’t. 
That clouds never stop taking
the form of dragons. That a mother
is a lion and a bear and a dove. 
That the moon holds our spirit 
so we can sleep,
if we let it.
Is it true? 
Spring is calling.
She has the answers.

Day 17 / Poem 17

THE BEAST   / Ashna Ali

we are all sinner ladies and saints, loving with one hand, crushing soft
tendon with the other. I confess and complain but this language 
languages me into being too. how does one tell the difference?
how we want to crush the beloved, bite into shoulder and buttocks,
fantasize about the blood with glee in full, dumbstruck reverence.
the classics jump the shark, cut logical conclusions short. virginal 
girls for having no money running from employer penchants,
only to tame them in their skirts. when the story goes on, does the girl 
go a step too far in the play fight? bare her teeth for a smile? 
does her clench feel like his around her neck, reminding him 
of his meat, his tender inferiors. how our pain tolerance spikes 
upon every kind of arousal. primitive and tactical, that inside orbit. 
say it enough times and anything is love for bearing this intimate
naming it over and over until there is only flesh by the fistful. 

The Child and the Vault  / Carmella Braniger

The vault was full the night you rose up out of bed, 
my dear child, and posted  those handwritten notes 
all over the bedroom walls, doors, closets, dressers,
even the bed, all while he slept hard through the end 
of another bender, clutching the bottle like a doll.
The night you stood on hardwood, salty tears falling 
to the floor, a winter moon high outside his window.
That night I had to think back, rememory how early on 
I would make light of moments when he’d stumble.
How I didn’t get in the way of you crawling with him 
on the living room floor, after he’d gone a little too far.
Then walking in front of his clumsy gate, pulling him 
along the brick sidewalk, trick or treating together
hand in hand, loaded flask lodged in his back pocket,
then riding your bike, him guiding you along the street,
the grave danger of a misstep never too far away.
How often he clumsily stepped on your toes as you 
Danced five feet beneath him. You didn’t know then 
to ask about his slur, the haphazard fling of his body. 
It must have seemed a game, his swagger, stumbling.
Like the Thanksgiving he tripped down to the bottom
Of the basement stairs, and you wrote about it at school. 
“Facts,” the first line. Then, “I ate lamb. Dad fell down 
the steps. I had pie.” Next was “Opinions.” Excitedly, 
“It was awesome. I don’t like pie. But lamb is good.” 
The love, even then, your withholding judgment, 
your endless kind regard mistaken for joyful delight.  
You noted but didn’t have an opinion about the fall 
that nearly broke his leg. The vault already half full.
I thought I would die the time you fell from his arms, 
and he cried and you didn’t. You were ok. He was not. 
I was silent in my anger buried in the deepest chambers 
of my chest cavity, for no one to find. Not even me,
On the night you rose up from slumber, I finally asked
why I’d watched his charade, masks of freedom, flailing
finally falling beneath your feet. Was I too far removed, 
blinded by your beauty when you smiled broad at him? 
When you threw back your head, tossing out sound? 
How your dark eyes danced to his laughter spinning off 
round and round, like a top across the kitchen linoleum. 
That night you rose up, forgiveness finally gone, 
you let loose a whole decade of secrets you’d locked away.
Demon of night releasing you from its grip, angel of mercy
whispering over and over the vault can only hold so much.

Ekphrastic Caitlin Coey

The woman in burnt orange,
holds the book carefully,
with both hands.
one crossed over the other,
Like holding a baby bird,
or some other small creature.
She tilts her head down slightly
just so her lids are closed,
but the focus of her eyes
makes the book come alive.
Light blue flowers on dark green vines
Grow out of it, making a crown
over her dark hair,
extending over her face like
a veil, where the story
she is reading is the only 
thing that exists.

Dr. Kismet / K Dulai

After all, we’re just the progeny of a failing star
and down with the last ark, 
the whales,
that pretty garden we all could have 
called home (sigh) is the reality 
that glacial melting, drought and punitive heat 
are just indications of disease.
Maybe Kismet says that flushing 
humanity is…sanitary and 
sewering us galactic mess 
is all part of the plan.


how to write a play / jawno okhiulu

after Katie Dragone’s Lines

playwriting is easy, no offense to the playwrights
got an idea? you’ve got yourself a play in the works!
you’ve got a beginning, open a doc, blank pages and stagnant keys
this is your entrance, the platform that will take you to showtime
don’t forget to bring with you that original thought, the one that spurred you to action
it will fuel you as you roll to the last line
now go, step up on to the train, start writing
it doesn’t have to be good. maybe start with your favorite character,
ask yourself what would they be doing, you understand humans, don’t gaslight yourself
just write about good ol’ human nature and experience, let that common understanding
bring you to the promised land.
or maybe…no…not that easy, huh?
well, no one wants to watch a film about
regular-degular people…or do they?
oh maybe they’ll enjoy regular people doing extraordinary things!
right, so so next you you take your original idea,
you still got it right? take that idea and add a dash of extraordinary twist
give the protagonist superpowers, place the setting in a far-off place
give them an unbecoming kryptonite, but don’t reveal it too soon
is that too basic? yikes
maybe, something scary? something tragic? something…

           (damn I’m really struggling right now to write a poem about struggling to write a play)
                            (google, how do i write a how-to poem?)
                                              (google, how do i write a play?)

no no no, you’ve done this a thousand times before!
you’re a writerrrr it’s what you do! how can you call yourself a writer if
you’re unable to write anything??? the people will call you a fraud!
okay, make a character sheet, start there. who is a part of this play,
this world, this journey. the butcher, the baker, the…
i mean give them backstories, give them aspirations, find their personalities,
you know people right?
okay write the characters one by one, using actions to fill in the details
to hint at the deeper lives and layers beneath their looks
doll them up, make them pop with their own personhoods
these are your people for the moment
focus on them, what do they need? will they get what they want? how?
now we’ve arrived at the plot, let’s unravel this story, baby!
plot points. moments on a timeline, don’t forget it’s okay to backtrack
just tell the story. you’ve done this before, show the audience you
understand something deep about life and death and love and the universe
keep their attention, make them laugh, make them weep,
make them…
(god this is terrible, who would buy tickets to see this)
step off the train for a second. slow down. remember why we’re here.
(why are we here?)
you want to write.
you had an idea, and you want to make it real.
(is that alone enough? what does that do for anybody)
well the idea came from you, deep in you, a reflex
maybe meant to service something you hold within you
(but i don’t know what that is)
yet! that’s okay, that’s the start, that’s where we’ll go
we’ll write toward the unknown within ourselves, we’ll
follow that track till we unearth the reason why
we write

               (god this is terrible, who would buy tickets to see this)

step off the train for a second. slow down. remember why we’re here.

               (why are we here?)

               you want to write.
                          you had an idea, and you want to make it real.

                          (is that alone enough? what does that do for anybody)

                          well the idea came from you, deep in you, a reflex
                          maybe meant to service something you hold within you

                          (but i don’t know what that is)

               yet! that’s okay, that’s the start, that’s where we’ll go

we’ll write toward the unknown within ourselves, we’ll
follow that track till we unearth the reason why
we write

Endurance / Alexandria Regilio

Am soft, yes,
like poppy petals the day after 
an early spring storm. But 
poppies are weeds, so they

Day 16 / Poem 16


My right leg protests 
until it throws up its proverbial 
hands. I Elaine-dance my way 
to the bathroom, slide, fall, 
laugh it off to stave off alarm. 
It’s an art, sheepish smiling. 
Claiming it’s all good. This is 
my normal! And hey, who doesn’t
love a little physical comedy. An hour 
later, the neck inflames into angry 
sausage, unprovoked. I had packed 
for one night only, made plans 
with friends, scheduled meetings. 
Some things cannot be wept through. 
Encore defines the viral performance. 
I will smile whitely at the Zoom screen,
ointment-laden legs and electric blanket 
hidden below the frame. I will attempt 
outdoors. Walk for blocks on end, 
heart rate that of an Olympian 
mid-sprint. It’s all good. This is 
my normal. I am not afraid.

Bob the Bassist Thumps the Blues  / Carmella Braniger

In memory of Robert Emmett Bowen, (1965-2010)

From the dark corner, drowsy mellow croons. 
Bent over a stool, eyes closed behind black rims, 
he thumps away the blues. That legendary scene:
king of cool plucking a slow song, his pulse
the only stable rhythm in a smokey room. You stand center, 
in the pale pallor of a one-bulb lamp, 
sipping Scotch on the rocks. This is where the heartache 
blooms. Forget the bicycle he rides,
double bass strapped to his back, pedal-stroking home  
to the quiet beat of Herbie Hancock bars.
Forget the late-night commute, life on the line,
the truck that swerves left too soon to miss. 

* * *

This should be Carnegie Hall, but it’s not.
It’s a hotel room at an annual writers’ retreat,
in Downtown Denver. Two-thousand something.
The three of us; desire crowded in tight.
Darkness sways lazy between strings,
the bottom tone’s bittersweet cry of the heart.
We watch it ooze from the hollow body with great stealth.
Like a sidewinder. You know the story already: 
killed by a hit-and-run flatbed, on his bike
in the traffic of 59th Street Bridge,
where no one on two wheels stands a chance
against the impersonal throbbing thump,
not even our bass player, whose syncopated tune
keeps time for us all through the night.

* * *

His widow lets the porch light burn all day now.
Bob didn’t sound like that, she murmurs,
as she walks through her evenings, ear bent low.
Two thousand and something.
Now, in a new distant place far from shore, 
the bassist leans in as the weary blues ride on.

 Things An Apology isn’t / Caitlin Coey

The thing is, an apology isn’t designed to feel good.
Not for the person making it.

 I’m sorry you felt
You seem upset, but

I was having a hard time
I didn’t mean to
 At least I’m not
 That only happened because

 You made me
My ______ ma
e me 
you’ll understand when
I always welcome a discussion

 But I don’t want to discuss,
have an open dialogue…
or it’s okay my way through it.

 It’s harder on me than it is on you.

Cathedral Parkway  / K Dulai

At Cathedral Parkway where the station stairs lead us down into a mine 
of young love and distance, a man sings Bésame mucho as you prepare to return to your parents in Douglaston, a borough and cultures away. 
The elder, a displaced raven from the streets above the ledge of the Upper West Side, sings earnestly whenever he sees us–always the same song–his voice and face as fragile and strained as the bark of the oldest ginkgo trees in Riverside Park. His lungs have been darkened by our city’s air, by time, tobacco, and a rare abnormality that has spun his inner melody into gold. 
At sixteen, us two, we say this will be our song, all these many kisses, at our very distant wedding. I still have long, black hair, curly and loose. You still have a little of your baby blond woven in your hair. We dream of our marriage dance as we part, we imagine spinning music into the kind of family that asserts a natural happiness.
Years later, we settle for a popular song that the most ordinary frat boy can sway to as we waltz across a dance floor at the Akbar Restaurant in Edison, New Jersey. The cries of St. John’s peacocks and the song of the man at 110th Street blessing us from the space between distance and memory. Our future left unsung.


OC / jawno okhiulu

If you really want to go under all that heat
Hood Mother Munk knows the way 
and she beckons you come
As long as you remember


Close your eyes to the night and listen
For the dark brass blare of the DART train
It is headed North / you are headed South


Listen again for the siren songs and fireworks
Go there / You’ll know by the hair on your neck
And the rhythm of your eyes
Whether you’re good to walk or
If you’ll have to travel by giraffe 


However you coming, make sure to find
Your way along the street bumps and winds
To the alleyway of stray dogs and runaway


This is now stateside, where you can
Get a hit of Rudy’s Chicken and
Records BBQ / count your ribs and pluck
One for the offering basket to accompany


Machismo pride in lifted trucks with train roars
These are the prayers of the hood, alabanza and
And off the white flew, wail across the Trinity


Make your way to the levees and watch for
The man, with the horse, who lives in a spaceship
And never seems to age / these are not the ghosts
You are looking for, they’re still tethered


OC, can you say who is the realest
Under the shadow of the skyline


You learn to mind your business
Under the shoes that sway from powerlines


Angels surrounding pounding hearts alive
I know my block by the heartbeat
And the songs and the oak trees

crossing / Alexandria Regilio

did i go there
or did she come here?
breathless voice from the sky—
my mind tinted with vines
(i want to say it didn’t happen
but that would be a lie)
kusama is it you?
singing to the eucalyptus,
feeling exasperated, dull
and seeing me felt playful
like i’d know exactly
where to tear the crack
to focus my eye
to receive you in sudden hot flash
or plensa
your sanna,
saying  ‘yes, you look like me’
a girl with a braid
eyes closed there’s more to see
whoever she is i don’t want  to go
better to be fat, plump, rich 
than to know
what’s circling the air in between
what we don’t know we need 

For Poems 1 – 15 Click Here