JoAnna Novak


I think today of corners, how they allot space, and last
night my head was lower than soap on the drain. I
think today of corners, and last night I thought of
you. You taught me to hide. To hide to hear to sneak
down, duck the cellar door. Gold is stable; so am I.

From the dormer in the nursery, roof slanted as a
tithe, I watch Cheerful Chuck reroute a spout. He is
focused, tongue knotted in his cheek like a hickory
nut. Cheerful Chuck never stops, mason of
continency, caulks his cocoa-brown stripes, good
gutters are wide gutters, he says, $1569, fair price.

A slow accrual of wealth under a stratum of dying-
day-by-day magnolias. The rules of dividends crack
Bateman’s sidewalks, slanting the shabbiest historic

What if simplicity saves nothing? If my monochrome
chant is a mere red grunt? With a spine like a scythe,
I’m naked under this surplice, picking varnish off my

bad razor + bad blade = rufous stigmata.

I love your sense. I love your stability. I love your
advice. I love your father making furniture, joints
joists vices files ferries roses and fathers, were I a man
I’d be a father, shan’t I, shouldn’t I, someday: I know
nothing, I am trying to learn. I am not a novena,
prayerfully blank, not la edgish, embittered esposa,
getting easily drunk, painting foxes, teeth in denial, on
tall chests of drawers. Let me survive the hoard of
hand-me-downs and sentiment, the flinch and shrink
and scowl before savings. Do I look vegan? Slow-mo
in my flamboyance? What can I do?

Come here, come stay, come over. Bring your sloppy
dog, your stormy windbreaker, your animal crackers,
your scarab script. It’s no way to live. I want to drive
all over the country, too, look beyond the furniture. I
spent decades multi-hearsed by the market, you told
me, don’t do that. I have a spare bedroom. As many
as four coffins.

I heard the dresser topple at midnight. I nested till
morning. Up again, I was surrounded by black hills
and an enemy with busy lips and a tank to burn and
pockets stuffed with chips. Everyone went Pert ’n

What do you see, brown bear? What do you see,
purple cat? What do you need, black sheep?

, and As It Ought To Be

The floating hospital is leavened. And I am its
aproned mistress. Where bandages were, bread is now
ordinary. Levain. Mother. Bialy. Bagel. Bostock,
brioche, biscuit. Blue gloves are garbage. I am still not
sure what decadence I’m after, but I board and scoff
at the wharf, holding my French pin. Others are
rinsing curtains. Others are scrubbing shutters.
Together we are the gale in an ordinary machine.
Even the rain cleans, drenching metal awnings, where
spring birds build nests in the girders. Tell me to get
off the boat and I’ll bury my nose in a cookbook.
Check. Check. Fasting agreed with me, made me
limpid and vigilant. I laminated dough. I listened like
a nightingale. I could stay up for hours, overnights,
limewashed and fumigated, loyal and laboring.
Whence before I could barely spell adolescence,
whence before I was ravenous, yet I advanced along
the plank and called it a path, an El Dorado of rubies
and routine. “The more do I find work a necessity,” I
read, “the greatest of pleasures.”

JoAnna Novak’s debut memoir Contradiction Days will be published by Catapult in 2022. Her short story collection, Meaningful Work, won the 2020 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and will be published by FC2 in 2021. Her third book of poetry, New Life, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2021. The author of the novel I Must Have You, she is a co-founder of the literary journal and chapbook publisher, Tammy.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.