Chuck Wachtel


Sheltering In Place

I must say, that the peace the spirit needs is peace
not lack of war, but fierce continual flame.
—Muriel Rukeyser

And it’s only here and
now that we can make up
for lost time while the meter
is running and everything
is on hold

—Lewis Warsh, 11/9/1944 -11/15/2020,
for whom this poem is written

 

I cannot feel it in here, but the air rises,
gently, perhaps pushed by the exhaled breaths
of my daughter, sitting on the floor beside
the kitchen table, brushing the cat.

Are you getting used to it? Does the phrase apply?
Is there time, or some other means by which one thing
becomes another thing? Lewis, I miss
the substance of your presence. I am reading,

for the second time this morning, these
two sentences, written a hundred and ten years ago,
one right after the other, by Franz Kafka: “When
the breakfast noise dies down to the left of me,

the lunch noise starts up on the right.
Everywhere doors are being opened as if people
wanted to come crashing through the walls.”
And now, one after another, two light-gray, loosely-bound

clumps of cat hair skitter like tumbleweeds across
the plain of toast crumbs scattered on the plate
in front of the chair across from mine
where my daughter just had her breakfast, and now,

Lewis, I must say… it’s so quiet here, in this room
where we try to continue being who we still, mostly,
are: I want you here, with us, still sheltering in place
for the entire moment we hover in the serene eye

of this raging storm, until the witless idiot
once again begins pounding the wall on one side,
insisting his will is our will, while the plague starts in
whispering its toxic secrets against the other.

Chuck Wachtel is the author of the novels Joe The Engineer, The Gates, and 3/03; a collection of stories and novellas, Because We Are Here; and five collections of poems and short prose, most recently The Coriolis Effect and What Happens to Me. He lives in NYC, and is retired from, though still occasionally teaching in, the creative writing program at NYU.

JoAnna Novak

Highboy

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
district.

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
palms:

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
Pretti.

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.

David Mills

Talking to the Bones
(spirit of enslaved New York City Chimney Sweep
Apprentice: 18th century)

What of only chimneys and flues?
This: the one moment master permitted
me to be above him

How so?
Only in filth could I gain favor

Did you ever dream?
Things like thoughts weighed
too heavy on my head

How should you be remembered?
The neck a storm; the head a cloud
unsettled by its own weather

Talking to The Bones
(spirit of Joseph Castins, only enslaved New Yorker
whose full name is known and who is buried
in New York’s slave cemetery)

Had you made Joshua Delaplaine’s acquaintance, Mr. Castins?
Death: a sad cabinet is it not?

Joseph, when did Delaplaine put you in his account book?
My account: with G-d

How did you die with a given and surname?
The first shall have a last and the last shall have a first

David Mills holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College. He’s published three collections, The Dream Detective, The Sudden Country and After Mistic. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Brooklyn Rail, Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, Jubilat,and Callaloo . He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Breadloaf, The American Antiquarian Society, and the Lannan Foundation. He lived in Langston Hughes’ landmark Harlem home.

Lisa Lewis

Parking Lot Allegory

As a partridge that broods but does not hatch,
So is he who gets riches, but not by right;
It will leave him in the midst of his days,
And at his end he will be a fool.

Jeremiah 17:10-11

The woman I know who was stabbed in the neck
said it happened in a parking garage. Ten ramps up,
maybe, it’s easy to lose count in those things
chasing space. Which is what the architects
did when they planned the new building
for the business college, its unglassed frame
now swelling over what used to be the parking lot
for people who don’t work there and people
who do: unfinished, it’s a cruise ship unloading
ghosts, and in the design sketch, ghosts pace
clipped grass sown and watered where cars
once clicked like time bombs, about to blow
for the sake of still life, a genre, prior to
the eighteenth century, primarily concerned
with religion and allegory. I have never had
a direct encounter with the divine, but if I do
it will happen here, on the hottest day
of the decade, 115 in the shade and a storm
clashing cymbals above the neighborhood
restaurants’ No Parking signs and the art
students’ dried flowers whirling in a cone
like a woodpecker. I have also never admitted
I am likely to die in Oklahoma from living here
too long, and if I think of it I think like a partridge,
a dead one hung on a nail for a painting, or the first
partridge, the nephew of Daedalus, flung in rage
from the hill of Athena, and I have hoarded rage
in my barred feathers like the lines of cars
in a garage where a would-be killer slips
between shadows preparing to ambush his victim,
who will not recover into fullness again
but will retreat from what she knew without thinking,
the walks, the dancing, the long or short flights
like any bird’s imbued with the glancing flavor
of impure air that nonetheless does not destroy.
The partridge is not a beautiful bird, and the grass
where the workers used to park their cars is falling
down on the job itself, or will be, that day of heat
and blood and the smell of god like toasted sugar,
the sprinklers twirling elixirs madly and the president
of the university wandering the maze his wife
had built because she loves beauty and the mystery
of beauty, she even loves the mystery of ghosts,
and he wonders if he might dine on partridge.
His wife will know how to render its breast,
but the partridge is impure and lustful, unfit
for the tongue of the religious even if his prayers
are heard only by donors who admire the endeavors
of the business college and take as their doctrine
its longing to rise above the prairie and the ghosts
as if also wingéd and holy, soaring unlike the sexual
partridge, described in the medieval bestiary
lying on its back, covering its eggs with dust.
The partridges native to Oklahoma include pheasant,
sage-grouse, prairie chicken, and, notably, wild turkey.
Sometimes they barge right into town, groups in single
file, large enough no unarmed human interferes,
but they possess no riches. Their dull brown feathers
dangling, they seem to have brooded not at all.
Yet next year, like every year, there will be more,
pacing out fledged measurements, and us
behind them with our empty bags and long walks
to the nearest bus stop and then the necessary,
humiliating, noxious ride to wherever we almost live
and work to afford and there are shadows
we hardly get the chance to know before
someone rises from the gray with a blade.

in the eyes of the watcher

I missed her when I went looking
night out, aftermath of lightning
night out, aftermath of lead poisoning
night out, no aftermath
four kids staring out car windows, cardinal directions
big kids who wanted to keep going
big kids who thought they’d stay the same
you could break open a fig and watch ants run everywhere
when I was a girl spying the fig tree spread its wings
I never approached the circle of dancers
why do I find no trace of the broken watch
taken apart with care to locate the pace of the gear and the grind
no reflection of the face known not to echo the shape of the void
she never spoke and I never heard her
she had nothing but figs and salt
didn’t mix them didn’t season the flavor
she wanted to go for a long ride
she wanted things different on return
no octagon of warning
no crumpled collie body in the highway
no blame for leaving early and not looking backwards when he
followed
the passenger in the car, male, hazel eyes
in search of additional softness she groped inside her open jaw
she stuck a finger in there and found a lump in her throat
nobody came back and they were supposed to
according to whomever was watching and making rules for watching
she only thought why not why not why not
she tattled like that so long it went straight to the crying
nothing could sink against the rough grains
as if to the bottom of a bathtub full of hair
the bottom of a body touched and touched again
intent to harm stashed in its rag sock
like a smell or an egg or a hand or a throat
a voice stuck in a trumpet or a broken harp
a voice that spoke fast so it wouldn’t have to hear
it’s still not finished and doesn’t sound right
that echo as if air entered the right ear
and words came out the painted side of the world
where the same old woman who runs hard down my block
leading her dead collie and sometimes a dun pony
strains to recall and put them in order
her face records the changes as curves
the highway grows a new leg after every bend
when she turns the corner she is shouting

Candle

I’ve been trying to explain how light is like a building.
I don’t sashay the mortar of sunlight into road cracks
so driving is driving blind. All I know is the world
is on the other side and I need a ride, will you take me?
Everything bends inside your sunglasses, your face
doing honors where I can see it and praise it, and we warp
in the direction of broken bridges and cattle-backs
drenched in dew. But first we scale a precipice of light
flinching at the raised hand of gleam. Light like a door
in light, bleaching gold from alchemy of light, separating
yolk of light’s yellow. The climb leans slow so at first
we don’t feel our ears filling with light, then it’s all
we can hear, a question, a book of questions, a book
of intrigue shining down on a book of boredom, workmen
strapping belts of light to their waists and scaling trees
of light. You turn on the radio to drown or distract
and the stretched skin of light on the high plains streams
flux from the speakers. Another skyscraper, wrong for this
landscape but proud in horizon light. Another fusty
warehouse of light. A skating rink darting with lost beams,
twirling skirts of light. I drew up shades and was glad
to trace burning on the taut glass. I remember tips of late
sunset tossing weed-heads, drawing out tongues.
We’re going to make it to the mountain tonight, if what
we see is mountain. Whoever glances in the mirror
sees everything we flattened half-alive like grass rippled
by wind, like what people say they want but if they found
a window at the end of a hall they’d stare out at the air
full of threats that can’t get in buoyed by brightness.
They’re locked in the building, invisible too, and we’re
on our way up the staircase, remembering when it was only
a highway, and the fire we understand is carrying out orders
was a dab of paint on canvas, an overexposure, not hands
on the railing, explosion, darkness, later a healing scar.

Lisa Lewis has published six books of poetry, most recently The Body Double (Georgetown Review Press, 2016) and Taxonomy of the Missing (The Word Works, 2018). Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, New England Review, South Dakota Review, Diode, Interim, Laurel Review, and elsewhere. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as editor of the Cimarron Review.

Genevieve Kaplan

Are you working

Go back to your room, and bring me
one drawing of a flower, one drawing of a boat
one with language, one determined. Also please
tell me how one could be delightful, pulled out, loosely
skeined and how each drawing
is a way to begin. Disregard that lingering “I, too…”
or “I, and…” and “don’t you see me?” to find one careful
note in the margin, one date
one pencil, one scrawl. We can both agree
to love: the soft
bay, that spring-enough
meadow, volunteer tomatoes
near the driveway, cantaloupes
from the farmers’ market, summer’s dust
in the morning air. You give up
the convenience of a walk while I turn the pages, run
one finger over leaves. I ask each word, and I hone in on
their availability
just one of something, please
as I know that sorrow is, but sorrow goes.

At one point in the dream

I admired a chain link fence in a field. It was
incandescent. It was threaded with spider floss.
Who knew what I liked or what I’d notice.
I certainly didn’t. The green behind the fence
could not withstand much, and I wanted
to ask, are you okay? Have you gotten enough rest
enough water, an aspirin if you needed it.
Have you located the drawer
near the bedside and put the danger in it for later.

Seasonal Affinity

What do you think, other in the driveway, other in the sideyard with a grasscutting machine, with a
spoon, with a broom.
If branches from the tree come down and someone says, “well, this time you’ve really hit upon
something.”
And the street is empty, but it fills with water when it rains.
These come together, somehow one image wants to eat the other, one detail actually manages to
encompass the entirety of the other.
What do you think, black feet of a bird, or dark brown feet of a bird, skitter the fence and we
clutch and we clutch and we clutch and watch the alley.
Signs of squirrels, the fallen trees, you want the view that extends vertically, that stretches
horizontally, maybe surprise yourself by starting with a window, maybe begin by ducking
between a building and a building and continuing straight on through until dilution is
achieved.

Some observations about language

Sass
and jest use sibilance similarly and repetition
can create a droning
or a warning; it can catch. At times I want
someone to see me
with unsure eyes, in disbelief.
Maybe you’d prefer not
to write the poem about your partner
dying on the job
while deployed, which is fine. But might
there be a threat
in the background? We must read
the situation with such careful
attentiveness. Startle
your children, startle your friends, fold
the self down into a flat tiny triangle
before allowing your self
to open again.
I pour
water into dishes. I lift dishes,
push dishes
in order
to create a sound.
We live
on a cul-de-sac, and the easements beyond
our sidewalks
are up for grabs. Someone
will take that empty space, and someone will fill it.

Genevieve Kaplan is the author of (aviary) (Veliz Books, 2020); In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s poetry publication prize; and four chapbooks, most recently I exit the hallway and turn right from above/ground press. Her poems can be found in Third Coast, Spillway, Denver Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Poetry, and other journals. A poet, scholar, and book-maker, Genevieve lives in southern California. She edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose. genevievekaplan.com

Thomas Fink

Dusk Bowl Intimacies 36

Leave the fig leaf alone, and everything could be fine. And she lives to dress up, and she has the right clothes—to milk the province’s uncombed masculine goofiness. Oh, this has been a terrible era for the ardent designer of outcomes reassessment. Fish come swimming up at any hour. To gawk at how bumbling “sapiens” sap sincerest intentions. Call me ancient, uncorseted and uncoveted by fresher generations, but I hereby spurn the charge

of
pickling rust-
plated American tenets.

Dusk Bowl Intimacies 37

That mind is always super-crowded. Yet I don’t want to rue all those particles, if I’ve brewed them wrong. I have to pursue another purse. Pilar has taken the wrong pillar. Indolent fit. Altogether, I think the alimony should turn out fine. But she’s much more than that. She insists on snaking her way out of the cloud sum of blaring indulgences. Bartenders and assorted bystanders hunt for every dent in the reconstituted. Instead, I prime to be a doer. Will you enjoy whatever opening? And the color, too?

Each
time I
see you flush

with
investments, I
get slap happy.

Thomas Fink, a professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia, is the author of 11 books of poetry, most recently A Pageant for Every Addiction (Marsh Hawk Press, 2020), in collaboration with Maya D. Mason, and Hedge Fund Certainty (Meritage & ie Press, 2019), as well as two books of criticism. He has also edited two critical anthologies.

Joe Elliot

Consolation

We are all dying. You are just doing
the hospital part of it, the part where tubes
and wires are stuck into your arm, your neck, your mouth.
The rule of three is also impossible

not to follow. Two’s okay. Two things get together
and necessarily form a club. But the third comes along,
bringing with it difference, the possibility
of non-membership providing the basis

of choice. And when you are standing there
having to make a choice, time seems to expand,
giving your life a malleable dimension
and shape, as if it could go on forever.

Yet, this movement into the thick of things,
this always being on the razor’s edge of decision,
is in the context of necessity. All of a sudden
it’s over, and it turns out you were just doing

the falling in love part of it, the running around
with the kids part of it, the carrying laundry
up the stairs and binding tomatoes and hopping on
your bike and riding to work part of it.

Arrested Development

1.

Now you can get arrested
for saying the word “bomb”
on your phone. Anything you can imagine,
anything you can get addicted to,
they “give” to you on a trial basis.
The first thirty days is a powder
blue sky in which little gestural ships
sail by. Their wispy wakes
close in on themselves
likes lips meeting in silence,
like a sleep deprived mind
having dutifully emptied itself
into a blue examination book,
like a vacated womb, its baby
gone, never to return, the sense
of being King and Queen,
God and Goddess, lingering
for ceremonial purposes only,
enraged by the dead speech
they’ve been given to give. There is no
real largesse, no possibility of
generosity if nothing is inconvenient,
if no one bats an eye when you whisper
the phrase “collateral damage”
or “operating cost” into your phone.

2.

They are listening to everything you are saying
on your phone. Your phone is a winding horn
you put to your lips to call in the faithful
hounds at dusk. Your dusk is the dark
and sad undermask you are always wearing
under your face. Your face is on loan
to you from the Confederated Manufacturers
of faces. Millions and millions of them,
the feces the dim coulter of abstraction
shits into the earth in neat rows and so
they grow. Growth Eternal is the staple
of this state religion that eats. Eating
by indirection each other is its sport. Its sporty
Galilean runs for office. Its office is to grind
and mash a bratwurst of they. They are unnamed,
although all around you, and you yourself
are your own phone’s worst friend.

3.

They think other people are the problem.
They think some Spirit of History,
talon’d and beaked, or the Invisible
Hands of the Marketplace, sheathed
in prophylactic plastic, or the Face
of Narrative sitting in the front row,
knitting directives, raising an eyebrow
not even a millimeter, as the ancient
contraption of cause and effect clanks
into motion and the blade slides down,
will always settle the matter of who
gets what. Thus they think in pronouns,
in subjects and predicates, someone
always taking action while someone
else always receives that action. That gift,
these walls on the ramparts of which
each individual self-situates, heaving
their diminishing stores of petrol
onto the heads of sanitation trucks
backing up – Beep Beep – to unload
their givens. They have to go somewhere.
Matter can be neither created nor destroyed.
You there. You have agreed to walls.
Let’s store the honey of blame in you.

4.

Because they do not have a life,
but do not know
they do not have a life,
they skip in the stairwell to the loo,
my darling. Boo hoo,
said Emoji. Haji, Johnny
Quest’s best friend, ended my childhood.
I could see the white ribbon
wrapped around his head
was a cliché, or rather, in order
to continue sitting on the orange rug
in front of the TV every Saturday morning,
I needed some sign of difference,
and this head gear was enough.
And so I was off, sitting there,
to the races. I never needed to stop
again, or get up, my darling.

5.

It’s so much more reassuring
to be listening to someone else,
to feel that noisy connection
to what seems like the outside,

to let this substitution drone on
a little, confident in its own
ability to white itself out and so
keep going, choosing, of course,

to play its role in this opening
up, since you have to open
up to something or someone,
and that someone might as well

be this one, and then you’re done,
although you’ve only just lit
the candle, only just begun
to attend to the wavering flame,

you fast forward everything
to the end, fire out, wick
smoldering, molten wax
a hardened puddle on the table,

evening inundating the room,
the room dark, and you
still sitting there, back erect,
than to be listening to yourself.

Joe Elliot helped run a weekly reading series at Biblios Bookstore and then at the Zinc Bar in New York City for many years. He co-edited two chapbook series: A Musty Bone and Situations, and is the author of numerous chapbooks of his own, including: You Gotta Go In It’s the Big Game, Poems to be Centered on Much Much Larger Pieces of Paper, 15 Clanking Radiators, 14 Knots, Reduced, Half Gross (a collaboration with artist John Koos), and Object Lesson (a collaboration with artist Rich O’Russa). Granary Books published If It Rained Here (a collaboration with artist Julie Harrison). His long poem, 101 Designs for the World Trade Center, was published by Faux Press as an e-book in 2003. Collections of his work include Opposable Thumb (subpress, 2006), Homework (Lunar Chandelier, 2010), and Idea for a B Movie (Free Scholars Press, 2016). For many years, Joe made a living as a letterpress printer. He now teaches English at Edward R. Murrow High School, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Anne Noonan, and their three sons.

Merridawn Duckler

No Single Answer, Agony Column, Cosmopolitan Magazine, May 1988

Q; My boyfriend wants to see other girls (sic)
Meantime other other girls hide in their
bushes. Now I go out kind
except my crouch, hair, nails, clothes, erasure
clutter, these rainbows, these inserts, my whiteness,
Nothing works, right?
For contrast, my heart is 21, his penis is 27

A: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Q: Having an affair with strict missionary
I’m the top. But I’m all like
Think, moron! What is under them?
Is it an adventure, an affair
am I (an) adventurous?
I’m writhed in un-confidences, sitting
tuck toe between numbered ads. I am fat.
K. If you cud. Map it out for me.
Should I be prehensile by now. Be real.

A: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Q: I went to college. Girls went to college.
Coffee shops went to college. Class warfare
went to college. At home, high school weeps.
Sigh school burnt the experiment. I am above
dorms. College is so full of empty forms!
Feeling a cliché tighten. My flawless necks
collar me. Here’s my numb.

A: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Q: I I I I have a career. Money continues page 79
No one cares I am not giving up.
F-bombs are scattered over the laws
under the big building. I love them, in a sense.
Where is this green in my stained hands?
The hard work of being a child
turns out has no compensation. Help me, Irma. Get him out of my house.

A: HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Q: Married. Coffee. The light comes and goes.
He screams of tragedy and follows me into lunch.
I’m pretty sick of it but think on the solo. A long convoy
of hounds follow, panting, slobber.
At my works I look out the window. He is in bushes.
I pity his disguises. I write to you for the nail color
to nail him. Don’t tell me how cops feel. You are laughably my hope, joy.

Answer: She is all these people.

No one to stop me from taking from the waiting room, Via Magazine, Spring, 2019

Waiting for medication, I dream of Fresno.
Kristi Yamaguchi, writing on a silver wall had tried twirling, moving a ball from side to side.
Now she is start-fish and lavender, a queen and an author.
In the best parks, at Point Lobos, a little cabin where fishermen trembled.
In the Valley of Fire, a garden of rocks.
At Slide Rock, the junipers are suffused, as we hunt for that verb the good part of an afternoon.
In the Lewis and Clark Caverns, caves never entirely empty.
At Antelope Island, the pronghorn.
In the best of state, mine was Silver Falls, where once I stood under the roar and understood this land was lodged in me like a bullet.
Left out was the little park in Fresno, where I dedicated myself to only one god.

This is what we should do.
I guess, we eat first, in Trinidad, by someone with the name Bridget Hand.
I yearned to write names for these bougis! Pages and pages of turnstiles and castles.
Where have I wasted my life next?

Gerhardt Richter’s Five Grey Mirrors

Away they are matte.
Close by they are a gloss.
This one is a piece of sky.
This one is a landing strip.

All are the windows of a train.

The gas is so undetectable,
as we sit in the designated chairs,

still, they will not allow us
to return home.

Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Oregon, author of INTERSTATE (dancing girl press) and IDIOM (Washburn Prize, Harbor Review.) New work in Women’s Review of Books, Seneca Review, Interim, Penn Review. Fellowships/awards include Yaddo, Southampton Poetry Conference, Poets on the Coast. She’s an editor at Narrative and at the philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.

Hannah Corrie

Galileo Went Blind

Not from looking at the sun, which is what people say,
but from some bacteria that inhabited his eyeball like it was

a good planet. There’s no poetic justice here,
just so many small things clamoring to survive.

When I turn on the news now, it’s all the same.
Over and over they say, we’re killing ourselves

with our living. Over and over I tell myself
there is no meaning in irony. Outside, starlings

are singing. Upstairs, my sister is screaming. Before,
I was crying, but now I’m watching

as cumulus clouds gather like a cataract
over the luminous sky— I know

I should condemn the coming storm, its turbulent
brewing and unflinching center, say

it is wrong to make people suffer
and feel small, but

everything glows
in the low light.

I heard, after he lost his sight, Galileo stayed inside
and studied gravity. He spent his days rolling balls

down ramps, and, I suppose, learned to love the song
of the soft plummet, which means

something tethers us to this Earth
after all.

End of a School Year

There’s a garden
on the roof of the preschool,
and the children are
not yet ready to leave–
in dappled light,
they break brambles,
heave old mud and
dead roots to Compost,
dance in mist that drifts
up from the Hudson– I dole out
seeds, pretend it’s not time
to go in, then watch as
the children scatter
lavender, daisies,
mint, poppies, creeping
thyme, sweet cherry
tomatoes. I swish my skirt
and settle in dirt with a trowel.
A little girl says
“yes, I will stay here forever!”
then begins restlessly
turning soil, like it’s a plot
in a story she hasn’t quite
worked out.

The Stairs

It was like
a seed being sown
in an unsubtle plot,
watching him balance at the top
of the stairs,
one leg thrown casually
over the banister as we sat below,
he was always
joking like this
at eighty
eighty-five
ninety
even as he thinned,
lost teeth, lived
mostly on liquids, even though my grandmother
ordered him down
he would not
stop, look
I am limber, I am a ballerina, I stretch
to infinity,
and because
I have always been a reader
I knew what must come next:
Who could not imagine it
shoelaces never tied          the stairs
so steep          just one misplaced
step and         all that momentum
in his long body         in a story it means
the descent is coming          he was a scientist, he said
an object at rest stays
at rest         there was nothing I could do
I watched as he         was always
singing         once he stood still
his greyish eyes on the precipice
of blue, he told me “every symbol
contains its opposite” and then
over and over,
he ascended,
he descended.

The Plot

I dreamed of the fall before I fell, I reached for Sylvia Plath then found out
it was her birthday, I said the name of an ex and his face popped up
on my dating app, I saw things wrong and thought the woman at the party
was wearing the same dress as me, but it wasn’t until later that a woman
in the same dress showed up, last week a friend and I went to a bookstore, I
picked up a book and said, let’s play a game, let’s pretend this is an oracle,
flip to a random page and let it predict our fates,
when I opened the book
the character was explaining to a friend how a book can be used as an oracle and
don’t you ever feel like the dead are lingering just beneath you, drifting on some luminous
river running parallel to your own life? They will drop you at the precise intersection
of I’ve been here before and I have no idea what’s coming, Universe—
sometimes I flatter myself and say it must all be love, but really, I’m so tired
of playing charades in the dark. All I know is, in the weeks before my house
caught fire, I read two books: One was about a house that caught fire.
The other was about two children who could spontaneously combust.
They were not hurt. They would not apologize. Over and over, they burst into flames.

Hannah Corrie is a poet and educator living in New York. She graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University with a BA in English, and received her MA in English and American Literature from New York University. Her work has previously appeared in Live Mag and is forthcoming in Atticus Review.

Charles Borkhuis

No One to Speak Of

1.

tomorrow has come to suck
the egg out of another day

the moon’s double zero
perches on a branch

put it to sleep
and it wakes one day

ahead of the last
no-name day

the same day
spelled backwards

becomes yesterday
drowning in moonlight

2.

a worm eats at the human heart
the way nothing eats at something

someone stands in for no one they know
and fills in the blanks

someone watches themself in the mirror
trying on faces

words don’t stick to the one who says them
they warm to slush and slowly slide away

tomorrow is another someday
someone is another no one

fearful that their identity
will someday desert them

someone closes their eyes
and is given a chocolate kiss

but when they open them
they see rat shit wrapped in gold foil

3.

someone has a key
that lets them in

and a lock
that keeps others out

someone is a happy mistake
but doubts

they are
who they say they are

someone talks to no one
they know

and hears voices
through the walls

someone eats from a can
and checks their stool for blood

someone remembers playing
under the table with ghosts

someone becomes a ghost of themselves
watching others through closed windows

if someone knocks
no one is home

if no one knocks
someone is home

4.

tomorrow wakes up
as another today

the same day
turn it over like an hourglass

tell it to the metronome
tapping to a soprano singing a solo

while another someone stops mid-bullet
blind accident speeding away

an eye spills across the page
last words written to no one

someone wakes with silent
words on their lips

little phrases on the wing
who’s speaking now and now

no one makes sense for long
no one returns from the dead

as someone else
no one knocks when someone is home

someone has forgotten their name
and becomes no one again

5.

everyone thinks they’re someone
standing in for someone else

the way space bends
around a foreign body

and gravity spins time like a top
the way everyone is virtually there

but never present to each other
never actually in the moment

more like a recorded version
spinning off in multiple directions

something has been lost
in a shimmering pool of light

someone stares up
from the bottom

and breaks the surface of a dream
before sliding back under

6.

someone dwells in a pause
between sentences

a parenthetical personality
neither asleep nor awake

hears the dead knocking at the door
someone shoots and someone falls

tomorrow is another day
spelled backwards

in the light from a dead star
live light dead star

someone hears nothing knocking
at the center of something

words wake us
and put us to sleep

the same words
heard but unspoken

7.

silence nurtures someone
in the womb of nothing

the shimmer-echo
that is and is not

already there already gone
in the same motion

the constant flow of words
from nowhere to somewhere

keeps someone watching
for tomorrow’s nameless someday

someone talks
to no one they know

and hears voices
through the walls

8.

moonlight sinks into an empty silhouette
that walks the streets without us

someone stares in the mirror
and sees another in their place

no-thing has found a home
under the skin

the empty black sky
lets everything in

the worm dining
on the human heart

dreams of one day awakening
as a butterfly lighting on a branch

so someone puts no one
in their back pocket for safe keeping

walks into a bright busy street
and slowly dissolves

Charles Borkhuis’ nine collections of poems include: Dead Ringer, Finely Tuned Static, Disappearing Acts, and Alpha Ruins, selected by Fanny Howe as a finalist for the W.C. Williams Award. His poems have appeared in eight anthologies and his essays were published in two U. of Alabama books: Telling It Slant and We Who Love to Be Astonished. He curated poetry readings for the Segue Foundation in NYC for 15 years. He translated New Exercises by Franck André Jamme from the French. Borkhuis’ plays have been presented in NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hartford, San Diego, and Paris, and published in four books. His two radio plays were produced for NPR (PennSound). He is the recipient of a Dramalogue Award, and is the former editor of THEATER: EX magazine. He lives in NYC and San Diego.