Emily Blair

A Boy Named Rooster Tries to Kiss Me

with a lip full of mint Skoal and his thumbs hooked in his belt loops, oh Jesus do you wonder why my type is my type, this dripping masculinity, this air of no care in the world, this lanky frame wound taut, guitar string twanging against the world

and tells me he has to go home to bury his uncle. Home isn’t here, home is up and up the mountains, a half-lane dirt road touching the face of God, God in a clapboard 8 pew shack of Jesus Christ, home is back-home, he’s using the terms I will feel in my mouth only years later, my whole family is buried in the cemetery in Slabtown, you can’t throw a rock and not hit my relative’s tombstone there —

but Rooster has to go home to bury his uncle. His home-place you see, up there it’s all family cemeteries and no funeral homes. They get the body and hold some kind of Christian vigil while the men take turns in the pouring March rain, that freezing rain that gets beneath your skin and in your eyes, that low hanging cloud rain, digging with shovels, the road too tight for a backhoe, the rows too tight for that kind of equipment, they bury their dead sole to sole practically up there, because the folks are getting older but the mountains are winnowing, this way and that, and they only have this plot to save. Rooster tells me that he’ll go up and help dig this grave, they’ll drink beer and whisky and dig this grave, all the men together, while the women sit among cooling casseroles and watch over the soul. Rooster tells me it’s better this way, it’s everybody’s job so it’s nobody’s job, and that another relative has made the casket, and that he didn’t really know his uncle but that’s the way we do it, that’s what we do

and I lean toward Rooster and say, That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

toothy mother

my mother’s mouth is filled with teeth [canine, elk, bison, pike]
frothing forth to chatter on the kitchen floor
one by one – thunder
shakes a tin roof, windows chattering in warped frames

and I’m eight feet tall and newborn,
angelic scope, the angels were harbingers, the angels were bulletproof,
and I’m all gums and cartilage, my soft spots broader than a man’s palm

she says we thought you were a demon because you cried so much

and what of it, if I were punishment? if I were sent
to bring you to your knees? is your throat scraped from these teeth? are you
shark mother? am I minnow? am I tadpole, burrowing and burrowing and emerging
as loud as a bullfrog, that sound deep under your skin? and what should I have been sorry
for being born
just because I was an infant, and you were a mother, and everything about you
turns inside out, a body of prolapse, liters of bile, and blaming me for the trouble?


in our postage-stamp yard
tall grass casts shadows over
my mother
asking from the porch
what more I could want
outside this place

her embrace         a shifting body

full tide mother // swift current mother
take me below


I am inordinately good
at stacking dirty dishes
in boggling shapes

it came up to nearly

nothing broke but the sound was

mother        [not impressed]


everyone forgets seraphs
were beasts of fire

but I don’t
& she doesn’t

we sit perpendicular,
skipping wind across coffee,
looking past
out our respective doors


she says, it’s turtles all the way down

springs rise
through mattresses

we put down quilts
as if to stem
a slow & painful leak

my teeth came in crooked
I could not eat right
& the house leaned


I’m sick of talking about
the different ways
panes of glass grind together,
pulled down to make sand
a single clutched fist
might hold

Love Poem: For Mrs. Pac-Man

My love is an empty laundromat, humid, acrid.
The machines are going but no one is here. My love is an inconvenience,
but a convenient inconvenience, the thing you need
instead of want.

My love is clanking quarters in front pocket,
wet palms and dripping orphan socks. You were here
once, somehow, even if you’ve always had
in-unit machines. My love is ubiquitous.

My love is spare socks and missing socks and whose underwear are these?
My love is your wadded wet clothes on the concrete floor.
My love asks if you have a quarter, then if you have a light,
then if you have a cigarette, then if you have a boyfriend.

My love can’t take a hint.

My love is an empty laundromat
in a small town, near the interstate,
with Mrs. Pac-Man bleeping and blooping in the corner
but quarters are for laundry, and laundry is expensive,
and I’ll be here all night.

Love Poem: For The Sounds at Night

My love is an eighteen-wheeler careening down the side of a mountain,
Jake-brake screaming at the night. I am incapable of stopping.

Do you believe in prayer, in miracles? The people in cars
blinking down this mountain in front of me
need to. My love is too heavy and too fast.
There comes a point when people realize
the combustion in their chest was not me, but the sound
of me, the way that I make you feel in your lungs but you realize
I am a chest cold – I will pass.

My love echoes through the holler, reverberating
deep through unsuspecting chests. My love, my father called it a jay-brake,
and I thought it was a jay-brake until I sat down to write

about this sound. Indescribable.
My love is a risk, my love is risky,
my love is sorry I left, my love left the mountains,
my love lives in the mountains, my love wants to go home.

Emily Blair is a queer Appalachian poet and blue-collar scholar originally from Fort Chiswell, Virginia. She currently lives and teaches in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her first chapbook of poetry, WE ARE BIRDS, is available from Dancing Girl Press. She has recent and forthcoming work in Riggwelter Press, The Pinch Journal, Occulum Journal,. and others.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 21)


Happy Spring, and welcome to Posit 21!

It is with equal parts pride and delight that we offer the freshness and breadth of poetry, prose, and visual art in this issue: its capacity to match aesthetic delight with insight, emotion, and critique. Book-ended by poignant treatments of mother and home by Emily Blair and Karolina Zapal, the writings featured here are distinguished either by the bold frankness of their voice, the restraint of their meditative lyricism, or the exuberance of their experimentation and play. And the visual art collected here has a comparable depth and breadth, from painting to assemblage, collage to textile.

All of this, of course, against the ever-more disconcerting backdrop of our real-world “collective failing, a planet / boiling” about which “how frighteningly / beautiful those words / about the slouching and /the beast, another matter / when it is at the door” (Gary Sokolow, The Darkness, The Knocking).

Yet even now, when what the narrator of Blair’s A Boy Named Rooster Tries to Kiss Me calls “the craziest thing she ever heard” makes more sense than what we’re asked to accept on a daily basis by the most powerful man in the world, these works remind us how “the moment / is still music” (Mark Truscott, Rain) and help us appreciate “windfall as artifact of storm.” (F. Daniel Rzicznek, from Leafmold).

Which is why you won’t want to miss these wise and beautiful windfalls of our stormy times.

Azadeh Ardalan’s painted-from-memory portraits utilize eye-poppingly vivid, non-naturalistic colors and broad, gestural, brushstrokes to peer beneath the surface of how we live now. The heightened colors and lush textures with which she depicts contemporary characters seated in simplified interiors is more than reminiscent of the Fauves (and especially Henri Matisse): it brings their revolutionary prioritization of form and color effortlessly forward into the 21st century. The velvety saturation of Ardalan’s palette infuses these paintings’ static compositions with an intense energy, so that their depiction of the isolation of contemporary life delights the eye, refreshing the viewer’s appreciation for the beauty of the everyday.

Emily Blair writes in a powerful voice rich with mastered emotion and an indelible connection to a home left as far behind as it is ever-present. These lyrical poems evoke a “back-home” to which, to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, the narrator can never truly return: a back-home of laundromats and Ms. Pac-Man and eighteen-wheelers and a boy named Rooster “with a lip full of mint Skoal and his thumbs in his belt loops,” as well as seraphs that are “beasts of fire” and a “toothy” mother “everything about [whom] turns inside out, a body of prolapse, liters of bile, and blaming [her] for the trouble.”

In Thomas Cook’s prose poems we are treated to language at serious play, a gestural yet sly resort to the atomized energy and unpredictable harmony of words and phrases in a world where “origin stories are difficult,” the “best has less to do with extraction than survival, especially in the case of cortexes.” In the world of these poems, lying to yourself is a shortcut the poet must eschew, even if, or perhaps especially because, it would create “a poem for the millennium in which you were found.”

In Janis Butler Holm’s sound poems from Rabelaisian Play Station, we’re treated to another vision of language cavorting on the fertile ground “between sense and nonsense.” In keeping with their Dadaist heritage, these humorous mash-ups ring deliciously with the surprising sting of critique. Dripping with satire, and propelled by a driving trochaic beat, these collages focused on fabrication and falsification lampoon the absurdity of an all-too-recognizable political status quo, one in which “peevishly adulterated, crackerjacks rigidify,” “percolating anthrax hoaxes falsify their logic genes,” and “double-dealing slumber parties oxidize fake news.”

Susan Leary studies the emotional complications, more and less beautiful, in the unknowable spaces between body and soul, as well as bodies and souls; “the world consumed by the vast invisibility of its histories.” In the first poem, that “the babies have a designated space in the cemetery” underscores that “only death would disguise in such beautifully-cut grass a field of complex abductions.” In another, the narrator wonders “how a fish becomes a body, & through this how a body becomes a boy that survives. Knowing only to flail and calm.” Yet another poem asks, “if science is the body’s ability to know something the world cannot, what then of the world?” And, further: “how should it come to recognize itself if all but gloaming & accidental recklessness?”

Returning to Posit with more virtuosic thought experiments, Peter Leight offers a number of understated meditations which cast “the kind of sensitive light that only shines when there’s something to see” — even, or perhaps especially, when it is “the business of shadows.” This poet’s probing work has the courage to “see how far away you are / from what you’re close to,” and the wisdom to know that it “takes all our strength just to give in to the weakness.”

Fabricated out of numerous pieces of wood “puzzled” together into abstract and architectural forms, Helen O’Leary’s sculptures are miraculous in their meticulous fabrication and transcendental beauty. They travel simultaneously between the worlds of painting and sculpture. The surfaces move literally and figuratively, their unlikely undulations carrying the eye across their painted surfaces, around to their backs, through their openings and back. These visual journeys are a surprise and delight. O’Leary is a master of abstract narrative. Each of these constructions has a story to tell. They hint of history, memory and experience. O’Leary presents the clues so that we can finish each narrative in our personal way.

F. Daniel Rzicznek returns to Posit as well, with more lush and meditative prose pieces from Leafmold. In these poems, living in the wild reveals that when there is “trouble with the bugs, trouble with thirst, trouble with desire,” “gratitude must be endless if you want to survive.” In a vivid tableau of “two towels, rust-orange and aquamarine, flap[ping] on the clothesline” the narrator sees “capes worn by invisible spirits, maybe your guardians, your watchers.” Considering what he has “left . . . on the mainland,” he concludes it is “that certain noise,” the “noise of certainty.” In the wild, by contrast, “the season puts white on the pines but inside them: always green, always green.”

Gary Sokolow’s poems find solace in the memory of a time when “it was cheaper to be going nowhere” and “nothing mattered but to stand by the last great jukebox” even if “maybe I was simply crazy believing I was stopping time, nursing a beer.” Yet, despite the fact that life is “a bracelet tight around (our) ankles” and “the shadows stay like the outline of the names of the builders on the ovens of Auschwitz,” these poems manage to balance despair with hope: that “a want there is to make it kinder” despite “the thirteen billion light years that would take.”

In Eternal Relations, hiromi suzuki collages black and white images with words from a variety of languages to consider our “eternal relations” with nature, animals, and human society. Her use of the Japanese interpretation of Chinese kanji evokes the “eternal relation” of letters and visual images – the essence of the ideogram. In River and Forest, a parallel is drawn between the branching structures of tributaries and tree limbs, and the visual connotations of their kanji. Town, on the other hand, highlights the witty juxtaposition of its component characters, which translate, in English, as “orange chocolate almond.” Yet again, in Bird, the lack of easily discernable hints keeps us guessing – beyond the charming image of the kanji itself, perched like a bird on the back of a calf.

The astoundingly detailed collage work of Maritta Tapanainen delights and toys with the viewer. They are so precisely assembled that it is, at first glance, difficult to be sure if they are constructed rather than drawn. These transcendent collages are assembled out of hundreds of pieces of found paper. Working within the palate of black and white, she draws out scores of subtle and rich tones. The soft patina of vintage papers and multiple shades of black ink reveal the rich variety of colors that that we tend to think of as “monochromatic.” Her pieces draw from natural history, science and music, creating a world that is lyrical and lively. Her ability to weave together these disparate elements is no less than masterful.

In these lovely and profound poems, Adam Tedesco offers a persona who “stayed who I was as if I had an option” even with a “feeding tube filled with … dreams, sadness & Swiss omelets, this Rickroll of numb gums and dumb love.” These fine poems do not cease probing, even though “anything you try to understand owns you. The light you bend towards owns you. Your lover’s point of view owns you.” Even when “to weep is to ask what is in us,” this poet is not afraid to forge ahead until “cleared smoke & human patience reveal” poetry’s essence, the intersection of the mundane and the magical: “commonness, a plate & glass, the tablecloth pulled.”

With these poems from Her Scant State, Barbara Tomash returns to Posit with a sample of her own novel approach to erasure, constructing two-part poems extracted from the first and second halves of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady. In the complexity of this conversion from novel to poetry and conversation between novelist and poet (as well as between the novel and itself), Tomash reweaves James’ inimitable and exquisite prose through the loom of her own prosody, giving rise to a lively juxtaposition of paired and pared-down questions and images. What Tomash questions here is no less than James’ imagination of feminity: that “queer country across the sea” which he recognized as “caught in a vast cage” – a vision lovingly reimagined by Tomash, “in her lucidity” via “ambiguities composed all of the same flower.”

The quiet gravitas of Mark Truscott’s conceptual meditations contemplate the materials of existence: the tension between seems and is, the transience of matter, light, water, and breath in their progress towards to drift and diffusion. These poems ask “what can it mean / that what is / has arisen already? / And then it will change.” Truscott manages this heavy lifting with a light and graceful touch, “placing / word after word / before coating their / succession in / colours of interior / sound.” The placid surface of his prosody is “like / a surface of water, / vulnerable to ripples, / real, now / momentarily /expressing its /potential for stillness” even as its “slow-beat ringing / continues,” with understated elegance, in the reader’s ear.

Altered States is an apt name for this body of work by Kit Warren. Painted in a variety of media, and made over a long period of time, they have an intoxicating quality. Warren uses a rich and elegant palette that draws us deeply into the work. Rhythmically moving across the page, her shimmering marks invite you into their world. They present a meditative, calm universe in which we can relax and enjoy the luxury of this work.

Marie Watt makes contemporary sculptures out of memory and tradition, tweaked with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. She often uses materials common to all of us, if full of potent meaning personal to the artist. Using many traditional fabrication techniques, she presents a fully developed body of artwork that is deeply moving. Fusing storytelling, politics, and a graceful aesthetic, she presents narratives that cross time and place to touch us all. Her desire to create community and engage with women “makers” adds unique social resonance and depth to her lovely work.

And, finally, in language as frank as it is vivid, in which “a gut feeling is just a gut job,” Karolina Zapal evokes a piercing yearning for mother and home inflected by “a sprig of jealousy a pinch of gratitude a handful of reserve.” The wisdom of this poet’s treatment of those emotional touchstones lies in her recognition of their limitations, that “what she has is not / enough and what she can have is no more.” With poignant lyricism we learn that “when Baby returns home home breaks / into a whisper” even while “a cheek of moonlight / on the road breaks off / in my eye.”

Thank you, as ever, for reading and viewing.

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, Bernd Sauermann, and Melissa Stern