Gail DiMaggio

Fallen Child: A Triptych

I know it’s the past because
my mother’s still alive. She says:
mother-daughter dresses,
says we’ll be beautiful
and alike. Walls rise
in columns and rows of fabric.
She tugs at a bolt
labeled “black watch,”
and the yards spill over her
in green rapids and upstart waves,
and a salesman with the mouth
of a grim old grouper
swims out of the darkness
to accuse her. But I
am already stripped
and draped in white voile.
Let’s wear the curtains
in the sunroom,
I say,
and she whispers:
But then we’ll know
we’re naked.


Lily and I live in the tangle of wild
raspberry under the pines by the river bank.
Perched on rocks, we play morning birds—
raven I say, crow, she says—
then under the high sun
she dares me to take off my t-shirt,
and when I say: what if our mothers—
she laughs, so I tug it off
and my doubled-up braids swing
heavy and crooked onto my shoulders.
Lily breaks the rubber bands,
unweaves the plaits, tugs
at the strands till my eyes sting.
Sunset, we mark each other
in mud and berry juice. On my left side
she draws a cross, two drops
of blood. Along her collar bone,
I write it out in words: I love Lily.


A girl-child lies naked
on the lawn where she fell
asleep. Wild hair haloes her face.
Grass flecks her back
like a pelt, molting. Beauty
in the curve of an ear, in
the shadow where her under-leg
vanishes into the secret.
Coming upon her un-posed,
irresistible, her mother takes a picture,
while the girl—shoulders hunched,
hands under her chest—goes on
dreaming: a coarse tongue
to groom her neck,
a fish
to nibble her fingers.
After Sally Mann

Spilled Sugar

She slept in a white room,
silk organza ruffling at the windows,
her satin spread
always slipping onto the floor,
like spilled sugar, like
the day she stood wiping it up,
wiping it up, and I asked,
Are you mad, Mamma,
and she looked across at me,
startled, as if someone unexpected
had wandered in, then smiled
and said, no, little cabbage,
not at you.

She tore up the witch grass,
but saved the lettuce sprouts, said
robins could find spring
but ravens have more truth
to tell, and if we’re not careful
how we point a tulip bulb,
it will wander in darkness
forever. Mornings, she divided
the snarling wilderness of my hair
into shining loops of braid.

I was afraid
of my father’s letters
boxed in onyx,
mother of pearl.
Afraid of the brass man
scowling on the door,
and that time she
floated in dream air
begging the wind to ripple her,
to make her less, make her
over, make her silk organza.


If I look behind me, I’ll see
the high window
where my Ivory Soap mother
scans and searches but
morning brave
I dare her to catch me
licking my arm for the millet taste,
crouching to poke
the truck-crushed frog
as she leathers on the tar.
All afternoon, Goldenrod’s a sad bird
with a yellow beak,
and bittersweet’s a nest
under the hum of the power lines.
But what if dark, and no
calling voice, no bath,
no sheets, no Now I lay me.

Once, I tried to keep
a furred, green caterpillar
in a Ball jar on my dresser.
It spun a cottony thumb
on the inside glass
and never got born again.


My brother a sleek
Buddha in her lap,

she taught me hunger,
then taught me: that’s enough,

and when I sinned by wanting more,
she said: how many wings

do you think a chicken has?
my pajama feet slip-slipping

in the night kitchen, I drained
a bottle of his formula—

gritty, lank-tasting.
I learned to strip

the gristle off the bone, chew
the twisted corner of the sheet,

dream the chunk of teeth
on the brittle rim of an ear.

One day she found me on my knees
under the honeysuckle trellis.

Yellow blossoms like dragon faces
wilted and broken around me.

The last of them
still in my mouth.

River, Cattail, Cold Window

Jimmy said a dog was lost near the river
but maybe it was a boy, and we’d be
heroes, but I didn’t want

to risk the swamp just because
Jimmy said so, and, besides,
How do you know

it’s a boy? Maybe, it’s a girl.
The weird marsh grass
like licked cat fur, the hissing rapids.

I wandered
telling myself stories. A girl
wearing a necklace of cattails

diving into the river, breathing
the river. And suddenly in brown water
a luminous shape—

lifting a hand, wavering past
with gelatinous grace. I whispered,
There she is.

In the fall the cattail I’d hidden
in my closet exploded
and my mother hit me

so I’d learn an outdoor thing
from an indoor thing.
But winter and my father

stamped his boots, my mother
peeled pie dough
finger by finger, and the window

sealed my lit face indoors.
I pressed my hand hard against the pane.
Let the cold burn.

Gail DiMaggio is the author of Woman Prime, selected by Jericho Brown for the 2018 Permafrost Poetry Prize and published by Alaska University Press. Her work has appeared recently in The Ekphrastic Review, The Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, and elsewhere. She resides in Concord, NH.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 23)


Hello, and welcome to Issue 23 of Posit!

Like most literature, the work collected here engages the poetic ramifications of relation: of “us” to “them” (Ryan Clark); of the artist to the art form (Ryan Mihaly); of one species to another (Jeffrey Hecker); and of the self to its own becoming (Paula Cisewski). Some approach romantic relation, at its beginning (Fortunato Salazar) and its end (Cassandra Moss, Katherine Fallon). Others focus on the relation of mother and child, at the beginning of that journey (Stephanie Anderson, Gail Di Maggio) and its end (Maureen Owen). And then there’s the relation, via gender, of the self to the self — and to the cosmos itself (Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel).

However, perhaps what unifies this poetry and prose most fundamentally is courage. Although these works emerge from a range of voices representing a breadth of aesthetic visions, all grapple with their demons and dance with their angels whole-heartedly. More than anything else, this writing is all in.

Now more than ever, we hope the integrity and commitment of this writing gives you the encouragement and inspiration we have so gratefully taken from them.

In her poems of Love and Rage and Love, Stephanie Anderson evokes the challenge to identity of new motherhood in all of its specificity as well as universality. These verses “go grasping / with language” even as the narrator’s “plush / body unravels.” Not to be silenced, the poet manages to nonetheless craft these powerful meditations on the challenge of motherhood, especially when piled onto the already full plate of a poet, job-seeking academic, expat, and life partner. The reader is reminded of the courage it takes to grapple not only with Baths and Summer and Irritation and Grief (not to mention with Love and Rage and Love), but with the “fluid facts” and “willful walls” of reality itself, until “what gets // unraveled / isn’t form, / it’s a form / of supplication.”

Paula Cisewscki’s brilliant observations on writing and its intimate life connections are also the confessions of “an inside person who frequents the insides of schools and museums, a little pet-like it now seems to me.” As children do, in the game of “becoming,” the narrator “shifted my bones around, sprouting feathers or hooves, whiskers or tusks.” She asks, “Are there people who don’t need to know how it feels to be every living thing?” Now, in a different becoming, “the loon I could see is gone. No loons and no hoot and no wail and no yodel and no tremolo. They found each other, I’m going to assume the silence means.” Remembering her (and our) own earlier silences, “What’s a term for the perfect thing you should have said to yourself?” But then, “Once I read a fairy story by this young girl who opened with the phrase, Once a pond of time.” Thankfully, “that girl’s perfectly mistaken phrase exists, and so, inside it I am reborn with joy.”

Like swords into ploughshares, Ryan Clark’s unique form of homophonic translation transforms an Arizona anti-immigration bill into a thing of beauty. His lyrical lines are interlineated with their source text to reveal just how they operate to rewrite and rebut the xenophobia and fear such bills codify. As antidotes to “our reality” in which “fear here is / a signature” and “our / view is fences . . . stately terror fences,” Clark’s lines have the grace and fluidity of “a river” in which “we flow where / carried,” like a “word signed as a wand,” “a sun on a / flag a story of living,” or a “note soaring for the need to soar.”

Many of Katherine Fallon’s sensuous and surprising works are love poems with fangs. In a possibly fading relationship, “we’ve still got some light left and a place to go to, go around, to harness. Think fainting goat, unshod.” And in a sinister desire for preservation: “Breastbone most visible, most wanted and so most likely to split open onto white meat, and really, the handsomest of purple hearts. I’d salt it to keep it safe, I would.” Here too, is “Hand on the gear shift, soft-centered truffle, oyster-splayed like a crime scene.” But in a turn from the “crime” we are offered this tender admission: “Always, a woman’s spirited breath the hot air of an oven, yeast risen against me.”

In Jeffrey Hecker’s dark and witty Ark Aft series, animals we may not have registered in the original biblical text speak, post on social media, and generally act in oddly recognizable ways. Retaining the charm and “moral” point of view of fables, these humorous and delightful animals also propound scholarly sentiments: “Boar notices Noah’s wife’s name varies depending on source text” (Boar & Cow), and personal concerns: “Ferret posts I feel everything I ever fancy or require within reach. Ferret’s alcoholism perturbs me, posts Hamster. I clench apexes, zeniths, vertexes, apogees, pinnacles, Ferret reposts” (Ferret & Hamster). And in Tiger & Lion, Tiger asks Lion questions not out of place for our time: “What type fire should we be, if we die wise? What type water should we be if we die dim?”

Gail di Maggio’s poems lead us into the worlds of dream and memory as the forges of identity. These verses paint deft and subtle portraits of a loving, restless mother who is full of life and unfulfilled desire, “begging the wind to to ripple her, / to make her . . . / over.” They are told from the point of view of an attached and dependent “girl-child” who is as inspired (“un-posed, / irresistible”) as she is frightened by her mother’s appetites, even as she must hide her own — notwithstanding the last of the “yellow blossoms like dragon faces . . . / still in [her] mouth.”

Ryan Mihaly uses text + visuals in these inspired three-part inventions based on clarinet fingering charts to enquire into the transcendent element of music “which unlike the saints . . . leaves no relics behind.” In these pieces, Mihaly transcribes the effects of music, its ekphrastic and emotional impacts upon us, like “rain suddenly stopping, daylight looking like someone who has just finished crying, identity torn away, face replaced by the look of revelation.” At the same time, he is mindful of the uses to which music has been put, “world eye closing or opening depending on what flags unfurl at the command to play.” Ultimately, though, and thankfully, “It costs nothing to play. The body is governed in the same way: the veins do not charge the heart for blood.”

The prose of Cassandra Moss combines the dispassionate analysis of scholarship and formal logic with the narrative immediacy of memoir to penetrate the volatile ambiguities of intimate relation. In these poems, as in life, “the weight of expectation swings wildly . . . from total ontological confirmation to complete withdrawal of mutuality.” Reading of the questing aftermath of a divorce, the reader is reminded, with the narrator, “not to think in terms of old and new” — especially when “the conclusions [she] hoped would be ready-made aren’t reachable.”

Maureen Owens’s spare and tender poems visit the universal ordeal of parental aging – of having once been tended, and now tending. As a child dyeing her mother’s hair, she “could see the black strands flow apart and the white of her scalp emerge in tiny winding rivers,” a child experiencing the parent as her entire landscape. The mother in memory who could “go full gallop up the cow pasture til the very end fencing,” is now the particulars of a declining person. In Owens’s characteristic titles, which work in counterpoint with the poems they open: “she could put on her left ear hearing aid / but not     her right       & sometimes / she could not put on her left either.” And in the poem “that same train / ironically / later that same day     robbed / by     different robbers,” “layers of pillows that won’t behave” belie the truth: “some nights we die several times a night.”

V.S. Ramstack’s elliptical and unpredictable images hum with an immediacy as powerful as they are challenging. Like a “silly scissor mouth,” they capture the reader’s attention and pique our interest with an intensity that is as impossible to pin down as a “soft wheel and brunt.” Treating us to one vividly startling image after another, such as the smell of hair on fire, “a death with / honeyed scythe,” these bold and beautiful poems remind us that we all “have a leash to neglect and this may be / the very time to do it.”

Fortunato Salazar, in these deeply perceptive anacreontic(s) scrawled in dior addict fuchsia pink on fair skin in alice, tx, touches on the oppositional juxtapositions of our outer and inner lives. Salazar queries the language and substance of argument: “I debate circumcised guy, he wrings out verse,” but the debate is really internal: “What am I in this proof”? “I’m mute and I barter at the door.” In this internality, “I’m untouchable like a distant diamond sky, I’m not insubordinate in the service of the enemies of bigotry and narrowness.” There’s maybe a good intent when “We restrain ourselves from each encroaching on the other” but “it’s like poison to me not to triumph in debate or even to leave the wrangling incomplete.” Too, the nature of god is queried: what if “God popped into your Master and spun birth certificate and $100 U.S. currency and water?” “God manned a tower for just such flutter.”

And, in a brand-new installment from poetry icons and long-time collaborators Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel, we are proud to feature two of their exuberant and life-affirming 12 Lines about Gender. These joyous romps into the expansive and expanding universe of gender unbound open their inclusive arms to embrace the genderfluidity of clouds, UFOs, manatees (like “androgynous / goddess[es] of rising sea and sinking city”), and mangroves (“their agenda agender”). Also celebrated are the “Two-Spirit / brackishness” of the Everglades; that “agender ex-planet, Pluto” and their genderqueer moons; and of course, the gloriously uncontainable cosmos itself.

Thank you so much for honoring these wonderful writers with your time and attention!

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann


Welcome to the visual art of Posit 23!

The insanely intricate and detailed universe depicted by Alexis Duque could only come from his rich and multidimensional imagination. Using both conventional and original tricks of perspective and technical drawing, he creates drawings that pulse with an almost psychedelic energy. His work is tightly organized and precise, but because of its imagistic density sometimes borders on a delicious hysteria. The eye wanders through his drawings searching for a beginning, middle and end. They are always there; the logic that lies beneath these mad worlds is always impeccable.

The birds in Teresa James’s drawn and collaged constructions often sprout winged hands — an apt metaphor for the artist herself, whose work over the years continues to remind us of the power of her hands. Whether working as a master printmaker/collaborator in her print shop in Chicago, or through her poetic and lyrical personal work, James always displays a mastery of her field. The birds in this body of work sing out to us with songs of love and melancholy.

Cheryl Molnar’s work is a virtuosic combination of concept and technique. Her intricately constructed collage pieces on wood are a marvel of paper and paint engineering. Working with both found and fabricated images, Molnar’s work depicts landscapes, both real and imagined. Her locales are vaguely familiar – encouraging us to will them to evoke a memory of “place.” Her work is imbued with an ineffable spirit of nostalgia, all the while delighting the eye with their intricate plays on time and space.

Matthew Schommer’s extraordinary drawings sometimes feel like film stills. They often capture an image in the split second in which they occur. Time stops and the drawn is lit, as if by a flash illuminating a fleeting moment. The skill with which Schommer seizes an image, using only pencil and his keen eye, is remarkable. They are often slightly blurry, as if pulled from memory, or retrieved from an archive of vintage film.

And Viviane Rombaldi Seppey’s work is conceptually complex and fascinating. Her work with vintage and contemporary maps ponders the notions of being lost and finding one’s way through the world. Seppy describes the work as autobiographical insofar as they reflect her own global wanderings — a life spent living in many countries, and the complexities of language and culture that she has experienced. The objects she makes beg to be touched and searched for keys to their meaning. As mysterious as they are immediate, their beauty is made richer by the depth of their layers of meaning.

Melissa Stern