Lewis Warsh

Second Chance

Let me offer you a plate
of bowtie cookies but be careful
not to drop any crumbs on the
rug for fear the mice might
come out at night when we’re
gone

Eat slowly and sit up straight
this time tomorrow we’ll meet
again, like strangers in street
clothes, at the restaurant on
the corner

Do you want some more salsa
with your chips one might
say as a way of breaking the ice
after so many years of fighting our
way out of a paper bag

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

Just so we can sit across a table
and peel a grape and stare into
the space between each other’s
eyes and write the definitive version
of what never happened
and never will

Drop a tincture of snake oil on
the scar tissue and pay off
your debts two at a time
while all the buildings where we spent
the night crumble into dust

And old friends greet us with
a standing ovation as I eat
the cherry at the bottom of the glass
in one bite and ask the waitress
with green eye shadow for a dry martini
straight up

On Johnson Road

I took a walk down Johnson
Hill Road to see the beaver
build her dam. But she wasn’t
there, only a few ripples
on the surface of the pond.
A few flies alighted on my shoulder,
and in my hair. Then I sat
out for awhile and read a book
about Jean Paul Sartre and
Simone de Beauvoir. I haven’t
come to the good part yet,
sex in the grass. Then a few
raindrops fell on my head.
There’s the path into the woods
behind the house, lost in shadow.
That’s where I’m going, just give
me time. It seems to get late
early, or earlier, each day, which
isn’t exactly news to anyone,
but something to say, as each
hour a little more light vanishes
from the sky and the barred owl
sounds its cry from the uppermost
branch, and the leaves begin to
sway, and turn color, over night.
Soon it will be autumn and all
the fall colors and a few deer will
dare to walk across the road without
fear of hunters or people in fast
cars. Soon the seasons will change;
the grass turn brown, the leaves
purple, like old wine, and the prosecutor
will present inadmissible evidence
to the jury of one’s peers, whoever
they might be, old, young, blind,
aging, embittered, dissolute,
and dumb.

Night Sky

Night-life in the country,
beyond the sighting
of a raccoon,

and the headlights
of a pick-up returning from the
dump

night-life in the treetops. The
3-legged dog next door
doesn’t bite. Do I hold

on for a moment or do
I slip over the edge?

Night-time in the
parking lot outside
Arizona Pizza, the Metro

North train
arrives in Wassaic, I get
off at the last stop.

Tuesday matinees
at the Triplex. The forklift
operator’s wife at the end
of the bar.

Night-life in the Bronx.
A dead carnation
in your lapel.

My mother knots my tie
before I walk out the door.

Night-life on the Pacific
Rim. I wear a bullet-proof vest
in Coconut Grove.

Night-life anywhere filled
with stars in the night sky.

Night-life in the baggage
claim area with no where
to go.

Lewis Warsh’s most recent books are Piece of Cake (written in collaboration with Bernadette Mayer, Station Hill, 2020), A Free Man (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019), Out of the Question: Selected Poems 1963-2003 (Station Hill, 2017), Alien Abduction (Ugly Duckling, 2015), and A Place in the Sun (Spuyten Duyvil, 2010). He is editor and publisher of United Artists Books and founding director of the MFA program at Long Island University (Brooklyn).

Laura Walker

psalm 84

 

i need
birds and hosts
some kind of color
 

to wait for you
 

we wade in pools and egrets
everyone appears
but you
 

i will cut myself into a thousand pieces
and give you one — i will stand in your door
and ignore the tents —

 

psalm 5

 

listen
i will talk to you in the morning
by the washing machine

open window and salt
and shallow breezes

what you hate is what you hate
 

we are looking for a same thing

 

psalm 6

 

can you hear me

my bones are soft, unsaved

and wet : at night they are wet :

supple and waxed, ashamed

of themselves

 

psalm 99

 

i see you there.
or think i do :

perched on a fence with your pantsleg rolled up,
eating a pear or an apple, milk-creased spider
against your thigh
 

your name is a plucked thing in my mouth
 

a low chair, a cloudy
invention

 

they are angry

 

psalm 2

 

a veined thing
rage

 

let us break their hands
and hobble ourselves toward water
 

we are spore and pheasant :
we are reaved and speaking :

 

i will set you

a pot broken at the wheel

 

kindling

 

psalm 4

 

i grow large beneath my hands.
my fingers break and sway, the meat
of me besets.
 

i know you hear me.

 

chained to trees :
we slept and didn’t know it :

Note on the text:

These poems respond to individual psalms from the Book of Psalms, King James Version.

Laura Walker is the author of story (Apogee Press, 2016), Follow–Haswed (Apogee Press, 2012), bird book (Shearsman Books, 2011), rimertown/ an atlas (UC Press, 2008), and swarm lure (Battery Press, 2004), and the chapbook bird book (Albion Books, 2010). She grew up in rural North Carolina and now lives in Berkeley, California, where she teaches creative writing and battles the varroa mite. More information is available at laura-walker.com.

D. A. Powell

American Cheese Killed My Cow’s Brudder

My hamburger tasted of sunlight
My hamburger tasted of blood
My hamburger sat on a fat bun
My hamburger cost an arm and a leg

My hamburger was named Rudy
My hamburger grew up in a field
My hamburger threw up its cud
My hamburger has a hard life

My hamburger settled in Boise
My hamburger had little to say
My hamburger felt slim without pickles
My hamburger cried for its mom

Brazil

a capital makes you
a country
no capital
makes you a nut
suitable for play
in words with friends
or scrabble
bc though proper
yr improper
when you need to be
there’s a zillion
reasons to love
a brazilian
inside each ourico
a cluster of brazils
who knows how
many that is
perhaps a bazillion

who am I to tell you
how ravishing you are
you have the longest coast
I’ve washed up on
so far

First Strains

owl
o owl
lo owl
low owl

owl
o owl
oo owl
woo owl

lo
lo owl
low owl
o owl o owl

o
o ow
low owl
o owl

The Next Big One

I’m afraid when you come
I’ll just roll with it

Shook to the marrow
Shook to the ground

I will rise from where you laid me
Learn to be simple
Learn to be sinful again
Take me up in your Rolls and

Rock me daddy any way you like it
Just watch me shake you down

Valentine’s Day

a line of young men in lawn chairs
waiting for loneliness
to open

D. A. Powell’s books include Repast and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, both from Graywolf Press. His honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the 2019 John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He teaches at University of San Francisco.

Benjamin Paloff

    A Trick of Certain Ambassadors

Symbiosis, my daughter explains: I charge the electric toothbrush, and the electric toothbrush keeps my mouth clean. Fuck it. My Talmudic approach to writing has made me afraid of writing, and while writing, too, I am afraid, as in the ritual that precedes a run or lift or sex, the artful lacing and unlacing and readjusting, the learned wariness of the gerundial, the participial, the abstract, of their frailty against more muscular expressions, though they are everywhere, and genuinely both human and nonhuman—afraid of falling somehow short, or of falling, like Holden Caulfield, into a void with every step, though it’s only ever the stepping I wish for. Too much, you say, a guy’s book. You prefer the other. And I’m hung up on the sound of approaching engines over the sea, nature’s sound machine. An airplane, but too slow to be an airplane, the kind of undertow that can pull you so far out and down and fast, if only in my fears, that I’d have to plan an entirely different way of life, while the actual day is petty annoyances, the music frustrated by you reading silently to yourself. The street light we know is broken by its remaining on in daylight. The bullfinches’ begging we take for song. Not everyone has to sing for his supper. But the bullfinches face each other on the landing, heads low, wings splayed, and approach, retreat, approach again before parting ways, seeing reason the way a horse, fresh from the farrier, sees wonders in the sparks rising from her feet. People like me, on the other hand, are always looking out for people looking out for an angle, or else taking things for what they are, which usually means someone getting hurt. It’s excruciatingly difficult not to be distrustful when people declare April the cruelest month, when what they really mean is that April is the cruelest month for them, and the starfish-shaped shimmers along the invisible edge could be anything. Ships. Or some animal’s idea of a miracle. Or some jokester’s idea of a joke.

What They Do to Cowards
Around Here

Urine is cleaner than saliva, my wife has been telling me for twenty-five years, apropos of no latest study, wilderness first aid, no kink or would-be kink, just trying something out, and I have no reason to contradict or doubt anything said by anyone who has taken care of me. Even the surly, handsome pigeon walking laps around the backyard seems to agree that the world is everything that is a stat, that a dream about the inner lives of bees can end with an actual bee stinging me on my actual mouth. Peeing on the wound is out of the question, so I wake up every morning afraid that my father is already dead and beyond the ease of his casual 1940s racism, his enviable void of introspection, his hazy friendship with Mudcat Grant. Blues singer, two-time All-Star, pitches Game 1 of the ‘65 World Series, Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax refuses to pitch for the Dodgers, so Mudcat beats Don Drysdale, later a Hall-of-Famer. You can still be afraid of something that has already happened. The Twins lose the series in seven. My father laughed every time he mentioned that Mudcat had a brother named Swampfire, who also played pro ball, because he could never remember what he had or had not said. Had I seen, with today’s documentary precision, the bees flying in and out of a hole in the ground and wondered what it was like inside? Was Mudcat grinning down at me as I opened my eyes, awed by how the earth’s blackness is lined with workers working toward a common purpose? I had been holding an eye to the ground, innocent eclipse, and felt lightning only after pulling away. Somewhere, I am still in crisis. The bees are still in crisis. We are all still ringed by trees, though it is only the outermost ring of the tree that’s alive.

Twenty-Nine Sonnets

As we speak, most of the animals in Australia, which is no more an island than any other continent, are thinking of new ways to kill us. I am thinking about the garage’s postapocalyptic Zen, its diorama of a world where you just let things be. There are indeed other geographies. The planet where the wind moves so fast you wouldn’t call it “wind” if you were there—that’s also the planet where it rains hot glass. Where it rains diamonds, everyone is filthy rich, and dead. The planet that’s blue is not really blue. It’s a trick of the light, the atmosphere, the mood, an artist’s conception. The planet where people kill people for land, or for what’s beneath the land, is covered in lead and peace signs. People will do what the wind tells them, they’ll flee to where it flees. Australia, I liked my youth, the stupid clarity of my youth. We used to be primordial, too. The moon used to be closer. Pure sentiment, calling other planets’ moons moons. Dig deep enough, and you’ll hit roots that form stairs. Proximity matters, especially where winter is the price we pay for spring. As surely as there are loves that bring no joy, there’s no right way to be young. There being no Hebrew saints as such, I became possessive. I wanted to track down the guy who took it upon himself to decide what size fun is and not exactly kick the shit out of him, as if mentions belonged to me alone. I imagine plenty of others escape their pasts, you have to carry your trash with you till you find where to throw it away, but the Sargasso Sea is mine, so I have to ask what the point is of any sex or famine going on in my absence. I have to wonder about the invisible artist who keeps the plants alive on the landing, rearranges the dead butterflies daily, and comes and goes with the giddiness of gulls, loud and cruel. Silver dollars being worth more or less depending on the manner of death, I want a leisure-pages poolside funeral, cucumber coins on my eyes, on everyone’s eyes, for fun. We follow the devoted marketer; we’re dying to be revived. Yet I’d to innocence submit in truth, if doing so might give me back my youth. Which to our hope then gives the lie, that sleep’s a property of the eye. In the twenty-first century, slow seeing’s sorry art is excited by the ex-president’s paintings. They’re consistent with the technology of the time, yet patchwork, like Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand or, really, anyone’s mechanical hand. The angels have faces quite unlike those in art books. The sirens are singing their baited hooks just to drown you on the sand. To see the forward-facing footprints of the backward-walking man.

Benjamin Paloff’s books include the poetry collections And His Orchestra (2015) and The Politics (2011), both from Carnegie Mellon, as well as a critical volume and many translations. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Conduit, New American Writing, The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and others, and he was the guest editor of the Fall 2019 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review. Twice a fellow of the NEA, he lives in Michigan.

Laura Mullen

Virus

1.

Nobody has it then everybody has it
It’s nothing not nothing but distant
It looks like a little hat with tassels
It looks like a flower out of which
Other flowers emerge out of
Which yet further blooms spiky
It’s theirs not ours then it’s ours
It looks like an exploding planet
Nobody has it then everybody says
I’m wearing gloves I’m using bleach
Don’t touch anything wipe off
Anything you’ve touched wipe
Off everything before you touch it
Don’t get too close don’t breathe
Nobody has it then everybody has it
Or is going to have it or already has
Sharing the air infected caught

2.

These are the symptoms “wash your hands”
This is how you wash your hands
There are no tests anyone could have it all of us
The bars are full of laughing people symptomless
We are learning how to wash our hands
There are going to be tests there are no tests
There are tests but no one can get tested
There are no tests the tests don’t work there are
Tests that work but they’re German they’re
From a rogue lab in Washington which was
Shut down by the government they’re expensive
We’re making our own we don’t want the ones
That work these are the symptoms dry cough fever
Empty shelves shortness of breath disbelief

These are the new phrases “social distancing”
“Self-isolation” suddenly no one is lonely or
Everyone is lonely there’s no fear of missing out
These are the symptoms emails saying these
Are the symptoms emails from everyone
Saying this is how you know you have it this
Is how you know you don’t have something else
This is what you should do this is what you should not
Do then everyone in the bars and cafes is talking
About how you shouldn’t go out this is the curve
This is the curve we’re trying to flatten stay
Home now stay home are you staying home
These are the symptoms emails whose subject
Titles are postponed or cancelled some of the symptoms
Include refunds and slight social adjustments
Toward mercy moving in the direction
Of justice belated and transient democracy
A drift toward the recognition that people
Around us might be people might be human
As we might be human connected despite

3.

First it was in China and then it was in Italy
A lot and after that it was in country after
Country Germany for instance but wasn’t
That in part because they were testing there
Once we started testing it was here or it was here
The whole time in fact but invisible everyone
Once you started only started testing everyone
Seemed to have it and those who could get
To stay home could maybe flatten as we
Said the curve controlling the spread of the virus
And those who could stay home stayed home
Washing down their Amazon orders with bleach

4.

The number of people who will die is a number
That keeps going up another symptom the stock
Market crashing so hard so fast
They have to keep stopping the trading
So the sick economy doesn’t completely
Collapse Oh S&P 500 we love you get up

5.

These are the symptoms
It’s 1918 it’s 2008 can you flatten
The curve these are the symptoms
Joke videos and the word hoax the word
Politics a former disco queen reprising
Her famous anthem to a single basic
Expectation paean to the individual
Deep fluff of soap bubbles singing
“At first I was afraid…” goes viral
Everyone’s taking their temperature
And flights are really cheap to Paris
Another symptom “Paris is closed”
Writes a friend on their way home
“San Francisco is a ghost town” so
It begins
as a cough as a sore throat

“It’s just like the flu people die from the flu”
The president insists it’s nothing
First the schools are closed and then
It’s keep the library open no close
The libraries down
traffic court will cease
Operations for now this is a symptom
All water shut offs are being reversed
And if we could do that now why not

The symptoms included “wet markets” and
“Wildlife farming” the disease looked like
A flower or a exploding star there was
No way to tell who was really ill no one
Who didn’t have all of the symptoms
Should try to get tested there aren’t
Enough tests scarcity one of the symptoms
Among the many symptoms everyone
Was eager to share information
Healthcare would be helpful sure
Actually no one seemed sure there
Was a lot of worry about how this
Would impact us mentally as well as
Financially and “some countries just
Do better under authoritarian
Regimes” worrying about school
Lunches or mental health was one
Of the symptoms some people
Panicking hoarding angry and
Frightened watching cartoons
With the children sent home
“I Will Survive” was a hit again
“Shit’s Getting Real” was a hit
Someone started a reading group
To read Dante another friend
Worried that she should be
Using this time to read Proust

6.

The symptoms included poor people
Asking for debt relief and healthcare
And rich people congratulating them-
Selves on their “abundance of caution”
Using the ability to have everything
They wanted delivered as if they had
Been for decades practicing for this
Siege food hand-sanitizer and toilet
Paper (evidently we were shitting
Ourselves in fright) delivered to
Their houses tossed over the locked
Gate the symptoms were de-
Forestation rising temperatures also
Briefly the suspicion that this was
An escaped bio weapon or else
A political hoax we were surviving
In the tip jar careening from postpone-
Ment to cancellation the words “Business
As usual” sounded magic we were giving
Up our hopes and suddenly we saw
The people who were serving us as
People now they were a threat now
We understood our good health
Depended on their good health

The symptoms included the infinite
List of lists of dos and don’ts the situation
Was “fluid” was “unstable” was
“Evolving” “in flux” if you must speak
Speak into the crook of your bent
Arm pulling your sleeve down over
Your hand before you reach out
For a long already long and lengthening
“Moment” we were reminded that we
Were human frail mortal vulnerable
All of us alike and we were all pretty
Spooked you should’ve seen
The faces we kept touching we were
Trying so hard not to touch

The symptoms included ageism racism
Class bias sexism and xenophobia or else
The pandemic was just another excuse

7.

The phrase “symptomless carrier” was a symptom
As was the way we edged away from each other
Keeping the depth of a dug grave between us

The word “bungled” in the phrase “we bungled
The response” was a symptom as was
The insistence that we were going to look

Like Italy soon enough except for the singing
Meanwhile everyone knew everything
Had to close and no one wanted to close

Anything because we had no idea where
To go or how to be as staying home
Slowly turned from being a sign you

Were a loser to being a sign that you
Were thinking about the community

8. (Florida)

But we didn’t believe it was happening because it was happening
Somewhere else to people we thought of as business rivals and
Other and really we were all fine at that point so why care we were
Safe it was only killing really old people and it was at that moment
I thought “only” must be the worst word in the English language
“Only” and “just” but maybe the worst word was actually anyway
As in anyway we were still all fine at that point and didn’t know
Anyone who knew anyone who was dying not at that point
We’d been tuned to Fux News unwilling to “politicize” the pandemic
Because it was Spring Break and those vacations were booked
Each Chinese restaurant on 98 shuttered in an empty parking lot
And the college students in the tiny crowded hotel elevator said
There’s plenty of room it was all very “Masque of the Red
Death” or what maybe White Noise I said No I’ll wait
Watching the fog of denial begin to
anyway
I ordered a latte with virus in it reading another email
Someone carefully isolated wanted me to know
Asymptomatic carriers are the most dangerous

9.

And the ocean
Someone crying

I imagined thousands
Of latex gloves reaching

Out translucent tangled
Fingers full of salt water

Blindly seeking a lost note or
Instrument

All the hand condoms
And then ocean

I meant to write Not yet
Harmed
but that was

A lie try Also sick
Of us
undulating blue

And white nitrile
Caught in the surf

Because to touch
The world was

To touch our own
Fragility and

Transience

10.

Because the implications remained active on stainless steel for 72 hours
Because after sneezing economic collapse stayed “viable” in the air days
After being released because withholding information remained dangerous
Because the president wanted to tell us in droplets what to call it meaning
Don’t touch your face because we failed to ask the right questions soon
Enough because we didn’t ask anyone in Wuhan how they felt Describe
Your symptoms
translate preferring the dull flat language of the CDC fever
Shortness of breath dry cough because by the time we were willing
To listen to what it felt like (“knives in your joints”) it was too late
Because our failure of empathy was on the surface of every item
Brought into the house we were washing with bleach bleach
Was suddenly a precious substance “don’t” we had to be told
“Drink it” because we had to ask everyone to please step back
Because the target of the cleaning solution is the spike protein
Because but here the automatic cut-off kicked in again and
Trading was halted for 15 minutes after which because

Continued chaos and tumbling loss
Upon loss

11.

Every time I had a thought I thought
“Just don’t tell anyone” a symptom

Bars and cafes full of happy people
Young people on the beach laughing
How do you like your quarantine?

Asking yourself what you would die for
This not that and so forth that not this
Is a symptom

“But ignorance” I thought
“Isn’t bleach”

12. (the graphic)

Am I a red dot meeting a blue dot and making the blue dot red to go meet another blue dot that turns red then or am I a blue dot dodging a red dot to hit another blue dot without any visible difference (which blue dot am I) then hitting a red dot and turning red (which red dot am I) as all the dots turn red if this were more like reality someone says some red dots would be disappearing am I ready to disappear now whatever ricocheting color I in this silence am ready to disappear if it would bring forth sooner the world I imagine might be on the other side of this in which we say “I am a dot and you are a dot and there is no difference between us”
 

13.

No one had it or everyone had it
No one had it and everyone had it

In the time of the non-test the failure
Of testing no one was ill everyone was ill

We were all fine and dying
It was “Business as” Spring
Only the shelves stripped

Meanwhile we tried to go on
With our “normal” lives As
Usual
holding our own hands

Under the running water
Working the soap up
Into a froth like the froth

On the mouth of a rabid dog
Singing happy birthday or
No not I taking the time

Frightened and educated
To disinfect each surface

Now the harsh clear stinging
Perfume of Clorox

Will if we survive always
Bring this moment back

14.

Anyway sunlight I wrote
In this notebook using
The virus it looked like
A funny hat like a crown
Is a funny hat like a flower
Is also an exploding star
Or seed or sea urchin a
Lipid-coated structure
In which each person
Who died was me us I
Wrote in the invisible ink
Of the virus that made us
Begin to see those we hadn’t
My gratitude for each
Person who was careful
A note to say Thank you
For the care you take of me
Let me take care of you

A flower on which other
Flowers are blooming
A flower made of other
Smaller flowers what it
Looked like magnified
What it meant to be
A planet visible at last

Laura Mullen is the author of eight books and is the McElveen Professor of English at LSU. Recognitions for her poetry include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Rona Jaffe Award. Recent poems have appeared in The Bennington Review, Ritual and Capital, and Bettering American Poetry. In 2018 she was the Arons poet at Tulane and affiliate faculty at Stetson University’s MFA of the Americas. Her translation of Veronique Pittolo’s Hero was published by Black Square Editions in 2019. She had a Headlands Center Residency for Spring 2020—now she is sheltering in place.

Rich Ives

An Inevitable Territory

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

I try not to have any beliefs that don’t nibble on who I am or at least climb outside my inner territory, where they can become more than mere bright worms of knowing, like an exotic flavor perhaps; anise, fennel, caraway. When the ideas are forming, they look like bird droppings, and dangerous ignorance from my enemies falls away. This follows a pattern. I always question them three times to give them a sense of bold black and yellow stripes along their fresh green youth lines. They become an undulating tube of matter that walks on many legs to its own escape. It feels like a beautiful dark rising after its isolation, a flight of erratic testing careening softly above its own body.

Of course inside was once outside and outside will soon be back inside before it’s released altogether. Nothing under the sun is really new, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling completely reborn. Once I collected imaginary pianolas, one of them anyway, and pounded on it and teased it different ways to make it deceive me into multitudinous emanations that you’d swear had another source, a grand variety that was mine and not the pianola’s after all, but I felt rich with it and freed.

It’s what apologies do to you. When you make them to yourself, for your ignorance. Voluptuous tired little savages they are, and they can surround you with melody until you think you’re going to explode with such sacred knowing, but with such a record of silence, God will surely shut up soon. The little celery-worm ideals will turn back to what they once were, back to protecting their escaping flights from hungers with the smell of rancid butter. These cannot be everyone’s beauties that I experience, and I take upon myself a drab coloring to match the season. Sometimes my winter restrains me, but a warmth like two rows of yellow dots, bright, progressive and oozing the warmth of Spring, calls me back to my anchored body.

My beliefs are larger than the others now, feminine and blue, the yellow spots joined with orange, behind me in an imitation flight that follows and balances me. I can see two males fighting with their soft wild beautiful wings. I am the territory they will claim, and it’s more like my fulfillment and completion than you might imagine. I watch them pursue red-wing blackbirds, black t-shirts, anything beautiful or invasive, and I’m drawn deeper into myself with their impulsive desires.

And No More

Blister Beetle

I’ve been a parasite, I admit, but I’m growing. Life comes at us in stages. At first I couldn’t even use my legs, but I shed that skin and dug a chamber to live in while I built my final form, soft-bodied, short-winged, long-necked, brightly colored, and even iridescent, it seemed to me.

I worked on an oil rig where the locals called us oil beetles. We felt it inside us and oozed. Our body oil, we joked, made a kind of Spanish Fly, poisonous in larger doses. It stimulates hair growth in the right dilution.

We watched the cattle on the plains, wading below the cutbank like bored children. We offered them our own boredom, and they entertained it. Our little yellow dog was out there all day, looking for something he couldn’t understand. We waited for a more human wilderness.

The boys liked to break things because we were broken, and we still wanted to make something of ourselves, but Hayden, the one we thought of as our leader, wouldn’t crack, so we filled his boots full of rain. He stood outside himself and watched us, breathy, a great expanse shrinking toward maturity, where the hiss of his lithium gave just this much and no more.

The work gave us blisters. Weeks descended, and the grand tendon of Hayden’s neck still twitched while we tended at a distance his remarkable ardent fits of attention. The house his papa left him, long after his papa left him, brought the garden of a separated man into Hayden’s life, shaded and rife, slipping muscular and lean between unguent and Montana trillium.

That life he carried like meat, packed in and beaten against itself. When one of us passed the dream around, he let his cigarette down, and his eyes said, This is the last stick, and the last stick falls just hard enough to continue.

His deliberate downward motion fell against the earthy tendencies of his own body.

Just this much now and no more.

Rich Ives’ books include Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press–poetry), Sharpen (The Newer York—fiction chapbook), The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books–stories), Old Man Walking Home in the Dark (Cyberwit-poems), A Servant’s Map of the Body (Cyberwit-fiction) and Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press–hybrid).

Karen Holman

My Theory of Everything

Curved into space, like the country of a fetus, each letter
of night’s orthography, a city, a crux, meridian-point-
particle of conception in our extended family of Atom—
savants, still-births, binary system of fraternal twins,
sixth cousins with albinism, great-great-great-greats
and mother-nuclei, all futures collapsed into a kernel
which when blinked spools into an explosion for eons
and carries each snip of code to the fluttering canopy
of memory leaves of a book irrigated by veins of ore-
song, transpiring green biographies of immigrants,
electricians, suffragettes, orators, gymnasts and everywhere
everywhere women cooking always cooking alphabet soup,
singing an alphabet song, and the epicverse seems like
it goes on forever but maybe it’s only a Little Golden Book,
the neighborhood where you see Dick and Jane run
through the pages, days numbered likewise, digits
algorhythming into metropolises from pure miracle-
proof of how lucky, unlucky we are floating
in the background radiation of each life that ever
vibrated into dawn chorus from sea and land
to navigate the sky in mutating hybridizing genres
—the documentary-romantic-dystopian-historical-musical
tragicomedy starring aviatrixes, amphibians and AM radio hosts.
Coming to somewhere where someone is screaming fire
in a theater near you.
 

Little Sky
of Common Ground

Clairvoyant trees
—spindle neurons—
their quiver-branch seismographs
describe

each flux of air.

A mining bee’s wings
blows breath
through his piccolo home

each note bent by hand
with a Theremin,
rays angled
by a glass of water.

In the afterlife
fish ascend to float
through canopies of autumn
trailing ripples of sky.

A snake and her shadow
dance in the sand.

To air who gives
and takes away
this or that spark
of pollen—

my bent knees, my aquamarines

brighter than oxygen.

Karen Holman works for community mental health in metro Detroit. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa and serves on the editorial staff of december magazine. Her chapbook features in New Poets, Short Books, vol. IV. Her poetry has aired on NPR, been honored with several Pushcart nominations, frames composer David Evan Thomas’ oratorio, The First Apostle, and was performed by Pencilpoint Theatreworks in Fight Like a Girl.

Amy Strauss Friedman

Always Visible, Almost Forgotten

(Microscopium Constellation—Microscope)

Pitched and small, petri-dished and
begging for the glitter of discovery,

you endured as gray-pink speckles
against a sea of burnished dye
sufficiently rusted to waste your heart.

I diagnose you a cancer, the scientific
equivalent of pinned wrists in a burning barn.

You survive briefly as metaphor for the aftermath
of other women’s pain, but are spared
the embarrassment of the racket of Forgiveness.

There’s little time until the holidays,
little hope you’ll see the new moon.
The wretched world will rush to give up on you.

My woman’s ear will measure your fading pulse
as catalogue of every wisp of the underworld.
Flutter will turn to flat line. A city undone.

I’ll appropriate your ashes for charcoal,
steady my brush, and scribble your essence
beneath my eyelids. Then step out

into the fractured world
more alive than all our flowers
budding at the threshold of spring.

Recognition

(Lacerta Constellation—Lizard)

evolution judges us by the number of skull
holes behind our eyes, quadrupedal
and fork-tongued in this miasma;
we retreat as a turtle’s head,
make small meals of insects

camouflaged in dermal scales,
overlapping plates of keratin
molting to dispose of our parasites.
let us consume shed skin, devour
our pasts to reveal a tomorrow

we’ve too often been told is impossible.
fear of living small ablates us;
existence only works through acknowledgement.
protection and self-interest halt all momentum,
the reason for the regeneration of our skin.

Left Behind

(Vela Constellation—Sails of Argo Navis)

A single mast documents the absence
of the other two, a silent nostalgia
swallowed in the thick-fingered notes

of amends. For there’s no particular rooting interest
in solidarity. In loneliness so low and lovely
that flowers hide their faces in the dim distance.

So, behold my grave of nail heads. Barrel-empty,
thrumming regardless. Ambition drives neglect.
Strips the spine-smooth heart to rupture.

Don’t Dare Say Unglued; Say Savvy

(Ursa Major Constellation—Big Bear)

Hierarchy demands punishment of the lesser;
I have no choice but to mete it out
just as it’s done to me.

Once, a star threatened explosion
just to coat me in darkness. A suicide
intended as homicide.

A lover wrapped in the falling
away. A fascicle of storms and thorns
marking the sky like nail holes in wood.

Amy Strauss Friedman is the author of the poetry collection The Eggshell Skull Rule (Kelsay Books, 2018), and the chapbook Gathered Bones are Known to Wander (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Amy’s poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and her work has appeared in Pleiades, Rust + Moth, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her work can be found at amystraussfriedman.com.

Alexandra Egan

Chronologically

I wore his suit to the wake
slept face down on his pillow
was given ashes in a ziploc bag.

I put bones in my mouth
which is not a metaphor for something less animal.
I stuck my hand in and pulled out two pieces
the size of marbles
I put them on my tongue and nothing happened
and they tasted
like my mouth was empty.

That was my first death,
but later I was not less savage.
I mourned each
opulently
ragged tripping over myself.
I cried and was ugly with it,
black smears under my eyes
lids swollen
black dress and matted hair
at the memorials.

There were a lot of them.
and each time I learned nothing,
was selfish
maudlin.
One boyfriend shot himself in the head
over money
because
life is trashy cheap
worthless.
Long or short,
it’s nothing.

Don climbed the Williamsburg bridge and jumped into traffic.
The next day in the newspaper:
a police officer standing by
a body under a sheet, one foot visible.

It’s nothing.
One summer your oldest friend dies sick
from drinking
and you become a terrible asshole,
a real piece of shit.
Why not?

Every condolence pure scam:
He does not live on in my heart
and please
don’t fuck around with a fuck-around.

Death is a hole burnt in something silk
and singed black at the edges;
it is the blank that makes the name a lie,
a hieroglyph that represents nothing.
Writing it is forgery.

When you drop a lit match,
it goes out.
That’s all that happens.

Don’t grab my hand.
Don’t tap your foot like that.

A Very Short Introduction

In a dream Jodorowsky tells me
love dances in the lap of war.
If there was more, I forgot it.

Curriculum:
Read Jung
bathe in icy water
say my tongue is an eel
laugh in strangers’ faces           ( joy isn’t rude)
imagine you kill everyone you love
and feel no guilt
nibble paper and sit calmly in the living room
leave the lights off

Be wanton, if you like
swallow and catalogue holy
indifferent smile
cold
like something god did.

Never mind that these are tricks
relax,
theater is a cheat but the tears are real.

Progress is:
Know that you will die
and marvel
as you would at anything perfect and tiny
you can crush with your hands.

If I say I want to die
I only mean
like a matryoshka
each split doll
opens on another
shinier less useless
deathless.

Eat yourself.
become shit
sweet and new.

Later, I dream a tiger eats me
and I dream what the tiger dreams.

Apriling

Hello piss yellow sky.

Spring summer doesn’t come,
the season stays cold
as gangsters
dirty rain
tough as kindergarten.

The apartment tightens around
my galley kitchen my telephone my cactus plant
my galley kitchen my dirty stove my movie projector
my pasta pot my featherbed my porcelain cup
my butter dish my attic stairs
my sugar dish my bannister my income taxes
my slip-on shoes his electric shaver
my toothbrush holder my percolator my orange cat my my my

When you burn something the ash is soft
like thank you.

I wait for heat
honey pear peach plum
his hand
my hair
his ruin
his thumb
my mouth
my tongue
my June
my mud
my stink
my love

all distant.

Alexandra Egan is a NYC-based writer and set designer. She divides her time between Bed Stuy and the Catskills where she strives to follow Henry Miller’s advice to write calmly, joyously, recklessly. Current projects include digging a pond and critical essays on rap lyrics.

Joel Chace

from Times Rhyme

Saccadic

 
They cannot help imagining that Socrates was making

his mouth into a flute, and puffing away at some prelude

to Athene. “I wrote that,” she said, pointing to her

handwritten copy of Zukovsky’s A. Sentences

in his head used to match those that emerged

from his mouth. Activation of the gaze centers in concert

results in oblique movements whose trajectories

are specified by the relative contribution of

each center. Centuries rhyme. All must clearly understand

the difference between the idea, say, of Peter,

which constitutes the essence of Peter’s mind, and

the idea of the said Peter, which is in

another man, say, Paul. Obligatory

apologizing for the West. Moments before death,

flesh turns off, the little bubble of soul floats away,

and only mind — pure, dazzling arctic landscape — is left.

Dice

Joice Heth is not a human being. What purports to be

a remarkably old woman, is simply a

curiously constructed automaton, made up

of whalebone, India-rubber, and springs ingeniously

put together, and made to move at the slightest touch

according to the will of the operator. Over

and over, this. Over the moon she’d gladly go, out of

the cave, away from the peacock-monster and the fly, and

rectify the time to a cow’s thumb. His imagination

will waver; and, with the imagination of future

evenings, he will associate first one, then the other —

that is, he will imagine them in the future,

neither of them as certain, but both as contingent. Spooky

action can occur at a distance. I shall never

forget the grandiose and festive air which so completely

belied the hollowness of that occasion. No one spoke, but

angry, hostile eyes followed every movement I made. And when

I wanted to sing of sorrow, it turned into love:

and so I was divided into love and sorrow. She rests

back with all her might, pebble in a hard-drawn sling.

Bridge

Y: “I left it eons ago, when radiation started

to leak.” X: “I left just now, but Ted is still back

inside.” Z is the entanglement of all three. No drama

at the event horizon. Information loss

paradox. They pause at their entryway, unwilling to

permit the golden dying of afternoon to relinquish

them. George Ives would have his boys sing in one key

while he accompanied in another; he built

instruments to produce quarter-tones; he played his cornet

over a pond so Charlie could gauge the effect

of space. And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is

always passing away, and is first this and then that;

must not the same thing be born and retire

and vanish while the word is in our mouths?

Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as The Tip of the Knife, Counterexample Poetics, Eratio, Otoliths, Infinity’s Kitchen, and Jacket. Most recent collections include Sharpsburg (Cy Gist Press), Blake’s Tree (Blue & Yellow Dog Press), Whole Cloth (Avantacular Press), Red Power (Quarter After Press), Kansoz (Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press), Web Too (Tonerworks), War, and After (BlazeVOX [books]), Scorpions (Unlikely Books), Humors (Paloma Press), and Threnodies (Moria Books).