nicole v basta

where to begin or what are you bringing

three blocks from here / steps on a house lead only to a window
a suggestion of what is now gone / or simply some stupid hope
is there a sky if you have no one to point at it with / of course

is it my blood or the story of it / found a dull knife left at the park
a paper bag drifted past a duck / and my hands now grow blue
rivers / old enough to pocket the sugar packets / the coffee is still

fifty cents here / and the color of moth wings / because more milk
keeps us full longer / on the donut shop television / the weatherman
says there is still a chance of a soldier / the newsman says it is possible

to remain tethered to only what is alive / but all that widens in me
is the curtain of hands bruising our hips / my thighs cling to this
vinyl booth / almost like how the only way i’ve ever made meaning

is to pile it all together / like how the shoulder of the culm bank
hillside still blocks the morning sun / how when they tried to bring in
those plants that can grow anywhere / the people here refused them

and i’d like to think it was to keep the memory of coal alive / but really
we are what we’re used to/ and maybe our memorials are a little curious
but i still climb on through that window / and so what are you bringing

who’s with you at the end of the world                and are they alive

dear eva,

on the mantle of the television: saint anthony, ashtray, talking christmas tree.

in america, instead of tenderness, we use plastic as the counterweight to all the violence. leaning on a cart at the dollar store as a child, i slip and cut open my toe. consolation prizes are all around me.

back on joseph lane, when lollipop joe wouldn’t answer the door, little me would bite her cheeks as she descended the stairs to the cellar. alfreda was most likely in the garden or on the back porch with a kool on her lips. this close to the earth, i am tucked inside the cold hands of our longest shadows. but i don’t know it, really.

it is just a feeling until the truth is told— a ceiling so low and a tool box tipped. don’t you worry, i am mostly insulated, the proper blindfolds have been rested over my eyes. i am picking up wrenches now and making a lovely clanking sound.

later, in the bathtub, i may slip into darkwater, my lungs might shrink into a straw. the sound i make may frighten my mother. she might wonder what is wrong with me. she may have hope while she prays the rosary.

or she may feel no hope knowing, deep down, we are all the product of the same familiar thieves.

what is it they say about forgetting?
it is on the top of my throat, it is standing on a chair, this forgiveness.

always,
n

nicole v basta’s recent poems have found homes in Ploughshares, Waxwing, Willow Springs, RHINO, Plume, The Cortland Review, etc. She is the author of the chapbook V, the winner of The New School’s Annual Contest and the chapbook the next field over, out now from Tolsun Books. Find more here: nicolevbasta.com

Tyrone Williams

A Little Coffee In A Saucer

cools
as it pools
over

faux
porcelain.
I grip

lift
the dish a
little

with
fingertips
as brown

lips
descend—pursed
to send

cool
warmth across
a thin

black
shiver I
cold sip.

History, History, All is History

Dreaming has been confiscated…

In the lawn around an island of sycamores the roots are starting to show.

Throw a few bags of denial on ‘em, says the tree man.

After your screams finally became ambulatory, I could no longer slip into the trance of another life, needing your horror here to be unheard.

A patch of Yankee know-how updates the trick.

Having resigned ourselves to one another we refastened our seatbelts as we descended through the clouds, touching down to taxi the tarmac indefinitely.

…but the dream cannot be stopped.

 

* italicized lines from the documentary The Lebanese Rocket Society (2012)

Tyrone Williams teaches literature and theory at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of several chapbooks and seven books of poetry: c.c. (Krupskaya 2002), On Spec (Omnidawn 2008), The Hero Project of the Century (The Backwaters Press 2009), Adventures of Pi (Dos Madres Press 2011), Howell (Atelos Books 2011), As Iz (Omnidawn 2018), and, with Pat Clifford, washpark (Delete Press, 2021). A limited-edition art project, Trump l’oeil, was published by Hostile Books in 2017. He and Jeanne Heuving edited an anthology of critical essays, Inciting Poetics (University of New Mexico Press, 2019).

Nancy White

Spell

Sway. Dissolve the walls. Drain
the jelly and scrape the skull.
Unhinge the arms. Slip the skin.

Instead of stalking, flutter. Swap pound
for patter and shank for shim. Sand
the phalanges. Translate brass

to piccolo, cricket, sigh. Soften, offer,
drift. Oh, weep. Waft, puff,
settle. Widen. Stop. All done now,

dear, sweet as our best
enemy (the moon) whom
we’ve watched too much

shuttle the sky. Our deeds are
dead or just loose thread
and that’s all that’s left to carry.

Traveler

They’d lived there all their lives.
A land of shushing geysers, long plains of gray.
A populous place and watching.
The remaining animals skeletal and slinking.
The homes drastic and identical.
Alleys gave safe passage.
Traditional costume concealed some of my difference.
We embraced at formal events in the correct way.
I felt their ribs the small bowed shoulders.
I always wore my lightest shoes.
Should they turn their blue eyes on me.
Should the smell of joy provoke.
Should it corrode.
Should the sight of my uncovered throat.
They were not my people but I stayed.
What happened had not happened yet.

Nancy White’s work appears in journals such as FIELD, Ploughshares, and New Letters. Her three poetry collections are Sun, Moon, Salt (winner of the Washington Prize), Detour, and Ask Again Later. She teaches at SUNY Adirondack and serves as president of The Word Works in Washington, D.C.

Sam Herschel Wein

Chewing a Cabbage Leaf Stir-Fried with Brussels Sprouts

The doctor at my lunch table is stressed,
single parent five kids & I’m talking about
how I was raised to be a good liar,

parents’ fingers weeklong in my scalp,
thinking they have a hold of everything,
and me, since those baby years, knowing

how to talk my way under the water slide,
over the sledding hill, up the chimney
where I grow glittery wings. Wings made

of lies. The doctor doesn’t want to believe
her kids will lie, so now I’m three-eyed,
an extra chin growing from my ankle,

my spine. It’s easy to become a good liar,
I try to reason with her, my sanity
on the line here, well also you know I grew up

gay, like really gay, I’m red and speaking
faster as the other lunch table rears
so many heads full of eye contact

see I was kissing so many boys at sleepovers
in basements and I had to learn so young
to lie about it!
and it just kept going

from there and the doctor chewing
a cabbage leaf stir-fried with brussel sprouts
says with the food still in her mouth

“children who feel they are unwanted
do everything to try and hide themselves”
and the lunchroom ears stay above

their food, I’m stuck with my chicken sandwich
stuck with juice in my beard saying
yes, yes, exactly as everyone watches

I say thank you for saying that because nobody
has ever said that, to me, or my parents,
or my face, I pause from chewing,

see everyone’s eyes on me, awaiting
a response, I smile, I open my face
wide and swallow the room

I Think My Grandmother Knew I Was Gay

At a hometown LGBT event, after I’d just given a speech, my grade school art teacher corners me to say, I’m never sure what we’re supposed to do when we can tell so early! At seven, nine, the little ones trying to hide themselves, just like with you and I think about this, my grandmother dead a few months, how as a child I would dance through the front hallway to the room we weren’t allowed in, with its china, with its fancy wooden dining table, with its piano I’d crawl on the seat of, play a few notes before she’d come yelling, waving a wooden spoon, saying again that this room was only for adults how she bought me beanie babies, nintendo games, how she kept me in the basement as long as she could, made the food I wanted so I would be over more, and I think, of course, about illness, her Alzheimer’s, it began when I was only eleven, it crawled like a stuck beetle across her knuckles for years, forgetting where the parked car, paying the painter three times out of confusion, telling the therapist he’s a fucking loonytoon that anything would be wrong with her, my grandmother, who started calling me Rick, my Uncle’s name, bought her eighth blender because she wasn’t sure she had one, this woman, this chair in recline, this motor skills decline, how

when I was fourteen, my sister, much older, had a boyfriend come stay at our house, just for a bit, how he was dancing with me in our hallways, how he jumped at the sight of a good meal, like me, I felt connected with him, like we had shared a past I didn’t know how to speak, how he and my sister and I, we walked, with our dog, down to grandma’s, to introduce him, and grandma didn’t say much, didn’t recognize much, didn’t open her eyes much. But she still knew us, our names, at least then. And she met the boyfriend, with his booming loud voice, and turned to me, her eyebrow raised, and said, is this one yours? And my sister laughed a deep belly laugh and the boyfriend didn’t catch the joke and kept asking what? what was that? what did she say? and I don’t think I’d ever considered that a boy could be mine, something I possess, or take with me to the soccer field, or walk to the park with, swing on the swings, and I didn’t visit my grandmother for the last three years of her life because she stopped speaking, stopped looking around at the world like it wasn’t curious to her, like she’d learned all she needed and decided the rest was a waste, and I want to think she knew about all my boyfriends like I knew a handful of treats would be waiting, every time, on the kitchen table, at home, when we returned from out of town as kids, she sneaking in just before, it was like they had just been left, just dropped, seconds ago

Season of Fanny Packs

Unfurling, the hairy legs of Chicago’s hottest nightclubs
open wide for it—the refilled trees of late spring,

the early short shorts that start summer, the lake still frozen
but in we run, shrieking. We zip and unzip and voila:

chapstick, poppers, housekeys, loose change, Lactaid
pills, MDMA, little stones we pass around, put on

our altars. Van Gogh himself couldn’t paint the pure
fashion of preparedness, the insatiable delight

of hot pink at the waist, lime green over the shoulder,
black with red stripes, looped around the arm

swinging ourselves to wonderment. The first time I saw
my future, it was from a dance television show on MTV,

I watched until I learned so many dance moves, practicing
in mirrors with no one home. In the second season,

Fanny Pak: a queer, 70s themed dance troop from
the Valley with packs at their waists, and I thought, I need

to be that. I need to be them. The judges told them I want
to see the fellas dance like fellas
and they didn’t—they didn’t listen.

How they went home before the end, without winning.
For months, I dreamt of meeting them, telling them, one day,

I’ll have style at my waist, like you. I won’t listen to anybody.
Look, under the nail of your thumb on this sunny day.

It’s late April. And you are.

Sam Herschel Wein (he/they) is a lollygagging plum of a poet who specializes in perpetual frolicking. They are an MFA student in poetry at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Their third chapbook, Butt Stuff Flower Bush, is faggotly forthcoming from Porkbelly Press. He co-founded and edits Underblong and is the poetry editor for Grist. Recent work can be found in Split Lip Magazine, Waxwing Mag, and Shenandoah, among others.

Dennis James Sweeney

We gave the years unsaddled

to rightlanguage
moon as blue as gold
the chosen pockholed in it
moon like a delicate ring
To skip is to science
Leaders in pink
pyjamas reckon     with their dogs’
ill breath     on the lawn
of a microphone villa
in coin form gleaming
We the People offer a head

I built a subtle

failure in the box-
house of organs;
I slept like an egg
through the
ungulate night;
I clenched like
hard bread, gray
in back of blue
as my face grew
nearer to (gasp)
emotion: Lease
me your rest-
clothes, those
lawless maps
of body swept
from dirt…
Forgive a
self, not this one,
allow a personal
blank faucet
of snow…
Let the glyphs
rage o’er me-
moirs sodden
with flour, the
rest-road for me
does not flake
but hollows
with throat talk;
intentions snap
in time and out
of instant, I told
you, I lied in
your chest;
I soothed like
mercury, I cleft

And whose fine-tuned beginning

lyric with obvious nest
gave system to longing
An ocean to remember in bed
We were the already, “Ach”
with the end of water
we drank salt and coughed sea
on land—     but on land
was no room for next time
Ill color of muscle
buried in shells
while my ancestors
roll calmly, I fold
their paper, I drag
their gallons, they
are already-said

Birds roll in the yard

like morning’s
small statue
An egg donated
and lost is worth
blistering green
Whole breath
through the screen
door: I slicked
my sickness
buttery
for the wooden
eminent lope
at the point of a beak
scarred barklike
Sky shrinks into
my body, my body
swells to be mowed

Dennis James Sweeney is the author of In the Antarctic Circle (Autumn House Press, 2021) and You’re the Woods Too, which is forthcoming from Essay Press. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Jo O’Lone-Hahn

County fair princess sash

A catapult w/ every
joint in proportion
to a body,
something landed in

my circle
—a figure
of whether I’m better
off without

you.
Bent
grass.
You

notice something.
“There’s no daffodils,” in that

patch. Why do

you want me just as
naked? “Suicide

watch,” doesn’t
make you that

special. Jo,
“how
will
he
do
it?” is still
draped across your breast.

Leave you sleeping in Las Vegas / the meadows

You’re loved by all, but still seedless.

You aren’t loved by all.

The sunrise from
far away makes the Man
-dalay Bay, Treasure I
-sland and Flaming
-o glow smooth, gold
indestructible. I’m sweating
into your mouth —just
say something surprising

& I’ll stop. I’m not

in the hotel w/ you.

Flowers wrapped around a port
-ico, out of
proportion in their
dewy moan

-ing. I’m picking
up a bracelet
off the street. My wrist
hurts.

Don’t follow
me. Jo, “how will he

do it?”
is still
draped across your breast.

I got dressed up for you

& spat
out the concept
that eating is always
death & equally
so for
all things
eaten. I’m re
-producing
my sky blue tulle
as a reflection
pool & drawing
a bikini because
I need this
body to jump

Between

these 2 blue
options. Scientists
often choose
to save only
creatures that
eat smaller
creatures. What
are you gonna
do to me? Jo,
“how will
he do it?” is still
draped across
your breast.

I’m wearing a bikini at the beach house bonfire

I tell                                this sudden memory
                                      for the first time: young,
                                      Mom told Dad to stop
                                      dreaming of rockstar
                                      fame & he tossed
                                      out boxes boxes of Rock
                                      n’ Roll records, crying.

Mo recounts                  a hard time meditating
                                      on a sunny day.

Chelsi
& Ahmed discuss,          decide between

sacrifice or triage.

But You stare out
until this beach

is invisible, invisibility
licking your half-open

eyes —vulgar & some-

how more obsessed
with light.

I wanna ask:                 “Will we feel stoned?”
                                      when these 2 sky blue

                                      sea blue options
                                      kill us for fun?

“I think it’s possible”
is a heartache that
someone says               & that
                                      is the center
                                      of fun. Is
                                      this fun?

Jo, “how will
he do it?”
is still

draped
across
your
breast.

Electric lamp above a museum painting

Your old friend men
-tioned suicide & said “you
won’t feel anything.”

Riskless wires, Sol
-utions. Both
of which know
gutter-waste also
grew from nothing.

Prelude suicide notes
say meet you at the donut
shop, the car wash.
I’m meditating into the sin
-ews of your fingertips,
I see your see
-dy motel

bed. I have a big
bad heartache. I touched
like any other tourist
mining obsessions

from Rothko color fields.

Jo, “how will he

do it?”

is still draped across
your

breast.

Jo O’Lone-Hahn is a poet and visual artist based in Las Vegas. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in the Tampa Review, Black Warrior Review, SPECTRA Poets, New Delta Review, Great River Review and elsewhere. She is a current MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the poetry editor of Witness Magazine.

Vi Khi Nao & Jessica Alexander

Vi Khi Nao is the author of six poetry collections & of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), & the novel, Swimming with Dead Stars. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her collaborative work with Jessica Alexander, That Woman Could Be You, has just arrived from BlazeVOX. She was the Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute.
Jessica Alexander’s novella, “None of This Is an Invitation” (co-written with Katie Jean Shinkle) is forthcoming from Astrophil Press. Her story collection, Dear Enemy, was the winning manuscript in the 2016 Subito Prose Contest, as judged by Selah Saterstrom. Her fiction has been published in journals such as Fence, Black Warrior Review, PANK, Denver Quarterly, The Collagist, and DIAGRAM. She lives in Louisiana where she teaches creative writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Kristi Maxwell

Giant Panda
an extinction

Chromosomes form self’s reef—we reek of luck.
Shells overwhelm shore’s bosom: less jewelry, more leech.
Overwhelm me, Yoko. Be my ovum’s yolk.
My Elmer’s flubs, fuses lobe & bulb, skull & bloom.
Messy crumb of us crumbles more. We’re else.
Summer schemes brooks, muumuus, church of
mushrooms—morels. We seek some. We’re our souls’ humus,
yes? We observe lemurs floss creeks, loose
bush from rock. Reefer-less. Here, for you, four brews,
cheese, chemo for your cells, emo for your moors. Some hero.

Avahi
an extinction

Moon’s tour of ponds reflects detours snow took

young snow’s ego-less melt

To unbecome to become

Our ego’s bordered by flowers slowest to boom

Our ego—murky cocoons       respond to
mournful coups: nest not (n’est knots)

To be lemur-less, to be stunned—country-less globes
bowls but no tongues, molested wool suddenly unmolested

Beefless cow       cowers not, kowtows to seed

Perky from sleep, bounty’s clone blesses bone

Nude skeletons emerge, sun-meek, body-keen

Monsoon-boosted, somebody’s desert’s wet dessert

Strung pole to pole, our closest story          bound to weep dry

Forests forget words, get lessons: remember
cruelty once took
bloom to be fester so left.

Green Turtle
an extinction

Who am I boss of? My iPod? My pick?

I had him as a sow has ham

If I sob a swamp, if I’m hid by sob-camo
If a swamp is Camp Sob—a soppy wish

Hiss—how is my wish a wash, a foam-sick soap?

Did I miss my sad hippo—a hammock of if?

Away, bossy iamb, who dams my said, my say
My FOMO is a hawk who hawks his doom

Is I a happy scab?

Bookish, mom picks commas as if a posy
A posh dick sways
I mop piss, dish posh food, famish

A wasp picks my body as a so-so dock

Whim my mood: I am a spoof, a shook shack,
da bomb’s damp wick

Kristi Maxwell is the author of seven books of poems, including My My (Saturnalia Books, 2020) and Bright and Hurtless (Ahsahta, 2018). Her books have been editor’s choice selections for the Sawtooth Poetry Prize and the Saturnalia Poetry Prize. She is an associate professor at the University of Louisville.

Benjamin Landry

from PASSAGEN

—in conversation with Walter Benjamin’s ARCADES PROJECT

There is no fullness of pleasure unless

“There is no fullness of pleasure unless the precipice is near.”
—Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (quoting Anatole France)

tell me about
of which capable
the wet white teeth
of modesty
a sort of dissolute gravitas
stars mount the sky and later
take themselves down a peg
sugar is a faithful taper     watch

the hills light themselves up
neck down has a funereal sheen
what’s the use you ask

to be used and complete you’d
never guess completion’s sickness

Galeries de Bois

Gray is harmless and spreads
the crystals     the hairlines and Maginot

overheard, under breath    When
does it stop not meaning and become?

So, the regiment of brute-faced
animals muster. They suppress
crucial information: everyone
has a mother.

Trees lay down their arms
just as a new-shorn lamb
stands from its fleece.

The dead realization
of loneliness colors everything
you love. The whites
of stars are like the flashing
of teeth and eyes.

The canvas stretched above
is a mercy, even though
the rows of acquaintances
forming the aisle
refuse to say your name.

The Bourse could represent anything

“The Bourse could represent anything; the Crystal Palace
could be used for anything.”
—Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Featureless desert of now, or,
in negative, the stars’ darkroom.

I’m thinking of having my open
heart surgery projected. And also
a culvert constructed through marrow.

Each morning to raise one’s head—

this vast of brittle iron and glass like the one
eye in which your future self is fixed.

A place to call the winds to order,
a place out of the weather where the remains
of the world are brushed clean, cataloged,
reconstructed, finally understood.

Benjamin Landry is the author most recently of Mercies in the American Desert (LSU Press, 2021). His poems appear widely, including in venues such as The New Yorker, Kenyon Review and Ploughshares. He is at work on VerseCurious, a podcast of poetry reviews, debuting in the summer of 2022. He teaches creative writing and is the guest poetry editor of Saranac Review.

Julie Choffel

Because I Said So

it’s just
impossible to live among the industrious
what about the business of not

like conscientious objector of
the whole way
though I love a good list
I love something else more

one child goes to his room to deal with
his feelings, the other gets saccharine like
look at me I’m so
so good

so much of the children’s play is pre-
tending but then stepping in and out of it to
direct
now pretend I said I DON’T LIKE YOU.

Between teaching and listening
to her face, little force, little firework
already ashen at the thought
of what people are doing to each other

I’m not ready for place to mean
only lesson—

what about
finding beauty in the terrible world
I mean none of this land looked like this
before people

what about the not-lesson
not wealth accumulation
not permanent structures
not award ceremonies.

We stack up
all the apocalypse. Tell the kids
pretend I DID THIS DIFFERENTLY.

Now be chemistry and physics
now be a mess of thoughts
our demise making nothing but room
for something else
inside you.

I Mean Seriously

the side hustle of grocery angling
takes up all my would-be
art and makes me gag to think
about supply chains and inefficiency
pollution but there are still people
who would tell me how efficient it is.
You know what takes zero
power except maybe ambient
light is poetry or eating a little bit
of what you find. In The Gleaners
and I
which I haven’t seen because
well you can’t even watch it
you can’t watch anything now
that endless streaming exists
so the old things are all gone
and you can’t even pick them up
with your hands. In this
film that you can only read about
people who are now probably dead
talk about wasting nothing and
mimic the movements passed
down to them. What they picked up
with their hands. How they held
themselves on a brutal agrarian
landscape not yet totally ruined
with an ethics I wish I could
explain. But I haven’t seen it.
I spent an hour searching
an hour lost not even to dirt or
standing in the wind or talking
but poking at ideas to see
if they poke back. The woodchuck
in my garden makes faces at me.
The kids ask for snacks which
come from my phone now
and I wonder is the algorithm
a savior anyway because I
can write with those minutes
about what’s left over
when everything else is taken.
Oh to be an optimist
to see abundance in the wreck
put it in my pocket and keep
walking. And when it’s too heavy
leave it for someone after me
who will pick up the remnant and just run.

Danger Second

says my son when I refuse to speed down our street. Here in the literal suburbs where one block away is the city and the other side a small forest where the foxes hop over discarded condoms and broken glass and people don’t even guffaw at the number of crows. We’re used to voices raised in high winds. I mean everyone goes on their way. It’s the North and they mind their own business which now seems more animal than I ever realized before. We take our dinner to the yard and the bees or wasps or there are so many bugs I cannot keep track come out too and I did not know this place as fecund until I tried to make my own space inside it and found none. Nothing wants to scoot and everything knows what it knows. Its boldness is talking to strangers. Its strangeness quiet. Or only loud on the lam. We are warm-weather critters stockpiling stuff to keep us company in the cold. Driving. Almost home he says Faster and I gently remind him Safety first. Other kids and animals. He replies with what he knows to be true.

Patterns

of diamonds rising
through the glass
my eyes adjusting
my legs remembering
to be legs again

it’s always going to be strange
to have an inside and an outside

every week or is it every day
I remember this again? with unreliable
wisdom

the TikTok of the golden retriever helping
the guy working on and under his Honda
is so much and so little of
the dog
the guy
the song overlaying its sad pleasures

I wish living could feel
like the miniature paintings
of India, visibly intricate
my life story on a t-shirt

I used to want a tank top with the words
Demolition Woman
but that’s almost nothing of me

we say, I don’t know this person
I don’t know this thing

but don’t we? know them, the way their voice
clangs when they laugh too loudly
or how their sadness hides in the days
that they don’t call us

maybe it’s all too on the nose
and nobody likes that but me
that what we guess we are
is also what we really are

I guess it’s more like Construction Boss
or if we’re no longer joking
then just Thinker In The Corner

as the bold moves elude me
and I worry them
like fingers covered in paint
or whatever you’ve got access to

mineral & feeling
daylight & seethrough
I watch the pattern rising
then I rise to stop my noticing

Julie Choffel is originally from Austin, Texas, and now lives near Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of The Hello Delay (Fordham UP) and the chapbooks Figures In A Surplus (Achiote Press), The Chicories (Ethel Press), and The Inevitable Return of What We Do Not Love (forthcoming from Finishing Line Press).