from How to Write a Love Poem in a Time of War
Say you begin with midsummer. The haze of late June and dusk. The hush of birds lingering at the treetops above asphalt. How I am trying to be poetic, but then, isn’t all love a kind of elegy to something about to happen. The moment before or after the falling. Which is to say not precisely falling, but sinking slowly through water at an agreeable rate. Or stepping off a train platform and into a swarm of bees. Not precisely dangerous, but still fraught with danger. Not precisely desirous, but rattling with desire.
In the months after the election, no one can get comfortable in their skin. This wolfish thing inside me scratches at the door each night and howls. Growls at cab drivers and racist cousins in Oklahoma. Makes friends with any window I can climb out of. Anything that can get its hooks into my hair. When I was a kid, I kept getting tangled in the blackberry bush in the yard, scratches on my thighs, my arms, my hemline reddening with juice. Even my fingers sticky for full-on fever, that twinning under some July moon. I’d love to say I don’t hate men, but sometimes it’s hard. Each one before you, grooves in the same record—the ones with ex-wives and el caminos and whiskey in their voices. I’d love to say I loved them, but really, I was game for anything that could swallow me whole in one bite.
In April, in New Orleans at the Museum of Death, the only thing that disturbed me was the smell of it—death, that is. As if by association all those things carried a scent—letters from serial killers. faded clippings of autoerotic suffocations. Embalming tables and funeral dolls. The crime scene photo of Nicole Brown Simpson with her head come near clean off in a California courtyard. That sort of thing is as common as breathing, as common as the lingering smell of sickness and trash on Bourbon Street. Where a man I did not know shoved his face between my breasts and I was so startled I did not move. I and my sister barely blink at the film clip of the woman outside Chicago obliterated to a smear of red by a speeding train. The clip in judgement that proves fatal. The near miss that finally hits its mark. In the theatre, at the back of the storefront, we watch things die over and over on a loop, while Bourbon Street sweats neon and rots slowly.
Another summer and the bees have gotten unruly, swarming what they can—trash cans and train cars. Light posts in the middle of downtown. It’s the charm of the inexplicable, tiny wings glinting in the sun. How 20,000 of them in the UK followed a car where their queen was trapped for miles. That same summer, across the country, a rapist goes free. The girl still rolling over in the dirt behind a dumpster, pine needles in her hair and shoved rough inside her. It’s the same summer I am working out the problem of us like a knot. Another improbable, inexplicable thing. I’ve heard bees will work tirelessly to repair a damaged hive. Mend the seams between the wrecked and new until they are indecipherable. How they will, if prompted, repair other broken things—figurines, ice skates, Victorian doll houses. I want to think this is possible. To remake everything new eventually. The girl behind the dumpster covered in honey and rebuilding cell by cell. How each night, I am remaking something with the thrum of a hundred thousand wings.
Say you begin with a listing of every scar. Every broken bone. What the body knows as trauma or memory. Every love leaves a trace on the skeletal system, sometimes even a tiny stress fracture. As bodies, we move through the world occasionally bumping into things that damage us. When I was 8, I broke my left ring finger slamming it in the back door. My abdomen bears a scar from a teakettle incident. My forearm, the perfect triangle of the top of an iron. This is the way I move through the world. Occasionally bumping into the edges of bartending engineers and secretly married ad salesmen. Running into walls and tripping up stairs. I do not know how to write about love without a little bit of pain. The pure panic of its return. I only once said to a man that I loved him, and a decade later, it makes the bones of my throat ache.
I am really bad at telling jokes. Mixing up punchlines and losing my train of thought. Loosening my voewls and mucking up the perfect machine. I write poems called "How to Care for Your Princess Monster" and "How to Be an
Emotional Ventroloquist" but I worry that while I'm pointing
at my ribs, everyone is looking at my feet. Still I dream a lot about being trapped inside an enormous wedding cake—a claustrophobic swirl of sugar and lace. House fires and
horses jumping from cliffs are easy, but where is the omen in so much sweetness? What else is there to do when the man comes looking for me with a bloodied shoe and a bottle of bourbon? Except hide inside the body of a huge, feather-bellied swan? I broke my ring finger once and it was all over for me. Understand that I am only looking for the sharpest item in the root to cut the girl from the swan that is the cake that is the swan.
Previously published by dancing girl press.
A writer and book artist working in both text and image, Kristy Bowen is the author of a number of chapbook, zine, and artist book projects, as well as six full-length collections of poetry/prose/hybrid work, including the recent SALVAGE (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and MAJOR CHARACTERS IN MINOR FILMS (Sundress Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared extensively online and in print, including recent appearances in Paper Darts, Hobart, and interrupture. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and editing a chapbook series devoted to women authors.
The Wind’s Measure
The length of the wind runs from mid-May to murder.
The length of the wind runs from January through joy.
The wind runs as long as the right hand’s first finger
points to the sun after thunder.
The wind gallops prayerward
like a horse held in the palm of a rock,
no taller than a knee bent for the sake of singing.
The wind weighs more than the fossilized horse and stretches from
fingernail to praise.
The length of the wind runs from mid-May to mercy, January through justice.
Unto the broken, dwelling in a broken, promised land, the wind drops a hammer
and some are warmed and some are chilled and some laugh and some die.
Silently through the nuclear physicist, the wind wicks
loud as paper-scraps trailing in the wind’s wake,
igniting an empiricist, fragrant through tallow.
The wind strikes the wind like rice in a paddy.
The wind scatters petals like blossoms of napalm.
The wind snaps the backs of malnourished Conquistadores bowed down to gold.
It is the wind who estimates poverty in moments by the method of moments,
who assesses want in units of amass.
It is the wind who shakes America by the ovaries,
runs the length of revolution, all the calories in a dollar.
The length of the wind runts from mid-March to hunger.
The length of the wind grunts from Saturday through sorrow.
The wind flutters nothing but orgasms and afterplay.
The wind numbers seminarians more numinous than semen.
The wind is a mote on the wind.
The wind is the dust that measures time in footsteps.
The wind is the word in the throat of the dust.
The length of the wind runs from midwife to marvel.
The wind ribbons out within mid-May and mourning and dust
is the voice the wind whickers glory, the wind whickers grief.
Previously published in Poetry.
Peter Munro is a fisheries scientist who works in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Seattle. Munro’s poems have been published in Poetry, the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Iowa Review, the Birmingham Poetry Review, Passages North, and elsewhere. Listen to more poems at www.munropoetry.com.
Sarah J. Sloat splits her time between Frankfurt and Barcelona, where she works in news. Her poems and prose have appeared in The Offing, The Journal and Sixth Finch, among other journals. She is currently working on a series of visual poems. She's on Instagram as @sjane30.
Predators in an Abandoned Drive-In
fig crinkle flickering/ culled oil celluloid/ rain hit bone
hibernation no/ anemic cinema/ iceman on air ripe prairie
throttled open snow/ northern spotted owl/ nettled photos worn
netted protons howl/ air thin bone no/ on law born/ brawl on
barn owl—predators? teardrops/ Dear ports/ (Auden’s chance
edit)/ a hectic den/ a seined dune catch/ a catch died unseen
sea slew/ seal sew/ aweless weasels/ shawl we tow
dead elk wraith/ saw-whet owl/ death like draw
(radiated whelk) red-tailed hawk
Previously published in Crazyhorse.
Jon Pineda is the author of the novel Let's No One Get Hurt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). His recent poetry collection Little Anodynes won the 2016 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry.
When Brother's First Son asked me
where it happened, where his father could not out run
death, I tell him the truth, but feel heavy with the
weight of witness, a wild gun shot ricochets in my
throat. He wants to know if it happened in the back
yard where his father as a boy once raced behind orange,
and sweet lemon trees, scrambling over warped
fences to escape bb gun games. Shoulders shot by other boys.
Brother was a big target. Tiny bullets pierced summer
skin but they smiled at the gun play with those they called brother.
These easy pains heal clean. They are not the ones that mark
some boys. Boys that always carry those scars, even after
wounds are no longer circled red. Mother tells First Son not to
wear his hoodie over his head. Don't walk to the corner store alone.
Be back before the street lights turn on, she says, just like she told
Brother as a boy. Are these the warnings Brother would have given his son,
knowing that sometimes it is not enough because some boys,
some brown boys are never just boys to some.
Previously published in Raven Chronicles.
Casandra Lopez is a Chicana and California Indian (Cahuilla/Tongva/ Luiseño) writer who’s received support from CantoMundo, Bread Loaf and Jackstraw. She’s been selected for residencies with the School of Advanced Research and Hedgebrook. Her chapbook, Where Bullet Breaks was published by the Sequoyah National Research Center and her poetry collection, Brother Bullet is forthcoming from University of Arizona. She’s a founding editor of As Us and teaches at Northwest Indian College.
XXXII (from Utopia series)
I am a girl
in a white field.
I am the son
I am the mother and
sister moving mountains,
I am father and
ghost from below
the Bodhi tree.
Previously published in Fourth and Sycamore.
Bryan Edenfield was born in Arizona but has lived in Seattle since 2007. He was the founder and director of the small press and literary arts organization, Babel/Salvage. He hosted and curated the Glossophonic Showcase and the Ogopogo Performance Series. His writing has most recently been published in Construction Magazine, Meekling Review, Dryland, and Plinth. He is currently one of the Jack Straw Writers for 2018.
Here is his website: http://wordlessdictionary.wordpress.com
doing the same things
thinking something will change.
doing the work
dumping out expectations
that never rise
full and hot.
where it hurts
waiting to be cleansed
allowing live things
from somewhere else.
Previously published by Fig Root Press.
Seattle transplant, Jalayna Carter, is an emerging storyteller from St. Louis, MO. Her work is born of the tradition set by the Black Arts Movement through the lens of Poetry of Witness. It is just as much the result of a love of science-fiction and the re-imagining of personal history. She studied literature and journalism in the Midwest and from there developed an interest in interdisciplinary media. A 2018 Jack Straw Writer's Program fellow, she explores Immersive Poetry focusing on sensory stimulation through technology. She’s had pieces published by Third Point Press, Reality Beach, Puerto Del Sol and 2Leaf Press in the Anthology, Black Lives Have Always Mattered. You can find her on IG (@just.jalayna) and Twitter (@just_jalayna) talking about her plant babies. You can follow more of her work at www.JalaynaCarter.com.
New Patient Intake Form
In the beginning, there was a window
I pried the blinds to make light
of my losses
I fished my hands into and shattered
What a hook I was
doubled in the beginning
In the beginning My mouth
and the gasp upon impact
The skull intact
and the brain increasing
activity where the neurons
Slowly I filled the form
My torso scored in order
only a diagram
Previously published in World Literature Today.
Janine Joseph is the author of Driving without a License, winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her libretti for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco include What Wings They Were, “On This Muddy Water,” and From My Mother's Mother. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University.
When You Talk About a Dead Deer
For Kelli Russell Agodon
The buds in my garden respond to such grief with a refusal to
open up their petals in full light. Air, dank with sorrow,
makes my garden smell like a cemetery. Ghosts juggle in the
bath under feet and I can only hear a trombone, a devastating
note grafted by the wind on my broken cello still living with a
heart and two kidneys. The flowers in my garden (once a
forest till my last lover made me this tomb of four walls here
to beat the snow and reach the last breath with as less anguish
for death possible) were untamable, they chased the deer and
the lost alike. The lost dropped one by one, so did the deer.
Grief stilled their bloom until my wild hands relieved them of
the guilt, and they became tamer. When you talk about a dead
deer, it reminds me of the builder of my nest who sailed tons
of musk pods down the Yangtse to a bustling metropolis and
wondered how someone's horror, someone's pain can be sold
for money. He then died here, in redemption, and in his body
was impermanence sculpted of regret, of a lifetime measured
by dead deer.
Previously published in Crab Orchard Review. This poem was written after reading Kelli Russell Agodon's "Hunter's Moon", which may be read here.
Author of Whorelight, Linda Ashok is the 2017 Charles Wallace India Fellow in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Chichester, UK. Linda’s poems and reviews have appeared/forthcoming in several publications, online and in print, including Crab Orchard Review, The Common, The McNeese Review, Poetry Kanto, Friends Journal, Axolotl, Skylight 47, The Big Bridge Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poets, Mascara Literary Review, The Rumpus and others. Linda is the Founder/President of RædLeaf Foundation for Poetry & Allied Arts (2012) and sponsors the annual RL Poetry Award (since 2013). More at: lindaashok.com
The first person you fall in love with
will be a deer. You will want to cradle him,
but his instinct is to vanish. Scuttle. Scurry.
He may lie down at the end of the forest
in the sorrel, but you won’t ever see him
even with the binoculars you bring into the wild.
Perhaps, he’ll disappear on a trail beside you,
and you may be charmed by his departure.
He is worried about your heart spear, what you keep
hidden, but you are not a hunter, you are just tired
of walking alone through this night.
Previously published in Waxwing.
Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of six books and is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer. Her most recent book, Hourglass Museum, was a Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards and shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize, and second book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room was chosen for the Foreword Book of the Year Prize for poetry. Kelli is also the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast, a yearly writing retreat for women that takes place in La Conner, Washington. She is an avid paddleboarder and hiker who has a fondness for vinyl records and hammocks. She lives in a sleepy seaside town a ferry ride away from Seattle. www.agodon.com / www.twosylviaspress.com
Natasha Kochicheril Moni is a writer and a licensed naturopath in WA State. Enjoying this blog? Feel free to put a little coffee in Natasha's cup, right here.