Amy Gerstler


Anthem

Dear blitzkrieg of wetness and breasts, 

Dear masseuses and muses, thighs sluiced 

with juices, Dear coven members posing 

peppery questions, like: is a witchy third breast

akinto a third eye? Can we climb into the light 

now from cellars or attics? Can we abandon 

our nectar dance temporarily, stop skimming 

the froth off the cauldrons and let our bravura 

arias ascend? So much depends upon shrewd,

ingenious, difficult women, prodigal daughters 

and wisecracking wives, unwilling brides, bakers 

of exploding pies, giantesses in whose tresses 

condors nest, audacious maidens with blood on 

their tongues, all of whose chests house furious

hearts: how is it your beauty never departs?

 

Buried Song

When our love first became alien to me,

when you first peered at me like I was smeared

and illegible, then a rude-humored voice

began to leak from some objects, a tube of anise 

toothpaste, for example, a taste I can’t sanction

given licorice’s near-opiate sweetness, 

so like that of a well-told lie. So I questioned 

the right of that toothpaste, and later a lamp,

to disparage me. But that was as far as I got

in defending myself. There’s something crushing 

about being judged by the butterknife you just 

buttered your muffin with. When I took issue

with its critique, I was met by agressive 

metallic laughter. How long have objects been

nursing these grievances? Though the authority

they seized seemed like a disease, I was nonetheless

hurt by what they implied. This winter, while seated 

beneath a chestnut tree, trying to unite my mind 

long enough to understand a paragraph, the tree 

spoke to me, though at first I mistook its voice 

for tuba music, a rake scraping flagstone, or

someone snaking a drain. Though the tree 

astonished me with its equanimity, though it talked

gently about how to treat ailments not easily named, 

when I left the tranquil courtyard that afternoon and 

ran into smack you and you looked at me askance, 

it took several days to recover from your glance.

 

Everyone’s Darkness

is noteworthy and curious

causing vision to skitter 

like the thoughts of small birds

 

or it’s a black sack yanked over ones head 

as one is roughly shoved

into the trunk of a car 

 

his particular darkness 

involved booby traps and snags 

humiliation and violation

 

and his particular darkness

had needle-like teeth

but was a bigger stronger animal

 

than both of them put together 

while her particular darkness

recorded on her arrest record

 

added ferocity to their conflict 

and one feels torn saying this

but it was like he was some convict

 

behind thorn-crowned prison walls

except he’d done nothing wrong

the two of them a raging mess

 

their heads swarming like hives 

falling into disuse  

while they concentrated on everything 

 

below the neck

he nursed his limited definitions of beauty

while she meditated on whether 

 

she wished to be buried at sea 

whether she’d want their ashes 

shaken together in a cocktail shaker 

 

making a dry martini of them

before being tossed to the hungry tide 

or whether it would be better 

  

to have their ashes scattered 

on separate planets 

and dispersed by solar winds

 

Night Life

How can this equal rest or peace, this garble of gasps, snuffles, 

and horse-like snorts? His lips flutter as though he’s blowing 

bubbles, his moans so choked he must be drowning . . . or are 

his legs being sucked in by quicksand, the way a restaurant

critic sucks the bones of her osso buco? In my overheated, 

night-gowned silence I watch him flinch in a puddle of bedside 

light. A range of ages and plights wash over his face. Who is 

this sleeping, unshaven male, this slab of snoring meat, this 

leaky ship of divinity? I stare across the chasm which divides 

each waking or sleeping creature, whether they’ve touched 

each other or not. He’s a magician who made an orchard 

disappear, an unhinged shooter from St. Louis, a plum

colored shadow, a handful of chameleon teeth, one of god’s 

toboggans, a tree denuded of leaves bleeding beads of amber.  

 

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Author Bio

Amy Gerstler’s recent books of poetry include Scattered at Sea, Dearest Creature, and Ghost Girl (titles published by Penguin.) Scattered at Sea (2015) was longlisted for the National Book Award, and short listed for the Kingsley Tufts prize. Dearest Creature (2009) was named a New York Times Notable Book, and was short listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She teaches at the University of California, Irvine.

Aaron Smith


Cosmopolitan Greetings

When I read Jorie Graham I feel like I feel when I’m with someone 

 

who has better teeth than me. When I read Louise Glück I know I talk 

 

too much. I’m the person friends invite to parties and then warn everyone 

 

before I get there. Anderson Cooper has good teeth. I wish he’d 360 

 

in my mouth. I’m not afraid to go to the dentist because you’re only naked 

 

from the neck up. I need to work on that in therapy. Sharon Olds makes me 

 

want to be a better bottom: My own tongue is your cock. Her poem “It.” When I 

 

read Creeley I think how we met at a writers’ colony in Vermont. We read 

 

Ginsberg’s last manuscript because he was writing the foreword. I ordered 

 

a second copy of Cosmopolitan Greetings. I had extra money and wanted poetry 

 

I’d love. Creeley signed his emails: Onward! or Best as Ever, Bob! In the last one

 

he sent, he was mad at me. Are there any sexy celebrities named Bob? I just 

 

thought “Hope” and laughed. I misread a David Trinidad line as “Queers from 

 

Outer Space.” Homos who blow up churches with glitter bombs. Drag names 

 

aren’t interesting anymore. It’s all about roller derby: Missile Etheridge, Carnage 

 

Wilson, Feral Fawcett and Gory Graham. When Miguel got his flu shot, I called 

 

him Vaccine Waters. The gays in New York say Anderson’s kinky in bed. I’m re-

 

claiming my time. I don’t want him to sue me, but he’ll never read my poetry. Allegedly.

 

I Need My O’Hara Frank

not Maureen, 

my Lucille 

 

Clifton not Ball. 

And my Audre,

 

always, to be Lorde.

I need Sharons: 

 

Tate and Olds, 

but mostly Olds, 

 

and never, ever 

the Rose of. 

 

Denise Duhamel, 

not Richards.

 

Prince, not 

Harry or William. 

 

Etheridge? Melissa 

in my twenties 

 

and Knight 

in my always. 

 

Does anyone have 

a poem to Cher?

 

My Brad should 

be Pitt. My Daniel 

 

Craig. My Hardy

Thomas and Tom.

                                

                              for David Trinidad

 

The Pulitzer Prize

He won the Pulitzer Prize 

and died. She won the Pulitzer 

and also died. He died,

but before he died, he won,

too. He won a prize 

that wasn’t important

and died. He won the Pulitzer, 

the National Book and died 

eventually. He won more prizes 

than she did, then he died 

and she died. He won the Pulitzer 

young, but nobody read him 

after he died. Someone told her 

she’d grow into her Pulitzer, 

and die. He said he nearly died 

when he found out he won:

he hasn’t died but will  

and soon. Everyone says 

he deserved the prize after 

he died, but they gave it to her 

who was alive, and she finally 

died. He won the prize in two 

genres and died. They split 

the prize and will die. 

The runners-up the year 

they gave no prize died.

This year’s winner will die.

Last year’s and next year’s, too.

 

Shia LaBeouf Enters 

Tommy tells me his students still love the musical Rent

 

I tell him it’s the musical equivalent of a pre-condom classic in porn. 

 

In the 90s, my friends and I passed around sex on VHS. 

 

My favorite was Dean Spencer in Code of Conduct

 

leather men collar his neck, shave his asshole and punish him 

 

when he comes without permission. 

 

It’s based on a book too expensive on Amazon. 

 

Shia LeBeouf is on the cover of Esquire

 

angry, furry-faced, confronting himself and his demons

 

in a very raw—and real—interview. 

 

Miguel says you can see him with a hard-on in Nymphomaniac,

 

but the internet says it’s his face CGI’d on a body double. 

 

I get erections in locker rooms under my towel. 

 

Scent of jockstraps, ball stink, snippets of armpits 

 

when guys pull bags from lockers. 

 

Only old men walk around naked at the gym now,

 

their giant-sized balls sad-sagging.  

 

Young guys pull their underwear up

under towels, rarely take showers. 

 

Three things you can always count on according to Esquire:

 

1) Death  2) Taxes  3) Clichés about death and taxes. 

 

After my mom got sick I wasn’t afraid to fly anymore. 

 

It’s like I knew I wouldn’t die before she did. 

 

The highest compliment Brandon gives a man: 

 

He is so hot he could do porn. 

 

Shia LaBeouf looks like my father when he was angry, 

 

taking off his belt to whip me.

 

Esquire says audiences liked Shia early in his career 

 

because he was funny, quick-witted, not distractingly handsome

 

I hate my neck in photographs and consulted a plastic surgeon. 

 

I don’t care if you think I’m shallow as long as you think I’m thin—

 

I either made that up or heard it in a movie. 

 

Porn saved my life would make a great bumper sticker. 

 

Now Dean Spencer lives in London with his lover. 

 

Shia’s afraid people will think 

he is not trying to own his shit but to put it on his father.

 

My father became a nicer person when my mother got sick. 

 

I hate my nose, too, and all the songs in Rent.

 

The Dancing Lesbian

on television is trying to get men to take their shirts off. I appreciate  

 

her determination but not her motivation—pandering to housewives 

 

and skin-hungry fags. Buck Rogers made me gay when he was stripped 

 

to the waist and forced to walk a runway. I thought I wanted to be him. 

 

Really what I wanted I was too young to understand. In a novel I read 

 

three women kidnap a man and nail his foreskin to the floor. I stopped 

 

reading the book when they released him. I didn’t stop Lars von Trier’s

 

Antichrist. I keep a naked man in the basement in my fantasy. I lick 

 

his cheeks if he cries. In the 80s I was afraid of AIDS. Dad called gay men 

 

AIDS fags. I drew naked men with colored pencils—my little-boy hand 

 

scribbling armpits. I drew bullet holes in their bodies and mom caught me. 

 

Mom cried when she found out I was gay. Mom told me to get AIDS and die.

 

Get Thee to a Nunnery.

When the woman asks the woman behind the counter

if they have the current issue of People,

she says, “I think all we have is the ‘beautiful’ issue,”

and the woman says, “I want ‘regular’ People.”

And before I can help myself, I’m blurting: “the ‘beautiful’ People

is the ‘regular’ People. It still has articles; I saw it on Wendy Williams.”

I hate how helpful I am even when not asked,

how I need flight attendants to like me,

so I watch their safety presentations

though I know about oxygen masks and how to float after a crash,

or I’m extra nice to the waiter, assuring him everything’s fine

when everyone’s talking, so I’ll be his favorite.

The woman looks at me with a face that says “weirdo” or “faggot”

and in either case, she’s right. Her husband is waiting outside,

looking at his watch, not watching his wife

interact with the weirdo faggot in the magazine store at the airport.

His muscle-gut and ball-bat forearms make me swell in my belly

the way I swell when I listen to Fischerspooner’s Sir.

I wish her husband was a faggot

and we could have weirdo-faggot sex

in the Terminal F bathroom where men aren’t washing their hands.

I have a friend who won’t leave the house for a hand job:

it’s oral or anal or he stays home.

Okay, all of my friends stay home unless it’s oral or anal:

If I’m giving up my parking space, I’m at least getting fingered.

My therapist says I have agoraphobic tendencies.

I ask him if it’s strange that I’m a man who dates men and am afraid of men.

He says it’s only strange if I think it’s strange, and I say:

“Wow,” in my best fuck-you voice, “that’s a thinker.”

Then somehow we’re talking about Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies

and the line between abuse and lust.

I say something like: “Is all lust abuse, and is sex by its very nature violent?”

He says the scenes where Nicole stands up, sits down

are the best he’s seen depicting therapy.

My shrink’s my longest intimate relationship.

I just nod when he compares my life to a line in Hamlet

because I haven’t read it in years:

he’s smarter than me, and I don’t want to remind him.

But I have seen Girls, so I know what he means about the guy and girl

who masturbate together on the couch without touching,

proving sex doesn’t have to mean fucking and can be what I need it to be

and pleasurable, making my previous statements wrong.

Fischerspooner’s limited-edition vinyl has a big, thick cock—

we’d all leave the house for—on the cover.

P!nk is on the cover of People—beautiful and happy.

I love how Casey Spooner wears women’s clothes.

I should mind my own business when I fly.

 

When the Towers Came Down

Everyone knows the dead prefer to top.

 

Frank O’Hara, his gallery 

 

eyes, him shooting a Jackson Pollock 

 

on my thigh. The gayest thing 

 

I’ve ever done? Rinsed cum 

 

from my eye during Pride, or dished Sex 

 

and the City with chained-up men 

 

behind a leather bar, 4:00 a.m. My T-

 

shirt splashed, obvious 

 

on the humid walk home. Last call,

 

they said. I should’ve listened. 

 

Reginald Shepherd: 

 

“Midnight, look at the things 

 

I’ve done in your name.” 

 

When the towers came down, they nailed up 

 

curtains, blocked off 

 

stockrooms, man-made sex 

 

caves in every bar. Someone joked 

 

it was literally raining men. Month 

 

after sticky month we tangled in the debris 

 

of tragedy, a collapsed 

 

cabaret law nobody cared about. 

 

To comfort ourselves? To feel 

alive? Fuck that—

we were horny, and we got away with it

 

until someone told someone                                                                                        

 

to make us stop.


for Diane Seuss

 

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Author Bio

Aaron Smith is the author of three books of poetry published by the Pitt Poetry Series: Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, Appetite, and Primer. Pittsburgh will publish his fourth book, The Book of Daniel, in Fall 2019.

Guillermo Filice Castro


Koreatown, New York City

She looks even tinier 

 

Next to the large police man

 

Who pushes her shopping cart

 

Around the squad car with diligence

 

As if his mother’s groceries 

 

Are about to go in the trunk, 

 

Sliced mangoes resting on ice,

 

Brand new Tupperware containers.

 

His female partner makes room in the back seat

 

And from both sides of this touristy intersection 

 

Some of us continue watching as the cops, without fuss,

 

Guide the woman into the car,

 

Almost as if she were not being taken away and we

 

Not holding our breath, smart phone cameras at the ready,  

 

Her straight black hair fastened in a ponytail

 

Her wrists zip-tied behind her back.

 

Portrait of Abuelo with a Gun

The acupuncture never worked. Or the pills.

 

Take me to a funeral home you scrawled on a card.

 

Your body was naked, your son said. Perfect,

he said of your body. Slim and wiry at 78.

 

A young man’s. Almost.

 

//

 

I see the house you built

in Buenos Aires, bricklayer.

 

I see Abuela’s bric-a-bracs.

 

I see you pouring boiling water

into the storm drain

 

followed by

the unbearable shrieking

of rats

trapped inside.

 

//

 

One crazy mother really

accessorized with a straw hat

 

who on a muggy day swung a tow chain at his neighbor

for blocking his driveway yet another time.

 

//

 

Calabrese cowboy

 

you never screamed

but I could see

a darkness rise up

 

and trip your tongue

like a foreign accent. 

 

//

 

Itself another body, this revolver. Later

 

wrapped in thick plastic           an artifact from WWI

utilitarian and dully mechanical

in need of oil.

 

Its hammer filed down, therefore

killing the gun that killed you.

 

//

 

Google Street View 

won’t get me past your front door.

 

But I still see you, 

 

removing papery wasp nests

with a stick

as sole protection.

 

The olive tree

demands tending, as always. I see you,


Abuelo, salt in hand.

 

Slugs shrivel

in your wake.

 

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Author Bio

Guillermo Filice Castro is an immigrant from Argentina. A poet and photographer, he’s the author of the chapbooks Mix Tape for a War (Seven Kitchens Press, 2018) and Agua, Fuego (Finishing Line Press, 2015), as well as the recipient of an E-S-B fellowship from the St. Mark’s Poetry Project. Most recently his work has appeared in the CDC Poetry ProjectThe Good Men ProjectThe Mom Egg Review and Five 2 One. He lives in New York City.

Lauren Haldeman


Field Trip

One child is repeated

by many other children 

looking at the sky

with binoculars.

 

Behind us, the analog 

stream of autumn. Followed 

by a chain-link fence. 

Followed by the slow 

idea of starting 

to run very far away. 

 

A person with a basket 

offers us three tiny flags

in the gut of

the field. One of them,

red with stripes, 

 

I take. Two flags, later,

found in the basement 

of a partially 

constructed house. By 

this time, it is 

 

dark. The others  

are gone. A permission slip

flutters, once, under 

the stars—but it is 

not my permission slip.

 

An Incident: Hallucination

This time, you are sleeping in the upstairs bedroom at the end of the hallway w/ 

            the woods out the window                 the woods

You go to bed early, turning off all the lights & when you wake    in      middle of the night, the room 

                                exactly as it was before, except for 

now there is 

 

 

woman hung 

by her neck in the corner 

                             of the dark room, dangling from the ceiling by a rope; 

                             she 

 

creaks she            turns the air 

 

Her gown is old, her hair is 

 

wait 

 

you see her face

 

Still

This photograph was taken in 1991: everyone lined up. 

 

The field, us. 

 

Repeat the photograph. 

 

There is something that will not 

hold still.

 

 

*

 

         real rooms or           portraits of rooms        at the end of the hallway: room. 

 

At the end of the hallway:     hallway    portrait of hallway. 

 

 

*



For some reason the artillery did not fire, as if the Virginians were invisible . . .

 

Quick concussion of sunlight.

 

At night after the fighting, a ghost


wouldn’t know where to begin.

 

Tour

“We went through some woods, which were full of 

dead bodies, and formed in line again.” 

 

As toilsome I played near Virginia’s woods, my brothers

disappear into the bosky thicket.

 

“We found this bone in the creek”—brothers

 

“Too big to be a deer bone”—dad

 

This field was a scene of confusion.

 

What is this story now that my brother is dead? 

My dead brother found a dead bone 

at a soccer field near the battlegrounds?

 

Dead Ryan posted over alive Ryan in the memory/

 

Dead Ryan pasted over alive Ryan in the thought.

 

 

Is he smaller? Was he ever small?

 

Out of the woods behind you filed 

fresh reinforcements.

 

The hallucinations begin when we move to Fairfax Station.

 

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Author Bio

Lauren Haldeman is the author of Instead of Dying (winner of the 2017 Colorado Prize for Poetry, Center for Literary Publishing, 2017), Calenday (Rescue Press, 2014) and the artist book The Eccentricity is Zero (Digraph Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in Tin House, Colorado Review, Fence, The Iowa Review and The Rumpus. A comic book artist and poet, she has been a recipient of the Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, the Colorado Prize for Poetry and fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Patrick Samuel


Six of Swords

So, I walk into birdsong

after three days of pulling cups

to weigh emotion against

intellect: regretful transition

in the forecast, no other blue

like it. But isn’t this balance?

I’ve dived from springboards

before, into cocky shows

of flexibility, little splash.

Slapped my toes, turned

and looked for entry—

gone only until my chest

caves. This is my take-away-

my-power-lock-me-in-a-booby-

trapped-room-to-slay-a-vampire

episode. Once I access the full

potential of my mental capacity

(whatever that means), I’ll be

able to levitate and look down

on the things or people I’ve left.

 

Ten of Cups

So, all’s not well.

Kept from the beach

 

we grocery shop.

We “vacuum” 

 

and “cook.”

I give myself

 

a good look

in the mirror.

 

Who cares about

James Van Der Beek? 

 

See, the whole world

goes around me

 

in there. I tend

to my hair that’s not

 

James Van

Der Beek enough.

 

Getting old is noticing

new spots,

 

bumps, your bones

changing shape.

 

Sorry, my bones.

Yours are golden, I bet.

 

Let’s meet at the beach.

I’m getting a haircut near

 

there on Thursday.

The only way to sit

 

will be to face away

from the sunset, but who 

 

cares? Some dick 

will be swinging, no doubt.

Get me a sandwich

as if James Van Der Beek

 

asked. Egg salad.

The grocery store

 

we can’t escape

serves tacos. Ask

 

Tara, she met us

there with Jesse

 

the other day 

for an impromptu lunch.

 

We grocery shopped,

too, and their salmon

 

was pretty

expensive, so we grocery

 

shopped a cheaper

piece of meat to grill.

 

What’s crazy is that after

a year we’re sick

 

of our bodies coming

first. An entire platter

 

of brioche French toast

skipped over, like earlier

 

when a LOST 

CHICKEN sign caught 

 

James Van Der Beek’s 

eye while out for a run

 

around the block.

He’s so cute!

 

I mean, one man’s prison

is another’s rehabilitation,

 

right? I mean, Ken is someone

we actually know.

 

Four of Cups

So, the first time someone called me

cavalier I ran with it, saying there’s “nothing

I can do,” and was like: yawn. For real,

though, I couldn’t really “do” anything

and I was sick of people shooting their shit

all over the bathroom stalls. The lower

road felt higher. My own burnt roof

of a mouth. Blah in the ashes. People

on HGTV build tiny homes in their “paradise,”

and I’m like: how do they finance that? People

should talk more about how they afford things.

I buy so much weed. I buy sparkling water

and hate how Caren calls it fizzy. Pail or bucket?

How about soda pop? But today, against a tree 

and then the sidewalk because the tree didn’t work, 

I smashed the fuck out of my earbuds for dying 

in one ear. For the weekend. For matinees.

 

The Empress

So, now that I’m here

I’m not quite sure

how I’m supposed

to stand. To hold

my hands up or

if it’s ok to let limp

my wrists, tea time

fingers. I’ve tried

writing forever

about how boys

called me girl

growing up, and how 

instead of comfort

I got instructions 

to attack next time. 

I’ve tried writing

about the anonymous

sex I had a knack

for, my uncle Mark (gay, 

dead from AIDS.

My mom never coming

out for me to her co-workers) 

in the back of my head, 

Erik over my shoulder.

I want still

to be fertile, to bring

that out in someone

close or not close.

Recently, I called Jane

a piece of shit, and thought

fuck her kids. Enough pretending

we’re closer than we really are.

 

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Author Bio

Patrick Samuel lives in Chicago where he received his MFA from Columbia College in 2013. He currently works in academic publishing at Northwestern University Press. His most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine, Columbia Poetry Review, and Prelude.

Mary Biddinger


The Slimness of Our Chances

The delicate status of our couches.

The easily offended elbows of favorite sweaters.

 

A sudden note that reminds you of fifteen years ago.

Hovering in the first snow outside Hawkeye’s.

 

Lost like a bus in fog. Lost but still dance-ready.

Trying to memorize distinct coordinates.

 

Giving up in approximately seven minutes.

The unyielding nature of thinking, the hot of glass.

 

Battle between feeling and reason and feeling.

They call it the upper hand, but it’s always down low.

 

Was there even a DJ, or was the music internal?

Nightmare of an empty hive in a women’s restroom.

 

Nightmare of conversations in a women’s restroom.

Don’t ask me about my dress or hip bones.

 

Sometimes it’s downright impossible to be authentic. 

Every new sentence begins with Can I talk?

 

I was a hair model not a hand or helmet model.

Even my bed was from the Rent-a-Center basement.

 

Panic about junior high locker combinations.

Will we ever go back into a disconnected payphone. 

 

Untamed Thickets

I loved being tagged as other people’s wives, sometimes by other people’s wives, and by tagged I mean swatted, not tagged on the internet or with sensuous roils of Old English graffiti. When the celebrity asked me to sign his record was it vinyl or legal? I always had twelve pens or none. My cupboards either bursting with all the essentials needed to survive an apocalyptic Midwestern winter, or spare like I was living in IKEA, with hardly a noodle to eat in a flood. 

 

I matriculated into a degree granting program on punishments. This followed my Associates in Discipline Studies, which went by as slowly as ants. All my favorite sandwich shops closed up shop, and due to intoxication and intermittent nausea I just couldn’t fathom it. What about that one night with the faux Reuben, the waitress wearing a cherry-patterned apron as she refilled my avalanche of home-chipped chips? What could be more enduring?

 

My new apartment had carpet on the walls. I wasn’t sure what to think but felt a little more free playing my 90s techno mixes at odd hours. Years ago I used to hand-trim rugs the way some hand-trim their rugs. My mixtape covers were not duplicated, they were engineered. I thought about throwing it all away and working with stone, but then recalled my privilege. Everyone was trying their best to regress: paleo on the table, tending dangerous pets, sex in untamed thickets. 

 

I did a lot of really dumb things, like jumping out of cars and allowing my feelings to seep into the pad under the carpet. Interrupted conversations in the diner to speak about my magic, using my full name like that would make a difference. Certain nights were so hot I just loomed on stairways waiting for someone to push me aside, which isn’t a punishment like making out with a man who hurt you, in a closet filled with electrified metal hangers, and then missing it.

 

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Author Bio

Mary Biddinger is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including Small Enterprise and The Czar. She lives in Akron, Ohio, where she teaches at the University of Akron & NEOMFA program and edits the Akron Series in Poetry. Biddinger’s first collection of prose poems, Partial Genius, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2019.

Lee Ann Roripaugh


#meteorology   #string of beads

5:30 a.m.’s  ::  moon is a bitten lozenge  ::  the eucalyptus 

trickle aching the toothy  ::  nubs of uncrowned stars—

 

drilled clean down and plain  ::  without novocain or gas  ::  wind’s rhythmic bellows 

swelling out from night’s hoarse throat  ::  sparking fever’s weird blue flame

 

~

 

october snow makes  ::  the day outside look like a  :: kellog’s frosted flake

shush of tires / headlights’ flare / snow-  ::  hushed birds’ jingly murmuring

 

~

 

wake to find the wind  ::  blowing off-key with your sky  ::  sun melting down through

thick stacks of pancake-y clouds  ::  like a hot pat of butter

 

yesterday’s snow sleeps  ::  late this morning in quiet  ::  white sheets / while rickety

trees comb out fog’s heavy shanks  ::  of tangled, unruly hair

 

~

 

the loss of bright wings  ::  birdsong / the sound of night trains  ::  stretched between the bluffs

like pulled taffy / makes you feel  ::  a bit wistful / out of sorts

 

as gusted leaves buzz  ::  and whorl over snow-sugared  ::  roofs / but oh! this blown

fluttering’s not a swirling  ::  of leaves, but winter sparrows

 

~

 

ugh! snotted hoody ::  pinkened tinge faint litmus stain  ::  (yes or no / minus

or plus) watercoloring  ::  blown-through tissues / torn storm blooms

 

~

 

bare honeysuckle  ::  bristling with squeaking sparrows  ::  occasional burst

of quarrelsome confetti  ::  like mushroom clouds of winged spores

 

the day gets woolly  ::  dollops of snow-gritted fog  ::  machine-spun sugar

carnival-flossed / vortexing  ::  the thin cardboard sticks of trees

 

~

 

 

wet-dark tree beaded  ::  in pearled bits of wintry mix  ::  excited finch swoops 

in manic parabolas  ::  to sip from the leaky eaves’ 

 

icicle / inside  ::  the riveted cat clanging  ::  the old windowpane 

with the pealing tongue of her  ::  tail / sound of a sealed-shut bell

 

~

 

fleck-stung peppering  ::  thunderfrost / ice lightning  ::  a thick dangerous

glaze of frozen rain / sugar-  ::  stuck and snow-coning / becomes

 

a sticky windswirl  ::  spiraling in fog’s clotted  ::  milk / a stirring of

espresso-quick birds / matchstick-  ::  bright heads / scratchsulfur / panic-

 

flare / adrenaline’s  ::  low-grade slow blue flame / brillo  ::  pad clouds swollen with

more snow’s withheld scour / no one  ::  isn’t a sulky pansy

 

~

 

a winter count:  ::  boxes of kleenex – 4 / zicam  ::  spritzes—64

echinacea tea—ran out  ::  icy hot patches—ran out

 

~

 

iced branches cased in  ::  glass / Murano somerso  ::  freeze-framed see-through beads

clicking like weird necklaces  ::  overstimmed birds’ weird shoutings

 

grackles pose and chuff  ::  in the sleet-stung glaze / songbirds’ :: quizzical whistling

there’s a sudden bunny in  ::  the alley / kicking up snow

 

~

 

it’s april 18  ::  31 degrees / the noon  :: thick with wind and snow

and fog / chastened grackles hunch  ::  silent in the trees / whiten

 

~

 

a solipsism  ::  sudden as a dumped-out waste-  ::  basket of soggy

cottonballs / fat swarm of snow  ::  spilling down / tricky fizz and

 

glitter stubbed out on  ::  the tongue / silver thread of wren  ::  song needling the

mummy trees / silver stitch of  ::  chit and finch and chickadee

 

~

 

if you could, you would  ::  spend the whole day watching snow  ::  kiss the river’s up-

turned face / but even after  ::  the snow melts / it still courses

 

through the river’s veins  ::  and arteries / informing  ::  the chilled jade discourse

of all of the river’s thoughts  ::  all of the river’s dreaming

 

#homer  #alaska #string of beads

mountains are doing  ::  a slow burlesque with boa’d  :: clouds and filmy mists

downstairs the sewing machine  ::  whirs a blurred song of bee’s wings

 

~

 

moose calves in twilight!  ::  woolly and damp in the fog  ::  and headlights / all knobby

knees / leafy ears / high-haunched / wet-  ::  nosed, with glamorous lashes

 

~

 

sandhill cranes hanglide  ::  in for flatfooted landings  ::  in Beluga Slough

like skinny-legged, pear-bottomed  ::  tourists / weird parachutists

 

~

 

beers of Alaska  ::  that you’ve drunk: Galaxy White  ::  IPA / Birch Bark

Bitter / China Poot Porter  ::  Arctic Rhino / Monk’s Mistress

 

~

 

cracked back of a crab’s  ::  shell / tumbleweeds in spastic  ::  cartwheels on the shore

seagulls glide backwards in gusts  ::  rewinding film / no take off

 

~

 

the same bald eagle  ::  roosts atop the tsunami  ::  siren by the spit

oh, he sure likes it up there  ::  says a local when you ask

 

~

 

the day you get called  ::  snakebitch(!) on facebook / fog pours  ::  in from the bay like

glorious horror movie  ::  fog / cheesy fog-machine fog

 

~

 

uncanny, with gold  ::  eyes / grey feathers tipped with gilt  ::  delicate stilt-walk

the cranes tilt back their scarlet  ::  heads / trumpet from their neck-stems

 

~

 

on the way back from  ::  Tutka Bay / the yurt workers  ::  smell like damp wool and

pine / shyly proffer phone pics  ::  of wildflowers from the trail

 

#nebraskacity  #string of beads

sun’s honeyglaze bastes  ::  the orchards to lick and spit-  ::  shine / where’s the black cat

who left his big paw prints? / white  ::  domino dents in the snow

 

~

 

trains clatter and moan  ::  all night droning through the cleffed  ::  staves of river fog

and the hoarse torch songs of frogs  ::  woodmen of the world, unite!

 

~

 

a house centipede’s  ::  dizzying ripple and frill  ::  in the porcelain

bathtub / Wikipedia’s  ::  swift disambiguation

 

~

 

sundowning’s bulbous  ::  egg yolk copperglinting the  :: corn husks / quavery

ribbons of geese flap kitestrung  ::  on the blinding horizon

 

~

 

the lovely women  ::  writers lean over winter’s  ::  tarot / always the

same questions each year, they say  ::  love and books, or books and love

 

~

 

oh, little beetle!  ::  with the too-long antennae  ::  backsliding down the

toilet / you’re awkward and you  ::  feel too much . . . so am/do I

 

~

 

the slow fandango  ::  of mist shape-shifting through the  ::  river valley / now ghost

now milky jellyfish / now  ::  smoke / now cloudy nostalgia

 

~

 

hot bolt cracks open  ::  sleep like a fierce guillotine  ::  morning birds murmur

in rain / you’re dreamy and vague  ::  over weak lobby coffee

 

~

 

a black cat pads through  ::  the orchards in fog / behind  ::  drizzled glass, you tongue

the sun-sweetened crunch of   ::  a yellow apple’s freckles

 

~

 

tangy-bitter skin  ::  of chilled plums sparkly-beaded  ::  with perspiration

sweaty in the hot mouth of  ::  late July’s humidity

 

#portentnotportent  #stringofbeads

pancake-stacked contacts  ::  both lenses in the same eye  ::  muddled by the blur

woke broke in a strange hotel  ::  eyebrow dream-threaded clean off

 

~

 

At the restaurant where you’ve ordered a waffle resting on a bed of cheese curds and berry honey, you inquire about the white jellyfish (like a tasseled silk pouf) floating in the aisle. What’s its name? you ask. May I take its picture? The women proprietors generously give you an old milk carton, filled with Ai Wei Wei’s porcelain sunflower seeds, stolen from the Tate Modern, to feed the jellyfish. The jellyfish need calcium, they tell you. Another jellyfish appears as soon as you scatter the seeds, then another, until one of the jellyfish you’ve fed evolves into a silver, tabby-striped duckling, who hops up on the table and yawns.

 

~

 

cold rain sieving through  ::  a mesh-steel colander sky  ::  misread “updated 

his/her cover photo" as ::  "his/her cadaver photo"

 

~

 

The baby elephant gambols noisily and joyously in your upstairs room. You’re not sure how it got inside, but you’re so happy it’s (t)here. It pauses in front of you, swings its trunk in a wrinkly arabesque. You don’t want to forget this. You don’t want to forget. So you take a picture with your iPhone—a close-up of eyelashes and nose leather—so you don’t forget.

 

~

 

that time you misread  ::  morning glory as morning  ::  gory/ then promptly

went on to misread morning  ::  kickstart for morning lickstart

 

~

 

You wake in the morning to find all the hotel room walls are made of glass. Gangs of men stand outside and stare. You sneak through a secret door in the bathroom to the front desk to request a late checkout. When you return to your room, you find the men have ransacked your belongings, leaving big wet yellow handprints of pee all over everything. You try to find a private place in the bathroom to change your clothes, only to discover there’s a secretary sitting behind a desk, typing on the toilet.

 

~

 

morning haze unfazed  ::  by caffeine: evil eyelid  ::  a dessert island

salted caramel poopcorn  ::  time to take a coffee breast

 

~

 

A hummingbird’s trapped in the apartment. Flown in through a hole in the screen. The cats shiver their hips. The picture you try to take is all hot blur and thrum. The wheezing lens opens and closes. A frame that won’t pull into focus.

 

~

 

unpeeling bright rinds / pulled from  ::  your back like orange petals  :: abandoned pile of

marigold eggshell / scent of  ::  citrus marking someone’s palms

 

~

 

We are feral children, living in an abandoned tunneled concrete underground. The surface = danger. The bits of garbage, our remaindered archaeologies, are precious to us, and we arrange them with care, treat them as artifacts. One day, an unmarked van suddenly arrives on the surface to rescue us. Half of us move half of our fractured crockery, our rusted pipes, our cracked plastic up to the surface. The other half will be transported to safety the next day. But at night, the tunnels and rooms all collapse as we anxiously wait. Don’t look back.  Don’t look back.

 

~

 

new year’s tarot cards  ::  in a nutshell—stop shoulding  ::  all over yourself

flipturn at the pool’s dark end  ::  into champagne spritz of light

 

~

 

You’re walking across a bridge over a large body of water. Halfway across, you meet a giant white serpent with brilliant green eyes. It rises up, when it sees you. And so you lie down on the bridge, to show it that you mean it no harm. Held-breath silence, as it glides next to you. But instead of passing by, it slides over you—rests its muscular coils on your body, its wedge-shaped head on your shoulder, forked tongue flickering your ear like ticker tape. Slowly, its cold oiled skin becomes warm from the heat of your body. After awhile, you fall asleep.

 

~

 

fortune cookies: a  :: nice cake is waiting for you!  ::  come back later / I’m

sleeping (cookies need sleep too)  ::  someone is reading your mind

 

~

 

Your classroom’s been hijacked by a wedding banquet. In the breezeway outside, you write on the walls with Dry Erase Marker. You draw a stick figure penis. A stick figure vagina. Freud is only a jumping-off point, you say. The representation vs. the real, you say. After class, you walk with one of the students past your old high school. You go inside the building, now converted into apartments, where you walk up exactly 17 flights of stairs. The next class waits for you at the top, sitting on the stairs, passing around a baby, unsure of what to do. Oh good, she’s here, they say, and hand the baby off to you.

 

~

 

that's when cowboy hulk ::  showed up / riding a werewolf  ::  trailed by a tiny 

spidervader hybrid / all :: of them armed with lightsabers

 

~

 

Instead of directing a conference you’re directing a wedding, where all the featured women poets have come to be married in their chic and willowy gowns. At the opening reception, you ask if they’ll sign their books for you, but it’s clear they have no idea who you are. The town’s so small you’re the volunteer sheriff, is who you are, and you fret about changing out of your red vest in time for the ceremony, about where you’ll stash your Smith & Wesson. You squeeze yourself into a tiny bathroom stall to put on a dress from your suitcase. All your black stockings have runs. Your gun’s too big for your beaded clutch.

 

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Author Bio

Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of Dandarians,On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year, Year of the Snake, and Beyond Heart Mountain. The current South Dakota State Poet Laureate, Roripaugh is a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review.

John Gallaher


Quick, No Sudden Moves

I woke this morning in ruins. So that’s what all that noise was 

last night. Now what to do. Get a broom? Call someone?  

But I don’t know any archaeologists, and anyway, 

what could they do for me now but say “yes, this is who you were, 

this is what you probably ate, what you thought about the hills.”  

I could have told myself that. Maybe that makes me an archaeologist 

as well. I could hire myself out. Walk up and down the block 

asking people if they’d like to know what they were like before 

everything fell apart. What message are we sending?  

What does it want from me? Hello? These are the kinds of questions 

I could ask myself, that I could maybe get good money 

for answering. Maybe go on TV. Say this is what the president 

is thinking. Buzz buzz. I hope that same joy is what carries on 

with these next ruins we’re approaching as we’ve been touring ruins 

for a good number of years and still I feel at a beginning.  

I am also broken, but I can get more broken, like these pillars 

that looked pretty solid just yesterday, and now it turns out 

they were mostly caulk. It’s always been that way. How’ve I not 

seen that? And the roof it took with it, and several unidentified species 

of bat and several rounds of our hopes of getting something 

out of the future, maybe turn it into a rental or something. If or not 

either of us has been a good person, good enough to say 

“my interactions with people have been fair,” that we’d taken no 

unfair advantage, and also maybe even become better people 

over time. It’s hard to tell from the scorch marks on the driveway 

if it was too fast a take-off or too abrupt a landing. But I’ll opt 

for saying there was real promise here, that we were just about 

there when it all came down. It’s time now to see the doctor, 

a real doctor this time, as in the distance we hear shouts 

for mercy and the occasional trombone or barking of wolves.  

 

Nibiru, the Worst Guru in Northern California, Speaks

We’re all dying, but a lot of other people are dying faster 

so the point is only one small part of the experience.  

There are things such as this we can figure out by thinking 

about them. Other times we have to bang things together.  

Say we want to know something about people we don’t know 

or understand. We could imagine their motivations, 

or perhaps we could just throw them from a bridge, or perhaps 

a life raft, to derail a trolley heading for a crowd or to better 

understand gravity. Say the two of us are falling from a tower.  

Commonsense says that the heavier of the two of us 

will strike the ground first. But suppose we connect the two 

in some way. Say we hold hands. One could argue that the lighter 

of us acts as a brake on the heavier, slowing its fall. Then again, 

one could also argue that the composite body, whose weight 

is equal to the sum of the two original bodies, must fall faster 

than either body alone. Now we’ve a logical contradiction.  

We’re a thought experiment, when just yesterday we were living, 

breathing people imagining an alternative medicine practitioner 

and a faith healer stuck in an elevator, spending their waning hours 

counting the rabbits that keep finding their way in 

from out of their sleeves and overcoats. “What if gravity 

is different for witches?” someone imagines once, in the way 

that gravity is different for ghosts and saints. And what if gravity 

and motion is the same force, I’m thinking right now, 

just because it’s been such a bad year all around, full of bad ideas, 

how all these figures are imagining themselves stationary, 

as one feels no motion while falling. It’s the vendors 

who really missed out, as the people who visit us here 

are all dead and full of surprises about sentimentality and the sea.  

It’s a kind of democracy they champion, one full of the dead, 

which I realize I should’ve guessed already, but I keep trying, 

like with this overhead pitch and lists on the marketing process.  

It’s why the dead like us so much, our universal application.  

“What’s the point in reincarnation if you can’t remember 

all the other times?” they say, tossing a pair of dimes on the counter, 

which causes a passing philosopher to declare a new era has begun. 

 

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Author Bio

John Gallaher's forthcoming book of poetry is Brand New Spacesuit. He lives in rural Missouri and co-edits The Laurel Review

Miles W. Griffis


Big Foot

Your blurry pics have me perturbed, sasquatch. Forgive me when I ask

for clarity, for recency, for too many whiskered bottom dwellers 

 

have swum into my pond. Alas, we meet for piñon gins after so many

woofs. Underneath the bar top I tug at the knots of your woolen thigh

 

I may not be on your playing field but I rarely trim either we bond

over our hirsute habituals; your beard, my dirty blonde ‘stache

 

we unsugared lumbersexuals brush mane against mane 

hoping the soft side of velcro sticks to the soft side of velcro.

 

Nothing catches. Minute hooks essential for adhesion, woebegone

I longed to be hunted and gathered by your misanthropy

 

But my bare-footed beau, you’ve vamoosed me for whiskerless

bucks awed by your warmth, your ability to twiddle fire.

 

Flint! Flint! Armfuls of tinder! Crack these embers to the high

pine tops, huck them skyward to their twinkling cousins!

 

I will follow the Northern, wish to reminisce without photographic 

evidence—for you have left big shoes for my next lover to fill.

 

The Bad Boys of Summer

I am a sucker for the charms of hummingbirds

Passing through our estival swells

 

Though I worry for the Rufous’ puny heart

Hundreds of flaps per second reckon

 

How many from Mexico to Alaska & back?

The rumours are not true: they do not

 

Hitch rides on the napes of Canadian geese

Of course, it would be cute if they did

 

But no, they bully: territorial bastards

Necks wreathed red & orange

 

Like baskets of plucked bell peppers

Feathers like scales confirming tiny dinosaurs

 

Still dart from jicama to rama del toro

Swooping in like the boy visiting from out of town

 

Taking little sips here and there of this and that

Then off to the next those flippant little fuckers.

 

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Author Bio

Miles W. Griffis is a Los Angeles-based writer with bylines in Outside, W, Backpacker, The Advocate, and many others. He's published poetry in The Matador Review and in May 2016 he won the Adelaide Bender Reville Prize for Short Fiction. He is currently working on a collection titled Confetti Westerns.

Soraya Shalforoosh


Playing Cards Found on St. Patrick’s Day

Today he found the moon card from the tarot deck

Then later in the day an ace of spades

I know his unconscious is working over drive

I wish I could make my love write a poem

But we are the poem

 

Somehow we ended up here 

In the same space

The spirits are surrounding us

My mom, my dad call up from the dead 

But I hear my son and husband laughing, at vintage Tom and Jerry in French “Bonjour Pussycat

 

Today is also St Patrick’s Day, and though not even an ounce of Irish, he wears the souvenir shirt my dad bought him.  Dad’s final trip before he died was to the emerald isle 

 

Just like today every day my ancestors are everywhere

Talking to me through clothes, 

Through food, through eyes and even . . . dirt.

 

A fallen card on the ground, magic

 

U2 Haiku Sequence

U2

 

Truth, I slept with him

Because Edge is his cousin

I was 23

 

Edge

 

Bono was my lust

Until Dave, Edge’s cousin

Backing vocals, Scream

 

Song of My Experience

 

One happy hour, boy

Laughs Edge was not his cousin

Twenty years later.

 

Soccermomming with a muslim name

The suburbs were stinging imitation grass

Clinking ice in acrylic pitchers

The Lily Pulitzer brigade tipped over lawn chairs

To welcome the darker variety and with ethnic names

Macramé heels and impossibly thin, how did they lose their hips post childbirth?

O suburbia I have tried

This weekend the soccer dad after discovering my Iranian American heritage “you’re Jewish”

“No” I reply

The silence echoing in his eyes widening, the smirk his wife makes , he stutters the word mu mu muslim

And the awkwardness we both share and why does he need to know

So, I just smile and watch the game

I haven’t settled on an answer to give him

But our sons are both fantastic players, strikers, without fear they persistently run and pass the defenders, to attempt a goal.

 

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Author Bio

Soraya Shalforoosh’s first collection of poetry,This Version of Earth was published by Barrow Street in November 2014.  Ms. Shalforoosh has been a guest poet at William Paterson University in New Jersey, Berkeley College in New York, San Jose State University and guest speaker at the American Embassy in Algeria. Soraya was a poetry fellow at the Frost Place in July, 2017. 

Jason Labbe


from Dear Photographer

That Ache, That Echo, You Can’t Put a Thumb on It


We never bothered with parties because we set out to remember. Those graffiti kids, they put that lie up their noses, but you and I were born with stars for teeth, a night sky more like dyed cotton than burnt foil and foul residue. Nights I stayed home and you came back to Brooklyn after openings and one-point-five Manhattans, I knew better than to ask the impossible with only my hands. But I wanted to know everything! (It would be years before I’d realize that the answer depends on how you phrase the question: a fistful of blonde, hand around a wrist, teeth on a shoulder.) We’d lie side by side on my futon and I’d listen to you stuff your thin mouth with greasy hotfries and grow wistful. Once, you asked me to tell you about my most uninhibited lover, and I lamented the graffiti girl, riddled with piercings like it was still fucking ’97, who dressed like a petty thief from upstate. She didn’t do lines and lie like the other kids, synthetic and raggy, but smoked opium alone and spoke purely in abstractions. It was too much to want to remember. But yours, he was an architect, old enough to be my father, who found the softest part of your throat when he swallowed your whisper, back in San Francisco. I still always picture myself with someone older, you said, and streetlight snuck through the gap between the curtains and cut a line up the floor. Call me jealous, or just young and poor. From the wrong coast I accused the architect of being too old to even know the bands of the day, imagined him in a pleated suit and grey. It would take me a decade to assemble what I really meant to ask: If you stay twenty-six until I’m twenty-seven, will you stay.

 

A Night Sky More Like Dyed Cotton Than Burnt Foil and Foul Residue


Have you ever played White Light/White Heat for the other name on your mortgage and they just didn’t get it? Talking over the dirty fuzz—the whole A-side—blather so boring you don’t hear a word. Not even interesting as the weather. Waldo Jeffers shakes his head, not yet stabbed.

 

The great anti-beauty lies in all the ways the Light and the Heat take a two-ton tympani mallet to the most banal thing: freshly buttered toast, the inexplicably high phone bill, pajamas and coffee on Sunday morning. Volume and distortion take over, and the buzz of brokenness belies the fresh sage paint on the cedar siding, brand new rubber on the Subaru, the grass freshly cut in exacting lines. Sometimes you just want lightning to strike all of it, over and over. 

 

And straight lines are vacuumed into the shag rug, unless I splinter the Danish coffee table—sleek on tapered legs, rare—and fill the fireplace. I lie on the floor, alone in the light of the flames, orange glow burning whiter, pop and crackle of this record I borrowed from my hometown library and never returned. As a boy, I didn’t get it. But sometimes you hold on to something because your gut tells you it has potential, can develop over decades into true love. That time, I wasn’t wrong. After all, these were the ballads that drew Nan Goldin from suburbia to the Lower East Side. But me? I followed a girl from my hometown who dumped me ten minutes after we got off the train, leaving me to spend two years memorizing the subway lines before I could appreciate a good skull tattoo on a drag queen, her long and vulgar cigarette. Dressed in silk, Latin lace and envy . . . Lady Godiva neatly pumps air. 

                           

Last month I looked for you in a small theater in MoMA. I watched The Ballad of Sexual Dependency two times in a row, the first time struggling not to weep, the second time in a murderous rage as the boy sitting next to me looked at his phone through the first half of the slideshow. His digital glow, white and terrible, corrupted the gorgeous analog grain—every bedroom off kilter, the syringes not quite perpendicular to the vein, the cocks at acute angles in unforgiving lighting. I told the boy, get the fuck out now or I’m going to kiss you.

 

I will never finish your sentences because I want to hear you say them. We both know at least half will end with New York, or younger, or the nine million other words laced with nostalgia, a trace of regret. That ache, that echo, you can’t put a thumb on it. 

 

The needle catches the runout groove, the living room goes dark, and my landline doesn’t ring. I want the version of you that is on my wall—not your long skirt, social graces, or bottle-blonde, but the desire appearances protect. Desire that beams through a lens, the window; prismatic and neatly scattered in the morning, then as blue moonlight and silence washing over our separate, distant back yards. 

 

Driving to the Airport and Picked Up Speed

With a continent between us, 

I will type a totally California 

sentence: Blonde is the hardest 

color to wear. Yellow, even more so. 

To want a handful of one 

is to say every lude thing about the other. 

Stars are for the mouth, too bright 

to be just yellow, if you feel 

summer go dark. Once, paying 

the cashier with my belt buckle 

against the counter, in a Starbucks

or whatever, you slipped 

a ten spot in my back pocket. Then,

at the little table, I watched 

you push out the melting centers 

of peanut butter cups with your slender 

middle finger, neither in my mouth. 

Our iced teas were sweating 

the same Northeastern sentence.

Later, in my truck in a random lot near 

the airport, your flight was delayed 

and there was only realism: 

the rainbow façade of the vintage 

bowling alley, two lollipop shaped 

trees at the edge of the parking lot, 

and the shabby hotel next door 

where nobody ever falls asleep.  

I could hardly stand how bad 

I wanted to untie your yellow 

sundress, afternoon concealing stars 

with sun, relentless. Maybe you noticed 

the sweat I deserved, on my brow.

What image could ever represent 

your lowering ache, the year spent alone 

suddenly desiring my greasy hand, 

how bad I wanted to suck the trace 

of chocolate from your finger? 

(No one cut the tension, I still can’t 

sleep.) Even if you could stoop to another 

medium, say video, we’d still be left 

with that breeze barely turning over the leaves 

on the skinny young trees, all the jet wings 

above but never their gleam. Then, 

fever dreams of the exploding fuselage. 

I’d rather have you wave down from the plane

farewell, forever—than live anywhere 

outside the frame, the future picture, 

a yellow field above a promise of stars.

 

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Author Bio

Jason Labbe is the author of a recent collection of poems, Spleen Elegy (BlazeVOX), and his work appears in A Public Space, Boston Review, Poetry, Conjunctions, Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He is a drummer and recording engineer and splits his time between Bethany, Connecticut and Brooklyn, New York.

 

James Cushing


The Damp Shrine

Harvest comes early. In the

rehashed half-light

I heat my coffee and

hear something clicking,

something that wants to

show me where my feet

are pointing. It twists toward

me like a tuber, and even 

traffic whistles around its

entangling vines. 

Summer’s a doorknob

that just finished turning. I

long for the woman

who can hold the snakes. I

want the secret thing she

has. But this morning

the spotlight shines elsewhere,

and its flat circle falls onto

dreamers’ faces, drying

out the toys night

has left:

one star, half a ragged moon.

 

Folk Song

I like rolling to school in pajamas

a minute before deadline. I like to throw dry straw

around a feeding pen and watch big farm animals

arrive. This whole world’s

a canvas smeared with things I like.

 

We were standing on the corner of Sunset and Ivar 

where the Rolling Stones recorded

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and watching

The Shining’s Danny Lloyd and the ghost of Bobby Driscoll 

circle the block on a hand-painted sound truck. 

 

I must have tunnel vision—the world’s a terrible place,

but my eyes plead with me to love every moment I live

in it, although this is impossible;

I want to press grapes with my bare feet, 

ride a red boat that leaves the sky.

 

But wisdom has no website.

The snake I came too late to charm

coiled around a tree in its mating dance.

The moon’s past full, cloud-shrouded, safe. 

The river may be running full with fish 

and flowers, and the moon I think just

tuned into an all night folk song program.

I continue writing my name on the page

with a picture of a murdered clown.

A wind must be rising—look at the leaves.


 

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Author Bio

JAMES CUSHING, born 1953 in Palo Alto CA, holds a doctorate in English from UC Irvine. In the early 1980s, he hosted a live poetry radio program on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles which gave early exposure to Dennis Cooper, David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, Wanda Coleman, Leland Hickman, and many others. Since 1989, he has taught literature and creative writing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and served as the community’s Poet Laureate for 2008 – 2010. His poems have appeared in many journals, and a new collection, Solace, is due in October 2018 from Cahuenga Press. His daughter is the New York-based poet Iris Cushing.

Aumaine Gruich


Regarding the Party

Did I get inopportunely blitzed? 

Slip from the room too soon? 

My cowboy boots dripped 

two brown spots on your stair. 

Best case my flannel seemed daring.

Or you pretended not to care. 

We tried each other on, 

but when your brainfog ate my legs, 

I returned to the rooftop for your friends. 

Their talk veered irreverent, a freaky chorus of preference. 

They ate knee-to-knee on the shag rug 

what they called a layer cake of woes

They burned an incense labeled money

I sat with a lone salamander on the stoop,

practiced my Mona Lisa in a puddle.

Someone asked where you were; 

I said gone. That I’d left you 

looking up epistemology online. 

Despite a certain lack of well-timed yawns,

in my truth-studded jacket 

I might yet survive. 

 

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Author Bio

Aumaine Gruich has been published in interrupture and as a finalist in Ruminate Magazine’s 2016 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2018 Chautauqua Writer’s center scholarship and reads poetry and creative non-fiction for Ninth Letter.

 

David Welch


The Ladder

You look at the ladder leaning against

the tree where the bear sits hidden

amongst the crown of branches. You know

you can reach the bear. And you know, too,

the bear is dying of loneliness. You can see yourself

climbing rung by rung until you enter the green

sea of leaves above where the trunk begins

to thin, can see your legs wrapping against the bark

as your hands reach for surer holds. You

could climb higher above yourself

and remember how you spent your childhood

in trees like this, though you never had to

brave bears, fire, winds blowing in across the country

only to pass by whatever they touch.

That the bear is lonely is unimpeachable,

a sort of word you know must be connected

to a tree. You think of the bear hiding there and want

to holler at him, or her. The thicket of fur guarding

such willful paws, the sad eyes you know best

bred only in bears, who sleep with their sadness

buried inside them all winter. This must be,

after all, why the bear is hiding there.

And that’s when it dawns on you: you’re still

standing against the ground, the ladder rising

in front of you like a long winter,

and above it the warm breadth of the bear

breathing against the leaves, its body full

of everything you’ve yet to see.

 

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AUTHOR BIO

DAVID WELCH IS THE AUTHOR OF THE COLLECTION EVERYONE WHO IS DEAD AS WELL AS A CHAPBOOK, IT IS SUCH A GOOD THING TO BE IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND HAS POEMS RECENTLY PUBLISHED IN JOURNALS INCLUDING FREE VERSE, PLEIADES, AND QUARTERLY WEST. HE TEACHES AT DEPAUL UNIVERSITY WHERE HE IS ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF Publishing & Outreach.

Daniel Lassell


Tasting Moonshine

Along a fence line with my cousin, I point into the fields 

and say something about gravel that used to run 

through the property, a county road for the region. 

 

He hands me a jar. Says he made it himself. 

So, I take a swig and picture the rust of a barn’s roof, 

the burn of gasoline. “Apple flavor,” he says. 

 

He takes back the jar and I choke out, “Good.” 

In my throat lingers a pillar of heated glassware, my tongue 

a sprig of cinnamon or acid talons, another gesturing animal. 

 

I wonder if Kentucky willingly gave up its hills.

If heaven could be something we’ve swindled of the land

and if apple flavor is the poorest choice for anything heavenly. 

 

Is numbness the same as comfort? I feel anxious in crowds. 

There’s a crowd in me that wants out, wants goddamn air. 

Then, I remember: I am along a fence line with my cousin, 

 

talking about the past, as if the past is a godly thing. 

It’s not. And maybe what I hold in my empty palms is sacred. 

But who am I to speak, with the earth in my belly?

 

A Little Less

Say hello to the scab 

on my neck from shaving. 

 

I always get myself 

at the Adam’s apple, 

 

as if the first man 

has come up to haunt me, 

 

kicking out a little blood, 

a little macho hunter, 

 

with his entrance. 

I dab the mess 

 

to erase what I can, 

and rake away 

 

the tiny spears

that pepper & puncture 

 

everything.

I am a little less, 

 

the lone window 

of a torn-down house,

 

a place from which 

I watch the cars, 

 

their bumpers moving 

battered & in shadow.

 

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Author Bio

Daniel Lassell lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. His recent poetry appears or is forthcoming in Permafrost, Post Road, Barely South Review, Frontier Poetry, and Yemassee.

Comics: Gene Kannenberg, Jr.


Riddle 93 (Reconstructed)

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Author Bio

Gene Kannenberg, Jr. (former academic, current librarian-in-training) is a cartoonist in Evanston, Illinois. His comics, mostly abstract with asemic writing, include Qodèxx (2017), Space Year 2015 (2017), and The Abstract Circus (2018). His work was included in the Minnesota Center for Book Arts' 2017 exhibit "Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery," and more appears in Abstraction et bande dessinée, produced by the ACME Comics Research Group at the University of Liège, Belgium (5c, 2019). Visit at comicsmachine.com.

Dossier: Naomi Washer


Thirteen Ways of Walking Home

I

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So you’re home again. I’ve come back: no-longer-local woman returns home with intent to spend her Christmas Day retracing the footsteps of her hometown boy, Wallace Stevens. 

The Wallace Stevens Walk is a 2.4 mile route winding from Stevens’ job in downtown Hartford, Connecticut to his home at 118 Westerly Terrace—a stone’s throw away from my high school. 

The walk is lined with thirteen stones of Connecticut granite, inscribed with each stanza from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” 

I never read Wallace Stevens in high school. We never took field trips to his home or retraced his steps through the Rose Garden in Elizabeth Park; around the pond; over the footbridge; past the peeling paint of the greenhouses from his poems, which appear in the background of my adolescent photos—this park where we skipped Algebra to eat pancakes and dream, where the grass was full and full of yourself, where Stevens wandered seeking poems 60 years before.

I never even knew that Wallace Stevens lived there, there where I dreamt a little by the river, a local abstraction, until after I’d already left home. 

Public acknowledgement is not the Connecticut way. We keep our quiet questions to ourselves.


II

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Hartford—the entire city—is gray. Stevens—a poet “some Connecticut people have heard of but never read”—wore gray suits and worked in insurance, like all the fathers of my middle school friends. Retaining its old Puritan mannerisms and behaviors, Connecticut is not a place to be visibly unconventional. It’s a place where everything blends into beige and gray, where poets take a long time to find their way out of the snow that silently piles up against the windows. 

I arrive in downtown Hartford in the early afternoon on Christmas Day and make my way toward the first granite stone placed along the route toward Stevens’ home. 

I’ve never liked the blackbird poem. I don’t know how I’ll feel while reading it on stone, 
on this walk today, but that’s why I’m here: I want to find my way into what Stevens might have felt while he wrote poems in our shared city of Hartford: I needed a place to go where I could be complete in an unexplained completion, where I could recognize my unique and solitary home.

I feel the taste of Earl Gray on my tongue. I make my way down Asylum.

III

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Wallace Stevens never learned to drive, and neither did I. We share this quietly radical approach to living. In Connecticut, driving is a quiet privilege while walking, like the writing life, is inconceivable. In Hartford, walking is as misunderstood as writing: neither can be quantified, and no one speaks of them. But walking ensures that the body’s rhythm aligns with the rhythm of the mind, and a writer must manifest pathways that do not obstruct the mind’s unfolding thought.

We found it in Hartford, Stevens and I. We found that walking generated a protective silence—an exterior manifestation of the topography of our questioning hearts; an anonymity surrounding us in our quiet gray clothing, opening out into the possibilities of the mind.

We passed the buckeye tree, the sassafras, the shingle oak; the Gothic brownstone church with bright blue doors, and we asked ourselves: Which of these truly contains the world?

Stevens walked from home to work and back again each day, composing poems with his footfalls, revising by retracing his steps through the quiet streets of Hartford: see the river, the railroad, the cathedral, while others watched him walking, so peculiar, through the quiet streets of Hartford, seen in a purple light.

IV

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In the script of my life as an adolescent in Connecticut, I am and have a being and play a part. 

I recognized the life I saw around me because I’d never known another kind. But some days, when it rained and I was trapped indoors with only the company of my own mind, or when the sun shone around the ivy-covered gazebo in Elizabeth Park, I thought that maybe there could be another life out there for me, quite possibly. Where would I find it? 

Was it out there, really, somewhere far away from all this granite stone? It would be enough if we were ever, just once, at the middle, fixed In This Beautiful World of Ours and not as now, helplessly at the edge. What things, in my life then, were Fixed in the mind or at the middle? 

Not me, not I, not whatever my Self was. Maybe the leaves, whirling in the trees, collecting my questions, scattering them swiftly in the wind. 

Some pantomime. Back then I was an actor, thought the stage would set me free.

V

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Although you sit in a room that is gray, Wallace, I know how furiously your heart is beating

I don’t know how you lived and wrote poetry each day in this city that always seems so gray, even in summer. It doesn’t sound like you were happy. 

Your daughter says that, growing up, despite the holly bush you planted at the house in honor of her name, she wasn’t happy. Your wife, Elsie, hated your poetry. She wasn’t happy. 

What made you happy, Wallace? Escaping the gray landscape of Connecticut for the lush saturation of Key West? Getting drunk and punching Papa Hemingway in the face? Coming home to Hartford and eating a silent, private meal alone at a table inside an exclusive club where you spoke to no one? It doesn’t add up—this personality plus the silence of your poems. 

What were you looking for, in life and in your poems? It can’t have been beauty—not only that. 

I think it was more that you were seeking—not beauty, but the silence following beauty.

VI

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His life was indecipherable. I can’t comprehend it as narrative, even while I feel I understand its hidden essence. I want the story behind the story; the one he never shared, not a critic’s analysis or biographer’s interpretation. I want to know why no one in Hartford knows about Stevens—only Mark Twain, only Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose museum-houses lie just down the road. Stevens—he disappeared beneath the sidewalks, beside the pond in the park. He worked in Imagism, capturing an image from multiple lenses, beyond the contours of a realistic view. It was a language he spoke, because he must, yet did not know. His poems are an endless philosophical question: the nature of being; how we find ourselves in the places where we find ourselves to be; how to bring articulation to the grayest confusion; of what was it I was thinking? So the meaning escapes, always tracking the meaning, tracing the concept, circling the question.

VII

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O thin girls of Hartford, O skater boys of Hartford, what will you discover when you take yourselves out to the church basement punk show? When you visit the makeup counter at the mall? Do you not see how the rhythm of Hartford is a performance all its own? It is deep January. The sky is hard. Where did you go? This city needs you. The roses in the garden reach out for you. The birds are waiting for you to name them. I could not bring myself to. 

You’ll have to stay, because I signed some metaphysical contract that says I need to go, to be free again, carry me to the cold, go on, go on, plunge on

If you’re going, I will not watch you go. The snow flies upwards at an angle. 

VIII

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In taking this walk with Stevens—which I’m sure he never imagined anyone would copy—I’m trying not to hold any unrealistic expectations for a grand, transformative experience. 

I’m hoping to feel differently about the blackbird poem by the time it’s over, but I’ll be happy with any inspiration that flies my way. Maybe I’m looking for some validation for being a writer from Connecticut, looking for the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice

When I reach stanza 8, just past a bridge above the river I feel sure that Stevens paused along each day, my phone dies. Suddenly I feel ill-equipped to be here. What if I can’t find my way home? Connecticut is not a place where you can knock on someone’s door on Christmas Day: hello, can I charge my phone? But stanza 8 is one of my favorites, so I tell myself it will all work out somehow. The abstract was suddenly there and gone again. It had been real. It was not now

I grasped it only briefly: this essence of what Hartford meant to me. The rhythms that shaped me, the syllables we swallow in the middle of words. 

IX

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Part of me imagined I would live here in Hartford one day, as an adult. I’d settle down in one of those historic row houses in the West End. My home would be full of books and antiques, dark wood, mahogany—the sound of it, the word; it’s always sounded full to me, like silence. Like Stevens, I’d live in walking distance to Elizabeth Park. As long as I had a cloistered writing room at home, I wouldn’t need much else. A simple window on the world. A sidewalk of poems, leading to the park. I would wake in the morning indoors where the world was beyond my understanding. But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four hills and a cloud

A poetic existence. Living as a poem. Living inside a poem—that’s what I wanted. It’s what I wanted to be. But Poetry, I’ve learned since then, is the supreme fiction. I can’t go back again.

X

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With my phone dead, passing the wealthiest homes in the city of Hartford, I’m beginning to feel conspicuous—more visible. I’m afraid that all the parents of my middle school peers will drive by and see me walking down the road on Christmas Day like I’ve got nowhere to go. They won’t roll down their windows to call out to me. They’ll shake their heads at one another and say, There was always something strange about that girl. Because the houses here, the people, none of them are strange. They’re not going to dream the way I do, so I try to stay away. 

I’ve heard about this happening to Wallace Stevens as he was walking home: caught in the rain without an umbrella, strolling along, some woman he knew from somewhere pulled up to the curb and rolled down her window, Why Wallace, you mustn’t drown out there in the rain for goodness sakes, come inside, get in the car, I’ll drive you home. 

Alright, he said to the woman in the car. But only if you’ll let us drive in silence. And I would say the same, if anyone stopped. To have a conversation at that moment: it would be an irretrievable interruption. I’d never get the moment back.

XI

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I turn on Wallace Stevens’ street, Westerly Terrace. A couple emerges from a house on the corner with their dog. They pass by and we say hello, how are you, Merry Christmas. The sky is blue; it is darkening. The difficulty to think at the end of day.

Stanza 11 is buried in the bushes and the brambles of a family home. I draw close to it; focus my eyes on it. I try to focus my mind, but I feel myself wandering. 

This walk, the scenery, my experience on the street: So that’s life, then: things as they are? What was I hoping I would find? Where was it one first heard of the truth?

XII

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I’ve been walking for over two miles now. Stanza 12 is perched on the grassy median between the looming houses on the street. I feel conspicuous. I feel the Christmas fires burning in the living rooms inside and my self not near them. I taste the Christmas cookies and the Christmas wine I do not eat and drink but only imagine. Too much as they are to be changed by metaphor, too actual, things that in being real make imaginings of them lesser things.

Things like the Christmas meal my mother is cooking back home while I walk: turkey with stuffing, biscuits, plain and sweet potatoes. I taste them. I do not taste them. 

XIII

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From atop the grassy median, I squeeze a final breath of battery from my dead phone, enough to take one picture of Stevens’ large Colonial home across the way, which is not a museum but simply someone else’s home. 

I read the text imprinted on the thirteenth stone and for the first time, I hear how the tone goes up like a question; like a book you never stop rereading; like this process I’ve begun is never over. We left much more, left what still is the look of things, left what we felt at what we saw

I take one picture. I slip my sunglasses in the pocket of my coat and turn toward home. I feel the evening coming on; the blackbird sits in the cedar-limbs and my legs feel strong. I’m looking up to catch a moment from the sky. And then, right there in my head, I write a letter to every person I’ve ever known. The letter says: I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw or heard or felt came not but from myself; and there I found myself more truly and more strange.

The Wallace Stevens Home

The Wallace Stevens Home

Map of The Wallace Stevens Walk

Map of The Wallace Stevens Walk

 

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Author Bio

Naomi Washer is the author of two chapbooks: Phantoms (dancing girl press) and American Girl Doll (Ursus Americanus Press). She is also the translator from the Spanish of Experimental Gardening Manual: Create your own habitat in thirty-something simple steps by Sebastián Jiménez Galindo (Toad Press). Other work has appeared in Gold Wake Live, Pithead Chapel, Asymptote, Sundog Lit, Passages North, and other journals. She lives in Chicago where she is the editor and publisher of Ghost Proposal.


Twenty Questions with Aaron Smith

David Trinidad


Aaron Smith at Anne Sexton’s grave

Aaron Smith at Anne Sexton’s grave

What is your first memory?

                                                   

I remember my first day of kindergarten, walking to the bus stop carrying my Disney school-bus lunchbox. I still have that lunchbox, and it made an appearance in my first book. I have an earlier memory of being in the car with my mom when I was around two years old. We were driving by the house my parents were building, and I remember how happy it made my mother. I’m not sure if that is a memory, or if my mom has just told me that story for years.

 

 

Can you describe your childhood landscape?

 

We lived in a tiny, hilly neighborhood with a curvy road running through it. There were woods behind my house where my friends and I played. Our house was brick on the bottom with white siding and black shutters on top. The same man built some of our neighbors’ houses, and I guess he lacked imagination because they all looked pretty much the same. I grew up a couple miles from my grandparents’, so the whole patch of road from my house to my grandparents’ felt like home. It was safer back then for kids than it is now: we rode our bikes, swam, and explored every wooded area until dark.

 

 

Your new of book of poems, The Book of Daniel, is coming out in the fall. Would you describe the process of writing the book?

 

It was the first book that I’ve written that was fun to write. The subject matter I’m drawn to requires me to live in uncomfortable spaces, so I often have to sink into, or past, maybe, a sort of dread to access the stuff that interests me. I still went to those spaces, but this time I was in an amazing dialogue with the poet Miguel Murphy. Instead of waiting for inspiration, I made myself write pretty much every night, sometimes four or five hours a night. I would then send the poems to Miguel, and he would give me thoughtful, smart feedback. He really got what I was doing and challenged me in ways I had not been challenged before. He could see strategies I relied on, maybe out of habit, maybe because they were a big part of how I’d always made poems, and he would push me to abandon them and follow what was most interesting in the poem. I felt like I learned a lot about my own writing while writing this book, which is a great feeling. I actually missed writing the book when it was finished. Usually, I feel relief. This time I wondered what I was going to do with my time.

 

 

How is The Book of Daniel different from your previous books?

 

This book is in dialogue with as many of my personal influences as possible. I’ve felt for a while that the poetry “community” is rather ahistorical, everyone reading the same ten books written in the last five years and declaring them earth-shattering works. I think certain books become contagious on social media in ways that don’t really serve writers, and they become the unofficial agreed-upon standard of what poetry should be. I felt this urge to ground myself. I wanted to write a book filled with my different histories: poetry, popular culture, art, and family. I wanted to remind myself there are many ways to write poems, and many different things can be put into poems. I needed to remember the long history of the art. It was the most intentional I’ve been with trying to bring into a book everything I love, everything that has shaped me. Some people have said it’s a dark book, but I think it’s darkly funny in many ways. I also hate pretention, so I poke a lot of fun at poetry while also showing, hopefully, a deep love of the art. This book is also different formally. Primer was such a sad book that when I finished it my relationship to enjambment and certain kinds of stanzas was sadness, so for this book I allowed myself to double space, take up a lot of room, rely on juxtaposition and big leaps, rather than shaping the poems into tight, neat objects.

 

 

Your last book, Primer, includes a beautiful elegy for the poet Irene McKinney. Can you say something about your friendship with her, and her work?

 

When I went to college, I thought I was going to major in advertising. I had never really been drawn to literature in any serious way. Since I went to a liberal arts college, I had to take courses in various disciplines. My adviser put me in a Short Fiction class to fulfill a requirement. I fell in love with the stories. Margaret Atwood’s “The Sin-Eater” is the story that made me want to write. I decided to enroll in a fiction course, which, oddly, was taught by Irene. She never said this, but I think she took aspiring fiction writers and turned them into poets (which I find myself doing now as a professor). She opened the class by reading her own poem “Devotional.” I was hooked. We kept in touch over the years after I graduated, and our friendship grew and deepened. We shared books that we were reading and showed each other poems. In 2008, I was invited back to my alma mater to teach, and we became colleagues. Her incurable cancer diagnosis was a real blow to the literary community of which she was the center. One memory I have that I will never forget was when she stopped me in the hall at AWP and said: “We both know I’m going to die sooner rather than later. Will you do what you can to keep my work alive.” Since then, and because her work is brilliant, I have tried to keep her in the conversation as much as possible. It made sense to celebrate her by writing about her since she gave me this art, this way of seeing the world. I helped her friend, the poet Maggie Anderson, edit and publish her posthumous collection Have You Had Enough Darkness Yet? It’s a great book that I hope people will find. She also has a selected poems called Unthinkable. She was a true artist and one of the most knowledgeable and well-read people I’ve ever known. I doubt I will ever meet anyone like her again.

 

 

Who are your favorite porn stars?

 

That’s always changing. My earliest two obsessions in the ‘90s were Dean Spencer and Aiden Shaw. Now that I’m older, I find the gay male body culture a bit exhausting, but back then I think those men challenged my shame and internalized homophobia, my notion that guys with muscles didn’t suck dick. So to see Dean Spencer (who is mentioned in the new book) allow himself to be totally submissive and humiliated by all these men in a military prison was a real turn on. 

 

There’s a new guy (or maybe I’ve just discovered him), Dylan James (his name sounds very literary), who has a lot of tattoos and is vocal and bossy. I like him a lot. I also like Ricky Sinz for reasons too complicated to explain in an interview.

 

Dean Spencer in  Code of Conduct

Dean Spencer in Code of Conduct

 

In his poem “After Lake Leman,” Robinson Jeffers says, “What is it that kills the power of a poet? He writes too much.” Reaction?

 

My first thought is that publishing too much kills the power. I think it’s important to live with poems and not give them away so quickly. I tell my students not to publish their poems on Twitter the day after they write them. First, they’re not finished. Second, it’s okay for something to exist just for you, or for a small community of readers offline. I don’t see how the current culture of affirmation on social media by people we don’t know can help an artist maintain their voice and singular vision.

 

 

What do you say to people who think poetry shouldn’t be autobiographical?

 

Autobiography is inevitable. What you say or don’t say is information to a reader about you as a person. Your obsessions show up, and that is autobiography. I understand wanting some room to stray from the exact details which are required for nonfiction, but I think it’s silly when poets freak out if someone thinks the “speaker” in the poem is them. Who cares?

 

 

Which living poet is your polar opposite?

 

It’s hard to answer this without sounding shady, but I don’t mean it that way. I think someone like A.E. Stallings would probably be my polar opposite, BUT I like that she writes because I believe poetry can and should be many things. There is room for what everyone wants to do. I know she is talented, etc. Her work just isn’t my thing, and I would imagine she would feel the same about me.

 

It’s funny: now I’m Googling A.E. Stallings, and I like her poems better than I thought. So maybe my answer is Kay Ryan.

 

 

Which actors, living or dead, would you pick to play your parents in a movie about your life?

 

If I’m thinking about this stage of my life, I would pick Paul Giamatti to play my dad and Margo Martindale to play my mom. I love both of them as actors, and I would be curious to see what aspects of my parents they would bring to life.

 

 

Who would play you?

 

I knew you were going to ask that! Peter Sarsgaard, I guess. I think he has a weird mind like mine, and he could eat a lot of carbs to prepare for the role.

 

 

What would the title of this movie be?

 

Tortured by a Small-Town God: A Love Story.

 

 

What do you collect, and why?

 

I collect books as most writers do. I also collect Tokidoki Unicorno vinyl figurines. They are little pieces of art. I have every figure from all seven series so far. I think it’s a Warholian thing: I like several of the same thing in different colors, etc.

 

 

Can you talk about your erotic Instagram collages?

 

When I joined Instagram, I wanted to do something other than take pictures of food or share poems. It actually became a space very much NOT about poetry. I was drawn to the squares of Instagram, so I found an app that would give me nine squares to play with. Those nine squares fill one Instagram square. For me, it’s about juxtaposition, one image’s proximity to another. The religious stuff intersects with the erotic which intersects with something “beautiful.” I had such a bad experience with religion as a child that I’m fascinated by how pictures of Jesus look when placed next to two men kissing (things I was taught that do not fit together). Maybe I’m just being disrespectful, which is fine. Maybe I’m thinking about how all these things exist in the same space at the same time and the lines we draw between them are arbitrary. Also, I like the limitation of the nine squares. I think the collages—I’ve done over a thousand at this point—helped me write the new book. It’s fun to throw so many things together and see how they collide and dialogue. The project might be finished. I’m not sure. I have some prints now that I’m considering selling.

 

 

What was the last dream you remembered?

 

Last night I dreamed my blood pressure medicine was $500. I was totally freaked out.

 

 

How important are the New York School poets to your work?

 

I love them. When I found them, they made sense to me. The poet’s movement through the world is in real-time in the poems, especially O’Hara. He is probably the most original voice of the second half of the twentieth century. I love how those poets banish hierarchies, refuse to privilege one thing over another when it comes to material for poems. I’m carrying around Schuyler’s selected poems this summer, and he is a master of diction and writes with such a generous view of the world.

 

I got to spend some time at the Fales Library at NYU looking at the papers of the poet Tim Dlugos (a second generation New York School Poet, as you know), and somewhere in his papers he says something like: poems are time capsules, and you can put things in them that people will look back on and learn from. That’s why I love popular culture in poetry. I hate when people say putting those things in poems will keep the poem from standing the test of time. First, it’s presumptuous that anyone will stand the test of time. Second, how limiting to ignore the world in which you live for some grand notion of your possible, future greatness.

 

 

Robert Creeley encouraged you when you were starting out. What advice, if any, did he give you?

 

I met him at Vermont Studio Center in 1998. I had just finished graduate school. I think I turned 24 while I was there. We were walking across a little bridge. He stopped, took me by the shoulders and said: “You can do this [be a writer] if you want.” It was such a generous moment that I keep with me. We saw each other a few times after that, and we had an email friendship up until the time of his death.

 

 

Can you put together a playlist of 10 favorite songs?

 

“Manic Monday” by The Bangles

“Sorry” by Beyoncé

“Stranger Strange” by Fischerspooner

“Tony” by Patty Griffin

“Language or the Kiss” by Indigo Girls

“Why” by Annie Lennox

“Sunset Strip” by Courtney Love

“It’s a Sin” by The Pet Shop Boys

“Dang A Lang” by Trina, Lady Saw and Nicki Minaj

“Love Interruption” by Jack White

 

 

Can you tell me something you’ve never told anyone else?

 

I have a secret collection of 12’’ male celebrity action figures/dolls: Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Jeremy Renner, Jason Statham, and Hugh Jackman. I have my eye on a couple others. I almost told you about this in the collecting question, but I erased it. Why I keep this a secret is probably something I should work on in therapy. They’re all packed away. Maybe I should do a gay Instagram soap opera with them.

 

 

Is there anything you wish I would ask you?

 

Something about Daniel Craig or Tom Hardy, or who is the most overrated poet writing today.