by Thea Robin Engst
Because you are afraid of whales
and tell me as if it weren’t ridiculous,
I can tell you about my fear of open water,
which extends to the deep-end of pools.
I imagine you floating in the enormous ocean,
treading above a Great Blue Whale,
as the world’s largest mammal approaches,
the filter teeth lined up like barcodes
breathing you in with the krill.
I laugh because it’s ridiculous.
The Portuguese man-of-war on the other hand,
will kill you with effortless grace, wrapping
its delicate tentacle around your ankle,
stinging, numbing, paralyzing as you sink.
You can hear the deadly seriousness in my voice,
I’ve thought about this like you’ve thought
about the three inch height of an Orca’s tooth,
forty-five in each mouth, at least four whales to a pod,
that’s a hundred and eighty, three-inch teeth.
You tell me there’s a lot to be said about being afraid
of what’s beneath you.
by BJ Soloy
The Jesuits are expelled, replaced by wine.
A house cat paces a cleared table, impatient
for the predicted rain—the little yawn
of a scale model mtn. lion.
If approached: 1. Loud noises.
2. Appear larger than you are.
3. Fight back if attacked.
4. Enjoy the sudden richness
of air. 5. Threaten to name names
if it comes to it. Unseal the envelope.
Remove Japanese death poem.
If ignored, implore Mother: 1. Tongue
and the distance entoddlering her,
the burgundy drapes & siren.
Apologizing in advance for what my body will be
in ten years,
I watch the sun sputter out.
The sky outside could look like anything
at this point. The Spring, so far,
has been obscene. I could smell the rain
before I heard it, but I hear it now too.
by Gary Dop
the madwoman who gave birth without screaming
till she held her child? She wailed:
He’s going to die. He’s going to die. And he did
eighty-four years later in a fishing village where he retired
with his wife and their latest Shih Tzu, Dreamy.
I know there’s no satisfying punch line, no
little joke about mom’s prediction, and nothing
to barb with the sanity of a mother’s pain—
nothing, that is, till you examine
your satisfied sigh when you heard that the baby
lived. Distracted, you pranced past the little truth—
every joke’s companion—the madwoman
was right: The boy died. The crazy mother
mourned the death to come, the death
of the old man in the infant, the death we forget
in favor of what we call sanity, that flimsy gift
of some other madwoman who birthed
the rest of us and the jokes we bear.
by Esther Lee
For instance, you might have said:
When he was leaving
the store, it was starting to rain.
Winnie was a sleeve torn,
it was darting derange.
You might have taken (one can
play detective endlessly),
a ream of paper and traced
intricate scalloped designs
of the livingroom’s
silver radiator, or the young man,
towns away, his face blind-
embossed beneath the narrative
we won’t let go of.
The grass nodded
beneath the dance.
The grass snotted
bereaved of ants.
The wrists knotted
bee’s knees and pants.
No, knocking on wood won’t
change what happens next.
Little yellow flags marking
their dancing footsteps—
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 is where
his body was found.
Nevermind the headphones,
can of iced tea, a lighter,
scratched cell phone,
or a three-leaf clover
wanting to turn four.
You might have thought:
To be honest, I don’t
even remember that day.
You might have said:
He was wearing a red sweater.
He’s swearing ahead weather.
He is airing a head feather.
His hearing a hard father.
He erring hat fodder.
A herring half over.
by Sara Eliza Johnson
The dream was bright, but small.
My body was inside out,
a sick elegy to its beauty.
I walked until I found a single tree.
You were picking its apples
in the straw-light in a straw hat,
handed me one without spots.
Put this where your heart rots, you said
and I did, I was happy.
When I woke, the ice
was rocking, unaware, a cold
breathing cast from a body—
You gave much.
Thank you for
the last good thing.
by Sarah Sloat
At the reception desk, two lilies tilt in a glass. Like peeled-back stars their petals curl and carve forward, a textbook photo of acute elegance.
Needlepoints of pink dot the petals distinctly, as if after so much arching their capillaries had snapped.
When the receptionist turns to fetch your file, you breathe in to reach the lissome, near-illicit fragrance, a gesture of petrol and caramel. The lungs fill with lilies, and it’s a reflex to hold your breath.
Inhale, the doctor says, and you inhale. He is a gardener of sorts, poking a cold spade across your back. Exhale, he says, and you relive your dizziness.
At the reception desk, two lilies tilt in a glass. Bend back, they say, and you bend back, your steep heart beating.
by Matt Mason
“Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
from “No Man Is An Island” by John Donne
In the photo, he has his head
on the hangman’s shoulder, leaned there
while the hangman drapes a black arm around his shoulder.
The executioner’s eyes, you can see through the holes in his hood,
are shut. How much
does he earn to hang men from cranes in the city square,
we all see him in today’s paper, on the internet,
we read the article with a little shake of shock,
are brought back
to high school,
that was kind of dull,
makes sense now,
what it was
by Gordon Buchan
At the sluice gate of the deep
mouthed Schuylkill river
we listen to the O
pen mouthed carp
ediem and relax.
There is nothing left to be found.
So go and find the loom (heir or haunt)
river gloss (tongue or light)
Find the coffee we dropped sugar
cubes into. Walk with a trajectory
to your fear, though first
be sure that you are fearless.
Believe that light
so there is nothing
for you to fear. Believe light
is packed like groins and asses
party walls. Light
in mountain veins. In a coffin
on a conveyor belt. Light
in the gallature of machines.
If nothing else
it is easy to imagine
the river flowing
from a factory south of here
well wired as we are
to the molecules
of its inhabitants
bodies in the current
who swim beneath star spangled
lights and blue buildings.
Believe that light is everywhere.
Believe there is nowhere left to find.
You were the last to find this out
and now that you have
there is nothing left.
by Matt Mauch
Like the unbreakable that breaks, the unsinkable that sinks,
the beautiful brain dithers, doesn’t invent a thing,
won’t synthesize “soar” with “crash,” just says
Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings,
repeats it like an LP with an imperfection
in a groove intended to be smooth,
like a highway in need of repair,
and the brain holds a universe of roads.
We hardly ever think of all the good work done by the DOT.
We forget the lines we were memorizing
when we find a twenty on the sidewalk.
Because of nice weather and an open window,
a parakeet riffs off of a cardinal on a wire.
The parakeet is in a cage. The cage is in a house.
The cardinal is channeling sounds trapped in the wire.
The intercepting brain sends flowers to our ears.
It would invent the telegraph, or wireless communication,
or the lyrics to “We Shall Overcome,”
if we didn’t already have them.
It orders up a daydream in which the parakeet shows the cardinal
a world without it, a world stuck with sad-sacks,
hecklers at chamber performances, loud talkers at the cinema,
chirpers chirping in November same as they chirped in June, like
earnest vote after earnest vote
against one’s own
the kind of chirp that blows the show for the rest of us
unless the brain makes the hand reach
into the pocket that isn’t there
to pull out neither the petals of a rose, nor a rabbit from a hat,
but silence, which it brings to the onlooking
and thus far overlooked sparrow, silence
being a world without it, which for the sparrow is despair,
and in the daydream this all happens while it’s snowing,
and after despair witnessed by the empathetic
but not currently despairing,
each snowflake is the soul of a sparrow, or can be.
by Joel Long
The salt so quiet, I mimic it.
Once swimming, I rely on the shape
of water, though water I swim
relies itself on return, not now, not
sand seasoned with salt, seasoned
with does not make the reeds grow.
When inside comes out, you have to know
the hidden, see ribs like parentheses—
What between, what elided, left to gulls? —
and the spine like little pills dispels
heartache though they only work
when you think they do, when you believe
something that heartache resembles,
mouth of a fish, for instance, opening
a hinge for three years and showing
no real sign of change on its own, crystals
of halite adhering where muscles had,
to pull against current now wind, the eye
socket clotting with sand, dorsal fin
the lost feather from the fossil bird. Fear stillness,
if you must, but it is just still, a breath
caught and sustained in exhale, shining
music for whomever looks down, same world.
by Christopher Cokinos
Discomfort is a door
to someone else’s
sadness, full of south
and broken compasses.
Regard that nearly killed.
Ache that carved a hole
in the door you walk through now
to find her beneath
a single leaf so tall
it shadows sand
and, as the sun
changes, will shadow
the rooms she thought
to move to. A bell
sounds. The sea cymbals.
Then everything is quiet.
Then you find her
head in hands
and do not move
till she lifts her face
you both begin to say is
the vista that is very tired
which, again, could be
by Jen Lambert
This country has no lamps for its alleys,
but I know the streets like the body
of a whore, those wounded stones, valleys
of dark water. There is sorrow
in wet nights, and the yields will not give.
I don’t know what is worse, to burn or to drown,
but either way there is famine. The dog will howl
in the limping city, the wasp will burrow
deep in the unforgiving plum, and tonight,
I will learn the bend of a girl, the give
and take, the way to turn her hard dirt
so I won’t starve on my own instinct,
so I won’t bite through my own foul tongue.
That flesh is ripe. It will bleed and run.
by Brock Dethier
I worked with the wife alone at first, typical problems with her mother, defining herself in opposition to her mother while becoming more like her every day, and then she asked if they could both come in, and since things seemed to be going well with her I thought, “Why not?” but he never seemed to want to get with the program, even though I asked him the first day, “Don’t you want your wife to be happy?” and when he tried to say something about her drinking problem, I pulled him back to the topic of the moment, how can we see more happiness in the relationship, because you know especially with these academic couples it’s all about perception and perspective, and they just need to learn to see things differently, especially him because the stories he tells about the relationship are not helpful and empowering, he sees nothing but issues and conflict, and if he keeps showing up, I’m not sure we’ll get anywhere, because some people want to be unhappy no matter what.
by Thom Caraway
Clear morning grays
to threaten rain, clouds
a storm of geese
and across the river
more new homes.
For sale: sterling silver we used
at Thanksgiving the year
Marshall decided against
the cranberry sauce.
A puppet theatre—no, I’m sorry,
the children kept the puppets.
This camera I used
to take her picture,
nude and laughing,
in the creek-lit shine
of a morning like this,
and there’s the book I wrote
on how to love her, called,
The geese have turned to bees,
and the new homes have sprouted
wings. They buzz.
You’re just driving by, but
let me tempt you
with this BBQ spatula, or this dryer.
It needs a new belt.
For sale: one oak table,
only made love upon twice. Sturdy.
Please, no charge for the Coleman stove,
the toasting glasses we bought in Austria.
Her clothes hung on those hangers—
take them, and this picture of bees.
The chair and the toys,
suitcases, one hard-shelled, one
with a broken wheel. Take the shoes
I am wearing, and my glasses.
Even the lawn is flying away.
I’ll make you a bargain
on the earth that remains.