Welcome to the skin Issue No. 2, Vol. 1, Fall 2019 of fws: journal of literature & art! This work represents thirty-eight poets, writers and artists from six countries. Many are prize winners, including Pushcart Nominees; some are established, significant writers with many volumes and credits to their names, some are beginning writers with this being their first publication. I am honored by & grateful for all of you who have chosen to share your work here.
On the theme of skin, you have written to the endeavor of being captive within the body’s flesh. You have written to the exhilaration of spiritual transcendence and to the ultimate transition. You have spoken of transformation, of exultation, of pleasure and pain & you have done so with honesty, authenticity and eloquence. Many of you are masters of your craft. I bow to that mastery. I bow also to those of you who are beginning the writing journey. It will take you into the unknown. It will give you voice: and in her mouth/I put a scroll reading justice…. For some of you, it will make life’s conundrums easier to navigate and it will heal you: I will breath/ into my own mouth again….
And as we read, it will help us heal or give us a glimpse or make us laugh out loud or grieve deeply. All of this is good. Very, very good: For again/I make myself a morning…
Dear Reader, be warned. Some of this work may challenge you, as it did me. So if you feel vulnerable, weary or raw, you may want to visit the pages of the sharp hour section with care: I will look into the eyes/of my own shadows….
As the collection progresses, stories unfold, making personal and family histories accessible, some warming our hearts, some showing us how far we have come, some showing us how far we have yet to go; later, the work becomes more introspective, leading us further along the path of transformation into mysterious, magical and holy realms.
This is a rich and varied collection to which you may choose to return again and again and one you may wish to share with others. I hope so.
d. ellis phelps, editor
fws: journal of literature & art
James B. Nicola
The mandate of the skin
Is simple: Hold the insides in.
This might effect a sudden grin
Which may not be essential
But contains the semi-confidential
While advertising one’s potential
In certain stormy weather,
The skin pretends it’s hard as leather,
And stays outside altogether,
The aching Heart complains,
But the stalwart Skin never explains,
Just gets wet—in whatever rains
Self-Portrait in a Snowglobe
Wait for me under each crease in the paper
like that time you kissed me miserably
we picked stars between the streetlights
and stole memories, grey and jaded
photographs of sinkholes we wanted to identify
the rules of falling and flying
say we are floating over the earth
and not bleeding into a sky full of nothing.
Each time I yoke demandingly for immediate and
I grind the pepper with the pestle for a dose
of acerbic lack.
Need repels what it seeks,
turns to ash
material it consumes with its wanting.
I fold the white paper,
pressing it against the seam of my pocket
and hope its precious edges
do not scar.
My fingers touch the railing
lightly, whispering feathery blessings
across the weathered aluminum
When the first jolt happens,
I quiver and grasp.
Each winter rolls its coming dark
The jagged edge of loss grinding
tooth into my bone
A barren belly.
A room with a single bed.
I mouth in the blessed chill
of clear night
a prayer to bright stars through the lens
of an hourglass,
move in this sharp hour a scribbling pen
to form a distant song
Condense the onomatopoeia in the French press
and you’ll have a nice oof to start your day.
Sprinkle cashews into the garbage disposal
and hang your cast iron out on the clothes line—
this spell is exhausting.
It is not enough to claw through the swamps of self,
you tell yourself at dawn, burning your eyes as you stare
at the sun. You worship the scripts and relics of it: wanting,
that beautiful nothing that sparks from wet sticks.
Thunder cracks underfoot as the floorboards shift,
aligning themselves with each step forward.
You call out sandpaper words to your loved ones.
You hug them with rope and they end up sliced.
A reminder of all the times you hid away.
Like how you loved rainy days as a kid
because they took the pressure off:
who wants to be forced into the sun?
Kendra Preston Leonard
Six Prickly Pears
Six white pumpkins, and
Six prickly pears,
Sharp and round.
My mother tells me that I
am round in body
and sharp in speech.
Neither is praise.
Prickles must be removed,
losing their defenses.
Pumpkins must be scooped,
Empty pumpkins and smooth cactus
are cut in long, fine lines.
Curled strips of skin
Cruelty crushes emptiness,
six white pumpkins
fall far, flattened.
Skinless, feeling every shot,
six prickly pears
disappear despair dissolve.
I am my Halloween—
truer to me than truth—
the distance between
the poet and the page
Tonight I go from door to door
in a borrowed self
to beg for a face—
forgive the lantern blood—
let myself loose
upon the world—
oil on water
I am not me
in this language—
fight over the fight—
the right to anger—
I have slashed
I grew up cordoned and
emptied out like a cave—
incorporeal, wafting through
doorjams and spare rooms.
Haunting the ceiling fixtures
I looked down and regarded
my childhood body,
gossamer arms splayed
and gaping like wings,
treading unlettered sheets,
nameless and becoming:
a wild-eyed nymph
and the airborne dust
my mealy body settled
on that unfurnished space,
its clenched-jaw murmurings
glancing off the stone wall
of my father’s face, reflected
in self-satisfied tide pools
that ebbed through me
How can I expose
that secret inadequacy
when all I can say is
I am sorry?
I am sorry
I buried those first years
of your life.
I had no words
to speak of
that deep cut—
even now some
get caught in my throat
like mirror glass
still, the unnamed memory
fluttered timid inside
the chest cavity. Strange,
that dirty moth of neglect heralded
deliverance, allowing words to form
like delicate insects, crystalizing
into their own dark powers
I will breathe
into my own mouth again,
clutch my brokenness like a gift,
cupping my hands to quell the current
as it flows through my fingers
like a sough, like a sigh
a child’s voice,
my mother tongue
in that very darkness
calling me back
you said it was not
the narcissist you were after
but the echo
snow doesn't fall
wooden homes built too soon
built under supermoons
night never still night
rustling branches or
silent boys whose fathers
are not fathers but bodies
temporality kissing snowbanks
icy lakes who can live here who
is willing to shed skin
blister anything left
cradle sunlight that is not
theirs ours but the geese
know when to stop the geese
Canvas, at Midnight
I scrub my skin
until it blisters
shedding over the floor
It’s me & it’s not me
evidence after tonight
I was here, even though
I am somewhere else
moonlight shouldn’t be able
to enter this bathroom
but it does it does
does anyone else see
my face is melting
I am whole & broken
water still running
so I can scream
without being reprehended
so my voice can
in the drain
Sarah Joy Thompson
The first wound closure strip came
Off my breast today. I couldn't stand the blue and grey lint
Getting stuck to the adhesive material. I'll remove
The other two, ten days after the fact.
It's going to be a line, light brown even, barely visible
But I'm not going to expose it anytime
Soon. It won't see the sun for at least another month.
I need to heal more.
I need to grow into it.
And it will grow on me.
Kendra Preston Leonard
Over an old injury my skin
more beautiful than
on my body, a
Kirsten Ismene Schilling
Since I was seventeen it had been a dream of mine to visit Paris. I wanted to stay on the Left Bank, to speak French, to see the sights—to be a simple, romantic touriste. I was twice the age of seventeen when we finally went, and though my French was rusty, I still felt as excited as a teenager to be there.
When we got to our room at the Hotel de Fleurie in the Saint-Germain-des-Près, I immediately went out onto the balcony to greet the city. I looked down and saw a stranger walking below, on the rue Grégoire de Tours. I waved at him. He smiled and waved back, and it felt as if the entire city was greeting me, in return. My heart soared.
My husband couldn’t speak any French at all, not one word, yet he mocked my elementary, yet perfectly functional, French for the entire first week of our trip.
One day we had lunch at a bistro in Chartres. I told a waiter, in French, that his meal had made me happy, and he replied “Madame, votre accent français est très charmant.” And, somehow, this compliment seemed to make my husband even angrier.
Traveling with someone so hostile was a very lonely thing.
And it did just what it was intended to do.
It ate away at me.
Wore me down.
I broke, finally—crying, in public, while walking down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to visit Guerlain’s perfume house When my husband stepped into a pile of Paris’s infamous merde de chien on a sidewalk soon after, I remember thinking — perhaps this is karma?
Yet, Paris was enchanting. And the city had managed to soften even him by the second week of our trip. This enabled me, temporarily, to set aside my misgivings about our marriage. And instead, I tried to enjoy myself while visiting the City of Light.
As the vacation drew to a close and started to feel as bittersweet as a Sunday evening, we agreed to separate for an hour, in the 5th, to conserve some time. He went to rummage around where he was happiest, in a used record store, while I went to a bar on the Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève called La Taverne des Alchimistes.
I had studied their menu eagerly through the window the day before. As a perfumer, and an herbalist, I was particularly excited to try un verre de vin rouge infusé de fleurs violettes—a glass of red wine infused with violet flowers. Violets, one of the most intriguing and elusive scents in both perfumery and distillation, were my favorite flower.
At first, I felt really shy entering the taverne alone. But I reasoned with myself that, since I was alone, I could order in French without harassment or criticism. So I did.
I savored my first sip of the fragrant wine as one of my favorite songs came onto the sound system. I looked around with delight at the coincidence and realized that I was seated beneath a medieval-style painting of a cauldron—a symbol of my own artisanal work with plants, and a reminder of all of the things I had yet to learn, to create, and to master.
I tried to explain it to my husband, later how serendipitous and harmonious this hour was for me. It was full of all of my favorite things, simultaneously, as if someone had designed the taverne specifically for me. He suggested we make a quick visit back to the taverne the next day, our last full day in France, so he could see it for himself.
We returned to the Taverne des Alchimistes on the following afternoon, but when we arrived, we were surprised to find that it was shuttered tight —fermée!—closed —as if only I, and not he, could enter there.
Adolescent Holly is the first one I remember with any clarity. I mean the first body I was so aware of I didn’t know where I stopped, where she began. She had wrists so tiny a wave of her hand looked like a twig trying not to snap. How she wanted food, craved it. It was survival I knew best, my strongest urge being to nourish that body I wore.
It was in high school that what I wore first defined me. I didn’t have breasts like the other girls, but I knew I would be important once I did. I ate minute rice with butter and salt every time I babysat, greedy for what I couldn’t consume at home. I scrounged change from the loves-truck band geek to buy my body a muffin or a hot lunch. I talked to the awkward football player because his parents owned a dairy and he traded his chocolate milk for a little of my attention. He was big and the bulk of his body made me ravenous, jealous even.
Then there was College Holly with a meal plan, her stomach burgeoning along with sexuality. When a guy said she wasn’t that hot because she had a belly, I didn’t believe he could be talking about me because I had always been housed in a body that was too small. I started working out then. The underground gym in the old catacombs was damp, dark, unflinching. Although I lifted weights and ran circles while dodging pipes, I didn’t stop eating food like the world was ending. I never learned to stop filling up once I had the chance.
Mother Holly swelled around my children, stretching to accommodate them, make room. Each body deflated afterward, stomach void. It seemed pointless to obsessively crunch abs while watching reality TV now that I’d seen what else my body could be used for. Who cared about abs now that I could make life outside myself? But even so, I did. I worked and worked to rid the signs of what that body had made. Dissatisfied is the only way I knew to view the bodies who housed me.
Those bodies I wore stepped out of each other like nesting dolls, each new skin imprinted with the memories of the one before her. The body I wear now has a plantar fasciitis limp, muscles rigid from years of high heels, running, waitressing. My girlfriend rubs coconut oil over stretch marks, over the memories of the bodies who carried my children.
I think of all the bodies I’ve worn before as an army of unzipped skins on a distant shore, waving to the body who houses me now, hoping I treat this one better. And this one I wear now hopes for the day she returns to them, zipper broken, retired at last.
Lessons Learned from Anorexia
People don’t always mean it when they say that they think everybody is beautiful, but it’s a nice sentiment anyway.
If you drink a gallon of water a day, avoiding food will become easier, but you will pee a lot more than usual.
Scales tell the truth; mirrors are the ones who lie.
Obsessive sets of sit-ups will result in a bruised spine and a headache.
Every hour, at least one person dies as a result of an eating disorder.
Statistically speaking, 1 in every 5 anorexic deaths is a suicide.
You are much more than a statistic.
Throwing up in front of your friends at a cast party is the loneliest you will ever feel.
It is a long and hard road back to healthy - one you will walk for the rest of your life.
It is okay to ask for help.
Beauty is not defined by whether or not you can see every one of your ribs when you stand naked in front of the bathroom mirror.
People will like you even if your thighs rub together.
Very few people will truly understand what you’ve been through.
You will be told that it was all your fault.
You will be told that it wasn’t your fault.
You will be told too many conflicting things, and you will be tired.
You will eventually relearn the art of going back for seconds.
One day, you will eat an entire bag of potato chips by yourself and not give a fuck about how many calories you just consumed.
You will go back and forth on how you feel.
You will relapse, you will get better.
You will relapse.
You will get better.
You will learn to roll with the punches.
Eventually you will understand that photoshopped magazine covers come
straight from the Devil and that skinny is just an overused adjective.
You will begin to define yourself differently and you will sing yourself lullabies made up of laughter and the strength of self-love.
To Speak of This
For nine long months
She carries you in her womb
Bearing the pain
Yet you call her impure
restrict her freedom
To speak of this: taboo
For she bleeds days every month!
She is worshipped in temples
—Goddess of Wealth Goddess of Knowledge
Adorned with flowers held in awe!
Yet you devour her in deserted lanes,
Isolated alleys and broadways
She is left
with nothing but blood:
She cries herself to sleep
Tormented by eternal grumblings
She wakes with swollen eyes, a sanguine heart
Stronger and braver than before!
Yet you name her
frail and fragile,
passive and docile,
object of pleasure
How can you question her identity:
She is mother, daughter, wife
woman —fierce & bold
She is changing
this patriarchal world!
RC de Winter
I am Everywoman,
born naked, squalling, waxed with vernix,
the blood and salt of the womb.
There are obligations, expectations
attached to my being from my first breath.
I will be indoctrinated into the mysteries
of my tribe, whatever they may be.
My oxygenated skin has paled to whiteness,
yellowed to gold, reddened to rust,
burnt black in the sun.
My hair has been straight and wavy,
curled and frizzed, long, short,
shaved to my skull, completely absent.
I’ve been cherished for myself,
for my worth in the marketplace,
bartered for cattle, for grain, for preferment, for a crown.
I've gathered that grain in the field, and fruit from the bush,
bought food off the shelf, cooked endless meals,
swept away the remains, if any, from feasts.
Forced to my knees, I've scrubbed floors,
prayed to gods, pleasured men,
confessed to sins never committed to keep the peace.
I've traded youth for money,
beauty for power,
and in my ugliness silence
for the freedom of being ignored.
I’ve known the love of men and women,
carnal and pure, brutal and adoring.
I've been worshiped and wooed,
beaten and raped,
sacrificed to gods
and the violence of husbands.
I’ve been exalted, wreathed in silk and flowers,
beheaded, burnt at the stake for witchcraft,
for retribution, for entertainment.
I've borne children naked and squalling,
dead in the womb, living to thrive,
sometimes dying after some measure of life
cut short by illness, starvation, war
and the pitiless shears of inexplicable fate
I've screamed my pain in arenas,
smothered my tears in pillows,
buried my sorrow in silent graves.
I've starved myself feeding my children,
starved my children feeding myself,
sung them lullabies, beaten them
for no other reason than my own frustration.
We’ve sung and danced, written and painted,
sown and reaped, hunted and gathered,
founded dynasties, poisoned enemies,
plumbed the universe within and without,
made millions and lost them.
We’ve been mothers and daughters,
sisters and aunts
wives and concubines,
queens and slaves,
strangers passing in the street,
our lives always defined
by the biological and cultural
interpretations of the XXs that made us.
We've screamed our pain in arenas,
smothered our tears in pillows,
buried our sorrows in graves.
I am you, you are me,
all of us women
Belief Despite the Darkness
I believe in a world where I can have both.
Both a career and a family; a love life and a promotion.
I believe in the healing power of the ocean and the spontaneity of luck.
I believe there’s a man who will support the aspirations I tuck into bed with me as he tells our children bedtime stories down the hall.
I believe in abolishing the pink tax and bringing sexy back and that boys can learn how to act like men.
I believe in bell bottoms and human rights, disposable cameras and summer
nights spent wearing nothing but uncertainty and leftover sunscreen.
I believe in empathy and forgiveness.
I believe in harmonies and the butterflies that come alive the first time a girl is kissed.
I believe in rhymes and Carly Simon, trying times and finding yourself in the midst of silence.
I believe in peace despite the violence and I will never give up hope.
Some call me naive for my daydreams; I call myself hopeful, determined, and true.
I choose to see the future in a rose colored hue and I will do what I can to create it.
I Call Upon You
I will fill my own cup,
feed myself with light and dark
radiance and like a warrior
I will look into the eyes
of my own shadows
and I will grow to become
my fullest, most daring,
most beautiful version of me
I will be cracked and open, water flowing in
and out of me
in a circuit of nourishment
It is then, lover, that I will
call upon you
to turn around
when I put my hand on your shoulder,
to come if you are able
to meet me in my fullness,
to look at me with eyes that know me
and still do not presume to know me,
as I do not know me
To shudder not at the possibility
of feeling pain,
but at the immensity to which
you are sensitive enough to know its depths.
Do not come to me
long-wounded by women
wild and beautifully fierce
in whom you tried to find the lost poetry
of your own soul
Don't come fearing,
with heart of wary stone.
Come to me hungry and unafraid.
Come warm and wanting,
knowing, not needy
Come pulsing in the magnificence of your
Come awake, aching to make love to a woman
like a wet, hungry
Effacement of Unbroken Water
I make myself a mirror
Silent shallows in smooth glass
An unsown field in constellation stare
I make myself an artifact
And pushed back
The cave’s secret:
It is never there
Truth eclipses forest walls like vines cover
The desecrated mound
As white snow writes over the background
As light and dark give rise
I make myself a morning
Leaving ripples in the frame
Kendra Preston Leonard
I make my golem
from the scrapings under my nails
and the dirt on the heels of my hands
and the blood dried on my legs
and the tears of every woman
and in her mouth I put a scroll
reading justice and
on her forehead I engrave
the word truth and with that
I cross her
and I send her out
creates her own
when the day comes
they fill the benches
in the courts
representing every woman
who can’t say me too
and they stare and stare
at all the men and the men
her power has come
hungry for more justice
and to avenge every
Sean M. Corrado
they say I wear my heart on my skin.
these shoes are saviors,
meet my pain like morphine
numb my soles from how the earth welcomes me,
extinguish a bridge of hurt
they wear my disease, plagued with the burdens
of everyday discomfort.
these shoes, they cannot hold me,
but two souls seem plentiful.
fleeced with enough holy water,
I can walk on the sea’s surface.
structured with enough elbow grease
to crush the miller lite tall boys waiting
at my feet
these shoes are so beat,
so comfortable where my toes meet.
it is like they know me,
and prevent me from feeling lonely.
two police to guide me home safe
a couple inches above
the blemishes from the street.
there is no way these shoes can
my heel in the back, fought against the curb
3-inch scuff mark slashed black
and one day these shoes will crease.
but all scratches dirt holes and rips
will meet with
duct tape wash deodorizer
The Tattoo Artist
She’s painting a dragon, ink on the skin,
sinuously curving up my brother’s side.
As she needle-draws, my brother looks down
and considers the caramel tattooed on her big toe.
Did she prick out the ivy bracelet
on Rachel’s right wrist?
The blue-baby butterfly
on Jennifer’s lower back?
Did she make the musical notes play a sharp
symphony to joy around that solid German ankle?
Did she carve the small dark crosses on Armenian forearms
when they returned from their journey to Jerusalem?
If she cuts open my back,
wings will fly out my shoulder blades!
First thing seen upon waking was black ink
on the rosy pale of your sleeping back,
my own body curved to its shape overnight.
Together we made a pair of ‘S’s, one capital, one lowercased.
Weekends we always slept late, the time indicated by high sun rays
shooting straight down the alley both my apartment windows faced,
every colored marble inside my collected wine bottles on the sill
like miniature suns to our waking eyes.
Seeped in the heat of rest, the thought of rising forth sunk like a stone
in every muscle, ours still tired from a night full of exertions.
To bide time, I studied the bottles’ glassy prisms
cast airily over our skins, yours already heavily marked,
mine contrastingly unmarked save for the marble
reflections resembling something of a colored tattoo.
The only needle to ever pierce my skin belonged to a surgeon
tending a cut caused by a snowmobile crash, evidenced by a hairless patch
inside my left eyebrow, stitches long removed. When I showed it to you,
you ‘showed me yours’;
a bald spot along your jaw where no hair ever grew,
not caused by any cut or injury. A skin-deep mystery
no dermatologist could explain since you were young.
Though we appeared an unmatched pair, our bald spot
stories had a common thread; some marks we bear
happen out of nowhere, their tracks untraceable as reflections
bounced from one surface to the next, like the wine bottle marbles
would cover us in their invisible ‘ink’ before afternoon
shadows flushed them out
not that kind
some people are polished gems
they work hard to stay that way
you know the type i mean
smooth and buttery
coiffed and perfumed
or casually rumpled
in patrician tweeds
not a flaw in sight
and over in the corner i hunch
an untumbled remnant of granite
smelling of attics and failure
wearing yesterday's jeans
and a disreputable sweater
pocked with the telltale holes of hot ash
stained with the careless drips of hot coffee
fingernails grimed with the ink of my heart
some people are gardens of roses
with nary a thorn in sight
espaliered and perfect
glowing in sunshine
against cream-colored walls
of admirable antiquity
but i am an unkempt swath
of untended nature
teeming with weeds
and the leavings of trees
and wild grasses shedding seeds of discontent
like so many poisoned pearls
some people attract butterflies
and thrive in the hum of satellite bumblebees
spreading their pollen in an orderly world
but i infested with creatures unwelcome in polite society
am not that kind
Kendra Preston Leonard
From this tree-killing vine
weave a crown,
and place on the brow
of a newly arrived woman.
Carried by her own wings,
on breezes from places you
do not even have names for,
she arrives like the bramble
to stay and prick
Let her prod and push.
Your landscape needs changing,
from root to branch to sky.
She groups her followers
to move earth, blood, and
fallings from the night sky
to reshape the terrain.
She will guide your
to banyan retreats,
bring new fruits
to your isolated hides,
wield end and pick,
work line and chalk.
This is no bridewealth.
She will leave you
when there is no new growth
in trees or men,
taking with her
shells and axes,
juniper and hares.
She becomes chthonic
until the floricane are cut,
under misting skies.
The daughter of Herodias came in and danced, pleasing Herod and those dining with him. The king said to the girl:
“Ask me for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” Yes, he swore to her:
Whatever you ask me for, I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom.”
Don’t worry when they don’t recognize you anymore
your old face was all they knew.
Don’t be afraid to dismantle your body
swallow your surroundings, the scaffold
you live on. The seedy stage you were born into.
Ignore those men who want to
chew you up. They want to consume you
behind the broken backs of their wives,
through the gaze of ophidian daughters.
They don’t see your slit-up eyes,
your right arm bent hard behind your back or
that your left leg has come unattached.
Soon, you are missing teeth.
No matter: your chest heaves and your hips gyrate,
someone has a use for you.
You can go to the grave that way,
In torso only: a prone and gummy corpse.
They will keep their face intact but
you will find it easier
to dissemble your exterior piece by piece.
Discretely extricate your heart from the rest.
Here, they cut up women for fun but still
a man might find his head on a platter.
Everyone does this. But you have the luxury
of knowing that you do and knowing why:
Because everyone is watching
as you dance with veils and chimes
you know you are secretly terrifying.
They will never ask
what you are hiding
so long as you agree
to appear weightless,
swaying to exotic music,
like a wisp,
like a wave,
like water, diffuse,
glistening under harsh light.
So long as you appear that certain way, cloven,
clouded in makeup
and ever capable
of polite conversation,
of forgetting those times
when all you want to do is cry and moan and drag your heavy body across the floor
like a wounded animal or snake shedding skin. Someday you will
open your mouth and unhinge your jaw. See what comes out.
Our snake gone now from the nest, tasting new experiences
Expediencies and transience from youth to age in racing bounds
Hounds yapping in the distance challenging a call to join the pack
Knack for such things you have your little bag of tricks
Kicks, whatever brings joy amid the throng, embattled
Saddled with simple lusts and deep needs, a logbook of wants
Jaunts through the woodlands finding leftovers far and dear
Here, a long strand of scales, dry and leathered found wanting
Daunting the task at hand: to mature age-to-age along that path
Math: all this added up amounting to nothing: so much soap lathered
Gathered in coils as rope in a basket for weaving, dry heaving
Leaving wet soaked ensuring pliancy, tempered steel furnace edged
Hedged bets, bushwhacked upside the head that memory momentary
Fragmentary the way a puzzle fits, hours searching for that missing piece
Lease, rent, torn and temporary as anything in the face of such changes
Rearranges life unordered, chaos-bound despite the assuring effort
Abort the plan, its relevance questioned at each stage advancing
Promoting growth, so much shit amid the garden heaped and hoed
Slowed for a moment of introspection these frail words, honeyed and sour
I grew up climbing.
I found heights all through that endless flatland
and when I ran out of ups, I spidered out instead,
leaving behind a heft, like Sisyphus just walking away
never longing for that prairie,
but memory courses deep and slow—
this I know especially
when I lay my boot over holes in New York concrete
expecting a snake.
More Than Skin Deep Yogiisms? [3+++]
Manhattan Project 2.0
--to recognize the 120th birthday of Leó Szilárd
who patented the nuclear reactor, won the Atoms For Peace Award
and wrote Voice of the Dolphins which stimulated below.
i. Extraterrestrials visiting Earth
imagine what wonders
are collected in each polyethylene cyst
grasped by worker bipeds
while their second pincers
hold thin mammal skins
which tether those barking quadrupeds
that dropped these dusky oval holy-of-holies.
Further down the island’s concrete
two sets of this species priests
enter a structure labeled Grand Central Station
where in immaculate ivory marble rooms
behind swinging apertures
thicker ones stand before white terra-cotta bowls,
open lower garments then deposit amber liquid
while next door thinner versions sit to worship.
ii. Climate change haiku set
Not hearing voices
they say I’m crazy graphing
motel freezer – days
fudgsicles melty -- then hard
-- what is the pattern
which will unlock our grokking
for very first time?
The Peter Pan Shop
A face in my mind’s photo album
Has blurred. She was comely,
An old-fashioned word,
And her voice, a weak soprano
With watchful poise. Solicitous
Is not an overstatement.
Of course, that was the point.
In the late ‘Fifties, the job of salesgirl—
She might have been in her thirties—
Carried a servile taint…Still
Black folks did nothing but stock.
She stood on the selling floor out front.
In this kiddie shop, an achievement.
I see as if through gauze
One arm and one hand scarred.
“In a fire. Not so lucky like us,”
Did Mother say? A slight limp slowed her,
Not disabled. But Mother always stalled
A bit before making her final choice
To let her “sister” corner the sale
From the owner’s kin. Years in the future
When I had worked so hard to please
And profit, I watched many a pale customer
Demur, then return later
To hand my white colleague the ball.
Oh, the taste of bile.
And the cash register? Did she touch it?
A child then, now sixty years over the hill,
I cannot recall. Nor easily her name—
Only that it was plain, not soap opera
Bubbly, not Hollywood glam, not Catholic saint.
For two days on and off I have trekked
Up and down an alphabetical track—
Phyllis, Phoebe, Fanny—A trick
I play to unravel my brain full of knots.
A woman I met only when size and season
Changed. A stranger with a function.
Nothing more. Old rooms, old stores, old clothes…
Then Carrie, not Anonymous, arose.
Odd Woman Out
"She's an artist."
That's what they told me when I saw her at the wake,
slender, striking, wearing a black leather jacket,
a jaunty beret and looking nothing like the familiar
dowdy aunts and cousins. I liked the clothes she wore
and thought she was pretty, but old.
I was a little girl – maybe five, and you know how that is –
anyone past thirtyish seems ancient.
I'll bet she was not as old as I am now.
I remember her black hair and aristocratic features,
although at five I wouldn't have known the word aristocratic.
I knew I'd never seen her before,
not at Christmastime or picnics
or any other family to-do;
I wouldn't forget a face like that.
But here she was, come to say goodbye to the dead.
Your father's cousin, they said, the artist –
and that was the end of that.
Now that I’m an artist myself I think of her often,
sorry I never saw her again, sorry I never got to know her,
sorry she was dismissed as a sport, a mutation,
a footnote on the family tree.
I’m wearing her skin: the old woman at the wake
whom the children don't know, wearing a beret of my own
and a sheepskin jacket – another minor footnote,
a family aberration easily dismissed,
consigned to the sidelines of anonymity, because
“She’s an artist.”
Available only by appointment at the county courthouse
I mailed double copies to an office in Auburn, Washington,
a five-hour drive away
Seeing all 10 fingers stained in the blackest of ink
I thought immediately of the plump raisins
in bowls of tapioca served to me as a child
I regretted wearing white that day,
this process being a first for my hands,
it may as well have been a manicure
I likely wasn’t the first of my family
to wear the stain of government ink.
A third generation Italian-American,
I didn’t come by boat, ferry or wagon
to the federal building unlearned in the
language and custom; all walked, talked,
and dressed similar, casually regarded
armed guards and cameras following
our every move
I had to prove the legitimacy of my name
as a U.S.-born citizen, a privilege I
never made any great sacrifice to get,
only 15 dollars and a driver’s license
necessary for safe passage, a process
perfected over two centuries of mass
culture assimilation, anglicizing names,
the diluting of bloodlines
Getting one’s hands dirty to get a job
came at a higher price in those days
What I paid that day owed much, if not
everything, to mine who came before
Rod Carlos Rodriguez
In summer, grubby hands find
planks of old wood, rotted and weak,
borrowed hammers, nails found in
garage tin cans,
callused fingers, unlined hands
scrabble together wheels, with
ropes for steering, old rusted chairs,
plastic seats hammered,
tired hands screw them in place.
Haphazard creations, thin arms push
and pull up steep roads,
we rock-paper-scissors choose
to scream GO!
as arms rise, fall,
wind shrieks past
ears behind eyes fixed at the
bottom turn, hearts thrumming in
expectation of cars tilling the road,
legs and hands, quick movements
risk dismembered victories.
No homework, no Algebra
equations to hold
sway over the next duel
of hillside teams assembled,
cobbled pounded into place,
foundries of go carts,
chase each other down
avenues, screech Not Fair!
We barrel down and battle summer,
for sweat stains, greasy-smiles,
go cart rivalries to slow a too fast
approaching end to
ice-cream laughs and humid childhood hearts.
She stood on the iron bed and painted the shadows
from the trees outside onto the glass windows.
All day long she reached and painted
until her arm felt tired and heavy.
The tree branches came inside along
with the sky they decorated.
When she finished she stepped carefully back
and gazed on what she had patterned.
When I went to visit her that Summer
as I always did, she showed me the windows
and we both felt pride. She was alone
in that house that always smelled of
Cashmere Bouquet soap and red dust.
That day she talked to me about what the painted shadows
meant to her as we lay upside down at the foot of the bed.
I held her old paper thin hand that still smelled of paint
and we marveled at the patterns the windows created
on our legs nestled as we were side by side.
The Last Gear
~Ekphrastic poem written from the photo above by Greg Turlock
Gentle setting sun
of days too long
Calloused hands wrapped around
the worn leather wheel.
Stories made of eternal thrills
To and from
an endless trip,
the pets to a vet
the families to church
the kids to school
hay and harvest
After the constant repairs and reuse,
the last drive carries peace.
No death wipes the memory of
No sorrows and pain
shall grieve, no end.
There, entwined with nature’s hand,
an unmarred splendor lays to rest.
At the trunk of an ant-laden cherry tree feeling one with nature in its shady palm I watch my toddler niece ripping up grass by its cold white roots in little fists to cover the naked bodies of her dolls. They’re asleep, she says. I remember playing dolls at her age in fenced backyards, never one with a cherry tree. The pink-white blooms above our heads sway heavy, practically alive with the hum of swarming bees pollinating fruits that won’t yield until late June, a time when their skins match the redness on my niece’s knees, elbows, her round, rosy cheeks. She has a ripeness about her face, practically made for Gerber labels tending the dolls with quiet focus, small fingers imprecise, eager. I can’t yet picture her hands fully grown, what life will have them carrying years from now after the glow of youth fades. By then, she’ll have replaced her dolls with real men and make-up. This moment will likely end up somewhere in a shoebox of memories labeled old, only opened for trips down memory lane. She’ll recover this old, grassy knoll with dolls fake sleeping beneath a chorus of bees from long-gone summer eve, her wish that we should Stay right here forever, my wanting nothing more than to grant it.
James B. Nicola
keeps messy networks dry and warm,
contained, collected, and apart
as keys or islands in a storm
that no explorer cares to chart,
only the poet and scientist
(the rest conveniently resist);
makes the symmetric human form
a tabernacle for the heart;
and gives a madman or a lover
more serious than, say, Don Juan,
curious about what’s under the cover
a thing less deep to dote upon.
The way is crooked and the road
impassible as jungles dark,
grounds thick with quicksand, dense with vines,
well-laced with metaphoric mines
expected ever to explode—
never mind that a naked coast,
when battered by the rote and tide,
will crumble and in time erode.
But, suppled by a siren's tones,
the doting soul can't help but broach
the coarsest coast with no approach
through wildest waves, in hottest zones,
drop anchor, land, and dare to ride
the roughest road, pitfalls aside.
And sea storms tend to strike at most
an island’s beaches; while with skin,
the slightest stroke (from lusty lark
or noble geste) may reach inside
in spite of senselessness or sin
to secrets hid within the hide
opaque but porous, soft, and thin,
beyond the cage of human bones,
and touch the treasure in the ark.
Over my first cup of broken concrete
I listen for nebula on the river
And my ear closes
I look for bird songs
And my eye stops
I silence for lucid sky
And my mouth races
I meditate for end in sight
And my thoughts fire
Fissures fan out and remain
The road will not grow together
MORE THAN SKIN DEEP YOGIISMS? [3+++]
1. “THERAPEUTIC SUCCESS IS GIVING UP HOPE FOR A BETTER PAST.”*
-- thanks to Matthew Brensilver, Loving The Self To Death
i. Awaking From Delusion haiku
morph into nonviolence
toward self and others.
Dharmic eyes create
room: streams then merge together
this present moment.
ii. Only thing to it is to do it.
Snug as two bugs in a rug
after 50 years together,
a bit smug that these salad
days might last forever,
I realize one of us will be
ferryperson for the other.
Can our comparing minds
find ways to freedom
through peaks and valleys
of dharma practice’s
attempt to decrease both
clinging & suffering.
Wow, you did a swell job
when falling down!
Do we ever give ourselves
credit for disasters--
failed meditation or taking
care of grandkids?
You can’t despise yourself
into becoming a better
person but it’s quite possible
to love selves to death:
every karmic rollercoaster
ride wakens some heart.
More than those theoretical
resonances wash through as
loving then spirals
toward ultimate acceptance
and even surrender.
When seasons cease and experience splits us
Up and up and up
Is the dark interval really supervoid
Rope skipping, symmetry breaking
Is the light interval really you-now
Visionary chains, denial of doubt
If I could go
On and on and on
Wouldn’t I say yes
and cling like fire to a moth
Is admitting the truth a fault
or is it movement and repose
Holding on and letting go
You taste better outside
in unencumbered sky and sun
where all of you can miss a beat
or two, stand in a council of trees
and catch a breath
To be green
With scented earth skin from which it came returning
Tilling until metallic rinsed and romantic wrung
water sounds over the dog star revolving
within our motion forgotten, identity discarded
To be the hands that let go and climb
nothing, need nothing, and free
the fire of you and I
that is an end in itself
Driving down the highway,
your hand on my thigh
like a sandbag. Not
to titillate, but to ground
and secure. The road
ahead filled with danger.
Lane weavers and tailgaters.
Stressed-out mothers, kids
screaming in the back seat.
Businessmen with cell phones,
sending another important text.
Truckers on No-Doz, slumped
against their steering wheels.
Your hand on my thigh
makes me feel safe
from the onslaught.
I know flesh can’t block
steel’s relentless momentum,
but at least we can pretend
its weight is more powerful
than all those projectiles
trying their hardest to kill us.
I jolt around the room,
interstellar dust—comet tails sparking up in every direction
The air is afire.
I'm an asteroid belt
but you burn steady, slow.
your gravity gives me direction.
I condense, pivot around you like a carousel horse,
marveling all the while.
You regard my dusty surface—my craterous complexion,
smooth me out.
You remind me that moons inspire lore,
that the way I see myself--lifeless, pockmarked, grey—
bears no resemblance to Artemis,
or to any ancient moon-myth,
those hundred goddesses' nude forms,
glowing in the twilight
You kiss my round head,
send me spinning.
You give me my axis,
say, "Luna, you're enchanting
Matriarch, good witch
Her eyes hazel moons,
gray curls spinning into my brown ones
She shelters me from deluge,
hands me feathered arrows on each visit,
feeds me crumbs of sanity
‘til I can keep them down.
This is Sara:
not the mentor I pictured, ancient and grave in her desert,
but laughing, buoyant,
with her sorceress' intuition,
her measureless magic words.
Aboard her whaler,
we harpoon fears,
stretch our fingers across oceans
she, lodestar, burns bright.
Inside her cabin
we summon fireflies,
spell out wishes on the log walls,
This is therapy.
This--not the hundred other times I've tried.
There is no disconnect.
I grow into her,
twin hazel eyes like mirrors
I feather my own arrows now, feed crumbs to other folk,
wield my own magic;
still I turn to her in wonder
apprentice glowing in her lightning
like the moon.
Kendra Preston Leonard
Change of Season
What do you see
in the snow-bit candlefrost?
Do the trees try to capture
the sickle moon?
Do you see me
in my frost-knit camouflage?
My heart is beating
in the hollow of this tree.
Seek and find me
deep in the brassy honeycombs;
seek and find me,
deep in the river-king’s nest.
I am waiting to dismantle
every thing that weighs me down.
Lift away my lunar headdress;
uncoil the ropes around my frame.
My antlers fall to the leafy carpet.
I cast away collars, high and tight.
Take the buzzing and cawing creatures;
pluck away my crocheted cage.
My fins and my wings and my hands are free.
I open my eyes and scent the wolf and the fox.
Release me from armor and wax and cocoons;
shatter the bonds of ice, night, and smoke.
My paint and my glamours dissolve into rime;
I shift in my bones and become a new god.
There is this love
that drives me
to patience and protest—
There is this love
that drives me
to the rope
around their neck—
at the town square—
It is this love—
as fingers find my skin
in thick grove
There is the sky
lifting off my page—
washing words of rain—
down my sand
There is this light
as she lets her hair
There is this love
that has me
in my image—
right and wrong
ethics and distance
It is this love
that I love
as if I am at stake
There is this love
that is war and life—
suicide and survival
There is this love
more than myself
on the path to me
There is this love—
There is nothing but
whose skin is
garden and grenade—
tearing of thought
at the feast of
that has given up
for the love it is
There is this love
that dances with
twists and weeps—
whirls and repeats itself—
that breaks apology
There is this
I grow into
never to fall
for me again
MORE THAN SKIN DEEP YOGIISMS? [3+++]
3. HAIKU SEQUENCE
Weightless suffering –
part of the stream – possibly
float free ‘stead of sink?
ii. You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
Zeyde* gave me cubes
of sugar when he plopped two
right in hot coffee.
* grandfather in Yiddish
Coach offers grandkids
sips of luke tea with pine nuts
plus sprigs of fresh mint.
-- for Alison RIP who made me my first zafu
Harmony of in
out breaths, various sounds from
If I don’t do it
absolutely every day --
feels like need to shower.
N. Y. Haynes
Getting Out Of The Way
My running pace is set
one step at a time, I cannot go back
to rerun the last quarter mile,
I can only run the current one…
I fully relax, I release and trust,
I let go and move freely forward;
listening to the energy surge as a taste,
a taste for rhythm and for beauty…
Step by step, a piece of complicated and connected
meditation builds as contribution through creation;
granting a greater joy and inspiration
in being all that I am, because I just can’t help myself.
Spirit is skillfully muted,
muted in the colors, the smiles, the gaits, and the clouds;
the feelings, the traction, and thoughts
softening the sounds of fading warm breaths…
Through this conscious contact
I own the blessing in each step, each mile
each breath, and each moment
for listening is, my sacred attention.
You have my heart in mossy hands
My lover, you have my heart
In awe and grace I walk all night
I walk all night with you
I give you every step I take
You touch me, every step
There is no price too dear to pay
For you, no price too dear
I give my children, give my life
Oh sing, I give my life
Your songs transfix me, light my eyes
My light, you burn and weave
My Earth, you tender womb, you know
My Earth, I live for you
On stone, sand, sea, on wood and rain
I pray, I pray, I pray
Come here, come here, I know
Don’t be afraid –
I love you anyway
I know what you will do and I know why
Believe in me that all this must be done
But first, come here, come here
On this last night on earth, come lie with me
Remind me why I love you more than life
And let me, just this once, worship you too
Tear all of me asunder
This is your final chance to catch the Light
My sweet, come here, come here
Press my living skin under your hands
Let hickeys form instead of stigmata
That’s tongue in cheek but then –
That sounds nice too
My tongue, your cheek, my last sweet taste of life
My dear, come here, and here
Tomorrow we will say our last goodbyes
With one more kiss
And you will watch me rise so far from here
But first, let me kneel before you now
No consolation can I give but this
My love, come here, come here
THE SONG OF DIONYSIUS
I am coming to you
through the wine country
carrying my staff
wrapped in ivy
and dripping with honey.
Come meet me in the fields
of endless pleasure.
Come to me, Ariadne,
darling princess, royal bride –
you are everything
I want, and I am
everything you want.
Come meet me, singing,
with the epiphany of your body.
I am coming to you
with the fox-skin of new life,
with the heritage of the twice-born,
richer than your wildest dreams,
more intoxicating than golden wine.
Come meet me at dusk, when the peacocks
are crying out from the shadows.
Come with me, and bring
the labyrinth of your heart –
I know the way in, and
I know the way out. My wine
is for your sweet mouth.
I love you as silver loves the sea
In blinking sunlight sparking off the open face of you
In dull steel grey of tempest skies, in whirling Charybdis wild
In darting shoal and sleek-finned shark,
In sharpsweet crest of quick-breaking wave
I love you as silver loves the sea
I love you with the rotting hull of me
With my torn sails, my reams of rope,
my doldrums and my wake
I love your wide jaws holding me,
tender as lovers’ arms
Drinking down my shipwreck to the endless depths of you
I love you as silver loves the sea
I love you and the way you tear me free
With words cracking lighting, words parting waves
With devotion I had locked away, rushing into you
With salt and cold and bitter dark
And anchors spinning slowly, sunk
And you, you, always ever you, rocking me at every step
I love you as silver loves the sea
I am laughing
in the stream of you.
Everything that is done
must be undone,
so why not do all of it?
Grinding bone into bone
in the roaring
of frantic sounds,
you mold into the ache
I have made
the brightly broiling surface
of the wooden bench
in the sun,
make me the
juicy hilarity of peach
dribbling down our chins
on the public
Leaves, I hear you
making paper noises,
after the heat,
after the frenzy has
numbed both of us,
drunk and dear in the residuum
that I can only shake in silence.
I hear them in the brushfire
pleading for calm, pleading
in the parched desert
of my pumping pumping
the wideness of this
despite my dimmed longing
otherwise, rattling forward
as I'm pulled by
a fantasy we writhed
a story I don't quite believe
because you are, it seems,
made from rivers, oil, quicksilver,
Deborah Rosch Eifert
Editor’s Choice Award
Queen of Dragonflies – Instructions
You must speak to the bees.
You must wade in the desert
until you are as crisp as coral,
then wash in the sea –
drag your fingers through the water.
Pluck the vibrating strings of time,
silently turn three times, then sit.
Dress in clothes made of feathers, but
arm yourself with porcupine quills.
March forward, following the path of light unseen.
Invite your ex-lovers
to a picnic and sit next to one
wearing an angel’s invisible crown.
When you see a dragonfly’s iridescent wings,
stay perfectly still
so that your voice is not silenced
by her sewing needle body
when she lands, trembling, on your mouth.
Prepare all day.
Pray all night.
Love the dust,
which is your ancestor.
Become the ocean
that lives beneath your skin.
In a wind castle
over the spraying sea,
my saliva foamed.
showering with goodbyes
and blue gardens,
into mists and faded
back into formless
wishes sculpting the fog
into shapes of hope.
My lover showed me
the pearl in her belly
and the shells
of Easter gleamed with
spit from the mouth
of the moon.
The rocks around us
shattered the earth
into a billion particles,
in my lungs.
Along my chest was not skin,
but linen draped over bone.
Her cool hands sunk
into my body
stinging my arms and legs.
Her eyes were tide pools
with a million flora and fauna
Green, blue, and gold.
Her tongue, salt and sand
scraped my cracked lips
filling the cracks with
eternity. She drew a kiss
in the sand. And I ran
down a dune, taking flight
as a kite in blue.
El Paso Aurora (First Light at Franklin Mountain)
The wind winds through the highways
on the mountains above El Paso.
The whole night sky races west
along the Transmountain Road to California.
In the dark hour before dawn,
smog from the Juárez maquiladoras
mixes with the New Mexico night.
But there, above,
is a break in the cumulus
and one can see
the grey clouds above the black.
And the smoky stratus is blowing north.
And look, a hole in the grey layer
shows a view of the blue
I marvel at the mixture of moisture
in the thin skin of earth’s atmosphere.
It’s hard to keep my eye on the road
while heaven’s lava lamp swirls above.
And now, look!
Through a gap in the blue clouds,
the pink rays of dawn
push through the cirrus.
The universe enfolds upon itself.
My car keeps traveling west,
the planet keeps rotating,
our orbit keeps spinning,
while the artwork of the creator
stuns me into silent awe.
N. Y. Haynes
When Silence, Holds Your Hand
The raindrops’ bear down
I begin to understand
What I’ve never understood
Then it goes unknown once more
As silence takes my palm
To gently hold my hand
Suddenly—I know what I’ve always known
But rather that I didn’t—
This is neither bad nor good
Then it becomes clear through the calm
When silence holds my hand
The Lost Mourning
This morning, a purposeful silence.
None of the usual chirp and chatter.
On the hedgerow, a slight depression of leaves.
The dogwood reflects
solemn like a vigil.
Is the broken being mended or
is it in the grave?
In the pause of sparrows,
green memento mori,
crepe myrtle scarcely breathes;
pinks covered in shawls of shade.
I notice small browning edges
where wind shifts autumn,
I think of trees brimming,
in a mysterious sanctuary
infused with perch and show,
rest and sound,
sow and continue.
We blame the cats for killing.
We blame the sun for heating.
But we paved over and left little standing;
quarters close, the ground too warm.
Is what we do as natural as clover growing,
as roots reaching for their kin?
Are we of nature and, therefore, so are our actions?
Like the stalk and kill of a lion;
The rise and fall of mountains;
The black hole and its abyss?
I hear a soft cooing.
A hidden dove lightly sounding,
quickly muffled by a machine kicking
processing cold air to the neighbors walls,
but still she calls.
unmoved by metal gnashing,
composed where black joins white;
A soul of the here-now.
The notes carry, slipping through,
a message for her companion
carried to the no-where
of need-not, where sound is simply sound.
The trees reconvene
in a communion of cicadas.
The songbird’s theme river-ing
as the black eye slowly blinking,
knows nothing of an end;
Only begin and sing, begin; Begin.
Slowly my sight moves out of vision.
The gray sheen of death brings light to all
and all to space between.
And eyes in trees,
Bring you to me
Light, a silent kiss
On skin underneath, I am
A seed sinking into a voice
Not even audible,
But I hear it.
It sobs and laughs at the same time.
As if being consoled by the grass tickling it's feet.
You are here underneath
It is that you exist within me
And I exist within you,
And you have become me
And I have become you.
And I exist
and you exist
and we exist
And existence is everything
And everything is nothing
But nothing is something
And something is everything
And this (like us) goes on and on and on.
Deborah Rosch Eifert
I live in a city
of disappearances and failures
moon paths, ice streets
I hear music and
wait for Time
to shed its feathers
is a world of grace
a world of genes
a creature with a tongue full of pages
body a celebration
skin a pasture
where moments come
and graze like deer
my spine is a highway
I am my own route forward
I run toward the horizon
light, both particle and wave
time, beginning and end
These Old Slippers
I can't recall when I first slipped inside -
But this skin It grew with me.
I became accustomed to its limitations
And friendly with my familiar and changeable reflection .
But like disregarding worn out slippers,
It was just time .
Slipping out with ease ,
sliding out from within these cadaverous bones
Long coated with years of aged and craggy skin .
Momentarily observing this redundant vessel . Abandoning this transitory home
I feel no regret , but am thankful that It has carried me through well
As I masked myself -
Divinity wearing a human form.
But for all its capabilities
It could still only encapsulate a minuscule drop of my essence
In its fragile vial .
I flowed easily on reconnecting -
Docking into stream of my consciousness expanding .
Aged bones surrendering now to dust.
a corner in
in lines of light
burn our memories.
burns our bodies;
to the dust
to lie still.
I wished to be a red capped beauty
an inconsumable cocktail of neurotoxin
my bones would dissolve anyway as I aged
because over time your body begins to eat itself
I asked my sister to plant me when I ran away
to find a patch of red dirt somewhere in the shade
in a cool place I’d pull my skin inside out
become a bulbous, blooming creature
that grew when torn into fragments like the
originals their broken buds seed entire colonies
of lives that are never solitary and still
without touching, without carnal embrace
they move forward their fleshy messes
focused only on furthering existence
Last night I lay on my back and imagined myself a corpse
The old bittersweet tune tilted through my head
I lay on my back and imagined myself a corpse
Lying in a grave at the edge of sunlight, dark forest looming over my head
I had no coffin, only my body and the dirt around me and the dirt in my unspeaking mouth
And the distant ringing of sunlight
I felt the first tug of bulbs growing in my stomach
In my mind, the mourning voice said
And wildflowers boomed
Up through my stomach, through the bright grass, new life growing from all the hollow parts of me
I felt their roots, shut my buried eyes, and slept
Editor’s Choice Award
Fire At The Mouth
You are here for a reason, she tells you by the fire, and you think of the cave
Down at the edge of the world, where humans, or something
Almost human, made a shelter
Made a home, two hundred thousand years ago
Inside the cave are red ochre stones and the guides will let you hold them
Let you run your finger through the groove in the rock
Let you paint your hands like someone did
Someone, right here, painting hands that look like your hands, back when
The sea was six kilometers away instead of thirty feet below, crashing
Endlessly over the rocks that tumbled down from the cliffs, you can tell
Because those stones lie at a different angle
You can see the history of them, the past written into the landscape
When you enter the cave, your guide tells you,
(You are here for a reason)
And you try to feel a past in this place even though you have never been here
before and in this place the seasons are backwards and you wonder how this could ever have been home
But your history is written into you
Into the shape of your teeth
The curl of your fingers
The skyward bend of your spine
Many millions of days have passed here
Since the first person saw it for the first time
Since they sat at the cave's mouth, around a fire whose ashes
Are still pressed into the walls
And suddenly you are
To a future where you understand the reason, and
The smell of firesmoke is unchanging, clinging to skin long after the coals die out