JACK

How pleasant the yellow butter
melting on white kernels, the meniscus
of red wine that coats the insides of our goblets

where we sit with sturdy friends as old as we are
after shucking the garden’s last Silver Queen
and setting husks and stalks aside for the horses

the last two of our lives, still noble to look upon:
our first foal, now a bossy mare of 28
which calibrates to 84 in people years

and my chestnut gelding, not exactly a youngster 
at 22. Every year, the end of summer
lazy and golden, invites grief and regret:

suddenly it’s 1980, winter buffets us, 
winds strike like cruelty out of Dickens. Somehow
we have seven horses for six stalls. One of them,

a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president’s portrait
lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls. We call it
the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his

hay in the water bucket to soften it, then visits the others
who hang their heads over their dutch doors. Sometimes 
he sprawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters.

That spring, in the bustle of grooming
and riding and shoeing, I remember I let him go
to a neighbor I thought was a friend, and the following 

fall she sold him down the river. I meant to
but never did go looking for him, to buy him back
and now my old guilt is flooding this twilit table

my guilt is ghosting the candles that pale us to skeletons
the ones we must all become in an as yet unspecified order. 
Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone

did you remember that one good winter?

Maxine Kumin

Red Ghazal


I’ve noticed after a few sips of tea, the tip of her tongue, thin and red
with heat, quickens when she describes her cuts and bruises—deep violets and red.
 
The little girl I baby-sit, hair orange and wild, sits splayed and upside down
on a couch, insists her giant book of dinosaurs is the only one she’ll ever read.
 
The night before I left him, I could not sleep, my eyes fixed on the freckles
of his shoulder, the glow of the clock, my chest heavy with dread.
 
Scientists say they’ll force a rabbit to a bird, a jellyfish with a snake, even
though the pairs clearly do not mix. Some things are not meant to be bred.
 
I almost forgot the weight of a man sitting beside me in bed sheets crumpled
around our waists, both of us with magazines, laughing at the thing he just read.
 
He was so charming—pointed out planets, ghost galaxies, an ellipsis
of ants on the wall. And when he kissed me goodnight, my neck reddened.
 
I’m terrible at cards. Friends huddle in for Euchre, Hearts—beg me to play
with them. When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red.
 
I throw away my half-finished letters to him in my tiny pink wastebasket, but
my aim is no good. The floor is scattered with fire hazards, declarations unread.


AIMEE NEZHUKUMATATHIL

HARVESTING THE CARROTS

Ten years later, when it was finally over,
            she confessed she had fallen in love
            with me that late autumn afternoon
            while I squatted, my back to her,
            harvesting the carrots.

My eyes were fixed on the carrot tops, ferny green
            filigree promising thick scarlet roots
            burrowed in the soil, so I failed to notice
            if she changed that moment—her face,
            her eyes, the way she walked—

When this thing she later called love swept
            over her. I do remember that the corn
            was behind us, and how she turned then
            to photograph it as I tore out carrots
            and tossed them in a willow basket.

I never understood what she saw in this garden
            she hadn’t worked, or in the ravaged corn
            she’d make into a photo to hang on a gallery
            wall, or how these things she hardly knew
            could stir such deep emotions, but

I’ve come to trust the way the bandit coon craves
            the corn, something pure and simple, lacking
            pretense. The photograph was one of those
            soft-focus works of hers you could
            hang any which way and still

See something to satisfy you, so long as you
            were not hungry for corn. There was mullein,
            goldenrod and bergamot still in bloom,
            and the wild carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace,
            which she claimed to love as well.

I teased her, called it a wanton weed, useless
            renegade from overseas, but showed her,
            as if it was a secret shared by just us two,
            the solitary purple blossom shuddering
            like a heart at the center of each bouquet.

Gather enough of these over a summer, I said,
            and you can dye something—a skirt or shirt
            perhaps—a dark hue like the stain
            of memory, a thing of beauty and utility.
            At least until the color fades.


Tom Boswell

Parkeresque 

I'd like a 
lidless 

Vicodin. 
Oblivion.

Countless 
sensation of him

leaving the room.
Come back soon.

It occurred to me
fait accompli.

Clinamen.
Phantom limb.

Black cat sleeping
(you used to be

next to me)
next to me

dreams our lost 
telepathy.

 Rebecca Wolff

Incubus

The chain uncouples, and his jacket hangs
on the peg over hers, and he’s inside.   

She stalls in the kitchen, putting the kettle on,   
buys herself a minute looking for two   
matching cups for the lime-flower tea,   
not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves   
and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze.   
She talks a wall around her, twists the string   
tighter around the tea bag in her spoon.   
But every conversation has to break   
somewhere, and at the far end of the sofa   
he sits, warming his hands around the cup   
he hasn’t tasted yet, and listens on   
with such an exasperating show of patience   
it’s almost a relief to hear him ask it:   
If you’re not using your body right now
maybe you’d let me borrow it for a while?

It isn’t what you’re thinking. No, it’s worse.   

Why on earth did she find him so attractive   
the first time she met him, propping the wall   
at an awkward party, clearly trying to drink   
himself into some sort of conversation?   
Was it the dark uncomfortable reserve   
she took upon herself to tease him out of,   
asking, Are you a vampire? That depends,   
he stammered, are you a virgin? No, not funny,   
but why did she laugh at him? What made her think   
that he needed her, that she could teach him something?   
Why did she let him believe she was drunk   
and needed a ride home? Why did she let him   \
take her shirt off, fumble around a bit   
on the spare futon, passing back and forth   
the warm breath of a half-hearted kiss   
they kept falling asleep in the middle of?   
And when he asked her, why did she not object?   
I’d like to try something. I need you to trust me.   

Younger and given to daydreams, she imagined   
trading bodies with someone, a best friend,   
the boy she had a crush on. But the fact   
was more fantastic, a fairy-tale adventure   
where the wolf wins, and hides in the girl’s red hood.   
How it happens she doesn’t really remember,   
drifting off with a vague sense of being   
drawn out through a single point of her skin,   
like a bedsheet threaded through a needle’s eye,
and bundled into a body that must be his.   

Sometimes she startles, as on the verge of sleep   
you can feel yourself fall backward over a brink,   
and snaps her eyelids open, to catch herself   
slipping out of the bed, her legs swinging   
over the edge, and feels the sudden sick   
split-screen impression of being for a second   
both she and her.   
                              What he does with her   
while she’s asleep, she never really knows,   
flickers, only, conducted back in dreams:   
Walking in neighborhoods she doesn’t know   
and wouldn’t go to, overpasses, ragweed,   
cars dry-docked on cinderblocks, wolf-whistles,   
wanting to run away and yet her steps   
planted sure and defiant. Performing tasks   
too odd to recognize and too mundane   
to have made up, like fixing a green salad   
with the sunflower seeds and peppers that she hates,   
pouring on twice the oil and vinegar   
that she would like, and being unable to stop.   
Her hands feel but are somehow not her own,   
running over the racks of stacked fabric   
in a clothing store, stroking the slick silk,   
teased cotton and polar fleece, as if her fingers   
each were a tongue tasting the knits and weaves.   
Harmless enough.   \
                              It’s what she doesn’t dream   
that scares her, panic she can’t account for, faces   
familiar but not known, déjà vu   
making a mess of memory, coming to  
with a fresh love-bite on her left breast   
and the aftershock of granting another’s flesh,   
of having gripped, slipped in and fluttered tender   
mmm, unbraided, and spent the whole slow day   
clutching her thighs to keep the chafe from fading,   
and furious at being joyful, less   
at the violation, less the danger, than the sense   
he’d taken her enjoyment for his own.   
That was the time before, the time she swore   
would be the last—returning to her senses,   
she’d grabbed his throat and hit him around the face   
and threw him out, and sat there on the floor   
shaking. She hadn’t known how hard it was   
to throw a punch without pulling it back.   
Now, as they sit together on her couch   
with the liquid cooling in the stained chipped cups   
that would never match, no matter how hard   
she stared at them, he seems the same as ever,   
a quiet clumsy self-effacing ghost   
with the gray-circled eyes that she once wanted   
so badly to defy, that seemed to see her   
seeing him—and she has to admit, she’s missed him.   
Why? She scrolls back through their conversations,   
searching for any reason not to hate him.   
She’d ask him, What’s it like being a girl   
when you’re not a girl? His answers, when he gave them,   
weren’t helpful, so evasively poetic:   
It’s like a sponge somebody else is squeezing.
A radio tuned to all stations at once.
Like having skin that’s softer but more thick.

Then she remembers the morning she awoke   
with the smear of tears still raw across her cheeks   
and the spent feeling of having cried herself   
down to the bottom of something. Why was I crying?   
she asked, and he looked back blankly, with that little   
curve of a lip that served him for a smile.   
Because I can’t.
                              And that would be their secret.   
The power to feel another appetite   
pass through her, like a shudder, like a cold   
lungful of oxygen or hot sweet smoke,   
fill her and then be stilled. The freedom to fall   
asleep behind the blinds of his dark body   
and wake cleanly. And when she swings her legs   
over the edge of the bed, to trust her feet   
to hit the carpet, and know as not before   
how she never quite trusted the floor   
to be there, no, not since she was a girl   
first learning to swim, hugging her skinny   
breastless body close to the pool-gutter,   
skirting along the dark and darker blue   
of the bottom dropping out—
                              Now she can stand,   
and take the cup out of his giving hand,   
and feel what they have learned inside each other   
fair and enough, and not without a kind   
of satisfaction, that she can put her foot   
down, clear to the bottom of desire,   
and find that it can stop, and go no deeper.



CRAIG ARNOLD

Minotaur 
        

You wound a ball of twine around my eyes
then pinned the end between my fingers.

You gowned me in white tissue
like a hothouse nectarine.

The furtive door at last unbarred, I was
amazed at the garden’s suggestion

throating from vining flower-walls
in breaths that quickened with mine.

How long I lingered beneath
sun awnings and a stone-and-mortar sky,

only you know. For when I found the throneroom
festooned with pelvis bones,

the twin-fingered god on whose nether lip I hung
a kiss, a crape-gartered barb,

was you-you the pursued, yours
the bull’s head draped with fragrant lash-black hair.

Peter Kline

Steering by Monarchs

      She forgot the instruments and steered instead
      by butterflies knowing nothing human could be that sure.

      —Alison Hawthorne Deming, The Monarchs 

Fog thick enough to lick, horizon a blanket, 
pearl gleam of sun. Sure, the sea trips 
the mind, conjures creatures but what’s 
this dusty heartbeat of wing? 
First one. Then another. And another.
How to account for this river of wings 
flowing south through generations? 
She watches the monarchs drift—
cloud of orange and black—
Western mind says discount
but knows better than to dismiss. 
She abandons the instruments,
tracks by dusty heartbeat, 
joins the wavering, certain path.



Holly J. Hughes

Bedside

Mid-drought, more sun. 
When did the tumbler

of water, bedside, fill 
with dust? When did you

learn you were a riverbed 
no river would touch?

ANDREA COHEN

Cosmos Revealed Behind a Dense Curtain of Poppies



And each plant has an equivalent

star in the sky: to read leaves
as pages of starcharts, to navigate by
leaf of acanthus! O lovers, swear not
by the inconstant light of the olive tree.
Feed each other madder root
and take comfort in the thought
your bones grow red: your insides
dyed alizarin of planet Mars to help
find each other in the dark.
Greenhouses, lighthouses. The first
astronomers tended on hands and knees
the soil of the universe, smoothing
away moss, seeding by night.
Now our galaxy has the sixfold
symmetry of ornament on the tower of Alhambra,
shoots curled from stem looping
heaven and earth together. Trace
curlicues and rosettes with your finger.
The chamber sealed off to mortals but
open above, like a poppy.

Tung-Hui Hu

Bridge

A flattened arch, curved filigree of girders and metal threads raised a little in the middle, not taking one side or the other, plunging its thick hands into the ground, wrist-deep, rooted in both sides, as if it needs to be plural.  Not veering or turning to the side, fronting or backing up, not spinning around like a pointer pointing one way or the other, or a swing that swings from one side to the other.  Choosing both sides like a mutual dependency, what looks like a scar is only the place where it’s joined together.  It’s true, we have our differences, we don’t want to be too close to each other—we prefer to be together when we feel like it, changing sides when we need to, like a book that opens in more than one language.  Sometimes you offer to exchange something you don’t want for something I don’t want.  I give you my hand, and you give me your other hand.  I go over to your side, and you come to my side.  We stop telling people where we live.  Not staying on one side or the other, I’m not saying it’s an accident or anything.  The separation is a bridge that disappears when we’re crossing it.

Peter Leight

The Wall Hanging I Never Noticed

 

I never noticed before
How the red flowers hang from the blue branches
I never noticed before the light in this room
I never noticed the way the air is cool again
I never noticed anything but you
But you but you
So that I couldn’t sleep
I never noticed what was anything but you
Until I noticed you
And could not help it
Until I noticed you I could not help it
Until you made the red flowers alive again
Until the blue branches
The lemons you loved, but also the way you loved me, too
Until all of this I never noticed you
But once I did
I never minded noticing
I never stopped noticing
Until I noticed you
I never stopped noticing
Until you, I never stopped

Dorothea Lasky

THE MOST EXPENSIVE FABRIC 

When someone asked my favorite color
when I was a kid, I would answer,
"clear."

I have an affinity for crystal or frosted
spectacle frames. Every time
I talk the doctor into buying those frames they never sell.
Nobody wants invisible glasses.

Don’t be distracted by my body underneath. I want you
to admire the pleats and ruffles I sewed.
The notions and trim are a little easier to see than the cloth.
All the clears don’t exactly match each other.

The print on the fabric is called frost.
My jewelry is composed of air.

Why are you dressed like a window?
A shower curtain liner? A cream soda?
Why are you dressed like a cornea?

I apply sunscreen so ardently, I think
my veins become more and more prominent
but it is actually my skin translucing.

My skirt bells like an overturned glass. My engagement ring
like a faceted doorknob. My hair caught
in a bouffant like a jellyfish.

Valerie Loveland

Sex Perhaps

A half century ago I was a welcoming port of call in 
            a buoyant place, a person to drop in on or 
drop out of, adrift in a private sea of stormy 
            inwardness, trying to love myself with 
conviction. The only ideas to reach my calm outer 
            deck fell off my young lovers’ backs as they 
unburdened themselves.

They sought authenticity, oblivion, and an exportable 
            knowledge. They had aspirations. They 
wanted to become painters or poets or—two of 
            them—painters and poets, eager to face 
a decade or lifetime of envy and disappointment. 
            Why do you aspire, I asked, don’t you know, 
silly boys, that either you are or you aren’t?

They weren’t. Neither was I. Oh how complacent 
            I was in my ignorant omnipotence: float to 
sea with me, I urged, where we can embody no plan, 
            no hope, achieve nothing worth dying or 
living for except perhaps the melancholy luster 
            of delicious duty-free hand-me-down trips 
to bed and back.

Did I know then that in a flash we’d be ancient, 
            that we’d be tending shrines and gardens 
and graves? Did I not know then that the honey we’d 
            so innocently spread would attract the mob 
intellect of fire ants to bedevil us in the night? How 
            did I know I’d outlive us all to become, at 
last, a port of call I’ve come to call my own?



KATHRYN STARBUCK

GREY FAITH

I believe in greys:
In the heavy moments before something
Happens: start, stop. Breathe. 
I believe in the storm clouds before they rain.

I believe in greys:
Not black or white; ink being too final
For me; the grey softness of pencil; clay hands.
I believe in what can change. 

I believe in greys:
The fuzz of the car seat; my mother’s absolution
Enough for me. Harsh streetlights—years—flashing past, 
A silent film of sidewalks, dandelion wishes.
I believe that lamp posts burn longer than the moon. 

I believe in the greys:
In the before, the tomorrows and change-ables;
In the hopes of dirty concrete and second chance.
I believe that 
redemption 
is stronger than hope.


Grace L. Park

Cadence

Instead of a street light
angling through your blinds
decorating sleep
I am a pale gleam
on the sheets
my mouth the next verse
we lean into
I want to set you loose
like a wind chime
in a storm shaking the house
until our teeth crack
I don’t want a taste
I want my body to be
so full of your body
that you wave at yourself
in the mirror
with my hand

Sarah Bartlett