Dan Keck CC
the people I love best
seize the moment
value spontaneity over ceremony
turn catastrophe into laughter
and laugh from the belly
they tell the truth most of the time
hold my hand when it hurts
wait patiently for a new beginning
the people I love best
smile through angst
share hope with the forlorn
shrug at mistakes
and get up
they gain weight, lose face
go bankrupt and begin again
they smile under their umbrellas
and sob for no reason
the people I love best
share their fragile stories
over and over and over
then listen to mine
until I’m done
they’re selfish with veggies
and generous with chocolate
they don't slap my hand when I reach
for their obsession
they get it and they give it away
Bev Fesharaki is an educator and poet. Her sobriety—impossible, easy, difficult or illusive has changed her life for the better. She hopes to share her celebration and empathy through her poems.
Krystian Olszanski CC
We Could Break Forever
I scan our shared spaces for the cylindrical mouths
singing their grotesque white god song about dis-
membered fetuses and unidentifiable grade schoolers.
But I will not turn my poems to ash for gunshot
choruses while our kids turn to stone in dark classrooms
or forget that beauty matters: the rippling sheen of a horse’s
muscled haunch or my daughter pointing at the bluest fish
jumping out of the pinkest water in a painting. I know how
easily we could break forever. Keep playing at ghosts in malls,
theaters, grocery stores. Become a fucking nest of apparitions.
For so goddam long, we’ve recklessly othered and forgotten
the true skin of terrorism, which has always been the color of
privilege. We have to fly down from the moon now. Flock
back to this gutted country. Show up with our throats shining.
Natalie Giarratano is the author of Big Thicket Blues (Sundress Publications, 2017) and Leaving Clean, winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Waxwing, McNeese Review, Superstition Review, and Whale Road Review, among others. Originally from rural southeast Texas, she edits and lives in Fort Collins, CO, and was the city’s 2018-2020 poet laureate.
Greek Class Mourning Poem
In which Antigone returns
to Western Mass / Polynices
returns to Western Mass and
I am there too / where
Polynices taught Antigone
how to drag the smoke out
of a cigarette and later
/ years later / taught her that she was blackening
her lungs / he would
know, wouldn’t he? And he quit / for a time /
but she never quite could,
Antigone is stubborn / that blood /
is stubborn / in class they call it fate /
or curse / but I always called it
addiction / regardless
/ they’re all passed down /
through our bodies / our bodies / just vessels /
for the generations to pass through
In which Polynice’s body
was left out / for days and /
the Michigan cold picked
like ravens / at his eyes
un / wept / un / returned
In which Antigone took a red eye
back to Thebes which still hung
with Jocasta’s wintered silence /
all these years later it stays
in the blood / in the highways
In which Antigone and I
slice apples /
and when she buries him /
she mourns in the Greek way /
tearing at the hair,
my mother’s soft hair, covering
the face in dust,
her face / which I see rising
up through mine these days
In which Antigone survives it,
and I do too,
and she takes me away from
the Dirce’s springs /
the Theban groves /
the smoke /
The Black Lake
When I was fifteen I decided that I was finally done carving myself into the world. I decided that I had become myself. That I belonged to my body and my body belonged to me and everything was this single selfness. When I was fifteen my body and I took a red-eye across the country. My mother was there too. We took a red-eye across the country and I woke up in the carcass of autumn. I was fifteen and the world was rotting leaves and birch trees that arched like ribs and an icy black lake like a pupil that had burst and swallowed the iris of an eye. The world was rotting and we had come to bury my mother’s brother. I was fifteen and I had just finished carving myself into the world. I was fifteen and I knew the boundaries of my selfness. Ice traced along the boundaries of the black lake and melted under a sticky white sun. My mother drove me along roads that you can’t ink into paper. She unfurled them. I was fifteen and she was forty-nine, or maybe fifteen, or maybe six. The boundaries of her selfness twitched and tangled there, like someone had snapped a taut wire and it had coiled in and in and in on itself. Autumn was rotting but frost came and tried to stitch it together — mud hardened at the graveyard, ice traced along the boundaries of the black lake. We buried my uncle with his mother. I was fifteen. My mother’s hands shook. Next to my mother, I shook. I was fifteen and time was no longer a thing bound and stitched. Time was the lake’s burst pupil, and time was my mother unfurling backroads along her arms. I was fifteen and I was finally done carving myself into the world. In the graveyard, snow flurried around my head. Or maybe it didn’t. But I see it that way, now. When I was fifteen, time was rotting among the birches ringing the black lake. When I was fifteen, I walked away from my body and became my mother, my grandmother, my aunt. When I was fifteen, we buried my uncle with his mother and I tucked my selfness beside them in the frost dirt. When I was fifteen, I belonged to my body and my body belonged to the black lake and my selfness was eaten by winter.
Emma Janssen is a 21 year-old queer poet from the Bay Area who reads books and does math at the University of Chicago. Outside of school and writing, she can be found swimming in cold water, doing environmental journalism, and chasing after street cats.
Jochen Spieker CC
Dying in Reverse
Caring for the living makes it easy to hate--
the moon-faced dogs I don’t feed,
my shoulder pain that comes without reason
in the night, big dead beetles in the yard.
Our new puppy paws insistently
at the screen door, splashes the water
out of her bowl and licks it off the ground.
Takes existence the long way.
The dirt we make each week
is sucked into a bag and sent
to the dump. We thank it for being gone.
The ashes of Mason, our last dog,
are in a mass grave in Massachusetts,
burned with other recipients
of human love.
What compels me to say
I care for my father?
In a room I don’t often visit
it smells like skin
and he sometimes chokes on the bile
from the tube in his neck.
The puppy scrambles onto his forbidden
chest and bites with sharp milk teeth,
approaching hurt with excitement,
as all young things do.
The nurse sucks the bile
from his tube and he can breathe
Outside, where he can’t go,
the grass moves
like a storm of blinking eyes.
He used to press himself to the vinyl bottom
of the pool, and I would stand on his back.
We called it surfing. It was before I did anything
but love him.
When he learned I was a girl he slammed
the hospital door and cried. It’s an intelligence
test, he would whisper to me when he saw a person
struggle. And then, often, You failed!
On Sunday mornings, he took me to ice skating lessons.
He skimmed the perimeter in fast laps, the same
circle for a silent hour.
I sought masculine things to bring him,
like a raven with shiny buttons. A plastic muscle car
from the Duane Reade, knowledge of obscure 60s rock,
a piece of iron a smith helped me bend
into a simple heart.
When we argued and I won, he told me
I took after him, an appropriation
of my mind I did not completely disagree with.
Now he is only earnest; his eyes bulge from a thinning face.
I want to go swimming with you.
I wonder when his sentences became so simple.
I know, I answer.
We haven’t shared sweetness like this in a lifetime.
Still, he would sink. His lungs
I don’t know what promises to make him,
but I have to save one of us.
When you are in a hole, stop digging.
When you stop digging, you are still in a hole.
I will cut you open and put these inside you I threaten
my dog, but I am not one for fulfilling. I slip
the pills in a cherry tomato and try again.
I am engaging anew with my childhood
fantasies. Always a beautiful woman licking
my tears. I used to obsess over the fine carbon
of ash, its tendency to fuse with all materials. I slept
with burnt fingers under my nose pretending I was
in a fire. My mother flicks a lighter over two tall
candles in the kitchen sink and now we know
it’s Friday. I am engaging anew with my
muscular system and also with time.
I can travel back and forth across a room
quickly. Momentum, intention, and business
is how I prefer to walk. I sit at my desk counting
heartbeats. I think I used to be something or want to
be something. Every day I forget to do it. This is not panic
-inducing. I will not make myself sick because I am not
sick. Beautiful women are sirens, they offer me a
version of myself I want to be. Jealousy
-inducing, pulling the successful off their tracks.
How to compare the legacy of the sirens to Odysseus?
I will detach myself from beauty and consider
motion. Climb out of the hole. Fine, then
measure the hole. To understand what
is necessary I will cauterize the
stupid things inside me.
Heather Gluck is a poet and editor from New York who received her MFA from Columbia University. Her work is published or upcoming in Anthropocene, Palette Poetry, Poetry Online, Beyond Words, High Shelf Press, and others. Her portfolio was shortlisted for the 2021 Tennessee Williams Writing Contest. She has served as Editor in Chief of the literary magazines Exchange and Some Kind of Opening. She is the Managing Editor for MAYDAY Magazine and a Nonfiction Editor at Majuscule. See more at heathergluck.com.
My mother asks for a glass of water.
Kyle fills one for her. She asks for
ice, so he reaches into the freezer,
grabs three cubes with a bare hand,
tosses them into the glass. A fleck
of dirt floats in the water. He passes
it to my mother. She gulps and gulps.
He’s a fisherman. His palms cake
soil and gravel to a Tupperware full
of garlic-salted canned corn. Their love
is a softer kind. The doting son and
dependent mother. Different from
my father and myself and our banter.
He’s been sick, lately. Slower.
Dried spit from the dogs coats
our french doors and dead flies stick
to yellow tape rolls above the island.
My father’s spent cigarettes soak in
the toilet. Yesterday my brother and
mother went to the grocery store.
I tried talking to him while they were
gone. He stared right through me.
But he’s never forgotten to
leave the porch light on and a full
plate in the fridge when I come home
late. When he overdoses, I empty
the cabinets and wash every dish
in the house.
Sweet Daughter Sting
To kiss round glass openings,
To settle my arguments with
The moon and her sweet daughters.
We are never addicted to
What we assume we are.
Our desires hang thick like
I am drinking you, addicted
To you. But maybe that
Recognition is too easy an
Answer. We buzz our veins
Into wherever one finds the absence
Of repercussions. Until morning
Needles us awake. It all, always, comes
With sweet daughter sting, hanging thick
In the air, doxa, I’m addicted to
Needing. Wanting. Push and pull,
To alcohol glazing your lips in thin
Coats only on nights when the constellations
Beg us too hard to sear ourselves into their
Sparkling canon. When love becomes worship,
Becomes me bowing and dipping into your
Body’s altar and offering nothing
Of myself in return,
How can I respond with anything but anger
Brooke Mitchell is a student of Creative Writing and Philosophy at Susquehanna University. Her time as Poet Laureate of Perry County informs her work helping to build the artistic community in rural Appalachia. Her recent writing can be found in the Santa Clara Review and upcoming in the New York Quarterly Review.
Michiel Jelijs CC
PAPER BAG SKY
A mother woke up on a bus headed straight for the ocean. From her window she could see glassy buildings, shiny parking lots, and a bar named after a line from a movie. The route was a straight shot along a street that was also the final destination: Sunset, where a paper bag sky would catch fire and smolder into the night. The ride into the scarlet sky was not smooth. When she was a child, her mother told her if she ever got lost to look for the mothers. They are the helpers. “Why not the fathers? she asked. “I will explain that another day,” said her mother. “Just look for the mothers.” The mother gazed around at the end-of-day bus riders. A stitch in her sweater came undone and her manicure flaked. There wasn’t a mother in sight.
THIS IS HOW YOU LIVE
Female elephants circle
each other during labor--
a ring of I got you
to hold the thunder, like a
canyon follows a river running.
help the calf rise—
new feet meet wise earth.
Elders even show the baby
how to nurse.
This, they seem to say,
is how you live.
But the cheetah--
she mothers alone.
A single force
against the stealth of midnight.
Every four days,
she moves her litter—
to prevent predators. For eighteen months
she does this, while her cubs
become hunters, fierce enough to
stand up to the sky.
This, she seems to say,
is how you survive.
Jazmine Aluma (she/her) is a Jewish, Chicanx writer whose work has been published in The Boston Globe, LA YOGA Magazine, and Bust.com. She hosts a podcast called First Words, which explores the messiness of parenting and writing. Jazmine is also a teaching artist for Get Lit–Words Ignite, where she guides young people in the art of spoken word poetry. Jazmine is working on a collection of poetry and essays. www.jazminealuma.com.
Carl Wycoff CC
Mark Rothko, Red and Pink on Pink, c.1953
But mainly I wanted
to be a better person than I was,
softer, more forgiving, no rough
edge but red and pink on pink,
gently blurring, I wanted that
not to be as hard as it felt, I wanted
it to be easy, I wanted
not to have to try. In June
I could have killed myself and
didn’t, then spent the summer eyeing,
with suspicion, the creases of my wrists,
rubbed skin the shade of a foetus,
as I went drifting through the supermarket,
weeping in the gallery. So much colour,
you know? What was I meant to do with it?
I cut off my hair with a knife because someone
had absconded with the scissors,
and then sat as the sun rose
over the city on the cold
metal fire escape, full of that kind of giddy,
unfeasible hope that comes
not from running from flames
Manual for the Leaver
Pack a bag. Listen, for the last time, to your mother, praying through the walls of the shack, the rise and soft fall of her homilies, your father snoring like a hog fattened for the spit. Tell no-one where you’re going.
Follow the dirt road, feet shredded by the pebbles to ribbons. Don’t turn back when you hear their calling, the rise and hard fall of your name. Let the evening bleed you out with the sky, indigo and umber.
Let the coyotes imagine they can eat you, then correct them.
Find a diner. Have a coffee. Listen to a man with one arm tell you about a motel in Toledo and a lady called Precious. Silver the palm of the waitress with the coins you have spare. Keep walking, with lighter pockets.
Pet a stray dog. Let it bite you if it wants to.
Bite it back.
Lie down next to the roadkill, degloved like second-hand puppets. Feel the rumble of the interstate purr in your marrow. Think of home, then stop thinking of it. Get back up.
Forsake your own grave.
Find a man who speaks no English but drives a truck. Ask him where he’s going and hop in.
Let him drive you West, a passenger past the prairies and the rattlesnakes, or else the shadow of your father with the strap.
Tell the stranger to go faster, wherever he’s going.
Put your feet up on the dash. Brush your hand against his.
Crank up the radio.
Brennig Davies is a writer from the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales. He won the BBC Young Writers Award 2015 and the Crown at the Urdd Eisteddfod 2019. His work has appeared in Poetry Wales, Litro USA, and various anthologies.
Carl Wycoff CC
Surveys, Maps, and Mothers: C
a registry of lands, a surveying of ownership, family registry
of want and need—unmet,
one mother unable to save her daughter
from a husband’s fist,
her daughter unable to save her mother
from the gun,
the two of them creating a landscape of ownership
built to hurt and made to haunt, the land
I still walk across
marking all the ways a mother forever owns a daughter,
the pulse under a wrist scar,
an inability to say I love you without armor
my mother had four children and none of us could become her compass,
surpass her original cardinal direction—the first, a son, was a gift
she wasn’t old enough to appreciate, he grew to pull south,
away from his mother—the second, the first girl, was born drunk enough to die
but she didn’t and so she became our north—forced to be strong, a beacon
before she even had enough light—two more girls followed,
one east, one west, constantly pulling each other
in tug of war, both always caught in a middle country not their own
late-night laptop detective searching
white pages, police records, blackholes of wrong people,
almost relatives—MacDonnell, Cooney, Gallagher, O’Conner--
names of Ireland dotting a Chicago map
my mother’s 18th birthday, she asked for a rare steak
and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, furious hunger redcoiled
through the three of us: grandmother, mother, and daughter,
women asking for a burn, something meatier
to get stuck in our teeth, the easiest distraction and release
instrument used to find the slope of elevation or depression
in surveying highways, land, and other areas, depression is a family slope
on various trajectories, upward slope
is finding the right antidepressant to keep things level
but numb, suicide is the downward slope
we fight against—my mother was on antidepressants
when she slit her left wrist over the bathroom sink, her mother
was or wasn’t on antidepressants
when she pulled the trigger five years later
lines on a topographic map joining points of equal heights,
a game show prize wheel randomly spun
until it stops somewhere I forgot, either by accident or choice--
my earliest memory flashes, interspliced film
of grainy images—my mother, half naked and fully drunk, howl crying
and stumbling as she fell into the hallway walls,
and other adults or my teenaged siblings trying to steady her,
dress her, and reach the front door, the house in murky
movement until my mother disappeared
to a detox facility—my sister’s earliest memory:
the two of us hiding from the sounds
of our father beating our mother, and my sister, less than 3 years old,
tried to get me, only 19 months younger, to stop crying
elevation differences between adjacent contours on a map, learning
young that only certain things are worth crying over
and to hide it even then, a calculated refusal to cry as an adult,
the elevation difference between my need for others
and the learned instinct to erect walls
fixed points of known coordinates, my grandmother--
born in Chicago, a single mother of three in the 1950s catalogue
of hot-meal-on-the-table-by-5 housewives and husbands who provided, lost somewhere
in what her nieces and nephews will only tell me was “a difficult life”
with an ending we all know
the found birth certificate of my grandmother
and location of her gravesite
with no documents of her existence in between,
not even the obituary—she ghost lights my computer,
a spectral ancestor
territorial division between husband and wife,
mother and son, mother and daughter,
sister and sister—mapped our counties
and built then barricaded our cities
a formal and binding agreement in relation to land, our covenant
spans generations, binds us to the worst of our impulses, occupies
soil from Chicago to the Everglades
a man-made feature on Earth shown on a map, addiction--
a culture of thirst—passed from mother to daughter, a network of unnamed roads,
I tasted vodka mistaken for water,
watched my father bloody my mother, and learned to lie about home
all before starting kindergarten; in my deepest binges,
my drunk crying vibrates
the same tremble as hers—I silence myself—offering my willing throat to choke
of bottle, my mother stumbling down the hallway to detox
wakes me up on cold tile
Surveys, Maps, and Mothers: D-E
all the miles between us
can be plotted in degrees only when calculated from one fixed point (mother)
to another fixed point (daughter), but the points remain moveable and unknown,
an incalculable measurement
Electronic distance measuring equipment
a surveying instrument measuring
distances using light or sound waves, my grandmother and mother
grew up in Chicago winters, wind biting cheeks raw, the dull sun
in grey sky melted to mush—I grew up in the constant light
of Florida, unbearably hot and bearing me down to the ground,
the rush of wind
clattering a hurricane roof soaked
in a rain born for damage, and waiting
for the eye to pass over us in silence
before the storm wall roared and rattled again
little girls learn to keep their heads elevated above sea level
when there is never anyone there to save them, this measurement
manifests differently for each sister now—an inability to ask for help,
childlike denial of the past, dangerous impulsivity rooted in longing
a legal interest recorded on a mortgage, my mother
never had a mortgage, lived on short-term leases, raised
restless unrooted daughters carrying anchors
imaginary circle around the Earth
dividing the sphere in half,
the personal equator dividing my life since the beginning was my name,
named Mary Margaret, but called Maggie as far back as memory reaches—the name
Mary became associated with grief, a connection re-made
when my mother would remind me I was named after her mother,
I would go by Mary as an adult to make it less confusing on others--
it has taken years
to go back to my real name, an imaginary circle
between my hemispheres
when someone asks my name and I instantly hesitate before answering
Maggie Wolff is a poet, essayist, occasional fiction writer, and first-year Ph.D. candidate at Illinois State University. She recently won an AWP Intro Journals Award for her poetry, and her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Juked, New Delta Review, and other publications.
Carl Wycoff CC
My grandma says dreams are little prophecies, we just have to ask God what they mean
she dreams of cows
she dreams of
a field full of cows
and they all need her
“they all need me”
she’s saying when she wakes up
“God” tells her
“they’re women who
and then there’s the toilets
she dreams of dirty toilets
need to be cleaned
but she needs to pee
not until the toilets are cleaned
“God” tells her
“help others before you help yourself”
she knows, “that’s what it means”
I dream of her
I dream of her cooking
she feeds us all,
before she feeds herself, at a large table
she feeds us my uncle first
his left thigh, his right arm
he’s greasy but I don’t tell her that
I dream even here of being polite
afraid of what she might do
she feeds us my mother next
“it might be a little tough,” she
and she’s right, my mother so much
even here like herself
even simmered slow and low
“beat it until it’s tender,” my grandma’s voice echoes
through my childhood up until now
I dream we devour them all, all of her children
I dream I escape the house
right before we run out of meat
for pot roast
I dream she ate herself because
there was no one left
she was going to eat you next
“God” says in my dream
“she was going to eat you next”
I’m saying when I wake up
Bleah Patterson (she/her) was born and raised in Texas. She is a poet exploring generational and religious trauma. A current MFA candidate at Sam Houston State University, her work featured in The Brazos River Review; The Texas Review; the tide rises, the tide falls; The Hyacinth Review; and elsewhere.
David J CC
Lake-slicked kids were we, driving Jeeps
and Caddies down 620 to the alley, where
the lanes shone glossy, the pizza was cheap
and we bowled like kings and queens.
After my first strike, Jacob folded
his hands into mine. I saw his crinkled
eyes, our matching flannel. Our first
closeness since those mornings
at our pizza parlor, hips nudging behind
the makeline, elbows colliding like
Newton’s cradle. I not yet nineteen, Jacob
spooning Elvis and George Strait through
my parted lips, onto my artichoke tongue.
Back then, Jacob crooned Elvis over the crank
of the dough machine, the ring of the door, hit
the highest notes in “Take on Me” as we layered
pepperoni in circles like bullseyes. When I played
Better Than Ezra – it felt like a lifetime – he asked,
“What’s this?” and switched back to Elvis. This
the music my father hummed as it thrummed
in his sweltering Lincoln the summer I turned
fourteen, ash blonde hair sticky with grease
and whipping in the breeze. Florida highways
gave way to Alabama, to plain lawns and my
father gone before first light.
I wanted to go home without pointing
to a home. Not to the skeletons of houses
off Origins Lane, the sepia townhouse
where my brother waited up, where I turned
twenty-one, echoes of Five Finger Death
Punch echoing through hollow walls,
matchbox of a house that our mother left
again and again, that I fled for winding
sidewalks snaking away from the lake
to call my father, who didn’t answer,
after my brother flung fruit and salt and
blame, stood sentry at my bedroom door
and then followed me, calling my name.
Not to the strip mall parking lot where Gavin
and I talked after work, his gaze lifted
toward the indigo sky that the fireworks
barely touched that starless July.
Not to the strips of metal shack shops
near Perpetuation Drive, the shadows
of the Krav Maga, gates chained shut.
Here Gavin uncapped glass bottles
of grassy beer against the fence post.
I’d told him we couldn’t go home
and he didn’t ask why.
Gavin carried me across rocky streams,
watched me stare off the cliffside, shaking
too hard to climb down. From there, I couldn’t
point to the hills where my car almost slid
down ice, down to the apartment where hands
threw golf clubs and bar stools and a slice
of time I thought mine, where police circled
and my brother called to say Don’t come home.
Gavin went off to war, bearing his tilted
front teeth, shoulder-length locks newly shorn.
He left his brothers the rock climbers, his sister
the pianist folding clothes at Old Navy. Jacob still
wants to make it big, still drives his green pickup,
stubble fresh on his long jaw, humming his short
songs for the girls he never loved, his ode about
coming home, verses for the children he never
had or held. When his truck got stuck behind
snowbanks and ice walls, he played Elvis.
Jacob writes to me for my birthday, but I don’t
write back. I watch my brother’s name light
up my phone, watch my father’s birthday
pass hour by hour and don’t write back,
swipe left on the music-loving Marine
from my beach town and wonder if Gavin
is still alive, if he still listens to Disturbed
like we did tearing down hill country roads.
I still play their version of “The Sound of Silence”
as I stack clean flannel and summer blouses
on the crooked bureau, stack books in boxes
until they break. I sing in my car when no
one’s around, in the August heat without my
windows down, and all summer, my phone rings
and rings and when I answer, it’s my brother
saying Don’t come home.
Song for the house
where cedar shimmered / from the overgrown yard / floors sticky
with watermelon / newly shattered / like a broken egg / cormorants
and cardinals / emerging from the shards / or like tender teeth / splitting
gums / like stalagmites festering / in puddles of ochre and amber /
clean it up / he told me / big hands slick / with ruby juice / towering /
over the beige tiles / the rickety chairs / that could cave / under too much
weight / so I got / on my knees / scrubbed / my sternum / a fist of crows /
while he watched / YouTube videos / of foxes / in his acrid blue room /
once I saw / two men wrap / rubber bands / around / and around /
and / ar ou nd / a watermelon / until / it burst / sometimes / I felt /
like that watermelon / sunburnt and careening / down the asphalt /
saying yes / no / yesyesyes / burning hours like incense / until I left
the house / where my bed disappeared / in a sweep / of lilacs / taken as fast /
as a warbler / in the maw / of a wolf / wanting wings / I keep resurrecting
the dream/ where I flew / above the corner of Perpetuation and 620 / no
turn light / I don’t drive / 620 anymore but / I like driving / alone /
when I talk / about origins / I choke / on the bone / of this house
until it crinkles / s o f t l y / in my throat / filling it / with harrow /
no it’s marrow / I build a house / of my vanilla paperbacks / I conjure
coffee / at my rickety table / monstera more holy / than the church
I drove to / that incandescent July / when I knew the house /
was only bones / gnawed until marrow lined teeth / like ashes on
stone / on the street where wine / pooled in canvas shoes / and pink
plastic heels / when the fires danced / at every house / except ours /
I will only oversee / my own singeing / will stitch a wound /
with votive candles / the colors of the lake / in winter
and drought / evergreen and rusty blue / I bury clockwork
bones / conjure lanterns / like the one I burned / before
the carpeted staircase / the dying bamboo plant / the stuck
back door / no boys ever snuck through / that only trapped
bees/ from a hive we never found / the busted garage light /
before I knew home / as something I could carve / from myself
In pockets of silence, I soften like
a petal, burst burgundy at hands
brushing through mine: the hands
of builders, burn-gridded and singed,
streaking the foundations of houses
with sultry scrapes. Their limbs praise
my jewel-dripping crown but tame
the ground from which I grew it, spurn
the churning roots beneath me, the arbors
sprouting in my wake.
Hands of musicians unearth words from
the ivory keys of my ribs. My touch is
mostly memory. I know how to make
a piano sing, but how do you take it apart?
Build from the keys a staircase, a doorstep,
a shelter? A walled autumn garden, stalks
standing sentry in salty air? But I don’t
need rosewood to build a home,
to construct the altar at which I pray.
I don’t want roses or carnations flung
at my water-swollen doorstep or wilting
on the wasp-infected porch. I don’t want
love letters littering my carpet like old
receipts for coffee or fruit.
Sometimes I am the girl digging a ruby
from sienna soil. Sometimes I am
the ruby: sleek and split, fractured into
a dozen hard planes—the girl I was,
the girl I am, all the girls I’ve wished
I could be. Some sheer glint, all light and
testament, some red drained like a quatrain
cascading down faded keys. Some scattered
like glitter stuck in curls of carpet, always
visible but forgotten under the stamp of leather
soles straight from the rain. Some scraped
away with fingernails. Some scuffed by
old boots, leather cracking like a hesitant mouth.
I don’t want questions, half-inquiry,
all excavation, that tear from me something
that glints. A flash of mothering like
unclasped petals, a father salted and
buried, earthbound. My hard, red words burst
beneath my sternum like poppies, always
stretching to the tightened bud of my throat.
I have been a burgundy girl in all
seasons—fall with its crinkling sky, summer
of the turning earth and my birth, spring
squinting at soil still damp with snowmelt,
winter when my hands blister, blood pooling
like tiny rubies in my finger webbing.
It spiders silently across the folds of me,
the creases of my calloused fingers.
Even without a crimson man to root
me, even without the scrape of diamond
or glass against my surface, without
the creak of teakwood under my weight
or the refraction of beams against my frame,
I still feel ruby opening inside of me
like a yearning mouth.
Courtney Justus is a Texan-Argentinian writer living in Chicago. She is a 2022 Tin House YA Workshop alumna, a Best of the Net nominee, and a recipient of residencies from SAFTA and the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work appears in The Acentos Review, Barnstorm Journal, Defunkt Magazine and elsewhere. You can visit her at courtneyjustuswriter.wordpress.com.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.