Poetry Winter 2021

Tennis Camp

Ankles painted red with clay,
we’d pound our chests like timpanis,
comparing the shape and depth
of our blisters and calluses
against each other.

Anyone who thought
we were twins was victim to our fool,
my name escaping
your lips
from across the court.

Bright yellow fuzz we’d find
in unexpected places
hours after we were
finished. We’d laugh
loud and ask just
how it could’ve gotten there.

We’d brace for
cold showers on
hot mornings underneath
the unforgiving sun, for
suicides and
spider drills and you
asking our coach why
the conditioning exercises always had such
violent names.

The day after you quit
I saw an actual spider
on the lip of the baseline
and pounded it flat into the clay
with my racket. 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

First Tuesday

Pops and crackles on God’s gray Earth
herald men and their tires, balding in unison,
leaning back and over pebbles in the gravel lot,
and coughing dust hot behind them.

and I, in a low cinderblock building
with a veil of sunlight spotlighting dirt and dust
feather-falling to the linoleum,
watch through a grime clouded storefront
while the radio beside me and a fly
far off somewhere, ducking behind rows of dusty snacks
struggle to see who can drone the loudest

the bell above the door announces guests:
farmers caked in clay nod toward loose cigarettes
our hesitant exchange strung together by broken words in the other’s language.

and a gray-haired man that could be my father
all knobbed joints and trembling fingers
scrapes daily at a lotto ticket with a filthy coin
that matches a lonely tooth gleaming in his face
like watery eyes looking at something far off

he leaves even poorer and above the door,
a stroke of orange at dusk paints the bell
and I hit the jackpot every time 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021


When we moved in, my parents
thought the tree in our backyard was dead
or dying; its peeling bark evoked
an ear of corn not quite shucked,
a natural edge run ragged.

We would soon learn
that the shagbark hickory is not born
with shag in its bark; but grows
into it. It is the story of age
as paring knife, bark
as shed skin.

I let my first whitehead ripen
until my mother snipped pus fruit
off the vine with flesh
between pinched fingers,
a pop.

This is how rite became passage
of time, and how I could not help
but pick and poke and prod and pop
each bump, raze what was raised
into submission,
into scar.

Keep squeezing after all the pus is out,
just to be sure, or just
so that a steady drip of blood
may follow. Two birds, smooth
your face and yourself,
one faucet running red.

There is a beetle in my sink.
It scuttles out of the drain so rapidly
I can imagine the ratatattat of legs
on porcelain. The urgency
of an ugly thing.

We know each other, beetle
and I, beetle who could crawl
into an oversized pore and shimmy
under my skin, hatch eggs in my cheek
and excrete itself in pus.
An ugliness that can spiral
back down the drain.

When we moved in, my parents
thought the tree in our backyard was dead
or dying, and so peeling bark was tempting
for idle hands to pry off. To leave a scar
behind: a reddish-gray gash,
a nakedness.

When Caliban looked in the glass
did he too see Ham? Are there pimples on the cheeks
of forests? The beetle living under my skin
laughs at me. No, it says. And still
they grow. 
Poetry Winter 2021

a selfish poem for my unsteady father

My father’s voice bears the weight of indignant, violent memory
a voice so heavy that he struggles to carry it
it swells and collapses and sways and stirs, and I worry that he will
fall right to the floor
right down to the floor, there with his feet
there with his head, here with me,
A constant inclination for a cold, inhospitable, merciful floor
And at the summits of the swells and the riverbeds of the valleys,
At the apogee and at the anchorage, I worry
Poetry Winter 2021

my father’s dead dog

so when the dog died at the ripe old age of twelve my father
responded as he usually did, which was to sigh heavily,
boil an egg for six minutes, and eat it in two bites.

my mother always believed if you made hens lay eggs year-round, they’d
run out, so in the winter my father would eat oranges instead
like a monster: biting them whole, spitting out the rind. I peeled
them hesitantly, and he beat me for the orange residue under my nails.

my father loved that old dog. once my mother cursed it as she came
around and found it licking rotten apples; my father loved that dog so
he bought five apples at the grocery store, and forgot the bread.
he used to crawl downstairs while my mother was asleep,
so he could pet that dog, kiss that old dog, who slept so soundly.
in the mornings I woke to see his body circled
around the circle of that dog banished to the kitchen floor.
I had to wake him back to my mother, place an old coat
over the dog, so it would not stir.

my father loved that dog, though he always knew his marriage would outlive it,
that one day there would only be a cold bed, the white morning sky in the window,
and no-dog curled in-between them, but possibly it was precisely
because my father knew that dog would die in his lifetime, possibly he
only loved it because he knew that sad beast
would die someday soon, and after he had kissed it
goodbye, he could get back to what mattered, things that would only last
for as long as he had his mouth around them:

bites out of covered fruit, full of seeds and rind.
drinks from a boiled egg at night, tipping back the wet and yolky center,
as he laughed, mouth wide, face up towards the yellow moon. 
Poetry Winter 2021


in eighth grade, I had a science teacher
who taught us the phases of the moon.
he taught us other stuff too,
like physics and friction and gravity and velocity
and why it snows more on one side of the mountain
than the other.
he taught us all sorts of things,
but I only ever remembered the moon.

I knew that it looked like a “D” when it was growing
and a “C” when it was shrinking.
the moon set the alphabet backwards.
waxing waning crescent gibbous
words that flowed over my tongue
and straight to the memory
crescent slivers over campfire flickers
and a mirror lake full moon reflection.
the moon is hard to forget.

that teacher followed us to high school
and one day there was a solar eclipse
and we gathered outside
not not looking at the sky.
he approached me and asked if I remembered why
eclipses happen.
I didn’t. I looked instead at the half-moon leaf
shadows the eclipse made on the ground.
like a waxing gibbous, I said,
pointing at the dancing shadows.
he smiled, a little sad.

in college now
I go for a bike ride near my childhood home
where my life has been put on pause.
the sun has already set
the sky went from orange to pink and now,
blue again,
like the day needed one last look.
the deer have gathered in the field.
the wheatgrass looks like moonlight.
I look up, and there,
tucked in among the blue-grey sky.
fingernail moon.
waning crescent. just a sliver
of wheatgrass. 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

When the Car Stops in Gambier, Ohio

Lumped silence until the intersection,
where the car sputters
beneath your feet.
Next to the faded yellow line you stop,
pull out a flashlight, open
the hood bonnet. We stand like the earth is eggshell,
we don’t move, we shoulder a wet black sky

like we are afraid to wake it up. Your arm touches mine
and I am afraid to wake you from this daze, the same daze you had

when we found her. Mother, an accident sprawled horizontal
next to a bottle. We left her muscles to die — when

should they be left to die? You and I stood, unable to touch mother —
she might regret her last violence
to the world, a big whopping fuck-
you. Now she lay

as still as a painting, we were the viewers, we were
the critics, I stared and felt ashamed for it,
like I was watching her undress.

Then she was peeled
from the floor, all five feet lifted
into arms of men neither you
nor I knew and she slid away
to a world where we have not lived. 
Autumn 2020 Poetry

your face

the night before you left, that night 
the ashtray was just out of reach. 
gray-white flakes, weightless as dreams, 
drifted through the cracks in the table.
Autumn 2020 Poetry

i do what i can from where i am

i miss the air tinged with smoke, remnants
of burning prairie. i miss all the trees infested, 
then splintered, cut down. when i return, the street is bare, 
but i am relieved to smell the air sweet 
with thunderstorms. the glowing blue of evening
even the ants that crawl across my skin when i am too still. 

in fear of falling once again into the pull 
of inertia, i took my time, listened closely
soft voices in morning, wind whispering through leaves  
i was grateful when the birds returned. i let pain, slivers
of it, dissolve slowly.

these last few summer nights, i squatted 
bare legged by the window
wishing stupidly for fireworks, a fistfight.
last week i took off my glasses and thought 
this could be any street. now the quiet is an indictment
it was never enough just to mourn
Autumn 2020 Poetry

“Yet they felt about them the deep and thoughtful quiet of winter”

— for the unrequited

i can never answer you
at the moment you unhand your question
you remind me of the man who overbundles in boston,
and your question arrives
like your overcoat
dropping to the floor

i can never catch it —
these arms have grown tired, kid,
and the orange bottles in the junk drawer insist
i’ve grown up and maybe
it’s not a good enough excuse anymore
to say that i’ve released the balloon again

i can never keep the rings on my fingers
so i bury them in a childhood music box
Dad tells me cognition dictates sensation
How the daggers in the air only pinch
If you let them
except all i heard was the bile in his voice
and his crimson lie
you’re getting better

i can never
because these circuits only know disorder
i can never answer
“where do you go?”

“what do you see?”

because i am with you and scaling the alps,
i see your coat hit the floor

titular quote from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien