Fall 2021 Poetry

waxing&waning down capital cul-de-sacs

Are you satisfied? Ma asks. Her palms are dusted with
speckled snow, finely-grated grains that sit heavy on the hand.
I am not. My stomach sits like the extracted egg yolks
simmering in rose-flavored wine, acidic in its neurotic nature.
Molding mooncakes should come easily to people like us,
people who massage the dirt for gold, palms unfamiliar with
paper’s grimy edges. I knead the dough. Await the eclipse.
There are crescents lodged under the whites of my fingernails.
Ma has a look of waning distaste, forehead wrinkled into the
raised ridges of calligraphed characters. A permanent stamp.
Her arms are sore from years of labor, grinding lotus seeds
into a sticky paste, plowing until ragged lines grow dark with
age. She tells me I’ll be like that, too. It must be trouble-free
living on the moon, golden goddess with a pet hare, and I find
myself dreaming about a home in a crater. Dream-me lives in a
marbled manor with silk tapestries, drinking out of a stolen
goblet of elixir. But our East Coast suburban neighborhood
isn’t that. I live in a floating box, not like the moon with her
pulsing vocation, but a car that steers through the I-86
without an ending. The popcorn ceiling reeks of mold, the
four-seat sedan is too cramped, and I want to fly on a
spaceship. Ma is right — I sit in a vehicle sinking in salt waves.
Fall 2021 Poetry

Pool is Closed

The girl on the bike was crossing
the road, One painted stripe at a time;
She’d pressed the button, the lights had
adjusted, She crossed seven stopped cars in a

Her helmeted head looked forward with
glee, As she reached the other side;
I watched her, parked at the barrier’s shoulder,
Curious at her pride.

She looked past the bushes,
And what did she see?
A swimming pool, grey and alone;
It was then that I noticed the suit on her
back, It was then that she turned to go

Never as sad of a face did I see,
That cloudy and blustery day;
Never so droopy a juvenile posture,
Which peddled, peddled away.
Fall 2021 Poetry

Sincerely, Death

After centuries,
after the time and tear,
I’m worn away
from this job I bear.

Void of flesh,
I’m stripped down to the bone.
Ghosts for company;
I’m perpetually alone.

Overwhelming responsibility,
I’m forlorn as my reward.
Souls come and go, and yet,
I’m stuck here abhorred.

There’s no winning this game;
I can’t spare everyone.
Death’s a necessary evil
And it’s my job to get it done.

After this I wonder if
you’ll remain ever so headstrong,
choose not notice your denigration
by condemning me as wrong.

You want me to pick favorites.
You all want this or that.
But did you ever consider why fate
threw your name into my hat?

I follow my duty,
and I set aside my heart.
To be frank, I might not even
have that costly part.

Still, no one sees me!
Nor my actions of love,
how I send partners — if I can,
to the skies up above.

You’re blind to the bigger picture
and distracted by your reflection.
If you looked beyond yourself you’d see
the sphere that needs protection.

The world contains billions
which increases by the day.
Now consider what would happen
if Death wasn’t around to play.

Now go, be grateful,
as you take your next breath.
And pray I stay merciful.

Fall 2021 Poetry

Dear Death

Coward in a cloak,
thief in the night,
infamous chair,
perpetual plight.

You stole what was mine,
Took them all away from me.
Left me not even a ghost,
just how heartless can you be?

Ruthless, you robbed me
of my future, my life;
my family gone
with a swipe of your scythe.

Their blood now stains
Your jagged edge.
So blame yourself
When I get revenge.

How did you decide their value? —
Just who are you to judge?
I pray the tables turn,
Then it’s you who’ll have a grudge.

I’m at my wits’ end,
I’ve nothing left to lose.
I’ll hunt you down, Death.
Till you pay your dues.

Face me, coward,
feel the fury behind my eyes.
Come up off your throne of bones
so I can taste your sweet demise.

Speak for your crimes,
your crippling destruction.
Repent for your sins
and mass soul abduction!

I truly can’t wait to meet you
and avenge those suffered souls.
So swing away and save my seat
to your Death upon their bones.
Fall 2021 Featured Poetry

Chamberlain Park

Two basketball courts, double rims.
Stout water tower down the slope.
Ball would bounce against the barbed wire
on a miss, if it bounced enough.
Yeah, here is good. I remember.

And she’s been talking shit for weeks.
That H.O.R.S.E. wouldn’t end my way,
and she’s a shooter
(she’s not).
Two hand release, pushing off one
leg, a half jump, land on one
leg. Arched back. Line drives
off the front rim, backboard, fence.

It’s summer and sticky heat hangs
from our shoulders, our fingertips, our lips.
Humidity pulls
my body and her body down
into the concrete court, dragging
into tree roots and acorns and
scraggled grass,
into the dirt of the earth.

I want to eat your lips
and swallow you whole
and “you’re too far apart, standing
all the way over there”
“I’m right here.”
“It’s too far.”
She bricks another and laughs.

Throws her arms up, pushes Spalding away,
loose crop top rises up the sternum,
to her collar bone. Flounces down quick,
no breeze to hold it. Now I’m shirtless.
Her replacement too long and worn.
Heat smothering air,
sunlight catching dust
suspended on the court,

lighting the Carolina pines, like
a wall between us and everything else.
We run and hide in the halflight.
And if I knew then, what I knew later,
I’d stay on that court forever.
Puddle and melt into the cooked
concrete, our arms around each other.
Fall 2021 Featured Poetry

The Body

Fall 2021 Featured Poetry


My mother tells me
I have to eat breakfast
or else the stomach acid
will start to eat at me.
Three generations of women
avoiding breakfast—
I remember my grandmother
who wouldn’t eat from the time
she woke each sunrise
til late noon, up
until the cancer spread through her stomach.
She went to the hospital, but she’s dead now.
My mother doesn’t talk about her much,
only mentioning her vaguely as a threat
of what happens to daughters
who have to survive their mother at 18.
A lesson learned of girls
who don’t eat breakfast.

But I can’t trust her.
I never see her eat breakfast.
She used to—
a banh mi after school,
cheesy pasta before skating lessons.
Back when we ate together, almost happily,
if not for the shared shame in our eyes
after reaching for seconds.

It is difficult not to think about
my mother on her deathbed. Swept up
in the white sheets with her sunshine
yellow skin. I sit outside her hospital room
and my head is in my hands. I wonder
how I will react when she dies, as I press
a hand into the emptiness of my rib cage,
searching for a spine. There’s only gas there,
from sucking in my stomach all the time.
Fall 2021 Featured Poetry

After I Left Home

My mother is up to her elbows in dishwater
and she is not pleased.

She checks the oven timer over her shoulder and sighs.
Twenty minutes until she can relax, soak her feet
in bathwater with only her ox red underwear on.
She wonders if her daughter would call today.
Perhaps the call will arrive when she is in the bath.

Damp and bloodied Band-Aids pile up
in one of her kitchen apron’s wrinkled pockets.
The vegetables are sliced, but at what cost?
Her fingernails are scratched, her hands
cut-littered, the pain pinching her nerves
under the burn of the dish soap.
The scars on the back of her hands
are deep and dark, like little ants
dotting cracked but clear sidewalks.
The knife is not her friend today, or any day.

The grease of lamb from the oven coats her face
in oil and the smell makes her sick. She swats the air.
She hates cooking. She hates eating.
She hopes that today, in twenty minutes,
her daughter would call.

I imagine my mother like this,
cooking a dish that only my brother and father will eat,
washing dishes, in pain, waiting—
and call.
Poetry Spring 2021

I Remember, I Remember

After Mary Ruefle, After Joe Brainard

I remember hearing that poetry was supposed to bust you open so you could take a good hard look at what’s inside you. I remember not knowing if I had ever felt that.

I remember sitting by a silent lake under a summer moon and hearing my cousin Willa read the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and feeling busted open, but in a good way, like my heart was touching Willa’s and the lake’s and the sky’s, too.

I remember (later) reading “Wild Geese” to Willa while they got a goose tattooed on their hip in a basement in Copenhagen. I almost got one, too, but then I recalled that they had said that that poem saved them, so I didn’t get a tattoo at all.

I remember (much later) that Willa got a dog and named it Goose and I realized that poetry keeps on saving us.

I remember saving everything. Receipts, train tickets, lottery stubs, dried leaves and flowers, photo booth records, sticky note reminders from my freshman year roommate.

I remember never having the things I saved when I needed them. They were always in my drawer at home or in a storage closet twenty miles away.

I remember writing everything down. I remember writing everything down and thinking that it was silly and that barely any of it would matter when I dug out my old journals in ten years and reread them. I remember rereading them (later) and wishing I’d written more.

I remember reading the poem “Scheherazade” by Richard Siken because my friend gave it to me and then thinking about it for three days in a row. I remember writing lines from it in my notebook, on Post-Its to stick on my wall, in a letter I wrote to that friend on her birthday. I remember for my birthday she gave me a whole Siken collection, but I have still only ever read that one poem.

I remember feeling this great pressure to create. That whatever I made had to be really good — that it had to be genius, magic, inspired, every time. I remember this crippled me into a state of being afraid to create anything.

I remember getting over that. At least momentarily.

I remember paying attention. Lots and lots of attention. To the smell of snow, the curl of my sister’s hair in the late summer heat, and the way my mind moved faster than my eyes when I read something I loved.

I remember the first time I heard a bird’s wings flapping. I’d heard bird songs every morning from the patio of my parents’ house, but I’d never heard their wings flap. It’s peculiar. When it’s a really big bird, it almost sounds like it never learned how to fly.

I remember the moon. So much of the moon.

I remember that my sister asks me at least once a year what my earliest memory is. I do not know, I have never known, but because she continues to ask me, I have formulated a false earliest memory. In it, I am crawling toward the wood-burning fireplace in my parent’s first home across the shag carpet that never existed.

I remember swimming in the ocean with my grandfather during a rainstorm. It was our first time in the ocean together since he had had cancer. His throat was red raw from radiation but he told me to go underwater and listen to the rain fall onto the ocean’s surface. I did, and it was so eerily beautiful that it made me cry, and then there was so much saltwater everywhere.

I remember knowing home by the scent on the air, like how a river smells when the snow first melts.

I remember when our house was the only one on our street. Slowly, houses were built on the street, our kingdom shrinking every year. I remember I was sad because I couldn’t see the sunset from my bedroom window anymore. My dad was sad because they built one on our sledding hill.

I remember breaking my tailbone on that sledding hill. My dad carried me to the car and held my hand as we drove to the hospital, the whole time cursing that godforsaken sledding hill.

I remember being so young that I thought all writers were smart, sane, kind, and the most exceptional and upstanding human beings. And then I read On Writing by Stephen King, and realized that was not the case. I remember being mostly bummed, but also a little relieved.

I remember that before they built all the houses in my neighborhood, we used to have to herd cows back up into the hills. The cows would wake my dad in the middle of the night, heavy hooves padding into the soft grass of our backyard, and he’d wake my sister and me and tell us to put on our mud-boots. All of our neighbors and their dogs would gather on our back porch, headlamps illuminating sleepy eyes. We’d spread out and shake handbells at the cows, slowly pushing them up the streets, trying our best to avoid cow patties underfoot.

I remember that my dad would bring our golden retriever, Eli, and make sure each cow got back through the gate. Now Eli is blind and senile and barks at everything. When he barks at a parked car or a restless pile of leaves, my dad sometimes sighs, “That dog was a damn good cow herder.”

I remember that when I was very small, I was confused about the streetlights. I remember thinking that the moon did not need any help.

I remember wanting to write all of the memories of my family into one place to keep them safe.

I remember (later) realizing that my family remembers out loud, in noisy living rooms, on dance floors, in the morning mist across a still lake. It is not safe, but it is alive.

I remember that my old boyfriend taught me to fly fish and he was more patient with me than I had ever been with anyone in my life. I remember searching for the magic that Maclean wrote about. I remember finding it when the wind stopped, and the water cleared, and you could see the glint of the trout dancing.

I remember one time we were hiking to a fishing hole and we passed a sign that read No Hunting. The boyfriend asked if I thought fishing counted as hunting. I said that I didn’t think so, but I didn’t know why. I know why now. It’s the dancing.

I remember (later) being frustrated because I could see all the fish, but I couldn’t catch any of them. Try to cast more softly, he said. Try further upstream of the fish. Let’s try a different fly, a different hole. Maybe pretend that you’re not trying to catch them.

I remember that life is sometimes catching, but life is also a hell of a lot of casting.

I remember having an existential crisis that I wasn’t a writer because all I could write about was myself and isn’t that just glorified journaling?

I remember getting over that, too.

I remember reading a piece by the poet Mary Ruefle called “I Remember, I Remember.” In it she wrote: “‘remember’ means to put the arms and legs back on, and sometimes the head.”

I remember playing pond hockey on our town rink in the winter with the boys under the moonlight and loving it, but mostly because I kept thinking, “this is the stuff stories are made of.”

I remember writing a story about the pond hockey during my freshman year of college. It was good. It was the stuff stories were made of.

I remember going to a reading with my best friend with two women who wrote about the West. I remember thinking that I was the West, at least a little bit. There were no seats open when we arrived, so we sat on the carpet in the front with our legs crossed, balancing our notebooks on our knees. After the reading was over, my friend leaned over and whispered, “What if when we grow up, we grow into writers?”

I remember learning that Joe Brainard wrote a book called I Remember. I remember wondering, incredulously, how someone could write an entire book about their memories.

I remember (later) wondering how we could stop ourselves from writing an entire library about them.

I remember going to my first funeral and watching the relatives of the deceased speak and thinking that I could probably do a better job.

I remember telling my family on the car ride home that when our grandfather dies, I call speaking at his funeral because I am both the favorite and the most literate. I am constantly writing and revising his eulogy in my head.

I remember learning about rebirth. In swimming pools, in oceans, while skinny dipping.

I remember reading once that love is the thing that pulls us forward into life and backwards into death at the same time.

I remember learning that paying attention is the same thing as love.

I remember catching my first ever fish on the fly rod — a stunning, glossy rainbow trout, and promptly crying and declaring it to be the most magical fish in the world. And then my boyfriend reminded me that I had actually caught a tiny ugly stupid bait fish last summer. And I remembered that we remember what we want to remember.

Featured Poetry Spring 2021

The Negro Paints a Sunset

After Schuyler, After Hughes

All my sunsets black:
All my sunsets black as the trees and the birds and the flowers
          and all the other things my black eyes see.

I paint a bird onto the canvas, and it is the blackest
          bird there is, black because I say it’s black,
          black because it’s free, black as blues & jazz
          & liquor stores & spirituals & sunsets.

My sunsets black as the people who praise them.

Sunsets that ushered the day-long cookouts into the laughter-saturated dark.
Sunsets that told me to get inside before my mother snatched my black behind.
Sunsets that warn me it is better that mother snatch me than some danger of the night.
Sunsets that my grandmother assures will be greeted by a better day,
          the black of her hands turning all golden in its dying light.

All my sunsets black:
Black as taxes and redlining and incarceration and the knowledge that still, still,
          the light will return for us.

My sunsets black as the people who praise them.