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The journey

Travelling early, we set out while it’s still dark.
At this unblessed hour, we should be wary
of the threat of footpads and of cut-throats,
but we are blithe with optimism, our surprising
sovereigns stinging in our pockets. Our burdens
are as insubstantial as the moon and already
last night has dwindled to a twist of wrinkled
bedclothes. How did we wake so promptly without alarm?
What witchery set us bolt upright in our beds?
Perhaps as the dawn begins to damage
the dark, one of our number will venture:
“Where was it that we were heading? Who has the map?”
Day scarifies the sky, polluting our clarity of purpose.
We will not answer the rank-breaker. We tear off
hunks of bread with hungry teeth. The light comes up
like sadness. We do not want to recognise ourselves

London-based poet Susannah Hart has attended Coffee-House Poetry’s Troubadour readings, classes & courses (www.coffeehousepoetry.org) for a number of years. Her work has been widely published in magazines, she was a prizewinner in the 2013 Poetry London competition, & she has had poems commended & shortlisted in several other competitions. Susannah works as a brand consultant & writer, & volunteers as a local school governor.

Mona Arshi

by Mona Arshi

Never marry an insomniac. You will have
________to mind yourself.
________________Have hem weights
________sewn into the lining of your garments,

cure your skin with almond oil until it’s bloated
________and the pores are brimming.
________________Purchase a large wooden-grained
________trunk and place it near your bed-it’s for

safekeepings. (Obscurely, somewhere deep inside you
________know all this).Very soon
________________you won’t be able to tell
________the days apart, you’ll develop a tic and it will

distill at the centre (within the hive of your other small
________anomalies).You’ll flail
________________in mild wind and when you speak
________minute silver-fish consort in the pit of your throat.

Exquisite wife to the shade: the exact point you place
________your finger-tip on winter mornings,
________________a raindrop will later stop and fret.
________It’s a wonder if you survive at all.

It will all end in the mouth; you’ll blink-
________he’ll stir. You’ll practice lying very very still-
________________peacock feathers
________(your talismans) will blink back in their jars.

…from Small Hands (Pavilion Press, 2014)

Mona Arshi has been a frequent audience-member & workshop-participant at London’s Troubadour poetry events (www.coffeehousepoetry.org). A prize winner in the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Prize & joint winner of the Manchester Creative Writing poetry prize in 2014, her Forward-prize-winning debut collection Small Hands was published by Pavilion Poetry (Liverpool University Press). Mona lives in West London & worked as a human rights lawyer for a decade before studying Creative Writing at University of East Anglia. www.monaarshi.com


This Rain

brings with it the scent of rain-soaked lilac, lemon lily. Bruised

skirts of thunderclouds drop their wet hems over this prairie. It rains

and the ditches brim, rains

and the water rises like ire amongst the willows.

What we say and do not say. The heart

incandescent, riverine with distance.




lilt like this: sound

of droplets from leaves


gift   gift         gift



(Shortlisted for the International Salt Prize for Best Individual Poem, 2012

Published in The Salt Book of New Writing 2013, UK.)



Jenna Butler is the author of three books of poetry, Seldom Seen Road (NeWest Press, 2013), Wells (University of Alberta Press, 2012), and Aphelion (NeWest Press, 2010), in addition to a book of ecocritical essays, A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail. When she is not in the classroom as a professor of ecocriticism and creative writing at Red Deer College, she works as a beekeeper on her off-grid organic farm in northern Canada. Her new book of essays on women and beekeeping, Revery: A Year of Bees, is forthcoming.



The hand that draws the bowstring has faith

that the deer will die. The longbow bends,

the arrow points, the deer stands frozen

in the curious pose of prey before its doom.

But Zeno suggests that once the arrow flies,

it covers half the distance to the deer’s heart

first, then half the distance left and half again

and again and half again so the deer will live

and the arrow will never find its one true home.


A woman’s faith is different than a man’s.

She believes his strength is bowstring straight,

his heart like longbow yew, flexible but taut.

A man believes that he is not a beast–

until the string snaps, the tortured bow splinters

and his fist is arcing through the air

toward the faithful face of the woman who believes.


The hunter doesn’t love the prey.

He’s filed the razor edge of the arrowhead himself.

And even Zeno had to eat.  Is there faith enough

to believe in a universe where that fist still hangs

in the half-space in between, and now, a moment later,

half again?

(originally published by www.ithacalit.com)


R.G. Evans is the author of Overtipping the Ferryman (2013 Aldrich Press Poetry Prize) and the forthcoming novella The Noise of Wings. www.rgevanswriter.com



under drying skies, north,

passing fields

the summer has been too wet

to turn brown,

i wait for God

to appear, for poems to rise

like mists, for some sort

of ever


that doesn’t sting.

croon to me like a wild road,

sunlight spider-webbing

across a cracked windshield

across strange arms

across a morning we can all afford

to spend and live

and live.


Joanna Suzanne Lee earned her MD from the Medical College of Virginia in 2007 and a further MS in Applied Science from the College of William and Mary in 2010. Her ppoetry has been published in a number of online and print journals, including Caduceus, Contemporary American Voices, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her second full­-length book of poetry, the river and the dead, is forthcoming in 2015 from unboundCONTENT. She is currently serving her third year on the James River Writers Board of Directors, and, under the big bright umbrella of Richmond’s River City Poets, she makes possible a wide range of poetry happenings from Shockoe Slip to South of the James.


Vital Desert Lesson Number One

Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried. – Henry David Thoreau


Living on beans and bread

in an abandoned cabin no larger

than a tool shed, I’d be happy,


I once said. If I could just remain

immobile, silent. No place to go,

I’d read Dante’s Inferno and ponder


the nature of mass movements,

the building of Babel’s tower,

the steam locomotive.


Dawn and dusk I’d thank sun and moon

that I’d escaped the grinding bustle,

that nothing disturbed my dreams.


Oh, I know it all seems too idyllic,

but one vital lesson this desert’s teaching:

let nothing rush me—not the heat


I try to keep out of, not the man

behind me in the traffic jam

fidgeting with the folds of his gutra*


while he beeps and speeds past me

one nano second after the light changes.

Inshalla shall be my mantra,


the camel my choice over the Arabian horse—

let her carry me ever so slowly

over the course of the dunes as the wind


plays its favorite tunes on them.

I won’t be rushed into talking too much

or too soon, and when I do speak,


my words will flow slowly and sparingly,

like the wind whispering

to the date palm and sidra tree.


*white head covering worn by many Gulf Arab men.


Diana Woodcock’s first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize. Her second, Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale, is forthcoming from WordTech Communications. Chapbooks include Beggar in the EvergladesDesert Ecology: Lessons and VisionsTamed by the DesertIn the Shade of the Sidra TreeMandala, and Travels of a Gwai Lo.  Widely published in literary journals (including Best New Poets 2008), her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award. Prior to teaching in Qatar (since 2004), she worked for nearly eight years in Tibet, Macau and on the Thai/Cambodian border.


John Hoppenthaler

Some Men 


Men who’ve kissed with passion the full lips

of women they didn’t love, men


who’ve grown too reticent for the confessional,

who’ve cleaned public restrooms,


wiped menstrual blood from their walls, who’ve written—

then scrubbed off—vile graffiti from the rusting doors


of shithouse stalls. Men who’ve grown

enormous with disregard, rolls of it bellying over


their wide belts. Men who’ve been barbers

of the dead and were happy for the work,


men who’ve become what they’ve microwaved,

who overvalue the quality of their erections


and fawn over them like the town’s new Wal-Mart.

Men who look awful in suits, who’ve been there


and back yet grew impatient, men who go to wakes

to keep up appearances, who’ve made a deal


with God but can’t remember the terms, men who are old

pros when it comes to hospitals and cracking


jokes at the nurses’ expense, men who’ll be at

your funeral, who’ll kiss your widow with passion


and keep everyone’s lips flapping. Men who’ll move

in and disinfect your bathroom, who’ll trim nose hair


at your sink, conjure mythic hard-ons they’ll purchase

at Wal-Mart. Men who’ll kiss your wife


damned hard on the mouth, take off her dress,

and have your Sunday suit altered and pressed.



From Domestic Garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015


John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Lives of Water (2003), Anticipate the Coming Reservoir (2008), and Domestic Garden (2015), all with Carnegie Mellon University Press. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays and interviews on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company—Jean Valentine (U Michigan P, 2012).  For the cultural journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, he edits “A Poetry Congeries.  He is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at East Carolina University.



The Bride

I met her on her wedding day
Walked up to her, and smiled,
No one ever talks to the bride
I thought it might be interesting to try something new,
Break tradition
Henna patterns wrapped around her wrists climbed up her arms
Spreading blossoms on tender flesh
Her lips were a wilted crimson
Tilted ever so slightly to the side,
A perfect almost smile
The first thing her mother taught her was to wipe the tears before the blood dries,
Shredded knees heal, but shame never fades away,
Don’t climb trees or ride bikes,
That’s how little girls lose their virginity
She sat on a porcelain throne beads and bows holding plastic flowers to the arm rests
“are you alright?” I asked
“I shouldn’t cry” she said, fingers catching tired tears
“it’s fine to cry, you’ll be happy later”
“I shouldn’t cry”
“how long have you known him”
“I don’t”
She was 17 years old, just graduated high school
Her parents sent her to college because and educated girl can earn a bigger dowry
But this mister didn’t mind a country girl
He grew up with her father
Didn’t need an intellectual, just someone who could feed the kids while he raised them
She was a mail-order bride and her father licked the stamp
I cried
How many weddings have I been to?
She just got off the plane twelve hours ago,
Barely left the airport and they already started dressing her
No time to take measurements so they pinned satin to her skin,
Tucked her in to the time tested wire frame
Our ancestors welded
If you put a girl in a steel corset you’ll never have to hear her scream
And she was gorgeous
You could put anyone in her dress and it wouldn’t make a difference
We were guests of the groom and this was his wedding
No one knew her name
She only spoke Arabic
No one knew her name
She danced until the tears came
The middle aged used-to-be brides
Explained it away
“she remembered her mother” they said
“brides always cry when they remember their mothers”
She’d have her fifth child by thirty
My parents protected me, from all the broken men
And their flesh-eating fingers
Said one day I’d find someone who could cook as well as my dad
And who was almost as smart as my mom,
Who’d hold me so close that I could breathe in his memories
when my parents about the bride and all we could do was hold her hand
It killed me.
Tonight he’ll crush the henna blossoms on her wrists
With the same hands the man next door threw at his wife last Thursday
The same fists that taught a daughter to keep her mouth shut
He’ll flatten the ridges of her spine
And she’ll hold her tongue
Bite the screams as they come
Wipe the tears before the blood dries
No one ever talks to the bride


Originating from the war-town region of Darfur, Emi Mahmoud is currently a senior at Yale University. A Leonore Annenberg Scholar and Global Health Fellow, Emi studies Anthropology and Molecular Biology at Yale in the hopes of one day alleviating structural disparities on maternal and child health in disadvantaged communities the world over. Outside of academics, Emi is involved in the Yale Refugee Project, contributes to an international research initiative, and teaches spoken word poetry on campus and in various communities in order to equip youth with the power of voice. Having just returned from the National Poetry Slam, Emi will be competing at this year’s Individual World Poetry Slam in October. Dedicated to the growth and spirit of poetry, Emi has begun collaborating with various artists from Connecticut to her home in Philadelphia. Her aim is to use poetry and other mediums in order to explore the full extent of human expression.


Rachelle Linda Escamilla


Father took a hand saw to the rain
gutter, but doubted my garbage bin would

How do I explain that there is no     water?


The bin filled in five minutes and we bought three more
no fancy DIY spout nozzles, just hacked gutters, trash bins
and screen for the worms/leaves/debris


I’ve watched the fog, but it’s more than fog –

I’ve watched the ocean’s selfie, haha, an imprint of itself: imagine the Pacific
CRASHING against rock, the spray, the sonic boom of it all, now imagine that spray
collecting – grabbing on to each other and pulling the marine layer from just above our
heads and running, like bodies screaming for justice on the highway, for the mountains.

I’ve watched the fog crash over the Gabilan range, flooding the crevices of the chaparral,
giving the wiry blue oak a breather from the bleaching sun It looks like a tsunami he
said after he gasped at the sight from the west.


So the fog is water and it waters the grape vines
taste that smokey, cigar, leather jacket she said as she poured the Pinotyeah, that’s from last year’s fire.


it’s enough to make you sick with lust.



Rachelle Linda Escamilla is from San Benito County, California which is one mountain range in from the Monterey Bay. Her first book of poems, Imaginary Animal won the 2014 Willow Books Literature Prize in Poetry and has been nominated for a PEN Open Book Award. She is the co-founder of Mainland China’s first creative writing program, the founder of the Poets and Writers Coalition at San Jose State University, and the curator for the Epazote Reading Series. Contact Rachelle through her website: www.poetita.com.

Devi Lockwood photo

Rest Stop

We are all the year’s worries
tossed into the dark dustbin of the sea.

Swirling plastic returned, reared on its haunches.

Let’s live slow and die when we do.

Below the mess, kids are walking home from school.

Gash the screen door to let the bugs in––
let them pinch my skin.

I’ll coo investment tips in your ears.

Anchor me to the all of our lives
nestled in the hollow of this lake.

Unbuckle my seatbelt. Unfasten my tongue.

Devi K. Lockwood is a poet / touring cyclist / storyteller currently traveling the world by bicycle and by boat to collect 1001 stories from people she meets about water and/or climate change. You can keep up to date with her travels at www.onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com.


For Emmett


And if you are a boy, you might imagine the hairline that crawls backward without resistance.


The barber was a good barber. Give him a blade

and his grandfather emerges from the palm, like

a slave that was a good slave, raking the weeds

back until all you see is a shaven field of grass,

ready for eyes to bear witness to this marvelous

thing. The barber might’ve talked to Emmett

about his grandfather, the hands that grooms the

America black folk always attempt to believe in.

I’m sure Emmett would’ve cracked a joke, light-

ened the mood for the body to settle in and humor

toughens the skin, I am told. I know he could not

have bled even if the razor wished to carve more

than the patches of wool, resting on the head like a

dark field of grass after dusk.


And if you are a girl, the eyelash might attract your gaze; the beauty in its submissive tilt.


He was a beautiful boy, a lark in the jungle, calling

for a brother or two to share a flight with but wings

don’t work in these southern woods. Flight, like a

myth, are debated for the body. The sky don’t hold

what is too heavy for it and he ate much. Thick and

sturdy as a stump in the plains. The earth here be

coated in wood chippings. The Axe’s swing at what

grows and he stay tall and some forest-like beauty

brews within him like he’d live forever in his vanity.


And if you are a man, you may notice only the blood that lacquers the wounded skin.


We fight like lions, teeth misplaced in the knuckle.

Famished for the meat that crowns the plates. I heard

that Emmett’s snarl slips between the trees. The finger’s

claw clings to skin and he’s Bear-like. Plump and

swollen, gliding through the space with a bag of fish

in his mouth like a king on this side of America. Here,

the bullet flails and fails to miss what it wishes to split.

Boys eat well. Mothers feed wise. Ripe and ready, the

boy makes a good feast for what can swallow him.


And if you are a woman, you’d recall the nail collecting earth, like a shovel would for its grave.

And if you are a grave, you’d know how much you hunger for what does not know how it ends.


Nkosi Nkululeko, poet and musician, hailing from Harlem, NY, has performed his written works in venues such as Apollo Theater, Nuyorican Poets Café, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Oxford University and others. He has performed for National Writers Union, Lincoln Center and Urban Word NYC. He was on the 2014 Urban Word NYC Slam Team for BNV(Brave New Voices) and the 2015 Urbana-NYC Slam Team for NPS(National Poetry Slam). Nkosi is a 2015 nominee for the American Voices Award, a Callaloo Fellow and has been published in Junior Scholars’ Schomburg Review and forthcoming in No Token, The New Sound and is anthologized in great weather for MEDIA’s, “Before Passing,” their 2015 Anthology.

Amorak Huey


Your breasts at the surface of the roiling water. The smell of chlorine
and desire. We divide and assign the space between us.

Your specialty is keeping score, mine is pretending not to.
We are not supposed to stay in water this hot

more than 15 minutes. Plenty of time to pretend
we could not drown here or anywhere

in the middle of our own lives. Three walls away
our children dream of life without us,

your parents sleep with their television on. One of us
slides closer. One of us places a finger in the other’s mouth,

one of us stands, dripping, to reach for a towel.
The tub’s motor falls quiet. The air suddenly cold

against overheated skin. Absence swells to fill absence,
water closes in over the holes our bodies once filled.

Amorak Huey is author of the chapbook The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014) and the forthcoming poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015). A former newspaper editor and reporter, he teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems appear in The Best American Poetry 2012, Gargoyle, The Southern Review, Baltimore Review, Stirring, and many other print and online journals. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.

Sara Biggs Chaney

Letter from the Back Porch

Quiet things are passageways
to other quiet things.

One cracks, another grows.
Grass gives up to dust.

Somewhere, clocks advance
while other clocks reverse,

the hissing continuous,
a slow release.

I would never ask you
to come back

as I don’t contain ideas
like come back

or I,
or you.

In the space below, snouting
visitors, they come, they go.

Something scrapes and once–
the hollow beat of dancing.

Sara Biggs Chaney received her Ph.D. in English in 2008 and currently teaches first-year and upper-level writing in Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Her most recent chapbook, Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets, was released from dancing girl press in November, 2014. Sara’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in RHINO, Sugar House Review, Columbia Poetry Review, [PANK], Juked, Thrush Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. You can catch up with Sara at sarabiggschaney.com.

Alisa Golden

Better Than Television

Her ankles swole up
and she leaned on a
sprinkler key like a cane.
My husband and me
had separate beds, she said,
but the rug was
wore out between ‘em.

Will’s White Hen

He carried her under
his arm but when he
found her with her feet
up in the air he couldn’t
eat her. Of 150 lifetime
eggs she’d laid 108.

Alisa Golden writes, makes art, and teaches bookmaking with a side of letterpress printing at California College of the Arts in Oakland. She founded and edits
Star 82 Review, and her work has been published in several magazines including 100 Word Story, NANO Fiction, Nanoism, and DIAGRAM, among others. She is the author of Making Handmade Books and lives in the one-square-mile city of Albany, California. www.neverbook.com


A lifetime ago, I sat with some dear friends in their apartment discussing literature, music, and art as we drank wine. We gathered like this as often as we could. A small group of poets, novelists, painters, and musicians; we composed our own little salon. Elizabeth Bishop was the topic of conversation that night, and we grabbed her collected poems off the shelf. We passed it around for each person to take their turn reciting the poem “One Art” out loud. It was a marvelous time. Each brought their own voice, their own character to the poem and then uttered it forth. It was a night of joy connected through art but also a deepening insight into the subtlety of the poem itself. “One Art” is not easy to recite well. One has to be almost inspired to get it right. This is not a fault in the poem but a consequence of its precise insight and power, a result of its very success.

“One Art” was written in response to the suicide of Lota de Macedo Soares, Bishop’s longtime lover. Lota was visiting NY with Bishop, who came home one day to find Lota had taken an overdose of tranquilizers. She died several days later. The loss was devastating to Bishop. The depth of her love for Lota was profound and can be seen in Bishop’s letters. Although “One Art” does not identify the person it is about or even indicate the relationship of that person to the speaker, there is more than simply Bishop’s famed reticence in the absence of personal information. The absence is part of an overall effort to avoid the pain of loss. It is also part of why it’s not easy to recite the poem correctly. If one recites it as though every word were a mere statement of fact, it falls flat. If one recites it as though the art of losing really isn’t hard to master, then the most important part of the poem is itself lost. That’s because “One Art” is a kind of spell cast in the hope to dispel pain.

It’s fitting that this poem is made in the incantatory shape of a villanelle with its repetitions and rhymes. An incantation should be deeply lyrical and repetitive. Perhaps the music will distract the caster from the pain; perhaps the repetition will conjure belief and thus be successful. Its central hope is: if I say enough times that losing isn’t hard, maybe when I finally admit the real loss, it won’t hurt. But the overwhelming power of the poem, the source of its potency is that words are not strong enough to disperse such pain—the death of one’s most cherished person.

The speaker is shaken to the bottom of her being and does not believe a word of what she says. The pain in her refuses to be denied and rises against the utterance of the spell. To recite this poem aright, one must allow oneself to feel that pain, to feel at odds with every word you speak, desperately wanting to believe it but knowing it’s all fallacy and the pain of admitting that tenuous phrase, “even losing you,” is a shock to your foundations. It cannot and never will be easy. As you recount the ease of losing so many other things along the way: the watch, the keys, the house, rivers, a continent—each loss trying to be as big as the one you are terrified of admitting—as you recite all those other losses, the focus must be on “even losing you,” that must remain ever present in mind because every loss is about “losing you,” that one for whom all these loses are merely symbols and mean next to nothing, no matter how big they are. In addition to the failure of incantation, of words to dispel pain, this is another reason for the spell’s failure: “losing you” is not a symbol. It’s not an idea or a theme. A real living and loving person took their own life and each of the gestures and nuances of that life are gone. You can’t go out and have another made like a set of keys.

Perhaps I connect to this poem because I can picture certain people in my own past who died: my father, a coworker. I can see in my mind’s eye a particular gesture my father made: stroking his finger down his long nose and chuckling. Or I can hear that coworker’s way of articulating a particular joke he once told me—the way he arched his back and swayed his head as he uttered the punch line “Oh, baby, baby,” drawing out the a’s as though they were small hills his voice traveled over. It was unique. I can hear it and see it in my head, but I can’t imitate it to anyone because it’s not who I am. That loss is permanent. “One Art,” is an attempt to counteract the pain of the irreversible loss of that uniqueness. Of course, the attempt is doomed to failure. The same failure torments the speaker of “Ode to a Nightingale,” where the speaker wants to “cease upon the midnight with not pain.” But for him too, “the fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to do.” Both poems are an effort at self-deception.

Even including Jonathan Swift’s celebrated essay, A Modest Proposal, I don’t think there is a work in literature that is a better example of irony than Bishop’s poem “One Art.” Swift’s essay is more accessible because its central emotion is outrage. None of us are afraid to feel outrage. In fact, we sometimes indulge in outrage because it makes us feel smart or better than others. We like reading A Modest Proposal for these emotional reasons as much as the literary ones. I don’t mean to slight the accomplishment of A Modest Proposal. It’s a magnificent work. But “One Art” is more complicated because it requires that we access our own vulnerability to the incredible pain of loss, a pain that is inevitable for all of us. Everyone we love is going to die. To allow ourselves to face that fact is what this poem requires. It is terribly hard. It’s easier to admire the poem’s craft and travel its surface. It’s easier to pretend it’s a stale poem because it’s written in a fixed form, that it’s boring or outdated because it rhymes or has an almost singsong music. But these are excuses or failures of our ability to face what it embraces: that “even losing you” is an art that can never be mastered. Though so simple a word as “even” in the phrase “even losing you,” is weighted with the effort to add “you” to the catalogue of easily lost things, it fails. We are forever inept before the pain of losing those we love. That pain is felt profoundly because the form of the poem endeavors to create the illusion of control. It is why that parenthetical “(Write it!)” is so tormented and desperate, a kind of emotional paradox in the conflict between the power asserted by writing and the underlying emotional impotence.

In that other lifetime, reciting “One Art,” I was probably insulated from the full blow of the pain because I was surrounded by my friends. Then, I was also younger: my father was still alive; that coworker was still alive. I had experienced death, to be sure. But every death makes all the others resonate and makes a poem like this ring, gradually over a lifetime turning a single instrument into an orchestra. Emerging from my own recital of it that night, I was immediately in the presence of my friends and our discussion of the poem’s perfections. Of course, the emotional power simmered under the words and we could all feel it and talk about it. It was like a rip current just near enough to feel its drag but not pull us out, a power that could sweep us instantly out to sea if we let ourselves be taken by it. And that is what the poem needs to be fully understood and realized. The force of it requires we allow ourselves to be that vulnerable, that open to the inevitable death of those we love. Feeling this fearful reality is part of what the poem means. Without it, it is only half a poem, and we only half comprehend it. To read it aright is to be absolutely exposed to the worst pain we are likely ever to feel.



Lee Ann Roripaugh


tsunami as misguided kwannon

her hypervigilance such that

everything becomes a piercing

a harrowing she can’t turn off


her superpower a wound

a lightning rod / and sponge / speaking

the language of wounds to wounds


like echolocation that dopplers

the contours of another’s sorrow

against her own ricocheted song


or touch subtle as the naked push broom

of a star-nosed mole’s tentacles

nuzzling the bruised flesh of worms


or a nose for muscling out fresh blood

old ghosts / the sweet fat of lost dreams

like a winter-lean bear come spring

or feathery antennae’s raw quiver

pinched to ash by the hot sparks

of disconsolate pheromones


her nervous system a glitter

of neurotransmitters on fire


an electric-chaired switchboard

short circuited / fuse blown


she’s the exposed nerve:


exuviated snake / hulled bean

husked cicada / chaffed seed

peeled grape / shucked clam

she’s the conduit / aperture / cracked

mirror to all that’s scintillant and broken


until her compassion mushroom clouds

and swells like a fever / a red infection

a rising tide of salt tears

for the world’s fractured core


how could she possibly stop herself

from sweeping it all into her broken cradle

to soothe and rock and weep over ?


(her fingers itchy to pilfer and spare

what’s plush and tender

like the rabbit stolen by the moon)


how could she possibly stop herself

from the mercy of washing it all clean

in her terrible estuary of lamentations ?

First appeared in Sugar House Review.

Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which, Dandarians, was released by Milkweed Editions in September 2014. Her second volume, Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press), was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and her first book, Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin Books), was a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. The recipient of a 2003 Archibald Bush Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship, she was also named the 2004 winner of the Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, the 2001 winner of the Frederick Manfred Award for Best Creative Writing awarded by the Western Literature Association, and the 1995 winner of the Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize.


Her short stories have been shortlisted as stories of note in the Pushcart Prize anthologies, and two of her essays have been shortlisted as essays of note for the Best American Essays anthology. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Roripaugh is currently a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review. She is also a faculty mentor for the University of Nebraska low-residency M.F.A. in Writing, and served as a 2012 Kundiman faculty mentor alongside Li-Young Lee and Srikanth Reddy.