A woman grips her ticket; gate fourteen;
lines lumbering to board; holiday crowd
dressed for the islands, and a few who lean
idly before bright souvenirs and loud
paperbacks dressed for teasing. She is all
in black—tights,sweater, boots—as if to claim
new widowhood; but no, the only pall
she has borne lately is her father’s name,
recently traded for another. There
they stand, waving, father, mother, groom,
herself, divided by the glass, each pair
smiling, moving away. She wonders whom
she is least wary of. And now they’re next.
She tries to understand why she is vexed.
A woman with a suitcase boards a bus.
She has shrugged off her life like a worn dress,
stepped clear of it, packed nothing to discuss
or mourn for; to be glad of, even less.
Solicitations, greetings, pile unread
below the slot; the wedding gift, unsent,
and those back issues scattered on the bed
(unmade, for once) must wonder where she went.
Another mile or two and daylight fails
where the bus sighs and lunges, and she sees—
just barely—endless stubble fields and rails.
There in the suitcase tucked between her knees
(still tagged with names she will not wear again)
nothing but a blank notebook and a pen.
III. Road Map
A woman spreads a road map on the seat,
fevered with purpose, bruised by what he said,
by what she shouted back. The mapled street
unspools behind her. Oh, the weeping bed
she stole downstairs from before dawn, that last
hard angry love made there, those silent fronts
of neighbors’ porches watching her, aghast:
her daring, her departure! And at once—
hands trembling on the wheel, stricken, sweat cold
with fear of what she craves—foresees return,
rehearses how the road loops round to fold
back into what will have her, learns to learn
her name again, her place in these designs,
snug in her grief as in these fourteen lines.
From Her Place in These Designs (Truman State University
Press, 2008) Reprinted by permission of the author.
Dominican-born Rhina P. Espaillat writes poems, short stories and essays in English and her native Spanish, translates from and into both languages, and has earned numerous awards both for her original work and for her translations. Her most recent book is Agua de dos ríos, a bilingual collection of poems and essays, and her fifteenth, a poetry collection in English titled And After All, is due for publication by Able Muse Press this winter. She is a founding and active member of the Powow River Poets, at: http://www.powowriverpoets.com
But he draws back my clothes, covers me
in a palette of skirts and there is a blouse here;
I am less touched. Finally, a goodness.
He paints a field around me. My legs curl
under; I am happy here. Great
baskets at my side fill with: this
is a passionflower; this is a black-eyed
susan; this is a tired iris; this is a bloom of
cotton bright as that sun and that
moon. Happy here?
My lips feather in grotesque smile.
This land. This abyss.
When he is unhappy with
so many things, he stabs the forests
behind me and these bolls in front.
They do not turn away; they turn brighter.
“Artist’s Delight” from The Vital System (Tupelo Press, 2012).Reprinted by permission of the author.
CM Burroughs is the author of The Vital System (Tupelo Press,2012). A recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and Cave Canem Foundation, she is an assistant professor of poetry at Columbia College Chicago. Her second collection of poems, Master Suffering, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press.
The alcove of your arm
has become my favorite room
for sleep, but I’ve been roused
by nightmares lately. Even thunderstorms
couldn’t wake you, my mother says
over the phone. I want to tell her
I’ve been seeing a white man, an American
man, but I can already imagine her:
Well, you can have friends. She had never meant
for me to become a Westerner—
she’s afraid of losing me to a foreigner, being unable to speak
to her future grandchildren. Thousands of miles away
in Korea she asks if anything is wrong. I want to laugh.
Say to you, Isn’t she ridiculous? But
last night a Korean man broke into your room
and raped me, with you calm in your repose
next to me. He sat on my stomach with a knife,
the only gleaming thing. And you were still
in your platinum skin when I opened my eyes. How
can anything be wrong, I comfort my mother.
First appeared in Poetry (November 2017). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, 2018) and Ordinary Misfortunes, the 2017 winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize by Tupelo Press. Yoon was born in Busan, Republic of Korea and received her BA at the University of Pennsylvania and MFA in Creative Writing at New York University. She has been the recipient of awards and fellowships from Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition, and the Poetry Foundation, among others. Her poems and translations have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, POETRY, The New York Times Magazine, and Korean Literature Now. She currently serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and is a PhD student studying Korean literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
Begin again among the poorest, moments off, in another time and place.
Belongings gathered in the last hour, visible invisible:
Tin spoon, teacup, tremble of tray, carpet hanging from sorrow’s balcony.
Say goodbye to everything. With a wave of your hand, gesture to all you
Begin with bread torn from bread, beans given to the hungriest, a carcass
Take the polished stillness from a locked church, prayer notes left
Answer them and hoist in your net voices from the troubled hours.
Sleep only when the least among them sleeps, and then only until the
Make the flatbed truck your time and place. Make the least daily wage
Language will rise then like language from the mouth of a still river. No
Bring night to your imaginings. Bring the darkest passage of your holy
“Prayer” from Blue Hour by Carolyn Forché, © 2004. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
It begins with a word as small as the cry of Athena’s owl.
An ache in the cage of breath, as when we say can hardly breathe.
In sleep we see our name on a stone, for instance.
Or while walking in the rain among graves we feel watched.
Others are still coming into our lives. They come they go out.
Some speak quietly beside us on the bench near where koi swim.
At night there is a light sound of wings brushing the walls.
Not now is what it sounds like. Or two other words.
But they are the same passerines as live in the stone eaves,
as forage in the air toward night. To see them one must not be looking.
“Harmolypi” appeared in World Literature Today (Jan. 2017) and is forthcoming in In the Lateness of the World (Penguin, March 2020). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Carolyn Forché’s first volume, Gathering the Tribes, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, was followed by The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour. She is also the author of the memoir What You Have Heard Is True (Penguin Random House, 2019), a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman’s brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. She has translated Mahmoud Darwish, Claribel Alegria, and Robert Desnos. Her famed international anthology, Against Forgetting, has been praised by Nelson Mandela as “itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice,” and is followed by the 2014 anthology The Poetry of Witness. In 1998 in Stockholm, she received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award for her human rights advocacy and the preservation of memory and culture. She is a Professor at Georgetown University.
Relapses are most frequent in autumn in those whose veins are most full.
–American Journal of Insanity, Vol. XIX, No. 1, July 1862
You wind skeins of red wool.
The floor strewn with rolling balls of yarn.
You pick one up put it down
brew a cup of tea.
Fortified you cast on
Fall comes. Undone.
You bind yourself tight
in the red sweater coat wind
the too-long belt
around your middle again
& again trek
oblivious of the hour.
Each day unravels
mind in motion.
Wool stitches do not conceal
the bulge of your veins.
Cynthia Bargar’s poems have appeared in LUMINA Online, Gargoyle, Driftwood Press, Apeiron Review, Sonic Boom, The Centrifugal Eye, and are forthcoming in Stoneboat Literary Journal and Loch Raven Review. She is the Managing Editor of Pangyrus Lit Mag (www.pangyrus.com) and lives in Provincetown and Boston, Massachusetts.
I thought I was done talking about the copperhead,
the arrow of its head that points as if to say,
“I choose you despite your anemic eyes
and attic sleeping place, chilled when the snow comes
as it comes every dark-lidded January.
You are no kind of heroine because you watch
the burned girl in class without ever speaking
two words to her.” Every part of that snake gleams
kettle-colored, hear the hiss that says, “I’m ready for you.”
And you deserve the punctures, the sweet choke, the too-far-for-help
because you shouldn’t have been there in that field,
too big to ever belong to a rag of a thing like you.
First appeared in Vinyl (Volume 6, July 2012). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Erica Wright is the author of the poetry collections All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned (Black Lawrence Press) and Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press). She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine as well as a former editorial board member of Alice James Books. Her latest novel is The Blue Kingfisher (Polis).
The disabled girl takes one step forward, falls back.
Shrapnel forms in utero; limbs already invaded. Mother
says special. Mother says fight. Words as artillery.
Crutches like/as armor. But similes do not save
what’s under siege. Disabled girl knows fashion
isn’t distraction enough. Stare as you two-step forward,
fall back. Bullet, then dress your own flesh wounds.
Disabled girl says cleavage will not keep
your enemy closer; make them think
you are a woman, capable of leadership.
Or dancing. Disabled girl takes one step forward.
Falls back onto prescriptions that do not advance.
Does not win, but hunts an army of hemorrhages
she cannot see. Synapses fire at the dead matter of her
cells as casualty. The premature body like/as collateral damage.
My mother says remember what does not kill us, makes us.
First appeared in Whale Road Review (Issue 12, Fall 2018). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington, DC. She is a two-time recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and a former Jenny McKean Moore Fellow. She is also a non-fiction editor for the Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She has been published in many journals and anthologies and was featured on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Natalie has an MFA from American University and occasionally teaches writing and performance workshops to whomever wants them. She loves Tori Amos, whiskey and giraffes.