[A]s was usual with him, he began with the least important thing and worked around and in toward the center where the meaning was.
—Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
First come mastication, micturition, and defecation, the Latinate cleansing of the everyday. And work. And the children. (I’m being honest here.) There’s the loading up and desultory wiping down. Then hypochondria and catastrophizing. The mindless scrolling through ephemera, the clicking, the emoticons. And only once these rites have been enacted is there the center where the meaning is. The portal to otherness, the far off, the dimension in which time stops. The turning over of glass after glass to read the sediment at the bottom. The laying out of cards. Haruspicy. The reaching out of the hand to pull back the curtain on the Holy of Holies. Some days God stands there, naked, some days he doesn’t show his face—either way, the niceties must be obeyed, the working the way in toward the center, deferential but hungry, nostrils flared for the faintest scent.
Copyright © 2017 Devon Balwit. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
When I see them as an end-in-themselves,
I have seven mothers
and I perceive the languages they speak
as untranslatable and liquid
as the rings of a planet burning seven ways
to the same point.
When I see him as an end-in-himself,
the man on the corner
is my father, and the dollar he takes
was his already, his fingers tucked it beneath
the pillow of my crib one night to satisfy
the gods who made me wail.
And still they took his sight.
When I see it as an end-in-itself,
the bluebird that dies,
The boy who searches for it in the blue leaves
is a wound in the magnificent flesh of time.
I would pay any god
to let me take his place.
Copyright © 2017 Christopher Brunt. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
You remind me of the Underground Railroad. I’ve learned to watch
for the kerosene lamp aglare in your distance. Past the fuel and wick
at the far end of your forest, there’s a mud basement, a soot-slick coal
cellar with my sleeping body’s name on it. I could lie still forever in
that part of you. But then I’d never make it North.
* * *
I am made of what I am afraid to remember. Come tell me more
about what I was—about the brothers, mind-ancient now, fleeing
Mississippi with spilled moon ready in their eyes. Go back and tell me
about that one before that one that sold a mother. Wait. Then give
me more about the buzz of war, of San Diego shipyards, of
handsome sailors you couldn’t trust. Make vivid the night with me
before me in it. Tell me what was lost on the way to Detroit. Tell me
what was lost leaving Detroit. Tell me why I’m afraid for and of
Detroit. Tell me Desire can’t mean what it meant anymore. And I
can’t mean what I meant anymore. Am I lovesick with amnesia or
I sit twelve people down the church pew from you, trying to catch
the rhythm in your blinking. I seek more than your face. It hurts
to see the way sound makes a tunnel. Its root-veined walls there then
gone. You and I compose another kind.
* * *
Witness my long line of lovestruck liars: those who can’t take the sky,
deceivers of their own eyes, change lovers, receivers of forgetfulness,
ecstatic touchmongers, merciless collagists, the spiritually jackknifed,
ever-children and the like. I am each of them and heavy hands red on
cold glass holding why-still-blue water, in dull music, surrounded by
bloom, fear-lit and forever-fraught. This is a truth; not-quite-closed
eyes scrambling over nakedness elusive as hope. But barely hope.
Lovestruck, lying, I wonder about everything I’ll find in this body—
and this body. I wonder what it knows. I wonder about yours.
I am wrapped in a shawl of patchwork wants. Of languages displaced
in veins. Of sheet rock cut open with explosives to force through
byways and sow man-high seas of crops, to make space for
interstates, for cold emergencies and tanks, and touch.
* * *
I am stitched together with the risk inside Desire. Call risk a bridge.
Call one palm full of why-still-blue water—oh, how my mind is just
my mind crossing. Not the limb of a ghost stuck in the hinge of a
door. Not the fight lost inherent in a child. Who was it that dipped an
index finger into my mouth, fished that penny from my tongue,
saved me from some dumb Desire? Who was it? Who watched as I
stood there too in line, too silent, trying to fall behind, an almost
question in my near-new eyes?
Copyright © 2017 Aaron Coleman. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
after Baltasar Gracián
To let your sorrows wear you
like a hair shirt shake
off each foulard around your
neck unwind and fling
as from a moving car.
Be no Isadora strangled by her
flare. Be bare-necked and do not
forget to forget.
Though every silver lining has
a cloud live within the glint of white
fire the swing set in the sunset
the dimple in each smile embraces
by the silver lake ocean
hush of oh so much
Copyright © 2017 Sharon Dolin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
In my dreams I’m always hovering
before the evening primroses,
their centers of ruby gold and bent
stalks whispering praise to me.
It’s always prelude playing here:
bee edicts echoing down days
stung to silence under gauzy clouds,
slivered moons, and in steam
rising from pollen. My portly
body taxis in repose. I fall
in love. Each night I deeper fall,
my buzzing swarm swaddled
alike in dreams. We are fuzzy
monks deep in contemplation
on mountains of mere wind.
Our feet frizzle in prayer. Nectar
rolls in our mouths like honey
withheld. I am orotund rapture:
that is me to thee, dancing on nothing
substantial, swaying in my stripes on thick air.
Copyright © 2017 Charlene Fix. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
I am from wind, from fire, from the star’s red question and the oyster’s lament on his bed of ice, from the cinnamon tree’s argument with the cloud and the sand that fills the cracks between the floor tiles once the storm has passed. Do you want facts, names, dates? I am fifty-two years old and the father of four, I live in Shiraz and make brooms. There, you can go now, take these apples of fact and hurry to your next appointment in the City of Knowledge, may Allah’s blessing be upon you. I respect answers but know them for the shut doors they are, mules of thought, dead shells telling nothing of the whole sea. But if you were to ask past doorways and corridors to a room of sky-tiles and cinnabar I would say I am from sea-bottom pearl and the rosebush with its roots in the world before, I am from gloves stuffed with fire, from eternity’s marriage to the instant and the fig tree’s ragged hold on the nourishment of the underground stream. Once I lived as others, you see, with blindness my bread and denial the house in which I wandered sleeping, the verb of my breath conjugated into Monday, then Tuesday, then a week later into Monday again. Each day a rag dyed and wrung clean and then dyed once more. But when the green god of changes came to me with his honey-loud light and his wine he spoke not in words but in dreams that circled ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼like sparrows around a tower of ice, phrases of black rock, scarves of water, a mosaic of turquoise and alabaster that shifted as I breathed. When I awoke I was a handful of wind snarled around the shard of a broken bottle, I knew the sorrow in the heron’s eye and the dancing began of which you have heard so much. So now I swim in the ocean in which other men drown. You ask me what ocean and I look out at white houses and air rinsed with sunlight, at boxes full of lemons, a motorbike, the delivery boy texting his girlfriend and I say that ocean. May I be given to barbed wire and the ruins of the café shrieking with blood, to the vowels whispered by the AK-47 when it is empty, to the tourniquet tied around the river and the burned wreckage of the Humvee bludgeoned by the light of the noonday sun. May I be abandoned to ice and gasoline, to jasmine flowers and chicken bones and the white laughter of children, surrendered to the rain and the stammer of a cloud-fathered voice rattling the branches of the sumac tree secure in its nest of silence. In the middle of the bombed marketplace a mustard seed and inside that mustard seed a prayer. All the pages of the heart’s book torn out and given to the wind. You say they are lost. But I tell you that is the only way they could have been saved.
Copyright © 2017 Jay Leeming. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
Toeing the metal marker drilled in granite, naked granite
over glacial valley, granite scarred by glacial retreat, know
such summits likely formed by fire, farmers riled up by wolves
that pilfered meat and wool, torches brandished, the plan
to smoke the poachers out, kill however many survived. The fires
burned for nights, incinerated even soil, scorched the rock
sterile. Now picture the storms: rain and snow would river down
the slope, erode the lower meadows, the famished sheep sold off
cheap, barns collapsing, clapboard houses collapsing
into their cellars, simplemarked graves and cellar holes
all that remain in the valley, haven a wolf might make
its home if any wolves remained to haunt this hunted land.
Copyright © 2017 Brian Simoneau. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.
For my daughter
When the tigers come, you might drive and drive, inhaling hits of smoke from the mouths of homeless men, pulling long muumuus from garbage cans, rolling your own cigarettes from tobacco tins. When the tigers come, you might crush all your Simon & Garfunkel albums and stop taking showers. You might throw away your fun girl who used to sing at dinner. When the tigers come, you might believe they stretch their long tiger-bodies across every patio over hang. You might look for them over your shoulder. You might hold your breath as you try to pass. When the tigers come, you might run naked, believing that if you’ve rid yourself of every last rem nant, they’ll have nothing to take from you anymore. Once the tigers have come, everything will begin to look like tiger: the class room, your dope, the small way you believe you can go to Reed College, your love of whales—the total. I want to tell you that when the tigers come, meet tiger with tiger. I want you to learn the tiger-growl, the tiger-smell. I want to teach you to stalk like a tiger. I want to make a tiger mask for the back of your head so the tigers won’t attack from behind. I want to tell you that the tigers will be come gentle. But the tigers aren’t gentle. You can only open your tiny broken life. You can crack open the back door when the rain starts. You can come down into the wild fennel, into this long stretch of time—these days like little pieces, the smell of sage, the way wind moves through anyone’s hair. When the tigers come, you can only meet them as you meet every single morning. You start so early. You look like tiger looks, eyes fixed on each moment— you’ve always called me back here, to the sound of your own singing, your hand pulling me into the yard, back from all the ways I teach you to run from tiger, but tiger is right here, all along, with tiger-breath, tiger-whiskers, and up close the sound is not a growl, the sound is all animal and the tiger can sense us, and you’re ready, I can see that now, you always have been.
Copyright © 2017 Kim Young. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.