I was an observer: my own student
and my best teacher
in the forest working the lyrics together.
There were bees in his beard,
in a good way.

She cupped his chin: this
was platonic and also the source
of some honey. He fed her
two lines he had kept inside his soul
for years. I woke to write them and could

only remember alone.
He left and she
grabbed a banjo from a tree—
completed the song and bettered
it, besides. Something like “The Passionate Shepherd”

but blue, which the Impressionists
knew to put a touch of in every shadow.
Cut to: the sprung-open backs of a dozen watches.
Time was
busted; still

I didn’t fix the hands of clocks I could have moved.
The bells and cuckoo birds,
the dancing German ladies
with their aprons and their steins
shilly-shallied willy-nilly

throughout the day. And anyway,
I’ve learned naught if I haven’t learned not
to tell anyone when he or she
has appeared in a dream—
he or she never takes it the right way.

It does all sound unseemly, I admit—especially the horse, which I’ll get to.

Though I do want to ask—I guess
it’s less of a question, more of a comment—
if the song or the honey skips
a generation, the same as twins
or a quick temper?

Before the dream I was thinking of the horse
who bit the cowboy so you could see straight
through to his skull.
The horse that won’t be broken isn’t a romantic
story—it’s a shame and ends

with the horse hurting
a human then being put down.
Damned if I don’t worry that the horse is a mirror,
like the trainer says. Damned if I’m too afraid to push myself
out even so far as my own dream.

I only have two tools:
attention and inattention.

The rest—
just for show.

But credit where it’s due:
that banjo in the tree was a nice touch, subconscious,
a real lucky break.

Copyright © 2017 Lindsey D. Alexander. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

When she plays the piano and I’m half listening
as I read in the newspaper the terrible history
of some person doing something,
I’ll look over at her, and she’s
turning a sheet, reading,
each finger effortlessly finding the next key,
and then moving on to the next, finding
her proper place, which is part memory,
part paying attention to a thing.
When she plays the piano,
I like to think she’s somehow included me,
but it’s the missed note that brings
her back to Earth, a wrong key
when she plays.

Copyright © 2017 Stephen Gibson. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

No one knows when my wife plays the piano
that it’s the upright I stole from my boss,
the torn, yellowed leather side panels
(now totally resurfaced)
that once looked like hell,
or the hammers that had to be replaced,
and the broken loud/soft foot pedal;
it was a time my wife and I were at a loss
to save our marriage, and the shallow
affairs no one knows
about almost ended it once and for all—
so we decided to pull up stakes and go.
I never returned the piano—he knows.
No one else knows.

Copyright © 2017 Stephen Gibson. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

The fire beetle only mates
when the chaparral is burning,

and the water beetle
will only mate in the rain.

In the monastery’s kitchen, the nuns
don’t believe me when I tell them how old I am,
that you were married before.

The woman you find attractive
does not believe me when I look at her kindly. 

There are candescent people in the world.
It will only be love
that I love you with.
When we get home,
there will be our kitchen, the dishes undone.
There will be our bedroom.
What is it you eventually recognized
in my face that allowed you to believe me?
Beauty that did not come from you—
remember how it did not come from you?
As white sage does not come from the moon
but is found by it and lit.
The Buddhists say
that the front of the paper
cannot exist without the back.
Because there is a there,
there is a here. Chaparral,
the density of growth,
and the tattered chaps
the mappers wore
through it because they had to,
to keep walking without
being hurt. It is OK if we hurt
one another.
Chaparral needs fire.
(The pinecones would not open
otherwise.) Love needs lover,
whose last lover was flood.

Copyright © 2017 Leah Naomi Green. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

 to Tony Earley

Strange how I remember standing on a limb
that curved out over open space that fell
away down slopes I’d never climb back out of
had I fallen. And once, when I was six,
I almost left my mother’s car—outside a bar—
because I knew the nearby bottomlands
would reach the river, and I could disappear
from her and find another family—just
show up at some stranger’s door, be taken
in, and live a different life. That’s how
I thought back then—a determined little cuss,
I’m told, who hid my fossils in the snaky
roots of trees and sometimes climbed up
high inside a thick magnolia, where I
refused to answer when my name was
called. I think about the times I might have
died, my infant brother sliding from the seat
to slam against the floorboard, the car
stuck sideways down a ditch embankment,
the icy nights near swollen creeks and rivers,
the woods a child could lose his life in
trying to escape. I guess that’s why I
listen toward the farthest trees as if a prayer
were stirring only I can hear. Perhaps its
single word is mend, a word that all my
other words have felt a kinship with.
Evenings when I sit out back, I think my
thoughts have always been inclining toward
a self whose soul has found a place to be
alone, away from others I don’t trust,
content to watch the falling leaves. Dull
image—perhaps cliché—but I’ll take it
nonetheless. The truth is: here we are
inside these lives we sometimes do not
recognize, these lives we don’t deserve.
So many selves we almost came to be
never came to be. So many words too true
to whisper to ourselves we go on listening
toward. So many bridges never crossed,
others stepped back from. So much I’ll
never understand about the reasons
I survived when others didn’t. Years
ago I found a book, like a gift, fallen
between two shelves. Inside, someone
had penciled, Language isn’t sad but
meaning is. I’ve held those words as
close as any I have known, having felt
a pull toward nothingness, toward lack
of anyone or anything that might repair
my ruined thoughts, and just as often
I have stood in shallow creeks, waiting
on my world to end, assured I have no
place, no name, no face, no words to say
the source of what I’m always reaching
toward. I have followed driftwood,
imagined my own dead self assigned
to stir above the silt. I’ve watched
the motions course along through shadows,
soon to reach a bend and carry on unseen.
Still, I have a faith that what is next is what
the story most requires so that the shape
of time allotted, ordained to be, can then
reveal itself. Bend, mend—the echo isn’t
lost on me—and giving in to where I’m
being taken has been the way I’ve come
to know my life, to speak its mysteries.
My guess is such an explanation overlooks
as much as it imagines. I’m sure I’ve
simplified the coarser parts, smoothed
them over as a stream refines a stone
through centuries. I’ve left out what is
obvious to anyone who knows or cares
to know the fullness of my life. Even so,
once I hid beneath a car, half an hour,
refusing to be left somewhere I didn’t
want to be—knowing days would pass,
my mother drunk. I was caged and fierce
despite the gravel shards that scraped
my arms and face when finally she caught
my leg and jerked my body out. So many
times another story line became the thing
that almost did me in. My papaw
snatched me from a pigpen where I
tumbled in one morning while he milked
the cows. So many times I’ve wondered
what the reasons are for why my life
was spared. Curses were all around me—
guns, dynamite, darkening fields, coyotes,
waterfalls, snake dens, hard-driven men.
I stood on snowy hillsides and almost
turned to follow logging roads wherever
they might lead. I guess I’m saying that
I came to where I am by way of almost
going somewhere else. I hope you’ll see
how I have tried to find a word to hold
between our broken souls, a word no voice
has ever found that sounds like wind that
bends and mends the sage grass in its wake,
perhaps the Holy Spirit’s whispering
revealing countless mercies granted all
the times I didn’t see its presence leading
me to where I am, to who I am, this self
I never thought I’d be, who found a language
meaning can rejoice in—a kingdom I’m still
                  the only home I call my own.

Copyright © 2017 Jeff Hardin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

After last night’s rain the woods
smell sensual—a mixture of leaves and musk.
The morels have disappeared, and soon I’ll come across
those yellow chanterelles, the kind they sell
in town at the farmers’ market. Once I saw
the Swedish woman who raises her own food
foraging for them, two blond boys
quarreling near the pickup, and the next morning
they were selling them from their stand beside the road.

Out here, among last year’s dead
leaves with the new shoots of spruces
poking through them, I’ve come to the place where light
brightens a glade of ferns and the log someone else
placed here—carved “B.W.”—where I sometimes sit
to listen to the birds. Today the sun is breaking through
the wet branches, revealing a clean sky,
brilliant, cerulean. Then, suddenly, a raft of scudding clouds

promising more rain. If it comes, I’ll read all afternoon—
Henry James, or maybe Eudora Welty’s
Delta Wedding, where so many characters
vie for attention I can never keep them straight.
Here, there’s no one else, no one to worry over
or argue with or love. Maybe the earth was meant
only for this: small comings and goings
on the forest floor, the understory astir
with its own secret life. If I sit still enough
among the damp trees, sometimes I see the world
without myself in it, and—it always surprises me—
nothing at all is lost.

Copyright © 2017 Patricia Hooper. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

How different things must have looked
to my mother than they did to me.
There I am in the black-and-white photo
the summer the baby died.
I’m seven, trying out my pogo stick
with the two new girls next door.
We’re laughing, and I’m shouting something
to my brother, who wants his turn.
And there’s Dad, standing near the station wagon,
staring at the grass.
She must have stood far back, under the pear tree,
focusing, trying to fit us in.

Copyright © 2017 Patricia Hooper. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Under the green domes of maples
light spangles the abundant slabs of moss.
Grass won’t grow here, but something else has taken
over. When I went into the drugstore yesterday
the clerk who moved away had been replaced

by a girl who looked so much like her
I thought for a moment she’d come back to town
with her hair cut. And in the second grade,
when Bobby Markley died, a new boy from Ohio
promptly sat beside me at his desk.

Out here, in the city park,
people are almost always interchangeable,
though the summer I’ll hate to lose
supplants itself with a wan and amber sun
that isn’t quite the same, reminding me

of larger griefs not easily consoled.
“Life is the saddest thing there is,
next to death,” Edith Wharton wrote,
she who walked so often in the park
listening to the old, remembered voices.

She must have sat under trees not unlike this one,
heavy with sorrows she couldn’t speak aloud.
She mourned her friends, and one friend like no other,
while the late sunlight passed across the grasses,
and now she too is gone.

Copyright © 2017 Patricia Hooper. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Now light turns the room a deep orange at dusk and you

think you are floating, but in truth you are falling, and the fall

is so slow, yet precise, like climbing a ladder of straw. Now

leaning forward, you open your hands that keep opening. Is

this what Yes feels like? Making a shore where no water was?

Copyright © 2017 Mark Irwin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Its perpendicular
tilted, falling forward,
this oblique stroke
between lines of verse
or fractions’ numbers
or month/day/year
separates & connects
parts of some whole:
its diagonal can also
offer us alternatives
like his/her, and/or,
a skinny twig partway
between limb & ground,
like me not quite vertical
or horizontal, a slash
leaning into stiff wind.

Copyright © 2017 Michael McFee. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

     after the painting by Stanley Spencer 

Even washing is a task, in war and daily
life. The warm and pour, the fresh linen,
the hourglass of soap in its melt telling
us how our tired flesh gleams to fiction
renewal. Time is at war. We are meant to lose
that we may grasp what we know: the waste
of passioned effort. The soldier nearest to us
dunks his face in the bowl, a murky foretaste
of baptismal death. This halo we discover
from which he’ll surely rise, suspender cords
rhyming the sink. Next to him another
wrings the towel and turns his head toward
Bellona. Not incongruous. The patroness,
too, of the trench of days and the hearth’s duress.

Copyright © 2017 Ricardo Pau-Llosa. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Out late, Robert and Steven are at it again, arguing
on the front steps, which means it’s Wednesday, and my landlords
are back from Toby’s, their favorite East Rutherford bar—

two short, round, middle-aged men with matching moustaches,
their voices raised over God-knows-what dispute,
which always includes an exasperated Steven

shouting, “Come on, you know I’m right,” while Robert
mimics his partner in a singsong voice he’s most likely used
since grade school, until Steven says, “Shut up, please,”

followed by, “Shut up shut up shut up,” as if saying it
three times quickly is Steven’s sure way to open their door.
But the next morning, on my walk to the train, I would greet them

as they returned from a postbreakfast stroll—looking rested,
younger somehow, as if all the yelling I heard
had been someone else. There was even an offer of Sunday dinner,

followed, the next time I saw them, by Robert’s
happy description of a home-cooked meal. It was my first
real visit upstairs, and they were on their best behavior.

Steven stayed busy with cooking—and smells that recalled,
very pleasantly, my mother’s London broil—while Robert
kept me company with La clemenza di Tito on the stereo;

I took a timid sip of wine and let Robert do the talking.
“So you’re a typist?” he asked. “Typesetter,” Steven
called out helpfully from the kitchen, before I could answer.

Robert smiled, as if our chef had reminded him
that the boy tenant from below, besides being shy
was also a bit dull. But finally we sat down to eat,

and it was an excellent meal (my mother again),
and afterward, their high school yearbook came off the shelf.
We ended up on the sofa, with me between them

as we finished our coffee, and Robert, who took charge
of the book, offered the best comments, adding
his own captions. Then he began to flip pages in earnest,

as if the one he was looking for kept backing away.
The opera was over, and I couldn’t say
when that had happened, but I knew we’d come to the place

where I was supposed to pay attention, Steven too:
the gray photos skipping past
were black-and-white again, and Robert’s voice had changed.

Copyright © 2017 David Petruzelli. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

This morning this planet is covered by winds and blue.
This morning this planet glows with dustless perfect light,
enough that I can see one million sharp leaves
from where I stand. I walk on this planet, its hard-packed
dirt and prickling grass, and I don’t fall off. I come down
soft if I choose, hard if I choose. I never float away.
Sometimes I want to be weightless on this planet, and so
I wade into a brown river or dive through a wave
and for a while feel nothing under my feet. Sometimes
I want to hear what it was like before the air, and so I duck
under the water and listen to the muted hums. I’m ashamed
to say that most days I forget this planet. That most days
I think about dentist appointments and plagiarists
and the various ways I can try to protect my body from itself.
Last weekend I saw Jupiter through a giant telescope,
its storm stripes, four of its sixty-seven moons, and was filled
with fierce longing, bitter that instead of Ganymede or Europa,
I had only one moon floating in my sky, the moon
called Moon, its face familiar and stale. But this morning
I stepped outside and the wind nearly knocked me down.
This morning I stepped outside and the blue nearly
crushed me. This morning this planet is so loud with itself—
its winds, its insects, its grackles and mourning doves—
that I can hardly hear my own lamentations. This planet.
All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones
and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards
with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today.
I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.

Copyright © 2017 Catherine Pierce. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

I navigate the dark house by moving from the green star of the smoke detector to the blue star of the electric toothbrush. I am no different than Magellan or Marco Polo, I am guided by what burns. Some nights I step onto the back porch. The prow of it charges the blackness, while the stars above me sharpen and blur. Inside, I harbor the ache of what is no longer possible.

Copyright © 2017 Charles Rafferty. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

I was watching my zealot neighbor
picking individual zoysia blades at dusk
when it occurred to me there was no way
he would ever be able to disguise
that UFO scar on his front yard.
He could subscribe to every right-wing rag
but he could not deny his perfect zoysia grass
had been scorched by a spaceship.
I thought about drones awhile,
watched him under my eyelashes
for another good hour.
I wondered how he explained
the chemistry of this burn.
He was an engineer, after all.
Even if he plucked grass in the dark,
he probably didn’t believe
in poetry or outer space.
But I’d seen them land
in the viscera of night.
They flew in from the right,
the far right, with birches in their hands.
I’d seen them unload their shovels and dirt.
I’d heard the yowl in their eyes,
smelled the sweat of their plans.
They were serious, and sure
they could not be stopped.
Soon, others would come,
alien multitudes
in a strident shield of color,
fisting the air with rage,
howling words my neighbor
doesn’t know, though
they speak the same language.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Rees. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

          from Swedish, the path moonlight lays over water

The ghost child fastens
his mouth to yours,
breathes your breath
from you so you cannot
cry out.
               He drew you creek side,
where you hung terrified,
gripping the deep-shaded
undercut bank above wild
rushing water, until finally
I heard you, came running.

What the drowned boy wants forever:
his mother, in time.
What he found:
a playmate his age.

eyes the color of seafoam,
the shining helmet of your
bowl-cut hair bright as
mångata over dark sea.

Tell me, lost ones: When
the moon melts, what
will we do with all that gold?

Copyright © 2017 Cathie Sandstrom. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Not because of the hours or the pay, which could be worse.
          Not because of my commute into this office park,
                    or that no one else appreciates that phrase as much as I do.

Not the dim unholy hum of energy-efficient lights,
          recycled air with hints of garlic and scorched wool,
                    the break room fridge with its mysterious stains, open bottle

of rosé no one will drink or claim. Not the thousand
          bloodless paper cuts, copier that jams in high humidity,
                    the legion e-mails labeled Urgent, their emoticons

and useless FYIs. Not the spreadsheets and reports
          that are assigned, written, revised and never spoken of.
                    Not the tedium of meetings at which nothing is discussed,

managers who barely learned my name before
          they disappeared. Not because of everything that doesn’t
                    function—water fountains, window blinds, the entire

marketing department. Not even because of office politics,
          the gossip and jockeying, spats over power we don’t have.
                    Because the work I love is what I spend the least time

doing. Because I jerk awake at 4:00 am, my fists
          already clenched, have stopped feeling concern for coworkers
                    upset by bad reviews, sick pets or family cancer.

Because every shift in policy makes my life slightly
          worse, and I can’t find the line between caring too much
                    and total apathy. Because ever since I started here

I’ve been assured things will improve, but I’m afraid
          that staying means becoming bitter and entrenched,
                    unhappy but unable to move on.

Copyright © 2017 Carrie Shipers. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

We noticed participation has decreased,
though whether due to layoffs or malaise
we can’t be sure. While the survey

is anonymous, if you filled the comment boxes
with These questions suck or Stop wasting
my time, we probably know who you are,

especially if you mentioned your division,
duties and job description, and even more so
if you signed your name. We’re sorry

you’re suffering, but we doubt work
caused your divorce. We’re also dismayed
by demands for better leadership.

While you’re welcome to select Somewhat
or Not at all in response to Do you find
management effective?, we’d like you

to imagine how that makes us feel.
Perhaps it was insensitive to ask
which of your coworkers are seeking

other jobs, but we really need an estimate.
If you left that question blank, it’s not
too late to pass some names along.

The news isn’t all bad. Even with
increased co-pays and deductibles,
our health plan is a hit, especially for those

with anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Although we can’t eliminate long waits
when contacting HR, you can now turn off

the music while on hold. Widespread raises
are impossible, but we’ve found funds
for better toilet paper, ice cream once a month.

In the coming weeks, a new task force
will form to brainstorm future questionnaires
as well as cost-effective ways to ease—

if not eradicate—your pain. (Though
we’re aware of some survey fatigue,
this instrument was too expensive

not to use.) The next window for feedback
opens soon. We’ll keep asking
what you think until your answers change.

Copyright © 2017 Carrie Shipers. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

After Shiloh, with smoke still scumbling the air,
the Harper’s artist paced away
from the sunken road where a full brigade
had been strafed and decimated.
The flies had begun to swarm, lighting on the eyes
and open wounds of the fallen, the stench
already gut-wrenching, heartrending,
as were the groans of injured pack animals
weighted down by tack and baggage,
as well as that last shadow beasts can divine,

but the artist spread out his charcoals and chalk
on a blue blanket and leaned against the trunk
of a smoking blackjack pine.
The Rebel rear guard occasionally launched a volley,
as Federal cooks gathered wood to ready the mess
in case any survivors could muster a hunger.

Stroke by stroke, the draftsman began his sketch,
three peaches slowly forming, their delicacy almost sexual,
shade and shadow, amplitudes unblemished, colors
of dawn fire and sunset, the fuzz nearly palpable
enough to make the skin itch,
scent so nearly visceral my tongue
and lips went moist whispering, Peach.

An Illinois corporal peering over the artist’s shoulder
broke his silence to say, “Fellow, can’t you see
all them soldiers blown apart or in pain right here?
How the hell can you ignore the horses,
the jack mules, that wagon yonder still in flames?
Peaches, what the hell?”

But the correspondent kept his focus, summoning
the delicious, the elegant repose
in earshot of the surgeon’s tent, the work of the saw
and the miserable screaming, where the faces of casualties
were twisted and hideous. Orderlies
splattered in blood rushed about weeping. An officer
with an eye badly patched oversaw the burial
detail spading dirt into the trench already filling
with scrapped bandages and grisly limbs.
“‘Still life,’ we art makers say,” was the sketch artist’s answer,
“meaning both ‘motionless’ and ‘not yet dead,’
though the phase after ripeness is not so lovely,
and the pit clenched in the fruit’s core
is redder than carnage, rougher
than your musket balls, a full bore
.54 caliber, if I reckon correctly.”

And then he looked from the soldier’s angry eyes
to the empty sky before he resumed.

“Peaches, maybe, are what I need to see, what my weary
heart yearns to remember.
Better than any green shoots or delicate petals,
better than family toasts and a sister deft at the piano,
I know the bloodbath we inhabit, sir,
against which I can offer only a fragile
moment as counterpoint to our surround.
Here’s the reason, I would imagine, the French call
such compositions, whether fruit or meat
or a vase of mint sprigs and zinnias, nature morte.
The merest feast of grace, all
there is, as there is no remnant God,
no other rebuttal to trust,
while even Pity wears a mantel of feeding flies.”

Just a witness, I held my tongue but had no more appetite
for the taste of his beautifully rendered fruit.

And the corporal’s retort?
“Mister, get yourself a rifle,
see if you can still puke out them jackass lies.”

Copyright © 2017 R.T. Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.


Civilization is really a great pleasure.
—Edwin Denby

for W. MacKay

On Tuesday night it’s raining in Seattle,
and as I feed my plastic to the kiosk
by the curb, stick my spattered ticket
to the driver’s side window, start walking south,
dodging puddles through the slick and glint,
I hear an accordion, music that puts me
in a French movie—maybe a Truffaut—haunting
as across Pine Street, neon rubies and blues
an invitation, like somewhere in Paris
or New York, and I climb the steps
to Elliott Bay Book Company
thinking Edwin might say
that buying books is really a great pleasure,
like the time you took me to St. Mark’s, gave
me a copy of Frank O’Hara’s Selected,
pointing out the poem titled
“Poem [Light      clarity      avocado salad in the morning]”
and now I picture Edwin in the movie you sent,
standing outside his apartment talking
to Aaron Copland, which takes me back
to Phebe’s diner with you and Pat,
before he married me, when we were younger
and he was still alive, when morning could yawn
until afternoon, heavy plates of eggs
with roasted potatoes by the window
where Bowery seemed wide enough to hold
all our days, and anything would happen.

Copyright © 2017 Joannie Stangeland. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Thomas Stevens took a giant spin, becoming the first person to complete a trip around Earth by bicycle.
New York Times

Sometime on the third day of Hungary,
she joins him. Day and night, day
and night, propelled by the will of his legs,

he has been alone. Until now.
She is light and deft, a quixotic velocity.
She points at churches, at gypsies,

laughs and floods the unraveling road
with a language he cannot understand.
The inflection of asking lifts the hem

of her words. To him each note in her
impossible tongue asks, What are you afraid of?
When will you live in one city again?

Above them, a hawk spirals and dips. To it the world
is a brambled field, each day as simple as the hunt
for what invisible feet tunnel there.

He sees the twentieth century loom before them.
Buildings rise and fall. Great crowds cross
borders. Capitals change names. Call of birds

gone extinct. There are no cities, he says, only this
pedaled cartography of unbelonging.
The blue distills into granules of stars

and the air is hymnic, honeyed
with last light. He has not said what he meant.
She turns to go back the way

they came, the distance between them unspooled
and irrevocable, held in place by the flash
of spinning spokes, that bright and restless carousel.

Copyright © 2017 Chelsea Wagenaar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

I call my father during halftime when the Irish are on TV. (Family history: my father called his father from a rotary phone screwed to the wall.) It’s good to hear my father’s voice, to have cellular access to familiar sounds: his admonishments, his praise and anger. (Memory of bedtime songs he’d sing on his guitar: I sing them to my daughter now—Phil Ochs’s “When I’m Gone” and Kenny Loggins’s “Danny’s Song.”) My grandfather, who lived in Indiana, named my father James. I rarely think about it, his having a name—my father, James.

Copyright © 2017 Brian Phillip Whalen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017. 

for Erik

My friend, how many more occasions have we left in our steeply narrowing lives to brood over decisions like these? To write, to teach—to marry. It used to be we’d sit in bars until 3:00 am speculating cream versus half-and-half, debating French press versus good espresso with the same intensity with which we argued Carlyle versus Wordsworth

(all brazen and floral and thirsty for truths). Do you remember a morning in your kitchen, in Asheville, the year after your mother died? You ground Ethiopian Yirgacheffe while Heidi made us omelets stuffed with braised chard from her garden. The water for the press pot was not boiling.

(You were, as usual, too soon to take it off the burner.) The result, I knew, would be a weak brew. I wanted to admonish you—but as Heidi laid out mugs with her unimpugnable devotion, I only loved you as I watched you pour the water

into the beaker, ready the plunger, and wait.

Copyright © 2017 Brian Phillip Whalen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

Locked in the hothouse—my steamy, salt-air
Neighborhood crayoned with hibiscus, each blossom’s
Red stalk aiming its pollen-beaded headdress
Toward the sun—all of us knew which of our fellow
Alpha classmates had become pregnant, though no
Impromptu blooms would blaze to meet the light.
On my last Miami visit, my childhood
House was lost in a tangle of tropical greenery.
Stepping out of his pickup, the owner, whose
Fix-flip M.O. had not worked, admitted foreclosure.
Later, on Zillow, I wandered the shell of my vacant
House—the kitchen sleek with its brushed-steel fridge
And black-flecked granite, the pool pale sky-blue,
The patio stone recast a ruddy sunburn pink.

Photo of my youth: on fire from napalm, a naked
Vietnamese girl sprinting, shrieking, as she fled
Her countrymen’s blast. At home, two-inch palmetto bugs
Ate crayons stashed in a shoe box bumping colored paper
And pencils in a closet, burst into a psychedelic mess
Whenever I thwacked one with a shoe. One time a friend
Barreled out of her house in only a T-shirt. Bad mescaline.
For the girls in my circle, earning A after A was a given,
Our engines vrooming even in the hours allotted
To lazing at Haulover Beach, a half-dozen concert venues,
Discount Records, Greynolds Park. We had to get out.

One girl, ahead of us, Marxist romantic, alighted in
Berkeley, tutored prisoners with her boyfriend, founding
Soldier with the Symbionese Liberation Army. Sign-off
On its missives: “Death to the fascist insect that preys
Upon the life of the people.” She escaped, fading
Into the rain in England, soon after the first murder—
Oakland school superintendent—but before bank heists
And that machine-gun, stuff-into-the-trunk abduction
Of blindfolded heiress Patty Hearst, nineteen. Behind us,
Another girl, only three during the year of the napalm
Girl and whose yard slid down to the glinty lake,
Rose to the top of a corporation, asks parents to praise
Daughters for leadership skills, urges women to gather
In circles and build themselves a bigger box—lean in.

As kids—propped up on our elbows beside the murky
Edge of the lake, with our toes combing the chopped
Grass and the humidity pressed against us—we thought
We could pilot our afternoons as if they were float toys.
Steeped in the greenness, oversoaked by the gleamy
Heat of the sun, we monitored limb buds erupting
On tadpoles, clouds of them wriggling among the weeds.

Copyright © 2017 Michele Wolf. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.