In the morning the horses appeared
as I looked down from the attic window,
the red horse leading the bay,
and the pale horse running behind.
For a whole day they were ours:
my sisters and I rode them over the fields.
All this was long ago, the morning,
the blossoming of the light,
its fervor withheld no longer,
before the shadows appeared
in their strange syncopations,
before death appeared in the world
to trudge the weary trajectory of the stairs
and stand looking down over the fields.
Last night I dreamed of the horses again.
They gallop in a bright ring,
one after another, none losing its place,
always the same distance apart.
Now the rider pulls on her dark reins
and for a moment the horses move
to the perfection of that music
which is unheard, though hoped for
in every place. Now I remember
the gaze of noon, transparent,
shedding its far white light
over the shrouded fields, the rectangles of green,
over the spreading river between.
The possibility of grace
had never seemed so near, the sunflowers
lifting their enormous heads
by the farmer’s house, while the birds,
grosbeak, towhee, assemble, seeking their food:
seeds, plucked out in the morning, fall to earth
in the daylight field and rise in the field of night.

Copyright © 2017 Claudia Buckholts. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Although this room is full of moving,
sweating people—all of us lunging forward
or folding ourselves in tangled shapes,
obedient to Sanksrit names we’re told
mean “mountain,” “plank,” “dog”—
downward facing, I feel a sudden anger.
After, I talk with a woman.
For years I’ve called her a friend.
We lean damp against the mirror.
If there were a Sanskrit name for what I am
to her, it would be following flower,
the loyalty of a blossom that opens
beside its colleague on the branch.
We talk of our work. And I sense, the way
spines know the limits of their curvature,
that she has lied to me. I feel the places
where the teacher touched my face with oil
while I lay on the mat like a sleeper, insensate.
Months from now, my friend will explain
the truth is a limb that can bend,
words too a flexibility, contortion
learned through daily practice.
What else should I say?—that soon
others will try to break me like a small bone
in the foot. Soon she will not place a hand
on the hunched sadness of my shoulder.
I will be left to learn the correct pose
of warrior for myself, heels aligned,
belly tightened as if waiting for a punch.
If there were a Sanskrit name
for what she will do by doing nothing
to help me, it would be passive river.
It would be silent moon of cowardice.
It would be kneeling hyena with averted gaze.
Or, put unbeautifully, she could have warned
that others were trying to hurt me.
And there are injuries no stretching can undo—
we live with the twinge in the back.
Months from now, I won’t say good-bye,
my leaving not marked by a mallet
dragged on the edge of a singing bowl,
harmonics emerging from the empty
slope of the vessel. The divine
in me won’t bow to the divine in her.
There will be no pressing together of palms.

Copyright © 2017 Jehanne Dubrow. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

The words we use to instill a sense of the ineffable
Carry us on a journey that’s mysterious
As if your car makes a sudden left turn and accelerates
A child in the road leaps into her mother’s embrace
A deer becomes a child and you hit the brakes
The panjandrum in the driver’s seat this befuddled guy
At the wheel of a eighteen-wheeler hurtling down the road.

Language. He sat at the table, head in hands after work
A long day reminiscent of the day before and before
His child on the other side of the table watching him
A man given to gaucherie but driven by ambitions
A hard worker a laborer who came home at night
Greased in paint and sweat, soul tired and hungry.
He washed his arms and face and body with kerosene
Stripped to his underwear, rinsed off with a garden hose.
The boy watches him this brawny bare-chested man
Who looks up sees the child and asks “What the fuck
do you want?” Says “Get out of here before I beat your ass.”

At night in Brooklyn the moon rises above two-family houses.
The boy stretches out on the roof and looks down to the street.
One evening a young woman a girl appears on a nearby rooftop.
She’s barefoot in a white slip with long dark hair to her breasts.
In moonlight the slip is lucent and she hovers as an apparition
Her feet on the gutter, a gargoyle at her toes before she jumps.

Or falls. In the boy’s memory she’s there and then she isn’t.
For the rest of his life he carries this moment with him.
When his father is dying from cancer (warning: don’t wash
With kerosene) he places a hand on his chest to comfort him.
His father looks to the ceiling and says “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!
They’re coming for me!” before he takes a growling last breath.

The boy is an old man now and dreams this night of his own death.
He might prink all day getting ready for nothing or everything.
The girl on the rooftop his father at the table the moon and dying
All there on his tongue in every word he’s ever spoken or put down
On paper or swallowed out of fear or fury. Each syllable a gesture
To the dark to the moonlight to that girl on the rooftop to his father
To the city to the angels coming for us all to the silence in between.

Copyright © 2017 Ed Falco. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

We were crossing a wide beach toward a blacktop parking lot.
I forget now who I was with or where we were going the year
The details of that particular beach vacation that summer break.
Morning not long after sunrise the day already hot.

In the parking lot six women wrestled a package of sorts
Emerged from the side door of an SUV onto the beach carrying
A small weight in a blanket like a sling or a makeshift stretcher.
Six women one at each corner of the blanket two at the middle.

I couldn’t see what was in the blanket when they passed.
No one looked at us their expressions solemn touched by grief.
They stopped at the water’s edge and a skeletal head rose up

Out of the blanket to look over the ocean as legs like sea straw
Fell gently to the gentle surf which washed over them.
To see the ocean one last time surrounded by friends.
August the Georgia coast sand dunes trees permanently twisted
Their crowns like long hair in a brisk endless wind blown back.

How many mornings have I walked barefoot along the beach?
Not enough. Never enough. Summer and heat and the ocean.
Dolphins threading waves terns pelicans gulls squawking

The salt smell of ocean and the shore stretching for miles
All the way back to the beginning and before as if the blue
Pool swelling out to the horizon licking wet at our feet is one
Body and the waves repeat a heartbeat that won’t cease

Unlike our own which will. Dying woman at the water’s edge
Carried by friends to be close one more time to the ocean
To sand under bare feet to the seashore on a summer morning.

Copyright © 2017 Ed Falco. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

It’s interesting to me there’s a minimum
but no maximum wage. One without the other
seems like pants without legs or love
without someone to love. So what
are the groups? People
who want no minimum or maximum wage;
people who want a minimum
but no maximum wage; people
who want a minimum
and maximum wage; and people
who want to eat. A minimum wage
of twenty bucks an hour
is roughly eight hundred a week,
or forty grand a year,
or 1.6 million in a life. There’s
your maximum wage—1.6 million a year.
If you earn in a year
what I earn my entire life,
you deserve the right
to be happy about it
in a gated community
where you don’t have to be ashamed
of the dance of your joy.
I deserve the right
to put heirloom tomatoes
in the salad now and then.
Such as when my kid
got her cast off
and her hand looked fine,
like it intended to go on waving
at moonlight and birds.
And I never thought about it
but slipped the insurance card
out of my wallet and slid it over.
And the car started
the first time
for the drive home
to our little bungalow
that needs a new paint job,
but that’ll happen this summer,
right before we go to a lake
for a few days and I open a beer
one night and think, I have a place
in whatever this is.
Then listen to the stars
saying nothing in peace,
though what passes for peace
is a mystery to me,
not unlike who’s behind
the universe or why so many people
in unions voted for people
who wanted to kill unions, but we did
and they died, unions died.
Now where on earth
am I supposed to send the flowers?

Copyright © 2017 Bob Hicok. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Not every day but most days that summer

I went calmly and quietly and climbed

to the sixth floor of the library and walked

not fast and not slow but with purpose

down the last row and reached

almost without looking to the same

place on the shelf and pulled out

the large book and carried it to a chair

that looks out toward the ridge, to a mountain

that is there, whether it is or it isn’t,

the mountain people love, maybe for this,

love and die with all their love,

trying, and I opened to the page

where I left off before, and sometimes the library

announced it was closing, sometimes I got hungry,

sometimes it looked like rain, and I’d close the book

and carry it again, with purpose, back to its exact

place on the shelf, and I’d walk down the stairs

and out of the building, and it was like

I’d left it ticking.

Copyright © 2017 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

On the day they killed the last caribou,
I was in love—and I did not know
caribou or cities or the needs of either.

I did not know scilla, and did not know a new love
would be hired to trim the grass around it. The blue flowers
came up through the grass like the grass remembering.

This new love and I, we drove once between cities of snow,
and through the trees I could see a herd moving,
matching us, pulling away.

Copyright © 2017 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Folks would talk about it,
and even after I lived
in that mountain town
months, a year, even after
getting close with the girl
from the pharmacy,
guys from the woods, I did
not know.

I waited to somehow divine
what it was. Be invited. Still
I imagine a great expanse,
a meadow, high above the town,
of tiny flowers, like lovers
on their backs, looking up.

Copyright © 2017 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

               Louisiana, August 2016

Lady, is that you, with a citronella halo,
ghosting the mud-milk waters
with a laundry basket of kittens in one arm?
You are no mythic Saint Medard, sheltered
from rain beneath an eagle’s wing,
but a hands-on angel of the earthly kind—
sweaty, with a burden of buckets and bleach,
surefooted through labyrinths of debris.
You take meals in church parking lots,
thankful for whatever is served.
Some saints are untouchable behind glass,
but you ride in open boats
with mildew on the hem of your gown,
a calm commander of the Cajun Navy’s fleet.
Your devotees worship outside
in a circle of ruined pews,
no incense but bug spray, their voices
a capella because the music of the drowned piano
is too sad to sing to. They remain faithful
because you are the one constant,
honored in front gardens and kitchen shrines.
You with your shrimp boots and rubber gloves—
without flinching you lead and they follow,
walking on water to the safety of each other.

Copyright © 2017 Alison Pelegrin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Grandpa shrugged when the feds at the kitchen door
        said the pigpen weeds were marijuana,
and they were there to cut them down and burn them.
        “Got lots more weeds—feel free to cut them, too.”

Marijuana was in the news a lot
        when I first heard this story. Mom
and I laughed at her father’s innocence,
        briefly united in patronizing parents.

Years later when she told it, she paused and added,
        “But Dad did have terrible arthritis
in his hands, and I wouldn’t bet
        he didn’t know what he had growing there.”

And suddenly I saw the wooden box
        with the slotted roller in the top,
cigarette rolling machine, the knob we’d turn
        to send a crayon down to the waiting tray.

Of course everybody rolled their own
        in the Depression, nothing damning there.
But I felt history cough, twist in my hand,
        watched my solid mother grow translucent,

capable of recasting legend, fact.
        The last time I heard it, she concluded,
“And you know, I wouldn’t care to bet
        it wasn’t my mother who called those agents in.”

Copyright © 2017 Susan Blackwell Ramsey. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Mornings my father wiped a circle clean in the mirror steam,
a towel wrapped around his waist, his face lathered
with a pale gold powder mix from his porcelain mug.

A shaving blade scraping against his jaw, then dipped
in the sink. His wax kit and scissors laid out for his moustache.
Some mornings, I rummaged in his closet, past the suits,

the camouflage vest—its elastic slots for rifle shells—
his army jacket, a dashiki, for the checkered shirts my mother sewed
for him long ago. On the floor were his racked shoes

that I polished, the bag of toothbrushes and cotton cloths
I used for buffing between the stitches of his Johnston & Murphy’s.
Whenever he was fitted for a suit, I accompanied him,

examined his sleeve, the subtle woven colors
in the wool’s weave as my father stood in the trifold mirror,
its infinite reflections of him. I wore his old ties

with ankle-length skirts and combat boots. I watched
as he wrapped a half Windsor knot and slipped it
over my head, cinched it closed at my neck. After school,

I stacked cordwood beside him in the yard, worked
the weed whacker, the chain saw, and he let me sip
from his double shot of Jack. Chamber music on the stereo,

we’d grill in the backyard, sit through dusk’s mosquitoes,
fireflies, June bugs, and moths. I didn’t know my own
strength, my father said to convince me my hands

were as good as his—that time passing me the garden hoe
to cut a chicken snake sprawled on the warm floor
of our garage—that I was the best son or daughter he could have.

Copyright © 2017 Chanda Feldman. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

At the county extension service in the old downtown,
I spent after-school hours in my mother’s office—
the green-glass building next to the city farmers’ market

held in the parking lot each week—the entrance lined
with dark-stained oak cabinets, quarts
of tomatoes, the perfectly suspended fruit-flesh

in red liquid. Men holding Chinese food cartons
of soil, like purses, from their gardens and farms.
The soil needing to be fixed, the levels adjusted,

they’d puzzle over results laid out like blueprints.
My mother, a home economics agent, working
upstairs in the demonstration hall and kitchen,

the double-burner stove tops, the steaming silver pots.
In her hairnet, a lab coat over her blazer and
satin blouse. I sat in the chairs for the audience

with my homework until she called me up
to the platform to dip pH sticks to read the acid
contents. I’d slip the skin off peaches, level tablespoons

of salt for brines. My mother taught me
each step: the maceration, the strawberry-rhubarb
slurry heating to frothing, the sugar thermometer

rising to the gelling temperature of precisely 220
degrees. My mother pouring the fruit into scalded jars,
the room billowing with sweetness.

Copyright © 2017 Chanda Feldman. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

The widower in silk pajamas slides
his hand along a glossy blue sleeve,

thinking, Water to fabric, rivulet
slipped through a needle’s eye.

He’s all ripples when he moves,
all waves breaking against flesh.

He read in the paper the human body is
80 percent water. He is almost

a brook when he wanders
around the yard, practically a river

flowing upstream when climbing stairs,
the distant past of Pacific salmon

leaping over his shoulders. He naps
for hours on a king-size, the mattress

dimpled where two bodies slept
together for decades. Dreaming,

he is the relative of that lake
where he tipped the urn overboard.

What was left of her the water
dissolved, becoming the water

and the lulling blue sounds it made
while he paddled back to land.

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

Under the linden, a weatherworn
bench. Eleven wooden slats in all

to build a simple thing for sitting.
The one still generating green,

shawled in August sunlight,
hovers over the one chainsawed

and hauled to the lumberyard.
Each time it was split, sawdust leapt.

The bench was built. Years passed
and now a pair of students sit together.

One has something impossible to say
without hurting the other.

Hunched, bent from the burden of it,
while the sun continues to

spangle the linden, green flame
after green flame, their faces dappled

in leaf-shadow. He knows he must
confess, how to hammer the sentences

with enough nails spiking out
from compressed lips. It will be over

soon, his hesitation marked by
how red the stripes behind her thighs.

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

If only each line of a poem could be its true beginning.
If only each moment could know every other moment
and we could hold them all at once the way we wish to,
the way we keep imagining we can. I don’t care
what anyone says about the impossibility, for I step
into the same moment again and again. I’ve lived
such a blessed life, a dying friend told me as I
leaned in close and caressed her face. I am writing
this line, this poem’s true beginning, six years later,
touching her radiant face again. Every moment is
the time I followed a yellow leaf downstream when I
was nine. To be, or not to be, Hamlet asked, and two
centuries later, Issa’s poems were born. And yet, and yet
the cancer still arrives to steal her breath, the same
breath blessing all her time. Just now a purple bird
flew up and startled me, and I said, Yes, yes, and raised
my hands. To live lightly in the body is to live deeply
in the spirit—I say her words out loud some days,
holding them all at once, and follow a yellow leaf
through overhanging limbs and enter my grandfather’s
quiet steps along a ridge a century ago when he was young.
He is being and not being, in and out of shadows,
arriving wherever the next step takes him, here and here.
When rain begins, he just keeps walking, drenched
and smiling, emerging decades later, holy. Sometimes
an echo hints from half a life ago. A driveway puddle
trembles at the foster home I lived in when I was three.
Good Lord, son, how did you know how to get here,
the father asked when I showed up, adult, from two
towns over. In the beginning was the Word, John wrote,
for each word starts anew, each word startling the sky,
the cells, the breath. Each word, each line, is an echo,
an arrival, a blessed breath, being and not being. I don’t
care about the impossibility of anything. The dawn keeps
breaking for which I am awake. The prologue is the epilogue,
the epilogue a leaf holding everything at once. I keep
arriving where I am, born and blessed again. I lean in
close to radiance: I’ve always known how to get here.

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

I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere without stacks of books, boxes
in the trunk, a book bag over my shoulder—wherever I sit,
more within reach, just to sample a stanza, line, or word,
someone’s invocation to the color blue, another’s wandering
of fields and grief; and some have died I can’t bear losing;
in the produce aisle I hear Rilke crying out, wondering who is listening.
I am! When I touch the artichoke, Neruda’s ode has guided me.
I want to reach inside the glove compartment, hand the cop the poems
of Simic so that—parked in an alleyway, on break—he’ll hear
the voice of an insomnia, the terror of quiet sounds, how the Infinite
is a dandelion carried through bomb-embattled streets. I’m not deranged,
though like Thoreau I want to redefine economy so that an insight
has more weight than gold. Why not, at the high school football game,
read aloud a Saramago sentence with all its interruptions, feints,
and secret passageways, its wanderings downfield, its ravings at the sky
gone dark past the stadium lights. Proust has something more to say.
A treatise on the mourning dove? Of course. Why not. So be it.
Another failed peace treaty, another scandal involving high-ranking
officials—who learns from Tranströmer to see the sphinx from behind?
So much hollowness we’re carrying when sometimes thoughts can soar.
So much space between Sappho’s words in order to make us whole.
I enter the courtroom with Issa, whose grievances were many
but laid aside; because of his presence I cast my vote for the spider
clinging to the third-floor window; I forgive the bailiff the order
he keeps. The judge, with his gavel, makes a haiku of sound.
Is this my own existence, or have I found myself in others’ lives
and they in mine? If I’m only myself, I ask a little help to get from
who I am to something more than broken, something more than
nothing less than these my only questions—oh Kafka, what is
this weight upon me, enormous, flailing to touch all the corners of air?

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

This the neighbor boy’s exact description of heaven. Which he blissfully ad-libbed from the pulpit, like some Shackleton on laudanum describing the white hell in which he was forced to sacrifice his own sled dogs. But laced with tenderness. Take that, Saint John of Patmos, take that, Thomas Aquinas and dour Kierkegaard, with your cubits and mystic ecstasies and dialectical ladders. Something about that nasal teenage voice, all mercy, lifted me out of the morass of nettles I call my life. He wore a fauxhawk and flip-flops, a Star of David etched in ink across the back of his right hand. Not for symbolism, but for the fun of it. Next week a smiley face, the week after that thunderbolts. Oh, to be seventeen. I was already back in the nettles, clenching and unclenching my fists, like a seasoned sled driver deciding which of my loyal huskies to eat first.

Copyright © 2017 Lance Larsen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

In Toledo, the sequestered brides of Christ make marzipan. And devotees like me buy up the sweets via a three-chambered lazy Susan in an alley. Hear a voice but glimpse not the heavenly hands, an enterprise both savvy and vaguely eucharistic. “To taste the kingdom in a crumb of dough,” I say, a privilege to misquote Blake, even if it’s only to myself. The recipe dates back to the Court of the Caliphs, as alchemic as it is simple. Shouldn’t every traveler make a habit of eating earth, wind, air, and fire? Not to mention almonds, which must equal 50 percent by weight to pass muster with Toledo inspectors. I pay, turn the lazy Susan, and walk away with my own tin of marzipan, the abbess’s unseen blessing dusting each morsel. “Eat and be made whole,” I can almost hear her say. The body of Christ is a fish—delicious. And now a star, like the one that guided wandering kings. And now a sword, two-edged, like matters of belief. And now—forgive me—my Lord is a serpent. Spiraling in on himself like vortex or Milky Way, my faith quickening as God’s scales dissolve on my tongue.

Copyright © 2017 Lance Larsen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.

Let’s talk about
your long-lost lion puppet,

the one true creature
you could not live without.

Did you know I x-actoed
the grasslands of his mane

from the Sunday funnies?
Did you know that his eyes

were not marbles at all?
Did you know I pierced

a black-eyed pea with a needle
and made it his nose?

Did you know we all live for a time
as creatures abandoned? Bring back

the ketchup bottle that you fitted
with a wig. Bring back the cocoons

noosed to the lid of a pickle jar;
the eyelashed mouth

of the venus flytrap; the newts
and tadpoles; the wood tick,

its perfume-bottle grave.
Did you know we all live

all our lives with coins on our eyes?
Did you know that your puppet

wasn’t a lion at all
until you called him a lion?

I made him no one creature
in particular; he was cloth

with a face, and his gumball eyes
were sweet when you licked them

and gone in a day.

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

I was trying to remember some important quip
By a famous person that rang of wisdom
Or was prescient, so obviously so that even
In retrospect we feel brief awe in having bumped
Into what must be an immemorial aphorism.

But, over and over, as the brain muscle flexed,
The words of Uncle Lemuel recurred, indeed,
Several of them. Watching Wheel of Fortune,
Beer in hand, he cleared his throat from that place
Which only seemed disengaged: “Not mental giants.”

My uncle came from a place where horse sense ruled,
Where holes in one’s shoes was hard but fair,
But failing to wear any shoe where the hard stones,
The sharp glass, the brutal edge of the real world bruised
Was “That kind of man bleeds stupid.”

My aunt, never undone, once stared at him, waiting perhaps
For his timeless remark, finally said, “My feet ache
At attention for your absolute genius.” Maybe
She was his muse, so to speak, and this place
Which took me in on Sundays deserved respect.

Outside, the crows gather among trees nearby,
Their number growing for a reason surely;
Only yesterday the newborn cardinals vanished,
Then the gorgeous pair whose nest grew
In the crape myrtle before the white blossoms

Surged so the slender limbs sagged with the burden
Of summer in their arms. Today the dogs found
The bones of a hawk-stripped squirrel. I grabbed
The jaws of the black Lab who fought to keep,
To swallow, forced them open, made her cough

The treasure sure to choke the sweet beast
Gone savage with the blood tapped beyond
Today’s breath I forced shut until the body
Demanded reversal, rejection so immediate
It was the gagged song of the present.

Copyright © 2017 Robert Parham. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.