When it comes, my father’s presence
is behind the weight of a country
I’ve lost, like I’ve lost him, on his way out
over the hill, flooring his decrepit wagon,
exhaust pipe exhausted, which brings
me to bed, to the sleep of a sunken log
at the river’s bottom, and my father is in it,
like some huge bear wavering through
the thickest depths, all the while, I keep
my eye on the light shimmering the surface,
wanting to come up for air, but I don’t
want to forsake this absent god
tired in the pale grass. He’s been leaving for so long
it almost seems natural, his aimless driving,
his aimless thinking. Outside, a helicopter
that may or may not allow me to continue
keeps announcing its presence,
clambering out of the rain clouds.
It’s so frustrating, knowing all I have to do
is turn off the light to occupy the dark.
Copyright © 2018 William Archila. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the author.
Of course, she was not chosen to deliver
any of the official hail-and-farewells. Would, in fact,
have skipped the whole pomp and circumstance crap
if the principal had not threatened to hold her diploma hostage,
if her parents had not pleaded with her to celebrate
the milestone for their sakes—so she donned
the rented robe, the dorky mortarboard, and paraded
down the auditorium aisles with her beaming so-called peers.
Lots of introductions. Lots of momentous occasions
and memories—many of which Ms. S was already
eager to forget. But she listened politely to the usual
promises of new beginnings, the exhortations to follow
dreams and change the world—even got a bit teary eyed
at the prospect that one of them actually might.
Then the ritual flipping of the tassels, the alma mater
one last time off-key, the filing out to hugs and congratulations
and vows to stay in touch she knew she’d never keep.
Ms. S had her eye on distant horizons, some vague
anywhere-else-but-here place where her brief past
could be erased and all the potential her teachers had,
for years, claimed she was wasting, would be realized,
where she would finally hear her life’s calling
calling her into the life she was meant to have.
The world, she thought, is my oyster.
Of course, being an inland girl, she had never
actually seen an oyster up close. Had yet to discover
how hard the damn things were to crack.
Copyright © 2018 Grace Bauer. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
for Ernestine Hemingway
She was an old woman who fished alone
from a skiff in the Sea of Tranquility
and she had gone eighty-five years now
without a fish. Not even a dusty rock
bass had struck her night crawler though
the worm was fat and finely bristled
and covered in slime and interminable
in the airless waste. Her neck was thin
and creased with lines the sun had written
on skin gone fine as paper but this
was not the first thing one noticed
upon seeing the old woman in the skiff.
No, it was her eyes that were the color
of the moon and cheerful in the reflected
light like two bone-white plates waiting
for sliced cake on a table. They were
quietly empty and waiting for something
good, and they were not at all defeated.
In the skiff there was a bottle of wine.
It was the wine of the country and tasted
of mineral and sunlight and the green
glass of the bottle was beaded with drops
of condensation, which was an odd thing,
thought the woman, because the moon
is an arid place and the air is thin as hope,
the hopes of a widow casting her line
with its moist worm into the scattered
gravel so that bits of gray dust clung
to its meatiness. The old woman pulled
the cork out with her teeth and began
to drink and set the bottle on the bench
and rested one hand on a wooden thwart
and said, The wine is good. It tastes of
the country and of loneliness and also
the moon, which is where I fish because
this is the thing that I was born to do.
Copyright © 2018 Michael Bazzett. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
and Susannah Nevison
I know there’s no going back,
no clearing to be found,
no curling ring of grass where
an animal, bedded down,
cries out and breaks me open
because she’s calling back
to me, wherever I still wait,
from wherever it is we first
learned the body’s another door
the world slams shut each time
we think to drag ourselves out
of the line of sight, beyond the scope
of whatever hand would yoke us
to each other, would have us
bent and humbled, poor machines,
poor beasts, whose tongues learn
first to cry and then to speak,
who can’t go home, when where
we’re from is already gone, already
burning down, graven inside us
like every ancient tree,
so we always already know
who we belong to, where we
belong, where there’s no going
back, or getting lost or found—
Let’s just say we are rewound: grow
smaller and more animal, come back unstitched,
the hands inside of us recede into their sleeves,
the knives resheathe, the needle punctures weave
together perfect, blank, then absent. Say our tendons
tighten down, our bones go back to bowing, say we curl,
some hoof returns, the bodies that we know revert
to fictions from a place we didn’t go. Say where we are
it’s snowing, and we’re sheltered the way wild, loved things
are when they are new: a nest of winter grass, a little down,
some hollow where the weather strains to reach. Say that
we’ve never been afraid, we’ve never howled, we’ve never
been in pain. There’s still a storm outside, there’s still some
larger thing with teeth, there’s still the day something will
nose us to get up and walk, then run, and when we can’t
will leave without us fearing yet another winter, or a gun.
If we can’t come stumbling
down the path that’s never lit,
if we can’t slip through the wire
fence and if it rends our skin,
our hair, if we bleed, if we claw
the earth, if we don’t call out
and nothing comes running, if we
rest awhile, if we wait and nothing
comes, M, will we stay tangled
in the wire, along the edge
of winter, if something gentle’s
out of reach, will we stay and twist
the wire into shapes we know,
unshod hoof and bowed bone,
if we call them ours, if we make
such wire children and string
them up, if we rust, if our children
are wire stars above us, if they
are always out of reach, if we can’t
twist free, if we bed down inside
ourselves, if our children swing
beyond us, if they don’t resemble us—
If we are hooked there in the fence,
if the ice on our hides names us
a thing for staying, but the children
we’ve contorted finally do twist free
of how we’ve strung them up—both
the shapes we gave them and the ones
we would not pass along—if it turns
out that they are only light blinked
down from a radio tower, or the blood
we’ve loosed in rivulets by chewing
on our own bad legs, or some alluvium
composed of all the lither things that ran
downhill toward water. If we’re left to work
the barbs out of the skin they bloomed in,
work out the difference among flesh,
and steel, and shade that nightfall has
false-miracled to bodies, cold, like nothing
in the river when we reach for them.
Last night I dragged the river
again. I went looking
in the water for the children
I left there, the ones that
catch like leaves and twigs
in the dam or fence, the ones
I set down like little boats
and the ones I set down
like little stones. I’m beginning
to believe they were never
more than shadows, slipping
in and out of the room while
I slept, leaving little notes
for me that disappeared
as soon as I thought to touch
them. You said our eyes
can remake a thing, change
a shape by looking.
I don’t want another thing
to lose its skin or come
undone. It’s enough that
I can’t remember the shapes
of the things I’ve loved
or the things I’ve made
in one body or another,
so I must make them up:
Here is a heart-shaped hoof.
Here is a hoof-shaped heart.
Last night I tried to sleep inside a blank
hotel room, made the bed a boat,
believed the smell of bleach was just
the water filling up with salt, just
gulls sounding outside the window, just
the tide and all the strange things it drags
up and beaches, bone-bright, on the cliffs.
The ocean hunts itself at night for all
that has survived in the wrong place,
that has outlived its usefulness,
come loose, or gotten lost, or fallen
far behind when other colonies have eased
right out to sea. It has a mechanism
for determining belonging, true as gravity
and all the quartz, and lime, and iron that
comprise the moon. I comb the beach
for shapes I recognize and every night
my children don’t wash up I think,
There’s still a chance for them,
and every night I don’t find my own face
ripe for unmaking, I’m surprised.
Copyright © 2018 Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
Don’t go in search of the perfect word.
Don’t go looking for signs of redemption,
the purified water of gods. The language
will enter your mouth when it needs to.
The beauty will find you. The meaning
will come. Don’t go smiling. Don’t go
certain of one true voice. Go ambiguous,
lonely, disguised in the basic math. Take
nothing for granted. Escape what you are,
what you wish you will one day become.
It doesn’t matter. The skin dies. The worm
lives a whole year in darkness. The clouds
go on rising away from the falling rain.
Even the good love inside you will vanish.
The wheels will seize and the trickling stream
at the top of the mountain will carve out
a valley below. The world will give you
an opening always. The night sky. The moon
lifting over the tall and mysterious pines.
Hold out the feather you found last night
in the bracken. All it can offer is already
there in your hand.
Copyright © 2018 Kai Carlson-Wee. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
When I’m alone my tits scream
while the refrigerator
hums like a man nodding
off behind me on the bus.
There is never any food
I want to eat and I am ravenous
all the time: soft-boiled
eggs and mint tea. Milk
thick as leftover grease
stored under the sink.
My friend is a dairy farmer,
which means she delivers
cows, pulls velvety hooves
from gaping maws like psalms
into the muck and wet
hay. We haven’t spoken
since my daughter was born
but maybe our friendship
ended when I was eight months
pregnant and she told me about
a stillbirth over the phone,
how the mother
kept licking the calf’s body
drowned in dull light
and I couldn’t un-hear
her voice, no matter how much
I believed it might unstitch
me from my own grief,
the way I became no more
or less beautiful
when I became a mother,
more like the perpetual
frost of astonishment
across a windshield,
more like I was doubled
and emptied, permanently
bent as if tending to a wound
or some unspeakable joy.
Copyright © 2018 Kendra DeColo. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the author.
I watch as a spotted cow tenderly licks another cow beneath an ear
shaped like one leaf of a four-leaf clover
in a barnyard shouldered between secondary roads and a brand-new
modular home, where three guys heave-ho
at a cable big around as my arm, trying to get the house hooked up to a
utility pole, and for some reason
they remind me of subjects in a painting, a bucolic pastoral, or a heroic
tableau of some legendary battle’s pivotal moment—
planting a flag, hauling in a lifeboat of the half-drowned—you know, the
kind where if anyone’s dying, they’re doing it
so monumentally it’s only an aesthetic, abstracted kind of sad? I rely on
that distance. Anything to keep the brick off my chest.
But I can’t stop looking, either, and the cows are spavined, underfed, the
house someone punched the clock hard to buy
is ugly, almost windowless. And the men are stalled. They spit, look
defeated. Then again, maybe I’m wrong, maybe they’re just
taking a break. I can’t always tell the difference between sad and sweet;
sometimes they taste the same to me. It’s a confusion
to which I’m prone, an allegiance, I won’t say religion, but it could be the
only way I know how to pray. I keep tasting that ear,
tongue, those muscled backs, sweat and indecision, tenderness,
disappointment. A little bite of each, a redistribution of weight,
a feeling like a door in my chest scraping across its threshold, and
something else, a vibration, maybe a swarm of bees.
Copyright © 2018 Amy Dryansky. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
How many times the blood rush of truck, bus & subway
has passed below my window.
How often this body, meant to bend & breed—squat like
my mother’s, her mother’s & hers—has
paced instead, inside its head, gazing skyward for a noun or phrase to
shatter the glass of our locked cars & save us,
that might break over all:
raccoon washing its hands like a surgeon in the birdbath,
girl at the drive-through deciding only 42 percent of humanity
sucks, the rest of them hungry or high,
their wheels aglow like daisies, their wounds debrided, unbridled . . .
Jesus, Mary & Joseph, I have blamed you for everything—
the decades broken like your rosaries, our few family belongings
missing, glued or taped . . .
Back home, the air
is scented with Japanese lilac & catalpa’s orchid blooms—
all of us colonized, colonizing:
your body made to carry mine
in flame, to this,
of which I am but remnant, a speck
fished from a tear duct with your tongue.
Whose easy laugh is that I’m hearing now?
Whose loneliness, unbroken, goes rolling in the blood?
Copyright © 2018 Kathy Fagan. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
I’m standing at the stove cooking pancakes
when in walks a goat.
The goat is black and white and gives me
a look over the bridge of his nose that I recognize
as a look of sadness.
And so I have a sad goat in my kitchen.
The tornado sirens have stopped.
He’s countertop height.
The cast on my arm under the sleeve
of my sweater isn’t visible to the goat, and I’m
glad for that. I flip the pancakes.
The goat shakes gently his beard, kicks
his left hoof, and stomps. I try to imagine
anything as smooth as a flipped pancake
as I wait for the other side to brown.
Copyright © 2018 Julia Johnson. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
I resisted spending money and I held fast
against almost everything, including
washing machines and cheap cars.
I lived by my wits, you know that,
and came back to America
with eighteen dollars in my pocket,
but there were many of us
mostly in Dutch freighters
that unloaded in Hoboken
in a voyage of potatoes and gravy.
Did you ever see how small the seedpod is
for the black locust? I wrote about that.
Now I live under its shade
and protect it from farmers
looking for fence posts,
farmers whom I hate, saying
they have abandoned the one or two days they
spent with some early nineteenth-century poets
when their teachers, Miss This and Miss That,
who lived by yearning
especially when the sun broke through
their classroom windows on a June afternoon
almost giving way to sobbing,
with a book in one hand I remember
held high as if against the axe,
as if to give shelter, for that’s what
it was, oh Miss Pickard, Miss Schlessinger.
Copyright © 2018 Gerald Stern. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
Hiking up a trail in the snow, I spot
a rusting orange body of a car;
in midwinter, the sun’s a mirage
of July—a woman begins Taiji
movements and rotates an invisible
globe; a sky-blue morning glory
unfolds on a fence; though
the movements appear to be stretches,
they contain the tips of deflections
and strikes; behind a fence, neighbors
drink beer, grill chicken, laugh—
as snowflakes drop, I guess at
their shapes: twelve-branched,
stellar dendrite, triangular, capped
column—under a ceiling fan,
I recall our hours in a curtained
room—and as I sidestep down,
a capped column dissolves on my face.
Copyright © 2018 Arthur Sze. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
An absence declares
its blunt self. I can’t believe the extent
of my luck, heard twice, like violets
in a bath of lukewarm water.
The city was my father’s though none
of its sweetness appears here living
before you. A strong instrument.
A blowing on the hands
and neck. A curtain almost open.
I inherited a stiff collar sewn
against loveliness where once
we must have walked freely into
the city square and gathered
there like an intention. Two lips bloomed
on my mother’s cheek. I felt
a heavenly peace. Here, the marker you
might have waited for: ancient
dough, rolled and fried. These days
the lyric’s sentiment floats
away from me. Like a river someone
forgets to bless. Memory, to memory,
to the dirt path opening
again in a dream. I have not been back
for so many years. I walk the distance
in my mind, the margins flowing by
like so much foreign water.
Copyright © 2018 Wendy Xu. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.
I walked there guilty by tongue but not by mind
The water was breaking on a soft green rock
The rock was breaking underfoot despite a lack of intention
My works contained no genius, only an agitated bouquet of ideas
White ones, sand ones, some almost blue
An image I returned to: deep green tendrils, coarse salt
By day I moved easily enough through the offices of disappointing money
Uninterrupted, nobody stopped to ask for any music
I knew my family’s faces by pinkness and language comprehension
Something like a fond electricity was happening inside of me
I felt I could lie there forever on the tarmac by the sea
A three-legged chair, a clock, a door opening in the surf
My eye passed over without judgment or apprehension
A feeling entered quietly through the four walls of my murky inheritance
Just lost in the technicolor thought of it
A brush stroking to the left, a government whistling as it hurts
I receive its washed-up objects and contain not a single word
Copyright © 2018 Wendy Xu. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2018. Used with permission of the authors.