No horses in the barn. No high-backed animals with hooves. My father’s shoulders worked the plow in the lake-flat valley basin, turned blood-clay into rows—then my father’s shoulders were the plow, broad, sun-dark and toiling. He dug up rows of mountains. My father was large. He might have been God. He scattered a prayer of seeds and perspired for them like rain. The heat followed him across the new country. It pulled rain from his great shoulders and where it fell grew many yellow gourds of suns, suns meant to crush between my father’s daughter’s teeth. My father’s body plowed no sons. He grew a daughter and she couldn’t eat the light.
nothing dry // the rain comes relentless to the valley to coax the lake from its limits // lets loose all that suffers soil // not like the rapture this unearthing // in red floodwaters caskets nose the graveyard fence like patient old canoes // the night is so dark it swallows everything that moves // even daylight is thick and gray with drowning // the bones of houses buckle // and warp with wet // their sides distend like bloated bellies // like buoys the fishing boats have left behind // no angels here // no rest // if sleep comes it comes as the mistress of ghosts // who knew the dead could float?
the year before my mother was a mother she cradled a foal, the child the doctors said she couldn’t have, the horse weeks old and already broken by desire: mimicked its own strong mother, tried to jump the fence and couldn’t, legs too twiggy to make the leap. my mother watched as it crumbled on the other side, tried to rise but couldn’t, back bending in ways it shouldn’t, severed spine, wrong-angled knees. my father held the foal’s real mother by her reins while my mother held the foal, soothed fingers through its mane, stroked the black head large and heavy in her lap. my father pulled the horse-mother back to the stable, called the vet who made the dirt-road drive at once, brought the syringe. later, years after my mother had become my mother, she would tell me how it felt to hold power as it was emptied, how she soon, against the odds, fell pregnant, stopped grieving for the horse-child to love one of her own. it never snows in alabama, but my mother said when i was born the world was hard and white: a blizzard knocked out the heat and while she nursed, my father blanketed the horses that remained. i arrived to the sound of running hoofbeats, the rhythmic thump of my father chopping down the fence for a fire.
Raye Hendrix is a poet from Alabama. Raye is an MFA candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, where she serves as the Web Editor for Bat City Review. You can find her poems in Southern Indiana Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Shenandoah, The Pinch, Cherry Tree, and elsewhere.
on the death of Tomas Tranströmer, March 26, 2015
Once there was a knife-thrower who believed in a measure of mercy: he blindfolded all of his knives.
In the ages before pockets existed, a handkerchief waved goodbye to itself, and the knot was born.
Once upon a time the villagers came to draw hope from what seemed an empty bucket at the end of an empty rope.
To be immersed in grief: who will console the stream’s water when it cannot stop?
S.C. Hahn's work has appeared in many anthologies and journals, and a prose poem collection, "A Sky That Is Never the Same", was published in 2008 by Stray Dog Press (now Argos Books). He's a Nebraska native who lives in Stockholm, where he's a pensioner.
He was one of those men, a fixer, said he’d scrub the chipped tiles in the kitchen, grout in the basement, said he’d fix everything broken. He dragged in love like a stone from the lake and slung it around her neck. Blues on skin. Moss on carpet. Saw dust in garage. Weekends he hung up posters and footprints, licked the lip of each bottle to make sure it was worth his money. She studied the weeds, paced the lot, dumb as a broken horse pawing the dirt at its feet. Nights she pondered the circumference of her door, the cost of exit.
FACT: The human ear can hear up to 140 decibels. For instance, 10 decibels is a November leaf falling on Second Ave; 20 is whispering to your friend that yes sometimes you think about leaving; 50 is his morning coffee percolating in the kitchen; 100 is the lawnmower snapping its jaw across the yard; 130 is the threshold of pain, as in your last fight. Anything higher causes permanent damage.
FACT: To stop a wave from travelling, one must locate the source of disturbance. For instance, at New Year’s, you and your friends run away after lighting the fireworks to avoid explosions at close range; you sign up for a shooting class, where the instructor tells you to wear ear protection when handling a pistol; you try to talk to your neighbor under the pool but the water is too thick, resists your voice and you come up choking.
FACT: What you think of silence is not the absence of sound. For instance: your pitch moves the world by merely one billionth of a centimeter; no one has ever detected it; at 0 decibel, the human heart screams and screams with an astounding frequency.
I slapped her // the sound reminded me of water balloons against pavement // little bodies thwacked open // translucent blood on the sidewalk // the handprint flowered into an orchid // blue capillaries snaking across her cheek // she thanked me said she’d been waiting // for years // why hadn’t I done it sooner // reached up and where // she touched the petals flaked off at the autumn in her fingertips // when my mother smiled she was ivory and meat // nipples drooped and pubic hair pouted // want to die already she said won’t you hurry // what do you mean I asked // you have come to take me // pointed to // the dress I took from her closet // the one she wore when she was twenty // the one I siphoned my body in all // slither and skin // I told her I’m sorry so sorry // all I ever wanted she said // was for you to be pretty // my baby doll // my daughter // my butcher // look //your body tight // face smooth as sausage // listen // the world will want a bite of you // will gobble you up to make wide-eyed children gnashing cake and confetti // try to forgive them // try to give yourself to their teeth
Yuxi Lin is a Chinese American poet and winner of the Breakout 8 Writers Prize. Her writing can be found in The Washington Post, Epiphany, The Electric Literature, The Southern Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and HEArt Online. She is an MFA candidate at New York University.
I commune with you in the car. Today we will take communion. Our eyes and tongues are wafer-shaped. The cracker is sweet paper holding shape in our stomachs. My hair has the shimmer of red wine. Your voice is gossamer silk, oak pews, sun rays spilling out of the choir boy’s mouth. Both our bodies light up like stained glass. We are patterned after the past. We cut through the city like sincloth and famine. But we could never make it past the church doors. Confession is a clot of raven feathers in our throats. Lunar months beckon like moths. Both of us light eight candles with the shamash and close the shutters at Christmas. When your song ends, I will go back to shielding my eyes against anything cloistered or robed, will swig the sweet wine, braid puffy bread, swerve to avoid their choked white smoke.
My daughter’s hair has become the shade of crisp linen from the summer sun. She rubs her body in black sand to hide from ocean hags, filters sea salt and seagull shit through her nostrils. When she asks to ride the wind like a dragon, I tell her to go for it. This commune with nature never lasts. We’ve evolved over eons to desire the structure of corners. We retreat to domes, cubes, pyramids. We are attracted to fresh air through woven screens and cracked windows, drapes the color of cornsilk. When vines creep up to greet us at the sill, we pull off their limbs. We hack at the stalks of whatever native plant we deem a weed. And so when a small girl wants to wear wakame as a wig, I fight back my urge to flee, to wash her hair that evening. I sit on my hands and let the waves taste her toes. Mother-daughter-water is a triangle built on longing. Inside my chest, my heart becomes a drama of bottles breaking open at the hip and lip, succumbing to becoming seaglass.
Quinn Rennerfeldt studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder and currently lives in San Francisco with her daughters and partner. Her heart is equally wed to the Pacific and the Rocky Mountains. Her work can be found in Slipstream, Punchdrunk Press, and is forthcoming in Mothers Always Write.
There is no logical explanation for moonlighting as an avalanche. What could be the rationale for impersonating a natural disaster? A trace of rubble cascades into a parade of unruly earth. The drum major keeps time, conducts a blue ribbon band, and snowballs into catastrophe. Momentum is the result of both following and leading, and being in tune to your surroundings is the first step in overcoming a violent effect of gravity. The biggest downfalls are recorded in degree of recovery. Getting back on one’s feet requires regaining a balance implying the original position was stable enough to withstand the slightest uncomfortable breeze. Where the wind blows, the fatal will fall. Trying to uncover the motivation behind any burgeoning calamity requires thinking like a landslide. Survivors always remember the first time they were buried.
The improper way to drop a bombshell is to consider the debris. One can’t be concerned with casualties when delivering an earth-shattering announcement. Every plot of land is in cahoots with one another to withstand the weight of its own world; each stray blade of grass is a reminder that a denser forest exists. Showing sympathy acknowledges the presence of guilt, but giving breath to smothered sentiments doesn’t require an apology. Merely existing is sufficient grounds for divorcing the man from the damage. Going through the motions requires perfecting the most barren routine. So much to ponder in between inception and finality. So much to mourn in between every and thing.
Daniel Romo is the author of Apologies in Reverse (FutureCycle Press, 2019), When Kerosene’s Involved (Mojave River Press, 2014), and Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013). He lives, bench presses, and rides his folding bike in Long Beach, CA. More at danielromo.net.
It begins in the car, this feeling like a glass shard in your eye, despite the drops and antihistamines, and you know whatever you say will draw it out, bring it out like your grandfather did all those splinters in your feet from the boardwalk at Asbury Park. You are talking, spinning, sand kicking up, metaphor now, circling around what’s too small to be seen except under the microscope, those embryos on ice; they’re with you always, every time you open up your email and find the note that takes you back there, your hand on your belly, a prescription for valium, two day-5 blastocysts swimming in the dark. It hurts, and you rub it as you talk, working it out, this shard of daily living caught there, and she asks you if you are okay and you want to invite her over so she can watch you in the rocking chair at night, the boy at your breast, moving his finger from ear to mouth to eye, from his eye to your eye, eyes you say ice he says, a perspective shift, words spinning. Because when you are sitting there, her eyes boring into you, drawing it out, no you are not fine, hysterical really, laughing at your tears, but how long it’s been since you cried, really cried, and yes, a letting go, a seeing clearly, the glass in your eye like a mirror and you can see yourself, see those not-quite children, see it all.
Robin Silbergleid is the author of The Baby Book and the memoir Texas Girl, and co-editor of Reading and Writing Experimental Texts: Critical Innovations. She lives in East Lansing, MIchigan, where she teaches and directs the Creative Writing Program at Michigan State University.