Issues /  / Poetry

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach is the author of three poetry collections: 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books, 2023), Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), and The Many Names for Mother (Kent State University Press, 2019). Her poems have appeared in POETRY, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, and AGNI, among others. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory from the University of Pennsylvania. Julia is Assistant Professor of English/Creative Writing at Denison University.

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my brother in the kitchen

my brother making jokes

my brother opening the fridge

my brother talking at me

my brother eight years old

my brother asking for help

my brother needing a coat

my brother holding my hand

my brother in the Ohio snow

my brother getting on the wrong bus

my brother waking up laughing

my brother going to school

my brother talking at me his thoughts

my brother waking up late

my brother asking for food

my brother growing Russian boy

my brother not knowing the right language

my brother trying to make friends in the U.S.

my brother getting on the wrong bus

my brother telling stories to strangers

my brother laughing with me at his jokes

my brother asking me for help

my brother asking me for English words

my brother walking with me in the snow

my brother getting suspended for talking

my brother home after punching a kid

my brother mispronouncing the stories

my brother laughing with me in the morning

my brother reaching for morning cereal

my brother on the apartment balcony

my brother sneaking into the country

my brother not understanding legal documents

my brother seizing on the train to Ohio

my brother before language

my brother before morning cereal

my brother before kindergarten afternoons

my brother before the school teacher gave up

my brother before he got on the wrong bus

my brother before the corrective classes

my brother before he stopped laughing

my brother before the Ohio snow

my brother before the police came

my brother before country lines

my brother before I left him

Tatiana Dolgushina


Tatiana Dolgushina is a Soviet immigrant, born in Soviet Russia and raised in Ukraine, Argentina, Chile, and the United States. This multilingual and multicultural identity is central to her work. A graduate of the Oregon State MFA, her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle, Hobart Pulp, Crab Creek Review, CALYX, the other side of hope, TAB, Collateral, New Farmer’s Almanac, and elsewhere. She is working on her first book of poetry titled “when war makes a child.”

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Rayan Al-Awar


Rayan Al-Awar is a queer Lebanese writer living in Atlanta. He works as an environmental engineer. This is their first published work.

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Christopher Ankney


Christopher Ankney's first book, Hearsay, won the 2014 Jean Feldman Prize at WWPH. Post-publication, it placed as a finalist for the Ohioana Award for Poetry. His poems have been published in places such as Boston Review, Electric Literature's The Commuter, Gulf Coast, Jet Fuel Review, Poetry South, Prairie Schooner, and Verse Daily. He is a tenured professor at the two-year College of Southern Maryland, and he lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife and two sons. His author website is

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I got married.
I had kids.
I was who I was
supposed to be

except those times those two times those
hunting trips up through Iowa
to North Dakota where ring-neck pheasants

flushed faster than you could follow their red red patches
with the left-to-right arc of a shotgun

Being who I was supposed to be, a best friend
on a journey with a best friend, the scrick-scratch of two Carhartts
together, matching Catfish Hunter bags unfurled, best friends
with their best secret bestly kept

That was the second time—the first time I went
was my 15th birthday trip with my uncle, beloved

who on the long drive described to me the man who he expected me
to be and in the must of his canvas tent showed me who I might suppose
to be and those two things though opposite

were also true, were the planting of the stones
now grown ravenous in my bones, the ones too calcified
for chemo to curethose stone seeds,those stone seeds sown

in the belly of shame never to know lightnever to split and shoot
never to know the wind or the jostling of the honeybee’s gold pollen sac
or the crisp chill of a Dakota day

Elliott batTzedek


Elliott batTzedek is a bookseller, poet, and liturgist who lives in Philadelphia. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University, where her translation of Dance of the Lunatic by the Israeli lesbian writer Shez won the Robert Bly Translation prize, judged by Martha Collins. Her poems and translations have been published in: American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Lilith, Sakura Review, Apiary, Cahoodaloodaling, Naugatuck River Review, I-70, Poemeleon, Poetica, Philadelphia Stories, and as a Split This Rock poem of the week. Her chapbook the enkindled coal of my tongue was published in January, 2017 by Wicked Banshee Press. A chapbook of translations from Shez, A Necklace of White Pearls, is forthcoming from Moonstone Press.

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I’ve been made to be a cupbearer,
saint of travels, savior. Spindle, blood lust,
I’ve been made to be heir
to the matrix, vertical, supercharged.
O Dawn, who lusters the sky,
shapes the intervals, crucibles the billowy,
O Plasma Beyond the Window

It’s said that I came from dust,
breath across the iris.
From a nematode, bony fish.
That I arrived by plowing the living
under the earth.

With upset placemats & silverware.
With disruption, disorder,
disfigurement, disturbance,
displacement, discontinuation.
I’ll begin to get in the way.

I’ll live symbiotically.
As an ion, a crow.

Senatorial & corrosive.
Sprawling & triggering.
The shape of my body is death.

The radioactive hammer
that goes where my mother goes
smashing her subjects to dust.

I remember bees buzzing
a mulberry tree, creekwaters
carving the ground.
Something too feral for words.

Some say silence is the way.
I say it just disseminates
more motherfuckery.

My kind practices
dismemberment with machetes,
guillotines. Wheels, rocks, horses.
My kind refines it with vocabularies.
With portraiture, legislation, jurisprudence.
Art, brothels, commercials, history.

My golden ticket means
I’ve been immune to fear.

I’ll live
by abdicating the throne,
remodeling the castle.
Let there be no castle.

If I could, I’d say our love
is a verb, not a noun.
Not a bridge, but to bridge.

C.S. Carrier


C.S. Carrier has an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a PhD from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His poetry collections include After Dayton and Mantle. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bear Review, Midwest Review, Sprung Formal, and The Indianapolis Review. He lives in Indianapolis where he co-founded and co-coordinates the NIGHTJAR Poetry Series.

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Chinese finger trap world,
quicksand world,
world made by fools making
men and women mad
to stay sane in the world,
plunge into work or other pursuits:
marriage, child-rearing, debauchery to drown
the low humming music,
ambient sadness of the soul:
That the ostrich’s posterior remained
exposed while burying its head.
That the housewife accompanying the kids to the beach
sat inside the umbrella's shade, afraid of the sun.

Daniel Chan Yee Ann


Daniel Chan Yee Ann is a queer and disabled writer living in Singapore. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in Sky Island Journal, Shot Glass Review, Southeast Asian Review of English, Last Stanza Journal and elsewhere. He teaches part time while tending to a chronic injury.

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I look at the sunrise full of blood,
the chanter of aulos penetrating my skin, the far-off echoing
cave, a long time ago. I pull a crayfish from the mineral stream running over
the burial ground of my bloodline, claws between my thumb and forefinger,
I cut it up
& toss into a bucket of copper rings.
My cellmate shifts on his bunk,
humming, I’m up, I’m up.

I can see the roof of my mouth, my hands (thin & drowsy) &, again, I fall into the dream
of crossing the border, from Toronto to Buffalo,
with the dope, the K, the MDMA & doses
all strapped inside the door panels. A gunshot.
My bones on a grill of fire, the cave is singing closer now. In me: white corn & milk,
& those fucking triads who pushed more weight.A .38 caliber dream. The pop & roll
of the cell door.My bare feet swallowed
by the emptiness of concrete.I wake up

lying on rough fabric, & remember they only got the runner at the border,
I’m here on something else.The earth’s shadow, like my blood, goes by many names,
rousing the inmates to cry out,Dream! Dream! Dream!
The cave in me is silent,
like a faithful dog it waits for sleep.
Brothers, sisters, siblings, all of you, these walls girded with barbed wire
have stolen everything.I choose,
turn and go deeper –
deeper still,
I choose the horizon inside.

Nathan Erwin


Nathan Erwin is a land-based poet raised on the Allegheny Plateau, the northernmost tier of Appalachia. A community organizer, Erwin currently operates at the Pocasset Pokanoket Land Trust building healthy futures for indigenous farmers and organizing around the 2023 Farm Bill and tribal land repatriation. His writing has recently appeared in The Journal, North American Review, FOLIO, Bombay Gin, Poet Lore, and Ninth Letter. His organizing and his poetry are conversant, and so he writes about land, foodways, myths, medicine, and wanting.

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Belonging (Clostridium Tetani)

It wasn’t to flood, fire, or treefall
that you lost a home, just the slow salvage
of a slanted second floor, a burst water

main under a newly cured driveway. And yet
you wanted me to see how you saw
something through. So I helped you

crowbar trim off plaster, plaster off stud,
stuff bags of loose insulation. In the sharp
heaps of wood we found faded

wedding photos, baby socks, Sears home
catalogs. I remember liking the thought
that each box we packed and left unmarked

held for a time, our belongings.
Before the hundreds we pulled from beams
too bare to suggest room, I pulled a single nail

out from your foot. Before you asked if I would
ever want a life with you there, you asked,
how bad’s it look? But it was too shallow

for stigmata and much too early
to be history.

Name Day, Dallas, 1972

Tejas is singing yourself que cantaba el rey David
on the warehouse floor today. It’s an uncle’s living room, a cousin’s bed,
until you move up from hemming prom dresses to mending

army uniforms & you trade Tejas for Texas, but by then both mean
your fingers go for the seam of every man they try to feel—that is,
when not picking your father’s clean-shaven memory up off the dirt

onto your lap, gasping Susana, as if your name were lighter
than air & left you Texas meaning so much less valley & tremor,
so fewer declared “missing” the dogs don’t manage to rescue

because Texas was as far as your mother’s eye would ever see,
& now Texas is looking over your shoulder because Texas wants you to know
it means it—like the bullet your father’s lungs confessed, like the two

cigarettes still lit by his bootheel, or the next town over
his best friend moved to because Texas, then, was eternal—Despierta, mi bien,
, you keep rhythm by the pedal under your foot & finish sewing

wounds hatched on the other side of the world.

Ella Flores


Ella Flores is a Ph.D candidate in poetry at Binghamton University and has had work appear recently in Summerset Review, RHINO, Willow Springs, and others.

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Cowered under playground
equipment. That I do. Cowered
under play. Ground. Yes
coward and play. Performance
of cow and gourd. Celebration
underground. Cowered American.
Masculine as nothing under
play. I do. I do
not need to say father was American
man. But did.


Man, “the negative being who is only to the extent that he suppresses Being,” is identical to time, stuttered from Debord who sutured, again, from Hegel. I can’t utter Hegel, his German whetted to untouchable points, but can grow more dependent on glitter and diversion to fill the void where all human is gutted.


But your growing ahead of
yourself. Man,
your father, negates himself by
suppression, occasional
slip, spill. You know
what I mean. Do I? Two
hands smother face
to top sheet, unsexual though rank,
rancid without breath, oracle
giddy with Doppler. Some
spectacle. And hear, finally,
you arrive at Ferry Trail, where
you started in, perhaps, 1998.

Father yelled. So what? Every father yellows. Soda on carpet. Dog chews pen. Will not adopt dog as adult. Will not. Father identical to time. Farther identify with dog. Debord knew. Hegel his father’s faster. He drank. Debord, I mean. I mean why should you care? Why should I?


Had rat as friend as adult. Aceyalone, Annette, Francis, Jonas, Crowley. Gave Aceyalone and Crowley a way. Annette died. Jonas died. Francis died in dog’s mouth. Was adult, was raining, was. Is that why you right about water? Not more than two years.


Man is time. Adult is
rat. I am []. Will not speak
further on this matter. Fur, her,
matte. Cat vomited while
writing. Cat is her. Here. Man
is time. Adult is. I watched,
fur matted in spectacular
fashion, hers or mine?


Bright with syllogism. I all am. How it is when you’re young and ready to scatter. Months passed. I was in Michigan then or by then. The money rolled. Mother let me buy the toy. Shell in pocket, pick up pebble, place inside. I put a worm in once.

Brutalist Poem #71

Imprecise lite of
element. Dirty
outside working under
nails, a hallway
unsupervised. Smirk off
cheap acrylic pain
drying. A classy room. Accumulated
small movements. After
noon’s equipment.

David Greenspan


David Greenspan is the author of One Person Holds So Much Silence (Driftwood Press) and the chapbook Nervous System with Dramamine (The Offending Adam). He’s a PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi and teaches in the Program in Technical Communication at the University of Michigan. Recent work appears in Denver Quarterly, Fence, and Narrative. Find him online at

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I run my tongue over my teeth, linger over each tooth
the tang of my bleeding gums stains my teeth scarlet.

the taste of my blood gumming between my teeth sings
of the parts of my body I have eaten today.

I have eaten parts of my body day after day
a bit of finger yesterday, a bite of liver the night before.

I ate half my ring finger, put the rest with the liver leftovers.
my fridge is full of heart, meat, and marrow soup.

I like to drink the meaty marrow soup fresh, it warms my frigid heart
or what is left of it anyway- I’ve picked apart my aortas so much

that only a few pinched at chunks of aorta are left floating
above my ribboned left lung, fluttering each time I breathe.

I can barely breathe so I ribbon at my fingertips, bite after bite
until each tooth lingers bloody on my tongue, my teeth.

Aether H.


Aether H. is a nonbinary poet residing in Memphis, TN in pursuit of a MFA at the University of Memphis. When not in class or writing they are usually found reading, crying, working out or some strange combination of the three.

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The spiders living in my hair
know how to scatter, infecting

my life’s furthest corners.
Dead eggs have been put to rest

in fresh laundry, carpet threads,
car seats. All day I turn trash

cans into coffins—temporary. No
matter how many effigies I build, life

keeps coming back. I’m terrified
of inevitability strung in the back

of my throat, considering the web’s origins,
knowing the soft underbelly. The spiders

are the most consistent part of living,
and I grieve when they vanish.

All night I lie
awake, swatting empty skin.

Sarah Kersey


Sarah Kersey earned her MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University in 2022. Her work has been published or is upcoming in Poet Lore, Atlanta Review, Guesthouse, and more. She was a finalist in Atlanta Review’s 2022 International Poetry Contest, as well as a finalist in Sunspot Literary Journal’s 2022 Geminga contest. She currently teaches English at North Idaho College and Gonzaga University.

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I wake to the memory of a sugar cube
swimming in it, the bitter edge
taken off. For polio? Or was that
the four-pronged prick? Then the scar

I carried for years, a scrape, a small raw.
I took them all and more, military
kid, ready to board the next plane
with my father in his crisp, substantial

blue, Air Force uniform, not pilot,
oh that sharp loss, but stout black shoes
shined, and multi-colored bars attached
to the stiff breast like a DNA sequence.

Protection I could count on. Maybe not
an even temper or every hug I wanted, but
the basics, freedom from disease
and grievous bodily harm, space enough

to read a book, write a line, live.
I learned to relax my arm so that the needle
didn’t pinch but went in smooth and clean.
And I was well. Those are the gifts I

uncover. Not wealth or dazzle or what
I’d call cultural richness. It was all pretty
basic and bare. But I was essentially safe
and warm, protected in needful ways.

Sound. That gift, like buried cable
taking power to the house. Now as I wait
my turn, in the Covid vaccination line,
I conjure up that world.

Kathryn Kirkpatrick


Kathryn Kirkpatrick is the author of seven collections of poetry, including three recipients of the NC Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell award. The Fisher Queen: New & Selected Poems (Salmon, 2019) received the NC Literary and Historical Society’s Roanoke Chowan Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Calyx, Cortland Review, Liber, Rattle, Shenandoah, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, storySouth, Tar River Poetry,, The North American Review, and other magazines. Although she grew up in the nomadic subculture of the U.S. Air Force and spent her childhood in the Philippines, Texas, and Germany, she has lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains for many years, where she teaches environmental literature, animal studies, Irish studies, and creative writing as Professor of English at Appalachian State University. She is also one of the faculty founders and co-coordinators of ASU’s Animal Studies minor. As a literary scholar, she has published essays on class trauma, eco-feminist poetics, and animal studies. Kirkpatrick is the editor of Border Crossings: Irish Women Writers and National Identities (2000) and co-editor of Animals in Irish Literature and Culture (2015).

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I’ve waited so long to be the one with the wide-eyed
toddler at the outdoor concert, under trees older than
anyone I’ve known. And yet— here I am, sizing up exits

before the music even starts: which ways we could run,
which doors of what buildings might still be open. And
the white college boy standing just outside the crowd,

blue duffle at his feet…The string quartet is playing Bach,
and I’m looking at the living on blankets and lawn chairs,
thinking of 400 elsewhere who won’t make it to midnight

because of variants often called inconvenience these days.
The piece swells so that even most kids zigzagging through
friends stand still to absorb it. And then, of course, all those

decades my body tried to be a lighthouse to pain sit down
beside me, even as the toddler brings me a cicada shell, then
lies on the brick path staring into canopy, as still as I’ll see her

all week. That pain couldn’t kill me, but I was told it wasn’t
real enough, even carried that lie until it almost did. Perfect
cadence, perfect excerpt of an evening when my daughter runs to

me, shoeless and cackling, and I know my body for sure can get us
home, tell me when we’ll change for one another, really change.
Or what it will take to believe the wound, the first notes, the root.

Becca J.R. Lachman


Becca J.R. Lachman works in the land of public libraries in Appalachian Ohio. Her poetry collections include What I say to this house, The Apple Speaks, and Other Acreage. She also edited A Ritual to Read Together, a national anthology to mark the centennial of the late poet & conscientious objector, William Stafford. You can find more of her work in places like Rattle, Change Seven Magazine, Connotation Press, Sweet: Lit, Consequence Magazine, Brevity, and Image Journal. She's a grateful graduate of the Bennington College MFA, and her work has been recognized in recent years by the Ohio Arts Council, the Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center, and a Pushcart nomination.

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This morning, the sky was as purple as a giraffe’s tongue,
and it licked me before hardening into sapphire.
What is it about dawn’s kiss that urges Go,
go do something before it all turns blue?

My muse is asleep by late afternoon like the river
otters at the zoo. I’m not sure what color
their tongues are, but I knew an old woman
who, before she died, told me one of her greatest joys

was to let a child feed the otters on their birthday−
the child’s, not the otter’s, of course, for who knows
when a rescued weasel was born or how
they’d like to celebrate. Imagine that!

Imagine being seven or eight and on a field trip
and being handed a cold bucket, the only child
handed a bucket of shellfish to throw and send
the whiskery-slicks into full-bellied doze.

Imagine waking in mid-afternoon blaze, mussel-
drunk, empty black husks surrounding you.
Now imagine yourself a gorgeous, necky ungulate
licking the face of a salty boy. Imagine

yourself the boy. Go on, feel that
lilac snake swab your cheek, that shell in your hand.
If the sky can be a giraffe’s tongue, then you can be
a boy again.

Josh Nicolaisen


Josh Nicolaisen lives in New Hampshire and is a professional gardener and former high school teacher. He holds an MFA from Randolph College and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Clockhouse, So It Goes, Red Rock Review, Poetry South, Bellingham Review, and elsewhere. Find him at

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Carolyn Oliver


Carolyn Oliver is the author of The Alcestis Machine (Acre Books, forthcoming 2024), Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble (University of Utah Press, 2022; selected for the Agha Shahid Ali Prize), and three chapbooks. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Poetry Daily, Image, Prelude, Beloit Poetry Journal, Southern Indiana Review, Consequence, and elsewhere. She lives in Massachusetts, where she is a 2023-2024 Artist in Residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Her website is

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They returned your legs on the second Monday of spring

long enough to fetch me from the aviary gates,

because you sang for them all winter.

I thumbed the tail of the sarong you bled through

that night at the tribunal, but you hopped out of reach,

and I started marking time on the dust dwindling through

the negative space before gravity caught you;

I shadowed you down the chicken wire aisle of your cellblock

the width of the hospital wing where I memorized her without you,

to the topmost cage where day by day you whistled yourself voiceless.

You hoisted me up, metacarpals pruning the shells of my ilia

brittle as the ribs of her burial bassinet, bruising

on the chickpeas studding your sheets.

I burned to fashion handholds from your captive crevices,

your yolk–soft elbows, your wishbone ankles–but my fingers were feathers

you didn’t feel falling, puffing your chest over the spoils

you traded for the death note I sent–

lint, shoelaces, cumin seeds, your unquenchable belief

that the silver cursive proof of my emptied eggs was currency well spent.

The electrified windows were taunting with trees and cruel

with sky and you kissed me goodbye

for the first time in five visits and I knew then

you’d forgotten how to wear lips and the highways home

were black with murmurations and seven sisters bathed

beside the toppled vase at her grave. Bodyweight on the accelerator;

static in the rearview mirror; crimson clouds

blooming in rainwater. Inside our house I staggered to the calendar,

strafed every square with the name

you couldn’t remember giving her. Across town

the guards snuffed lights out, and all the songs vanished

into shot–dead silence

and oncoming sirens.

Lalini Shanela Ranaraja


Lalini Shanela Ranaraja is a multigenre creative from Kandy, Sri Lanka. She has written about defiant humans, mothertongues and luminous worlds for Off Assignment, Sky Island Journal, Strange Horizons, Wildness and others. She is currently based in the USA; more of her work can be viewed at

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Could have been worse. Could have been
crows pecking our eyes out or the earth
breaking open like fresh bread. Could have
passed in my sleep before I could say good
bye. Could use a cigarette, she says, fingers
drumming on her thigh as we sit in the car
with the windows rolled down. I never hurt
nobody but myself, she whispers, and I know,
I know. The way she turns her head towards
the moon that will soon blot us out. The way
she opens her mouth as if it all starts and ends
in the wound. Praise the blues that tumble
out of her deepest self, praise these bruises
whose hands enclose around my heart like
a secret, praise the refusal to die because
the song isn’t over yet. The dark looms
as if the stage is set. We take a deep breath.
As if an afterthought, she reaches for
the gardenia in her hair. As if by touching
it will bloom still, even without her there.

T. De Los Reyes


T. De Los Reyes is a Filipino poet, designer, and author of the chapbooks, And Yet Held (Bull City Press) and Woeman (Hawai’i Review). Her poems have previously appeared in Birdcoat Quarterly, Hobart After Dark, Pleaides, Split Lip Magazine, West Trestle Review, among others. She is the designer of Nowruz Journal. She lives and writes in Manila, Philippines.

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Calm emanated from the old swami I met.
His B.O. did, too.

The Fourth Noble Truth: a misnomer, a cheap trick.
It’s an Eight-Fold Path!

Cute thought bubbles up, a floppy water balloon,
chuck it at your head.

I lost all my friends; my life ended suddenly.
I should celebrate!

Dying’s not so bad, though it can be a long slog—
living’s often worse.

A hologram Christ I bought in Jerusalem—
eyes open, eyes shut.

God’s a bad movie; at the end of the drama,
it was just a dream.

My widowed father, I saw him cry only once,
watching Patch Adams.

Star child’s fetal curl; planet’s cooing and burbling,
puking and shitting.

The Dome of the Rock, royal blue and gleaming gold.
Pigeons run inside.

Sunny balcony. Bee falls in my orange juice,
flails, swims in circles.

I crush half its legs—the centipede jolts to life,
dancing, speaking tongues.

I lord over bugs. I trap a fly in a jar
of crushed tomatoes.

Lashes camouflage, at the brim of an eyelid,
a perched mosquito.

Unseen teen sniper high in the checkpoint tower.
A nerve-racking walk.

Two homeless brothers, their mother under rubble
behind where we talk.

As a kid at night, pretending to die alone,
playing war in bed.

Ramzi or Nadeem, names I wanted then.
More Arab than mine.

Coked up Parisian in the David Lynch nightclub
calls me sand_____.

Short hike from my house to Mahmoud Darwish’s grave,
a pack of wild dogs.

Throwing pillows high over the Apartheid Wall,
not all go over.

Some poems, don’t remember writing them.
Some old lovers, too.

I pocket a rock, my red rock from my red soil.
I may not return.

Edward Salem


Edward Salem is a 2023 Kresge Artist Fellow, a recipient of the PEN/Dau Prize, and the winner of the BOMB Fiction Contest, selected by Ottessa Moshfegh. His writing has been published in Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. He is the co-founder of City of Asylum/Detroit.

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Buried on
the prison
yard six
paces east
of first base
a toothbrush
whittled to a point
more fang
than blade
glints like
a gumball trinket
its bristled hilt tickler
of the sucker
the debtor
who’s undug
this bone.
Be wolf
or be gone.
The fake owl
atop the guard
tower rattles
in a breeze.

This Call Is from an Inmate at a Federal Prison

“Dad, what do I do
when a friend
calls you a loser?”
My son waits
until near the end
of our call, his voice
snagging on vowels
and hollow like he’s holding
a log under his chin.
When I was last
around for bedtimes
he’d ask me each night
to guess the hand
in which he held
a kiss for me (a game
I never lost), his fist
no bigger than nectarines.
His limbs since
have outgrown the grace
that’s let him, these fatherless
years, live with uncertainty,
and the cords that keep
him steady now stretch towards
the tensions of the world.
I do not know how tall he is.
I do not know his weight, his
shoe size or if he takes
stairs two at a time.
I do not know how he moves
through crowds, if his body
barely gives. “However
you responded, Baby, I’m sure
it was best.” I’ve lost
the right to send my boy
into battle. I do not know
what he’ll do with the fierce
river he must feel within.
In a different version
of our lives I tell him
to lower his shoulder and surge
like a dam break, aiming
for the divot just below his friend’s
ribs. “Listen for the bongo
thump, clasping your arms
around his waist, your eyes
focused, always, past him
on a point in the distance
where all things meet.”

Erik Tschekunow


Erik Tschekunow's poems about his incarceration have won awards from PEN and THE FRESHWATER REVIEW. He now lives in Minneapolis.

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A man wipes a woman’s mouth,
thumb like a white boulder.

Don't say you're sorry,
if you don't mean it.

100 million years ago
all this land used to be water.

It went boulder to ocean to fertile land. Truthfully,
there’s no one here but me,

there’s only my mouth saying
boulder, ocean, fertile land.

I ululate hard to soft to something new.
Truthfully, he’s only asking me to say sorry,

but what is a liar? I'll ask more clearly:
what is an apologizer?

Here, dear: I'm sorry boulder,
I’m sorry ocean, I’m sorry fertile land.

Water shifts seamlessly around objects,
sinks a boulder effortlessly, feeds the land.

Does that mean water has the last word?
I’ve seen it sink my own mouth.

Now, I speak eschatologically.
What is an eon? I’ll wait.

A talisman for the end times,
I let these words seep:

boulder, ocean, fertile land,
truthfully, I’m sorry, I say, this time.

Ruth Williams


Ruth Williams is the author of a poetry collection, Flatlands (Black Lawrence Press), and two poetry chapbooks, Nursewifery (Jacar Press) and Conveyance (Dancing Girl Press). Currently, Ruth is an Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department at William Jewell College.

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