Lazy Love Song

Patricia Smith

For my husband and granddaughter

The other night, I gazed at what I’d won–
you, tethered to the couch and growling deep
with dinner, treating all within your realm
to symphonies of snorts and poots and winds
and afterward, you’d smile, as if you were
a child, with innocence your one excuse.
And did I say I love you? Yes, I do.
I love the you who loves the you in me,
I love the one we are, the two we were,
the stains that bloom on every shirt you own,
the waddle in your walk, your stubborn stance,
your belly pushing out from under T’s
and body music I first thought was crass.
I love that we’re so comfortable with us,
our crevices, and dips and droops and scars,
our sprouting hairs and balding spots and nights
of churned tequila failing to stay down.
I love that you have seen me so collapsed
that all I was was air, and that right now
I’m naked, menopausal, sweating stink
and close to tears, and still you hold me tight
as if somebody else would want the me
you have. I love the blatant man in you–
your shining armor, and the certain way
you make a circle safe around our lives,
our sloppy lives, our wild blues lyric lives,
our sunken chairs and all our mismatched cups
our million books in pieced-together rooms
our nights of belch and burp and whiskey shots
and pie and bags of Twizzlers gobbled down
while TV slaps us numb and dulls our brains
with thrilling lives so far outside of ours.
I love that you’re a singer, sans a key,
who warbles, screeches, hums and drives me mad
with painfully dumb lyrics you create
to songs I thought I knew. And sometimes we
just stop and stare and wonder, How did this
work out? I had a husband, you a wife,
and then, all gone. We shoved aside whole lives
for days of nothing but ourselves, and yes
our girl, the one who came to us a child
of separate parts. Not ours but all of ours,
she charmed us with her sweet disarming smile
and days of raven hair. You opened wide your arms
and pulled her in, our orphan girl, our light,
our sudden daughter brandishing her wounds
and trusting us to heal. And now, of course,
she’s you, an entertainer, droll and wise,
laughing loud at things that no one else
can see. I’m more than blessed to have you both,
although the blessing’s hard for most to see.
I wander through these messy rooms of love,
astounded by my one. The he. We three.

Patricia Smith is the author of eight books of poetry, including Incendiary Art, winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the 2018 NAACP Image Award, and finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize;Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist; and Gotta Go, Gotta Flow, a collaboration with award-winning Chicago photographer Michael Abramson.  Her other books include the poetry volumes Teahouse of the Almighty, Close to Death, Big Towns Big Talk, Life According to Motown; the children’s book Janna and the Kings and the history Africans in America, a companion book to the award-winning PBS series. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The Baffler, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Tin House and in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays and Best American Mystery Stories. She co-edited The Golden Shovel Anthology—New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks and edited the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir. She is a Guggenheim fellow, a Civitellian, a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient, a finalist for the Neustadt Prize, a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, a former fellow at both Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. Patricia is a professor at the College of Staten Island and in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, as well as an instructor at the annual VONA residency and in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Residency Program.

Perhaps the Greatest Error

Cornelius Eady

This guy makes is Getting in Buzz Alden’s
Face, or perhaps it’s that he wants Buzz
To admit, to cry, to repent that it’s all been
A joke, a hoax, that Moon stuff, just something
Home made with lights and mirrors; remember
Playing “Space-boy”, your cardboard box lifting off
The living room carpet, and there you go,
The ceiling, the roof, the diminishment of the streets
Through your scissor-cut window, away, away,
Then the corrugated darkness, and stars.

But it’s a cardboard box, and the gravity
Of your parent’s house, where a kid, as we know
Has to snap out of it, sooner or later, or they
Begin to worry about where you’ll land.

So down from the beautiful, silent orbit,
That slow brake called reason, the weight
Of the real world dragging your arms. Come on,

The man insists, like your father’s hand ruffling
Your pillow with a quarter, caught, when all
He wanted was for you to believe, just for a bit
Longer, that that baby tooth of yours called
Beings invisible to your bed, stop lying
And tell us the truth. O, intangible worlds,
An astronaut ignites his fingers, and his fist
Is launched to the chin of the idiot moon.

-To Tracy K. Smith

Cornelius Eady is the author of eight books of poetry, including Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam, April 2008). His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985; in 2001 Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award. His work in theater includes the libretto for an opera, “Running Man,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999. His play, “Brutal Imagination,” won Newsday’s Oppenheimer award in 2002. In 1996 Eady co-founded, with writer Toi Derricotte, the Cave Canem summer workshop/retreat for African American poets. More than a decade later, Cave Canem is a thriving national network of black poets, as well as an institution offering regional workshops, readings, a first book prize, and the summer retreat. Eady has been a teacher for more than twenty years, and is now a professor at Notre Dame University.

Practical Joke

Brian Barker

The crows worked all night disassembling, then reassembling, a man’s car. By dawn it
perched on the roof of his house in perfect working condition. The man knew not to get
angry. He walked whistling to the curb, climbed into an imaginary car, made some
engine noises, and drove off to work. As he slept that night, the crows countered. A man
was messier than a car, and they squabbled about what went where. The next morning,
the neighbors thought it the damnedest thing. A car on a roof, radio blaring. A man
propped behind the wheel, an arm ending in a foot dangling carefree from the window.
An ass in place of a face, sporting sunglasses, staring into endless blue sky.

Above the Tunnels

Sandy Fontana

This college campus extension,
one building only, formerly part

of the asylum on these asylum grounds.
The classrooms, converted patients’

quarters and beneath us the tunnels.
Such horror and history. We’re like

the city atop the buried city, the students
could pickax and shovel into quieted

collected voices of the mad, and madhouse
keepers, instead of drudging through MLA

documentation. We’re like a parallel universe
of institutions, like Roethke’s sad pencils.

Sandy Fontana teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Shawnee Community College. She received her MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale along with the 2002, 2003, and 2004 Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poetry has been published in Atlanta Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Nimrod, Slippery Elm, and The Labletter.

Protest Chant 2020

Jennifer Michael Hecht

How was the blindfold supposed to help?
Was it one last moment alone with yourself?

Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet and historian of science and culture. Her poetry books include Who Said (Copper Canyon), Funny (Wisconsin), and The Next Ancient World (Tupelo); and her poetry appears in The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, and The Kenyon Review. Hecht holds a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and her prose books include Stay: A History of Suicide (Yale) and Doubt: A History (HarperOne). She’s writing a book on poetry after religion for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

In her thirties the poet acknowledges she is gay

Amanda Hawkins
In dreams I speak to people
I cannot yet speak to in daily life—
behind me an amorphous black
splash flinging itself in all directions,
or, a prism, top blown off, a hard
stream of light fire-hosing up
from the opening. My priest says
this is not a time to be impulsive,
this is a time to be intentional, slow.
My therapist asks if
it is possible to hold this newness
and not take action. Daily, I choose
to wrap my arms around my own body,
tap ten times the indents
under my wings. The other day
I pierced my nose with moonstone—
good, I read, for opening
the heart. I keep searching
for a minimalist zodiac tattoo—
all circles, triangles, and dots—
explained why to my uncle
with a description of the Eucharist:
outward sign of inward grace, how
in all my visions I am still
slow to speak, but I do speak,
and I take as long as I need.

Amanda Hawkins holds a MA in theological studies from Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. She is a Bread Loaf and Tin House Scholar, a three time Pushcart nominee, and the winner of the 2018 Editor’s Prize for Poetry at The Florida Review. Her work can be found in Boston ReviewThe Cincinnati ReviewThe Orison AnthologyOrion, and Terrain.


Christina Stoddard

I want a haircut that can win a bar fight.
aaaaaaaI want a haircut that will
throw my things on the lawn so I can finally
aaaaaaaget out of here. A gale is tearing

aaaaaaaat all the shutters on this house
and I want a haircut that feels like that
howling. I need everyone to know
aaaaaaaI’m coming for them
because I have nothing left to lose.

I’m tossing the glass jars on my vanity
aaaaaaaand the plastic comb I drag
across my scalp. Because we all expect
aaaaaaato grow old and soft
and too many people I love just won’t.
aaaaaaaI want a haircut that can stop time

so I can give myself one more hello
aaaaaaafrom her, one more of everything
before she climbs into the car
aaaaaaathat will not make it back.

There is money in my wallet
aaaaaaaand I want a haircut that will raise
an army. If it worked for that girl
aaaaaaaand her ships, it can work for me.

I want a haircut that can bring down a plague
aaaaaaaand settle a bet.
That can write its own love sonnet
and pitch a script. I’m so tired
aaaaaaaof having this face, boring

aaaaaaaas a faucet. Where’s the pizazz?
I want so much more than what I’m getting,
aaaaaaamy fury bursts like a galaxy.
I want a haircut that will call God’s bluff

Christina Stoddard is the author of Hive, which was selected by Lucia Perillo for the 2015 Brittingham Prize in Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press). Christina’s poems have appeared in various journals including storySouthDIAGRAM, and Spoon River Poetry Review. Originally from Tacoma, WA, Christina received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was the Fred Chappell Fellow. Christina is an Associate Editor at Tupelo Quarterly and a Contributing Editor at Cave Wall. She currently lives in Nashville, TN where she is the Managing Editor of a scholarly journal in economics and decision theory.

Attention Deficit Pastoral

Kwoya Fagin Maples

Or how, if there is field before me—broad sky,
and too much green—I lose my breath,
Unable to keep up with my body,
now lifted off to wonder.
My children knock
around my knees, yet I can’t hear their pulling.
So much is stunning me at once, the sun
on me at once. Why this?
I go in blind direction
smelling woods or earth or air,
so many roads of grass
under my shoes.

Kwoya Fagin Maples is a writer from Charleston, S.C. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and is a Cave Canem Fellow and a current Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Fellow.  She is the author of Mend (University Press of Kentucky, 2018), which was named a 2019 Finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. Mend was also finalist for AWP’s Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. In addition to a chapbook publication by Finishing Line Press entitled Something of Yours (2010) her work is published in several journals and anthologies including Blackbird Literary Journal, Obsidian, Berkeley Poetry Review, The African-American Review, Pluck!, Tin House Online and Cave Canem Anthology XIII. Her most recent poetry collection, Mend, was finalist for AWP’s Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. Mend tells the story of the birth of obstetrics and gynecology in America and the role black enslaved women played in that process. This work received a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.


Googling Your Name

Jeff Whitney

I learn you are also a rheumatologist
in Bethesda, a realtor in Orlando.
In 1902, you were a universalist and rained
pages of the Bhagavad-Gita from a glider.
You were a general and a saint—either way
lifting hands and when you did there was
silence. Baseball coach who died near third base
waving his runner home. It would be easier
if you were dead—skeleton with a gold tooth
in a bay-sunk galleon, field mouse picked at
first by vulture then by cricket then lonely
churn of time. If you were a ventriloquist’s doll.
Then we could say “he knows not what he does,” and then
we too could be forgiven. For Googling your name
instead of trying to do the work of dismantling
the mysterious machine that put you wherever
it is you are, so far from where you began,
in a place that looks for some reason like
home. It has flowers, anyway.

Jeff Whitney is the author of five chapbooks, two of which were co-written with Philip Schaefer. Recent poems can be found in 32 Poems, Adroit, Booth, Muzzle, Prairie Schooner, The Puritan, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland.

Dawn Callers

Alberto Ríos

The dawn callers and morning bringers,
I hear them as they intend themselves to be heard,

Quick sonic sparks in the morning dark,
Hard at the first work of building the great fire.

The soloist rooster in the distance,
The cheeping wrens, the stirring, gargling pigeons,

Getting ready for the work of a difficult lifetime,
The first screet of the peahen in the far field,

All of it a great tag-of-sounds game engaging even the owls,
The owls with their turned heads and everything else that is animal.

Then, too, the distant thunder of the garbage truck,
That lumbering urban whale.

Through it all, the mourning doves say
There, there—which is to say, everything is all right.

I believe them. They have said this to me ever since childhood.
I hear them. I hear them and I get up.

Alberto Álvaro Ríos is the author of 10 books and chapbooks of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir. His books of poems include, most recently, “The Dangerous Shirt,” along with “The Theater of Night,” winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, “The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body,” finalist for the National Book Award, “Teodoro Luna’s Two Kisses,” “The Lime Orchard Woman,” “The Warrington Poems,” “Five Indiscretions,” and “Whispering to Fool the Wind,” which won the Walt Whitman Award. His three collections of short stories are, most recently, “The Curtain of Trees,” along with “Pig Cookies” and The Iguana Killer,” which won the first Western States Book Award for Fiction, judged by Robert Penn Warren. His memoir about growing up on the Mexico-Arizona border, called “Capirotada,” won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award and was designated the OneBookArizona choice for 2009. Ríos is a Regents Professor at Arizona State University, where he has taught since 1982 and where he holds the further distinction of the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English.  In 2013, he was designated the inaugural Arizona Poet Laureate, and in 2014 was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. He was appointed director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU in 2017.

The Skull On My Desk

Lauren K. Watel

Lauren K. Watel is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and translator who lives in Decatur, GA. Her prose poems have recently been published in The Paris Review, The Nation, Narrative, Antioch Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Five Points.  Her essay on the work of Toi Derricotte is featured in the Spring 2019 issue of Birmingham Poetry Review. Other work has won awards from Poets and Writers and Mississippi Review and has appeared in publications such as Ploughshares, Slate, Colorado Review, Poetry International and the Collected Poems of Marcel Proust.

The Book of Yeezus

Julian Randall

Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. He has received fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT, & the Watering Hole, & was the 2015 National College Slam (CUPSI) Best Poet. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. Julian is the curator of Winter Tangerine Review’s Lineage of Mirrors. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Georgia Review, Sixth Finch, & in the anthologies Portrait in Blues, Nepantla, & New Poetry from the Midwest. He received an MFA in Poetry from Ole Miss. His first book, Refuse, is the winner of the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry prize selected by Vievee Frances & was named a finalist for the NAACP Image Award in Poetry.

On a Spaceship Somewhere, Long After Empire’s Collapse

Jesús I. Valles

Jesús I. Valles is a queer Mexican immigrant writer-performer originally from Cd. Juarez, México/El Paso, TX. Jesús is a 2019 Lambda Literary fellow, a 2019 Walter E. Dakin Playwriting fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a recipient of the 2019 Letras Latinas Scholarship from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a poetry fellow at Idyllwild Arts Writers Week, and a recipient of a 2019 Fine Arts Work Center scholarship. Jesús is also a 2018 Undocupoets fellow, a 2018 Tin House scholar, a fellow of the 2018 Poetry Incubator, the runner-up in the 2017 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest, and a finalist of the 2016 Write Bloody Poetry Contest. Their work has been published in The Shade Journal, The Texas Review, The New Republic, Palabritas, The Acentos Review, Quarterly West, The Mississippi Review, and is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine and The Adroit Journal. As an actor and theatremaker, Jesús is the recipient of four B. Iden Payne awards, including Outstanding Original Script and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for their autobiographical solo show, (Un)Documents.

dive in

Evie Shockley

the body, bodies, in a pool of bedding, blue,
                                                a sea of sweat, shared ~ we each slip into some-

            one more comfortable than loneliness, than
                                                                           shame, not easy but something to do with our

                              hands, our mouths, till we can forget, let go ~
                      yet the body remembers when it was twenty-

something, thirty-something, happy to be
                                          stroking, stroked, swimming, limbs pulling,

                                                                      thrashing, toward the o of oblivion ~ these
                           positions still take the body reaching, fluttering,

     grasping, gasping, back to that timeless place, all
                  of it happening in the now, in the mind, a transit

                                                             between mind and (__)it, transport, transferring
a rage of pleasure between us ~ the outrageous

                                                  sound of this joy, the silence at center, we’re
                                                                                in over our heads ~ a body can get carried

                   away in that headiness, i did, and you with me,
                                                swept up in a wave of language and tumbled

Evie Shockley is the author of semiautomatic and the new black, both winners of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry; semiautomatic was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the LA Times Book Prize. Her publications include as well the critical study Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. Among her honors are the Stephen Henderson Award, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She is Professor of English at Rutgers University.

Hexagenia Limbata

Kathryn Nuernberger

This bug with a needle out the back that might be
its stinger or a body’s length of genital or just
the endlessness of an unlikely thorax has translucent
black-leaded wings and picks its way across my table
in this bar, lifting its skinny ass up and down in a way
you’d have to agree is sexy. What shall we call it?
A man I know who likes to read archaic Latin
just came in and didn’t recognize me, so I watched
him walk away in his humble slouch of cargo shorts
and bald head, a little overweight, thinking to myself
that if he were to sit down next to me and read
this passage or that from some very old tract
on Roman property law for no other reason than
he likes what language can do, I would kiss him
up and down his throat and into his mouth, one
sentence at a time. Among other reasons, to help
me forget how earlier today I read the transcripts
of that poor girl’s testimony against a Harvard-bound
ambassador’s son and how she just couldn’t believe
what was happening to her was happening to her,
so she was quiet when he did it, and tried for two days
after to believe she had asked for it and there was
nothing to report. Because how do we live in the world
if it wasn’t our fault? Easier if we should have just
said or done something different. I’ll walk home
alone and tipsy tonight, as my friend who never
even got to testify did, because it’s a great pleasure
to be by yourself, drunk with the night. Though
it’s hard not to think about how she was grabbed
by the throat under just so many stars. She was afraid
and she wanted to get away, so she offered to blow
him instead, because, she said later, we’ve all done
things we didn’t feel like doing just to get it over with.
I’ll remember how I tried to explain this to my dad
once at the end of a long drive. That I too really love
to walk home alone in the dark, but he didn’t get it.
Words never seem to live up to the promise they make us.
Why would I want to do something so stupidly
dangerous? he asks. Another night we were talking
about politics and transvaginal ultrasounds and I said
nonchalantly that I’ve had six of them because once
you’ve had six you can’t help but be nonchalant
about it. He was shocked so I explained it was
the miscarriage and the retained placenta. They call
the thing a wand, but it looks just like a dildo
and the nurse puts a condom on it for hygiene
and practicality. “No need to reinvent the wheel,”
she jokes as she rolls the latex down in front of you.
But since language can’t reinvent what happens
to you, it still feels really screwed up to lay on a table
with a lube-soaked, condom-covered dildo in your body
watching the movie it projects onto a flat screen TV
of your larger-than-life dead baby who isn’t really a baby
or other times it’s just the emptiness inside yourself
the doctor is pointing at. There’s language again,
twisting what is into what isn’t. It was a baby to me—
I don’t expect it to have been to you. This time
my dad is wiping his eyes, I can’t believe it,
but he is. Maybe because, and this hadn’t occurred
to me before, but maybe he loved that child
who never was and maybe because he loves me too.
My stranger with his Latin writes about linguistics
and philology and charmed me once by saying
he likes the puzzle words make, how he can
take them apart and apart and apart and then
reassemble them into a language more familiar
while he drinks alone at this bar in this private life
of his with no woman and no man. All the while
that strange, unknown insect with a body like lace
has been crawling along my arm. I didn’t notice.
Does it even have a mouth at this stage in its life?

Kathryn Nuernberger’s third poetry collection, Rue, is forthcoming in Spring 2020 (BOA).  The End of Pink (BOA, 2016), won the 2015 James Laughlin prize from the Academy of American Poets, and Rag & Bone (Elixir, 2011) won the 2010 Antivenom Prize. A collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (Ohio State University Press, 2017), won the Non/Fiction Prize from The Journal. She teaches in the MFA Program at University of Minnesota and has received grants from the NEA,  American Antiquarian Society and the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life.