Genealogical Trip to Pulaski, Virginia

L. Renée

The mayfly swarm undulates like the perfect hip
roll, mottled bodies plow brown bodies midair.
Wings fade as fine gossamer in June sun
buoyed by a buzz too quick to be caught
by my eye, which doesn’t want to bear the witnessing:

how nature persists in getting on with it, publicly—
life, sex, death in the span of a day. 
I turn away, overcome by shame. I look through
my Ford’s cracked glass at white mile markers blurring
a black highway. Why does our making always begin

in denial? When I find my great-great grandmother, 
Frances Houndshell in Census records, branded
mulatto and a mother at age 9, I do not wince. I practice
numbness, focus only on getting back to the alpha mama
who owned her own body, her own name, somewhere

off the coast of Ghana or Nigeria, maybe,
where her breath, not her sweat, was enough
currency. In Virginia, it’s common to see the dead
mayflies skip across pavement like flat rocks tossed
sidearmed at a stream’s surface, then lodged 

in sidewalk cracks, among orphaned pebbles, 
sticks and sprigs of grass. I’d rather look 
at uncountable rows of tobacco leaves
which leave me breathless, dizzy even. All those
green ears flap like an elephant’s hello, hang woody

scents heavy through my car vents like next-of-kin
hugs hugged only at family reunions. In death, 
female mayfly lips freeze into an ‘O’ as if readying 
a whistle, as if leaving evidence of ‘no,’ after the males 
give chase, grab their tiny legs, drag them to the ground,

after the mount. It happens like this. Whole lives 
purposed for labor and procreation. Night collects 
her bounty. By daybreak, bodies pile by the hundreds 
on windowsills, in porch corners, in the middle of a passage 
pedestrians stroll between a jail and courthouse. 

The nice white genealogist at the local library tells me 
Frances’ age must be wrong, an error in reporting. 
But I know a nymph can be snatched from her skin, 
molt and molt until she becomes something new,
gains wings, if only for a brief view of the dust 

she will soon call home.

L. Renée is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. She is a second-year MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she serves as the Nonfiction Editor of the Indiana Review and as Associate Director of the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. She is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and the Green Mountain Writers Conference. She was awarded a National Silver medal in poetry at the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, and a Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Fellowship from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she earned her MS in Journalism.

Grief #913

Saeed Jones

I grieve the boy I killed and the country fashioned out
of his blood stains. I grieve that it was so easy. The knife,
lazy and confident, invading him. This is what love feels like.
I grieve that he believed me. Dumb animal, doe-eyed, ready-made
gift, just another border outlined in barbed wire and crime scene chalk.
I grieve that, even then, I already knew I’d do it again, again, again,
again. I grieve a continent, nations united by the way terror turns
me on, the hot instant between thrust and gasp, “I want you”
and “I had you.” Again, again, again, again. I grieve my face
onto the covers of history books. I grieve the descendants,
dumb animals, dead-eyed, ready-made gifts. This is what love
requires. I grieve that they still believe me.

Saeed Jones is the author of Prelude to Bruise, winner of the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award. The poetry collection was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as awards from Lambda Literary and the Publishing Triangle in 2015. His memoir How We Fight For Our Lives is forthcoming October 2019 from Simon & Schuster. 

“Guillotine” and “Even the ghosts”

Nicky Beer

Guillotine

Pictorial Webster’s: A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities

In the illustration, the executioner stands
furthest back. The condemned stoops with hands
bound behind. There are two other figures:
a man pushing the prisoner towards the grim
apparatus, and a priest in a frock, his back to us.
In the foreground a coffin has been laid.
You can spot the soft hint of a wicker basket
on the guillotine’s far side. The whole scene
readied for the schoolhouse is so neatly done
the clouds’ inked lines seem to promise
a kind of steadiness, as if you could safely
walk on them . . . I could say something
about history being a terrible blade. Or perhaps
it’s the raised crucifix in the priest’s right hand,
the ineffective witness. But the truth is
it’s the basket, its bloodstains crosshatched
just out of view, still fresh enough to raise the scent
of iron to the condemned when they kneel
as the student’s head bends to the page.

Even the ghosts

Even the ghosts of police need
something to do. They take careful
inventories of the insects trespassing
our ears as we sleep. They surveil
the silent, splayed footprints of raccoons.
They are threatened by the rain, its sheer
numbers. A soul is trapped in a plastic bag
and must be duly interrogated. There
are too many windows in this city, say
the ghosts of police. Too many
tire tracks trapped in high branches,
too many red lights cut open.
The ghosts of police cannot play
music, cannot remember the feeling
of their own hands brushing against
their necks. They leap out of our faucets
and command us to stop. They pull
their hands out of their empty pockets
over and over.
                                 And the moon turns away
from us all, shows us the cold target of its back.

Nicky Beer is the author of The Octopus Game (2015) and The Diminishing House (2010), both winners of the Colorado Book Award for Poetry. Her honors include an NEA, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and a scholarship and fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, where she is a poetry editor for Copper Nickel.

Point At Which Parallel Waves Converge & From Which Diverge

Jenny Qi

Researcher, prevention won’t save my life, tweets a patient 
with metastatic cancer. I’m reminded of my mother: 

Why don’t you want to study cancer? when I expressed 
interest in HIV. In the hospital, call from a professor, 

my mother clapping once, then silence; 
the roommate thirty years her senior 

who called my voice lovely, 
who called my mother lucky, 

whom I resented because 
she outlived my mother. 

Nights at a microscope in a room 
where the lights shut off after ten; 

sitting too still, turning a knob just so to focus 
on the right field of cells. The eight hundred mice 

I’ve sacrificed this year; injecting cancer, harsh medicine 
into their soft warm bodies; hating them for biting me 

but understanding; stroking their white fur in apology; 
covering cages with paper so they can’t watch their sisters die.

But I can, and I see my mother in those graying eyes, 
eyes I refused to donate because how would she see; 

and I think how cruelly futile all this 
erratically focused empathy, how brutal 

to learn why I couldn’t save 
what I couldn’t save.

Jenny Qi is a writer, scientist, and science communicator. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Huffington Post, and her poems appear in Rattle, ZYZZYVA, Bellevue Literary Review, Atticus Review, Figure 1, Intima, JuxtaProse, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize by Copper Nickel. www.jqiwriter.com

PSALM FOR PHOTOS ON ZOË KRAVITZ’S INSTAGRAM AND THE BUSTED-UP WATERMELON BETWEEN HER LEGS THAT BROUGHT ME CLOSER TO GOD

Maria Isabelle Carlos

Lord, if you’re up there, bless
the floral-print chiffon shirt
gathered in a sultry, tuggable knot
just below her breasts. Bless
the left one’s half-moon inner curve
jutting out between the folds
and bless her bare shoulder where
thin cloth slipped off and let light kiss
the shelf of her collarbone.
Bless the smashed watermelon
wetting the ground between her
and the camera, one chunk blurred
in the foreground and a twinned split
half nestled between her inner thighs—
her left hand inviting a finger-
sized piece toward her parted lips—

Bless me, O holy whoever, for I’d give
anything to be that battered melon
in all its shattered softness,
red and pulpy and giving to wherever,
whatever she wants, if she’d have me:
I’d be the piece, pinched and lifted
toward her mouth, I’d be the half-eaten
wedge next to the arch of her foot,
I’d be the pink juice puddling
the floor beneath her smooth, perfect knee—
whoever you are, if you’re out there,
make me the hole her thumb carves
in the fruit’s fibrous flesh, make me
that sacrosanct space, let me wet,
let me woman, let me be
broken open and devoured.

Maria Isabelle Carlos is a poet from Columbia, MO. She was awarded the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship from the University of North Carolina, where she received her BA in English. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Sycamore Review, Cave Wall, Four Way Review, The Collagist, and elsewhere. She is a MFA candidate in poetry at Vanderbilt University and editor-in-chief of Nashville Review

Gate

Megan Levad

That pony is never leaving the pasture.
That pony is old, its hooves have foundered
because there is a girl somewhere
always a girl somewhere
who forgets she has a pony.
The girl has other interests, like lying

on the floor of her bedroom, raising patterns
in the aquamarine bedroom carpet
with her shining nails, looking in the mirror
while listening to songs that make her cry. Animals
don’t make her cry anymore. Love does.

The pony will never leave the pasture
and the girl never goes to the pasture
so the gate is never opened.
The gate is hardly a gate, really.
It’s a piece of fencing tied with wire
to two posts the girl pounded
in years ago, a project with her father.
So the gate is another piece
of the fence, which means
there is no gate, only a way

to open the fence. The pony
doesn’t know any different
and the pony doesn’t mind.
He came from a home with too many boys
and too many dogs, a home where
he was teased, because the boys
were teased and he was one of them.
Wasn’t he? That’s where he learned to bite.
So he bites the girl and she stays
away, and his days can be
spent eating, watching the horizon
for coyotes, and remembering

another home, a first home, the fat midnight scent
of his mother’s flank, the warm, busy
barn where someone, very early
in his life, taught him to drink
from a bucket, wear a harness, readied him
for what was to come, for this—

This is what the girl thinks of
when she thinks of the pony, and then,
before she can think of the pony himself, of what
he might like, or dislike, before she can think
even the shallowest thoughts about her pony
she thinks instead about how she hasn’t thought of him
for days, puts on another song, regrets
the abstract pastel wallpaper her mother
let her choose herself.

And then the morning comes, the morning
for which they’ve been waiting. The morning the girl’s father
goes to the pasture himself, someone’s got to
take care of that pony, so he puts on his boots
and he brings his gun
but what does he find? No more pony.

These horses.
These horses are not our horses. The gate
untied, the crabgrass smashed, but that’s
how crabgrass always looks. There is only
the sun, and these rippling young gods

with their faces in the creek, no
evidence, no explanation
for this gift, this unexpected gift,
and we do not deserve it.

Megan Levad is the author of Why We Live in the Dark Ages and What Have I to Say to You. A recent MacDowell Fellow, her poems have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Poem-a-Day, Granta, Fence, and the Everyman’s Library anthology Killer Verse. Megan is also a librettist. One of her most recent projects, When There Are Nine, a song cycle about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg composed by Kristin Kuster, debuted at the 2019 Cabrillo Festival, where Megan was the Writer-in-Residence.

I found a village and in it were all our missing women

Tishani Doshi

for Margaret Mascarenhas 

I found a village and in it were all our missing women,
holding guns to the heads of birds.

They’d heard the voting had begun,
that it had been going on for years without them.

They knew their sisters had been bribed 
with gas cylinders and bicycles, that even grandmas 

grabbed bags of rice in exchange at the ballot.
They showed no resentment. 

Left all their gold to the descendants
of a Mongolian war princess with whom they shared

a minor percent of DNA. I found a village, a republic,
the size of a small island country with a history 

of autogenic massacre. In it were all our missing women.
They’d been sending proof of their existence—

copies of birth and not-quite-dead certificates
to offices of the registrar. 

What they received in response was a rake
and a cobweb in a box. 

The rake was used to comb the sugarcane fields
for wombs lost in accidental hysterectomies. 

The cobweb box became an installation
to represent the curious feeling

of sitting backwards on a train—of life
pulling away from you even as you longed to surge ahead.

They were not fatalistic. Could say apocalyptic fatigue
and extinction crisis in quick succession

after several rounds of Mai Tais.
I found a village with a sacred tree

shot free of all its refugees,
in whose branches our missing women had hung

coloured passport photos of themselves.
Now listen

A woman is not a bird or chick or anything with wings,
but a woman knows the sound of wind

and how it moves its massive thighs against your skin.
The sound of house swallowed by sinkhole,

crater, tunnel, quicksand, quake.
The collective whoosh of a disappearing,

the way a gun might miss its target,
the way 21 million might just vanish. 

 

* In 2019 it was estimated that 21 million Indian women were denied their right to vote because their names were not registered on voting lists.

Tishani Doshi is an award-winning poet, novelist and dancer. Her most recent books are Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods(Copper Canyon Press), shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Poetry Award, and a novel, Small Days and Nights (forthcoming from Norton). She lives on a beach in Tamil Nadu, India. www.tishanidoshi.com

Last Meditation

Sjohnna McCray

Behind each utterance, is the idea
                of freedom. A blossoming
escape route to meaning,
                a longing: for God, perhaps
or something else. Just once,
                I’d like to surrender
bend to the easy revelry—
                the sky on vacation, the wind
unfurling at night—the softest
                of cat’s paws. Cast me again
against the shore of your pelvis.
                Bear down so hard
that I become cavernous, a spectacle
                of emptiness. Not once,
but over and over—
                tell me you love me.

God, just once
                hold me above the clouds.

Sjohnna McCray earned his MFA from the University of Virginia. He is the 2015 recipient of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his collection, Rapture. He lives with his husband and orange tabby cat in Athens, Georgia. 

Bighorn River, Montana

Joshua Marie Wilkinson

The old ways in the world
are probably still somewhere inside
the bones of my wrist.

I don’t want to be part of any song
you’re humming as you use baiting
as a kind of verb.

On the third day I let the fishermen take
to the river early as I hung around

the cabin alone with a pot of coffee and
The Savage Detectives.

There’s something of me in that
story. But what does it communicate

of significance? If you shift, the hawks know.
That’s part of it. And if the vultures want you

they know what to do. That’s another part.

The moon’s raining white ash in the cholla.

My elderly neighbor likes to go in
and out of her house all morning, all afternoon.
Back and forth, the screen door’s squeak, then
smacking again and again, evidently

for nothing. Sometimes when I can’t think
I ask her in my mind to stop it. I never say
it out loud.

It’s her house, after all. But
God. It’s over. Just stop.

Joshua Marie Wilkinson is the author of a book called Meadow Slasher. He lives in Seattle.

The Return

Diana Khoi Nguyen

                            “This is the place I used to live before”
my father narrates as he documents the home
                     his family left behind at the end of the war—
“We are living we used to live in 1975”

                                                                          in that lost country
where dipterocarp trees were planted
during another occupation. They are numbered now

as the man pointing to where a boy once stood
at a spot in the alley where their dog died, a few bare
                     vines dangling from electrical lines.

Is it still there, behind these walls, old char
against old stones? I remember the photograph I saw
                                                          in 2005. Yesterday,
a monk silently swinging

                     in a hammock between prayers, silence
returning to the womb of a bell. In a grove
of budding dragon fruit trees I crushed

a spider in my ear. It had gone the wrong way
                                         crossing the border of this country
into the terrain of my body.

                                                                      Land is land
no man should own and what forces us to land
keeps us there. Unless—
Unless we are just passing through:

a passenger plane landing on the same runway
                     where a cargo plane fled four decades ago
a sparrow flitting through the silk leaves

of fake trees as my motorbike weaves through riders
in colorful ponchos, the wet streets distorting
                                                                              and mirroring
                     what they see: translucent bodies
trailing ghosts.
                                         Of all the colors, the colorless
ones are my favorite, I can see what lies beneath

between them and me. What is home but a place we
feel compelled to return to, my father after fleeing
myself after—
                                         after what? Being born elsewhere?

To be born is to be born anywhere. We bear ourselves
and sometimes we bear another. Another death
another breach of

                                                          boundary. Whose blood
drains between the cobblestones and where
does it come from?

Where does it end if it ends
                        isn’t there always something just beyond?
Nowhere exists, and our desire to return to it, passes
through. A snake swimming downstream

                                                                                               passes
young eels along the way and I cannot distinguish them
from the river’s ripples. As I travel to a place I’ve never been
I know I’ve been there many times before.

A poet and multimedia artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen’s debut collection, Ghost Of (Omnidawn, 2018), was selected by Terrance Hayes for the Omnidawn Open Contest. In addition to winning the 92Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Contest, 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and Colorado Book Award, she was also a finalist for the National Book Award and L.A. Times Book Prize. A Kundiman fellow, she is currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and teaches in the Randolph College MFA.

In A Past Life

Rachel Abramowitz

              Tell me what you’re married to and I’ll tell you the book
              to read to get out of it. Tell me which of these pet store fish 
              you’re most attracted to and I’ll tell you that most likely you
              were a peasant in a former life, hundreds of years ago, 

              in a valley that looked up onto the lush expanse of baronial
              wealth you served. I’ll tell you about grief. I’ll tell you where
              they’ve hidden the pigeon babies, sickly and alien, valentine-pink.
              What do you want to hear? I carry this cheap pennywhistle 

              in case of a request on the wind. About grief: let me tell you: 
              it’s an oil slick in winter in a parking lot next to a frozen lake
              where men drill holes in the ice to get at the flesh beneath. 

              Over time you get used to that cheap song. Cleopatra splintered
              into many souls. There is an explanation for everything.

Rachel Abramowitz‘s poems and reviews have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Seneca Review, The Kenyon Review Online, Crazyhorse, Tupelo Quarterly, Oxonian Review, POOL, jubilat, Sprung Formal, Colorado Review, and others. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Oxford, and has taught English Literature at Barnard College in New York.

The Road is the Sickness and the Cure

Louise Mathias 

In the truck it was both of us crying—
admiring each other’s method in the dark.

Once, I ate needles for love.
Pried the poison from the flower and how

your moonlit kindness saved me.

In the long abandoned brothel,
we stood near the heart shaped hole

where the hot tub had been.
Red, I’ll presume.

Implausible and finite as a rose.

Louise Mathias is the author of two books of poems, most recently The Traps. She lives in Joshua Tree, California. 

Water, Pray

Anne Marie Champagne

That summer after you died and the rains came,
I thought of Niobe and prayed let them come.

Green fields turned into cyan-colored lakes,
the last traces of you submerged in mud.

And even as the banks of the Mississippi burst open,
and another Great Flood lay siege, 

as casualties swelled and levies broke, 
I could not stop praying, Mercy come

top me, sink me, sweep me under. Pray,
bring me your endless cataracts. I want to know

the stifling dark, the blue bottom of this river too.
Drop me like a stone until I forget

these lungs thirsting for air. Forgive me
this grieving body, the weight I no longer possess.

Anne Marie Champagne is a writer, educator, and artist living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is the managing editor of the American Journal of Cultural Sociology and a doctoral candidate in sociology at Yale University. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern Review and The Journal

our biographers are having breakfast again 

Denver Butson

years had passed since the last time they were in bed</strong> together and then yesterday our biographers couldn’t get out of bed whenever your biographer got up to stand at the window and check on her car or to go to the bathroom my biographer pulled her back into bed and they started all over again where they had left off as if they were trying to remember how we once were and now they are at breakfast the light is beautiful they can see a sliver of the sea from their table and your biographer just said on what page did he suddenly feel they were growing old? and my biographer looked out the window for a long time as if he were watching a film of us out there the waitress came by with more coffee just as my biographer was about to say long before they were actually old yes your biographer said as the waitress turned he knew exactly what my biographer was going to say before he even said it it happened the same way for her and after the check instead of going to the parking lot as they had planned and saying goodbye again for who knows how long this time perhaps forever perhaps a year or two our biographers passed by the front desk and one of them but I’m not sure which one looked at the desk clerk and said just one more night please

Denver Butson is the author of four books of poetry, most recently the sum of uncountable things(Deadly Chaps Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in dozens of journals, including zyzzyvaYale Review, CalibanNuovi Argomenti, and Field, and in anthologies edited by Billy Collins, Garrison Keillor, and Agha Shahid Ali. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his actress/activist wife and their daughter, and where he frequently collaborates with musicians and visual and performing artists. 

Bull kelp coast

Evana Bodiker

Oregon — winter 

With my back to the shoreline, I tiptoed around what seemed to me 

a biological rarity: just mounds of it, ouroboroses tackle piled           

over each other. I thought a giant’s heart broke 

       and he, incapable of telling organ from beating nucleus,       

ripped out his intestines instead. Waited for the brackish

perfume to leak from it, nothing but salt air seeping 

out of the gumminess, Greek for mermaid’s bladder

the plates of spaghetti smeared with butter and fake                               

cheese we ate in August not yet making money 

and performing penny-tight penance to pay  

for our apartment, then—and still—a luxury 

item. I guess I’m wondering if we will ever hold jobs                            

that don’t kill us or make a mockery of our night lives 

or if we like that giant now floating in the Pacific,

all dead weight and jellyfish stung, 

will self-dissect and leave our extractions      

on some beach for rich tourists to nudge

with their feet and see if there’s a jump scare.   

Evana Bodiker is a poet living in Boston. Her chapbook Ephemera, winner of the Robert Phillips Poetry Prize, was published in 2018 (Texas Review Press). Evana’s poems appear or are forthcoming from Sonora Review, The Oyez Review, Noble / Gas Qtrly, LEVELER, and elsewhere. In the fall, she will begin her MFA candidacy at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Broken Ode for the Epigraph

Tiana Clark

                                      who gave me permission to be this person 
                                                                                    —Erika L. Sánchez 

O, intertextuality.
O, little foyer to my poem.
O, little , first and foremost.
My amuse-bouche, meaning mouth amuser,
a little glimpse of the meal to come. And sushi:
little epigraphs over rice. And if I could, I would add
an epigraph over everything. Wait . . . who says I can’t?
I’ve always been too much and I am just now beginning
to cherish this too muchness booming late Baroque/
rococo in my chest (little shells of scattered light decorating
the caves in my poems). I wish people came with little epigraphs
tacked on their foreheads, a little foreshadow couldn’t hurt.
I wish fruits had a few ripe lines above their PLU numbers,
a little sneaky peaky of the pulp to come.
O, little cup holder for my quotes.
I love how you hover over the house
of my poem like a cloud from another
book or a bite from another lover, a way
to say I just couldn’t help myself here. See, I cut
out these lines for you like fuzzy flower stems, severed
at an angle and they were briefly dead until I placed
them in a vase on top of my poems, prolonging
their life again (such moxie!), because if anything
the epigraph is a little clay container of water
and I placed these blossoms in a vase of life juice
because you are visiting the home of my poem
and I want you to feel special and I think fresh cut
flowers might make people feel sacchariferous, at least
they do for me, especially when my mother-in-law walks
barefoot into her gorgeous garden and snips the long lit
stems from the sun-bursting forsythia bush even though
we haven’t talked in months, even though I wrote a poem
about her that hurt her, a poem that started with an epigraph
from Natasha Trethewey and we talked about it
over email and then over coffee and then there was…
forgiveness (both sides) and that was it—see: the flowers.
I’ve always deeply loved Natasha Trethewey’s work,
because her parents are like my parents (black mom,
white dad), another type of epigraph, right? Do you
understand what kind of permission that releases inside
of me? Do you understand how cellular and specific?
Sometimes it’s important to know about the blood
before the poem starts. Who makes up these rules
about procedure anyway? I come from clutter. I feel safe
under that little liminal space below the title (underneath
the stairs!) and before that first line. Toi Derricotte
writes, “I am not afraid to be memoir.” Yes!
I feel a great affection for Toi Derricotte, because
she has a similar first name as my grandmother,
but spelled differently (Toy), and also because
she drew her beloved dead fish, Telly,
in my copy of The Undertaker’s Daughter,
writing Telly Loves You with the bubbles and
everything! Well, then I am not afraid to be
the epigraph, damnnit! I am joyfully trying
to break every rule about poem making
that I know. I want to wake up and like myself
more. I want to wake up and like myself
more. I want to wake up and like myself
more and believe it each time I repeat it.
I want to revel in my poems the way Donika
Kelly does. Have you heard Donika talk
about poems? Do it—absolute pleasure.
I want more of that giddy precision. I want
to wake up and address myself like the bad ass
motherfucking epigraph that I am. Hello, epigraph!
I am beginning my body before my body begins.
I want to start my day with somebody else’s words.
For example, this morning I started with Ross
Gay’s The Book of Delights and I keep grinning
and underlining words like “delight radar”
and “delight muscle” and that image of stacking
delights like pancakes and I can hear Ross’
voice as I read them, his joyous timbre almost
sing-shouting inside these smile-inducing
sentences, which linger over the blue length
of my day (And I just got back from AWP
in Portland where I heard José Olivarez say,
“Lean into length” on a panel about poetry
podcasts. I wrote it down and underneath
his words scribbled: possible epigraph?).
Epigraph—a little foreplay, a little playful forest
(I’m safe now so I can play), a little forecast
of my mood and tone, a little incantation,
little wordy satellites in the white spaces orbiting
the sky parlor of my poems. Epigraph, my father.
Epigraph, my father I’ve never met, but how I meet
and let him go at the beginning of every poem
that I write. And isn’t loss perpetually dripping sap
from the injured trees bruised or cut in our knuckles
as we write? Sticky sap spilling from the wound,
pitching to survive the bites. And aren’t we all writing
the same damn poem over and over again anyway?
Didn’t Jack Spicer allude to that once while translating
Lorca? I want to go back to that first epigraph.
The easy association would be God, right? Like this:
so God coos above the waters of the pre-world
scanning over all that gooey potential, a bajillion
possibilities, millions of us already there, little epigraphs
in the making, gleaming in that first sentence-struck light,
the imperative big bang of God’s never-ending breath—

But . . . but what if
         that first epigraph wasn’t so spectacular?

What if          it was just someone messaging me
on one of those spit-in-a-tube DNA ancestry sites,

saying that they’re my second cousin, saying
they know how to get in touch                                      with my dad

(O, the sheer possibility! I cried . . .                        and did and didn’t
know why),                                                        saying that they gave him

my number and email address, saying that they told him
I didn’t want or need               any money,               but how

he still
                            never

                                          reached out?

Tiana Clark is the author of the debut poetry collection, I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016), selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Clark is a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow and a recipient of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, as well as a winner of the 2017 Furious Flower’s Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. She was the 2017-2018 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. Clark is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Callaloo, Kenyon Review, VQR, BuzzFeed News, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Oxford American, and elsewhere.