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.

Orange banner that reads "My Friend He" by John Lee Clark

My Friend He

John Lee Clark

is so fierce

ly independent that he

shied away from the auto

matic sliding doors and he

walked around until he

found a window he 

could pry open and climb

through to get inside and climb

the stairs to my apart

ment so he

could refuse dinn

er because I cook

ed it and so we

could have a nice vi

sit

Small Tin House Icon Dingbat

John Lee Clark is the author of the essay collection Where I Stand: On the Signing Community and My DeafBlind Experience (Handtype Press, 2014). His poems have appeared recently in American Poetry Review, The Nation, the New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry, Poetry International, Shenandoah, and other venues. He lives in Hopkins, Minnesota, with his partner, the ASL Deaf artist Adrean Clark, and their three sons.

“ultraviolet” and “two if by sea”

Beth Bachmann

ultraviolet

The bees can see the blood hosed off the flowers after a killing.

Look at me the way the bee does with its hundreds of eyes.

I’m human.

I hum.

After the flood, there was no ownership.

You could claim anything you wanted.

The dogs formed packs by mimicking each other’s open mouths.

Up and down the streets, we could hear them barking black and blue, black and blue.

Slip a knife under its collar and give it a name.

Some things you just can’t unsee.

two if by sea

I mistook the monster for an island and lit a fire on its back.

It swam.

I swam back to the boat.

The monster got a taste for fire, kept circling back, asking for a smoke.

His mother, the monster said, set his house on fire.

I said, your house is the sea.

Your house is a boat, he said.

My house is the sea, I said, brother.

The moon doesn’t light anything on fire.

It only throws off light.

Where you going, sister, so fast, he said.

I said, I’m looking for an island.

The sea’s making me sick with its constant pulling.

The moon’s a bitch like that, he said, blowing smoke out the top of his head.

All day, we were motherless like the sun.

No man is an island, the monster said, I’ll carry you, and opened its mouth. 

Beth Bachmann is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow and the author of three books from the Pitt Poetry Series: Temper, winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize and Kate Tufts Discovery Award, Do Not Rise, winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and CEASE, winner of the VQR Emily Clark Balch Prize (Fall 2018). Recent work has appeared in Guernica and The New Yorker; new work is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine. Each fall, she serves as Writer in Residence in the MFA program at Vanderbilt University and divides the rest of her time between Nashville and New York City.

E Flat Minor

Idra Novey

After the newest continuous disaster, 

I vex gently against the window glass.

I vex once more against the impassive

elevator door.

                                  To hope harder,

I buy overpriced hydroponic tomatoes.

I apologize longer to the wild

lobsters in the market.

                                                       While frozen waffles

soften in my cart, the lobsters stare me down

through the gathering clouds

                                                                     in their tank.

I am a criminal, Elizabeth Streb says, of her

choreography based on calculated risk, we

are a blunt instrument charging forward.

                                                                                                 Larger

than any one crime or this useless vexing

is the desert outside the market where

I saw no desert before.

Idra Novey is the author of the novel Those Who Knew, an Indie Next Pick and New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her first novel Ways to Disappear received the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize, the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize, and was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. A collection of her co-translations with Ahmad Nadalizadeh of Iranian poet Garous Abdolmalekian is forthcoming with Penguin Press in 2020.

Orts & Slarts

V. Penelope Pelizzon

Nothing’s less romantic than a dish of lentils
                   amped up with ramps and garlic
      turning you into a wind instrument
      sprawled across the couch in torment. Nothing’s
                   more humorous than an aunt
embarrassed, her innards muttering crass

blasphemies in some guttural proto-Nordic
                 dialect. Well, Gassy Lassie,
      none will celebrate your dignity’s lapse
      happily as this trio of nephews,
                 avid hagiographers
who praise the body’s stinks and stews, its anarchy

deflating false modesty. They mythologize
                 their seismic eructations
      and erections, regale you with sagas
      of J.’s puss-blister and how D.’s whacked head
                 bled and when W. yacked
asparagus in the tub. It’s sublime, really,

what fumes to the surface when expert fartisans
                 descend to hilarity.
      You’d have an awkward time with politer
      friends who lacked these childrens’ intimacy
                 with the rebellious corpus.
Unable much of the fall to hug their father

whose kisses the chemo made radioactive,
                 their hero is not a brute
      Hercules dragging his lion-pelt, but
      the gaunt man whose eyebrows have just begun
                 caterpillaring back,
who spoons pancake batter onto the griddle to birth

their favorite animals. Eggless batter, since
                 their systems aggressively
      reject allergens. (What poison came home
      in sippy cup lids or pacifiers?
                 With milk in plastic cartons?
Toxins tasteless in the butter-sweet colostrum

warm from the nipple of a mama bear who’s breathed
                 what breezes off the golf course
      airport highway slaughterhouse mephitic
      sugar refining plant?) An egg mishap,
                 unlike a fuck-up with nuts,
might not kill anyone but surely would induce

great bouts of yacking! in the tub! And flatulence,
                 a word they can’t stop wafting
      in laughter as mom rebukes yet again,
      yanking the pouch from a hand old enough
                 to know better—no cursing
please; these aren’t toys; your EpiPen is not a gun.

V. Penelope Pelizzon’s second poetry collection, Whose Flesh Is Flame, Whose Bone Is Time, was published in 2014 (Waywiser Press). Her first book, Nostos(Ohio University Press, 2000), won the Hollis Summers Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Pelizzon’s awards include a 2019 Hawthornden Fellowship, an Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship, and the Center for Book Arts chapbook award for her collection Human Field. New poems appear or are forthcoming this year in The Gettysburg Review, The New England Review, Ecotone, and The Harvard Review.

Prayer For a Son

Suji Kwock Kim

(Peace Hotel, Shanghai)

 

Gods of napalm, gods of cobalt and phosphorus,
gods of polybrominated diphenyl ether,
give us this day our daily lie:

of the war no one can talk about, or talk about not talking about,
of coup, counter-coup, and counter-countercoup,
of splinter groups and splinters of splinters.

Neighborly

Benjamin Landry

What I want to know
in the furling of summer
is how many flags
are too many flags?

Stars, however brightly
they shine—polyester—
overwhelmed by
the bloody bars.

Someone cracks a smile;
another cracks a beer.
It all has the Fourth
of July feel of joy
on the edge of violence.

Speedboat captains
gun their outboards,
slicing green
beauties in two.

Music.
Impatiens.

Coconut-smelling
and all a little rude.
Dogs off leash
or lurkers casting shadows
on the otherwise bronze bodies.

One pennant declares
All Lives Matter,
meaning no lives,
in particular.

But what sort of a nation did we
think we would be by now?

Benjamin Landry is the author of Burn Lyrics and Particle and Wave.  His poems have appeared in Kenyon ReviewThe New YorkerPloughshares and elsewhere.  He teaches creative writing at SUNY Potsdam.

At a Gas Station in Vermont With My Best Friend P

Meriwether Clarke

We go to buy juice-box wine and
Cheetos made of fire. Their
dust is glitter-light against our
skin. I love

how we laugh down the aisles, wear
beautiful shoes.
Our calves deserve to be kissed
by gorgeous men, but instead

we have fluorescent lights
and each other. Outside
are too many trees to count and a river
we stand in. Shadows of

the question, what to do next,
shimmer on the surface until
we break them with
curved and tender feet.

This is the first time
I’ve ever felt young,
standing inside
a small sea, with someone

who believes me when
I call it a small sea. What I mean,
they know: something to love we
won’t try to hold.

Meriwether Clarke is a poet, essayist, and educator living in Los Angeles. She is the author of the chapbook twenty-first century woman (Dancing Girl Press 2019). Recent work can be seen in Prairie Schooner, Gigantic Sequins, The Michigan Quarterly Review (online), The Journal, and elsewhere.

Letter to the Person Who Carved His Initials into the Oldest Living Longleaf Pine in North America

Matthew Olzmann

                                                                     —Southern Pines, NC

Tell me what it’s like to live without
curiosity, without awe. To sail
on clear water, rolling your eyes
at the kelp reefs swaying
beneath you, ignoring the flicker
of mermaid scales in the mist,
looking at the world and feeling
only boredom. To stand
on the precipice of some wild valley,
the eagles circling, a herd of caribou
booming below, and to yawn
with indifference. To discover
something primordial and holy.
To have the smell of the earth
welcome you to everywhere.
To take it all in, and then,
to reach for your knife.

Matthew Olzmann is the author of two collections of poems, Mezzanines, which was selected for the 2011 Kundiman Prize, and Contradictions in the Design, both from Alice James Books.  He teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Primer

Emily Pérez

I learned my mother’s white
tongue, her white words
in white books impressed on crisp
white pages, stories set in white countries
under soft, white snow. I’d never seen snow,
but knew enough to desire its cleansing
cold, its regions where the white cheeked
damsel with her long, white hair could cede
space to the knight, white on his horse
who whinnied whitely. I’d never ridden a horse,
but knew to fantasize about one, as that’s what white
girls did, and even if I never got bedded
by a stable hand or CEO, some tall white man
who could explain things to me, I knew that if I learned
the white language, its syntax and rightness, then,
like a cloud pristine and drifting, I’d be lifted,
I’d look down on my dark home from that unbroken sky.

Emily Pérez is the author of House of Sugar, House of Stone and the chapbooks Backyard Migration Route and Made and Unmade. A CantoMundo fellow, her poems have appeared in journals including SWWIMCopper NickelPoetryDiode, and RHINO. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver, where she lives with her husband and sons.

Seeing the Body: Volume

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Fluid was the enemy of our house.
Always on guard my mother studied her
ankles & hands all the time. Any swelling
set off alarms. Everything in our house
bolted to wet silence. Our family
could be capsized should the fluid
breach her heart. More than once
it did. Surrounded her heart
with gold liquid. Attacked her
heart with its rising flood.
I hated the smell & arrogance
of it. The way it misshaped
my mother’s lovely muscles.
I never understood how
the body made so much of it.
She would pull fluid off her body.
Worried for the kidney
she had received from a murdered child.
Worried that the fluid would pull her
under the hull of her own organs.
Liters & milliliters placed us
on the brink. For years after she died
I lived along a gold, slow edge
of Maybe or Maybe Not. I kept asking:
Could I have ever saved her sinking vessel?
I only mean that some days I was certain
there was nothing left after she died
that could fill the hollows in me. I wanted to know
how I could drown my Ishmael
of memory. Pull my life out of my mother’s
mute grave. Nothing to surround my heart,
which turned & kicked like something
orphaned in its cradle. I got so sick in January
my doctors ordered multiple blood transfusions.
My blood was going bad, giving up its own air.
Yet I refused. I had given so much of
my blood to my mother’s absence
I could barely stand to give myself
the anchor of blood that might pull me
above the waves, above those lost years I drifted
like an empty bottle upon the tide.

The Hermit

Xochiquetzal Candelaria

                                  for s.b.

Over several years, I learned the language
of his papers, how parallel little piles meant he was still
considering love at the level of the article:

a kiss, the kiss,

how correspondence with a friend long dead
still sat under a rock he had found
as a boy,

a bus ticket from Barcelona to Madrid
paper clipped to a hand drawn map

with only one word looped in
delicate cursive above
a red triangle marking a volcano.

Pasted on sea-glass and hung from the ceiling

were the names of composers and county hospital patients.

When read aloud, they sounded good together.

I spent evenings here
lifting slip after slip.

Once I found a series of numbers: musical notes (I think)
the harmonic beats of the beaten

and forgotten,

a collection of eights arranged like petals
spiraling out to form
the perimeter of what looked like the ruins of our city.

Xochiquetzal Candelaria was raised in San Juan Bautista, California and holds degrees from UC Berkeley and New York University. Her work has appeared in The Nation, New England Review, Seneca Review and other magazines. Her book, Empire, published by University of Arizona Press, was described as a brilliant debut.  She is a recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry and has received awards and grants from  UC Berkeley, New York University, Vermont Studio Center, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Hall Farm Center for the Arts, The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the LEF Foundation. Her poetry has been anthologized, most recently in Other Musics: New Latina Poetry (2019). She is a tenured faculty member at City College of San Francisco.

Cognominate

Lip Manegio

after Nicole Homer

i name myself
                 rotting milk
                 father’s daughter
                 clamshell, cracked against sand rock
                 soap scum stuck in your hair after the lather rinses off
                 son, or something like it
                 teeth littered in grass, planted in soft earth
                 sprout of my mother’s stomach
                 the potato you forgot at the back of the pantry until it started to grow again
                 anything that isn’t a word someone else tried to make me hold

i keep cutting my lip open
as each new word finds a different way
to slice at my gums

eventually, every noise
just smells like iron

i wonder how many words i can fit
in my stomach before my belt breaks open
& the buttons go flying everywhere

laying open

TR Brady

The only way to implicate myself is to admit
the pale blue of the room. The curtains
pulled back. I remove my shirt, my binder,
and hope a neighbor sees my shape.
I google the flight patterns of seagulls
after seeing what I think to be seagulls
flying toward the Iowa River. I think
I might be dying every time I get back
on Zoloft. Dye my hair gray
in preparation. I become my idea
of a woman at twenty two. My favorite
pastime, getting gussied and singing
Meredith Brooks’ Bitch at karaoke and
waxing my eyebrows for the cathartic
experience. My hormones eager
for communion. I hold my breasts
and will them do something interesting,
but their magic, gone. A second formation
of gulls, northbound. My search yields little
information. They like to float on an updraft
for as long as possible to conserve
energy. What stilted prayer.

TR Brady is a Teaching/Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Denver Quarterly, Foundry, The Arkansas International, and Bennington Review.

Large Hadron Particle Collider

Kevin Prufer

New stories replace the old.  We have refined
our machines. We smash one particle against the other.  
Insects circle the streetlamps like electrons.  Remember
how I kissed you in the hotel parking lot?  New stories
replace old ones. Today, particles race around a track
until they kill each other.  It’s like the secret thoughts
of an unhappy mind.  Round and round. Remember
that dark parking lot? I didn’t think I’d do it,
and then, in the warm drizzle, I kissed you
right on the mouth. It was a long time ago.  
With each collision, new particles flicker into existence
for an instant. Do you know I live in Texas now?  
Two old cats? A collection of ancient coins? I tell myself
I live within history.  Into history. I shuttle
forward in time, all I’ve passed through cohering,
flickers of memory in a hardening cortex. You might be
dead by now.  Who knows? Still, there was that time
in the hotel parking lot, mist sifting greenly over us,
and you opening your umbrella, laughing. Electrons
circled the streetlamps. In Switzerland,
someone thought he could confine certain particles
to a circular track and make them collide.  New stories
and old. For you, I once burst into existence. Insects,
then the rush of traffic. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

Kevin Prufer‘s seventh book, How He Loved Them (Four Way Books, 2018), was a finalist for the Rilke Prize.  He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, where he co-curates the Unsung Masters Series (unsungmasters.org).  

Nobility Cistern We Have Stalwart Friend

Gabrielle Calvocoressi

There were more dark corridors
on this planet than I could fathom.
Everywhere, a dark corridor. In the
houses for sleep and the houses for
healing. In the God houses. In the
skin houses that cooed and bludgeoned
and sometimes both at once. So many
dark places. And always something
coming to find you when you just
wanted some privacy. Even the dinner
plate had its dark corners. So even
my food wasn’t my own. Where
did it come from? The arm and then
darkness and all my chicken casserole
and vegetables gone.