The Country Dog Review
Spring 2009



Jesse Bishop


Apotheosis

 

The currency of leaves lifts the crow,

Christ-like, wings outstretched

sins borne in black shimmer

resurrected to the power lines of omniscience.

 

The carrion communion—fox and possum

roadside relics of myths and magic:

                        take this in remembrance of the fox

                        the body of the thief, sly slitherer

                        with sticky paws stuck in pause

                        highway haruspicy.

                       

                        take this in remembrance of the possum

                        that gnarl-toothed Judas of life’s

                        performance, the betrayer of death.

 

The black beak speaks nothing,

caws and calls for no one

save the eighteen-wheel wind

swirling down the highway

toward tomorrow, toward nothing.


Jesse Bishop teaches composition, literature, and creative writing
at Georgia Highlands College. His work has appeared in Pebble Lake Review and
O'Tempora Magazine
, among other places. He lives with his wife and daughter in
northwest Georgia.



***
 

Larry Bradley                                                                                                    

 

Verse

(A Cento)

 

Corpses are all gathered at the gate

 

Hollow men, dancers, heroes of the dance

Reckless, violent, and famous for it

 

Hiding myself in the leaves of a dark elm-tree

All that I shy away from is a scrutiny

 

What use is there in telling you how often

I have written, I have asked for it.

                                                                   I am not

Your grave, a hollow in a foreign sand

A man whose bones are rotting somewhere now

 

Whoever it was who first proposed the singing

I can say no more, for the soft bark is creeping

 

Unwedded to the elm to which it clings

A third of the universe, it seems, denies us

 

In the silent leaves, never a mention of air

 

 

 

Prodigal

(A Cento)

 

A gully ran there, where storm-water massed

 

I felt no tie with home, no love for lingering

Like a black vapor from a thunderhead

 

Those in the center, though, endured the cloud

Harder to bend than willow-withe and briony

 

The unimpeachable witness of tradition

The faint refulgent borderline of darkness

 

But when the passing months and wheeling seasons

Were dancing, linked, touching each other’s wrists

 

When the long lines met at the point of contact

Laughing as they slipped out, arm in arm

 

And gullied beds echoed their hurly-burly

From a jutting bank, by washing out what held it

 

I could let all the world swing in mid-heaven


Larry Bradley’s manuscript The Spirit of Gravity has been a finalist for the Yale Series, Walt Whitman Award, and The National Poetry Series.  His work has appeared in The New Republic, The Paris Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and Southwest Review.


*** 



Greg Alan Brownderville 


A Swiss Vintner in the Land of Muscadines
      Autumn, 1882: A Letter to His Brother in the Old Country

 

It’s Sunday morning on St. Mary’s Mount,

the Ozark sunrise a wet watercolor

of pink and blue, a hawk’s call the harshest sound.

Last year, I crossed the swamp without a dollar

to rustle in my palm, and now I stand

on my winegrowing ground, a thousand feet

above the valley’s hardwood bottomland,

 

patchwork fields of whitening cotton

and sorghum-cane hewn from the forest,

the silver slither of the river.

  

Twining through my cloud-hooded woods

are wild whiskery vines

bearing grapes called muscadines,

musky dimes in local speech,

some as big around as a five franc piece.

Their shiny skins black and dotted,

they resemble little candied planets,

night-coated and flecked with stars.

  

Honeysuckle, Akebia, and other floral immigrants

strangle trees, while muscadine goes easy on its host,

tendrils clinging tightly

then lightly before they rot off altogether,

fresh growth braceleting the branch further upward.

  

This is Musky Dime Time,

the cool of autumn blowing in.

Ozarkers gather ’dimes by the basketful.

Careless of stains, boys hold their shirts out to bag them.

I found these grapes September a year ago.

When I walked into the woods, their musky smell came over me

like memory somehow mine though not yet made.

A young man and woman were laughing,

eating from a loaded vine.

Playing coy, she ran away, dashing under high trees,

her scarlet hair aflicker, muscadines squelching

under her bare white feet.

He gave chase and caught her in a tumbling kiss,

their lips likely tingling,

sensitive from the acid of the grapes.

 

Pure sin to watch, I know.

I must be shriven soon.

But could you have looked away

when he kissed her purple-blotched feet?

 

Glad boy bandits came yowling past me,

chucking ’dimes at one another.

One boy, a grape whirring toward his head,

made a mad leap for a muscadine rope and swung across a ravine.

They called a truce and ate themselves weary,

tongue-threshing, spitting seeds and skins.

 

My curious hand tendriling

the silver-smooth wood of muscadine,

I didn’t think of cobbler, syrup, sauce, jelly, jam,

hull pie, candied skins, juice, not even wine.

All asizzle with boyhood, wanting nothing but a taste,

I shuffled through the leaves and plucked a pretty one,

dropped it sun-warm in my mouth and bit the skin.

It burst, flesh shooting on my tongue

with a gush of woodsy flavor, no more tart than sweet,

the loose ball sliding down my throat.

I sucked and tongued the inner skin for a wet secret—

the sweetest juice and tenderest fleshy lining.

 

After a punishing summer, only here and there

have I found a shriveled mummy dime.

Let me bet on a fight pitting these grapes

against disease, pests, and drought—

my money’s on the muscadines.

  

The bare feet of the Grape Dance may not mash them evenly,

so thick and tough the hulls. We will see.

Did you catch that we? Tell me something, Brother.

        

Are you at home at home? Unfolding Europe

on my desk tonight, I tried to dream away

the distance, but looking at that wrinkled map,

varicose with rivers, I could say

“Old World.” Come. I invite you with a quill

a hawk wafted my way. If you’re vacillating,

hold this paper to your face and smell.

I’m using muscadine juice for my ink.


Greg Alan Brownderville, a native of Pumpkin Bend, Arkansas, teaches Creative Writing at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. He completed his MFA at the University of Mississippi in May 2008. Brownderville’s poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in such magazines and journals as the Oxford American, Measure, and Prairie Schooner. He is the author of
one book, Deep Down in the Delta: Folktales and Poems, and, in 2007, was given Porter Prize, making him the youngest person ever to receive the award.



*** 

 

Alicia Casey

 

Near Drowning at Sardis Lake

 

My baby’s not a baby

anymore.  Her recently

acquired fear of bathwater

 

is forgotten the moment

her boat shoes hit the shore. 

She adds the word hat to her

 

vastly expanding vocabulary,

and shucks her flowered cap

into the waves. Then arms

 

reach across the murky surface—

Mama, roll in, kick out, and Dada

to catch her on the other side.

 

We’ve brought the dog, half-wolf,

half-shepherd, who, head above

water, negotiates the lake on his leash.

 

Lila says, doggie, doggie, woof

woof, woof.  She wants to ride him

like a dolphin.  She clings to his mane.

 

And I know it’s a bad idea, but I let her

try to mount him like her plastic zebra

tucked against our kitchen wall. A second

 

splits, and I feel the nylon threads of the leash

coil my ankles like a copperhead. This is how

quickly the brain works: I am underwater.

 

Do not breathe in. I am holding Lila who has

no flotation device, and I’d rather breathe in

than let her die. I read an article in Parenting

 

last week that said, An infant may drown in the time

it takes to answer the phone.  How long does it take

to answer the phone?  And, more importantly, is she

 

face up or face down, while tangled in arms that are

losing oxygen?  And then, her weight is lifted by her father,

close by with the leash in his hand.  I emerge with one lost

 

contact lens, sputtering lake water from my mouth.  Later, calmed,

I tell him my own survival instinct was on override.  He said this

is how it should be—he last saw Lila, balanced on bodiless palms.


Alicia Casey holds an MA in English from Austin Peay State University and currently is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Mississippi as a John and Renee Grisham fellow.  She serves as the managing editor for the Yalobusha Review, and her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Zone 3, and Hawk and Handsaw.  
 

*** 



Heather Cousins

 

The Field

 

It is flat and clear and full of small black                   

birds.  It is stubbled like a beard.  The corn               

stalks are sharp and hard, their brown leaves                         

drag in the earth.  Everything in the field       

is tired.  The birds are tired.  The open                      

furrows are tired.  The emptiness                               

 

is a limp, long-legged emptiness.

It is December.  The kernels are black

with cold.  The crows and starlings open

their shiny throats and the shriveled corn

goes down like teeth.  The field

is full of molars—what the combine leaves,

 

a hasty dentist.  Cobs.  Mouths.  Leaves

like lips peeled open.  Its puckered emptiness

sits on the ear; the silence of the field

is a flat silence.  It enters the black

tunnels with dead pricking, sharp like the corn

stalks.  I could touch something to it, open

 

a hole, and shatter.  I could open

my body like a jacket.  My ghost leaves

in tiny, hard pieces: white corn, dent corn,

flint corn.  I am shaken to bits.  I am emptiness,

with my bits flown out.  The small black

birds are dark hungry.  This is the field

 

in front of which I stood.  This is the field

that swallowed me the winter of the open

casket.  It would not snow.  The ground was black

and hard.  A box.  Your coffin had leaves

of black walnut.  All I wanted was for the emptiness

to be covered.  To put a lid on it.  The corn

 

was cut down.  You were cut down like the corn.

It was golden once.  You stood in a field

and the blade swept you into emptiness.

I lost my faith.  The lid of your coffin was open

like an eye.  Your face was waxed.  The leaves

of the missal were turned to a prayer.  A black

 

book.  Come emptiness of snow on corn.

Cover black.  Cover bird.  Cover field.

Leave nothing open, so nothing leaves.



Heather Cousins lives in Monroe, Georgia with her husband and two dogs.  Her first book, Something in the Potato Room, is forthcoming from Kore Press.  Her dogs aren't sure about her poetry, but think that she is very good at giving behind-the-ear rubs and dropping Milkbones from the sky.

*** 

 


Erica Dawson

 

Freakshow

 

            Other heights in other lives, God willing.

                        Robert Browning

 

Today, the sun and underside

Of your eyelid looks like the state fair’s fun-

 

House mirror.  Ultraviolet cooks

The lid bright red so what was dull

 

And black last night and snug in bed

Plays a violent strike of flashes: kite-

 

Tail veins, blood blue, a rusted-trike-

Brick by the nose; deep Red.  Now you

 

Keep staring and you’ll just get froze,

Missy, your chin up high to land

 

The heat, to seer, so your lid’s skin

May show you iris, pupil, mirror.

 

Mind changed, look up and eye

Big Brother, close, then op— a cup

 

(Ooh!  Ah!) of ant-hilled ice is rose.

You’re wine.  The Whack-a-Mole’s precise

 

Escapes, the Whipperwhirl, the yak,

Hogs, Walk-the-Plank, white clown, Mom’s slip

 

And madras dress? All red.  Tell Frank

You’ve got magic eyes.  And from the mess

 

Of buttons offered as a prize

For shooting bottles off a trough,

 

He hands you two:  LOVE WHAT YOU GOT;

AMEN THE LORD AIN’T DONE WITH YOU.

 

The Lady with Umbilical Cord

And Baby Man stand by the plum-

 

Pie booth.  Now open wide.  You can,

Your eyes still shut.  Reveal the scope

 

Of Llama’s chin and Thinman’s gut,

Three mares horned unicorns and twin,

 

Buxom and tall “Ms. Fortunes” (Soon,

They say).  Let Goatboy laugh like a walrus.

 

Now try and see him pink.  Now coat

Him blue.  The mutability—

 

Body as shell, a twig as newt.

Whoa, you can’t stand.  You hear a yell,

 

She may be small but see a brand

Of little girl who saw it all

 

(Ovid’s so proud), who died, turned pearl,

Has oyster lips to sell the crowd

 

Goatboy! who claps his jaws.  The tips

Of his boy-beard blow when he naps.

 

Remember, e then i in weird,

How sunspots split.  Go long and spike

 

Them down.  Play dumb.  Eschew your wit.

Then guess your weight.  Let cloudlets come

 

One size fits all as cloudlets bait

Their hooks as cloudlets march as pall-

 

Bearers while toy rifles bust loud

As crackerjack.  The passive, coy

 

Crowd moves too active, back to back,

Too many winners on a stack

 

Of winning pumpkins.  So, squash; spin

Yourself up at the top.  Fist-pump.

 

You’ve earn it.  Doff your wide-brimmed hat.

But mind your eyes sealed like a cut

 

And walk their lines, tic-tac-toe thin,

And, backwards, count from ten, nine, tens, nines…



Erica Dawson’s first collection of poems, Big-Eyed Afraid, won the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and was named Best Debut by Contemporary Poetry Review.  Her poems have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Barrow Street, Best American Poetry 2008, and other journals and anthologies.  She lives in Ohio where she is completing a PhD in English Literature at University of Cincinnati as the Elliston Fellow in Poetry.

*** 

 


Blas Falconer

 

The Foundling Wheel[1]

 

 

They swept the river and caught the dead

in nets. Then a wheel with a box

 

let someone leave a child

without anyone seeing. I wish that you

 

could see the church on the shore.

Boats sway beneath the great wall.

 

At low tide they lay in mud

beside anchors and tangled rope.

 

Along the road, cows graze

in green pastures, sheep on the hillside

 

as you might imagine. I imagine you

at home, painting—tarps taped

 

to the floor. I stood in line

behind a mother at the store

 

who rolled the stroller back and forth

looking at—the rain? In the dark,

 

my mind drifts, a current on the bank,

the sound of water splashing from the roof.

 

The blue curtain glows at dawn.

I hear the gulls and don’t sleep well.

 



[1] The original foundling wheel, a rotating platform lodged in the wall of a church or convent, allowed women to anonymously leave their children.

Blas Falconer is an assistant professor at Austin Peay State University, where he serves as the poetry editor of Zone 3 Magazine/Zone 3 Press. He is the author of a chapbook, The Perfect Hour (Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press), and a book-length collection of poems, A Question of Gravity and Light (University of Arizona Press). He lives in Nashville.


*** 



Ann Fisher-Wirth

 

Climbing Eden

 

He stood in the rain near me, naked,

 

in my dream. I did not desire him

but was not unhappy to see him. Long flanks

and bony shoulders, he was young again.

 

I thought, perhaps after all he does not

                                                            hate me.

 

Our daughter says when he came

to meet the baby, he helped her plant her garden.

I trust he took care with the pink rose I gave her

to celebrate the birth,

                        called  Climbing Eden.

           

                                    Trust when he

held our new, first grandchild, he didn’t deplore

my mouth, the beestung lip, on her.

           

Long ago, when we walked the fire roads

in Palmer Canyon, the world lay all before us—

 

                                                Time can make

nothing of us now. One day we’ll be dead,

he first, or I. Our long catastrophe will be over.

Ann Fisher-Wirth’s third book of poems,Carta Marina, has just been published by Wings Press.  Her poem sequence Slide Shows placed second in the 2008 Finishing Line Chapbook competition and will appear in winter 2009.  She teaches at the University of Mississippi.

*** 


 

Dan Groves

 

Psyche


      ...some untrodden region
—John Keats

 

Ahead, headland;

the ultimate bluff—projecting out from all I have left to stand

for me.  Behind

its sheer face, broad tracts, their resources extracted, mind

turned metaphor;

the chiseled, picked-over, abandoned quarry; the seems; the or;

the loaded, vain

topos of topography—old prospects, points made plain,

what I said I meant

in legends, plotting, low comic relief.  Now, glacial sediment,

the raw material

world, beyond those former footloose expeditions (the boring drill;

the dark earth-bed;

the untold treasure, briefly, brought to light; the fateful drop, the fled-

from peril).  Here,

no further ground for assaying; no geminal facets glittering clear,

no features which await

my cutting devices; the platitude is wiped clean off the slate.

Yet, while I breathe,

all is self-flattery, long-winded drafts, and underneath

is overblown,

well-worn, through layers of hollowed figures, from headland to headstone

(no more than a toss

from the depths, the surf that breaks the surface down to a fine gloss,

to nothing less

than its still adamant base elements, the parts of the process

of breaking down

erosion itself: Eros and I, as always, leading on.


Daniel Groves is the author of The Lost Boys,
forthcoming in the VQR Poetry Series from the University of Georgia Press.
His poems have appeared in Paris Review, Yale Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. 

*** 

 


Chris Hayes

 

In the Beginning

 

That first night, you knew better

than to believe the sleep I feigned

on your couch was real. The party

 

ended, our friends drove home,

and you locked your doors against

the chilled wind October sent

 

blowing through the neighborhood

to which your Army lawyer husband

would soon fly back, and find you

 

absent. What were you thinking

when you took the blame, signed

the papers, and hauled your boxed

 

life across town to my small rental?

It took me a year to stop thinking

all you wanted was another escape

 

from that last of life plans gone awry.

When I came home early from work

to find you plucking bright crocuses

 

along the road, and arranging them

in a vase, I still wasn’t convinced.

What it took was that accidental

 

division of cells in the womb

you thought would never spark.

Maybe it wasn’t the pregnancy,

 

but your desire to hand over

your body, to give our daughter

my small and unremarkable name.


Chris Hayes has an MFA from the University of Mississippi. Hayes has received an Honorable Mention in the AWP Intro. Journal Awards, and recently won Smartish Pace's 2009 Erskine J. Poetry Prize. His work has also recently appeared in Zone 3, Two Review, and Red Clay Review.

*** 



David Kirby

Not Really

 

            If men knew what others said of them, there wouldn’t be four friends in the world.

                                                                                                                                          —Pascal

 

            A student is telling me that he called his mom the other night         

                        and thought he’d hung up before a young woman came

to his dorm room so he could teach her to smoke pot,

 

            and later that evening, his mom calls back to say she’d listened

                        to him for forty-five minutes as he told his new friend to “take

it deeply into your lungs” and “hold it as long as you can.”

 

            And I tell him he was lucky that he didn’t know, unlike the time

                        we threw that party, and on the sheet of paper with the list

of prospective guests, we’ve also sketched out the buffet—

 

            cheeses at this end, meats at the other, veggies and dips

                        in the middle—and how we’d left the sheet on the table,

and now the guests are arriving, and I am across the room talking

 

            to someone about her kids or her haircut or some other staple

                        of party conversation when suddenly I notice the sheet of paper

with guests’ names on it along with question marks in some cases

 

            and explicit comments in others: “Talks only about self,”

                        for example, and “B. says yes, D. says over my dead body.”

It’s between the pecan log and the spiral-cut ham,

 

            and there’s a piece of salmon on it, right next to the name

                        of a couple who are already in the room and are described

as “she’s okay—can’t stand him.” There’s a tension, in other

 

            words, of the kind Billy Collins describes when he says that

                        poems have miserable content (heartbreak, death) and happy

form (well-turned lines and stanzas), that the triumph

 

            of the form redeems the misery of the content, which is why

                        poetry works and TV doesn’t, because TV has happy form

and happy content, i.e., no tension. And just as I’m about

 

            to dart over and stuff the sheet of paper in my pocket, someone

                        I haven’t seen in weeks kisses me on the cheek and says,

“Where should I put my coat?” and I say, “I’ll take it”

 

            and start toward the bedroom, though not without looking

                        over my shoulder and hoping Barbara will see the sheet

before someone else does, and a few minutes later,

 

            I hiss at her, “Get the paper off the table!” and she says,

                        “What paper?” and I say, “The paper! The stupid paper—

get it!”just as a couple embraces us and says we’re sorry

 

            to leave so early, there’s another party, goodbye now, goodbye.

                        And just as I turn toward the table again, someone says,

“I guess you heard about Jon’s wedding,” and I say,

 

            “I didn’t. Can you hold on a sec?” But the speaker just 

                        has to tell me how the bride-to-be’s mother went off

on an anti-Semitic rant against Jon,  and when her husband

 

            calls her on it, she puts oleander leaves in his soup, nearly

                        killing him, and then, when the rest of the family calls her

on that, runs into the backyard and blows her brains out.

 

            And when I say, “That must have put a damper on the wedding,”

                        the person telling me the story says, “Not really,” because

for some time, apparently, Mom had been acting out,

 

            so while everyone wishes she’d kept her foul mouth shut

                        and hadn’t tried to murder Dad and had taken her own life

in some more decorous manner, at least nobody had to worry

 

            about the old bat jumping up in the middle of the ceremony

                        and stabbing the rabbi. And it’s things like this that make you

wonder what’s wrong with people, including yourself,

  

            and how much you know about them and want to know

                        and whether or not it makes any difference, given that

your mother loves you anyway, no matter how much pot

 

            you smoke, or that your marriage will not only endure

                        but get better over time, that the oleanders will flower

and die back and bloom again, that the sheet of paper

 

            on which you had written so many hateful comments

                        about people who’d come to your house when they could

have done a dozen other things, had put on their most

 

            handsome clothes and driven across town and brought you

                        candy and flowers and bottles of pinot noir, how that sheet

had disappeared  that day, even though neither you nor your wife

 

            remember removing it, and you wait for a day, a week,

                        two weeks, and no one calls to say how hurt they were,

how awful you are, how they’re going to tell everybody,

 

            you’ll never be able to hold up your head again,

                        at last, everyone will know you for who you really are,

but no one calls, not a person, nobody at all.


David Kirby has received many honors for his work,
including the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and his work appears frequently in the
Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize volumes. He has been awarded a
Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Kirby is the author or co-author of twenty-nine books, including the poetry collections
The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems, (which was a finalist for the 2007
National Book Award,) The Ha-Ha, The House of Blue Light, and
The Travelling Library. His verse has appeared in such publications as The Kenyon
Review, Southern Review, and Ploughshares.

*** 

 

Nick McRae


Salat

The trees lean, supple under the weight

of a western storm. Branches strain.

Below, trash bins roll about like Tonka trucks,

bolts rattling in their plastic sockets

as they careen into walls and curbs.

 

And boys traverse the sand-pit,

throwing their bodies this way and that,

a soccer ball pinballing back and forth

between the paddles of their feet.

 

Stormclouds mount. Rain thuds

on the chilly sand, and now, that hour

come round again, the ball rolls to a stop

as the boys lean toward Mecca to pray.

 

Their bodies wave like pine boughs,

whipped about by the blind of wind and rain.

They breathe the words in unison,

barely audible above the hum of Earth’s turning,

 

the drumming of rain and feet

and tires and bombs not too distant.

 

Near Vienna, the strain of wind too much

for the shallow roots of hill-trees,

a labored oak crushes a little Citroën,

the occupants just home from the bakery.



Nick McRae is the editor of O Tempora! Magazine,
a new online journal of poetry and poetics. His poems have been published or are
forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Rock & Sling, Stirring, SUB-LIT, and elsewhere.
Nick was a finalist for the Agnes Scott College Writers' Festival Award and is a
former Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets fellow. Nick was recently awarded a
Fulbright grant to live and teach in the Slovak Republic. He lives in Carrollton, Georgia.

*** 

 


Adam Million

from Growing Up Down Gravel

the black wire, between brown 

 

They got the ladder from the barn, wanting to watch the fireworks from on top the wash shed. Her brother made it, scurrying up the shingles, waiting for her to summit. Their family, stuffed with sweet corn, potato chips, and cheeseburgers, congregated on the lawn, singing their cautions in a round. Mind your steps. Don’t act foolish. Help your sister. As she ascended one hand, one foot, one wooden rung at a time, the ladder bounced. She faltered coming to the zenith, unsure how to make the ultimate step, raising her hand toward the sky, reaching for, then grabbing the hot wire for sureness, as a guide. The shock caught her mid-step. She froze, fingers taut around the black wire, between brown grass, sapphire sky. The congregation shouted and waved their arms. Her grandfather grabbed his hammer from the porch, enduring the current of screams. Up the ladder, he put one hand to her arm, grabbing and pulling as the hammer descended upon her fist—pulling and hammering. Her brother watched her eyes rolled back in her head, then release as she fell back to Earth, to their feet, waiting, receiving her gasping body. Years later she would see him in the back yard smiling at clouds as he would ride the air backwards, his back straightened, arms at his side, and eyes wide open, waiting for something like hands to catch him, or a bird to pass above, or a voice to cry out.



Adam Million grew up on the bluffs of the Missouri River in Boonville, Missouri, and it was there he decided at an early age that he would forever hunt treasure. He's currently an MFA candidate at the University of Wyoming. Most recently, his work can be found in various email inboxes and literary journal paper shredders across the country as well as on his mother¹s refrigerator in Missouri, affixed by a Silver Dollar City magnet.

 

                                                     ***


Erin J. Mullikin 
    

South Carolina, July
(1988)

                        after Kimiko Hahn

 

           

1

 

When the boats charge through the marsh waterways, and when they meet the solitary road,

            there is a bridge that lifts up for them to pass.

 

 

            2

 

My mother tells us to look for ghosts, that they pour out of Spanish moss and ancient oaks when the last of the beach houses turn off their lights.

 

            3

 

A Civil War battle was fought on Parkers Ferry Road, and I think about soldiers in wool

uniforms fighting men and heat.

 

4

 

At night, ghost lights frame the heat.  We drive to them, all the little ones in the back of the

truck.  I listen for the sound of the sea. 

 

5

 

I hear bells, bells and ocean and my mother’s hair singing to me from where the wind originates. 

I follow the map of sound.

 

6

 

Those ghosts do find paths.  At night they tremble in windows.  I hear their shells.  Don’t tell me

they don’t have shells.  I have seen how they pick them up.

 

7

 

I have seen my mother with those shells and who knows where she got them?  Did my father

mail them from Korea along with my name?

 

 

8

 

Did my father kill men?  Did he enjoy the warmth of a gun, foreign beer, women who didn’t

have to talk?  I believe he did.

 

 

9

 

 

When we follow the road out to the island, the bridge swings.  Oysters slide deep into brown

water.  My mother, my father, this war now.

 

 

10

 

Out past the break line, I float.  I leave this past behind to form a union with liquid, with hunger,

with blood.  The tide comes in.



Erin J. Mullikin is currently a student at Clemson University, where she studies literature and poetry.  Recent works of hers have appeared in Gloom Cupboard and Gently Read Literature.  She is also this year’s recipient of The Clemson English Department's Creative Writing Award for Poetry.  You can see what she's up to at http://www.everyredfiber.blogspot.com/.


                                                                      *** 

Ren Powell

Inner Space Qasidah

        I can see that nothing is solid, no matter how it appears.

        from the “atomobile” script for Adventures Thru Inner Space, Disneyland, 1973

 

Tomorrowland has new attractions

though everything is still a shiny plastic

 

with sticky finger touch and mouth and hips

and handrails hot then cold through every shadow

                                               

That day I stood beside the ticket-taker

and watched the people in the plastic cars

 

as some climbed out and others took their places

the cars would spin but never stop or slow

 

Like luggage on a banded carousel

the people disappeared behind a wall

 

but reappeared inside a glass-like tube

that tapered into shrinking into snowflakes

 

Because is not a reason, but it is

Just am is blue like woozy boat-fishing scared

 

my sister sat alone inside a car

a gust of air conditioning took her

 

The ticket-taker pointed to the tube

and winked No one really shrinks, you know

 

then Mickey Mouse led me to the exit

to see my sister’s five-foot five all still there

 

It’s okay, Chicken my sister pinched my nose

she’d seen the wrong-way through a microscope

 

an enormous eye was looking back at her

her every cell the spaces in between

 

It’s not a long drive from Disneyland

to home but still we had to stop for gas

 

the attendant  pulled the squeegee over the window

he smiled—my every atom jumped orbit.

 

My sister’s key ring had a rabbit’s foot

my fourth-grade science teacher knows mitosis

 

I know the human body is too fluid

I hold these truths to be self-evident.


Ren Powell is the author of two books of poetry (Fairy Tales and Soil, 1999, and mixed states, 2004: Wigestrand Press), and ten books of translations. Thanks for the Cornflakes, her third collection, is forthcoming in 2009. Her poetry has been translated and published in several languages, and has appeared in journals such as International PEN's Magazine, Segue, Beacons, and Yalobusha Review. She is the founding editor of Babel Fruit: writing under the influence.


***

 


John Pursley III

 

After the Gold Rush

            1.

 

When I was born

They said I should

 

Have a sister

 

Fifteen seconds later

I had a sister

 

They laid us out

Like corn

 

Pulled & stretched

Our arms

 

Said this is yours

 

This is yours

 

2.

 

Hum of halogen

Click luminary

 

So many halos

 

So many hollows

Hidden

 

The eye

And the spleen

 

Like large

Carnivorous birds

 

            3.

 

Late night

Gentle whir of wipers

 

Always the turning

And returning

 

Always the gentle

Fracture of the streetlights

 

The quick click of a door

The slow walk of steps

 

Echoing along hallways

 

4.

 

Return to the house

The childhood home

 

Impossible

 

To begin

At the beginning

 

Unfortunate sad hours

 

Sad clocks tick ticking

My mother

 

Always older

Says something

 

Of the Shermans

Their field’s

 

Return to native

 

Prairie grass

Says

 

The grocery doesn’t

Carry tahini

 

Perhaps we should make
The potatoes wedges


John Pursley III is the author of three chapbooks, Supposing, for Instance, Here in the Space-Time Continuum (Apprentice House Press 2009), A Conventional Weather (New Michigan Press 2007) and When, by the Titanic (Portlandia Press 2006). If You Have Ghosts, his first full-length, was the Editor’s Prize Selection for the 2009 Zone 3 Poetry Prize and will be released in early 2010. He teaches writing and literature at Clemson University.


                                                     ***

Lynn Wagner

Note 

This is not meant to be important or apparent but I’ll put it all down: I was the poet of simple things. Night-forced seedling born in an aluminum-sided house in the suburbs. The one with the Chrysler station wagon in the drive. The patient who was happy but forgot her childhood. One who stayed close to the womb. I was junior manager of choked dreams and wrong-headed responsibility, forever clapping erasers for dark-habited nuns. When strangers told me their secrets I bit my lip. Of me I sing: tight-fisted detailer, O counter of coins and commas. Remover of scuff marks from gymnasium floors.

Each spring I lost faith in the seed, took up my shovel to dig. Come autumn, the birds dropped dead from the trees. I buried them there under leaf litter, yet someone else was singing. The voice inside my head was never my own; I listen for it in the keen squalls of tea kettles. Those who say I didn’t love are liars. I loved dangerously: suicides and lost ones, but also knew my own skin. Need I say I was best friends with blonds and beautiful women. I did their dishes and cared for their houseplants and dogs. Because we all die, I have left this small note. From it you might make a toy sailboat—to be launched at night in the rain.

 

Lynn Wagner’s poems have appeared in Shenandoah, subtropics, Rhino and 5AM. She has been awarded fellowships to the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts by the Vira I. Heinz Foundation. Lynn received an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where she was awarded the Academy of American Poets prize. A newcomer to Colorado, she maintains a web presence at http://lynnwagner.pbwiki.com/

                                                                        ***


Susan Settlemyer Williams

 

Tremors

 

Over the counter, my mother’s hands flutter:

bread to cream cheese to mayonnaise

to chips of candied ginger. My son’s favorite

 

sandwich for his field trip tomorrow.

Over the sequencing, my mother’s focus flutters.

Creamy, sharp, sugary spread never blends,

 

never slathers across the bread. Again and again

she tries.          My son has no field trip.

 

This is the first tremor, or perhaps the second

if the first was her concussion six years back,

when she was pulled, bloody, from the wrecked car—

 

conscious again, she chatted of books and politics

through an hour-long ambulance ride

and by evening had forgotten it all. Tonight

 

she can’t get her words out whole, can’t be calmed.

My father spreads his helpless hands.

This time I drive her to ER, sit with her

 

through two days of tests. Reaction to the new drug,

delirium from fever, both, or neither. She’s seventy,

her dementia ten years away from diagnosis. Now

 

she recovers fast, now I can believe the episode

an isolated flutter in the brain, ignore the fault lines

that will open again, again to pull her in.



Burning Bush

 

God of bark and sap and flame,

bonfire god of headlong and balance, desire,

not satisfaction (it burned with fire

and was not consumed), like the forest fire

 

in low-country pines, resins spewing out

oily smoke, a glow against the dark.

My father cruises the road between the burning

trees, his cigarette another glow against the bare

 

black trunks backlit across the firemen’s ditch.

And, look, he’s telling me, the fire is eating

that tree. And I see the fire as real hunger,

not metaphor for hunger—gorging

 

and growing. The tree blackens, contracts,

drops limbs. The fire keeps on ravening,

all gullet still. It’s the flame that’s not consumed.

Or consumed over days and weeks,

 

forty years, a lifetime. Past sixty, cooling to ash,

I envy you lurching through the wilderness,

smoldering like a mound of tires, your hunger

for anything. This is not the sated river gods

 

but promise of milk and honey—and you

must stand barefoot on the coals,

nothing between your sole and the holy soot.


Susan Settlemyre Williams is the author of Ashes in Midair, which was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as the winner of the Many Mountains Moving Poetry Book Contest (Many Mountains Moving Press, 2008) and a chapbook, Possession (Finishing Line Press, 2007).  Her poetry has appeared in Mississippi Review, diode, Sycamore Review, Diner, and Shenandoah, among other journals, and in the anthologies Best New Poets 2006 and Letters to the World.  She is book review editor and associate literary editor of the online journal Blackbird and lives in Richmond, Virginia.

                                                                ***


John Dermot Woods 

These Two Children Were Being Threatened By Nightingales

 

The long path ran out from the third grade door to the flagpole.  I had no business at that door so many years into life, but certainly the flagpole – and the veteran’s memorial in which it stood – had been there since I had.  It had been there since the first Velcro sneaker.  Or the sneaker with the zip-up pocket on the side.  Those didn’t last long, not nearly as long as me and the flagpole; we were built of cartilage and cement, adipose and steel.

 

But someone had to help these children.  For me it took balls, and I didn’t have them.  I was afraid I’d cross the line, stamp on the newly laid sod beside the path.  I saw them both perched on benches.  The benches with rusty plates nailed to them: VFW names.  They ate grape jelly sandwiches, having refused peanut butter in some morning-lit kitchen.  Before they had finished their lunch, the nightingales attacked.  I’m sure the children wanted to make a break for it, but their mothers had ordered them to stay.  They probably thought to climb for the stars and stripes, but that flew too low to escape the nightingales’ wings.  It was up to me.

 

Nightingales clung to one’s shoulder and the other’s head.  I thought it would be worse for the one with the pecked head.  But he covered his crown and the birds’ beaks searched for scalp between his fingers, playing cat-and-mouse.  The nightingales on the shoulder found the neck.  There the skin was stretched tight, the veins below revealed, asking to be pulled through the dermal layers.  At the neck, there is no thick skull to protect our innards.

 

The two children didn’t even swat.  Red-faced, I ran to the flagpole.  I let my arms flail when I arrived.  My adult bulk and hysteria sent the nightingales into the air.  They would migrate, I felt quite sure.  I looked at the two children, who had now come together.  I couldn’t tell if they held one another, or if the second was simply wrapped around the first.


John Dermot Woods writes stories and draws comics. He is a professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College on Long Island. He edits the arts quarterly
Action,Yes <http://actionyes.org/>  and organizes the online reading series Apostrophe Cast <http://apostrophecast.com/> . His fiction and comics have appeared in Indiana Review,
American Letters & Commentary, No Colony, Hobart, sleepingfish, 3rd Bed, Salt Hill
and other places. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.