Aug 122017



They took the district psychologist for a body search
to the drugstore office thanks only to her professional
myopia, because she couldn’t have imagined
that the substitute security guard with erection
problems could flop so badly as to take her
for a thief, and that he was so hard on her
heels in the empty store minutes before closing
time, solely to catch her in the act. So she was
summoned to return at once the (old) blush
she had sunk into her handbag, while conscientiously
placing an identical one in her shopping cart
so that, after payment, she could powder her cheeks
with it for the award ceremony of the Freud medal
for lifetime achievement, to be handed her
by the minister of education himself. ‘But I’ve seen her
steal it with my own eyes!’, the security guard protested
and in his indignation kicked a cardboard box
full of condoms, making a sizable hole
in it. The therapist’s face had no need for the blush
to burn. But her calling, to ease the guard’s bewilderment,
proved stronger than her shame, and with the battle
cry, the patient is always right, she sprang to the guard’s
defense in front of the manager who, blaming
the heat wave, in his embarrassment
hastily put on his long winter overcoat.

Revolt of the Extras

We long to be continued after the last
episode, although the producers opened
the champagne and gave us a small farewell
party. This afternoon even we sit
on the kitchen stools in front of the camera
hoping to see ourselves in the new chapter: we have
played our part for a full year and this recent
indifference to our fate, the plotlines unfolding
without us in the new scenario
hurt us to the quick. No, this is not
what kept us pacing up and down the street,
shivering as usual at winter’s
end. Is it possible that the audience is losing
interest in us? Has our time passed
for good, our story passé, even though we are still
stirring? Coming and going we can hear
the camera’s buzz. As before, we tread with nimble
feet, but a low growl comes from the machine’s
jaws. We fear it might be disapproving.

The Other Side of the Coin

To bear the unsayable agony
of the lovers seated on an anthill,
the rhythmic squeaking of bedsprings at the moment
of climax, a rumble of the stomach in the midst
of an ardent declaration of love, to mix up the dear
addressee’s name when reunited at last.
While contemplating suicide by the open
window, to be soaked not in springtime
melancholia but in grenadiermarsch[1] stench.
To suffer the priest’s flu-inflected
staccato prayer over our dead body.
After a night spent awake due to the weather
turning, to drowse off when our life
sentence is announced.
Instead of ours, to enter the hotel room
of the lust killer who is shaving naked
in front of the full-length mirror. To go raspy
when given the right to the last word.
To meet ourselves on the staircase
(she going upstairs, I tumbling down).
Incensed, to shove our manhood
into the bread slicer instead of bread.
To knock on our own door, waiting to be let in.
With our mouth full of spinach to choke
convulsively on some antediluvial joke
on the silken sofa of the newly wed.
To eat gilded-edged caramel custard
while changing diapers. To shake
hands with the disciple who tries
to sell us the dead master’s gold tooth.
To see the light under shadowy circumstances.
To remain standing for good, half-dressed,
in front of the cupboard, or sitting
in the bathtub until icicles grow on the tap
out of a penchant for parallelism.
…………………………………………..And if not, let go!
Then the day will come: the grenadiermarsch
smell in the open window, the killer
with the razor will come to cut off the ice
from our skin. And spring! spring will come!


A Royal Day

During his visit now and then the king
stops on a whim, and throws a look
across his realm. Winter has worn out
the city, the fences lean in, the frost drove
new cracks in the pavement.
Snow, black, is blocked in the gutter mouths.
Open lorries carry sand to a nearby
construction site, fine dust
drizzles down. With light fingers he wipes
the grains from his brow. On tram fifty-nine
homeless bums are yelling across to each
other over the passengers’ heads
in a tongue of the realm he barely understands.
He arrives at Déli Station. Descends
into the subway’s draughty inner
halls. The brass band strikes up
a fanfare. He spots the mutilated
Romanian sitting in the same corner,
a babbling would-be greeting on his cardboard sign.
So his faithful subject has come to him,
travelling all night on the blackened train,
or defecting across the green border of hope!
He waves at the man kneeling at his feet, whose
eyes run over with tears. Daily routine.
On a mouth organ a duke plays operetta.
The hailing, the attention directed at him,
the loud calling of his name, the hands grabbing
the hem of his robe wear him out, he feels repulsion.
And yet: he was born for this, when all the bells
spoke of hope, I will be one of them,
he said, but now it is as if he were watching
in a microscope the beings, invisible to the naked
eye, scurrying, worming on the ground.



I dreamed I gave birth to a child: by him.
But they warned me beforehand: it is stillborn.
The most awful of all was my indifference,

I didn’t care what was happening with me,
I felt not pain but ennui rather. A huge,
waxen newborn was laid out on the table

covered in transparent nylon.
Next to it, under a damask cloth,
props of an unfinished breakfast.

We must behave as if he were alive, the midwife
said and cried out twice: Look,
how cutely he is wobbling!


I knew I was to be sentenced

I started eating. On the newborn’s brow
above the bridge of the nose, a wound cut
with a blade appeared, I tried to smooth it out,

fighting my repulsion, but couldn’t. No
blood oozed from it: it was final.
Like the outcome of something long-planned,

done in cold blood, it was: concrete.
I knew I was the one who wounded him, unawares
when slicing the bread. I even recalled how

the knife ran into the still protesting skin.
I felt fear and hazy remorse.
I knew I was to be sentenced.


For everything around us is: life

Surely I cannot be the killer of our love?
Surely it was the child of another, a stranger,
not yours, and by no means mine?

It was a strange child laid out on the table,
stillborn, since the wound didn’t bleed:
this should be sufficient evidence.

Most likely it was a wax doll. Someone
must have made a savage joke,
for everything around us is: life.

And inside me too: you surely know me!
Even if leaves are falling on the rails
and the tram turns the corner with long shrieks.


The Chain and the Link (A Lánc És a Szem)

(1) The most exquisite movement (A legszebb mozdulat)
It is now clear that the forcefully united
stands out in parts. Needless to resist
anymore: as I have always wanted,

the chain and the link crumble a-part.
(I never managed, as I now realize,
to align, however hard I tried.)

Leaf, how gently you fell on the lake’s
water. Gentler than any lover
on the craved pudenda.

This was the most exquisite movement, thank
you, leaf. You didn’t mingle. You didn’t quiver.
This was the most exquisite movement.

(2) To leave (KIMENNI)
the crowded room at the height
of ovation when the arch-funereal
clowns perform their lightning-fast

jest, not to be duped by their countless
tricks, to break through the elated
row, to reclaim from the mesmerized

cloakroom girl hat, coat and umbrella
for a song, to cross the city when its theatre wings
are being rearranged but the night shift

has not arrived yet, the clocks stand
still, our sole companion the disinfectant
smell on the last pestilential streets.

(3) Going on (FOLYTATÁS)
Not to call anyone (the greenery will
outgrow their pots anyway and, pushing
open the window, lean out),

not to avenge, nor to get over
insult, not to have tooth-ache, inflamed
cornea, leukemia treated,

not to open the door when the house is aflame,
not to cling on when drowning, to turn back
from the loathed door at the moment

of arrival. Not to look forward on the way
but backward only. To stand up to the clash.
Then on the water a leaf may fall.


Yearning for an ancient cup

To not rebel, even if you possess the necessary
skills, but execute the emperor’s order.
To smuggle my remembrance into the manner of the farewell,
the moral of experience paid with blood, the gift
of clear-sightedness, before my eyesight is
blurred and my pupils hitch upward.
Where does bargaining begin, the withdrawal
of consent, the defensive fidgeting, the living
for the last moment, the hour stolen
for banqueting, or making love? I might
lapse there as well – our emperor left the decision to us,
but Socrates forbids cowardly action.
If I linger on among you for a while, it’s only
to say, I owe a cock to Asclepius.
But since you had promised to pay my debt,
what would hold me here still? The command
summons me, to quote the tragic poet, and it’s high time
to arrange for a bath. I’ll drink the cup right after.
The sand sifting from my eyes will settle on
the borders of Athens. I have never believed in borders,
yet feel no triumph. My legs go heavy,
I lie down on my back, as the man
who brought the hemlock advised.
The world loses its contours, grows cold.

— Zsuzsa Takács, Translated from the Hungarian by Erika Mihálycsa


Zsuzsa Takács is the doyenne of Hungarian poetry. She started publishing in the early 1970s, gradually developing a consciously understated, slightly elegiac lyric voice coupled with profoundly personal themes, addressing both private and historical traumas. A former professor of Romance literatures, she has translated St. John of the Cross, Pessoa, Borges and others into Hungarian. Her story “Conference Hall” originally appeared in her 2007 volume A megtévesztő külsejű vendég. Önéletrajzaim [The Deceptive-looking Guest. My Autobiographies]. Her work is widely anthologized, and has been translated into English by George Szirtes, Laura Schiff, and Ottilie Mulzet, among others. Her poems and stories have appeared recently in World Literature TodayThe Missing Slate, and Locomotive Magazine. Reviews of her work and an interview can be read on Hungarian Literature OnlineShe lives in Budapest.



Erika Mihálycsa is a lecturer in 20th-century British literature at Babes-Bolyai University Cluj, Romania, a Joyce and Beckett scholar. She has translated works by Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Patrick McCabe, William Carlos Williams, Anne Carson, Julian Barnes and others into Hungarian. Her translations of contemporary Hungarian prose and poetry have appeared to date, or are forthcoming, in World Literature TodayThe Missing SlateTrafika Europe, and B O D Y Magazine. A regular collaborator to various Hungarian reviews, she is editor, together with Rainer J. Hanshe, of Hyperion, issued by Contra Mundum Press.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Translator’s note: Potatoes and pasta stewed with onions, some sort of meat or bacon, and eventually anything else that could be thrown in – in this respect, a bit like the famous Irish stew. It is very consistent, and became a food of the poor. The smell would have been of onions stewed in pork grease, into which the mixture is then thrown with water. Appropriately bathetic.
Aug 102017

Alexander Tinyakov

The poems below are the work of Alexander Tinyakov (1886-1934), a Russian poète maudit who ended his days as a professional beggar on the streets of Leningrad. They are, to my mind, every bit as vibrant and prickly as they were when they first appeared a century ago. Tinyakov was a difficult man: a combative alcoholic, resentful of his fellow poets’ success and perfectly willing to compromise his own principles (that is, if he had any to begin with) for a good meal. And yet, his verse remains compelling – not in spite of his flawed character, but precisely because of it; he is completely and electrifyingly honest about his baseness, his desperation, his animalistic drive to survive at any cost. For a number of reasons – many of them quite legitimate – Tinyakov’s fellow poets began to lose patience with their colleague in the 1910s, and most broke all ties with him in the 1920s. In the third poem below, “Joie de vivre,” Tinyakov predicts the death of Nikolay Gumilyov (1886-1921), one of the era’s major poets. Gumilyov would be arrested by the Soviet secret police (Cheka) on August 3, 1921, for alleged participation in a monarchist conspiracy, and executed on August 24. The poem appeared after Gumilyov’s death, and was interpreted as a celebration of his demise. This may have been the final straw. For the rest of his life, Tinyakov was a pariah.

—Boris Dralyuk


How blessed to be a gob of spit
racing down a dirty gutter –
I can hug a stubbed-out cig,
find a piece of fluff to cuddle.

Say they spat me out in fury,
in a moment of despair –
skies are clear, I’ve got no worries,
breezes fill me with good cheer.

I may hunger for the freedom
of the river’s blue expanse,
but for now I’ve got the pleasure
of this dirty gutter dance.



Belated Rook

Bitter cold – the puddles slumber
under frosted panes.
An old rook, all stiff and lumbering,
flaps a heavy wing.

He lingered here despite the chill –
it’s almost blizzard time.
Now he can’t escape the pull
of warmer southern climes.

He scrapes his beak with icy foot:
Must he really fly?
While fallen leaves circle about,
rustling their goodbye.

December 1909


Joie de vivre

Lovely new coffins are headed my way,
full of the finest young men.
Pleasure to see them, simply a joy –
pretty as birches in spring!

You’ve kicked the bucket, you pitiful dogs.
Me? Well, I’m doing just fine!
They’ve sealed you tight under big heavy lids.
I can look up at the sky!

Say every coffin holds some kind of genius,
say that one there’s Gumilyov. . .
But I, who am hated and spat on by everyone,
am fit as a fiddle, you know!

Sure, soon enough I’ll be one of them – carrion,
nothing but worm-eaten filth.
For now, I’m still here and rejoice at the sight of them –
people that I have outlived.

July 28, 1921


A Prayer for Food

Fate, I beg you, I implore you,
give me food that’s good and sweet –
promise me a single morsel,
I’ll commit the vilest deed.

I would curl up like a ram’s horn
and go crawling on my knees.
I’d blaspheme the Lord in heaven
and defile even my tears.

I’d befoul the purest soul,
trim the wings of lofty thought.
I would burgle, I would steal –
lick my enemy’s bare feet.

I’d go down to hell, plod barefoot
through the Russian frost and mud –
for a piece of bread and horseflesh,
for a pound of rotten cod.

Put a yoke around my neck,
just as long as I can eat.
Life is sweet for well-fed lackeys –
honor’s bitter without meat.

November 1921

—Alexander Tinyakov translated by Boris Dralyuk


Boris Dralyuk is an award-winning translator and the Executive Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from UCLA, where he taught Russian literature for a number of years. He is a co-editor of the Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, and has translated Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories, both of which are published by Pushkin Press.


Aug 092017



I made a vow to love whoever I encountered.
It wasn’t true yet, but came to me in the bathroom
looking at the purple tufted rug that boys’ shoes had trucked on.
There was a salt jar there too. And all these abstract paintings
I was entering and leaving. I stepped out
of the bathroom and saw the host’s white bedspread,
a corner of it, and some fabulous pillows.
I pictured a slew of children and mythological characters
sleeping together in front of the television. It was cozy there
in the silence, words floating up from below.
And it made me want to try harder.



In Italy, the buildings are for beauty,
and beauty, says Joseph Brodsky, is the enemy
of a hostile world. “Salve,” says the customs man
when he stamps my passport.
Which means, “Hello.” With the ve
jutting out its lower lip. Salve, at the bar.
And in the chapel built by plague survivors,
salve, says the cupola. Salve, says the floor.
In the Giovanni and Paolo hospital
the old wing opens out like fields and windows
in a Van Gogh painting, light penetrating halls
and making space in silence. No one’s there at all,
but—salve, salve, salve, salve.
When I return to my more brutal realms
the word comes with me. I don’t declare it.
How light in my suitcase it is, how old-fashioned
and almost ethereal, but in some lights
real, and close enough—to salvage.


Appointment in Samarra

30 people in chemo today multiplied by
x hospitals in y countries and z universes.

Back here, H smiles through 4 syringes of chemicals, 2 bags of saline,
and a flush of life-giving killer liquid.

Twin sisters in their 70’s share clippings of their modeling days
with shirtless men in big cars, take selfies holding up their matching drips.

A woman in the corner looks exactly like what is happening to her.
Pale and bald like coal after a fire.

Slap me good and hard with mortality while I’m strong.
My body wants to run as though it’s seen a ghost.


My Sisters’ Sisters

I am one of my sisters.
The one who refuses, goes inside
and draws her knees to her heart in a small ball
turns toward the wall waiting for someone to come
and for no one to come.
I am one of my sisters: I do not cross
the threshold where danger lies, its flank
on a couch of cossacked hopes
roaring its helplessness through the malice
of tongue and hands.
That one who closes the door
who remembers only enough
of what was inside to stiffen at its name.
I am one of my sister’s sisters who pounds
more than a thousand nails,
one for each name of her missing sisters, into dead wood.
I can feel her shiny hammer on my shiny head.
One sister raises her sisters
on her hands in an auditorium of her sisters.
I am the cancelled and begun again sister, reinsistered,
the one who goes back into the room
to tear the air from the walls.


A Blessing for the Waning

Here’s to the last suck before the birth of separation, before gums have teeth.
To skin that’s soft, brown, rough, cracked, bruised, itching, callused,
folding over, touched. To the body held, whole unto itself.

Here’s to what the body was before anything changed, which was never.
To the original flat chest of everyone.

Here’s to the growths, hoped for and maligned.
The deletions, depilations, bargains and beseechments.

Here’s to loss of consciousness remembered waking up in the morning, in recovery,
bewildered, with toast in your mouth.

To the sleep that was good but is now interrupted and induced.
To pain that lodges and travels.

Desire breathes like a tide, goes a long way out
and surprises when it comes back in a swell.
The way grief does.

Here’s to falling and to falling, and to falling falling.

To the curse of forgetting and its gift, forgetting.
To the gift of remembering and its curse, memory.

To having had a life. Us creatures and our smells.

Here’s goodbye to clothes that fit another body.
To the last embrace you didn’t know was last until there were no more. Here’s to
kissing the last mouth on yours. Pucker up. Pucker up now and go.


Back Pain

Then the light on the television went out.
I turned over on the heating pad trying
for a comfortable position on the floor. I got
to the section of the 400 page book called epilogue
and did not want to go on.
I went for my notebook, but the pen
was just too far on the dark field of the carpet.
Maybe the radio.
Instead I lay quietly listening
to the subway, feeling it under me
like an animal rubbing itself
along my personal earth
and beginning to enjoy it.

—Ronna Bloom


Ronna Bloom has published five books of poetry, most recently Cloudy with a Fire in the Basement (Pedlar Press, 2012). She is Poet in Community at the University of Toronto and Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital. Pedlar Press will publish her new book, The More, in October 2017. Her website is



Aug 052017


When I first read Maria Rivera’s “Los muertos” (“The Dead”), translated from the Spanish here by Richard Gwyn, I was blown away. I just needed to share it with an international audience. Maria is a fearless poet and activist. It is a pleasure to feature her work in Numéro Cinq.

— Dylan Brennan

Poema leído al finalizar la marcha nacional por la paz el día 6 de abril de 2011,en apoyo al poeta Javier Sicilia y en exigencia de la paz. México D.F.


Dylan Brennan: Why did you write ‘Los muertos’ (The Dead) and how has it been received?

Maria Rivera: I wrote ‘Los muertos’ in the year 2010 (the year of the Mexican bicentennial celebrations). At that time Mexico found itself immersed in homicidal violence, produced, in part by the military anti drug-trafficking policy undertaken by president Calderón from the beginning of his six year term, an attempt to legitimise his presidency in the wake of electoral fraud. I found myself writing a book about the relationship between poetry and politics (from 2006), a long and ambitious poetic project which attempted to question the strata of the poetic tradition, speak about the different forms of violence, beginning with misogyny, representation of the female body, sparked by the violent repression of female protestors in Atenco carried out by president Fox and then-governor of Mexico State, Enrique Peña Nieto (currently president of Mexico), a crime that remains unpunished. The poem that deals with these events is entitled ‘Oscuro’ (Dark) and was published in 2012.

The unexpected and tragic direction the country has taken since that time became a dark and intense night for me, seeing as I was immersed in the investigation of different forms of social violence and its relationship with poetic discourse. Massacres began, disappearances, clandestine burials, terrible tragedies. In the midst of all this horror was the tragedy (at the time completely silenced) suffered by Central American migrants on their journey through Mexico at the hands of both the authorities and criminal groups. Many were murdered and/or kidnapped.

The dominating discourse in the media at that time was rooted in the governmental narrative that criminalised those who were killed (they were not considered ‘victims’ only occasionally ‘collateral damage’). Both the political class and the intellectual class embraced the government’s argument, legitimising killings and strengthening Calderon’s policies. Faced with international scandals, they even embarked on campaigns to convince the media not to cover violent acts, while at the same time they celebrated the supposed virtues of the country, converting the deaths into mere statistics.

In August 2010, the criminal group known as the Zetas killed 72 migrants in the town of San Fernando in Tamaulipas. This tragedy was a turning point for a citizenry that, for the first time, was forced to take note of the grim brutality faced by migrants in Mexico. Unlike the other massacres the government was unable to criminalise these victims, though initially the event was reported as the discovery of a ‘narco-graveyard’, a survivor was able to tell his story and reveal the true nature of the crime.

At that time, I had realised a great deal of my documentary research, about migrants, victims and violence against women. The San Fernando story plunged me into a profound sense of restlessness and rage: just a few days later came the Bicentennial celebrations, our most important civic celebration. I watched these celebrations filled with bitterness. It was within this context, as part of a larger project, that I composed ‘Los muertos’, taking up a very generous invitation from Antonio Calera, a friend, poet and editor, to participate in an anthology to celebrate the Día de muertos (Day of the Dead), which would be launched that November. This gave me the opportunity to place in the centre of Mexican poetry, in its very heart, that which was really happening in the country, events that didn’t seem to disturb the majority of poets, events that were being silenced: clandestine graves, the mass murder of migrants, anti-female gender violence, agony that occurred without being given a name. I was interested in subverting the official discourse, fascist in nature, that had taken root in the country. Discourse that occurs within language when it has been seized by propaganda. In order to achieve this I denatured poetry, divorcing it from the aesthetic function still assigned to it by many. This decision implied an aesthetic and political gamble as I discovered that the poetry that had previously been written on this theme, covered up the real horror: it seemed to me, in fact, to constitute complicity. This consciousness of the nature of political language determined how I wrote. The composition of the poem was guided by a large and problematic reflection on the social function of art, the ethical problems associated with dealing with victim’s testimonies, the limits of poetry and, in a very concrete way, with Mexican poetry.

As far as its reception goes, the first very positive reaction came from some poets and writers who referred to the poem as a political event in columns, articles and blogs. It was poorly received by other poets (still under the influence of Paz’s normative ethics) who thought that poetry shouldn’t (or couldn’t) deal with these themes, who recriminated me for the decision to not “poetically elaborate” (erase) the brutal violence suffered by those people. This, as far as I’m concerned, constitutes a form of open complicity with the crimes. I was even subjected to the machista suggestion that I should just concern myself with my interior world (with my husband and daughter). As far as the elite intellectuals closely associated with the government, they didn’t like the poem as it contradicted the official discourse, challenged president Calderón, exposed the authority’s criminal collusion, and damaged the image of Mexico.

For these reasons, the poem suffered some political censure from two of the most famous Mexican literary magazines, those favoured by the government. The director of Letras Libres, Enrique Krauze, decided to withdraw the poem despite favourable comments from the responsible editor and the fact that it was ready for publication. I came face to face with the reality that, in Mexico, a supposedly democratic country, poetry can be censored by intellectuals and writers (transformed into the executing hand of the government), that the degree of collusion, in order to render victims invisible, not only implicated the criminals and the authorities but, also extended to members of the intellectual class who actively participated in the silencing of this Mexican horror. Just a few months later, some writers featured in anti-violence movements, when the political context altered due to the emergence of the Movimiendo por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace, Justice & Dignity) headed by the poet Javier Sicilia after the murder of his son, a movement that lent dignity to the victims of violence.

In my own experience, the most brutal part of political censure came from discovering its meaning; from becoming conscious that what was continually attempted to be silenced was not really my voice, but the voices of others, the collective experience, painful and unjust, of those who had been discarded from the national consciousness for reasons of class and gender: poor women and men, Mexican and Central American migrants who were murdered, commercialised, completely dehumanised, silenced by organised crime, authorities, intellectuals and, even by poets who were made indignant by the fact that it were these voices, these victims of the Mexican classist system, that occupied the pristine page of poetry. The censure that I suffered, luckily, confirmed for me the dangers of poetry and the nature of poetry: It is far from an aesthetic, classist and insignificant artefact dominated by the reverberations of light or the trivialisation of horror.

After the initial reception of the poem, in April 2011, I read it at the first demonstration called by Javier Sicilia in the Mexico City Zócalo. The poem was read in front of thousands of demonstrators, recorded by the journalist Janet Mérida who uploaded it to YouTube and it went viral.

The reception it received in the main square was completely unexpected for me: I wasn’t really fully aware of the effect that the poem had caused until some time later. The poem transgressed the literary sphere, and was taken up, nationally and internationally, but other artists: video-art, music, performance, theatre, painting. In the same way it was adopted by those involved in activism, read at demonstrations outside the country and within Mexico, read in front of legislators (by Javier Sicilia, who claimed it was the best poem written in Mexico on the theme), appropriated by migrants, victims of violence in the US, and inspired various collectives such as the group known as ‘Bordando por la paz’. It was translated into various languages, conserving its evocative power (the Argentinean poet Jorge Fondebrider not long ago commented on the impression it made on audiences in the UK after Claire Potter read Richard Gwyn’s translation). The poem has also been anthologised and studied in various countries. The phenomenon of its reception has been, without a doubt, an anomaly within the context of Mexican poetry: it has become the emblematic poem on violence in the country.

Another aspect of the poem’s reception was due to the fact that it was shared on websites that focus on drug-trafficking. I received some emails in which I was asked, for example, how I could know such precise details of massacres, and I was invited to some lost towns of the sierra. For years, I chose not to travel to such places I was disturbed by the wide dissemination of my reading in the Zócalo and these unforseeable results. Though I understood, very quickly, that the poem had now ceased to be mine, that I couldn’t expect a traditional trajectory, that the poem now belonged to the readers who had freely reproduced, copied, altered, shared, appropriated it without even telling me. It’s ironic, but it is the highest aspiration of a poet: to disappear from the poem.

DB: Did you find you needed to carry out much research in order to compose the poem? There are details in the poem, names etc… Are they real or invented?

MR: As mentioned, the poem is the product of a long investigation into violence sparked by the femicides from Ciudad Juárez. The facts that I narrate are all true, occurring at some point during those years, I made a sort of tour of the most significant violent acts up to the year 2010, the sum of the atrocities that make up the recent history of Mexico. I researched the locations of clandestine graveyards that had been discovered, the way in which people had been killed, their origins, their histories. It’s all based on journalistic reports, mostly from the Special Migrants Report from the National Human Rights Commission, from 2009, and an investigation I carried out in Honduras on some of the 72 migrants killed in 2010. Naturally these facts become the basis of a literary invention: their return to life on the Day of the Dead. As far as names are concerned, some are real though mixed up. I decided to expose their history, their wounded bodies, their vulnerable human nature. I tried to be sufficiently specific to avoid seeming ‘literary’, using them, cannibalising their story, which is what the rhetoric of violence does. I believe that poetry has extraordinary powers and that there are ethical borders that should not be transgressed. The use of testimony, for example, is problematic. The dead, the victims, are not literary capital that can be used for gaining authorial prestige. In fact, the poem avoids testimony, focusing instead on naked facts. The dead are defined by their relationship with the living: they are the mirror in which they see themselves and permit us to see them and to recognise ourselves in them. They are called I, you, we.

DB: Do you think that poetry can make a real difference?

MR: Poetry can speak better than any other art during regimes in which language is damaged in order to hide atrocities, systematically used to cover up and simulate, as is the case in Mexico: a country in which everything happens and nothing happens, a victim of the rhetoric of an old dictatorial regime. Dismantling the discourse that legitimised homicidal violence became, for me, a form of resistance in a country that practices torture, forced disappearances, killings, secret burials, brutal femicide, total disappearance of human remains via calcination or chemical disintegration. This terrible violence is perpetrated on all of us, hence the use of the ‘lymph’ metaphor: we are not separate from those who commit the worst atrocities, they are our own organs, our own limbs, our sickness, ourselves. Art’s field of action is rooted in the symbolic. Language unearths, it’s civilising. It returns the hidden, the dismembered, the disjointed, to articulate itself in the country’s centre of political power, in the spaces of the elite which is, as I have said, no longer an innocent and passive participant.

Of course, poetry can make a real difference when it is free to speak, when it is not associated with aesthetic restrictions which are, in reality, political and serve the powerful and their ends: silencing voices and registrars of reality; when it is not linked to the very government that commits atrocities and authors can detach themselves from the classist apparatus promoted by the governmental cultural institutes. Otherwise, the importance that poetry holds will continue to be circumscribed to a reduced number of readers protected by classist institutions beset by the corruption of their members, each patting each other’s shoulders ($houlders). The importance of poetry, of course, has also to do with its capacity to move into other aesthetic experiences, to offer a new vision of the concrete world in which we live. If poetry is not an expression of critical and intellectual passion, it rarely travels far.

DB: Do you think that the poet has a responsibility to write about real events, about politics, social reality etc.?

MR: I believe that each author constructs herself politically. All poetry, if it is public, is political. It all serves a function. Aestheticising poetry, for example, can serve to erase the collusion of the authorities with criminals, to decorate the scenes of horror, to avoid public mourning. Beautiful poetry can serve as a painkiller or a real cure. I, unlike some others, have always considered poetry as a form of responsibility in itself. We all have this, a social responsibility, shared citizenry.

DB: Would you describe yourself as a political poet? Why/why not?

MR: Of course, I consider myself a political poet. I form part of the public discourse and have freely inserted my work in that space. I also associate my work with my gender, writing from a gendered perspective, though deliberately avoiding the personal. I have occupied myself with exploring the experiences of misogynist sexual violence through language and, in the same way, in my poem ‘Los muertos’, I decided to place that in the centre of the aesthetic experience.

DB: Finally, what’s next for you?

MR: The publication of this very long project about which I have been speaking to you, which includes ‘Los muertos’, ‘Oscuro’ and other poems. The book will be entitled, naturally, Política.


— Maria Rivera and Dylan Brennan


The Dead

Here they come
the decapitated,
the amputees,
the torn into pieces,
the women with their coccyx split apart,
those with their heads smashed in,
the little ones crying
inside dark walls
of minerals and sand.
Here they come
those who sleep in buildings
that house secret tombs:
they come with their eyes blindfolded,
their hands tied,
shot between their temples.
Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,
in-laws, neighbours,
the woman they gang raped before killing her,
the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,
the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story
comes walking down Broadway,
consoled by the wail of the ambulances,
the hospital doors,
light shining on the waters of the Hudson.
Here they come
the dead who set out from Usulután,
from La Paz
from La Unión,
from La Libertad,
from Sonsonate,
from San Salvador,
from San Juan Mixtepec,
from Cuscatlán,
from El Progreso,
from El Guante,
those who were given the goodbye at a karaoke party,
and were found shot in Tecate.
Here comes the one they forced to dig his brother’s grave,
the one they murdered after collecting a four thousand dollar ransom,
those who were kidnapped
with a woman they raped in front of her eight year old son
three times.
Where do they come from,
from what gangrene,
oh lymph,
the bloodthirsty,
the heartless,
the murdering
Here they come,
the dead so alone, so mute, so much ours,
set beneath the enormous sky of Anáhuac,
they walk,
they drag themselves,
with their bowl of horror in their hands,
their terrifying tenderness.
They are called
the dead that they found in a ditch in Taxco,
the dead that they found in remote places of Chihuahua,
the dead that they found strewn across plots of crops,
the dead that they found shot in la Marquesa,
the dead that they found hanging from bridges,
the dead that they found without heads on common land,
the dead that they found at the side of the road,
the dead that they found in abandoned cars,
the dead that they found in San Fernando,
those without number they cut into pieces and have still not been found,
the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead
dissolved in drums.
They are called
remains, corpses, the deceased,
they are called
the dead whose mothers do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose children do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose wives do not tire of waiting,
they imagine them in subways, among gringos.
They are called
baby clothes woven in the casket of the soul,
the little tee shirt of a three-month-old
the photo of a toothless smile,
they are called mamita,
they are called
little kicks
in the tummy
and the newborn’s cry,
they are called four children,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
and a widow (a girl) who fell in love at primary school,
they are called wanting to dance at fiestas,
they are called blushing of hot cheeks and sweaty hands,
they are called boys,
they are called wanting
to build a house,
laying bricks,
giving food to my children,
they are called two dollars for cleaning beans,
houses, estates, offices,
they are called
crying of children on earth floors,
the light flying over the birds,
the flight of pigeons in the church,
they are called
kisses at the river’s edge,
they are called
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
in the scrubland,
hands tied
in the gardens of ranches,
in the gardens of ‘safe’ houses,
in some forgotten wilderness,
disintegrating mutely
and in secret,
they are called
secrets of hitmen,
secrets of slaughter,
secrets of policemen,
they are called sobbing,
they are called mist,
they are called body,
they are called skin,
they are called warmth,
they are called kiss,
they are called hug,
they are called laughter,
they are called people,
they are called pleading,
they were called I,
they were called you,
they were called us,
they are called shame,
they are called sobbing.
Here they go
breasts bitten,
hands tied,
their bodies burned to a crisp,
their bones polished by the sand of the desert.
They are called
the dead women that no one knows no one saw being killed,
they are called
women who go out alone to bars at night,
they are called
working women who leave their homes at dawn,
they are called
chucked away,
they are called meat,
they are called meat.
without flowers,
without tombstones,
without an age,
without a name,
without sobbing,
they sleep in their cemetery:
its name is Temixco,
its name is Santa Ana,
its name is Mazatepec,
its name is Juárez,
its name is Puente de Ixtla,
its name is San Fernando,
its name is Tlaltizapán,
its name is Samalayuca,
its name is el Capulín,
its name is Reynosa,
its name is Nuevo Laredo,
its name is Guadalupe,
its name is Lomas de Poleo,
its name is Mexico.


Los muertos

Allá vienen
los descabezados,
los mancos,
los descuartizados,
a las que les partieron el coxis,
a los que les aplastaron la cabeza,
los pequeñitos llorando
entre paredes oscuras
de minerales y arena.
Allá vienen
los que duermen en edificios
de tumbas clandestinas:
vienen con los ojos vendados,
atadas las manos,
baleados entre las sienes.
Allí vienen los que se perdieron por Tamaulipas,
cuñados, yernos, vecinos,
la mujer que violaron entre todos antes de matarla,
el hombre que intentó evitarlo y recibió un balazo,
la que también violaron, escapó y lo contó viene
caminando por Broadway,
se consuela con el llanto de las ambulancias,
las puertas de los hospitales,
la luz brillando en el agua del Hudson.
Allá vienen
los muertos que salieron de Usulután,
de La Paz,
de La Unión,
de La Libertad,
de Sonsonate,
de San Salvador,
de San Juan Mixtepec,
de Cuscatlán,
de El Progreso,
de El Guante,
a los que despidieron en una fiesta con karaoke,
y los encontraron baleados en Tecate.
Allí viene al que obligaron a cavar la fosa para su hermano,
al que asesinaron luego de cobrar cuatro mil dólares,
los que estuvieron secuestrados
con una mujer que violaron frente a su hijo de ocho años
tres veces.

¿De dónde vienen,
de qué gangrena,
oh linfa,
los sanguinarios,
los desalmados,
los carniceros

Allá vienen
los muertos tan solitos, tan mudos, tan nuestros,
engarzados bajo el cielo enorme del Anáhuac,
se arrastran,
con su cuenco de horror entre las manos,
su espeluznante ternura.
Se llaman
los muertos que encontraron en una fosa en Taxco,
los muertos que encontraron en parajes alejados de Chihuahua,
los muertos que encontraron esparcidos en parcelas de cultivo,
los muertos que encontraron tirados en la Marquesa,
los muertos que encontraron colgando de los puentes,
los muertos que encontraron sin cabeza en terrenos ejidales,
los muertos que encontraron a la orilla de la carretera,
los muertos que encontraron en coches abandonados,
los muertos que encontraron en San Fernando,
los sin número que destazaron y aún no encuentran,
las piernas, los brazos, las cabezas, los fémures de muertos
disueltos en tambos.
Se llaman
restos, cadáveres, occisos,
se llaman
los muertos a los que madres no se cansan de esperar
los muertos a los que hijos no se cansan de esperar,
los muertos a los que esposas no se cansan de esperar,
imaginan entre subways y gringos.
Se llaman
chambrita tejida en el cajón del alma,
camisetita de tres meses,
la foto de la sonrisa chimuela,
se llaman mamita,
se llaman
en el vientre
y el primer llanto,
se llaman cuatro hijos,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
y una viuda (muchacha) que se enamoró cuando estudiaba la primaria,
se llaman ganas de bailar en las fiestas,
se llaman rubor de mejillas encendidas y manos sudorosas,
se llaman muchachos,
se llaman ganas
de construir una casa,
echar tabique,
darle de comer a mis hijos,
se llaman dos dólares por limpiar frijoles,
casas, haciendas, oficinas,
llantos de niños en pisos de tierra,
la luz volando sobre los pájaros,
el vuelo de las palomas en la iglesia,
se llaman
besos a la orilla del río,
se llaman
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
entre matorrales,
en jardines de ranchos
en parajes olvidados,
desintegrándose muda,
se llaman
secretos de sicarios,
secretos de matanzas,
secretos de policías,
se llaman llanto,
se llaman neblina,
se llaman cuerpo,
se llaman piel,
se llaman tibieza,
se llaman beso,
se llaman abrazo,
se llaman risa,
se llaman personas,
se llaman súplicas,
se llamaban yo,
se llamaban tú,
se llamaban nosotros,
se llaman vergüenza,
se llaman llanto.

Allá van
los pechos mordidos,
las manos atadas,
calcinados sus cuerpos,
sus huesos pulidos por la arena del desierto.
Se llaman
las muertas que nadie sabe nadie vio que mataran,
se llaman
las mujeres que salen de noche solas a los bares,
se llaman
mujeres que trabajan salen de sus casas en la madrugada,
se llaman
se llaman carne,
se llaman carne.

sin flores,
sin losas,
sin edad,
sin nombre,
sin llanto,
duermen en su cementerio:

se llama Temixco,
se llama Santa Ana,
se llama Mazatepec,
se llama Juárez,
se llama Puente de Ixtla,
se llama San Fernando,
se llama Tlaltizapán,
se llama Samalayuca,
se llama el Capulín,
se llama Reynosa,
se llama Nuevo Laredo,
se llama Guadalupe,
se llama Lomas de Poleo,
se llama México.

—Maria Rivera, English translation by Richard Gwyn

This poem, along with 155 others by 97 Latin American poets, selected and translated by Richard Gwyn, was published in November 2016 in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.


María Rivera, poet and essayist, was born in Mexico City in 1971. She is the author of Traslación de dominio (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2000 y 2004) for which she won the “Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven Elías Nandino 2000”, Hay batallas (Editorial Joaquín Mortiz, 2005) for which she won the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes 2005, Rota (EDAU, 2006) and Los muertos (Calygramma, 2011). She has received grants from the Centro Mexicano de Escritores and the FONCA Young Creators programme. She is currently a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte.


Richard Gwyn is a poet, novelist and translator, based in Wales, where he is Professor of Creative Writing at Cardiff University.  His most recent book is an anthology of recent poetry from Latin America, The Other Tiger (Seren).


Dylan Brennan is an Irish writer currently based in Mexico. His poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan


Aug 042017


“So what do we have now in its place?”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx(Rumina Sethi)

In place of prudence this tumble of gulls
and vultures effervescing from bulldozers
along archipelagoes of landfills.
In place of justice, hybrid tea roses
and cockapoos, puggles, labradoodles.
In place of temperance, pop-up surveys,
monogrammed collars, logoed zipper pulls.
In place of courage, postal holidays.
In place of faith, profiling, surveillance,
data mining, intelligence satellites.
In place of hope, adjustable-rate loans,
spin-offs, takeovers, derivatives, bailouts.
In place of love, speed limits in school zones,
reflective vests, flashing yellow warning lights.


“You love anybody yet?”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx(Alyson Hagy)

Which one you counting on love to transform:
you or your lover? This lover love you back?
Figured out how to stick to one at a time?
Find familiar sweeter than exotic?
Always prefer what you got to what you don’t?
Believe you’re the exception to the rule?
Think things’ll get easier at some point?
Sure this time love will prove too big to fail?
Storybook, destined for a happy ending?
Not planning to get old like the rest of us?
Botched it before, but you know what you’re doing
this time? Have a backup plan in place?
How much more inventive will your lover’s
treatment of “fidelity” be than yours?


“What happened to the suburbs, the exurbs, the shopping malls, and the edge cities?”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx(Julie Abraham)

That one year in high school Kevin Wilton
bought a Gremlin that didn’t look like much
(had been wrecked, body didn’t quite sit on
the frame), and didn’t so much roll as lurch,
but got us to track practice and the mall
and once a double date (I remember
his date but not mine). He was tall,
strong, broad-shouldered, but (I learned much later)
his father still raped him and beat his sister.
One time, only once, he drove us backward,
mall to freeway, by the off-ramp, faster
than I’d have driven even faced forward.
No cars were exiting, we lived. Too late now
to pay him that gas money I still owe.


“Go back to what?”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx(Jennifer Atkinson)

Go back to storm warning and rain delay.
Go back to parchment, papyrus, vellum.
Go back to land line and gravel driveway.
Go back to blent, unbent light, pre-prism.
Go back to samekh, yodh, zayin, aleph,
great auk, ivory-billed, passenger pigeon.
Go back to cave painting and petroglyph.
Go back to mask, to God from the machine.
Go back to compacted cosmos, the size
of a penguin’s egg, steadied by webbed feet,
stayed from snow, against God’s belly feathers.
Go back to left hand does know what the right.
Go back to stage fright, recurring nightmare,
back to Houston, we’ve had a problem here.


“That something has to come undone?”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx(Jenny Boully)

Or that, of what in fact did come undone,
we have to tell ourselves it needed to?
The same way I say I had no part in
the things I’ve done but can’t believe I’d do?
Or that, because we think we’re better than
others and could teach them a thing or two,
some blemish we’d managed to keep hidden
from ourselves will force its way into view?
Or that the something now coming undone,
much bigger than we are, includes all our
trivial undonenesses in its one
vast undoing, entails that we ourselves are
undone already, no matter what we do,
and undone ultimately, through and through?

—H. L. Hix


H.L. Hix’s recent books include a poetry collection, Rain Inscription (Etruscan Press, June 2017), an art/poetry anthology, Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2014), and a translation of selected poems by Estonian peasant poet Juhan Liiv, Snow Drifts, I Sing (Guernica Editions, 2013), translated in collaboration with Jüri Talvet.



Aug 032017

A centuries-old encomium to romantic love and longing, Kuruntokai is one of the classical anthologies of love poetry from the Cankam era of Tamil, South Indian literature. Written in a formal style involving a first-person monologue by any of a number of characters in a love drama, these poems reconstitute the field of human emotion by plunging it deep into its source in the cycles of landscapes, seasons, times of day. The characters are represented as anonymous and archetypal (talaivi is the heroine, and talaivan the hero), but no reader experiencing these poems full of detail and fine nuance avoids getting turned inside out. For a beautiful exploration of the history of this genre of poetry (called akam) and the central role of poetics in South Indian culture, refer to the recent book by David Shulman, Tamil: A Biography (Belknap/Harvard, 2016).


Poem of the desert road

Talaivi says—

As though a sliver of sacred conch shell
in the reddened sky, there it is,
the slim moon, risen again.
Could he ever forget me and my tears?
Striding in that wide wasteland
he’s just like a bull elephant
that for his limping mate splits a tall yā tree,
stabbing it with his tusks to take the white bark,
which wounds him with its dry taste. He swallows
then thunders to the outer bounds of what the heart can bear.

Katampanūr Cāntiliyanār
Kuruntokai, verse 307


Poem from the jasmine-filled forest

Talaivi says—

Under the spiraling horns of our dark buffalo,
the grinning bell on the rope tied to her thick neck
peals each time she moves in the dead of the night.
He hasn’t returned.
Massive black boulders forget what it is to be washed by rain
and stand waiting like dust-covered elephants,
where hills beyond hills curve the path he took.
He doesn’t think of my yearning shoulders and bamboo-like arms at all.

Maturai Marutan Ilanākanār
Kuruntokai, verse 279


Poem amid avenues lined with ornamental trees

Talaivi says—

We live in the same city, but he avoids my street.
When he does come down my street, he doesn’t step in to visit,
and as though he’s strolling past some strangers’ cremation grounds,
he takes an eyeful and keeps walking,
as though he’s not the one who has driven me out of my shyness
and my mind. Such love, like an arrow shot from a bowstring,
soars for only a moment and then falls someplace irretrievable, far away.

Pālai Pātiya Perunkatunkō
Kuruntokai, verse 231


Poem of the cool, purple-flowered hillsides

Talaivi’s friend says—

She’s got stomach to flirt and risk without hesitation.
Who’s to judge if he’s a gem or a good-for-nothing?
Her dance teacher says she’s got the clearest head,
but the day that she set her eyes on the dark pond
covered in green and a profusion of tight, bursting buds,
she coveted the long petals of the blue lotus inside.
Now, her fiery eyes choose heartache
and she’s set her jaw, resolute.

Kuruntokai, verse 366


Poem of the mountainside wildflowers

Talaivan says—

On charred and newly sown land, the rhythmic beat of the cane in my girl’s hand
entranced a pandemonium of parrots, which lay down
seduced by her waving and her cries: the music of music.
Those parrots, mistaking her menacing for a greeting, wouldn’t fly off,
and I saw her furious eyes flood like a pair of mountain spring waterlilies
shot with heavy rain droplets and dotted in a lush flight of beetles.
She is the poem that has drowned my soul to its last drenched flower.

Kuruntokai, verse 291


Poem from the blue lotus seashore

Talaivi says—

Flowers from morning glory beach vines and waterlilies,
plaited into long garlands, drenched our tresses there
as slick crabs fled from me and my friends
and into the sea. Just one day’s
raucous games with that god of the shore has bitten off
our entwining friendship. Strange what a dearth desire makes.

Kuruntokai, verse 401

—Translation by A. Anupama

Resources: Vaidehi Herbert’s translations at and Robert Butler’s translations. I owe much gratitude to T. Kabilan for material assistance with this set of poems.

A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including Drunken Boat, Waxwing, Monkeybicycle, and Fourteen Hills. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York, where she organizes literary community (, and blogs about poetic inspiration at


Aug 012017



To select different options, click here.
Timed out waiting for a response.
Ten minutes ticking.
If you do not book now, the future into which you would have flown
will be irrevocably erased. No more husband and kiddies
at the park, the little one dangling in the baby swing,
wailing, as big brother tackles the slide for the first time.
Instead you will wait in an airport lounge for a stranger.
You will live on a floodplain and the worst will happen.
A fault will open and your car will plunge.
Earth will fill your mouth.
The beautiful tree, the one with the reddest leaves up top
(always the first to fall) will crash the window midsleep.
You will not hear it coming.
You will fall on the stairs and forget where you came from.
You will blink out please end this now
and no one will understand.
You will win a million bucks.
You will look like a million bucks.
You will have the eyelashes you always dreamed of.
Your tattoo of a wildebeest will scroll from your ankle to your knee.
You will strut your stuff.
You will gather feathers.
You will cocoon all winter and emerge a sculptor with your first exhibition
scheduled for the MOMA five years hence.
You will have a five-year plan.
You will dance to the end of love.
You will wonder a lot.
You will twiddle your thumbs.
You will stroll with a stroller.
You will be pushed in a stroller.
This is your life.
Your mother will bend toward you with an unremembered tenderness,
her fine hair swept from her brow by the wind.
You are the centre.
Your body is the universe.
There are things on your eyelashes that call you home.
Every second another.
Every second a pyre or a hole in the ground.
Every second a generation.



Wherever you go, there you are.
Someone can see you on a screen.
This is being monitored for safety reasons.
This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.
We have you in our care.
In front of the Mona Lisa, everyone with an iPhone.
The girl who’s never crossed an ocean
asks if it’s true that they’re all Japanese taking selfies.
This one goes out to the one I love.



Six little ducks went out to play over the hills and far away.
Over a sunset far in Vermont.
Where Frost set his “Out, Out.”
A landscape Shakespeare never imagined.
And the saw that leapt
from the boy’s hands
the boy’s hand
out of the classroom in which the teacher read those lines
cool as mist in her loose dress.
The childfree teacher,
she of the fuddy-duddy husband and the pugs.
And forever the blood in your mind.
And forever the palms of your hands
made as they were made
inside the body of the woman you aren’t.



Mother duck said quack quack quack quack.
Something old, something new.
Borrowed and blue you leave the house,
borrowed and blue you find them,
leave them alone and they’ll come home.
Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean.
Each with a particular gift, none greater
than his love for the others.
You’ve always looked out for number one.
But only five little ducks came back.
And the one who wandered
went a long way into the forest
where he found an abandoned house.
On the floor a trail of seed.
He gobbled his way through the kitchen,
down the stairs, and into the cellar
where they kept the people they would eat.
He did not know this.
He thought he was a person too.
And so he stayed there until
the rest of the last people in the world
returned from their hunt empty-handed
and roasted him with one of their captives
and his skin crackled and popped under the feathers
and they ate of that which they loved and it was good.


Bad Dream

In the corridors of the Overlook hotel,
in the mirror at the end of the dark hall,
in the room with the red drapes called the Black Lodge.
What happens there is the mind twisting a mobius strip.
The worst is never the worst, those fears
are not the fears that will take us,
it is the ordinary fears, the fast car
and the girl on the corner, the hot dog in the throat,
the late-night walk through the dogless park.
No horror films about the apartment fire, the hurricane.
The mutations after the nuclear disaster of your choice
bloom too quietly for the screen.
The descendants with their insides on the outside.
The worst has not been born.
The room goes on. In the throat
the herringbone floors.



We have digressed.
In the middle there is a lot of that.
The life of the out the life of the in.
Languages clatter their sabers.
I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.
Orders and wrongs.
The middle is a long place,
low to the ground, with little sense of vista.
Capability Brown was never here.
The crops sustain and, depending on the season,
flash the blue of flax or gold of mustard.
Mustard fields.
No end in sight.
The sea darkening.
I think that’s it.
The middle is rife with references.
Can only really be named long long after,
when end begins to whinny its arrival.
And no one will want that name.



There was a day we were not grateful and what happened was terrible.
Rain fell from the sky and we griped.
It turned to ice.
Dogs followed us, biting.
The slick sidewalk held our sagging haunches which,
had we been older, would have broken and marked the beginning
of the end. Too thrifty for heat, we shivered
enough to anger ourselves. Or, when they said vigour
we heard anger. The cornucopia grew mold, its magnificent shell
made badly of papier mâché, a piñata,
stuffed with warty gourds not meant to eat.
Then the sun came out inside our heads. What we had squandered.
The baby slept for hours and what we wrote was glorious
and even though it all was lost in the great crash of the laptop
the happiness lasted.



Meanwhile the wind through the limbs makes the beings seem to exist
as other than hope and plastic.
Makes them seem to be being.
Avoiding red meat decreases mortality but at a certain point it’s a question of
Chicken’s better but what of the cages, fish but what of the mercury.
The exploitation of the harvesters of soy.
Who has suffered more and why.
Fatigue gathers behind the eyes and in the throat. Though not tired, the subject
becomes anxious about being anxious.
He made them only out of PVC at first, then added propellers, then a sort of wings.
In comparison we are needy.
At the end of the world will be plastic.
They walk on their own and keep walking.


Niceville, FL

There really is a place.
There it is dimly. Mulchy beds of growth
hide the residences while smallish red-flowered trees
pop up intermittently as Bluewater Boulevard clicks by.
Grass is patchy there are no sidewalks an overcast
spring it was then it looks more highway than street
but on the map a quaint community of crescents and the like
nestled against lake and what looks like ocean but the zoom’s too zoomed
to check. Yup that’s a golf course there are the lucky few
captured in their carts that day a lone jogger we’re
zooming now across the median into the shrubbery
a word too English for this this is not vacation land
dark with growth how thick it is no names
for the blur that emerges the closer we get to what
it’s not called. Someone thought this place
a place people would want to be. There it is
from farther out on a big bay on the Gulf Coast
cheaper there no doubt though from here we think
holiday we think the fingerrub of money but that was before
the bottom dropped before the article about the sinkholes
where rain’s acid’s leached deep into the earth
if that is what we call the earth and through a hole a lake drained
until kids could grab the fish and through a hole
a room in which a man sleeping his brother
woke to hear a sound (what sound?) and there was
no room there was nothing there was
a hole into which he pushed or fell and later
was pulled out alone forever. Impossible
to wake and find that lack. To wake and feel a wetness
on one’s face and find in the mirror one’s face
is not a face is barely is not a thing is worse than the dream of falling
teeth there are eyes to see the space where the face
was the feel of it not real the look of it
a hole into which one plunges the crazy thought
of a joke, While I slept the dog ate my face.
Not that it happens but it happened. Such things
are not for Niceville where a spray keeps the course
mosquito-free but why so dark beneath those plants
along the road why are the houses so far in so far
off as though there were no view no lake no
ocean to look at as though there were nothing forever.



Rain on the lake willows.
Rain on the shore willows.
Rain on the swallow house.
Rain on the swallow.
Rain on the ash treated with a pesticide.
Rain on the lawn treated with a herbicide.
Rain on the mallards.
Rain on the pricey houses and the cheaper.
Rain on the ice cream stand.
Rain on the house in England that was his a while.
Rain where he slept.
Rain where he stood to read the paper at the grand piano.
Rain on the playground.
Rain on the corner shop with its varieties of sweets.
Rain on the violet creams.
Rain on the London suburb air.
Rain on the London country air.
Rain on what he came for.
Rain on his dead father’s garden.
Rain on him dead at the grand piano the newspaper open before him.
Rain on the phone ringing and ringing.
Rain on the doorbell.
Rain on the door opening.
Rain on the lake the centuries of the lake that is not a lake.
Rain on the name on the sign.
Rain on the planters of begonias and bougainvilleas.
Rain on the elsewhere.
Rain on the fresh-washed car.
Rain on the goldenrod.
Rain on the uppermost branches.
Rain in runnels down the trunk.
Rain on the crying girl.
Rain on the library.
Rain on the naptime the little tent the dolls left out.
Rain on the playhouse the swings the twisty slide.
Rain where it counts.
Rain on the clicks of the red-winged blackbirds.
Rain on the gravel path.
Rain where the fireworks will blast.
Rain on the dryer huff.
Rain on the doormat the umbrella left out.
Rain on the e-mail.
Rain on the name.
Rain on my friend in Montara California.
Rain on her drive to make enough to live in Montara California.
Rain on her husband not yet dead.
Rain on Nicholas and William.
Rain on Harry and Sasha.
Rain on Aidan.
Rain on Katriona and Nicola.
Rain on Gabrielle, Felix, and Myriam.
Rain on Pip and Tom.
Rain on Naomi and Isabel and long gone never gone Josephine.
Rain on Josephine, Nora, and Patrick.
Rain on Béatrice.
Rain on Nina and Martin.
Rain on Sam and Clara.
Rain on Henri and Sam.
Rain on Max and Gus.
Rain on Sam and Naomi.
Rain on Abby.
Rain on Isabelle.
Rain on Isabel.
Rain on Alex and Theo.
Rain on Shayle and Theo.
Rain on Emily.
Rain on Erin.
Rain on rain on rain.
Rain on Beatriz.
Rain on Nora and Johanna.
Rain on Andrew and Joanne.
Rain on Patrick and Andre.
Rain on David, Cindy, Barbara, Tim, and Danny.
Rain on Stephanie and Kevin.
Rain on Madeleine and Éloïse.
Rain on.
Rain in runnels down the street.
Rain that bears repeating.
Rain that’s rained.
Rain we don’t need.
Rain they need.
Rain that California.
Rain that Vancouver.
Rain that the reservoirs.
Rain across the nation.
Rain in the interior.
Rain at the northernmost reaches.
Rain on the new green metal roof (ping ping).
Rain on the neighbours.
Rain after the walk.
Rain before the recess.
Rain at the latest.
Rain in this time zone.
Rain on caffeinated.
Rain on chocolate.
Rain on the leftovers.
Rain on the barbeque cover.
Rain away mosquitoes.
Rain away the days.
Rain into the trajectory.
Rain on the silver car on its way.
Rain on the old streets with the new laid bricks.
Rain on the new streets with the old laid pipes.
Rain on the one-month old.
Rain on Mila and Gabriella.
Rain on Lucca, Gabriella, and Matteo.
Rain on Emily and Louise.
Rain on Gabriel and Lucas.
Rain on Sophia and Gordon.
Rain on Bulgaria.
Rain on the former places.
Rain on the end of the nineteenth century.
Rain on the cemeteries.
Rain on Lordship Lane.
Rain on the Caribbean.
Rain where they came from.
Rain on Landscroft Road.
Rain where I stood.
Rain twenty years ago.
Rain where my grandmother left.
Rain of decades.
Rain on the first taste of tarte pom’sucre and Belgian fries with mayo.
Rain on the newfound apartment.
Rain on all the unanticipated sadness.
Rain on the winter.
Rain on the frostbite.
Rain on the last places rain on the first places.
Rain where my grandmother.
Rain where my grandfather.
Rain on the voyage.
Rain on the waves.
Rain on the Victorian era.
Rain on the Victrola.
Rain on clematis.
Rain on the trellis.
Rain on the darkness.
Rain into the darkness.
Rain on the girls in the painting sheltered under hydrangeas.
Rain on the continent.
Rain in the well.

—Stephanie Bolster


Stephanie Bolster is the author of four books of poetry, most recently A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth. Her first book, White Stone: The Alice Poems, won the Governor General’s and the Gerald Lampert Awards in 1998. Born in Vancouver, she teaches creative writing at Concordia University in Montréal.



Jul 112017

Kate Hall



A figure is contained by the shape of only one.
Only is the extremity. For example a beast.
And if only is added to a beast then it stands small and unbefriended.
And if only is subtracted from a beast then its shadow may loom and
Other things being equal, in both ways, a beast suffers.

I is a figure contained by the shape of only one.
Only is the extremity.
And if only a beast is added to I then I will be forgotten.
And if only a beast is subtracted from I then, truthfully, something is overlooked.
Hence, I am contained in the beast or the beast is contained in I.
Other things being equal, both ways, I suffers.

Somewhere there is less shame.
But we know only so far.
Hence, somewhere there is disappearance.
And there is a precise only-sized hole in the cage.



(1) I am learning to suffer in your language and (2) it ends differently depending on who does it. Also, (3) I’ve learned how suffering can be minimized with elastics. (4) The necessity of error. (5) The dog came home with a snout full of porcupine quills. Here, (6) I’ve outlined the distance between the ideal arrangement and the tangible crystal, which has to bear its irregularities. Even though, (7) I am the one explaining the meaning of heading down the wrong track and despite the fact that (8) the weighing and balancing of certain limits is hard to understand, (1) I am learning to suffer in your language and (2) it ends differently depending on who does it.



Captured in journeys through water.

In aquariums.

In jars of tap water.

As in, a little pond water has been added.

And of course there is blame.

Which no one can answer.

That the light passes through.

That widespread devastation.

That in great abundance.

A single red eye.

Then many.

That colored the sea for miles.

Ephemeral puddles.

As habitat.


As in, a fact not found.

Despite The Field Book of Natural History.


To sink into deeper water by day.

To feed by night.

For being the less common.
For being fresh-run from the sea.

A container for the impossible.

That fell 9 days from heaven.

That and then 9 more.



Moments of communion had consequences;
each one made a baby.
And the world was forced down the throat of this tiny I
which caused it indigestion.
It’s true that the baby is only the idea of a baby
but still it cried for a long time,
until the words blocked off the place where the world was lodged
like the body creates the abscess
and thus, the I grew and became enormous and parentless.

This is a story of creation.
Our separate same stories
we construct and reconstruct in a dark,
enclosed as the I is in its dark room,
adrift in its systems—
organs, tissues and cells—
so full of world lodged somewhere unlocatable within or without.
Our words surround the world;
when we find them, we cling to them.
Yet, we never understand what each other is saying;
our languages are so different.

And in the end what actually saved us was not the names of things,
not the capsule of words that held the world back,
it was the gesture.

The elegant arc of these fragile manipulative hands as they
coaxed each O into existence, each I into existence.
And this was the moment of communion,
the moment of creation,
the slow tango,
the pounding of the fists against the wall of the self:
the gesture of my O and yours so separate and sudden and strange.
How two Is can bump into one another:
one I rub against the boundary of the other I,
so that eventually one I was taken into the other
and the other I was taken into the other.


And in the end we were not for what we thought.
We were for the gesture,
as the night for the lift of the moon and not the morning,
as the plant for the breaking of the soil and not the flower,
as the grapes for the feet and not the wine.

The words are just practice;
they are misunderstandings.
And the misunderstandings are practice
for the inevitable loss of one I or the other
and the world sequestered there.
The loss that comes when we stop,
when the sun streams through the window
and morning breaks in.

—Kate Hall

Kate Hall lives in Montreal. Her first book of poems, The Certainty Dream, was published by Coach House Books (2009).


Jul 102017

Sydney Lea

The Great War
…….International Writers Conference Excursion

A moment ago we passed the Italian charnel house,
we writers from a handful of nations,
who this morning passed a declaration for peace.

Of course. Who’d be against it?
Some, it would seem. We keep on going
as fast as we can on roads that twist through high passes.

One Turk is a skeptic:
he notes how some tribes pray that rain will fall
as we do that peace will.

If either one comes… His voice flickers out;
he ends with a shrug.
A century gone, and more, the Great War.

And I’m just an American,
struck more by beauty than history.
I recognize as much in myself, ashamed.

We see photos of faces,
or what had been faces, in the museum
at Kobirad, or Caporetto.

Shards of headstones hang on a wall:
caduto in guerra, some of them tell us,
and I know that language: fallen in war.

I can’t read the Slovene inscriptions.
Marble is marmore in Italian,
which I use with my seat-mate Giulio.

I don’t know a Slavic word for the stone–
for much at all.
Hemingway’s portrait shows on another wall.

There’s Goran, a Serb. Zvonko’s a Croat,
both from Sarajevo.
They’re friends, and solemn. My own dear friend Marjan,

the Slovene who translates my poems,
knows better than I
what those two men have been through.

He says, “I’m honored to count you as friends.”
Back on the bus we’re all full
of high spirits and laughter.

We imagine we’re one big family.
Through the window, arcing in wind,
I see airplanes and hawks

high over the valley, which is gorgeous and green.
There are bears and wolves in these mountains,
the Julian Alps that enclose us.

Artillery blared here for months,
although as many died from cold as gunfire.
The Soca River below us holds a monster fish

called salmo marmoratus,
which can grow to forty pounds and more.
To catch one would make for a lengthy battle.

Marjan buys me a favorite local fly
for the marble salmon.
Later I’ll see it, he says, and want to return.

Soon we’ll all break bread.
Soon we’ll toast each other–
here in the landscape of A Farewell to Arms.

—Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea is the former Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-2015). He founded New England Review in 1977 and edited it till 1989. His poetry collection Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Another collection, To the Bone: New and Selected Poems, was co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize. In 1989, Lea also published the novel A Place in Mind with Scribner. Lea has received fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim Foundations, and has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont College of Fine Arts and Middlebury College, as well as at Franklin College in Switzerland and the National Hungarian University in Budapest. His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies. His selection of literary essays, A Hundred Himalayas, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2012, and Skyhorse Publications  released A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife in 2013His twelfth poetry collection, No Doubt the Nameless, was published this spring by Four Way Books.


Jul 102017


.Sounds with the Wind

This April rain
sounds with the wind
It could be Inverness
in the brown hills
with mounds of green
The rain sounds smooth
in the trees
in the fresh dark
sky the thunder
sounds low and far,
gurgle and swill
soft in the still.

Suddenly I feel life
pass out through my lips
As though there were no song left to sing
And a wind rasps, “Enkidu,” “Enkidu”
What I most loved about you.
And a crimson rainbow like a Valentine bow
Cries out “weep no more my lady”
And the simple rain continues
To sound smooth here just like crickets.


Being out West When Time Stood Still

Once she had a seamless mind.
Clouds rolled into her thinking
like opposites attracting. And hitching.
There was that openness of beginning.
Those crisp little white cockle shells. And then
that low fog.  Spreading around
like when once you could touch time without rules or referees,
like when you used to dance alone with your eyes closed
serenading crazy in your room late, doors shut, the music on fire,
and you moved around in there, bumping the walls
like salmon swarming and flopping up the ladder.

Just that. Somehow just
to be seamless that way. Fiercely in the free.

Clouding in open fog.


In the Light of Dreaming Rinny

She was a lens in the sun
in a corner fitting into herself
settling in like batter. Smooth and easy.

And music. Oh, the music everywhere.

Romantic Russian anguish
splaying loud—
like hearing your dreams
turned up loud for all to read.

At night in a quiet room
she sank into a light of dreaming

her dreams she now thinks
were black and white
photographs of a stilled history.
Of the wars–D-Day, Dachau, Hiroshima
All that drama frozen in those faces looking.

Like she is
Her coffee eyes staring out
into the flat-screens of time.

And now– closed doors and the whispers,
Horrible hush of  home movies happening.
Large photos of Jews pressing against each other gasping for space,
Joe Stalin looming terrible and gritty in his large wool clothes.
And her mother hiding alone by herself
For hours here in the afternoon. Kooklah Fran and Ollie.

Pain prick-points. Where she is
in a corner.  Not knowing how to.
Her thick braids itching against this quiet.

Holding on to the sun. Which she can taste fading on her lips.
Sometimes in those pictures, some times,
dark women with bright bandanas.
She thinks she sees the sister she never knew, fitting into herself.

Guessing into all this past, her paprika eyes mazing
about how to know the bold darkness of this light.
and the tremulous force driving all the flowers of all her feeling.


When I think of yesterday today

Light on water. Moon in the air.
A time to change
everything in a high sky.

Somehow when
I think of yesterday
today changes and
the sea  erupts
there, then,

at night
under a full moon
in Conil,
the smells of honeysuckle
Our sweet tobacco lips.

You said in Spain
the world was real.
You liked that.
The sky could fall and touch us


Before, When the Sun

On this gray night of robin winter
a time of birds and sudden change

swan nests and gopher songs about
dream lovers without memory linger in a barn

before the sun fell into a new kind of longing
for it was totally gray at night in this robin winter

when I opened my heart out in my pocket
and fell hard with the sun into the white of morning


On the other side of language
…………I speak only one language, and that is not my own. —Jacques Derrida

That way too white tree
may not be natural.  It was
sure to be a penance, too much of itself,
like some kind of permanent stand out.
A piece of sharp metal grating
on a dark hill sparse with weeds,
which were pale to a curious
buckskin-man who fingered them
as he felt. Among the bare weeds. Discontent.
Somehow he had learned that disgust for outcasts.
A contempt for cripples.  For all those who do not fit.
all the unmatched, born-to-be-groping-souls
like we are, stranded on the other side of language,
bleached in that daily clumsiness of trying to say our own.
To find a way to speak sure.
To fasten the sun once and for all.

So that unsymbolic white tree there
in the silence without branching to bear any leaves or shade
reminded him of a childless woman drying in hard light.
Hard to bear her white aging.
Hard to detoxify such solitude
speaking in the sun without taking off
To him she was like a bird spinning inchoate,
trapped as she seemed to him to be
in such naked speech without any saying,
words without sounds, all-day-long Latin monologues
swirled, speaking themselves silent, he thought.

But she was burrowing and drew her language in from
the blue sky she slept in and came out to plant and sow
what she had to say for herself in the clear darkness
of muses and mystery. In her whitest way, she raged over the edges
of what she was to be.  Of all that could be said to say. In her quiet white,
she burned a hole in the dark to go beyond men and women, words and children and
time, and whatever is lonely, to well herself up accidentally in the air
a free-to-be white beyond owners and words and withering,
white in the ways of dreamers and whales and misfits,
white to hold on and white to let be. White to burn a saying,
white as a language she could sleep with as her own, gone lucid in the fog.

—Linda E. Chown

Linda E. Chown has published three books of poems, Buildings and Ways, Inside In, and All the Way up The Sky, also a critical book, Narrative Authority and Homeostasis in Selected Works of Doris Lessing and Carmen Martín Gaite. She spent 18 years living, writing, and teaching in southern Spain where she was betimes a Fullbright professor of America lit, one year at the University of Deusto, one year at the University of Salamanca. Subsequently, she taught for many hears at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. She has published a multitude of talks and papers on the likes of Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, Willa Cather, Kirsty Gunn, Katherine Mansfield, Oliver Sacks, Albert Camus, Susan Glaspell, and many others. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from from the University of Washington. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, did creative writing at San Francisco State University, and worked in the fabled Poetry Center. She now lives in Michigan. Her newest poems were recently published in Poethead.


Jul 092017


Herewith, a fragment of Ricardo Cázares’s long poem entitled . Cázares began writing the poem in 2008 and has, to date, published two volumes of the work (around 500 pages) in Mexico.  is constructed on various strata (personal, historical, mythological, scientific, etc.) with long prose passages, compressed word segments, graphics pushing towards what the poet describes as “an uncertain archaeological and mythological consciousness” that slowly reveals itself. Cázares composes in Spanish and does the English translation himself. He says, “I have been translating poetry into Spanish for 17 years and think of myself not only as a poet but as a translator. However, translating one’s work is a different thing. I don’t think one can ever feel satisfied with the end result, simply because one is perhaps too attached to a certain syntax and rhythm that underscores the original mental and verbal impulse of the writing. There are very few passages that I’ve felt capable of working out in English.  For the present fragment I purposely avoided a literal translation, as I felt that some of the sounds and nuances that one finds in these ‘clusters’ only develop at a very basic, syllable-oriented level. I consider it a sort of ‘writing over’ the surface of the Spanish originals, which obviously breathe differently.”

— Dylan Brennan

a fragment from 


if you wish to continue
insert coin
take a coin out of your pocket and
insert on
forehead or

insert on eyelid
slowly til you reach
what touches us
now touch the matter
insert your hand
the coin now in the lobe
proceed with care now
the left

count to 14
thousand million years
insert your hand in
the rock for
a preliminary probe
and touch—that is if
you want it
if you really do want
it is possible to score to
scratch the surface of
the source
please insert
a hand
a coin
turn on your drill re-
move the overlying residue
from stratum scrap
outline an excavation plan
the tunnel dam the pass
a pathway will be ready in
5 years

if you wish to continue
if you desire
if desire moves you to
burrow through the bulk
enter now
if you desire you are
certain push
move onward to the
tertiary stratum
5          -7 thousand
million years
now open up
your mouth and
you heard me right
yes sing just
open up your mouth
clear throat line
out just
bring your own mouth closer
to the mouth around the cave
listen for
the undertone inside
your voice your dead
tongue muttering
to matter you presume
at least for
23                    25
thousand years

if you would like to continue
please bore
bury your hand in your skull now
an awl
trepan I tell you
don’t panic
puncture clear
inside the rock
5-6-10 blows
will do don’t
the grinding purr the pain
is temporary it is not
the time yet see
the light
I tell you do
make progress as you can
that it be that it is done
say now
speak now
the road
by force

open up now say aaahhh
say it be done
the light
the form flooding
the tunnel palpate ah
the cavity you
now detect
a feeling
of well-being envelops
your hand envelops
the patina uncovers
the rough surface
of the rock you
let yourself be overrun
by light the memory
your body mens your
mind now
opens up says
voice the voice now
guides you to
your body your lungs whistle
kindly calmly telling you to
breathe            hear here
the vulva opens up the
mater matrix
mother opens up her womb
not earth don’t
let her listen no
no one has any right to
refuse you now
stay calm
breathe in again don’t
get all worked up she don’t have to
that bitch hear me out you
are the keeper
lord and master no
no one
hear now
the way the grinding
of the mechanism brings you
a breath
a breath away
from the realm

— § —

INSERTE una moneda por favor

si desea continuar
inserte una moneda

por favor
saque una moneda del bolsillo
e introdúzcala en su frente
o su nariz
insértela en su párpado
despacio hasta alcanzar
lo que nos toca
toque ahora la materia
introduzca su mano
la moneda en el lóbulo
avance con cuidado roce
ahora el lóbulo parietal izquierdo

cuente hasta 14
mil millones de años
inserte su mano en la piedra
para una exploración preliminar
y toque—bien
si desea
si usted lo desea
de veras
es posible rozar el principio
sólo inserte una mano
una moneda
encienda su taladro ex-
pulse los sobrantes
del estrato trace
ahora un plan de excavación
el paso túnel presa
la vía estará lista en
5 años

si desea continuar inserte
si desea
si el deseo lo mueve
a explorar el cuerpo de la piedra
entre ahora
si desea está seguro
usted avance al estrato terciario
5          -7 mil
millones de años
ahora escuche abra
su boca
sí le digo
escuchó bien
abra la boca
aclare su garganta cante
acerque su boca
a la boca de la cueva
escuche oiga su voz
hacer eco
oiga su voz su lengua
muerta escuche la materia
usted desde hace al menos
23                                25
miles de años

si desea continuar perfore
hunda la mano
en su cráneo inserte ahora
un punzón
trepane le digo
no tenga miedo
perfore la piedra
dele 5-6-10 golpes
no tema
no le tema al crujido
el dolor es temporal
no es momento vea la luz
le digo
avance como pueda
hágase se haga
diga usted
camino a empujones

abra ahora
diga aaahhh
diga hágase
la luz
la forma inunda
el túnel palpe ah
la cavidad ahora
usted percibe
una sensación
de bienestar recorre
su mano recorre
la pátina descubre
la superficie rugosa
de la piedra usted
se deja invadir
por la luz la memoria
divide su cuerpo
mens su mente ahora
abre dice voz
la voz lo conduce
hacia su cuerpo
su pulmón izquierdo silba
le dice respire con
tranquilidad aquí
se abre la vulva
mater la matriz
la madre abre su seno
no la tierra no
se lo permita escuche
nadie tiene por qué rechazarlo
tranquilo respire otra vez no
se agite no tiene por qué
esa perra oiga usted
es dueño el amo
y señor no nadie escuche
cómo rompe la herramienta
lo acerca a sólo un aliento
del reino

 —Ricardo Cázares


Ricardo Cázares (Mexico City, 1978) is the author of several collections of poetry including Drivethru, Es un decir, and the long poem simply titled . His work as a translator includes the first complete Spanish translation of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems, Maleza de luz, Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson, Robert Creeley’s Pieces, John Taggart’s Peace On Earth, Truong Tran’s dust and conscience, James Laughlin’s Remembering William Carlos Williams, and a comprehensive anthology of the British Poetry Revival. He is an editor and founding member of Mangos de Hacha Press, and the editor for the poetry and arts journal Mula Blanca.


Dylan Brennan is an Irish writer currently based in Mexico. His poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan


Jul 072017



Another trick spring, another month of mothering
the neighbor’s dumb magnolias from my window.

Another March spent warning, willing their velvet purses
shut with only my mind, because I don’t speak

their language, and because they are not mine
to mother. I have no trees, not even a houseplant,

of my own. The first thing I kept alive was a child.
Talk about a high-stakes dry run. Today that child

is at school, and I am chiding the neighbor’s twin
magnolias with my eyes—don’t open, remember, this spring

isn’t spring at all. But every year their pink tongues
lap snow, lick the thin, cold air. These trees

have seen my son, head back, mouth open,
doing just that. The sun is shining, its warmth

through glass a kind of lie, and I am practicing
telepathy with trees who can’t hear me, again,
or they can, but I’m too late: a handful of soft gray
clutches are unclasped on the lawn, empty.

I’m a Monster

in the lake’s murky mirror,
skin wavering green,

wrinkled by wind.
My eyes, blurring

in their sockets,
are still my father’s.

My mouth, my mother’s.
What parts of me are not

borrowed, pieced together
from other bodies?

Even this poor reflection
is proof I was cut

from a body, born
an animal. Proof I am

never without the ones
who made me.

I dip a stick in the lake
and stir my face away.

After the Second Miscarriage, My Daughter Teaches Me about Eggs

Ladybug, lemon yellow,
the size of the period
at the end of this sentence.

Moth, lime jellybeans.

Butterfly, pearls inlaid
on a leaf’s veiny back.

Spider, silk purses
slung under the basement stairs.

Flying fish, drops of blood.

Wood frog, blue eyes,
pupils dilated in the dark.

Turtle, white leather.

Black pine snake, marbled
white stones, the kind
you pocket and rub.

Ostrich, thick as a nickel.

Emu, fifty-carat emeralds
buffed smooth, facetless.

Duck, palest green,
as if white had tinted itself
with the faint memory of a lake.


A Cloud in Each Field

I found my daughter at the table, cutting square clouds
from a shirt box, gluing them in a neat white grid
to scribbled-blue paper. A day had never looked so
orderly. She colored the sun a quarter each yellow,
orange, red, black. Later I caught her inspecting
the scene for flaws, using a dollar-bin kaleidoscope
as a jeweler’s eye. When she finished, she handed me
the paper, called it her sky contraption. My daughter
invented it herself, or as she says, guessed it up.
And I—or my body in its genius—guessed her up,
the girl whose sun is a quarter black, whose sky
is a kind of spreadsheet, a cloud in each field, value
undetermined. She autosums the clouds until
the formula should fall apart, but it doesn’t.


I’m beginning to suspect this life
is a study for another one,

research for a larger project
still taking shape. I don’t mean

heaven, no. If these days
are notes that will serve me later,

I’m taking copious notes.
If this world is not the real world—

I mean, not the final version—
will the real world at least

resemble this draft? I’m beginning
to suspect this life is practice,

and what of these practice
children—are they mine

to keep? What can I carry
forward except these reminders?

Each day is a note I jot down
under the day before.


I’m Reconsidering Burial

because if I were lying
in that narrow twin bed

under the sod, you might be
tempted to lie down there

at night, the stone a cold
headboard, and look up

at the sky—moon, stars,
wisps of cloud, etcetera—

and feel you are falling
asleep on the top bunk

and I am still tucked in
below you, telling you

my secrets in the dark.

—Maggie Smith


Maggie Smith is the author of Weep Up (Tupelo Press, September 2017); The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison; Lamp of the Body; and three prizewinning chapbooks. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2017, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere. In 2016 her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Smith is a freelance writer and editor.




Jul 062017


My Old Pal Venus

Oh yes, my old pal Venus —
there she is — or ought to be.
One moment, and that brilliant light
will have sunk below the hospital,
that rims the hilltop of our street.
(The lesser lights, that seem to spire
away from her, subsided too.)

I went outdoors to search
pin prickles in a flannel sky —
no waiting here for the Perseids,
our heavens scummed by street lamps,
cars — as if to keep us local, fixed.

Now, as I drag the trash can out,
not even the North Star still beams through.
The moon, a little cockeyed, glints.
I’m grateful for the company,
such as it is.


May Rocks

Spring. The May rocks butt and push;
the soft lawn’s jagged with dragon’s teeth.
new stones rise up, while last year’s stones
sink under moss
as if the mud were pulling back
what it so strongly had put forth
(the mud inconstant, fidgety.)

The house, too, teeters on its slab,
perched as it is on deciduous rock.
The water that melts down our hill,
erodes the city underground,
silts up the gravel river-plain.
The planet itself is no sure thing,
though, mornings, I’d want to bet on it.


Do You Remember?

Do you remember the alder woods
where we used to camp?
Overgrown now, with aspen, larch
and hackmatack.

I slept there once in a hammock,
roofed tarpaulin
whose net sides let in saline air.
Small creatures thumping over me,
their tiny feet
dinted its roof.

Dew in the morning; we lit a fire.
Rememberx tea inx plastic mugs,
the wetness of green raspberries?

Remember those summers, when xxblueberry hills
were patch-worked xmagenta, xcrimson, orange,
and those grey sand xshores xwhere swirling birds
opened and closed the evening skies?

I remember trying to photograph
what was mostly air.

And the long drive home,
together, xdusk,

and fields of broken cornstalks
turning brown.


The Lid

It seems a lid on final things,
that sea edge, sliver of bright steel
that rims the slowly darkening marsh.
The muddy hammocks seem to catch
and drag the slowly sliding sun
across their shell heap middens,
scarfy with groundsel and dusty reeds.
The water turns to silver as we watch.


Live in HD

The smell of rancid butter, slightly scorched,
drenches the crowded atrium.

Outside, snow falls on the parking lot,
a trifle dreary but mystical
in the softened neon of afternoon.

The mall is crowded, sleazy,
warm. A prototype for Paradise?
Almost. Friendly, comfortable.

But that semi-forest across the street
seems nearer to a paradise
I could imagine, beautiful–

but I can’t stroll
among those winter-blistered trees,
the candled tufts of withered weeds
skimming the thin-iced pond.

Here I can wait for the opera,
warm, friendly, safe–

the video games still audible,
and the smell of rancid butter, slightly scorched.


“Deep Listening”

I first heard of Janet Thom Hammock’s essays on “deep listening” when she read from two of them at Fredericton’s “Odd Sundays” poetry readings.

I think I have always gone in for “deep listening”—but especially as, now, my hearing decreases. Had I as a child ever heard silence? So many of my memories of childhood seem connected with sounds. Water and weather of course. The aches and creaks of a house—and the groans, ticks, and murmurs of the machines within it. The thumps and scurrying of cats, the roof thuds of squirrels, and, scraping about in the walls, my unpaying tenants who leave their tiny turds along the top of the basement bookcases.

Then there’s the street with its cars, the bus, the buzzing street lights, its chatty or (late night) drunken students—and the highway, not all that close, but constantly in roar. No matter how late at night it is, I can hear the highway.

And all those beasts: the hunting owl, the courting raccoons—someone downtown has bought fireworks—and there is the ambulance, once again!

And if I go out to the forest, aren’t the trees noisy? Cracking or whining or rattling their branches. And brooks do babble! Even the pond taps gently at its spongy rim.

I no longer hear bats, some birds. Mumbling, whispering poets and academics have merged for me into the sounds of water on stone or wind on trees.

I remember in Costa Rica, lying still in a slightly creaking hammock under more stars than I had ever imagined, with the waves patting the seacoast, and distant thunder lighting, occasionally, the horizon’s rim. The candle on the table next to me uttered a tiny, somewhat prickling, sigh.

—M. Travis Lane



M. Travis Lane lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and has published seventeen books of poetry. She has won numerous awards, including the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Literary Arts in 2016, and was short-listed in 2015 for the Governor General’s Award for her book Crossover. Her most recent publications are The Witch of the Inner Wood: Collected Long Poems and Heart on Fist: Selected Prose.



Jul 052017



Illegible November of smoke and ash
Here is the trigger
Guard against the hours
& on the tag tied around a metal ring
Brother tag smeared red with thumbprint
Our name misspells us
Where someone killed the swollen bottle fly
Dear cages over the reliquary
The line reads on and on dear cages
Over the naked man
Cages to shelter racing dogs
Who race no more
Weariness of the grey muzzle
Weariness so thin it might be paraffin
Or rough fur or a hundred dollar bill curled by flame
Not knowing what it’s doing
Money burns inside its own gutted clock
On a weedy lot
Of scattered pills
O my wineskin o my shekinah
Look inside my greyhound’s mottled ear
To see its tattooed number
The animal won’t lift its head
Heat opens like a vault
Dispatching currents of sunlight and shade
Across the body of a naked god on his feverish cupola
Thresholds dappled with fill-in-the-blank
Having pulled the iv’s from his body
My brother climbs from his metal crib
To escape the ICU
Picc line catheter this is a good story
A god’s story my brother’s story
And I’m sticking to it read the entrails
Follow the pills they will tell you where he is
As they tell you the one story
His and mine
He walks the road until I find him



The broken guitar made desert feel nothing
Like night on earth you kept asking broken
Questions can I stay here are you
Alone are you sure you
Want to die alone will you please
Answer me I screamed no until my answer woke me
Was there always one lit house
In the grey circuitry of the master-
Planned but never finished community?
As if draws & ranges were a reflection
Of a desert I couldn’t see
Your hand held out a cup of water
Houses floated in the smeared chrome
Of office furniture left in the street
Old music played think glow line over hills &
Nightfall smoothing edges
No lights to greet us back think of me
& a child across the cul-de-sac waiting for his mother
To come home from the dollar tree on her bicycle
Cobalt sifted through missing frets
Tension wires & ditches across chaparral
Penumbral & half-charred
Harmonics rang out from the little boy on his front step
& the tinny echo of Duane Eddy crackled
From speakers on a timer in a model home
Were we really living in the capsule of dead astronauts?
Each night it happened poorly improvised as a tragic dream
Your appearance at my bedside & the expansion
& contraction of the quiet before chain finds its gear
As if crossing conductive traces
My voice still lashing out at your angry wake



From bleached bone, sandstone bank before dawn,
Steep where drought had dropped the water level to
Canyon depths, someone hiding up there
Looking down might see us — two bathers
Wading out into the reservoir — first me,
Then you. Was there a shadow loose on the hinge of the wind?
Maybe a windmill, rust that heat
Warps back into place, a voice to call me back,
A gloved hand to seize me?
There was a time in my life when I could
Hope for a grackle trapped in ductwork and little more
Where sharp wings wheeled behind window screens
As something larger pursued me, a lash
Of falcon from ornamental gray
Lung-work in a fenced-in garden a lifetime ago,
In a garden my tired father kept where our bad dog
Burrowed and ruined row after row
Radishes and bean tendrils, lattices and poles
Upended. Consider the axe handle — crude tool
Ancillary to memory’s hot metal, a sharp wedge
That slips away from wizened pine.
It could kill us both. In a rage my father grabbed the nearest
Thing to beat the dog. His rage I bear
As my own, my ratchet, my talk radio.
How to leave the air drills of rage and talk?
Used tire centers mistook for heartbeat
And blood where the father’s headless torso and legs
Take long strides across the landscape
In my bedroom window, how he keeps searching for me.
And the dog barks and snaps
Where I bleed as I try to save its life.
So I wade out and wait for a hand
To press upon me, to push me beneath the surface,
For a faint guttering at the end of dirt roads,
For the mind’s clenched fist, an animal fist
To loosen, fingertips spread.
For your hand, my hand’s companion, to form
A muzzle of fire to reach into a cry’s fissure,
Water’s skin, horizon, sky, spreading inside us.
As I look away you touch my shoulder
And not a father’s voice says wait for me —
Green water around our thighs
Brimming with a stranger’s weight —
Hold your breath. Open your eyes.



Can you hear the hammers?
Blood still warm
Stirred with warmer forearms
Let thicker and darker cursive
Encircle and enclose
Obedient to its wheel the axe is a tremor
And the hammer a tiny bell
But not the kestrel you thought
Stigmatism against white field
Falco tinnunculus
Macula against a policeman’s winter
Gone as you look right at it
No second thought
Who doesn’t want to protect a child?
You’re holding it wrong
Where is your body
To mantle his body from the gunman?
No second thought
Let the axe be river the river’s half-built bridge
Or a stalled train or a mirror
See the snow falling on the old Amtrak observation cars?
You are on the wrong side of it
Stop screaming
Where is the angel against anything?
The hand to stay the blade
Think of it like a sharp hammer do you know
How to hammer a nail?
No one wants this
Your one verb broken
Over the back of your throat
Not your mother not the officer behind bulletproof glass
Driving you through the frozen rain
Let’s let the verb go on
Screaming a place inside
The animal assigned to you
After it’s all over
You can bathe by candle and bucket
And listen to the workers as they free jezebel and her dogs
From limestone
There she is there’s the sound
Of your heart
As for the angel’s hand and the father’s axe —
Can one ever exist without the other? — the stone
Is still blind and uncut
But they’re close
Can you hear the hammers
Your heart beating?

—Miles Waggener

Miles Waggener is the author of three poetry collections: Phoenix Suites (The Word Works, 2003), winner of the Washington Prize; Sky Harbor (Pinyon Publishing, 2011); and Desert Center (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2016); as well as the chapbooks Portents Aside (Two Dogs Press, 2008) and Afterlives (Finishing Line, 2013). Since 2006, he has been a faculty member of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Writer’s Workshop.


Jul 042017

S E Venart



The tenth month an unlikely location
for it, or this morning or this afternoon when

you are a mother who used to be a poet.
You sit at the desk and have one hour to find it.

It’s here somewhere in the mind’s tiny grey flags
in the millions of scraps piling up.

Or maybe you left it in the dark bleeding gums
of the dog you love, watching her clench another

rock from the tide twelve years ago. What was she
looking for? What if she stopped looking?

Metaphors were easy then, not only the sky,
but migrating everywhere. And now everyone is arrow

arrow, arrows. Everyone harpoons. And
I am the big heart, aren’t I?

When the black dog is being put down, in her last
second I whisper, Squirrel.



First month of kindergarten, out of the blue
slabs appear at the bottom of her artwork.
Ocean, she says to inform you. A second wedge

appears, light blue, crowning her paper with
a sky in which a two-inch Kea soars downward
for his lunch: red stripe of fish on a box

with wheels and windows. I am the smartest animal
on earth, she chants. I am the smartest animal.
Okay, you concede. And not to debate the thesis

so much as to develop divergent thought
you press play on YouTube. On the screen
birds of paradise do the work of pop-up pomp

firework faces appearing on the black stage
of their wings. They’re puppets, she bluffs.
But! The strongest muscle in my body is my tongue!

Just like that, she flutters off to the mirror down the hall
where she watches her reflection flip
a glittering headband back and forth between its palms.

It’s best if you stay hidden, quiet behind the laundry basket.
Bower bird! she’s singing with a hunch
in her shoulders— Giraffes can clean

their ears with their tongue, this infant human
says to her reflection before she shapes her fingers
into a heart using twenty-nine hand bones.


The Standstill

We fought in the folded hours after the children
were in bed. We fought while scraping plates

gathering glasses after the guests had gone. Sometimes
the fight was vapour, vanishing in the living room

air when we came down for breakfast. Like you,
I believed there was a series of words, or a single

word that would solve things. We searched for it.
I walked the football field, the dog straining against

its lead. You walked the dog where you walked it.
Before bedtime we cleaned our children’s bodies

carefully. We brushed their teeth quickly, leaving
the rest up to fate. I wanted to find that word, but

sometimes I come into the kitchen
as you leave it and just like that, fault fills

every jar in the fridge. On these nights I wait in bed
and breathe in the dark. Maybe tonight a child

will come in here and out of her oblivious
spread-eagle sleep will seep into this space

where we sometimes meet
a simple explanation, a pure reason.


Origami / Cat’s-Cradle Digression

Sometimes at night I don’t try to get up
and get it down, one poem folds into
the crease of another connection, they

point their corners into other
corners: the word daughter almost certainly
contains the word duty when you fold it so— xxxxxxxxxThere is a Kenyan

tribe, they take dust in their mouths, make paper from it
send it to Japan where eleven-year-old Siberian
girls wait in tiny pleated apartments

to be models. Is it not true that watching
a thing become another thing— xxxxxwatching string for that matter
turn into the Eiffel tower with only three fingers

and a mouth pulling at its peak— is also art?
I don’t always write them down. xxxxI watch
this girl on YouTube demonstrate

Jacob’s Ladder, witch’s broom, cradle for a tiny cat,
with hands so small the connections are effortless
in front of me in real time, being made and vanishing.


Albert County Breeder

It was years before I could walk back
to that doorway, figuratively hold

the post of your fallen porch
with its thousand green Mason jars

staring out towards the weathered barn.
On each window your dust held the shapes

of the cobwebs underneath.
Your father comes out the kicked door.

Inside I’ve seen the hard-packed dirt
on your kitchen floor, ketchup caked

to the spoons, the bucket in the corner
for the winter toilet. Outside we have more

in common: bus shelter for the wait at the end
of the lane, a broken look to our crab

apple too, blue spruce, red pines, rows
of crows on the electric wires and

the same wild square eyes in our animal
we brought to be breed with your animal.


When Life Widens Wider

In I suppose a pinprick of hope, I look out his windshield
wanting it to be true: northern lights or meteor showers
or something to be there above the valley so his hand
on my thigh has an explanation, a need to point out
exhilaration instead of the trope of furniture-maker/rig driver
driving his babysitter home and stopping the car in the ditch.
At two in the morning there’s so much I think has answers—
the black map of pinpoints above can be joined to form
bears and containers of milk, archers with arrows pointing
to North, to Hercules. But this all dissolves where his hand rests
casually on my thigh, same hand that I think leaves porn magazines
for me between the couch cushions, leaves cereal and sour milk, leaves
the nails of his children dirty and grasping for their one shared
tooth brush. I squint into the distance above the hills
to clear the chatter inside myself. If I want someone
to be grateful for me, I don’t know it yet. If I want
a man’s hand on my jeans, I don’t know it yet. He decides
to point to a series of dots above us. And among the voices in my head
I hear him saying, See? This is a kind of map. And I don’t hate him
for showing me that because yes, I see it too, it’s a mess.

—S. E. Venart

S. E. Venart’s writing has been published in New Quarterly, Malahat Review, Fiddlehead, Maisonneuve, This Magazine, Prism International, and CBC Radio. She is the author of a chapbook, Neither Apple Nor Pear, Weder Apfel Noch Birne (Junction Books 2003) and Woodshedding (Brick 2007). She lives in Montreal and teaches at John Abbott College.


Jul 032017

Mark Sampson Photo by Mark Raynes RobertsAuthor photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

Singles Bar for Zombies

Sure, the blonde sitting there at the bar
is hot in a conventional way: coffin-ready
curve to her dress, the way she cups her wine
like a chalice of blood. But tell me this:
Does she have brains?
You could talk to her till you’re green in the face.
She’ll just look through you with a deadened gaze.
Down here’s still better than up there
where the cars all burn till the sky is smoke.
This bar’s subterranean.
A waitress with no eyes asks: “Wanna
see a food menu?” With your worm-brown mouth,
you answer, “No thanks. I’ve already eaten.”

Je, Zeus

My name means
nothing. Mark my
words. I will smite you
with my thunder-
bolts just as easily
as heal your blindness
or turn water into wine.

What is it with you,
storyteller, that you insist
our names speak
to some higher or more
subtle calling?
What chance did Joyce’s
Dedalus have?
What are we to make
of Margaret Atwood’s all-
seeing narrator named
And explain to me how
the one morbidly
obese star pilot
in the squad that
confronted the Death Star
just happened to be named

We may be fictional characters
but we still have rights!

Some very unwise men
brought gifts to my birthday—
a party moved from Mount
Olympus to some shit-
soaked barn about a two-hour
drive from Tel Aviv—and
told everyone that I
was the son of God,
the sun that shone
out their asses.

I can’t handle this kind of pressure.

To spite my mother (raped
by an angel, but that’s
a whole other story)
and her exorbitant expectations
of me, I enrolled
in a carpentry class
at the local community college.
Forget it, boys! I said.
Pay no attention to the
deitous (yes, it’s a word!)
reference in my name.
This particle-board cabinet
isn’t going to assemble itself.

Surely I’m allowed
to pick and play
the life I want.
Surely I can choose
which cross to bear.
Fate’s not everything.
I’ve a real lock
on this tabula rasa.
Doesn’t everyone?

Lou Gehrig
died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Go figure.


Open Ground Coke

A dented smile on the
sidewalk, a gap-toothed
tab-pulled Titan of sticky
sybaritic joy. I knew the can
was half full when I took
a kick at it.
I mean, you’ve really got to believe
in optimism if you’re going to leave
a partially drunk Coke on the ground.
Whoever she was, and she was, at least
to my mind, a she – the indifference of lip gloss
smeared across the can’s silvery rooftop,
indentation along its side
the result of a woman’s thin, thoughtful
finger (I mean, a dude would’ve just
drained it dry and then
crushed that sucker flat) –
she must have had faith in the
wealth of the world,
dreamt of the fecund pampas, farm fields
that promise an abundance of sugar cane;
a princess asleep in the certainty
that our polar ice caps are going nowhere.
Here’s the thing about a positive attitude:
You’re still here whether you have one or not.
If you spend too long thinking just how filthy
these sidewalks are,
you’ll stroll yourself straight into madness.
You’ll miss the open ground Coke
taunting us with its air of waste.
It’s a harbinger of something,
though I’ll be damned if—


The Mattress We Chose

The salesman said, You’ll probably get
eight good years out of this baby.

With that, a future as soft and firm as flesh
flourished before our eyes, a spell cast deep
in the unstained wellsprings of fabric.
This was a bed for aging on,
flopping cruciform on, tired,
a bit overweight on, at the end of our days.

Where will we be in eight years?
A raft of arguments, no doubt. Sweaty
summer sheets that need washing. A
breast cancer scare? The Sunday mornings
ruined by unconscionable cats screaming
for their breakfast? More grey hair found
in the thatches of my chest.

Yet, what I murmured under my breath was:
That’s a lot of sex – a thousand and forty
(at our present rate) steamy acts
of coupling. The wife laughed.
Yeah, right!

But I held my ground.
Could this bed, this marathon sack,
this Let’s grow old together mattress
handle all that?

The salesman blanched when I asked him.
He was no prophet of variable lust.
He was merely selling a place to lay
our burdens down.

—Mark Sampson

Mark Sampson has published three novels – Off Book (Norwood Publishing, 2007), Sad Peninsula (Dundurn Press, 2014), and The Slip (Dundurn Press, 2017) – and a short story collection, called The Secrets Men Keep (Now or Never Publishing, 2015). He also has a book of poetry, Weathervane, published by Palimpsest Press in 2016. His stories, poems, essays and book reviews have appeared widely in journals in Canada and the United States. Mark holds a journalism degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax and a master’s degree in English from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Originally from Prince Edward Island, he now lives and writes in Toronto.


Jul 012017

Rick Jackson


We never know where the paths of the sunlight begin
or where they end. The first sundial was called a Gnomon,
meaning one who knows, from the 35th century Mesopotamia,
and still used by African Bushmen.

…………………………………………………This morning I feel I have
come from a place I no longer remember. The light seems
to genuflect on the roadside. There’s a ditch here but it carries
its own stories from somewhere near the top of the ridge.
The darkness won’t abandon its secret places. Sometimes
it seems we are like those characters in math problems
running towards the rear of a train that’s rushing forward.
Where we were is never where we were. Our maps and
stories are made of mist.

………………………………….In one version it must have been
an important place, what those few worn letters
that were left tried to announce on the brick
wall beside the vacant lot. And that scraggly tree that still
shades the old men who gather there by day, and beside
the fire barrel by night, what attracts all those birds
gathering like broken smoke in the branches? Or it is that
their leaves are made of birdsong. They speak in a language
we know before we hear it. But by the time we arrived
the story had come to its natural close.

……………………………………………………..In another version
the dew is still heavy on the grass. For a moment you are
asleep in my heart. What more can I ask for? I am rocking
inside your breaths. I have turned into the words you whisper.
When I speak to you, I clothe my heart with your heart.
When you tighten and tremble into love, these dreams
wander into distant fields and leave no tracks. I have
never been so lost, I have never been so certain of
where I am. Inside you, it seemed as if you were
quivering with the stars that had faded away billions
of years ago to be reborn in another galaxy.

…………………………………………………………….But you have
your own stories, and your own way of saying what
you miss. Sometimes our versions are dim lights
at the far ends of a street or valley.

………………………………………………..How easy it is
that we have not devoured each other the way some lost
galaxies have swallowed each other since the beginning
of time, or the way the mantis devours its mate so lovingly.



No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an
Old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from
It, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
—Mark 2:21

A robin dips into a puddle and flutters the water
From its wings. Above him, the fog seems to glow
With a billborard’s neon. He’s in an abandoned lot
Of broken glass that mirrors forgotten images.
There are so many unexplored galaxies behind our
Eyelids. One sailboat capsizes then rights itself
On the river. A city falcon rising into the fog
Must think it has reached heaven. I am on my way
To the airport passing store mannequins that have
Their own dreams. The dreams we have dressed
Ourselves in will need to be patched. Which is
What love is– dreaming ourselves into all new and
Possible forms of love, the way a flame quivers like
A leaf that itself is dreaming it has become a flame.

For Ata and Christina



That deep in the pit I could see the hidden dreams
of daylight stars. If I listened carefully, I could hear
the earth’s plates grumbling. I didn’t know why.
Every once in a while a grudging wind might twist
its way down to me. Every once in a while a raindrop
would leave its thumbprint in the mud. I learned, then,
that our real histories lie in wait in the shadows.
My own brothers tried to kill or sell me, you know
the story. Revenge crumbled from the dirt walls.
But it’s true, I was unfair.  I thought to imprison
them. I dreamt the sheaves and stars bowed
down to me. My own words became my chains.
I was ashamed. What I can’t decipher is your own
cavernous dreams. They have no meanings that don’t
spread out like the tracks of a frightened herd towards
wars, rapes, beheadings and the refugees from the everyday
selling of lives. You thought you could put the moon
in a prison. You called arrogance by the name of
practicality. The books you held sacred you refused
to follow. Pretty soon another day is out of reach.
What will you dream when your words are forgotten?
This morning I watched as a stray dog settled into sleep
among the worn headstones. I do not know whether
he was remembering or forgetting. I think we have to
burrow deep into our own dreams, into the pits of
our worst desires. We have to gather every syllable
in search of a truer meaning. Sometimes our dreams
seek sanctuary in what we can’t say. Why can’t we
clothe our hearts in each others’ hearts? My dream
eddies out of the coves and inlets of these words. Here,
a firefly lights, now and then, the ashes of a dead star.



Winter’s net of black branches has begun to haul in
a few buds and leaves. There’s nothing to explain
our desire to embrace all that surrounds us. A sudden
sun has made the statues glisten. I remember my own
age of cries as dreadful as yours. We all desired
a story different than the one we lived. I sang
whatever was true, however painful or torturous,
not to dwell in those valleys but to climb out of them.
No one wanted to remember the wars, the captivity,
the rapes. No one wanted to remember that we too
did unspeakable crimes. Now your own stories are
so light they drift away like milkweed looking for
some better ground. There isn’t any, there never is.
The moon’s scarred face gives us back our souls.
Saul thought I would drift away, then tried to kill me.
I forgave him as I forgave myself. My own faults now
crumble like pages of a forgotten passion. All I know is
that memory is a place that is nowhere, which is why
we can retrieve the lives we never lived. Each song is
a woods where the paths return always to the beginning.
I sang to invent what I could not remember, or to remember
what I could not invent. It was the only way to let my soul
glisten as if it knew.  Here a few deer step out of the woods.
The cornstalk stubble has been burnt away. The cemetery
Stones are telling only a part of the story but that seems
Enough. A sudden wind nudges the statues awake.



Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what
judgment you  judge, you will be judged; and with
the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
—Matthew 7:1, NKJV.

Today it would be Jordan. I would wear a head scarf.
It would be the same sun eating the dirt, making thorns
of the air. I left my people yes, but love them still, while
their lands are bulldozed, the same lands you once
exiled them to, where my husband lay. Because you left
the fallen grain for the poor I went to gather it. It is
that same dust that seasons our food, the same wind
that is sandpaper on the face. You could map my journey
by its tendrils of pain. I was still a foreigner.  I was
ready to pull down the clouds around me. But I knew
that the new belief was tolerance. What has happened?
The birds and snakes have become planes and tanks.
The words you once used to embrace have changed into
words that will strangle you. There is no other ending.
My own road took me to a Bethlehem before yours.
My own road took me to a husband whose words
cloaked me. This morning a sparrow pecking uselessly
for worms would not give up, its wings fluttering like
a heart. It paid no attention to the contrails of jets.
The face of the desert has a look this evening that
I would like to call home, that I would like to call love.



What I never understood was that I never owned
even myself. I used to listen to the river trying to claw
its way back to the hills over the rapids. I used to walk
only in the shadows that seemed to spread like thrown
cloaks in front of me. Everything we own is owned by
something else. In the end we’d fight for the dew
that collects on the fallen, the clouds that seem to shade
an enemy, even the faint tracks the robber would leave
in the alleyway.

…………………….And now? One morning someone blows
himself up or sends a missile down some chimney just
to own the breath he’ll soon exhale. Our words are
vapor as the Preacher says. We have to remember how
the wind blows away the wind. We have to escape
the mind’s broken bridges.  We have to let our hearts
empty themselves in the sea.

………………………………………..One day I could feel
the sun burn into my hands and side. Another day
it seemed the devils leaving Arezzo were shadows
of stars. There are so many things we see that have
no words, so many words written in invisible ink.

We have to learn the language of birds which is prayer.
There is always another heart within the heart, for
what we own is never what we have, what we love
is never what we own

………………………………just as the woman in Nigeria knew
caring for the friends whose body had become pustules
and leaked their own blood, putting on their wounds like
a cloak, like Job, like more than all the love we can own.

—Richard Jackson


Richard Jackson has published over twenty books including fourteen books of poems, most recently Traversings (Anchor and Plume, 2016) Retrievals (C&R Press, 2014), Out of Place (Ashland, 2014), Resonancia (Barcelona, 2014, a translation of Resonance  from Ashland, 2010), Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems (Autumn House, 2004), Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems (Ashland, 2003), and Heartwall (UMass, Juniper Prize 2000), as well as four chapbook adaptations from Pavese and other Italian poets. The Heart’s Many Doors is a collection of poems by American poets on the artists Metka Krasovec (Wings press, 2017). A new, limited edition book of prose poems, Fifties, is due from Dayton U later this Sprting. He has translated a book of poems by Alexsander Persolja (Potvanje Sonca / Journey of the Sun) (Kulturno Drustvo Vilenica: Slovenia, 2007) as well as Last Voyage, a book of translations of the early-20th-century Italian poet, Giovanni Pascoli, (Red Hen, 2010). In addition, he has edited the selected poems of Slovene poet, Iztok Osijnik. He also edited nearly twenty chapobooks of poems from Eastern Europe. His own poems have been translated into seventeen languages including Worlds Apart: Selected Poems in Slovene. He has edited two anthologies of Slovene poetryand Poetry Miscellany, a journal.. He is the author of Dismantling Time in Contemporary American Poetry (Agee Prize), and Acts of Mind: Interviews with Contemporary American Poets (Choice Award). He was awarded the Order of Freedom Medal for literary and humanitarian work in the Balkans by the President of Slovenia for his work with the Slovene-based Peace and Sarajevo Committees of PEN International. He has received Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, and two Witter-Bynner fellowships, a Prairie Schooner Reader’s Choice Award, and the Crazyhorse prize, and he is the winner of five Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in Best American Poems ‘97 as well as many other anthologies. Originator of VCFA’s Slovenia Program, he was a Fulbright Exchange poet to former Yugoslavia and returns to Europe each year with groups of students. He has been teaching at the Iowa Summer Festival, The Prague Summer Workshops, and regularly at UT-Chattanooga (since 1976), where he directs the Meacham Writers’ Conference. He has taught at VCFA since 1987. He has won teaching awards at UT-Chattanooga and VCFA. In 2009 he won the AWP George Garret Award for teaching and writing.


Jun 132017

Jane Clarke



After the talk with the palliative nurse
over cups of tea in the kitchen, my mother
tells me she’s already asked my father

to promise he’ll make it through the winter –
it’ll be sixty years in April, Charlie.
Sixty years since she walked down the aisle

in her dress of pristine lace, beaded bodice
and tiny satin-covered buttons at the nape,
a full skirt of tulle falling from her waist

to red and black tiles. Ballymoe Church
is tumbling now, stone by stone,
beneath the weight of brambles, ivy, ash.

I was eager and silly as a suck calf, she laughs,
as she readies his tablets, a whiff of silage
rising from the coats drying by the stove.


When he falls asleep

at the kitchen table and drops
another cup, my mother bends
without a word, sweeps up

the broken pieces in her hands,
looking out for shards in case
he wanders bare foot in the night.


Planting Trees

Dad taught us that paper
comes from trees and the word for book

comes from beech. He showed us
the olive-grey bark, smooth as river rocks,

how to tell the light hues of young wood
from the gloom of the old

and how to count the rings – starting
at the centre, working out towards the edge.

He’s unable to move from his bed,
but when we ask about the row of beech

beside the bridge, he’s clear as a bell,
my father’s father’s father planted them,

a shelter-belt for a nursery, when the British
were giving grants for planting trees.

Tomorrow, I’ll get dressed,
we’ll go down to see them again.


I’ve got you

Through days of morphine,
tidbits to tempt his appetite,
there’s nowhere else to be,

I hold his teacup to his lips,
wash his face and the hands
I rarely touched.

During the night old hurts
and worries surface
like stones in a well-tilled field.

What time is it now? he asks
on the hour. He sings to himself
and murmurs lines he learned

as a child, ‘All we, like sheep
have gone astray, we have turned
everyone to his own way’.

When he asks to get up,
I hold his wrists,
brace my weight against his.

For a moment he’s confused –
it’s ok Janey, I’ve got you,
go on now, you can stand.



From Roosky, Creemully, Louglyn,
Kiltoom, Kilbegnet, Moyliss,
Brideswell, Lecarrow, Creggs,
Athleague, Ballinleg, Carrowkeel,
they came to pay their respects.

They shook hands with us,
stood by his body and bowed
their heads. Cattle men,
sheep men, carpenters, teachers,
foresters, nurses,

mart managers, vets;
they said prayers, laid their hands
on his chest and blessed
themselves, then filled the kitchen
with the man they knew,

a grand man altogether,
always out early, a hardy hoor,
a good judge of a bullock,
fierce man to work, a man of his word,
he had woeful hands.

I slipped out for a while to see
the flawless orange globe
hung low over the Common
and a flock of whooper swans
feasting on the last of the winter grass.



i.m. Charlie Clarke

They dig slower as they go deeper,
taking turns to heave shovels of clay,

throwing bigger stones and rocks
up into the tractor box.

Son, grandson, nephew, neighbours,
they’ve already gone down five feet,

when they lay their tools aside,
drink tea, light up for a smoke

and agree they couldn’t have
a better day for digging a grave –

not a cloud to be seen,
sunshine melting last night’s frost,

and, from the woods behind them,
a chaffinch singing his heart out.

—Jane Clarke

Jane Clarke’s first collection, The River, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015. Originally from a farm in Roscommon, Jane now lives near Glenmalure, County Wicklow. In 2016 she won the inaugural Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award and the Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry. She was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature 2016 Ondaatje Literary Award.


Jun 092017

Photo by Jada Lillo

Widdershins King

after Robert Graves’ The White Goddess

The augur reads your body as a map to the stars,
a map to ourselves. Your hollow-leg limp, your
slanted dance becomes our left-handed magic.
What for you is necessity, for us is harvest and a
night’s sleep from which we all wake while you
ache all night, grown too tall for your withered
hips. You whisper into the solstice flames, and
we follow your fixed-point starlight toward the
future. You pivot left then fall, but we rescue
you from the dust. When we stake your torso to
the forked oak tree in the center of the grove,
before we touch fire to the cured wood, you
warn us you cannot die, have already died long
ago, and learned to keep one foot hidden beyond
the threshold.


In the booth behind me, a woman speaks to a man.
“Thank God we didn’t try to have a baby,” she says,
“my tumor would have eaten them, would have gained
superpowers!” She laughs, but laughter faded as gray
skin. The man does not reply. I wonder which
superpowers she means. Telekinesis?
Cancer with wings?

What poisons seed my cells?
What malevolent mouth might my body feed?

Admitted to hospital Monday,
transferred to hospice Thursday, Jana
died Sunday.

After, I helped clean out her apartment.
Dust thick as frosting, a sour smell—dog
piss and dirty drains and insane cells
celebrating Carnival in her ovaries, her
lymph nodes, her lungs.

Her words written inside the cover of a calendar five-years
Her spiral notebooks, scarred by ball-point pen—blue
letters, a forest of upper-cases where her left hand cast
a faint shadow of ink as it crossed the page.
I bagged her notebooks in green plastic bags and threw them away.

The fox’s road-kill teeth etch each afternoon
as I drive home. Sharp white bordered by gums
black as cave glass, black as fresh tar
skinned from the off-ramp closest to home.
Day by day, the fox collapses into herself,
into the dark spaces she left behind in the gutter.
Along the horizon, mountains muzzle
the west wind. Volcanic rock wears down
into brown dust the color of the fox’s pelt.

Why do I crave my daily peek at death—shrunken body,
gleaming teeth, black gums—but this afternoon the dead
fox vanished, teeth and all? Famished, I gnaw my arm to
bone with pointed fox’s teeth.

When my turn comes, I will swallow my prescribed pills.
I will never wear a pink wig, but I will slice off diseased
bits of flesh to toss into the flame.

I will appease the gods. After all this time, we
still believe in gods hungry as ourselves.

de novo

Any minute now, the neurologist will open the door & introduce us to the MDA rep. We will fill out forms & sign our name, initial here & here. Each form will read, diagnosis—unknown/in progress. M— dances from square to square, counting floor tiles. Not until the moment when the doctor transforms from work-a-day technician to palm reader, do you fully appreciate the blessings of an unknowable future. Or course, an existential dilemma looms in every instant the proverbial bus misses your vulnerable bones or the apocryphal lightning preserves your tender skin. Yet the absurdity of consciousness amidst the cosmic soup of mystery rests far easier on the mind in healthy times. Listen to the oracle whose voice outlines a vast unknown in a series of appointments and procedures—blood draw; genetics testing, cardiologist; orthopedist; muscle biopsy; MRI; neurologist.

Once home, we comb our digital photo files & compile a timeline of milestones. This age M— army crawls. Remember how he used to roll his toys, scoot after them, playing fetch with himself? We called his game Adventure Time. Here’s the age he crawls—here he pulls himself up to standing, takes steps. Maybe a little late. This age his heels creep off the ground, & when his stance widens, his skinned knees & elbows never go away. He tries to ride a bike & can’t get the pedals around more than twice. For years he can’t skip or hop but see here? Here he leaps, both feet leaving the ground.

In the process, we discover a video from the Airplane Museum: M— in a yellow bi-plane toy, built for toddlers but just big enough for our 5-year-old with his long legs & tiny frame. After an initial push, M— gets the pedals going, his laugh echoing off the concrete floors & metal girders of the hangar’s roof. I film while J— chases her brother & you juggle between our son-the-yellow-missile & museum exhibits—bombers & fighters & helicopters spanning 70 years of American wars. He shouts, I’m in the jet stream! The video bounces & cuts on my, Sh!

Then I’m weeping into your T-shirt. You hold me & ask, What is it? I say our son’s name, only his name, but your grip tightens. You looked it up, didn’t you? I nod. The doctor told us not to look it up! An already-written future at work inside his cells shapes his body whether we know its name or not.

Waiting for the Turn

We tread the wave. The Pacific yearns landward and the
tide rises. Once the wave passes, we settle on the long
shelf of sand and holding hands, we balance beyond
the break. My son watches the wave
crest and crash into gauzy white foam, but I
watch the open ocean, timing the swells
until we can leap into the next wave.
Here he is, my boy, singular offspring of countless kisses.
Inside his body history coils, which is to say he contains
the future as the ocean contains us and a sea of air contains
this singular gold-and-blue bead of October afternoon.
Swells build and my son clings to my shoulders
when our feet float free from the sand.
In a time of transition, no amount of time
makes you accustomed to the taste of grief. How will we survive
this suffering? Variants of unknown significance
perform their invisible, broken work inside the membranes
of his cells while another wave pulses warm water
closer to shore and we buoy ourselves in this warmth, my son
and I. We laugh, delirious in the sunlight, and my son touches
his crooked finger to salt drops beading on my face.
He believes the drops are broken bits of wave.

How you will learn to ride a bike:

1) Press your thumbprint into your cells’
structures until you don’t know
what will happen yet; 2) Round the shape
of your head with my soft sounds; 3) See
ahead, the horizon of a new
structural bend in the happenings
of boys & dragonflies; 4) What flies
is not time but belief in time’s promise;
5) Forget all I’ve ever said; 6) Discover
within yourself novel repetitions with wings;
7) Fly along the horizon:
try to remember you’ve always known how.

Spaceboy, I Miss You

You dance across the ceiling.

You wrap arms around my neck, a hug, a plea
for rescue. I hold you to me. You curve your
body into the spaces between us, and hold me
until you’re full then you float upward to
dance. Under your feet the ceiling’s white, flat
paint wears away.

Nightblue pajamas outline your body, like the sky
your fragile arms, legs, hips, tummy and back, traced by
constellations— Ursa Major, Orion, Castor and Pollux, the
Scorpion, the Forgiving King glow in the dark.

Your walls grow thin.
Rhymes told slant, your tiny narrow fingers stretch
back and fold until they nearly meet the tender skin
binding your hands. You shake and sinew over the
ceiling, and I watch your joy in body, your star-
sprinkled pajamas. You twinkle through the space
between us, and I want you inside my arms, held
close. I wish to speak, to call you back to me, but you
move high on your toes and dance.

Knees jut, hips swizzle,
elbows and wrists and hands knot the air like wings.
From the twisted knots of your ankles, always lifting
you to your toes, you fashion ache into song,
into dancing stars, ceiling not strong enough to hold
such joy.

Come back to me. Come back
to me. I’ll rewrite your constellations.
I’ll repair the scrambled syntax. I will hold you,
stronger than the ceiling, my star-walking son.

I will not lose you to hollows.
I will not forget how you dance.

Scar Powder

after The National, “Graceless”

I am invisible and weightless, fine bone
powder voice dissolved in water you
caught inside the vase to feed stems of
goldenrod and firewheels, California
poppies and bluebells plucked from
Colorado meadows rescued from my
childhood summers. Bluebells.
My grandmother calls them witches’
thistles, her voice transparent as water.
As water I will rise up stems because
there’s a science to rising through
windows and my grandmother’s voice
calls through glass—witches’ thistles,
not for malice but for magic—listen, all
my thoughts of you become orange, red,
yellow, blue blooms in the vase
up on the shelf where you will say
it is the side effects that save us,
scars give us grace.

—Erin Lillo


In addition to writing, teaching, and parenting, Erin Lillo reads too much and listens to music too loud. She also has an ongoing competition with her husband to see who can work the most lines from The Big Lebowski into everyday conversation. Currently she’s losing. Her work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review and The Tishman Review. She has an MFA in poetry and fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Jun 082017

Clint McCown



is to understand
the differences;
is to bridge the
common ground.

Suspenders and
suspense, for example:
shoulder to shoulder
but otherwise unattached.

Which is the one
to learn from?

Even on our worst day,
we can draw abstractions
from the concrete.
Even an unanchored
suspension bridge
can be easily supported
by the simple suspension
of our disbelief.

But abstractions leave us
none the wiser.
Let’s get practical here.

The river is beautiful
only until
we have a need
to cross it.

The river is ugly
only until
we reach
the other side.

Back and forth
we go.

The earth is as much
pendulum as ball:
so even the
peaceable kingdom
will know a day
of slaughter.

And another.
And another.

Progress, it seems,
takes us nowhere
we haven’t already been.

The earth is as much
pendulum as ball.

The river is beautiful,
the river is ugly,
but the river is not
the flooded landscape or
the drought-cracked bed.
The river is only the river.

The pendulum
revealing every star
as finite.

Fire reduces
half the universe to ash;
what’s left will freeze
into atomic dust.

Don’t wait for the sun
to fill the sky.
If there’s a worm hole,
take it.

Remember that
shade tree
in your old back yard.
You’re there now.
Stay a while.


If Left Alone

every blade
over time

every color fades
toward neutral

every fruit drops

every drop dries

every strength

every breath
every light
goes out, and

every memory,
good or bad,
is lost

I am now here
I am not here:

two states
separated by
one letter,
one infinity
of difference

which is the one
to celebrate?

which is the one
to mourn?


On Claudia’s Birthday

Friends aren’t what they used to be.
The circle has widened beyond
all horizons, and now people
we don’t know
wander in from the street
to rummage through drawers
and stare into the refrigerator.

In this third year after her death,
Claudia, or the fact of her,
prompts the ghosted internet
to tell the world
that it’s her birthday.
That’s not inaccurate, of course:
beginnings are indelible.
But still.

Old-fashioned friends, who know
a platform is no place to live,
send love and share the grief.

But here and there among the posts
the clueless barge right in:
Do something special today!
one tells her.
Have a fun week! says another.
Many happy returns!
Someone sends a birthday song.
A winking smiley-face.

Claudia herself
might have laughed off
these misplaced hints of immortality.
But who’s to say?

Every form of parchment
fades in constant light;
what once was clear becomes illegible.
Now we see through a glass darkly
and then darker still.
No doubt this same congratulation
will make the rounds again next year.

When you see it,
remember the snuffed light
of blown-out candles.
Think how much you’ve lost.


When Death Comes Knocking in the Night

Oh, you again, I say.
The terror has worn thin.

Habit teaches us to live
with anything, I guess —
the way I stopped worrying
about the atomic bomb
in sixth grade
after the fiftieth false alarm,
all us kids huddling
beneath our desks,
waiting for the final flash.

He still leans on that famous
scythe — a habit of his own.
I think he carries it
only to scare the children,
to keep them at a distance.

He’s not such a bad guy,
just lousy at making friends.
And in spite of what
you may have heard,
he’s terrible at chess.
He’s cool about it, though —
whether it’s a thousand
or ten thousand games,
one win is all he wants.

Our routine is almost playful now.
Stop me if you’ve heard this,
he says. But he never stops.

How many dead people
does it take
to change a light bulb?
He grins his trademark grin.
The number doesn’t matter!
he howls.
There aren’t any light bulbs
in the grave!
Then he cackles like a
drunken sorority pledge.

The humor, he believes,
lies not in the joke itself,
but in the way he tells it.

He tells it repeatedly.

How many dead people
does it take
to change a light bulb?
he asks again.
This is the only joke he knows;
for him it never gets old.

But for once I surprise him.
The number doesn’t matter,
I interrupt.
Dead people can’t climb a ladder.

Death gapes at me,
eye sockets wide,
grinning uncertainly
at my departure.

But the third time,
inspired, as he often is,
by the breaking of fresh ground,
he tries a variation of his own.

The number doesn’t matter!
he cries with sibilant glee,
The dead don’t need light bulbs!
They’re dead!

He thinks he’s hysterical
and laughs so hard
he unhinges his jaw.

How many dead people
does it take,
he begins again.

This goes on for a while.
He’s on a roll now,
as possibilities unfold
without end.

Eventually, boredom sets in.
I tell him I’m still listening,
that I’ve closed my eyes
only to concentrate
on his infinite comedic range.
I tell him his eternity
of punchlines is amazing.
I think he buys it.

How many dead people
does it take,
he intones
for the umpteenth time,

but I’m drifting away,
forgetting the joke entirely.

I ease down
through the sweetness
of the shadow.

Words release me
from their mystery,

and I sink, dreamless,
toward the usual slumber,

not knowing
how long, or how deep.

— Clint McCown

Clint McCown has published four collections of poems and four novels, the most recent of which, Haints, received the Midwest Book Award. He directs the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University and teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program.


Jun 062017


The Elements of Cohesion Must be Weakened

And there was a good way off from them
an herd of many swine feeding.
(Mark 5: 30)

In the Gospels demons hurl themselves head-long
Into a herd of swine and the swine promptly rush
Over a cliff and drown in the sea. It is easily a scene
Goya imagines quite closely in another context: when
Revolutionaries in the hours before dawn, sleepless
For several nights, walk now closely together, as if
Synchronized after a long rehearsed performance
And prepare to execute two brothers. A two-year old’s
Tantrum likewise is always preceded by a trespass
Into a country of endless exhaustion. No one present
Notices how he passes over that border. Soon he trips
And slips out of his mind, screaming and convulsing.
His eyes evidence a far away look. Cities are bombed out
Beneath them. Outside the tombs two men press
Their heads into their hands because of the demons.
Nearby, the smell of swine. With Goya it is the same:
Innocent bystanders hide their faces behind their hands
As in a game of peek-a-boo. Recall how in Kurosawa’s Dreams,
When over the decimated landscape of the hills demons wail,
It’s because their pain is too much: sharp bones protrude
Through their skulls. In Goya’s painting we cannot see the eyes
Of the revolutionaries who will do the shooting. Their backs
Are turned, their heads are cocked low to the butts of their rifles.
We see how the surviving brother pleads. And we see how the one
Holding him steady stares out of his skull as if he will never sleep again.
I can see the city roofs and the spire of a church over low hills.
Beneath the cliffs, which are not visible, the sea is inaudible.
Perhaps Christ is about. Who knows! Goya’s painting hangs
Close by on my wall. The revolutionaries locked in step, eyes unshut.

The Scene From Here

So I see near the beach beside the docked
and decommissioned ferry, a makeshift flagpole
on which hangs, half-mast, the French Tricolore.

I run past. The route I take follows
the trail beside the channel, its slow waters
flowing from lake to lake, its currents shallow,

benign, so that no danger troubles the swimmers
who recline and drink on their rubber floats before
they leap in and submerge. Nothing is hidden of summer

in the Valley where all along the shore
children build tiny sand castles, dig twisting moats
into the mud. Lone suckers feed on the lake floor.

It’s been a weird July. Every afternoon for over a week
storms break over the mountains—lightning, thunder—
the rain falls hard. Conversation turns to the weather.

What’s the worst they’ve seen (if they’ve seen it before)
those who’ve been here a long time can’t recall
or won’t say, and the weather anyhow has its own way

of doing things. It’s easy to stare at the hills and think
about nothing. As if the mountains would have you wander
into them, burrow into fallen pine needles, stay there.

Soon I turn from the trail and run up-hill on the old track
or where the railroad tracks were that once ran the span
of the valley from the coast into Alberta. History marks

landscape like a scar, like the flesh healed into woven stitches
above my right eye, so that a reddened furrow is cut close
but hardly visible except to those women who’ve pressed

their fingers there. In the evenings I’m reading Euripides
on my mother’s patio, near the lakeshore where a giant peach
is open until late; teenage girls inside serving ice cream floats

later flutter about the beach above the glow of their cell-phones.
Early in the morning last week I woke to the sound of a voice
announcing on a megaphone the names of marathon runners

as they crossed the finish line. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, applause,
all the spent athletes like in Ovid, that story near the end
about the runner who had escaped the finale of the last age,

when iron returned to fire and fire to sand. He moved like an ant
below the gods who at that point were left with little to do;
they say Apollo caught him easily, pressed him between his finger

and thumb, squished and ground him up until he too was sand,
flicking him down to where he was left with the rest of civilization,
subject to the wind’s shifts. In the afternoon my three year old son

learns to swim. I prop him on my knees in the lake, cup my hands
underneath his arms; he does not let me relax my grip but screams
delight and terror when I throw him into the air and let him fall

again into my hands and collapse into my arms, cold water
washing over his face and hair. He cries because of his wet eyes,
all the water in his nose and mouth. Later, on the sand, he tells me

Babi, you protect me, right? I recall that version of Theseus’ myth
where he wanders without a spool of yarn stashed in his pocket.
My boy is a diamond cut into the air. My own midway inclines toward dust-

dry ponderosa bluffs, the shelter of my ear like caves carved into the clay
cliffs which rise here on either side, the trail metamorphosed into scree.
The Trojan Women all wail and wail. There is no happy conclusion.

The ships on which they sail take them elsewhere far away.
Last week in Nice a few young drunk Brits took selfies next to a family
mourning their dead. Life returns to normal quickly.

Out on the lake the boats pull skiers; above the water a man
harnessed to a parachute is pulled around awhile. The scene
from here shows him minuscule, like a dead man in an airborne pulley.

What is normal? The air I breathe is dry, dry. The mountain flowers
are yellow. No sound from the trees.
Not even birds.


The Etymology of Ideology

They didn’t know what they were doing. The train
Tracks on the hills behind their minuscule town were long
Abandoned; the last train passed through years before.
So the body they found, the horses near the pastures,
The dogs unleashed in fields, all this took on its own
Larger contour, like a collective vocation, an invisible
Order into the late afternoon, the hours before stray parents

Called one another and inquired into their children’s
Whereabouts. I have not seen them at all, not for a long
Time. Up in the bush the fires begin intentionally. Because
The hero of the story, the smallest, is bored too easily. Or
Because—it’s anyone’s guess, really—he is already insane.


Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his ordinary head
except from photographs, eyes wholly terrified.
And yet his torso, bent over his bound hands,
is like a light flickering in some empty apartment,

illuminating: a table, a cracked cup, itself. Otherwise
he’d be merely bare life, unlucky in foreign lands,
a common captured adventurer, hostage
to barbarians in a bombed city, almost a fiction.

Otherwise you could forget him. His body,
beneath vacant space, poised before collapse,
would not hesitate, tremble as if a living man:

he would not, from all the borders of his headless corpse,
burst like a dumb star: for there is no place left
where you aren’t seen. Your life will change.


On the Origins of Utopia

Many people have long felt the desire to do something
With their lives besides consuming goods. They desire
To interact and develop but for this there is no remedy
Calculable in classical economics. This gets me
Wondering. It would be a fine thing, all that flourishing,
Along with everyone else, but also decently private
So as not to burden one’s neighbors with too much noise
Or such a torrent of dumb ideas all at once. Space required
Is also allocated into the general scheme of the better life,
If not the best life, since the latter wedges its dissatisfaction
Into the minds of each of us according to our old desires,
Childhood vistas, incurable heartbreak by the age of sixteen.
It was silly then but also so totally serious that now our leaders
Wage their private warfare, their revenge, and we’re all implicated.


On Tyranny

Such hateful things. Heiro and Simonides,
Reclining through the uninterrupted afternoon,
Contend that the tyrant cannot do better than
To immediately hang himself. This is not bad advice
Except for the tyrant’s refusal to listen to Heiro and Simonides,
Who’ve fled together into Goya’s painting, Shooting of the Third of May.
But they fail to outrun the tyrant’s many admirers—
Those armed men, bored silly, lonely, who otherwise have nothing to do.
Now they’re occupied with the At-Oneness of the tyrant’s intentions:
The execution of Heiro and his friend, the poet, Simonides, dying beside him.
Still, Heiro does not cease to give his two cents worth; he raises his arms;
If the blood-muck pooling beside his feet became a common fire
Around which those who are lonely tell stories,
Then this is Heiro’s final story before the end of all that is Heiro:
Thus he stands and raises his arms above the earth, his gestures
The size of cosmos, his complaints Promethean,
Against fickle gods, against the machinery of lust,
A Tyrant’s boredom, against those whose bodies
Are equal to mass times distance, whose ignorance
Is dense as a failed universe, hopes dismantled
Like the station wagon of a family shot dead, in cold blood,
Ill-favoured and forgotten…Heiro sees it all,
Claims the remainder for the Greatest Story Ever Told,
The incredible bulk of a husband’s failure; the noblest
Scholar on his hands and knees, barks on command,
While furtive urchins run towards the river,
Lie on the ground, cover their bodies in mud, turn into slugs.
Now Heiro sees it all so quickly, he wants to tell it all,
But he vomits as he commences—with what great fortitude!—
To utter his final dispatched breath. Such hateful things.

—Darren Bifford

Darren Bifford is the author of Wedding in Fire Country (Nightwood Editions, 2012) and Hermit Crab (Baseline Press, 2014). His next book of poetry will be published with Brick Books in 2018. He lives in Montreal.


Jun 052017

Miranda Boulton (The Painter)xxxxxxxxKaddy Benyon (The Poet) 


The studio is at the top of the narrow terraced house in what was once an attic. Clean, white lines, and a long slice of window that displays the city below, glittering in the sunshine that has followed a snow flurry. The space has that rich, expectant silence of all places where creativity occurs. It belongs to the painter, Miranda Boulton, and its walls are lined with canvasses that are part of her recent body of work, one of which, Day to Night, was selected for the 2016 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The paintings draw on the 17th century Dutch tradition of flower painting, but here the eerie calm of the black background surrounds a vortex of layered expressionistic images that have a mesmeric quality. Miranda tells me how the painting came about:

Day To Night  40 x 30 cm, oil on board (2015)

Miranda Boulton (MB): I was thinking about how I was painting and I was flicking through my phone late at night. I saw this image of flowers and the next day I tried to recreate it. I used to use photos to paint from, I needed something solid to reference. With this painting, I let go of all that and just worked from memory. It was like getting rid of my stabilizers. I let go and it all seemed to come together for me. It became more about the process of painting, of one stroke leading into another, then taking it off and going back and forth in layers of paint… pentimento… it was letting go, so one mark led to the next, it was a process of trying to get to something, of knowing and unknowing.

Pentimento, I discover, when I look it up later, comes from the Italian for repentence, and refers to traces in the work that show the artist has changed her mind in the course of composition. The traces may appear in the underdrawing, or in the painting over the drawing, or in subsequent over-painting. It seems appropriate that working from memory and its infinite layers should result in a palimpsestic painting of such complexity. And appropriate, too, that the unfathomable depths of the internet should provide its origin.

MB: A lot of the source material I use is from the internet. I quite like the distance. When you’re dealing with flower imagery it’s so personal and I find the internet neutralises that. The image becomes a free-floating thing that can mean anything. Then it’s about capturing that meaning.

Victoria Best (VB): I have this idea of the internet as a vast unconscious, just not your unconscious, but other peoples’. It’s like a huge daydream in which you cycle through other people’s discarded images.

MB: I think all the paintings are about ghosts, they are all haunted. For me it’s very much an acknowledgment of the past and the present merging… It’s an interesting thing about painting that you have this whole history behind you and you have to acknowledge that. You have to deny it and accept it; you have to hold it somewhere but it can’t be too much to the forefront. Because I studied art history I had too many images in my head and it took me a long time to desaturate myself. Now I know what my influences are, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking at books because it’s memories I’m interested in filtering. It’s these traces that are left on us that I want to explore and I can only do that when I’m in process. It’s a process of knowing and not knowing and letting go and it’s the actual paint, the texture and the materiality, that allows it out.

VB: It’s all about the flow.

MB: It becomes almost meditative when you know you’re functioning in the moment. You have to hold it all, be aware of it all, but you’ve got to put it over to one side when you’re doing it. I think there’s a process in doing a body of work. You start with an idea and there’s a point where you have to look back and quantify it, think it through. It’s like going below and above water. I understand it now although for a long time I didn’t.

VB: So how long did it take you to do this?

MB: This painting? Probably took me about six months. In different settings and times so there are different layers. Each of these paintings has been completely other paintings before, and worked through over time, and completely destroyed and then worked into again and again. There’s an archaeology.

VB: Do you have to work through sketches in order to get what you want?

MB: No, but I work things out when I’m doing these smaller ones. I work out a gesture, ideas, and then it comes to fruition on the larger ones. They have many more layers underneath the surface.  Sometimes it works in one layer, but if you haven’t worked on the layers underneath it doesn’t have quite the same density to the surface.

A World in Itself  50 x 40 cm, oil on board (2016)

Nevertheless, I find myself deeply drawn to the smaller paintings with their bell jar effects. Having been in the presence of Miranda’s work for a while now, the theories of Rollo May on creativity are coming to my mind. In his book, The Courage to Create, May proposed that creativity is first and foremost an encounter, be it with ‘a landscape, an idea, an inner vision, an experiment’. We know in works of art when that encounter has significance for ‘genuine reality is characterized by an intensity of awareness, a heightened consciousness.’ Artists, for May, are people who have the courage to risk turning their intense, sensitive consciousness onto their world in order to have those startling encounters. If you have escapist art, you won’t get that experience of encounter. But with Miranda’s work, I’m conscious of being in the presence of something very real and visceral.

MB: There’s a lot of figuration. This one [Day to Night] there’s a lot of limbs and different parts of the body. To me the image in the middle is like a kind of truncated torso. Whereas these ones I was interested in being much more internal… internal organs, blood and guts. But made quite timeless in a way and contained.

VB: You have this very 19th century effect here with the bell jar. You have something very sterile and held without oxygen but in fact you can see inside it to the blood and the guts. That’s a terrific draw into the painting.

MB: It’s the old and the new, a collision. There’s a timeline when you read a painting. You have a moment when you take the whole thing in, and then you unpick it. Every book, every movie, is fed to you chronologically, but painting is very different. It happens in the moment and then unfolds over time.

VB: Because painting can’t explain anything. Most other artforms explain, but an image doesn’t.

MB: No, you have to bring your own meaning to it, you bring yourself to it and you respond to it in different ways. It can take a lot of time. Once you’ve seen that painting and you start to look into it, you will never see the same thing again. It’s amazing and one thing I absolutely love. It’s the temporal process of painting and I think that’s why building up these layers over time is very important to me, because you’ve got to unpick them over time.

Rollo May also talks about the artistic ‘waiting’, the necessity of holding still and calm in the face of the empty page, the blank canvas, for the next right step to take place. ‘It is necessary,’ he says, ‘that the artist have this sense of timing, that he or she respect these periods of receptivity as part of the mystery of creativity and creation.’ I ask Miranda if this is something she is ever conscious of: waiting for the images to settle and the time to come.

MB: I don’t think I’m aware of it but I’m aware of creating the conditions for it to happen. If you’re too aware you trip yourself up. You have to get in the studio and just do it. This week after the holidays I went back into the studio and I had one day when nothing worked. I was going in and out between the layers of paint looking for the imagery. Two days later I went back in the studio and had a great day. It takes a long time for it to come out of the painting and some days I’ve got a real fight on my hands. But when you get there, it’s so worth it.

VB: When we first discussed doing this interview, I was talking about art often being pre-empted by crisis. And your feeling was slightly different.

MB: I think for me, it’s never been about crisis. It’s a feeling of being very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and then I know I’m getting somewhere because it’s really, really hard.

VB: Rilke says the artist is a perpetual beginner in his or her circumstances.

MB: Yes, you’re going back to the beginning often and questioning. It’s a process of uncovering yourself. Because it really is all about you. Maybe there’s a point when you take a step forward that you know is really positive because its uncovering or exposing something else about yourself. I need that vulnerability to know I’m having a real encounter with the work.

I have been impressed all along by Miranda’s creative serenity. I’m beginning to realise that she has this startling grace because she is so at home in her processes, so welcoming to every stage of creativity, accepting even the hardships – perhaps especially the hardships – as necessary and relevant. I’m intrigued to know how she began painting.

MB: When I first started painting seriously, about 15 years ago, it was landscape based. My Granny passed away at 101. I had a very close relationship with her and when she died I went to the house and found this book of photos that my Grandpa had taken. I never met him; he was a painter and he died before I was born. The photos were taken in Norway in the 1930s and for two years I painted from them. I put other things in, figures and animals and really made them my own. I created this whole mythological world from them. I’ve always had this thing about combining figures within the work whether it’s landscape or still life, there’s just this humanistic side, something fleshy in there. I have tried to move away from it but it always comes back whatever I do. I’ve accepted that now.

Recline  40 x 30 cm, oil on board (2011)

VB: Did you know you would always do something artistic?

MB: Yes, I always wanted to be a painter. I suppose growing up with painting around me and Granny telling me about her days at the Royal College, it became this mystery, the mystery of the artist.

VB: So both your grandparents were painters?

MB:  They both went to the Royal College and met there. Granny went into fashion design and he went into painting. So growing up with it around, it was always a possibility. It was open. It was allowed. And my Grandpa’s studio was still in the house and she didn’t clear it out. So I used to go in there and just stand and look at all the brushes and the paints and the canvasses and things. There was just this kind of romance in my head.

VB: How has motherhood been? Has motherhood got in the way?

MB: I think it’s helped. Beforehand, I used to spend hours thinking, what shall I paint, what shall I paint? And then suddenly, I had no time. I had two hours and I had to get on with it. It really freed me up, it stopped me judging myself. I used to go to a lot more exhibitions and read a lot more books, look at a lot more paintings and suddenly I had no time and it was actually the best thing. I was so image saturated and the possibilities… when you get to a canvas you have endless possibilities. I had to strip it bare; it was a kind of going inwards to go outwards. And also, because I was in the home, it kept me sane. So my son would go to sleep and I would put the baby monitor on him and go and paint.

VB: Did the landscapes move into the flowers? Did you have a stage in between?

MB: Yes there was a stage when I was playing different genres. I like working within a genre, a seam I’m really mining. So I did the landscapes and then I was working with lots of different imagery for a couple of years. I used to trip myself up. I’d get so far with a line of imagery and then think, that’s getting a bit problematic, I’ll try something else. But you never get into anything in depth if you don’t stick with it.

VB: You need that concentration and focus.

MB: If you look up here I’ve got rules of painting. I did those nearly two years ago when I said to myself: you’ve got to hone in. And I’ve stuck to it and it’s been the best thing.

VB: How much is art about permission?

MB: Yes, precisely. But you’ve got to understand your own methods of making it harder for yourself – or momentarily easier, but harder in the long run. I was making it easier by saying, I’ve got bored of this, I’ll do a figure, I’ll do a landscape, I’ll do all of it. But actually I was tripping myself up for the long term. In the short term it was keeping the flow going.

VB: Isn’t that the way? The running away is never…

MB: The facing up to it is what matters. You stick with it. I told myself: if you want to paint flowers, then you paint flowers. Do what you want.

VB: Why is that the hardest thing? To say: do what you need to do, what you want to do, what exactly speaks to you in the moment, free from other people’s demands and expectations. I don’t know why that’s so hard.

MB: We’re very self-critical. But I think the thing that’s probably changed over the last few years is painting from memory. Although the landscapes were about memories they weren’t my memories, they were my grandparents. It’s about traces left on our minds. It’s an interesting thing about the process. You think you’ve gone somewhere really different and then you realise…ah, I’m back in the same place. But maybe I have moved forward a little bit. For you, it’s really different, but probably no one else realises it.

VB: So maybe it was with the flower paintings when you felt you’d actually found your…

MB: Yes, I understood because it was the second massive body of work I’d done, and I understood what the first one was about through the second one on a much deeper level. You have to have a fascination with something. Then to understand that fascination you have to do it for long enough so that you can go back to the beginning many times.

VB: You have to have a whole revolution.

MB: You have to lose your way massively and then find it again.

VB: The art of going wrong.You have to go wrong first before you can go right.

MB: And this is what I’m talking about with the vulnerability. You have to sit with that absolute discomfort.

We have stumbled into the territory of my favourite theory about creativity – that it is as Kathryn Schulz says in her book Being Wrong, ‘an invitation to enjoy ourselves in the land of wrongness.’ She argues that art comes about because ‘we cannot grasp things directly as they are.’ In consequence, there exists an exploitable gap between the real and our perceptions, a gap embroidered and embellished by the powers of imagination. The artist who permits free rein to imagination effects entry into a parallel world ‘where error is not about fear and shame, but about disruption, reinvention and pleasure.’ This extends to the consumers of art as well, for we look at art in order to lose ourselves, so that we might find ourselves in new ways. I think of Miranda’s pentimento, the layers and layers of overpainting that create these deep, pleasurable palimpsests in which we cannot distinguish which lines, which forms are the ‘right’ ones to read. And I think of her embrace of vulnerability and discomfort, knowing that these are the states that open into creativity, not block it. It seems strange to think about wrongness in relation to Miranda and her art, when she is so clear in her vision, so steady in her process, and so calm about the necessity of creative disquiet. But it’s the eerie uncertainty of her paintings and their ghostly resonance in which the past and the present collide that remain in my memory long after seeing them.

Mary  60 x 65 cm, oil on board (2017)

MB: I’ve just done these two paintings this week. I don’t think this one’s finished, though this one definitely is. It’s possibly a little bit more easily read than a lot of my paintings but I’m so happy with it. It’s just hit something for me.

VB: I love the cameo. It’s something my eye is drawn to the whole time. I’m looking at the centre always in reference to the frame.

MB: For me it’s like a mirror. You’re reflecting yourself within the imagery.

VB: It’s interesting what you were saying about having to work in a place of knowing and not knowing, of certainty and doubt, the past and the present. There’s a really interesting play here between wildness and control.

MB: Yes, there’s a sort of romantic quality to it. There’s a deliberate wornness, an acknowledging of age. Which is reflected in the background and also in the imagery.

VB: I love the texture of the pink. It feels like it’s reaching out to me.


The room is small but high-ceilinged and orderly, comforting and snug. There’s one wall of bookshelves filled with thin volumes of poetry and notebooks that have the properly thumbed and used appearance of books constantly considered and reread. Above the small, neat, desk there is the most beautiful storyboard I have ever seen. I can’t read the lines printed on the white cards that fill the margins, or make out very clearly the cluster of images pinned in the centre, but it feels as if something very rich and complex is going on in this thought cloud. The room belongs to the poet, Kaddy Benyon, whose first collection, Milk Fever (2012) garnered awards. She is working on her second, Call Her Alaska, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, ‘The Snow Queen’, and has finished a third, The Glass Harvest. She is also currently writing a novel. Kaddy’s early career was as a television scriptwriter, but then her work took an abrupt turn.

Kaddy Benyon (KB): I think it was when my son was a baby that we moved to Cambridge and I did the MA at Anglia Ruskin in Creative Writing. I thought: I am only going to write teen novels because I’ve written Hollyoaks and I know exactly what I’m doing, thank you very much. And I came out of the machine two years later a poet. I wasn’t expecting that; I didn’t really know how that happened.

VB: Did you get an assignment to write poetry that started you off?

KB: In my final year there was going to be a scriptwriting module and I said to my tutor, with respect I’ve done this as a job and I think it’s a bit of a waste of time. Can I do an independent study? And they said, yes, we have this brilliant poet [Michael Bayley] who tutors people. Would you be interested in poetry? I was really playing hard to get and said, well I love reading it but I don’t think I’m a poet. And my tutor said, just go for a week with him, see what you think. It’s seven years this week that I met him and we’ve still got this lovely collaborative relationship. The first poem I ever wrote for him, we met up for the tutorial afterwards and he was very serious. He looked at me and I thought, fuck, it must have been awful. And he said, this is seriously good, send this out. It got taken by London Magazine, the first thing I ever wrote and it’s in my book [Milk Fever] as well, the one called ‘Ice Fishing’. He really loved it and he just encouraged me. He reads every poem that I produce, even now.

VB: It’s funny isn’t it… do women have muses? Is he a muse?

KB: I wouldn’t say he is. He’s sort of like my safety net. If a poem hasn’t been Michaeled I feel it’s no good. It needs to go through him and get the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Sometimes he’ll say, this isn’t quite there, just leave it for a few months, come at it from this angle, or this drafting technique. Everyone needs someone who’s above them on the ladder and who says, come up here, it’s great. I don’t really know any other writers who haven’t got that first reader, who you can stand in front of, kind of naked, and say: I’ve produced this, I don’t know what it is. Could you look at it? Do you still love me? I’m nervous, Michael’s nearly retired now and he wants to do less and less. So I feel like I need to have my eye out. I need to have a writing mummy or daddy, because it can’t always be him, even though it’s been brilliant and I hope it continues as long as it can. It’s frightening. I suppose to acknowledge the need for that is halfway to getting it.

VB: So let me get this straight. After Milk Fever, you did the ‘Snow Queen’ poems [Call Her Alaska] and then you moved onto this new body of work?

KB: The Snow Queen isn’t finished. That was why I was in residency at the Scott Polar Museum [in Cambridge] and that was Arts Council funded. It did produce the exhibition, ‘The Snow Queen Retold’, and there are something like 200 poems in draft. About 30 are done.


You came and I was longing for you.
You cooled a heart that burned with desire.

The Robber Maiden

You were the prettiest little trinket
these sooted eyes had ever seen,

& yet I robbed you
of your defences: laid you

out on a bed of straw, slipped
you dripping from your hood, your furs,

those rabbitskin boots.
You wept when I licked the icedust

glister from your breasts; kissed
your twenty-three ribs; spread

heat & delight between your thighs.
We wintered on whispers &

firelight & my hundred smoky
turtledoves peeping from the rafters

seemed like poets, rolling love
on their tongues instead of ashes.


Slipping from her mother’s whiskered
skins, she haunts my tangled forest

dreams, a bandit in snicking
thickets. She creeps under cover

of leafmould, fingerblades grazing
my lips, strips me of my mantle, my kirtle,

those rabbitskin boots.
Pinned between her jack-knifed limbs,

a scent of flame & fury rises from her
skin; her flapping rabble of filthy

mocking birds laughing from the rafters.
Snowmelt: whetted backbone to

aching backbone, I steal from her
choking stranglehold, drag her kicking

heart from its unlocked, bare chest,
spit on the embers of her desire & flee.

VB: How many poems are you looking to have?

KB: Probably 50 to 60 so I’m way over. I’ve got the luxury of choosing. But I had a bit of a blip. It was in 2014 in the spring, just a bit of a mental blip and needed to take time out. I couldn’t write anything for three to six months but I was still at the Museum, and it was quite difficult because I was almost pretending everything was fine. But I wasn’t producing, although I was doing all of the research. I was loosely following the journey that Gerda makes in the fairy tale but sometimes I put quite a feminist slant on it, sometimes quite a Sapphic slant with her and the Robber Girl. I did my research trip to Finland and it was almost like I was taking in so much information and possibilities that I couldn’t hone it down. All of my notebooks are just full. About a year ago I went through them and typed up everything I could, so it is a more manageable beast now.

VB: What was the first thing that drew you towards ‘The Snow Queen’?

KB: When I was seven, my dad went to Denmark on a business trip and he bought me a version of the book back. I just fell in love with the pictures, the one of the Robber Girl in particular. Because they terrified me but they excited me at the same time. So there was quite a wicked pleasure to it.

VB: There is something about the Snow Queen. What is it about her?

KB: I assume, with my Jungian head on, that she is an archetype in all of us, scares all of us, and we think she’s going to kiss us and we’ll freeze. I don’t know.

VB: I think she’s somewhere between being scary and comforting. She’s the cold mother. There’s the possibility of the maternal and of patronage… but there’s also something vicious as well. This is what interests me about poetry. I can get my head around a novel of the ‘Snow Queen’ or an analysis of it. But poetry — it seems to me a strange way of saying that what you want to say isn’t easily said.

KB: I feel a real chiming with the fairy tale and I think I’m all the characters in it as well, like in a dream. I can be icy and distant when I’m into my work, and I could attach my sledge to an idea and go racing off without thinking.

VB: So you were working on Call Her Alaska, and then the poems on the islands came along?

KB: Yes, I had this breakdown I mentioned in 2014 and I was feeling so ill and I said to my husband, let’s just go somewhere we’ve never been before, let’s go to an island in the middle of the sea. My poetry tutor used to mention this place that was a bit like Avalon; I didn’t know whether it was fact or fiction, and it was Lindisfarne. I said, let’s go to Lindisfarne and all four of us just fell in love with it and we’ve been back every year since. I think about 30 of the poems came just in that week. Then I got a residency this time last year to Eigg, and we went to Skye in the summer. So the collection is about those three different islands, and I don’t know why they came to get me, but they did. That manuscript is being Michaeled at the moment. And I’m just scared of that as well. I’m scared of everything I write.

……..(after Edwin Morgan)

There were never cloudberries
like the ones we found
that tender afternoon
in peaty ruins
Lindisfarne Castle
a late autumn sunlight
wind moving in the dunes
heather staining the mainland
your pale hands emerging
from fingerless gloves
to uncover a little plant
preserved in salty darkness
you untucked its leaves
revealing three amber jewels
the first bruised to a juice
the second placed delicately
on your tongue your blue eyes
on mine my open mouth
watering to take the final honey
cluster between my lips
leaning side by side
our wellies kicked off
you urged me to abandon
my island living
walk the causeway beside you
my tight fist nestled in your palm

let me be beautiful
in that remembered light
precious as the rose gold lodes
coursing deep within
your highland hills
let me reach for you and follow

let the tide rinse away our tracks

VB: The anxiety of creation is so prevalent. I remember reading that creativity is a form of trespassing on the divine – Prometheus being one of the first examples, stealing the secret of making fire, and the Gods punished him for that.

KB: The liver business. That feels right, intuitively. This novel I’m writing… it’s fast. I feel like I’m channelling it, or I’m being whispered it, so it’s not really mine. It’s almost like the gods are giving me this gift and then I will claim it as my own by saying: by Kaddy Benyon. But it doesn’t really feel like that.

I tell Kaddy about one of my favourite theories of creativity by the psychotherapist, Christopher Bollas in his book Cracking Up. Bollas pointed to the constant free flow of ideas, images and thoughts that race through the mind mostly unobserved as the basic element of our fundamental creativity. Like rush hour traffic, these mental elements congregate around experiences that have a particularly intense emotional resonance, though often they may be simple things, scarcely worth the charge they give us on first appearances. Bollas talks about ‘psychic bangs, which create small but complex universes of thought.’ But I wonder whether the sensitive, dynamic, creative mind both uses this free flow and falls foul of it. I think that stress plus a freewheeling mind often results in catastrophising. Creative folk may well produce beautiful and innovative result from free association. But it’s hard to prevent our thoughts from delivering us into dark mental alleyways where we’ll likely get beaten up.

KB: That really makes sense to me because my analysis has underpinned everything that I’ve written that I’m proud of. The analysis has taught me to use my mind in a free associating way that I use with all my poems. It’s almost like a mind map.

VB: It’s about processing, isn’t it? Because things get processed very small in the creative mind.

KB: That’s true about noticing, I think, letting your mind be open to noticing how things are connecting up that you might not be conscious of yet. That’s what the analysis has done for me.

VB: You went into analysis after the breakdown?

KB: No, I was already in analysis. It was 2008, so it’s been nine years this January and my first creative writing teacher at university, Edmund Cusick, had died quite suddenly and quite young and I had just had my son. We’d moved house as well. I was overwhelmed and I needed someone to talk to. I didn’t actually know what analysis was at that time, but I knew that my teacher who died, who was a poet as well, was very into Jung. So I looked it up on the strength of his stuff. He was the first person, when I was 18, to tell me I could write. He was the first one to give me permission. I was at university and he used to say, right, I want you all to keep a dream diary and write poems in response to your dreams. So that’s completely how I work now.

VB: So dreaming is an important part of what you do?

KB:  I’ve had poems that have arrived from dreams, fully formed. Not often; a couple in Milk Fever, like the one about Louise Bourgeois just came. I do keep a dream diary, because I think dream material is free from all the stuff you’re trying to force or impose upon it to make it mean something. And it means something in its own way anyway, it just might not make much sense. I quite like things that don’t make sense. They have an intuitive sense but not a logical one and I like that.

I’d been reading Carl Phillips’s wonderful meditation on poetic creativity, The Art of Daring, shortly before seeing Kaddy, and his insight on poetic meaning, that any ‘successful poem – one that is true to human experience – will resist closure. To be resonant is to resist absolute closure’ occurs to me now, thinking about the experience of dreaming. Closure, or what stands in its place in the poetic universe, often comes in the form of form, in the typographical shape of the poem on the page. Phillips suggests ‘Form, shape – these may be our only way, finally, of making sense of the world around us. And the body may be the one form, finally, from which we begin, each time, our knowing.’ I’m intrigued by the neat, firm formality of Kaddy’s poems, and one, ‘Causeway’, is a particular favourite of mine.


No workmen or bulldozers, just two plucky women ceaselesslyX trying to reach one another despite winter storms, rising tides, savage winds untamed from Scandinavia. Daily they strive – not so much to hold back the tide – but to work with it, around it, in deference to its unstable surge to spoil, spill and gush across their toil; to ransack any progress and demolish vague relations to the mainland. Natural drainage is compromised by drifts of sea-born debris: silt, salt, wrack and shattered shells, all plotting to induce some fresh destruction. And I know, god how I know, how it begins to feel like a punishment, a kind of ritual destruction, this endless, joyless, repeating and repeating and repeating only to witness the sea’s deleting.

KB: It’s about the analytical work and the way my emotional tides come along and destroy it every now and then. And we start again. I’m trying to do new things with form and every experiment I don’t know if it works or not. In Call Her Alaska there are a lot of two-sided or two-faced poems that are almost wings with a column of nothing in the middle. One is about Gerda on one side and the Robber Girl on the other and they’re seeing that they shared a bed in a very different way. It was quite complicated to do and sometimes I just want to rip them up and throw them out the window. But when they come good it’s worth it.

VB: I always think of you as so finished in what you do. Whatever I’ve read of yours has been so polished, so beautiful. I think of you as someone who produces these carefully faceted gems.

KB: I’m aware that I’m doing that as part of my process. My eye can’t tolerate a messy poem. But I think it’s too much of a constraint on myself to express myself neatly and symmetrically at all times. Because life is messy and humans are messy.

VB: But maybe there’s something in that form that holds back, that holds you back in a sense.

KB: I think I needed that with Milk Fever for sure. I needed a container to be absolutely watertight because I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with and it was rising up from somewhere I’d never tapped. And I was constantly flooded with the material that was coming. It was almost like I had to impose the form on it. But now I’m more comfortable with my process and I feel I can’t be writing poems that could have been in Milk Fever now. I have to have moved on and be taking risks even though its terrifying.

VB: Thinking about containers and Milk Fever… I was just thinking about your mother and the fact that the hug is the basic form of containment. It’s that: I’ve got you moment. You’re within the circle of my arms.

KB: Yes, and it’s probably also the strongest recurring theme in my analysis. I’ve said to my analyst nearly every day for nine years, can I have a cuddle? And she’ll say no, you can’t have a literal cuddle, but I’ll cuddle you by holding you in my mind. But I do feel the analysis  has opened up the creativity. I was aware since I was six I wanted to be signing books in Heffers. That’s all I wanted, ever. But I didn’t know how to do it, or how much of my self I had to draw up and present to the universe to see if the universe would like it or not.

VB: One of the things I’m most interested in is this idea that art comes from the place of being wrong. And that can be from the fact that reality is always distorted by our perceptions. I’m thinking of what Carl Phillips says, that poems tend to transform rather than translate.

KB: What comes to mind when you say that is: when I was writing a poem called ‘Strange Fruit’ it came from my most shameful feelings when I was a teenager, ugly and repulsive, and I felt like I had to say it, but I had to put it into beauty. Is that what you mean? That I made something ugly beautiful?

Strange Fruit

Sometimes I have an urge to slip
my hands inside the soiled, wilting
necks of your gardening gloves;
to let my fingers fill each dusty
burrow, then close my eyes and feel
a blush of nurture upon my skin.

Sometimes I am so afraid my hurt
will hack at your figs, strawberries,
or full-bellied beans, I dig my fists
in my pockets and nip myself. Sometimes
I imagine the man who belongs to
the hat hanging on the bright-angled

nail in your shed. I think about you
toiling and sweating with him;
coaxing growth from warm earth;
pushing life into furrows. I am curious
about what cultivates and blooms
there in your enclosed, raised bed –

yet I want no tithe of it for myself.
Sometimes I just want to show
you the places I’m mottled, rotten
and bruised; I want you to lean close
enough to hold the strange fruit
of me and tell me I may yet thrive.

VB: Yes, but without translating it into something obvious or too straightforwardly explanatory. You didn’t need to have an explanation. What you needed to do was transform that sense into something meaningful.

KB: That makes sense. And I think I didn’t really realise the weight of that in my work. Not just in my poetry, but in the novel as well. It’s almost like the kernel of it is my biggest shame. Or rather, the thing I was made to be most ashamed of, but I actually found it beautiful.

VB: I like that.

KB: I was reading one of the Notting Hill Editions books of essays, the one called Humiliation. The author was saying something about shame and vomiting and diarrhoea when all your most smelly, shameful, awful innards just come out violently, and that’s like the creative process for me. That’s how it feels. And I do feel mostly ashamed of my productions until I can polish them and make them beautiful. My first drafts are like the worst nappy in the world, just a shit explosion.

VB: Shame is a cul-de-sac of emotions. Guilt is about reparation, but shame you’re stuck with. I’m ashamed of myself, I can’t exist, I can’t live, I can’t be. You have to do something with that. The psychiatrist, James Gilligan, made a study of the most violent prisoners in jail and found that they had all suffered terrible shame in early life.

KB: It’s a real head-hanging one, isn’t it? Shame and rage are next door neighbours.

VB: And rage turned inwards is anxiety. So there’s a whole circle of stuff going on… it’s the circle of artistic life, isn’t it?

KB: Why do we do it?

VB: Because ultimately it’s reparative. Somewhere along the line.

I, too, have that Notting Hill Editions essay by Wayne Koestenbaum entitled ‘Humiliation.’ Later, rereading it again, I find an anecdote that strikes a chord, as it were. One of his fellow students at an unnamed summer music school tells him about the way that a popular teacher whose speciality was ‘relaxation’, ruined her own performing career by sitting down at the piano for her onstage debut before an applauding audience only to be sick over the keyboard. Koestenbaum has this reflection to make on the story: ‘Vomit on the keyboard – that image symbolises, for me, the always possible danger of the body speaking up for its own rights, against the stringent demands of the mind’s wish to construct a plausible, attractive, laudable self for other people to consume.’ Thinking about Kaddy’s poetry and the anxieties that surround her creative process I feel a strong belief that it’s one of art’s most important tasks to stand up for not just the rights of the body, but the reality of the body, the reality of our messy, upsetting, often overwhelming existence. It’s the job of art to talk about all the truths no one wants to hear, in ways in which they might finally manage to hear them and be assuaged. In that way Kaddy, like other artists, can experience the all-important acceptance of what feels like the worst of the self, though it’s only our shared humanity. But what I also hear in everything Kaddy says is her intense, passionate love of her creative process. In the very act of polishing that turd, Kaddy’s love trumps her fear and that is a powerful act. I ask her if she feels valid as a writer.

KB: When Milk Fever first came out, it was like, oh I’ve produced something and people like it and this is strange and nice. That was 2012 and I do feel very under pressure to produce either another collection or do something different so I can sustain that viability. I don’t feel like it’s just a given forever. I find myself longing to be in the position, either as a poet or a novelist, where I have a publisher and any idea I have will be considered, and hopefully published. They have faith in me, I have faith in me… but I just don’t feel I’m there yet.

VB: It sounds like a good family thing. You want that parental authority in place.

KB: I’m never not working. It’s constantly what I’m doing and worrying away at. I love it. But when you can’t prove it… People often ask me in the playground, ‘When is your next book coming out?’ and it’s the worst question ever. Because the answer is not only when I’m ready, but if I ever get another publisher. I think it was quite affecting that Salt stopped publishing single author collections of poetry about the year after mine came out. So I went from the euphoria of yes, I’ve arrived! To oh shit, I’ve got to start again. So now with The Glass Harvest, it’s kind of done. I imagine if I sent it off to a few places they’d at least read it because I’ve been published before. But there’s no guarantee and I just can’t face the no. It took me two years to write that and it just meant so much to me as it was all that I went through. So I’m not sending it anywhere. Because that might just stop me writing altogether and I’m in the middle of this novel.

VB: The process is horrible and can be toxic at times, and not at all good for people who are writers. It’s ironic that you couldn’t have made it worse for people who are writers.

KB: And it’s frightening, weirdly, conversely, just to know that an agent is waiting to have a look [at the novel]. Even though most of the other writers on Hollyoaks had agents, I’d got the job on my own and I didn’t need an agent to look for anything else. And now it’s that horrible thought: would anyone be interested? Would anyone take me on? Would they earn any money from me? Oh God, too much pressure. You know when you don’t know whether you’re being bold or stupid? That’s where I am with it.

VB: My money’s on bold.


This is what happens when you work with creative people. Miranda and Kaddy – who happen to live minutes apart – became interested in each other’s work over the course of these interviews. Now Kaddy has one of Miranda’s paintings on her wall, and Miranda has some of Kaddy’s poems. They both intend to create something in response to the work of the other. In six months’ time, we’re all going to meet up again to see what they have produced and to discuss the creative processes they went through. Intense, irresistible curiosity, the lure of the new idea or the intriguing object, was something we never spoke about in our interviews – it just went ahead and happened instead.

Born in Cambridge, Miranda Boulton has a BA (hons) in Art History from Sheffield Hallam University and finished three years on the Turps Banana Correspondence Course in 2015. She has exhibited widely across the UK and was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (2016), The Salon Art Prize (2011) and The Artworks Open (2010 and 2011). Her exhibitions include: a two-person exhibition ‘Off Line On Line’ at Studio 1.1, London (2015), and the solo exhibitions ‘Lost in The Middle’, New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge (2012) and ‘Outside In’, Madame Lillies Gallery, London (2011). She has work in private collections in France, USA, Ireland and many locations within the UK. Miranda is currently co-curating a group exhibition ‘Storyboard’ at Lubomirov Angus Hughes in London, which opens on the 14th April.

Kaddy Benyon’s first collection, Milk Fever, won the Crashaw Prize and was published by Salt in 2012. She has also written poems in response to Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ for a collaborative exhibition with a costume designer during a residency at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. Last year Kaddy travelled to the remote Scottish island of Eigg for a residency with The Bothy Project. Whilst there she wrote poems toward her second collection, The Glass Harvest. Kaddy is a Granta New Poet and has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes.

Victoria Best taught at St John’s College, Cambridge for 13 years. Her books include: Critical Subjectivities; Identity and Narrative in the work of Colette and Marguerite Duras (2000), An Introduction to Twentieth Century French Literature (2002) and, with Martin Crowley, The New Pornographies; Explicit Sex in Recent French Fiction and Film (2007). A freelance writer since 2012, she has published essays in Cerise Press and Open Letters Monthly and is currently writing a book on crisis and creativity. She is also co-editor of the quarterly review magazine Shiny New Books.


May 152017

Michael Catherwood


Radio Jazz
“No photographs of Pinetop Smith are known to exist.”

The gray riverbank
was dry with snakes of tree roots
and the radio

waves bounced the static-
charged air with night time jazz.
Pinetop Smith clicked keys

in a fresh boogie
woogie: “hey don’t move a peg
until you shake that

thing.” Pinetop Smith killed
in a Chicago dance hall
by a stray bullet.

The clear evening sky
is fresh ink now as I stand
by the Missouri

forty years later.
Music dances on my arm
like breath. The full moon

shines blue where stars
dot my wrinkled hands
steps from the river.

Tires kick and crunch
in the gravel where the past
clings to the thick light

while Pinetop pounds keys
over distances of years,
over brave currents.


Public Works District Yard 6


I organize these summer months
and reduce tasks to numbers,
fixate on numerals in a mantra:
rise at six, work at seven, lunch
at eleven-thirty, break at two,

punch-out at three-thirty, drink
Absolut from five to twelve, sleep at one,
cut four swipes into an overgrown lot
then circle three times along the fence line.
We search for addresses of empty lots

to mow: at 3123 Patrick there’s no house:
broken bottles and weeds and gravel.
If I find a house at 2958 Burdette, 3016
would slide in here. Often we cut
the wrong lots. We unload the Bush Hog,

cut fence wire from the flail blades
after the previous job. Then mow.


My last day at District Yard Six,
I bolt on flail blades and my hand
slips, my forearm catches
a jag of metal. The blood stands
like Jello. My foreman finds

some butterflies and we make
a quick patch job. Driving home
I think in a week I’d be back
combing newspapers, searching for work.
I drive home along the Missouri River,

by the automobile boneyards,
past factories and welding shops, by
the trailer courts filled with kids
celebrating in their blue plastic pools,
past the faded Go-Go Lovelies sign

and shaggy parks and a dim cafe. Along
the river I turn onto an access road and park,
watch the current churn up logs
and bright litter. I stand there for a long time
as the bank boils whirlpools,

then think for a moment the world is dying,
that we were all suffocating. The moment
passes and I get back in my rusted Pontiac,
turn on the radio, fire up a cigarette,
then spin over the gravel in triumph. In

the rearview the gray dirt rubs out the sun.
The gravel sings along in my fender wells.


The Subject

Both I still see dead—Mark
thin on a gurney in the hospital,
Pat sitting on his living room floor,
tv on, his chemo pack pulsing.

I could have done better, could have
looked out for my younger brothers
more. We all took defiance seriously
so we laughed at death, expected,
courted it, a gift Dad gave us,
along with excess.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe are in the park,
climbing pine trees,
the sticky balm on our hands,
its scent in the air.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe ascend with grace,
grip tightly the branches,
always moving up to light.

—Michael Catherwood



Michael Catherwood’s second book of poems, If You Turned Around Quickly, was published by Main Street Rag 2016. In 2006, The Backwaters Press published his first book of poems, titled Dare. His third book, Projector, is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin Press in 2017. He has published poems, reviews, and essays in various magazines, including Agni, Aethlon, Black Warrior Review, Borderlands, Burning Bush 2, Georgetown Review, Hawai’i Review, Laurel Review, Louisiana Literature, Midwest Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Sycamore Review, Westview, and others. He writes essays for Plainsongs and has recently published poems in The Common, Poetry South, Solstice, Louisiana Literature, Measure, the minnesota review, New Plains Review, Bluestem, and the Red River Review. His awards include Intro Journals Award for Poetry from AWP, two Lily Peter Fellowships, the Holt Prize for Poetry, and National Finalist for the Ruth Lilly Prize. In 2003, he received an encouragement award from the Nebraska Arts Council. He was nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2014. His website is



May 132017

Denise Blake


The Beaching

The pod of whales beached themselves on Rutland Island,
chose the isolated sweep of the Back Strand to come ashore.
My grandmother in her final years would have understood.

Those long-finned pilot whales suffered some trauma,
became distressed and confused. And so for her that winter
when told her grownup daughter had died suddenly.

Three years later, hearing that her eldest had also
passed on threw something within her off-kilter.
Sent her mind homing towards the Back Strand.

The whales had wandered together, over thirty of them,
swam through Scottish waters to the Sound of Arranmore,
heading towards the crescent of shoreline and their ending.

She would have understood, the Rutland-born woman
who had long left the island but yearned for that place; called
for it constantly, rose from her sickbed in the middle of the night.

I need to go now. They will be waiting; it will soon be low tide.
She wanted to journey, follow those already gone,
float ashore, let grief beach her there on the Back Strand.

Circus Days

You don’t have to run away to join,
it comes to you around their thirteenth year.
You hadn’t even noticed they were in-training
until you sense excitement,
strong as fumes, building up in your home.

Music gets louder, nights and mornings confused,
every room is taken over as the friends, arriving
in single file, increases to friends of friends
to claim every available seat, even yours.

The circus builds around one son, then the next
and the next until soon, three rings are running
full flow. You try to become the ringmaster,
the one in control, while you collect tickets at the door,
take further bookings, supervise training, do the laundry,
provide meals for the performers, refreshments
for the audience, try to watch all that is happening.

And just as you notice that one son is putting his head
into the lion’s mouth, the other is walking a tightrope
without a net, you look over to the furthest ring
at the clown juggling madly. He makes the slightest
gesture, out of sync with his act, and your heart stops.

His show has become the riskiest. He is juggling
frantically, the big smile really is painted on,
his hands are shaking and he is about to drop
everything, as those who you thought were his friends
are not laughing but jeering. You clear the ring,
silence the noise, take him into your arms and hope
that he will begin to talk, tell you what is wrong.

You watch when he starts to go back to his ring,
lifts a club, two clubs, four, until he is juggling well again.
While in the distance, his brothers are starting to pack up.
The show goes on until the troops move to another city.
Your house has become calm, you miss the circus days.

Mother Goddess

Demeter: mother of Persephone, goddess of the harvest
and the cycles of life. The Universal mother whose daughter
went missing, who did not drink, eat or bathe until she found her.
Mother of grain and crop, the bountiful gift, blessings on
those who looked after her own. The curse of unquenchable
hunger on those who brought harm to the ones she had borne.
Mistress of the home, producer of life, she sent her cubs
through a darkened cave into immortality and a blessed afterlife.

As it was with her, it was with my grandmothers and my mother.
Good mother, blessed mother, working mother, fairy godmother.
Guardian angels; tooth fairy, baker of birthday cakes, lovelorn healer,
soother of hot fevers, stitcher of torn hems, night-time story teller
who taught us how to walk, talk, sing, dance, cry a river and then smile.
Mother Nature full of fresh berries, wild roadside flowers, lilac
filled fields. A lioness, black bear, white vulture, all-present mother.
Watch over my clan, watch over their future, watch over their care.

The Goddess mothers: Anu, Gaia, Toci , Rhea, Durga, my own;
a Cailleach and Bríghde, Glinda the good witch, moody woman, crazy
kitchen-dancer. Mommy, Mummy, Mum, Ma, Granny, a Mháthair.
Creator of cycles, unconditional love and hurricanes. The core of peace.

Give me guidance, nourishment and strength. Help me to hold on
and let go, be present and absent, wise and foolish, the past and future.
Help me to be the mother my own sons need, the person they will cherish,
and the woman who will warm a hollowed soul in those who need a mother.

The Dream Turns

Everyone sees what happens on the front porch,
we were lucky to have a swing-set in the back yard.
I was going to be a ballerina, until I saw how much
practice it took be left standing on my tippy toes.

Holy smokes Batman. My mother saw me belly-flop
off the high diving board. She was stuck behind the fence.
There were birthday parties on picnic tables in the park,
lightning bugs and fireworks on the fourth of July.
The Yellow Submarine was just one long cartoon.

I was thrilled when Oswald was shot. Hated LBJ, Nixon.
How could they ever trump that? They should have seen
when the Cuyahoga River went on fire,
that pollution takes a long time to implode.
How are things in Glocca Mora, will you go lassie go?
We used to throw the cat down the stairs, to prove he would
land on all fours. We wondered why he turned vicious.


Wave-beaten pier, a leap into the craft, lap of sound against the boat,
gurgle of bilge pump, life jackets, life saver, the punt propelled in motion,
surge of cloud on sea-blue heavens, rudders through the harbour, thrash

of buoys, tangle of ropes, crush and curl, swell of turning white waves
washing back to the Port. The growing roll of engine denotes
a journey has begun, anchors long lifted, our spirits buoyant, emotion

crests with the plunge and surge, waves of wind. Grey seagulls splash
into bottle-green depths, rise above the stern, fly overhead and behave
as victors, irritate the vanquished with shrill calls from sea-scorched throats.

The ferry passes. Dorys slop, splash, roll and fall in our southwesterly vision.
Sweep of air, taste of salt, tinge of marine, flounder of foam. Wave-wash
lifts the hull, turn of spring tide, sink to low tide as seafarers brave
gales: small craft warning Sea area Erris Head to Carlingford Lough.

Oar, tiller, winch and moulding, bulkhead, portside, aft and mooring.
Crab nets, lobster pots, leap of dolphins, slink of seals, diving oystercatchers,
mackerel, herring, hook and sinker. A cuckoo calls. Light abounds as we follow
the coastline, the full flow of seawater in our blood, head to the open ocean.

Seaweed and Rotten Potatoes

This ridged inlet of shale and rock facing the Atlantic
contains a cruel, cragged beauty and a fierce knowledge.
Its history holds a summer’s day when a white fog stole
up the sides of these cliffs, over the hills, in a cold trail
that left a black blight in its wake and a terrible odour.
A bank of shingle covers the coastline and my boots shift
as I try to walk along the shore. I can’t hold my balance.
I think of that question, why did they not eat fish?
Some whose lineage survived still question their resilience.
But boats were stripped to bare bones and pawned off.
Makeshift fishing gear was sold for bags of meal.
Fragile currachs smashed off the savage shoreline.
Fish rotted putrid if left sitting out for any length.
Men rowing home drowned in sudden squalls
and when the ocean stilled, what remained was silence.
Others who edged along the sheer cliff-face searching
for black tar lichen and kelp trails met brute-force waves.
So they came to this beach in their droves. Whole families
climbed steep rocks, barefooted through jagged shingle,
searching for limpets, periwinkles and seaweed,
scraped out what minuscule nourishment could be found
inside a small shell and ate it raw. They fed from barnacles
and salt-soaked bladderwrack straight from the shore.
They scavenged until the limpets and bárnachs
were depleted, until the bare stones could give no more.

—Denise Blake

Denise Blake’s collections, Take a Deep Breath and How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy, are published by Summer Palace Press. She is a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1. Her poems have been published in many poetry journals. Denise facilitates creative writing in schools and with adult groups.


May 072017

That Summer with Charlie

The summer I needed money for college
I hit every construction office in town
and finally got my chance, a new motel
going up three miles east on the highway, be there
by eight and they’d find me something to do.
My dad bought me a pair of steel-toed boots
and the next morning drove me out to the job site.
The foreman put me with Charlie, a little guy
with the strength of a Clydesdale horse.
His grip, when we shook, was callus and grit.
He was good with power tools and hammers,
good with cement, with tampers
and edgers, bull floats and trowels,
had me sweating to keep up with him.

Charlie drove down Coteau every morning,
picked me up at the corner close to our house,
telling me stories about what it was like
to be a soldier in the war, and how much
those Dutch girls loved the Canadian guys,
Charlie with the window always open,
cigarette spraying ashes over his shirt.
Once, when laying a pad of cement
for the long line of motel rooms, it meant
overtime for some of the crew, and Charlie
told the boss that I always rode with him,
I might as well stay; thirteen hours we worked,
it would be the biggest payday of my life.

Afterwards, driving home with Charlie at dusk,
I kept dozing off in the passenger seat, Charlie
tapping my shoulder at the corner, grinning
and telling me, don’t forget, tomorrow morning
I’ll pick you up the same time as usual,
Charlie who died a dozen years ago,
and not till I read his obit in the paper
did I think of our long gone summer together,
and realize how stupid I was, the kid
who never once thought to chip in for gas.


The Town He Remembers

He pulls off the Yellowhead, finds Railway Avenue in Paynton,
no sign of McGee’s General Store where the clerks knew his name,
no sign of Joe Luke’s Cafe where Joe sliced him free cherry pie.
He swings the truck and trailer to the side of the street,
stares at the road running south. Little chance for a u-turn there.
“My grandmother’s house,” he says, “is up this way.”
His wife and kids follow him out of the truck,
along a line of pines and broken poplars
toward the last house at the end of town.

Two storeys, weathered clapboard, empty windows.
The hobby horse that he rode will be gone now,
and the Indian hammer from Cut Knife Creek.
Yes, and the wind-up bird he feared
with the beak that might seize his ear.
No trace of the barn with the deer’s head on the wall,
the dark eyes that stared and stared at his own.
He points to an upstairs window.
“I remember watching a storm from there,
the whole house starting to shake
black clouds rolling in, not even noon,
the town and prairie dark as night.”

The kids keep glancing back at the truck,
edging away. There’s not much to see.
A screen door opens across the road,
a woman steps out, hands on her hips.
We aren’t trespassing, he thinks,
but she’s calling them over. He explains
about Grandma Mondy, but she shakes her head,
says they were looking at Gus Schrank’s place,
Ida Mondy’s house was the next one south,
torn down years ago to make for a bigger field
when the price of wheat was high. He feels
disoriented, a bit foolish, but she invites them in,
offers them lemonade and cookies, asks
about his mom, his aunts, and he thinks
it’s still the town he remembers.


Where I’ve Lived Most of My Life

I’m sitting on a bench on Main Street,
wind turning the corner by City Hall,
bringing with it chocolate bar wrappers,
a crushed styrofoam cup, a torn envelope,
crumpled sheets of newspaper, scraps
of our lives tossed on the street.
People hurrying by, their eyes half-shut,
a whirlwind of dust rising around them,
I consider how long I might sit
before someone passes I’ll recognize.

I used to delight in trivia games.
What band leader once sang backup
with the Hilltoppers? Billy Vaughn.
Who left his second best bed to his wife
when he died? William Shakespeare.
Who was on base when Bobby Thomson hit
the home run that won the ‘51 pennant?
Clint Hartung and Whitey Lockman.
With the slats of the bench grown hard
on my butt, a sudden thought blows in
on a swirl of wind: Who trusts memory anyway?

Thirty years I taught in this town.
I knew the name of every girl, every guy
in grade twelve, every last one of them.
When they came to my class, I put them
in a seating plan, warned them I was
watching them, but not to worry,
they hadn’t sprouted warts on the nose,
I was matching names with their faces.
And where are those names today?

A woman swings out of the Pita Pit,
hair lifting over her collar. She walks
toward me, high heels rapping,
the start of a smile on her lips.
She looks like someone I may recognize,
but this is the moment the wind
hurls grit in my face. I close my eyes,
hear her footsteps fade and vanish.
Trust memory? At this moment I’m not
even sure why I’m waiting here in the wind?


What His Mother Said

Sometimes, she said, a man’s flaws
are the size of elephants.
They might be rearing, trumpeting,
he wouldn’t notice a thing.
The boy was sure she meant his father,
was just as sure she wouldn’t say it.
I think I understand you, she said,
but who knows by the time you’re grown?
Most men are a mystery to their wives,
themselves too. They don’t say what they mean.
Fact is, they seldom know it themselves.

The end of the day as long as the sun,
a pale moon already riding the sky,
the boy with his nose at the window
watching his father trudge in from the field,
his hand slapping bugs on the back of his neck.
His mother began to slice the overdone roast,
a cross-rib, he supposed, his father’s favourite.
Wealth, he remembers her telling him once,
isn’t the money you store in the bank.
The sound of the opening door. The blaze
that flared in her eyes like the candle flame
when she let him light the wick at Easter.


Coming Home at Night

He pulls into the driveway, snow in the headlights,
tracks smudging the walk, a drift over the shovel.
He turns off the lights, the ignition, and sits
where he is, hand gripping the wheel, radio silent,
a ping under the hood, metal contracting
as the engine cools. After a while he notes
how his hand hangs on the wheel, drops it
to the arm rest, later notices the cloud
of breath on the windshield, and beyond that
the house, no light at the front step, no light
in the windows. She must be in bed.

The streetlight down the block casts a pale glow
through the yard, and he can see curtains
lowered in the master bedroom windows.
When he understands that he’s shaking
with cold, he opens the car door, steps out,
picks his way through the snow and enters
the dark house. Hangs his coat in the closet,
tiptoes down the hall to the bedroom.

He opens the door, stands, listening,
her breathing like that of someone asleep.
He sheds his clothes in the dark, warm air
on his legs, the furnace exhaling below.
Clad only in shorts, he steps to his side of the bed,
slides under the covers, the bed sinking, a sigh
deep in the mattress. The quiet house.
He matches the pace of her breaths
with his own. How easy it is.
On the far side of the bed
her body curled like a fist.


Another Dark Hour

When she slips from their bed in the night
he’s sprawled half out of the covers, breathing
easily, right arm dangling over the mattress edge.
How can he sleep so soundly, she wonders.
She walks toward the kitchen, the hall floor
creaking as she passes the second bedroom.
The living room on the left is dark, not a hint
of light through the picture window sheers,
the street lamp on the corner burnt out again.
She stands for a while with the fridge door open,
the light falling around her as she stares
at the vegetable bin. Cold air pressing against her.
She considers the pitcher of water, reaches
for it and sets it on the counter top, the fridge door
open behind her, her slim figure framed
at the kitchen window, her image on glass.
She closes the door, looks out on the dark yard,
the ragged hedge that divides their garden
from the grounds of the school in the distance, a single light
burning in the lot where the teachers park their cars.
At this hour there are no children climbing the gym set,
no children kicking balls on the soccer field,
and she can hardly imagine them there in the light.
The pitcher forgotten on the counter before her,
she stares at the school, sombre and empty.
Her hands clasp her shoulders, but can’t stop
the shivers. She turns suddenly and walks
back down the hall, the hardwood creaking
at the door of the second bedroom,
the room with the bed that is empty
and will always be empty now.

—Robert Currie

Robert Currie is the author of eleven books, most recently The Days Run Away (Coteau, 2015) which was a finalist for the 2016 High Plains Book Award for Poetry.  Back in the 70s he edited and published Salt, a little magazine of contemporary writing.  More recently he served two terms as Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan (from 2007 to 2010).  In 2009 he received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. Email him at


May 052017

Sydney Lea and his granddaughter Ruthie


Enduring Chaos

I watch a dog, a pure-bred white Alsatian,
Approach a small, mange-wasted, coal-dark cur.
This at a park in a fashionable quarter of Boston,

Where I –dog-lover that I am– await
A wagging of tails, rather than what ensues:
White beast’s attack on black at the park’s iron gate.

Can a dog be smug? When the mongrel gives its neck,
The Alsatian seems to gloat, as if he’d taught
The mutt to stay outside the enclosure’s fence.

Is it this inconsequential ruckus that prompts me
To range far and wide in mind, in pure revulsion?
In any case, on a nearby wall I see

An illiterate, spray-painted scrawl: All Mooslims Out!
Old Chaos still provides us with directions,
Though they’re not that at all. He shows no Tao,

No road to Truth and Light, no Golden Mean,
But suppurative disorder. We tend to impute
Our woes to those whose suffering dwarfs our own.

This must be someone’s fault, we think. Where is he?
Milton grasped it all: his Satan’s scheme
Appeared to Chaos commendable, exemplary.

Note, however, that Milton found no shame
In hanging Roman Catholics. The more things change,
We’ve rightly heard, the more they stay the same.

The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity,
Wrote another poet. Rightly. Enmities burst,

The old and new. Hitler’s atrocities.
Stalin’s. Mao’s. Pol Pot’s. Late Balkan horrors.
Revenge of Hutus on their neighbor Tutsis.

Wrongly forgotten slaughters by King Leopold.
On and on. These weren’t enough to check us.
One country, armed to the maximum, summons a fool,

Or rather a knave, who calls for even more armaments
To make, he claims, his nation great again.
Knaves thrive on Chaos, as do his wretched minions:

Discord, Night, Confusion. Yet this ignoramus
Is one of many, his global counterparts,
With their nasty lackeys, building a bridge from Hades

To Earth, which malignant spirits travel across
To entice us feeble mortals. That’s Milton again.
His version of Satan whispers by way of such ghosts,

It’s the Other’s fault. He’s not like us. He’s bound
On our destruction.  Quickly, let’s erase him.
In 1989 a wall came down

And we rejoiced, and now another wall–
No, many walls are under construction. Chaos
Tells us that the Jews are ruling all.

He rails at the Mexicans who tend our cows
And pick our fruit.  Or, more likely in our time,
He curses those bowing eastward at certain hours.

The sun now slips below the architecture
Of the Puritans’ city; a brutal storm blows in
Off the Atlantic; the frigid leaves of winter

Are lifted by a whirlwind in a hissing mass,
Whirlwind that in due course we all may reap.
The leaves at last are crushed against the fence.

I seek some refuge from this gale, so vile and vicious.
In my fraught recollection all the while,
That cruel white dog looms large as Cerberus.

—Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea is the former Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-2015). He founded New England Review in 1977 and edited it till 1989. His poetry collection Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Another collection, To the Bone: New and Selected Poems, was co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize. In 1989, Lea also published the novel A Place in Mind with Scribner. Lea has received fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim Foundations, and has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont College of Fine Arts and Middlebury College, as well as at Franklin College in Switzerland and the National Hungarian University in Budapest. His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies. His selection of literary essays, A Hundred Himalayas, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2012, and Skyhorse Publications  released A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife in 2013His twelfth poetry collection, No Doubt the Nameless, was published this spring by Four Way Books.


May 032017


Though primarily known for his haunting, enigmatic novel Pedro Páramo and the unrelenting depictions of the failures of post-revolutionary Mexico in his short story collection, El Llano en llamas (The Plain in Flames), Juan Rulfo also worked on various collaborative film projects and his powerful interventions in the areas of documentary photography ensure that he continues to inspire interest worldwide. One hundred years after Rulfo’s birth (May 16, 2017), Deep Vellum Publishing will release The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings. This momentous publication includes the first ever translation of Rulfo’s second novel alongside fourteen other short texts. Numéro Cinq is proud to present this conversation between Dylan Brennan and translator Douglas J. Weatherford (both Rulfian scholars). Excerpts from four of the texts are also included below.

Dylan Brennan (DB); Douglas J. Weatherford (DJW)

DB: The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings has been selected by BBC Culture among their ‘Ten Books to Read in 2017’ and by The Chicago Review of Books among the ‘Most Exciting Fiction Books of 2017’s First Half’. Are you surprised by these accolades? Why is this book generating such interest? 

DJW: I am pleasantly surprised by the early interest in The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings. Juan Rulfo (1917-1986) is one of the most important Mexican and Latin American authors of the twentieth century and yet in the English-speaking world he has seldom received the attention that he deserves. I believe the book is generating interest for several reasons. First and most importantly, Juan Rulfo is a big deal. His most iconic books —The Plain in Flames (1953) and Pedro Páramo (1955)— were innovative tours de force that challenged narrative forms and helped usher in the so-called “Boom” of Latin American literature that would include such renowned writers as Carlos Fuentes (Mexico), Julio Cortázar (Argentina), and Nobel laureates Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia) and Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru). I’m sure it helps that many around the world are remembering Juan Rulfo on this year, the centennial of the author’s birth. It’s also possible, I suppose, that some —hopefully on all sides of the political isle— are looking for ways to build bridges with Mexico to counteract the tensions of the current political environment. Ultimately, I believe that The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings is an exciting publication for English-language audiences. For those readers already familiar with Juan Rulfo, it offers the opportunity to explore his work beyond Pedro Páramo and The Plain in Flames. For others, I hope that this anthology will serve as an introduction to one of Mexico and Latin America’s most beloved writers.

DB: The myth that Juan Rulfo’s artistic output amounts to just two books and a few photographs still persists. Why is that? Where have these texts been hiding all these years? 

DJW: They’ve been hiding in plain sight, as I’ll explain in a moment. The myth is very attractive: that Rulfo came out of nowhere to publish two books of fiction in rapid succession before abandoning the craft, overwhelmed perhaps by the weight of his own success. It’s a fascinating tale and one that has been repeated for so long that many are hesitant to let it go. Indeed, it’s the version that I learned as an undergraduate major of Spanish in the mid-1980s. But it’s also a fabrication that diminishes the valuable contributions that Rulfo made as a semi-professional photographer and as a writer in the Mexican film industry. Additionally, it ignores the existence of The Golden Cockerel (El gallo de oro), a second published novel that routinely and unjustly has been marginalized from the Mexican author’s literary canon. Indeed, the exclusion of The Golden Cockerel has been so complete that, until now, no full translation had appeared in English. Although authored most likely between 1956 and 1957, The Golden Cockerel wasn’t published until 1980. That delayed release, combined with the text’s often misunderstood connection to film, led many Rulfo critics and aficionados to disregard the novel. The Fundación Juan Rulfo reprinted El gallo de oro in 2010 and, since then, has offered two commemorative editions that package the author’s novels and anthology of short stories together, a move that draws attention to the significance of The Golden Cockerel. My translation of this second novel is paired with fourteen additional texts (plus a summary of the novel that Rulfo wrote). All of these items have appeared previously in print (many of them posthumously), but never included in The Plain in Flames. Some are well known, others much less so, but all bear witness to the same creative demons that define Rulfo’s literary output.

DB: What is The Golden Cockerel‘s connection with the cinema and in what way has that connection led to its marginalization? 

DJW: That question was at the heart of an introductory essay that I wrote to accompany the 2010 release of The Golden Cockerel.[1] It’s clear that the decision —made most likely by Jorge Ayala Blanco and not Rulfo— to publish The Golden Cockerel in 1980 as a film text (“texto para cine”) had a deleterious effect on the novel’s reception. It also didn’t help that the piece was released sixteen years after Roberto Gavaldón adapted it to film (El gallo de oro, 1964). In that context, many simply began to refer to The Golden Cockerel as a film script, a denomination that is still heard frequently. To this day, in fact, there are some bookstores in Mexico City that incorrectly shelve the novel next to printed screenplays. As such, most researchers who have written about The Golden Cockerel have felt an obligation to address its generic classification. And, in an attempt to free the novel from its mislabeling, many of those individuals have tried to fully divorce The Golden Cockerel from its filmic roots. My preference is to affirm the piece’s identity as a novel while celebrating its very real connection to the Mexican film industry. Rulfo was a film enthusiast who, in the mid-1950s, was hoping to find additional creative and financial opportunities in cinema. Indeed, it is likely that Rulfo wrote The Golden Cockerel precisely so that it could be adapted as a film script, a task that ultimately fell to Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. In the end, I think that it is appropriate to acknowledge the cinematic origins of The Golden Cockerel while reading it as what it is: the second published novel of one of Mexico’s most celebrated writers of fiction.

DB: In addition to Rulfo’s second novel, you have included fourteen other texts in this book. How did you go about selecting which texts to include? 

DJW: My original idea was simply to translate the three texts that were published together in 1980: The Golden Cockerel, “The Secret Formula,” and “The Spoils.” I discarded that idea quickly, however, realizing that it would be a mistake to perpetuate the mislabeling of The Golden Cockerel as a film text. It would also have been, I believe, a missed opportunity to promote other Rulfo writings that have never appeared in English or have done so but only in limited release. Will Evans of Deep Vellum Publishing was very interested in an expanded collection. Víctor Jiménez, the director of the Fundación Juan Rulfo, was more cautious and became convinced only when it was clear that we could build a collection that would have a strong thematic unity while offering an interesting reflection on the creative world of Juan Rulfo through texts that, although lesser known, already existed in print. There were three of us primarily involved in the selection of texts: myself, Víctor Jiménez, and Juan Francisco Rulfo, the author’s oldest son. The anthology includes a number of short pieces that, despite never appearing in The Plain in Flames, have circulated widely and are generally acknowledged as part of Rulfo’s canon: “The Secret Formula,” “A Piece of the Night,” “Life Doesn’t Take Itself Very Seriously,” and “Castillo de Teayo.” Another item, a letter that Rulfo wrote in 1947 to his then fiancé, was published in 2000. The remaining items —ten narrative fragments— are less definitive in their generic and canonic identity and have appeared almost exclusively in Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks[2], a unique gathering of Rulfo’s unpublished —and, in many cases, unfinished— writings, authorized by the author’s widow. The texts of Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks are eclectic in nature and include early drafts of Pedro Páramo, fragments of a film script, portions of two novels that the author began and never completed, and other experimental writings. The nine items selected from this collection are unique creative explorations that fit well into Rulfo’s literary canon and exhibit clear narrative structures that allow them to be read as independent, story-like texts.

DB: We’ve seen many examples of posthumous publications, most recently a “new” Bolaño novel appeared in late 2016. These are not always well received. Then again, sometimes we get Kafka or Dickinson. Were there any ethical concerns or worries associated with publishing work that Rulfo himself had chosen not to during his lifetime and, if so, how were these addressed?

DJW: The Golden Cockerel is not a posthumous publication, of course. But our decision to pair it with additional texts, some of which Rulfo never published, can certainly be perceived as controversial. And I was constantly aware of the responsibility of working with an author, like Juan Rulfo, who was self-critical and often hesitant to send items to press. I was encouraged, to be sure, to be working so closely with the Fundación Juan Rulfo and with members of the Rulfo family, and to be selecting only texts that already exist in print. Additionally, Víctor and Juan Francisco liked the selection of texts that we came up with so much that they decided to create a version in Spanish. That edition, titled El gallo de oro y otros relatos (Editorial RM), appeared at the beginning of this year. But returning to your question, the most poignant response might come from Rulfo’s widow, Clara Aparicio de Rulfo, who faced the same controversy when she decided to release Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks. Indeed, I mention her reply —tender in its tone— in my introduction to The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings. Clara explains that she resisted the temptation to conceal her husband’s working papers out of a responsibility to share the valuable writings (“so full of him” as Clara writes) that her husband left in her care. Ultimately, I hope that readers will see The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings as a valuable and respectful collection that, as I write in my introduction, “bears witness to Juan Rulfo and deserves to exist because each text is ‘so full of him.’”

DB: The Golden Cockerel had never been published in English. The same can be said for some of the other fourteen texts. Like most worthwhile tasks, translation can be as frustrating as it is rewarding. What challenges did you face when translating these texts? I’m particularly interested in specific problems and your strategies for overcoming these issues. 

DJW: That’s an interesting question since I have long felt that Rulfo’s first novel, Pedro Páramo, is tough to translate to English. Margaret Sayers Peden offers a strong version (Grove Press, 1994) that, nonetheless, seems not to reach the poetic, experimental, and mythic heights of the original. The Golden Cockerel is an easier exercise and yet not without its own challenges. This second novel is more oral, less polished, and less mythic than Pedro Páramo, and it is less experimental than the stories of The Plain in Flames. In The Golden Cockerel Rulfo uses long sentences, abundant punctuation, and numerous short paragraphs. All of these characteristics feel natural (if perhaps less formal) in Rulfo’s original, but can seem awkward in translation. I found myself shortening a few sentences and lengthening some paragraphs, all the while struggling to balance a desire to conserve Rulfo’s unique voice but making the text more comfortable to English-language readers. Another interesting issue that I confronted was whether to translate a nickname given to Bernarda Cutiño, the primary female protagonist of The Golden Cockerel and one of Rulfo’s most memorable women, standing alongside the remarkable Susana San Juan of Pedro Páramo. Bernarda is known as La Caponera, a polysemic label that is complex even in the original Spanish. One writer (Alfred Mac Adam) who translated a few pages of the novel rendered the term into English as Lead Mare, referring to the horse that is placed at the front since other animals tend to follow it. The choice is not inaccurate, of course, but feels awkward. I decided to conserve the original —La Caponera— untranslated and italicized, allowing the reader to discern the label’s meaning through the narration’s context, much as Rulfo does in Spanish.

DB: What led you to study, research and, ultimately, translate the work of Juan Rulfo? Why should Rulfo still be read in 2017? 

DJW: One of my primary research endeavors of the past decade has been to better understand Juan Rulfo’s connection to the Mexican film industry. As part of that project, I have worked extensively with The Golden Cockerel (including its two film adaptations) and became convinced that the novel deserves a wider audience. I found it baffling and frustrating that the novel —sixty years after its composition and nearly thirty years after its publication— had never appeared in English. In other words, I wasn’t a translator looking for a project; rather, I was a Rulfo devotee who noticed a void and felt a certain obligation to make this significant novel available to English-language readers. My efforts were, in many ways, a clichéd “labor of love” that became a truly enriching personal and professional journey through Rulfo’s lesser-known writings. Indeed, I hope that the reader of this anthology will approach these texts with the same excitement that defined my own exploration.

The Secret Formula

The truth is that it’s difficult
to get used to hunger.

And although they say that hunger
when divided among many
affects fewer,
the only true thing is that here
each one of us
is half dead
and we don’t even have
a place to lie down and die.

As it seems now
things are going from bad to worse
None of this idea that we should turn a blind eye to
this matter.
None of that.
Since the beginning of time
we have set out with our stomachs stuck to our ribs
while hanging on by our fingernails against the wind.


Totonac idol in Castillo de Teayo, c. 1950 (J. Rulfo) 

DB: Can you tell us a little about the Rubén Gámez film that this poetic text originally accompanied? Did Rulfo see the footage first and then write the text or vice versa? Is this a poem, a monologue for cinema or something else? Does The Secret Formula alter when divorced from the cinematic images? In what way? It seems, at least, to me, to be a text that is still painfully relevant today. Do you agree? Why? 

DJW: “The Secret Formula” is unique among Rulfo’s writings for its poetic structure and for the way it came to exist. Rulfo wrote the text at the invitation of Rubén Gámez who used it as a voiceover narration to accompany portions of his experimental film by the same title (La formula secreta, 1964), an allusion to the ingredients of Coca Cola and a critique, among other things, of the influence of the United States on Mexico. According to Gámez’s widow, Rulfo’s participation in the film came about after a chance encounter in an elevator. Rulfo had somehow seen portions of the still-in-production film and, meeting the director for the first time, expressed his enthusiasm for the project. Gámez, on the spur of the moment, invited the novelist to provide a written text to incorporate in the film. Rulfo seems to have written “The Secret Formula” very quickly and, although it is possible that someone other than the author gave the text the form with which it is now associated, it’s clear that Rulfo produced something more akin to poetry than to narrative (although your suggestion that it might be read as a “monologue for cinema” is not off the mark). There is no doubt that Rulfo’s text can be read independent of Gámez’s film or that it fits comfortably within the author’s literary canon. And yet I highly recommend that readers seek out La formula secreta by Gámez to see how seamlessly Rulfo’s text is incorporated into the experimental, dialogue-free vignettes that make up one of Mexico’s most significant independent films. Finally, I absolutely agree that “The Secret Formula” continues to be relevant. Rulfo imagined the piece as a lyrical response to the marginalization and suffering of Mexico’s poor —whether at home or abroad as immigrants— who, in biblical tone, demand to be seen and heard.

Castillo de Teayo

A pale, yellowish gleam appeared in the east, revealing the outlines of everything. Meanwhile, on the side of the mountain, the world remained gray, increasingly gray and invisible.

Then, right in front of our eyes, was the Castillo. Its shape was strange in its seclusion, still undisturbed by any sign of life. It was surrounded by a mist that rose like steam from the humid earth and the dampened walls smoothed over with moss. With the moss covered in dew. That’s what we saw.

Night had come to an end.

That’s when that guy appeared, tall, thin, with his shirt open and a beard swarming around him in the wind. He stopped in front of us and began to speak:

—This is where the gods came to die. The banners were destroyed in the ancient wars and the standard-bearers fell to the ground, their noses broken and their eyes blinded, buried in the mud. Grass grew over their backs and even the nauyaca snake built its nest in the hollow of their curled legs. They’re here again, but without their banners, once again enslaved, once again guardians, now watching over the wooden cross of Christianity. They seem solemn, their eyes dull, their jaws dropped, their mouths open, clamorous beyond measure. Someone has whitewashed their bodies, giving them the appearance of the dead, wrapped in shrouds and ripped from their graves.


Female figure in Castillo de Teayo, c. 1950 (J.Rulfo)

DB: Castillo de Teayo—You have described this text as ‘a travel narrative that often feels like a short story.’ Fictional memoirs seem very much in fashion these days. Do you think that its hybrid form contributed to its marginalization? There are various instances of critics attempting to see Rulfo’s photography as illustrative of his fiction, using quotations as captions and so forth and, therefore, neglected his photographic work that bears little resemblance to his prose. However, Castillo de Teayo seems to represent one of the few times when the photographs are meant to illustrate the prose. Would you agree? Why/not? 

DJW: Juan Rulfo was fascinated by Mexico’s history and highways and his wanderings, especially in the early 1950s as a travelling salesman for the Goodrich-Euzkadi tire company, resulted in a number of photographs and travel writings, some of which were published during the author’s life. For example, Rulfo agreed to serve as editor for the January 1952 edition of Mapa, a travel journal sponsored by his company, and he likely visited the archaeological site of Castillo de Teayo for material to use in that publication. Although a selection of photographs from that trip would appear in the journal, the narrative text that he wrote was not included and would not appear in print until 2002. It’s true that some critics have tried to see Rulfo’s photographic endeavors merely as a reflection of the author’s literary output. Such a perspective is misguided, however. Rulfo, who developed a profound interest in the visual image as early as the 1930s, never intended to limit his creativity to the written word. In recent years, as more of his photography has appeared in print, Rulfo has gained a reputation as one of his country’s premier photographers. “Castillo de Teayo,” as you mention, is an exception to the rule as text and image combine to tell a story of a rich and vibrant pre-Colombian past that continues to define Mexico’s present moment.

A Piece of the Night

The guy who claimed to be Claudio Marcos had also become lost in thought. And then he said:

—I’m a gravedigger. Does that scare you if I tell you I’m a gravedigger? Well, that’s exactly what I am. And I’ve never admitted that my job pays a pittance. It’s a job like any other. With the advantage being that I have the frequent pleasure of burying people. I’m telling you this because you, just like me, should hate people. Perhaps even more than I do. And along those lines, let me give you some advice: don’t ever love anyone. Let go of the idea of caring for someone else. I remember that I had an aunt whom I really loved. She died suddenly, when I was especially attached to her, and the only thing I got out of it was a heart filled with holes.

I heard what he was saying. But that didn’t take my mind off of the quiebranueces, with his sunken, unspeaking eyes. Meanwhile, back here, this guy just kept prattling on about how he hated half of all humankind and how great it was knowing that, one by one, he would eventually bury all those he came across every day. And how when someone here or there said or did something to offend him, he wouldn’t get angry; rather, keeping his mouth shut, he would promise himself that he would give them a very long rest when they eventually fell into his hands.


Sculpted relief in Castillo de Teayo, c. 1950 (J. Rulfo)

DB: A Piece of the Night—Unlike most of Rulfo’s narrative fiction, this story is unmistakably urban. Rulfo lived in Mexico City for many years, yet rarely does it appear in his fiction. Why do you think that is? How is the city portrayed in this story? 

DJW: Although associated so fully with Mexico’s rural towns and landscapes, Rulfo is seen more accurately as an inhabitant of Mexico’s largest urban centers. He was still very young, for example, when he was sent to live at a boarding school in Guadalajara after an assassin’s bullet claimed the life of his father. Eventually Rulfo would bounce back and forth between Guadalajara and Mexico City before settling permanently in his nation’s capital. So how does one explain Rulfo’s preference for rural spaces? Although there are multiple explanations, the one that I want to enumerate here is biographical. Pedro Páramo opens with a son who travels to the small town of his mother’s memories to search for a father that he never knew. That return to discover one’s enigmatic origin is, in Rulfo, as much biography as it is literary motif. Rulfo’s fascination with provincial Mexico —especially with the small towns of southern Jalisco where he was born— reveal a pained nostalgia for what Rulfo lost with the passing of his father. Although the scarcity of urban environments in Rulfo’s creative output is real, it can be overstated. As a photographer, for example, Rulfo shot a number of images in metropolitan settings. And he would place characters in urban environments in  “Paso del Norte” and “A Piece of the Night.” This latter piece is a particularly touching witness to Rulfo’s interest in the city. Although read today as a short story, it is, in reality, a fragment of an urban novel, tentatively titled El hijo del desaliento, that the author was composing as early as 1940 before deciding to abandon the project. “A Piece of the Night” has long been one of my favorite Rulfo tales. Set in the rough-and-tumble Guerrero neighborhood of Mexico City (near Tlatelolco), the story follows the nocturnal wanderings of two life-weary protagonists, a prostitute and a gravedigger, as they search for shelter. With an infant in tow, the trio is connected archetypally and ironically to the Holy Family. A year ago, hoping to see how closely the story connected to the actual urban environment that Rulfo describes, I walked the same streets and plazas that appear in the story. It became clear that the author wasn’t interested solely in the metaphoric potential of his protagonists; rather, he was offering a very real portrayal of an actual city environment that he knew well.


Where I don’t want to look is toward the ceiling, because up on the ceiling, moving from beam to beam, there’s someone who’s alive. Especially at night, when I light a small candle, that shadow on the ceiling moves. Don’t think it’s just a figment of my imagination. I know what it is: it’s the shape of Cleotilde.

Cleotilde is also dead, but not fully so. Even though I’m the one who killed Cleotilde. And I know that everything you kill, while you remain alive, continues to exist. That’s just how it is.

It’s been about a week since I killed Cleotilde. I hit her several times in the head, massive and hard blows, until she stayed good and quiet. It’s not like I was so mad that I was planning on killing her; but a fit of rage is a fit of rage and that’s the root cause of it all.

She died. Afterward, I did get mad at her for that, for having died. And now she’s after me. That’s her shadow, above my head, spread along the length of the beams as if it were the shadow of a barren tree. And even though I’ve told her many times to go away, to stop harassing everyone, she hasn’t moved from where she’s at, nor has she stopped looking at me.


DB: Cleotilde—This story was previously published in Los cuadernos de Juan Rulfo (Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks) in 1995. It reads like a finished story, as opposed to a fragment of an unfinished project. When was it written and was it originally meant to be part of a collection of stories that never materialized? It’s a brutal story of obsession and murder that I am particularly fond of. Why do you think it has still remained relatively unknown, despite having been published in Los cuadernos?

DJW: You are absolutely correct to read “Cleotilde” as an independent and polished short story. Indeed, I hope that the readers of my translation do just that and discover a remarkable tale that deserves a place among Rulfo’s other short fiction. And yet Yvette Jiménez de Báez included the piece in Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks in a section that she titled “On the Road to the Novel” (“Camino a la novela”), a classification that suggests a role as precursor to Pedro Páramo. To be sure, the violence and vengeance that define the narrative, along with its tormented apparition, the murdered Cleotilde, easily connect it to Rulfo’s first novel. Although it’s unclear exactly when Rulfo wrote this story or why he chose not to publish it, I don’t disagree with Jiménez de Báez’s decision to view it as a variation on the people, places, and themes that would eventually lead Rulfo to write Pedro Páramo. Although it’s true that “Cleotilde” has enjoyed only limited dissemination, it has appeared on the big screen as one of three stories that Roberto Rochín adapted to film in the feature-length Purgatorio (2008).

—Douglas J. Weatherford and Dylan Brennan


Editor’s Note: Excerpts and photographs appear here courtesy of the Fundación Juan Rulfo, Deep Vellum Publishing, and Douglas J.  Weatherford.


Douglas J. Weatherford at Laguna de Sayula. 

Douglas J. Weatherford is an Associate Professor of Hispanic American Literatures and Cultures at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah). He has developed teaching and research interests in a wide range of areas related to Latin American literature and film, with particular emphasis on Mexico during the mid-twentieth century. Much of his recent scholarship has examined Mexican author Juan Rulfo’s connection to the visual image in film. Weatherford’s translation of Rulfo’s second novel El gallo de oro (The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings) will appear in May (Deep Vellum Publishing), the centennial of that author’s birth.

Dylan Brennan is an Irish writer currently based in Mexico. His poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. (“‘Texto para cine’: El gallo de oro en la producción artística de Juan Rulfo.” El gallo de oro. By Juan Rulfo. Mexico City: Editorial RM).
  2. Los cuadernos de Juan Rulfo. Transcription by Yvette Jiménez de Báez. Mexico City: Era, 1994
May 012017

A. Anupama

An anklet

for that sweet light tangled inside
the forest will praise the peacock’s foot

pain cannot withstand your word
or the careless gift of your gaze upon the peacock’s foot

song erupts with ash and lightning
in the air between us: a glaze to the peacock’s foot

whatever you asked the river for
the morning has appraised against the peacock’s foot

demain-matin, the lovers say
as though waking could raise the peacock’s foot

I walk towards you as though
the sweet gum tree scatters gold, pays for the peacock’s foot

I drape my arms around your shoulders—
we fall in phase with the peacock’s foot

if any rose could rise like this lotus,
the sun would smite to raze the peacock’s foot

while still as the forest stands,
Anupama says follow always the peacock’s foot



that separates this world
and opens figs in this world

that question and stance
operates all rigs in this world

quiet that patience and sing
while your voice still digs in this world

not fair to say what gold is
when demons wear wigs in this world

to hide this world in “that separates”
and in stomachs of pigs in this world

the second-nature glance of the jay
stains joy in the amygdala: this world


Inner fire

this world that separates life and mind
could dissolve in the line of jewels

claw-of-the-tiger mark on a breast
carefully, artfully revolves in the line of jewels

the mid-afternoon light plays
tricks when the room involves the line of jewels

leap down from the abacus
and into his arms to solve the line of jewels

vermilion in a stare-down with sky blue on our
color wheel, where our eyes evolve the line of jewels

touch doesn’t save it, nor caress—
only skin surrenders to resolve the line of jewels

his heart-temple and mine fall in ordered silicates,
but into opals’ fire entirely devolve by this line of jewels



hold out a red umbrella to the rain
was the refrain of her song in the broken cloud

drips red, drops clear as birth, drips no matter
the right or the wrong in the broken cloud

wet eyelash steers desire, wet clothes tempt skin
to steal along in the broken cloud

only a moment kissed you back
in the iron gong in the broken cloud

a wheel on a rutted road, shuddering,
and her body a tongs in the broken cloud

she does not bite the day in half, and for you
her light bleeds long into the broken cloud


Corallium rubrum

throw the diamond overboard
and sink into the mind of coral and jewel

somber fish, shaped like eyes,
make their wishes to find the coral and jewel

roses spread their petals like gills,
sweep us into one mouth to bind the coral and jewel

I throw my arms around your neck
and a tidal braid unwinds the coral and jewel

what is sharp and what is soft
and what is desire’s vermilion—the kinds of coral and jewels

your touch only barely escapes gravity’s velocity:
this world’s rind, covering coral and jewel

what oceans, left untouched
in synchronous hearts behind the coral and jewel


Unknotted garland

Of what is my love made, I ask,
‘til dawn pulls a red shade, I ask.

This night is deep as bells in sleep.
Unfair to dress you in tiger suede? I ask.

It’s only a dream, and I need you
soft to my touch. Why a blade? I ask.

Soften your knife on my throat
where all your diamonds are laid,
I ask.

Spill them into my lap, the offering bowl
of your accolade,
I ask.

Your glittering truth stars my thighs.
Is any sky left to wade? I ask.

My dress of silk shushes the floor.
Ripped and frayed? I ask.

And for all your caresses and sweet words
my naked blood must be paid?
I ask,

but silent, with my eyes
open and without compare, I’ve said, I ask.

—A. Anupama


A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including Waxwing, Drunken Boat, Monkeybicycle, Fourteen Hills, and CutBank. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York, where she organizes literary community (, and blogs about poetic inspiration at


Apr 142017


Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) was a Russian and Soviet poet who is often considered one of the greatest contributors to 20th century Russian literature. “Well, if you are talking about the twentieth century, I’ll give you a list of poets,” Russian Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky once said. “Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva—and she is the greatest one, in my view. The greatest poet in the twentieth century was a woman.”

The following new translations, by Mary Jane White, are from Marina Tsvetaeva’s final published collection, AFTER RUSSIA (Paris 1926). The poems are witty and lush, and are part of White’s long project of Tsvetaeva translations. White has recently compiled her translations into a 288-page manuscript, which is awaiting publication. White’s previous Tsvetaeva translations include the collections Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) and New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (2007).

— Benjamin Woodard



On a pleasing Atlantic
Breath of spring —
Like a stupendous butterfly
My curtain — and — I

Like a Hindu widow
Enter the gold-lipped crater,
Like a listless Naiad
Enter the sea beyond a window . . .

5 May 1923



                                 for Vera Arenskaya

On the refugee-road!
It whooped — and bolted
Headlong on its wheels.
Time! I don’t have time.

Caught up in chronicles
And kisses . . . like sands
In rustling streams . . .
Time, you let me down!

Of clock-hands and wrinkles’
Furrows — of American
Innovations . . . — Empty jar! —
Time, you give me short measure!

Time, you hand me over!
Like a debauched wife — a “new toy”
You drop . . . — “One hour, but it’s ours!”

— Your train leaves on a different
Track! . . —

Since I was born past
Time! To no purpose and in vain
You resist! Caliph of an hour:
Time! I will pass you by!

10 May 1923



Hell’s too small, heaven too small to contain you:
Everyone’s already at the point of dying for you.

But to follow your brother, sadly, into the fire —
Really, is that customary? It’s not a sister’s
Place, to radiate passion!
Really, is it customary to lie in his barrow . . .
With your brother? . . .
………………………………— “He was and is mine! Even if he’s rotten!”

— And that’s the order of precedence with graves!!!

11 May 1923



Time the upper reaches are laid bare,
Time you gaze into our souls — as into our eyes.
These — open sluices of blood!
These — open sluices of night!

Our blood surged, like the night
Our blood surged, — like our blood
The night surged! (Upper regions of the ear
Time: a world poured into our ears — as into our eyes!)

The screen of the visible pulled back!
On time’s distinct calm!
Time of the ear opening, like an eyelid,
No longer do we have weight, or breathe: we hear.

A world channeled into our endless ear’s
Helix: sucking down sounds,
Helix, — our endless soul! . .
(Time, you enter our souls — as you would our arms!)

12 May 1923


TO STEAL . . .

And perhaps, the finest victory
Over time and gravity —
Is to pass, without leaving a trace,
Is to pass, without leaving a shadow

On the walls . . .
…………………….Finer perhaps — to exact
By refusal? To erase myself from mirrors?
Like: Lermontov moving through the Caucuses
To steal, without disturbing the rock-faces.

And perhaps — the finest amusement
Given the finger of Sebastian Bach
Would be not to trouble the organ’s echo?
To collapse, leaving no dust

For the urn . . .
…………………….Finer perhaps — to exact
By fraud? To write myself out of the latitudes?
Like: Time moving through an ocean
To steal, without disturbing the waters . . .

14 May 1923

— Marina Tsvetaeva, translated from the Russian by Mary Jane White


Marina Tsvetaeva is considered by many to be one of the greatest contributors to 20th century Russian literature. Born in 1892, she published many volumes of poetry during her lifetime and was greatly admired by the likes of Boris Pasternak, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Anna Akhmatova. She committed suicide in 1941, and since then, her poetry has been widely translated.


Mary Jane White is a poet and translator who earned an MFA from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the recipient of NEA Fellowships in both poetry and translation. She has published numerous books of her own poetry, as well as Tsvetaeva translations, which include Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) and New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (2007).


Apr 132017





Draw the curtain.
Find the ground fasted –
an unspoiled, infinite, hushing

white. And planed by rigid light,
a light that slides like golden straps
across a stiff white cloth

one dares not rustle. Steady. Draw
no breath. Listen. Draw
thyself below the fallen snow.



Last night’s frost a shock to all systems.
What goes without saying: the key
turning in the ignition,

the engine not turning over.
Roll the boulder up the hill.
Repeat. The key turning, the key

turning. The engine finally
turning over. What goes without
saying: a prayer. The wheels turning.



Roll the boulder up the hill.
Repeat. Roll the boulder away
from the tomb. In the precise spot

between two towns the channels crack,
their signals scattered in the snow.
Pull over. Catch your breath.

Hear the nausea fizzing up.
This is where the tethers snap:
tundra: white noise, natural light.



No spires to fishhook Heaven.
No bats batting ’bout. No belfry.
Closest thing to a gargoyle here,

a grouse hunched in an alder tree.
No iron hinge, no oaken door;
no room, you’d think, for any god.

The angels get their hackles up.
Hoary-feathered skull-gull roosting,
a handsaw Jigsaw Gothic.



Creaking lightly past the ribwork
and lighting candles on the way.
Flotsam-coloured light kneels on

twelve carved apostles left alone
to digest and to ruminate.
You’ll notice their resemblance

to sailors who have disappeared.
An ancient furnace wails, its warmth
twenty thousand leagues away.



Whatever convoluted way
I come up from the furnace room,
a gravity will draw, will drag

my eye toward the Sacred Heart,
in the foremost lobe of church.
that solar plexus

where all prayers’ limbs’ nerve endings meet,
Introibo ad altare Dei
and feel those closed eyes follow me.


Paul’s First Mass at Corinth

In the warm drone of the first reading
Eutyches falls asleep
and tumbles over a railing
into the worm-drone of the first reading.

Eutyches falls. Asleep
he dreams a bird sailing
in the warm drome. The first meeting
and already, one sentenced to death.


Office Hours

Like Civil War re-enactments,
stamp collecting, priesthood something
a man just stumbles into when
he starts to feel the prick of time.

Administrating eternity.

A radiator’s knuckles rap.
A rats’ nest in the linotype.
The dry tongues of a calendar

with every month epitomized
by one of the Old Masters.
December: the nativity,
Bronzino. But if I flip back

to March, El Greco, his pieta.
That fog-blue skin that Jesus has.
The Marys, Peter, turning blue,
like Jesus took all reds with Him.

El Greco – the Greek – how did he know
that springtime here leaves minute shards
of winter guilting in the bone
three bodies huddled can’t evict,
or all that fragrant red and gold
won’t hold the blue beneath our skin,
that winter here is a lifetime long?


Sullivan’s Observatory

“Down here, now, there’s nothing to be at.
But I worked as a machinist forty years,
and I always did love looking at the stars.
If not for this, I’d have me wife drove cracked.”

An arsenal of copper pipe and salvaged
mirrors he had piled up in that shed,
and a massive hole cut in the roof to let
the stovepipe out. Never mind the damage.

“I saw the Perseid showers once,” he lied.
He had porthole glass for lenses. Scratched to shit.
You couldn’t see a blasted thing. “Well, Father,

whatcha think? Can you see Heaven?”
“Oh yes,” I said, “they’re tinkering away
to try and get a better look at us.”


Small Hours

Seven steps from door to bed.
Shoes. Then socks. Then trousers.
Collar on the nightstand. Black shirt,
button button button, ’til I’m
sitting there
xxxxxxxxxxxxdefrocked. A priest, naked.
When I close my eyes even I can’t
imagine it. I should prowl out
into the street to mystify
the neighbours.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI should turn in.

Stretch the full length of the bed,
fold my arms first in, then out
like swimming.
Christ. Corpse. Christ. Corpse.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxGetting nowhere,
my eyes groping
from bookshelf to sideboard
to phonograph, things left behind
by Father Whosits. This is how
a priest propagates, begetting
antiques and booklice. So do I
populate the earth: sheep after sheep
night after night.


Encounters with Men

A joke, to start.

So a priest walks into a bar

and the place goes into rigor mortis. You can hear
the difference between talk and conversation:

a nod, a whisper.

Jesus. Never? Can you imagine?

A young fella like that, it isn’t natural.

Yes, well you know what that crowd are like. Keep an eye
on the kids, if I were you.

That’s what keeps the quiet between us
so thick the counter buckles.


When I was five, my father taught me how to fight. Or tried:
held my fists before my face, two knots of little bones
bound in pink crêpe. I’d have to find other means:

anyone can see my hands,
un-cuffed, uncramped, unblistered, clean as paper,
a joke to finish.

“So a priest walks into a bar…”


Confession #2

I feel awkward, shy, afraid.
But here it is, incredibly boring, so boring I can’t believe it’s true.

I never had an impulse to go to the altar.
I thought everything we were doing was awful.
There are many things in your heart you can never tell another person.
“I ain’t real sure,” for example.
Love is a publicity stunt, and making love – after the first curious raptures – is only
xxxxxxanother petulant way to pass the time.

He would have been a great director, which eventually he wanted to be.
I never said, “I want to be alone.” I only said, “I want to be left alone.” There is a whole
xxxxxxworld of difference.
I only said “The diaphragm is the greatest invention since Pan-Cake makeup.”
If a woman makes a mistake unintentionally, I don’t believe she should be condemned
xxxxxxfor it.
Or shook with such violence that he left ten black-and-blue finger prints on my arms.

You should cross yourself when you say his name.
But once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.

People used to say that I had a feeling of closeness, a great warmth of loving everybody,
xxxxxx that they could tell me their troubles.
But the worst part of it all is this: no matter how hard you try, you find you cannot
xxxxxxpossibly please everyone.
They had to say something about me, so they wrote stories of their own fantasy and
xxxxxxcalled me temperamental and hard to handle.
That’s a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt, and bewildered
and no one gives a damn.
It never occurs to them that one is simply tired.
And hurt, and bewildered.

Love is disgusting when you no longer possess yourself.
All you have to do is to say you want to be alone.

A found poem, made up of quotes from silent film actresses.

Confession #3

Father, forgive me my sins. You see, Father, I had to come see you.
You see, my son – I, I mean, I’m getting myself tangled up.

Wednesday I hung out the wash and I took little Paddy out with me.
There’s never a happier child – Father, he wouldn’t say “boo.”

When I was done I knelt down to see what he’d got into. He was
playing with some kind of jar. No idea where he got that.

He was filling the jar up with ants and shaking them out on the ground.
I told him not to be at it. Why can’t I? he asked me.

Not in a saucy way, mind you. I told him the ants would get hurt if
he kept on shaking the jar – that they were frightened of him,

he wasn’t nice if he did that. But he shook them right out on the ground. I
said “I’m gonna count, mister. One. Two…” Do you think he would stop?

Dead ants. Dead. I tried taking it from him. I screamed myself red. I
could not get him to understand they were … and he

was so big. He kept shaking and shaking. I
struck him. I struck. O God, Father, what a clout I gave him.

—Patrick O’Reilly

Patrick O’Reilly is a recent graduate of the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. He has written for untethered, The Partisan, and Numéro Cinq, where he is a contributor. In 2015, his poem “Shelter” was long-listed for Best Canadian Poetry. He lives in Montréal.