Near Miss

By Bill Hollands

Featured Art: Mall Series (2) by Doug MacDowell

Live long enough and you’ll have a few
if you’re lucky. Take me, for instance—
when my son crossed the street
and the car’s tires screamed and his body
arced into a C. Or once in the doctor’s
cold office when the air froze into a word.

Or maybe it’s a choice—your choice,
the other person’s, doesn’t matter. You sit
on the edge of the bed in the hotel room,
run your hand over the quilted bedspread
and wait for the answer. It’s not much really,
not much that determines a life.

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August, Incessant

By Catherine Harnett

The frequent evening storms, the insistent humid
air, tree-frogs’ night-dark calls, crickets in their

deafening routine; and the recurrent want of you.
Our comings, furtive and reckless, recollected,

our taste touch sound; who we were, the you
and I of it, the summer us of it. Against August’s

willful heat, reason stood no chance, the heart
stood no chance against your arrant pull. We were

accustomed to the showy, open-handed roses’
bloom, the season’s lavish yield; we claimed

everything as ours, cocksure it would last. But
the sodden month succumbed to fall; there was

no now, just the once-was. Autumn, the light-thief,
cold-usher, fashioned crepey, wind-dried leaves,

oak and elm, woods conspicuously bare, no longer
our wild Eden. Fall came; frogs were hidden

beneath leaf-litter, rocks, and logs; crickets entered
diapause, yet love could not overwinter; our vine-

green ardor paled; our untended roots betrayed the
lastingness we’d counted on, had no instinct to persist.

So many Augusts since; boisterous gatherings of
frogs and crickets, occasional cicadas; and evenings’

muggy dominance recall the flagrant us; lovesick for
the girl I was, the then of her, the only once of her.

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By Laura Linart

Featured Art: Untitled by Mallory Stowe

In the deep end of August, the sun oozes
over Jackie Onassis Reservoir.
The air is dense, crickets set to simmer.
The sidewalk steams.

Over Jackie Onassis Reservoir,
a chemical rainbow rises.
The sidewalk steams.
Cockroaches fly in the streets.

A chemical rainbow rises.
Taxis shimmer. Shirts cling to breastbones.
Cockroaches fly in the streets.
From three long blocks away, I can smell the city pool.

Taxis shimmer. Shirts cling to breastbones.
The sun tattoos a cipher across silver rooftops—
from three long blocks away, I can smell the city pool.
The rich people vanish. The heat sticks.

The sun tattoos a cipher across silver rooftops:
One down: suffuse desire; Across: quiver boombox.
The rich people vanish. The heat sticks.
In the distance, the grid is viscous.

One down: suffuse desire; Across: quiver boombox.
We chase our shadows down the avenue.
In the distance, the grid is viscous
—borders fading, partitions coming undone—

we chase our shadows down the avenue
speeding toward the promise of night
—borders fade, partitions come undone—
the city exhales, releasing its secrets.

Speeding toward the promise of night,
in the deep end of August
the city exhales, releasing its secrets
and I am falling in love with everyone.

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Who knows why the bay was that color

By Rose Auslander

Maybe it was hot, I was out of work & the car actually started, maybe I didn’t
even think to bring a towel, just drove & walked into the water, walked in &
let my feet rise, floating in salt & seaweed, fishlike, minnows darting below me,
maybe that’s why I got to lie like I belonged in a horizon of water smooth as
the sky, a rich silk luxury of blue, early evening in Paris blue, the blue of the
Comtesse d’Haussonville’s opera dress, not the way it was, trapped in fabric,
but how Ingres painted it, the way it still looks even in the print in my room,
faint ripples flowing smooth in reflection, the kind of blue you’d wear & your
bank account would never run low or maybe if it did you wouldn’t notice,
or wouldn’t care, that rich Comtesse blue ferrying me seaward, blurring the
smells of suntan lotion & fries, the echoes of men loud on phones, into the
holiday happiness of striped umbrellas & beach chairs & who knows, maybe
the Comtesse herself sunbathing right here at Sandy Neck, floating in time, sure,
just a day at the beach like any other day, maybe, the way if you didn’t look,
you might think the water was just blue.

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The Windowless Room of Wisdom

By Drew Calvert

Featured Art: Coastal View by Madelyn Bartolone

Jim Dahlberg was eating a bran muffin and reading The New York Times when he saw that Lucas Bloy had won the Joslyn P. Fish Award for New Conceptual Art. Jim put his muffin down. He wondered if there had been some mistake—not that he was an expert in the field necessarily. He wasn’t an artist, or a critic, or a scholar. He didn’t know the first thing about the Josyln P. Fish Award. He did, however, know a thing or two about the recipient. Lucas had been his nemesis.

Years earlier, Jim had entered a sandwich shop in Madison, Wisconsin. He was in his third year of law school at the time and had just completed a lengthy exam on copyright litigation. Whenever he finished a big exam he liked to eat a roast beef sandwich slathered in tangy hot sauce. It was, for him, a kind of joy. And so he was deeply touched when he saw that Joanne Neier—by far the prettiest girl he’d ever seen at Ralph’s—chose the same condiment. On the basis of this connection, he was able to score an impromptu date.

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By Maria Dylan Himmelman

Featured Art: Portrait of Kaitlyn (2018) by Erin Dellasega

Each generation learns from the previous
so said my mother who never left
the house. She would close herself up
in her bedroom for days, only to emerge
in a wig and a dress made of paper on which
she had sketched vague faces and landscapes
with fat pieces of charcoal and spit. Once
I thought I saw her in the street, a fur
hat and hooped earrings, eyes vacant
and no response to my call. Doppelgänger
she would say later, like the thick-boned
villager who helped load the trains
with mothers and daughters
and turned to the camera to swear
it wasn’t her.

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Self-Portrait as a Half-Deserted Town in Germany

By Greg Nicholl

Featured Art: The Sacrificial Lambs by Brooke Ripley

The stores have closed early even though
it is the middle of the week.
The cathedral begs forgiveness, promises
to open tomorrow. No reason is given.
At an intersection, two women
ask for directions to the town square.
They only venture a couple of feet
before they consult their phones, are given
the same instructions: Walk down that street.
It’s not like it is a large town.
If this were a Western, there’d be tumbleweeds.
Despite recent warnings of a thunderstorm,
it hasn’t rained in over a month.
Six years ago a 300-year-old bridge
washed away for good. There have been
three floods in seventeen years. The two women
are still looking for the town center, stop
in the middle of the street to look west,
then east. And it’s clear they’ll never find
the center even though all they need to do
is look up. In the square, employees
from a supermarket chain are camped out
in booths. They carry trays of cubed cheese
and melon that smells like cold cuts.
It is too hot for cheese. The city is building
a new wall to fight future flooding.
Does it matter that the shiny metal gates
rest against centuries-old stone?
Back in the town square, a mime on stilts
waves coupons in the faces of passersby,
bends down to gauge their response.
No one accepts the coupons. The supermarket
employees suddenly appear at every side street,
each dressed in a matching red shirt,
ambushing anyone who dares get close,
calling after them: Excuse me. Excuse me.

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O Isn’t This Just Easy

By JC Andrews

Featured Art: Pulse 1.2 by Rachel Ann Hall

The octobered sky. The overarching
evolution of your abdomen. The salutatious
relove we do once we’ve forgiven our
mommas. Let’s go arachnid and eat
our mommas or ok we can just
wrap each other in silk. O yes I am
an aprilfaced king. O yes I am
a uterus genius. O yes I bleed
while I walk down Seventh.
O yes & yes & yes
I have made such
a snow of your hands,
an astronomy of your syntax,
an ambulance of your eyes,
and I’ve decided that I
have no issue with meeting
your mother next Tuesday. Wait.
I can wear a green coat like Chalamet
in Little Women or a red tie like
a coach. I should practice my little voice
in my little mirror hi my name is how are you
impressive charming not at all o yes afraid

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Sneaking Out to Play House with Ana

By: JC Andrews

the day gathers up     in a blonde     geometry     and we     drive out
    to turn     phantom on DeSalvo’s dock     because we can     because
DeSalvo went dead     and left his pond unattended     so we come     here
    and watch     the moonback     like maybe     it might turn around
and make us     real to somebody     sometimes I wish     I could throw
    her up     in the air     and watch her     spin forever     she’s like
yawning     during the pledge     and missing     indivisible     or picking
    scabs during     catechism     you see     I am stupid as the weather
when she says     Please     like a field waving itself     into the blade     when
    she rubs     her thumb     in circles     in the middle of my palm     I am
honest to god     adjacent to me or     ajar     there is no halo     like leaving
    yourself     ajar     you become a room     so danced     it thumps violet
or you become ready     for another room to enter     you back     she is
    a room too     asking me     if this is alright     like she can’t see
my face     already decided     under this light     we call our space juice
    because we     drink it     we pray for no spoon     in the persimmon
we sit down scared     like substitute teachers     we learn     how to love
    with one hand     and we scrape our backs     on this wood like     we’re
rubbing off velvet     or making     the muscles in our traps     to fight
    and we know     this house     is a gift     even if     invisibled

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By Karen Pojmann

Featured Art: Looking Back by Madelyn Bartolone

If my heart breaks loose and
darts across a lawn—if,
stopped at crossroads,
my heart pries my ribs apart,
takes wing through the open
car window—if my heart
gets away from me—
help me bring it back.
Walk with me, hedge to hedge,
with a butterfly net,
a baseball glove,
a sauce pan. We’ll crunch
over cicada husks, duck
the sprinklers, race
the coming dusk.
When we spot it, cupped
in a daylily or
tangled in chain link, by then,
relieved and grass-stained,
we’ll be laughing and crying
and the streetlights will be just
starting to sputter above us.

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By William Wenthe

Featured Art: Flow by Rachel Ann Hall

Houses on a bluff; below them, off-limits
to construction, a few acres of watery woods.
A clear simmering of spring water
glazes bright moss and gravel, slows
to a bog, where a marsh wren reveals
its single note. Slow growths of mistletoe
on thick-gnarled limbs of elm and oak.

I’m here with my two wolves—
my daughter and her friend, both twelve,
who’ve tied to their waists lush tails.
They prowl among the folded smells
of leafmold unleashed by winter sun.
They run, they fade behind trees.
From the woods I hear long high howls.

Is it only make-believe? Each day, they feel
an approaching metamorphosis.
They’re at an age for trying things on:
clothes, hair, such baubles that dangle
from pierced ears, language fanged to affront
their parents—whose worst fear remains
the child might be no predator, but prey.

But these two wolves are at play.
Are they too old for this? In Finland,
my daughter tells me, teenage girls
ride stick-horses, in organized events.
It’s like dressage, except the living
and too expensive horse is assumed
into the girl herself. Spine and head convey

the rider’s attentive, upright carriage,
while legs perform the horse’s measured moves.
It’s ignorant to presume an animal
will share a human’s feelings in a human way;
just so, I can’t presume to think I know
the nature of these wolves, or cultivated horses
the Finnish girls become, as if to say

what’s best might just be something else
than human. The houses crowding
the edge of bluffs know nothing
of these changelings, who bark and bay,
wander the unruled ways
of the leftover woods, and in becoming, renounce.
Unless these houses breed them too.

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Little Manifesto

By Jeffrey Harrison

There is always someone who suggests
that his poems would be far better than yours
if he’d only bothered to write them. What’s more,
he would have handled the whole enterprise
with more grace and aplomb than you ever did
had he chosen to write those poems instead of
making a killing in investment banking.
And yet you keep going, even in the knowledge
that the poems you are writing are not as good
as his poems, the ones he didn’t write . . .

and, for that matter, not even as good as the ones
you didn’t write. “Your poems would be better
if you didn’t write them” is either a Zen koan,
a quip by Yogi Berra, an insult, or just nonsense,
which is why no one says it. I hate the idea
that any poem written down is somehow
inferior to a poem that does not exist.
Yes, plenty of bad poems have been written,
but out of all the poems that have gone
unwritten, there’s not a single one I love.

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A Message from Tony Hoagland

By Jeffrey Harrison

I got an email from Tony just now
though he’s been dead for a year and a half,
and in the instant before my rational brain
told me it was spam, I felt the thrill
of seeing his name pop up in my inbox,
the dopamine rush that he was writing me
from beyond the grave. And when I clicked
on his name to open the message, the body
of the email consisted only of my first name
followed by an exclamation mark
(as though he was excited to be writing me)
and, under that, a compressed link
in the electric blue that indicated
it was live. My giddy finger slid
the cursor over it, to see what Tony
was sending me—maybe instead of
infecting my computer with malware
that would harvest my data and require me
to pay a huge ransom in cryptocurrency,
the link would take me to a web page
where I could find all the poems
Tony has written since he died.
I paused a moment and thought about
what those poems would be like,
but my imagination failed me. Then
I clicked “delete,” and went into my trash
and deleted the message again,
which made me feel timid and puny,
as though, like D. H. Lawrence
and his snake, I’d missed my chance
with one of the lords of life.

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Ode to My Father’s Body

By Jeri Theriault

Featured Art: Lost Moment by Mallory Stowe

I lose my way in the low-note harmonica
of my father’s absence & unfold the map
of his body in the big window of his barbershop

at the corner of Summer
& Gold    where he    slow    stood all-day
poised to conduct    the chorale    clip-clip

of his trade    shears    razor    hot-towel
talc    brush & tonic    Red Sox radio
my father vaguely tidy & distant    not

dissonant. My everyone-knew-him father.
My year-round-bicycle father. My father’s
body at school nights

or Sunday mass    silent    always
silent but singing in the cellar attic
garage & whistling    as he built back-yard

swing-set    lean-to    edged
garden rows    or hosed night after sub-zero
night    the ice rink where I soothed

afternoons    cold & would-be
wild.    His body hunched in the chair
of my mother’s hospital room that time

we thought she would die    thirty years after
they divorced. My father’s corpuscles
& liver    shins & scapula

his semper fi     tough-guy body    his ear
his good eye my self-taught father in the city
of his body my beige & pastel checked-shirt

father in serviceable shoes & trench coat    who left
his copy of Camus’ The Stranger face-down
on the bed in English though his tongue

his lips    his throat    were French.    He left    too
his body    that night    left
what was left of his body    left

his Iwo Jima    his broken birth family
left his untold    his mystery    left me
his daughter    the wilderness

of my own body    that is to say    left me
half-him left the quiet why or who he was
might have been    what he most

loved    so that sometimes    I still walk
the hallways of my father’s body
half the doors gone    half of them still here.

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Winter Solstice

By Natalie Taylor

Jupiter and Saturn closer than they’ve been since the Middle Ages.

Swinging around to check on the puny humans,
see how we’re coping with famine and war and plagues.

How many drinking from a Dom Perignon fountain,
how many grubbing over gritty water.

A celestial shindig of tilts and orbits
arriving, right on time, 800 years later.

Saturn’s lightning storms create giant clouds of
soot that blacken thunderstorm alleys.

After it falls the span of two and a half earths, soot
solidifies to graphite, then diamonds.

Diamond rain melting to sea.
Jupiter’s million-megawatt aurora escorted

by Io’s 400 volcanoes,
gem-crusted Galilean moons.

Now they’re dancing to the compressed heart of an old star
—a 10 billion-trillion-trillion-carat cosmic diamond

that pulses and rings like a gong.
Maybe not much has changed

since last time they rolled in together.
Trolls still digging for buried treasure

when all the dazzle—methane and crystalized carbon
and hot cores transformed to brilliance—

like the persistence of awe, is above. Look up.

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Late, Dark, and Windy

By Kathleen Lee

Featured Art: Mall Series (3) by Doug MacDowell

After you left the party
someone’s dog picked a fight
with the resident ancient hound
and big human hullabaloo ensued
followed by talk of infectious diseases,
tricks for making perfect piecrust,
the battle of Waterloo. Literature
was avoided (too controversial),
as was real estate (too dull). The Sanskrit scholar
refused to recite a poem we yearned to hear
called Remembrance of Songs of the Future.
Everyone wanted to know the truth
about you so I spun one tale after another
about lost items, Cochabamba
(remember the awful soup we ate every single day?),
and the exigencies of soul retrieval.
They toasted your future with pretentious cocktails
while I sat on my heart to keep it quiet.
Without you, my partner in all things stealthy,
I couldn’t slip away early.
Then it was late, dark and windy.
I stepped outside to gaze into the vastness
overhead and the cosmos was as it ever is—
persistent and forgettable.

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Sad As Is

By Kathleen Lee

I’m trying to nap for ten minutes
before swimming laps when two voices

waver as if in a dream. If you died today
we could know everywhere you lived from your bones

Because I am alert to death, I listen—
I tend to believe in the neuroplasticity of the human brain

to adapt
—and half-open my eyes to see
two dudes in beards and surf shorts on a bench

poolside. It’s February. There isn’t surf
within 2,000 miles and even if what they say is true,

they make it sound like bullshit. Still, dread
winks at me as if it has spotted my weakness:

insufficient neuroplasticity. I’m not adapting!
Where’s Adam? Family funeral.

A lozenge of silence dissolves in the room.
He’s a sad boy as is. I know the world

is not ever about me but here I am on a chaise longue
in a too-warm room, the air redolent of chlorine,

while a couple of idle chatty dudes seem,
I’m sorry to admit, to be speaking to me

in an intimate way, and I’m helplessly listening
because what else am I to do with myself inside time?

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By Kelly Rowe

Featured Art: In Remembrance Of by Brooke Ripley

                                          Turku, 1962

Out the window of the tram
stone buildings, cobblestone streets,

the sitter handed back the apple
core for me to eat.

Now, I know her children
went hungry in the war;

then, I understood nothing;
I was four.

But sixty years on, I remember
her hiss—“finish it!”

And how the seeds and stem
caught in my throat,

how I coughed, how I choked,
how I sat silent,

looking out at the snow
in triumph.

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Reading Li Bai During Social Distancing

By Jenna Le

Featured Art: Peony – side yard by Kayla Holdgreve

In Tang verse classics, lonely wives rebuff
the orioles that flirt amidst their flowers;
they’d rather climb steep observation towers
and, wrapped in tragic shawls atop a bluff,
command a view of miles on miles of rough
terrain uncrossed by human forms for hours
than lean into the softness of spring showers,
breezes, birdsong, and such sensual stuff.
Or so the male bards of the Tang portrayed them
when writing verses in a female voice;
I cannot blame them for it. Simple boys,
they merely wanted someone back at home
to miss them in their absence, to upbraid them
for being gone, to love them through a poem.

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By Aneeqa Mazhar Wattoo

Walking around in Central London
I find myself even browner than I remember
feeling when I lived there three years ago
before returning to Lahore

                                                            [and her kind shisham trees
                                                            and the unkind eyes of strangers
                                                            that make my eyes heavy with the second
                                                            pair of eyelashes that grow over the first as I
                                                            navigate her narrow sidewalks]

but London looks exactly the same—
everyone seems hurried, busy
rushing to someplace else, someplace better
where suddenly, violently
like snakes shedding off their skins
they will blossom into
finer versions
of themselves.

Now at a roadside café
I try to gather my
self but I cannot
feel anything.

Instead, I watch myself from a distance—an object clad in
red pants, practical blue Toms, and wristwatch
with a cluster of crystals around the dial

and I wonder
how the faint London sunshine
manages to erase me
so efficiently, so completely
every time

until one of those absurd motorbike rickshaws targeting tourists
races by and the notes of a loud Bollywood song slash the air
and I feel sudden, improbable delight, recognizing in the sound
something I cannot name, but which turns me briefly into

and it slides into me
the way a ray of sunshine slides perfectly, angularly
into the dark patch on a windowpane

that all of London is a dollhouse
and I am a doll in the dollhouse—
a tiny object in the gloved hands
of a woman in a factory, hunched over an assembly line

                                                            [now she wipes away the sweat on her forehead,
                                                            now she imperceptibly stretches, the muscle in
                                                            her back relaxes by a tiny degree
                                                            and the ache recedes for a bit]

she glues me to one of the
miniature sidewalks
and I sit there
forever afterward
            my wristwatch gleaming
            my new Nikes shining
            sipping a cup of tea
            with petite,
            manicured hands.

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Allegory, NJ

By Julian Koslow

Looking back, perhaps I should have known—
I mean, I had a crossing guard named Hope,
and my third-grade teacher was
Mrs. Schoolman—that life in Allegory
was not as it seemed.

But of course in childhood the marvelous
will greet you as the given,
and the habitus of your natal genre
accommodates even the extraordinary
without interpretation:

The lady on the white mule, trotting through town
followed by a dwarf carrying her purse,
certainly inspired her share of wonder
among the seventh-grade boys out for bagels
at the Jewish Deli. And the knight seen
galumphing after a beast with a thousand tongues
(very Monty Python) prompted serious
concerns among local parents, even
an emergency assembly with the police
at Everyman High. But no one ever thought
to call in the exegetes.

If, in grammar school, we suspected
the gym teacher (Coach Lust, an amateur
taxidermist) and the art teacher (Ms. Seeley,
a talking paintbrush) were having an affair,
we didn’t think to say, “Aha,
the marriage of soul and body!”
We just wondered what they were up to
in the custodian’s closet.

And when the snow fell, it was white
as regular snow, sparkling just as cold
and diamond-bright in the sun. That it
spelled out the word INNOCENCE
in the parking lot of the municipal building,
made no difference to us as we threw
snowballs, built igloos, went sledding,
and peed our steaming names in gold
behind the library.

In high school, my friend Boredom and I
spent weekend nights wandering the town,
keeping clear of Idleness and Vice
who were always hanging around
the Duck Pond of Despair, smoking weed
and listening to The Dead. We roamed
the satyr-haunted golf course and the
foundling-littered park looking for
something to happen to us that we
couldn’t explain. But adventure
in Allegory seemed in short supply.

So when we got tired of killing Time
(even in Allegory, a victimless crime)
we’d head to Music’s house and hang out,
listening to records, poring over lyric sheets
and album covers, pondering the mysteries
of life and death, love and sex, Aqualung
and Stairway. Later we confirmed our
insights by telephone, which was otherwise
useless except for getting busy signals
from the universe and silence
from unrequited crushes, which, in Allegory
felt like having your whole body
stuffed in a pressure cuff.

And if you fell in love it meant
tumbling down a heart-shaped well,
the result of not watching your step
when AMOR walked by in a bright red sash
and silver crown, with a face that no
two victims ever described the same
(and our sketch artists could only
draw visions anyway).

From the bottom of the well, you’d watch
the patch of sky above, an eye
opening and closing, going from day
to night and back to day.

And once they’d pulled you back up,
blinking in the literal sun,

nothing was ever the same again.

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By Robert Wood Lynn

Featured Art: Insomnia by Madelyn Bartolone

There would be more mornings, more
dark pink of sun through closed eyelids.
More people rolling over to check
that the other was still there. The day they left
the rover alone on Mars, most didn’t read
the news and most of those who did
didn’t read about the rover—a wandering
machine supposed to last for only ninety days.
But ninety days passed and still there were more
mornings. People continued to wake up
startled, to churn their ways through the covers
to find someone. Some never did, in beds too big
or apartments too small. There were more
mornings for the rover too—thousands more—
until everyone who wasn’t a computer
lost count, until the rover made mornings
the wrong metric altogether. Back then,

those thousand days ago, you’d wake up
grasping for me in a panic that felt new
each time. Morning always the same dark pink
that Mars looks in that selfie the rover took
just before it stopped responding.
I’m sorry, I love you always
the first things you’d say aloud
until I stopped hearing the comma.
Not something you needed me to know
so much as a ping sent to a wandering
machine worlds away, still listening
for who knows how long.

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What I Could Not Take

By Erin Redfern

I didn’t sneak through a side door. I didn’t leave a note.
I did it so fast that, had you been next to me in his marble kitchen,
you would have thought I was still there.

When I left the abuser—I will not call him mine
I switched a lens. I saw what he did. The last was a little thing,
his making fun of how I wanted to call my dad. A misstep. I thought it,

and clocks remembered their ticking, windows their view.
When I left, I did not take my hairbrush or work shoes
or the green girl I’d been. I did not take

the rabbit peeing down the sides of her cage
because the litter box full of shavings
was the only soft place she had to rest.

And I did not take his nine-year-old in skating skirts,
poking her cavities with a toothpick at breakfast
while no one ever called a dentist—girl so used

to being in his bed I had to lock the door against her.
What I could not take, I left. And woke, walking
between railroad tracks over an open plain,

the sleepers turning to salt as I stepped, a clean wind filling
the raised pillar of my body.
I was not good, or pure; I lived.

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There, There

By: Erin Redfern

If he had just left our books open on the rug where we’d kissed

a little, but mostly done our homework,

if he hadn’t gone and sat in the pink toddler chair

behind the closet door she flung open, mom-radar pulsing, to find him

knees-to-ears and those size-thirteen clodhoppers clutched in his lap.

If she hadn’t pressed herself silent, then

walked out and drove off, leaving us to re-break the rule

about being alone in the house. If I hadn’t met him again the next day,

and the day after that, if she hadn’t rifled my room, my diary,

made his single mom come to our house where she screamed

in front of her and him and my dad, “He just wants to get in your pants!”

If for the next fifteen years I didn’t use men to test this hypothesis. If like a bewildered         

I didn’t break myself on that rock, and do it again.

Then, our first night, I wouldn’t have signed myself over

in the old abdicating way, my body a quick illiterate “X,”

and waited to know how you’d bend me to your need,

and when you didn’t, when your unhurried hands

barely brushed the fine hairs without touching skin, over and over

until time pricked its ears, one paw suspended,

there would have been no slow wash of pain

as I reentered myself like blood does a frost-bitten limb,

and I would not have been able to go

all the way back, give the good dumb boy his shoes

and send him away, then turn at last to the waiting girl

and say there. There you are. I thought I’d lost you.

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Ode to the White Girl at the Gym

By Shavahn Dorris-Jefferson

White girl with the slender legs, I’ve been measuring myself
by those yardsticks, trying to fit into the cocoon of your skinny
jeans and make this butt a butterfly. White girl with the limpy locks—

angel hair—I’m running behind you on the track, watching your ponytail,
a pendulum, swing back and forth and back again. I bet even the hair
in between your thighs is smooth as thread, your knuckle frizz

a fine, fine filament. You fair thing! The way you stop to stretch,
raising your arms without thinking, bending back without looking
to see who’s behind you. O how I want you and hate you.

Or want to hate you. Or hate to want you. Butter-skinned
beauty, I could swallow you whole and alive.

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