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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The Pillow Museum

By Claire Bateman

Most people find a trip to the pillow museum so exhausting that afterward they need a long nap to recover from experiencing all the dreams the display items have absorbed from their original sleepers.

Theoretically, anyone could navigate the museum according to taste, steering clear of, for instance, the homicide pillow, the fetish pillow, and the arson pillow, as well as the pillows of Arnold Schoenberg, Charles Manson, and all those dental hygienists and IRS attorneys. Theoretically, one could choose only the pillows of the confectioner, the Olympic surfer, the dolphin-whisperer, and so on, but nobody does this, since it’s common knowledge that every shunned pillow takes offense, vengefully suctioning out a single breath from the visitor’s lifespan as they pass it by on the micro-sleep tour—a tiny, insignificant portion until you start adding up all the individual penalties over the years.

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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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Sometimes Creek

By Steve Fox

Featured Art: I Wish I Knew Of by Brooke Ripley

Our move to Halloween Street was one of necessity, not choice. Following the death of my wife, Sylvia, the home we had rented was sold. The new owners gave us nine months to vacate. And this place, situated on a leafy and wealthy street in the town’s eerie historic district, was the only thing available within walking distance of my daughter Claire’s school. So I took it, despite the steep rent commensurate with the austere economic laws of Supply and Desperation.

An energetic and put-together neighbor tells me I will need somewhere between three and four thousand pieces of candy, treated out one piece per kid, as well as gallons of a stiff grog for parents, to get me through the hours-long Halloween night here on Halloween Street. Based on some simple arithmetic and plot-pointing along a mental timeline, starting with the next paycheck, I have just enough pay periods between now and the end of October to buy a total of four thousand pieces of candy. Or eight hundred pieces of candy each payday, all totaling in the end approximately six hundred American dollars. Candy. For one happy motherless night for our only child more than two months hence.

It is barely August.

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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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On Throwing Things Away

By Amelia Mairead McNally

Featured Art by Erin Dellasega

My cat’s corpse is in my dad’s garage. She died four years ago, November of 2017. There was a tumor somewhere in her brain that pressed outward against one of her eyes quite horribly in the end, according to my dad. I had moved to New York by then, a five-hour drive from his northern New Hampshire home, and could only listen, powerless, to his news over the phone. She did one of those animal things where she grew very sick very fast but refused then to just die, prolonging us all in the anxiety of her suffering and the knowledge that we would, finally, have to choose which day she would go.

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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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A Good Thing Going

By Marguerite Alley

Sitting at a corner table on the patio of a Lebanese restaurant, I watched Hank Nguyen chew viciously on a hangnail until a sliver of skin came loose. A flash of blood appeared on his teeth before it was wiped away with a brisk dart of his tongue. “You are the worst kind of tourist,” he said, with an elaborate eye roll.

I was working through a mouthful of flatbread and hummus. “I just don’t think it looks that tall.”

Behind him the Burj Khalifa rose into the night sky, glittering intermittently, so large that I had to roll my neck back to behold it. The action reduced it to parts, made it digestible and no longer grand. This was the Dubai Mall, and I knew that if I had marveled at what lay around me—the swarms of tourists, the extravagant fountain show every half hour, the way everything gleamed in the perfect sharpness of fluorescent light—Hank would have mocked me for that, too.

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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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By Pamela Gullard

Featured Art by Mallory Stowe

The day after Marta Holmen’s older sister Iggy called to say she was coming for a visit, Marta cleaned her small house overlooking the historic Santa Barbara library. She washed the kitchen and bath towels in case one of them was stale or dusty, cleaned up stacks of work files on the dining room table, scrubbed the kitchen floor twice, and bought a new lamp from Dorman’s for the guest bedroom. Marta hadn’t seen her sister in seven years. Iggy, a certified, well-tested genius, was hard to reach or predict. Maybe you said the wrong thing; you’d never know. Iggy would frown and leave the room. Marta was now thirty-four, already a respected attorney who could guide her clients through an intricate divorce. Her sister brought her back to being a kid caught up short and tongue-tied.

Marta brought her guitar out of her bedroom and propped it in the corner of the kitchen so Iggy would see it. See she was learning something new.

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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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Eyrie Hours

By Stephanie A. Pushaw

Featured Art: Pulse by Rachel Ann Hall

The fog arrives at the ordinary hour, filming up the floor-to-ceiling window, threading its gray glow from the sea through the canyons with the slow precision of watercolor paint. The canyons aren’t unbeautiful, their velvety seams byzantine as brainfolds and as tight with kerneled mystery. From this height, which erases the ugly parts—the trafficky roads with their margins of hawk-picked roadkill, the insulting sloppiness of the graffiti on the rockfaces from which car-sized boulders plunge with some regularity—the canyons are soft, gentle. Every angle, opening, and balcony on this property has been designed for appreciating Nature, from the appropriate distance: above the smogline, beyond the reach of honks and sirens and gunshots, with a hard kombucha and a heated blanket close to hand.

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Before We Rushed Our Daughter to the Hospital

By Lina Herman

It’s 3:10 on Wednesday this past Wednesday three days ago
I’d skipped the Next Steps and Check-Out
sections of my team’s quarterly planning meeting
to get Louisa to Bayview Park early for after-school surf camp
she likes to pull her wetsuit on before they head down to Cole Point
I get home in time to whip heavy cream we are going low-fat high-carb
I mean high-fat low-carb I hear Isabel’s world history teacher on speaker
begging the kids to turn in something anything by Friday
when he lets her class out she comes to the kitchen she zips and unzips
her brown velour sweatshirt with daisies embroidered on the pockets
she asks me what I’m doing now and I tell her about my quick snack
before my 3:30 debrief call I eat the cream with blueberries and pecans
out back under our avocado tree I like the way the sun lands soft
for my few extra minutes I choose between The New York Times Daily
and my urban paranormal fantasy audiobook I can’t remember which I pick
probably the shapeshifter novel that’s what I like when work is piled on
I bring my bowl and spoon and mason jar still half-filled with sparkling water
back to the kitchen Jacob has come home early wearing his navy tie
he picks at the leftover cheese from my ranch salad I had wanted
to at least wash the whisk before my call I hate it when people in this house
leave the whisk in the sink it seems so delicate like it will get crushed
under dirty dishes though it never has but it’s also nice
to lean against the counter and chat about what was it bike riding
at the waterfront maybe or defrosting salmon for dinner
I thought you were in the bathroom he says and I wonder out loud
why heavy cream tastes so much better in its whipped form
when Isabel comes in shaking crying arms crossed
her hair in a low ponytail strands hanging loose
gripping two empty amber prescription bottles
hair falling out of her ponytail all those strands
and tells us she swallowed all the pills

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Mood Lighting

By: Lara Egger

Featured Art: Identity by Paige Greeley

Probably it wasn’t your childhood dream
to be a camel on a cruise ship.
And I’m guessing, given the choice, that mime
would have preferred not to open
for a Def Leppard cover band.
                                                        I’m not the person
I’d banked on being either.
Worse for wear, this HazMat suit
is chafing my mojo, and it’s been forever
since any stranger offered to buy me
a glass of wine.
                          Would you still love the moon if I told you
it’s dangling from a hangman’s knot?
My joie de vivre
                               is a solid six when aided
by mood lighting. It’s Luciferian, right?
To be given a body but no gift receipt.
And just as diabolical to be nearing the finish line
wishing I’d fought harder
                                                to have children.
Yesterday, in line at Starbucks,
I noticed the teenage girl ahead of me—
effortlessly taut
                                  in those really short shorts,
her skin, #nofilter flawless.
People like to ask kids what they want to be
when they grow up, but no one ever warns you
there’s an expiration date
                                                on feeling beautiful.
Probably destiny didn’t expect she’d struggle

with a sense of direction. I ignored
the smoke detector, assumed
its batteries were flawed.

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The Age of Reckoning

By Lara Egger

My mother calls
                         my relationship with my body
anti-feminist. In other words, she’s worried
I’ve binge-loved
                             my way to emptiness. And it’s true
I once equated the male gaze
                                                    with praise, felt a certain power
when my own glance
                                                         like a cherry bomb
across the room.

                               I am moonlighting at the mall
of consequences—
                                  look at those Victoria’s Secret mannequins
being hauled out with the trash.
                                                         As for my appendages,
let’s say fire
                      sale or epilogue or single-use
                    The brightness in this? I’m almost never
that woman now, the kind other women
                                                                       should fear.
O lust, its biodegradable
                                           valor. O goat-sucker,
                                 Didn’t I once maim
a man into leaving his wife? Yes, I’m all blood sport
when I dance. Hindsight is a love-bite, desire’s
                                                                                  busted vessels.
I have a history
                             of getting what I deserve.

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Caveat Emptor

By Lara Egger

Featured Art: Untitled by Kayla Holdgreve

That I rock stilettos to boost my self-esteem—
at least I did until someone pointed out
they accentuate my cankles.

Maybe you can’t put lipstick on a pig
but no one can stop you from trying. Yep,

I’m definitely the whole package.
Roundly addicted to Takis Fuego,
to “let’s be empty together” sex.

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How Do You Name a Hurricane?

By Amy Lee Scott

First, watch the storm gathering. On the map there is a bustle of white, so much like a twirling petticoat that spins faster and faster. When it gets big enough, the astronauts post photos. News outlets flash warnings. People clear supermarket shelves, hammer up boards, track down batteries. Outside, the wind thrashes.


Arthur. Bertha. Cristobal. And Dolly.

Use old names, like our grandparents’. Names that stick. That is why we began to name them: the old labels—just numbers—were not enough. We needed names to contain such catastrophes.

Why would anyone even live there? someone said after looking at photos of decimated islands. They are destroyed year after year.

We weren’t noticing the hurricanes. Here, we were scrolling and scrolling past black squares. Past Black faces:

George. Breonna. Ahmaud. The list went on.


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To Avoid or to Embrace

By Matthew T. Birdsall

The Children’s Hospital is hyperaware of itself
—all this youthful sickness, sadness everywhere—
so it dons cartoonish decor and displays of smiling families
around every corner, in every poster, on every screen.
It feels so forced, but I get it—no one wants
to be known as the joyless Children’s Hospital.

I can’t decide if I’m reading poems
in my daughter’s room in the Neurology wing
to avoid or to embrace how I’m feeling
about a doctor-ordered-5-days-and-nights stay
with my 9-year-old without her epilepsy meds
waiting for seizures to happen during a pandemic
because we need to record baseline data over time
to make future decisions and this is where we start.

I convince myself it’s not my feelings,
it’s that they’re mixing sentimentality into the recycled air—
pumping hastily wrought emotions into my daughter’s room
because I can’t even read bad poems without tearing up—
maudlin poems about dads dying, mooshy poems
about wading into the ocean to die, high-and-mighty poems
proclaiming they know what’s good for my soul.

I set my book down to get away from the words
watching my daughter watching an animated movie—
an anthropomorphic disguising of humanity’s beautiful flaws
because just like with the children’s hospital decor
adults repackage reality in colorful, shiny cartoons
when they think children will be upset.

A character is ranting at the naive, altruistic protagonist:
Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song
and your insipid dreams magically come true!

I wonder if the hospital is listening, smirking,
as my daughter grins, snuggles closer, and disappears
blissfully into a drawn-out song-and-dance number.
For now, she is content and she asks me how I’m feeling.
I smile back and lie, telling her I’ve never been better
and there’s no place I’d rather be

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By Justin Rigamonti

Featured Art: Blurred House by Kayla Holdgreve

On the phone,
Liz says she visited a guy
whose death was scheduled
for the end of June—
same disease,
a little further down the path.
So he chose a day.
So we hold each other
through the phone line and
wonder what it’s like
to blink off forever.
We can’t believe it.
Like a housecat following
a sunbeam’s toasty
path across the kitchen floor,
inch by inch until
there’s nowhere left—
and then? Later that night,
in my sister’s kitchen,
my kindergarten niece insisted
she’d never lived anywhere
but the house we were in.
So I played along,
asked her where she was before.
She closed her eyes for one
slow breath, then sighed
and said in a flat tone,
The Land of Nowhere.
I asked her what it felt like
to be there, and she showed me,
prostrate on the floor,
Just lying on my face in the sand.

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By: Linda Hillringhouse

Featured Art: Undiagnosed by Rachel Ann Hall

I arrive at the moment
when the oncologist tells my brother
that his bones look like Swiss cheese

& that yes this disease will kill him
& my brother shoots up from the table
in a rictus of terror, the undiagnosed Asperger’s
in overdrive, & I jump in & say Of course
the doctor means many years from now

& mercifully the doctor switches scripts
& a year later, after the first transplant fails,
asks if he could test my DNA for a second one

& one day I walk into the hospital
& my sister-in-law, queen of the underworld,
says Great news, you’re a match!
& I want to rip her face off, having just read
about the dangers of donating stem cells

& I pretend to be happy but I’m terrified
& have to tunnel down deep to grab
the cowering little yes by the scruff

but my mother hears about a doctor
who saved her friend’s son who also
had multiple myeloma & the new doctor tells me
a second transplant won’t work
and would be a living hell & I’m relieved

& I have worn this skirt of shame every day
for fifteen years, since I threw
that phony fistful of earth into his grave.

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By Linda Hillringhouse

It would’ve taken all the water tanks on all the roofs in New York City
filled with whiskey, all the leaves in Riverside Park telling me how
to proceed every minute of the day. I would’ve needed to punch through
the self-induced coma, a blast so loud it would’ve popped the manhole covers
on Amsterdam Ave. It would’ve taken all the trashcans on all the streets
of the Upper West Side to hold the ashes of all the days I burned.
There were words, turning toward the sun, but I left them at the bodega,
among the plums and oranges, in a booth at Four Brothers, on the bar
of the Gold Rail, where I waitressed and whirled in the coronal flames
of young men’s eyes. I left them on stoops and in doorways, all the way
up Broadway to the little shop on 123rd Street with Maggie and Tina to buy
the Nefertiti necklaces for six bucks. I left words dying on traffic islands
amid the beer bottles and candy wrappers and in the writing class where
I would sit paralyzed, petrified of finding out who I wasn’t. And in the end
I chose safety and had to bend every bone in my body to fit into that tiny chair.

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The Mentor

By Lexi Pandell

Featured Art: When Lunches Synch Up by Mallory Stowe

In a shingled house at the edge of the Berkeley Hills—near campus with its bulletin boards covered in smeary flyers for an upcoming Angela Davis lecture and another of a white woman toting a machine gun, and close enough to the Greek Amphitheater that the roar of a concert reverberated through the thin windows—Jane Gardener sat with six other women at a kitchen table. This was a dinner party. She’d forced herself to go with the intention of socializing. Yet she couldn’t stop thinking about how, though Lori said these dinners were about learning from other women in the restaurant industry, her presence felt like a charity. The stench of feet persisted despite the hand-dipped incense wafting in the corner. How could Lori purport to care about food, yet burn out her nose with cheap nag champa?

All of them were restaurateurs, except for Eartha, the German woman Jane employed as sous-chef at Dîner, whom she had invited to help her survive the affair.

“Isn’t spending time with friends supposed to be enjoyable?” Eartha had asked.
They weren’t her friends, though. Not really. Once, there had been more women in this coterie, some she’d actually liked. But, one by one, they had married and turned their attention to their home lives.

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I’ve Always Wanted to Be Truly Alone

By John Sieracki

Rob won’t stop talking.
There’s a word for that: compensatory. No.
Comp something. Rob would be someone to ask.
But I don’t want to encourage him.
My electric lawnmower, on the other hand,
is pretty quiet when I use it to vacuum
up the little pieces in the fall.
Except I can still hear Rob.

He’s got some kind of big dinner he’s doing,
hundreds of people, money floating around,
speeches about different kinds of humans,
even different species that are called human.
Or were; they’re gone now. And to what extent
they interacted, as in mated, he tells me.

Next topic: he’s going to India next week.
He says, “A couple of Indians I know
complain it’s just too crowded for them.”
“What’s the grass in India like in the fall?” I say.
We’re each trying to make ourselves a vacuum.

At one point Rob says the word “excelsior,”
which is not the first time lately.
“It’s a favorite, meaning upward,” he explains.
“Up is overrated,” I say, although
I tell myself that all kinds of humans
have found up to be better, for practical reasons.
For instance, the Dennis someones.
The Dennisors. No. That’s not them.

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O Youthfulness

By Dean Young

You are without age definitionally
Ergo not confined to a single one.
Not to quickly solving the cube
Or standing in pee-stained underwear
Eating microwave lasagna with a spoon
Or diving from a cliff so swift you can’t tell
Flight from impact
Or feeling the heart leap with such fury
You want to kill yourself but know
Why bother?
Not nailing Act III
Or sweeping the temple steps
Or thinking your shadow is a skein of spiders
Or regrettable sartorial choices
O what was I expecting
Or going a bit bonkers with an aquarium
Or running the anchor leg
Or insulting the therapist
Or crying mommy mommy all the way home
Or not really having a home.
The great path goes under ground
Then emerges at a waterfall.
Tiny fibers connect us all,
Electrical wads nervous as car alarms.
Don’t worry about the cherubim.
Just walk right up to the elephant.
That door marked Exit is also the way in.

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Before Poetry Can Save the Planet, It Needs to Shift Our Souls

By Marcia LeBeau

Featured Art: Regrowth by Grace Worley

Every Tuesday morning, I throw a portable white board and some books into my car and drive up the hill to our local nature reserve. There within the 2,000 acres, I squint through the bare tree branches to spot little dots of pink, green, blue, and yellow jumping and climbing—the kindergarteners. When they see me, they start yelling, “Poetry time!” Most are excited; one makes it a point to tell me that he still hates poetry. He’s my favorite.

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At Home in the Cosmos: On the Poetry of Don Domanski

By Tarn MacArthur

When we talk of “environmental poetry” we are talking of a poetic genre rooted in traditional ideas of nature, a genre which, historically, elevates specific ecologies to invoke the physical and temporal proximity of the living, breathing world. In doing so, environmental poems have tended to prioritize a connection to the local, forging the bonds of intimacy with what can be held in the senses long enough to become reliably known—this forest, those cliffs, that river, these animals—and eventually defining what it means to be considered presently here.

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By Martha Serpas

Featured Art: Rushing Water by Kayla Holdgreve

I used to joke that Simone Weil could write, “It is better to say, ‘I am suffering’ than to say ‘this landscape is ugly,’” because she wasn’t a poet. Poets create images and metaphors that readers can recognize and make meaning from. But Weil means to move us past projection toward greater self-awareness and vulnerability and away from the aesthetic and moral judgments that destroy our world. Rather than become acquainted with our inmost selves, we ascribe our pain to what we believe is other and treat it as expendable.

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How Blank an Eye? Seeing and Overlooking Nature in Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”

By Matthew VanWinkle

While contemplating an Italian sunset in 1822, Byron couldn’t resist getting in a dig at his friend Shelley’s affection for the previous generation’s poetry: “Where is the green your Laker talks such fustian about? . . . Who ever saw a green sky?”1 The Laker in question is Samuel Taylor Coleridge; the meteorological observation drawing Byron’s ire occurs in “Dejection: An Ode” (1817), Coleridge’s anguished exploration of a damaged response to the natural world and the implications of this damage for his poetic vocation. It’s tempting to attribute Byron’s objection to the zest he takes in stirring things up generally, or to his intermittently vehement distaste for the Lake School of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey specifically. Yet Byron’s snarkiness on this point is far from idiosyncratic. Romantic era poetry frequently and famously evokes Nature with a capital N, but these evocations sometimes lead a reader to wonder if the devotion to the big picture comes at the expense of acute observation. More pointedly, the big picture seems less a landscape with a life of its own and more a portrait of the artist’s own ambitions. Nature is unmistakably present, even prominent, in romantic era poems, but what, or who, is it there for?

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Reflections in Lake District Mist

By Alycia Pirmohamed

At an event I once attended titled “Landscape and Literary Culture,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil said something along the lines of, “The trees don’t ask you where you’re from.”

Lately, I’ve been asking myself why I rarely imagine my body, a brown woman’s body, moving through the natural world. It makes me wonder what I have internalized about ecology, about the borders between “natural” and “urban.” About access to green spaces and the bodies that are perceived as belonging within them.

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Poetry at a Lakeside Trailer Park

By Tina Mozelle Braziel

Featured Art: Silk Snapper Wild USA, $14.99/lb by Rachel Ann Hall

Poetry is a trailer park on a lake that isn’t really a lake but a dammed river and not on the main channel but along a slough, a fraying edge of a body of water that draws some of us to buy a double-wide, rent a lot, build a pier, and dock a boat in the marina.

The dam “lets the water out” each winter, a phrase conjuring a bathtub whose pulled plug leaves a dirty trickle down the middle. This is a far cry from the face of the deep where light, sky, land, and creatures were spoken into being, yet even such a slough is mysterious, elemental, germinal.

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