How does the body recite its way out
From under the grammar of flagellation?
Perhaps the verb ‘strike’ will change
And kiss its fearsome subject with permission.
Perhaps there’s a sentence that can be avoided,
Or a sharp noun that the mouth refuses to utter!
Obedience, a child of the sun is forced
To remember it like the taste of sugar.
A mother’s milk is long forgotten,
But the throbbing under the skin
Becomes its own tense marker—
A song that sings through time
And out of time—an infinity of remembrance.
The body knows. It has its own encyclopedia.
Welts from cowhides,
Aching ribs from steel toe boots,
And a purple crescent moon below one’s right eye
That refuses to wane. The body recites and
Remembers the A B Cs of thunderclap
And the crackle of lightning from a teacher
Dressed in a black cassock with skin from
A land of snow. The body remembers
The warm gush of yellow fluid
When a child in khaki shorts
And black boots was left standing
Like a wet dog in his own puddle,
As he was unable to master
The master’s grammar.
by Patrick Sylvain
Sylvain is a poet, social critic, and photographer. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Published in several creative anthologies and reviews, including: African American Review, Agni, American Poetry Review, Aperture, Callaloo, Caribbean Writers, Transition, Ploughshares, SX Salon, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Sylvain’s academic essays are anthologized. Sylvain received his B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, an Ed.M. from Harvard; and received his MFA from Boston University as a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow. Sylvain is on faculty at Brown University’s Africana Studies. Sylvain is also the Shirle Dorothy Robbins Creative Writing Prize Fellow at Brandeis University and has forthcoming publications with Beacon Press (Essay, 2019), and Central Square Press (Poetry, July 2018).
Self-Portrait Formed with Unrelated Contents
Don’t look at the girl pirouetting over the cattle guard even if
she’s wearing a pink gingham bikini in the evening. This isn’t
about nightshade plants or sinewy cats floating the fence line.
We have other fish to fry after the migraine aura leaves her limbs
and lips numb as a stroke. Okay, the cattle guard is true. And there was
an orange elephant bank, petunias in pots, and a little row to hoe.
But listen. There was mercy. She came to god and her days
cracked apart like jackhammered cement and the stairs wobbled
and the mother said she was brand new and the girl in gingham—it’s true—
went on about her business. Her business was watching out
for the sky to be right. Listening for a car door in the dark. Twisting
banana ice pops in her mouth and not dangling her clean bare legs
in places where she knew good and well snakes could be.
Self-Portrait with Magic and Swallowing
At times it was like this, wasn’t it. Barn after rickety barn
and a series of cloudy directions. Sometimes night
curled in your fleshy young mouth. There’s no cure
for the dark birds you’ve eaten. Through the tall grass
a beautiful couple comes swaggering into view.
They’ve been ambling with the water dogs again.
Yes, there’s a house here hidden from view.
Yes, the deer bed in that thicket.
Two leisurely bodies ease one into another
like rope coiling over itself. The smell of water,
bailing twine, honeysuckle, dusk. Yes,
someone is dying. Blood slogs through the body
and flesh tugs at flesh. Copper-penny taste on the tongue.
There’s the tuneful splash of water bird or dog.
Delicate bones collect—each churned out clean from your lips.
by Wendy Miles
Wendy Miles’s work has been published or is forthcoming in places such as Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, Arts & Letters, Memoir Journal, Southern Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, storySouth, The MacGuffin, Alabama Literary Review and R.kv.r.y. Quarterly. Winner of the 2014 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a semi-finalist for the 2017, 2016 and 2013 Perugia Press Prize, Wendy lives and writes in Virginia.
because the boy with the bike whose handlebars held you
from South High to home would see the bruises you got
when you jumped off too early.
picking scabs might leave scars,
your mother said as she removed gravel
from cuts with your legs extended on the bathtub’s edge.
bulky bandages exposed the truth
faster than you could disagree.
but that was long ago and you’re grown now,
or you want to be, legs extended
in a skirt far above your knees, so that the boy with the bike
might look a little too long.
you wait to pick the scab until it’s just right,
when it’s ready to jump off anyway,
the skin nude colored enough to keep this secret.
if you pick too early,
the boy might not let you ride again,
might say it’s too dangerous,
look at your scar, he might say,
as if it’s proof that his handlebars
shouldn’t hold this blame.
by Chavonn Williams Shen
Chavonn Williams Shen is a Minneapolis native and an educator. She was the first place winner for the 2017 Still I Rise grant for African American women hosted by Alternating Current Press and a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. She was also a 2017 Best of the Net Award finalist, a winner of the 2016-2017 Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose through the Loft Literary Center, and a 2016 fellow through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in: Beecher’s Magazine, The A3 Review, and The Coil, as well as other journals. A graduate of Carleton College, Chavonn is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing at Hamline University.
after Anne Sexton
Some women rent cabins.
It’s another kind of solitary craft; it has structure,
a purpose, an off-kilter form.
The walls are mud and mindful of hands.
See how she stokes the stove all day,
relentlessly urging heat.
All others have been banished; outside, the black cat
curls like an obsidian shell on the sisal mat.
A woman is her own snow.
That’s the storm inside.
by Virginia Barrett
Virginia Barrett’s books include Crossing Haight (forthcoming, 2018) and I Just Wear My Wings. Barrett is the editor of two anthologies of contemporary San Francisco poets including OCCUPY SF—poems from the movement. Her work has most recently appeared in the Writer’s Chronicle, Narrative, Roar: Literature and Revolution by Feminist People, Ekphrastic Review, Weaving the Terrain (Dos Gatos Press), and Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press). She received a 2017 writer’s residency grant from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of Taos, NM. Her chapbook, Stars By Any Other Name, was a semi-finalist for the Frost Place Chapbook Competition sponsored by Bull City Press, 2017. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
I know that statistically, some of us are meant to be stabbed. But first there is only
a slight pressure, a metallic taste where my mouth could be. And some muffled sounds
I have learned are cuss words. Or the shaking they do in frustration.
If that doesn’t work. If that doesn’t render me in their hands, there is a blissful pause.
But I know they are looking for something sharper. When they find it, they will pierce
what protects me, even if it makes them break a sweat. They will get to me.
When they do, sometimes they are wheezing;
their breath belabored. They look at me like
I am supposed to cure them, relieve them
The dumb one is leaking and then swallowed.
We are difficult in our packaging, these bodies.
These round, silicone drug-filled things.
Her hand was shaking and I fell from it, so giddy I bounced. Rolled
on the uneven hardwood, fifteen feet from her grasp. I listen to her
suffer. I heard the echo of her fuck and then an oh and I knew
she wasn’t coming for me.
In the middle of this night only half of her can breath,
half of her filled with a corporal cement. The kind nature
designed to suffocate things. Her chest congested
with common things. I could have helped, but why
enable a good rest.
I am faulty; what they advertised.
A real plague
by Natalie E. Illum
Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She is a 2017 Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Fellow, and a recipient of an 2017 Artists Grant from the DC Arts Commission as well as a nonfiction editor for The Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, a women’s open mic that lasted 15 years. She used to compete on the National Poetry Slam circuit and was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications, and on NPR’s Snap Judgement. Natalie has an MFA in creative writing from American University, and teaches workshops across the country. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, on her website, and as one half of All Her Muses, her music project. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes.
I am sins of decades
despite duck and cover
and breathing mushrooms
draft age wars
jungling heart attacks
in the genes
and pollution in
fires in the belly
stringing the lobes
in spider webs
aromas and penstrokes
a mess of bedtimes
no need to pull a Roman
when Broca has forgotten
by David Anthony Sam
Born in Pennsylvania, David Anthony Sam has written poetry for over 40 years. He lives now in Virginia with his wife and life partner, Linda, and in 2017 retired as president of Germanna Community College. Sam has four collections and was the featured poet in the Spring 2016 issue of The Hurricane Review and the Winter 2017 issue of Light: A Journal of Photography and Poetry. His poetry has appeared in over 70 journals and publications. Sam’s chapbook Finite to Fail: Poems after Dickinson was the 2016 Grand Prize winner of GFT Press Chapbook Contest and his collection All Night over Bones received an Honorable Mention for the 2016 Homebound Poetry Prize. In 2017, he began serving as Poetry Editor for GFT. www.davidanthonysam.com