SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RACHEL HEIMOWITZ


REFRESH
By Rachel Heimowitz

We raise them in lemons, in buttercream, in cornmeal,
we cut the crust off every loaf and serve blueberries
to those who can’t abide the crumbs. We let them

ride our arms like cowboys, and when their imaginations
cry elephants, we give them elephants, thick skinned
and wrinkled, but theirs. We sail them off due west,

into the froth of their own desires, tell them their lives
will roll like the hills behind the hills behind the hills
into a mist the color of tamarind and smoke. Lovely

parenthood, open and bright, sunlight through a window,
a hand smoothing sheets, Lego basketed in a corner.
The refresh button under my index finger, set to the local news site

pressed over and over and over to discover
if my child has gone to war.

 

Today’s poem previously appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Prairie Schooner (Volume 91 Number 4) and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Rachel Heimowitz is the author of the chapbook, What the Light Reveals (Tebot Bach Press, 2014.) Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Spillway, Prairie Schooner and Georgia Review. She was recently a finalist for the COR Richard Peterson Prize, winner of the Passenger Prize and she has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Rachel received her MFA from Pacific University in Spring 2015 and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California.

Guest Editor’s Note: This is a poem of immense restraint, power, and impact. How we are lulled by its lyric, set softly adrift amid its imagery, then gutted by its simple, brutal truth. How effortless the poet makes it appear to live this unbearable life, to write this poem.

Today’s poem is dedicated to the children’s lives lost to gun violence. It is offered as a battle cry as we take to the streets today with the #NeverAgain movement to save our children, to march for their lives. So that the next time this poem is written it does not end: “The refresh button under my index finger, set to the local news site // pressed over and over and over to discover / if my child has died at school.”

Want to read more by and about Rachel Heimowitz?
Rachel Heimowitz Official Website
Buy What the Light Reveals from Amazon
Atticus Review
Twyckenham Notes
Tinderbox Poetry Journal
Cutthroat
The Missing Slate

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. It is an honor and a unique opportunity to now share this series with a number of guest editors, and we’ll be hearing more from them in the coming weeks. Today’s feature, however, is a labor of love from yours truly.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HALA ALYAN

 

IN JERUSALEM
By Hala Alyan

Forgetting something doesn’t change it.
In Jerusalem a man blocked the door in front of a hostel

to tell me to unpin my hair. I did,
but then kept the story from anyone for years.

There are times I can see the bus stops clear as day,
the jasmine soap I bought from the Armenian quarter,

how I rewatched an episode of The Wire in bed
the first night, afraid if I left my room I would lose it.

That summer I was lousy with photographs—
church pews, skinny trees. A single one

of myself, peeking into a mirror. My hair over one eye.
Sometimes I wonder if the man even asked,

if I am misremembering, whether I am the culprit
of my own fear. But then I remember the two pairs of shoes

I wore through the soles that trip, how I finally walked barefoot
down the Mount of Olives until a cab stopped for me,

speaking in English first, then Arabic,
asking if I’d like to see photographs of his granddaughter,

telling me to write a story about him. The city was all men.
But he was kind and eager and me ka’ak

to eat, calling me asfoura when I picked it apart
with my fingers. Bird. You eat like one.

What should I name you in the story, I asked.
Land remembers like a body does. A city full of men

still has a mother. I told myself I disliked Jerusalem
but that was code for couldn’t shake it. I was capable of too much.

I cursed the heat and cried on the way to the airport.
There never was another story. When I got back home,

I cut my hair, then dreamt I buried my grandmother
under Al-Aqsa mosque, but she hadn’t even died yet.

 

Today’s poem first appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal and appears here today with permission from the poet.

 

Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American writer and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Guernica and elsewhere. Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series. Her debut novel, SALT HOUSES, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017, and was longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize.

 

Guest Editor’s Note: Hala Alyan’s “In Jerusalem” begins with a maxim: “Forgetting something doesn’t change it,” laying the groundwork for what is to come. In this poem of place, the poet sets out assured that she knows where she is going, and in the cascade of couplets, following her steps through her narrative seems natural and the conclusions the speaker draws instinctive. Cultural conflicts filled with contradiction arise in “A city full of men,” in which the traveler wonders “whether I am the culprit/of my own fear,” creating a distinctive turn and shift to a slight difference in tone and purpose for the reader and the speaker, ending with a dream of an act of preservation that could leave evidence that she had been there and remembered things as they really happened. She tells us that “Land remembers like a body does,” and her wish to bury her grandmother under the Al-Aqsa mosque is her way of wanting to add to the land’s memory what she knows to be true, that “A city full of men/ still has a mother.” Sensory imagery contributes to the veracity of the speaker’s recollections and to an understanding of her conclusions drawn from the experiences that, like most human experiences, are filled with conflict and uncertainty, ripe for introspection.

 

Want to read more by and about Hala Alyan?
Hala Alyan’s Official Website

 

Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), the Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, and Rivet Journal.

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. It is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this series with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LITTLE CLIMATES

 

From Little Climates
By L. A. Johnson:

 

EPISTEMOLOGY

I never had quiet times in the kitchen
making an icebox cake.
I never inspected the back of the box,
folded wafers up with cream.

In the morning, you fix whatever
needs fixing. You make eggs
with toast. And in the afternoon, I walk
out far past the end of the acre.

Only then do the strays come
to the porch, looking for a dish of milk,
a can of fish left open. No arguing
or crying can be heard nearby.

In the evening, the walls confine
the regular angers. We listen
to the kettle sing on the stove
that nobody bothers to stop.

In the freezer, always, only the notion
of an icebox cake—its layers
softening to be like the real thing.
The icing, milk and smooth.

Stranger, if only things had been
a little different, I could be
old-fashioned in my happiness,
blushing and easy to love.

 

SPLIT-LEVEL

Today the six of us perform a funeral for a home—
we wreathe the doorway with lilies, carry
our possessions above our heads like caskets.

We scatter the enviable parts of our lives
across the lawn: a radio, ceramic bowls, a sweater

that never fit. Strangers stop by to look
at all our things, each one dressed in black.

Then with hammers, we begin the destruction.
Afternoon sun exposes the fine particles
of wool and fiberglass that kept us warm.

Behind the medicine cabinet, we find razor blades
rusted in a wall-hollow. In the vacant lot next door,

a ravine appears that no stray dog will cross.
We know in some towns, this demolition is modest

or even ordinary. A bulldozer loiters elsewhere.
In a future, this house will become honeycomb
and bees will make clear honey out of all our mistakes.

 

“Epistemology” previously appeared in the Antioch Review and “Split-Level” previously appeared in the Indiana Review. Both peoms are from the collection Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017; copyright L. A. Johnson) and appear here today with permission from the poet.

 

Little Climates: The lyric poems of Little Climates address the divisions between the self and the world, the self and the lover, and self with the self. In her debut collection, L. A. Johnson examines of the disparate spaces humans occupy in relationships: together and separately, alone and as unit. Each partner’s past, how they’ve changed, how they dream of the present—these are the little climates.

 

L. A. Johnson is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press). She received her MFA from Columbia University and is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Provost’s Fellow. She’s received scholarships and fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, Narrative Magazine, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.

 

Guest Editor’s Note: I first heard L. A. Johnson’s poems at a reading the poet gave in Los Angeles. When I read Little Climates a few weeks later, I realized that her imagery is so acute and vivid that it had stayed with me. Johnson is an expert at creating poignant landscapes and visceral environments. At times, they are intensely familiar: “the notion/of an icebox cake—it’s layers/softening to be like the real thing,” but the poet also deftly moves in directions the reader might never have imagined; “In the evening, / the walls confine the regular angers.” The detailed, sensory world the poet creates builds into unforgettable landscapes that stay with the reader long after the pages of Little Climates have been closed.

 

Want to read more by and about L. A. Johnson?
L. A. Johnson’s Official Website
Buy Little Climates from Bull City Press
Buy Little Climates from Amazon
Read more poems via At Length
Read more poems via The Account

 

Guest Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Today and in the coming weeks, please help me welcome a series of guest editors to the newest incarnation of the Saturday Poetry Series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MAX RITVO

Portrait of poet Max Ritvo. Photo Credit: Ashley Woo, Ari Ritvo

By Max Ritvo:


Holding a Freshwater Fish in a Pail Above the Sea

He strips health out
of the water,
reminding me
of my mother.

I walk in sea
and hold my sweet
fish above me,
no small feat

given the rice-
hard salt scraping
my eyeballs twice
each blink of lid.

I put the pail
in the ocean
and then unveil
the decorous

frail white-eyed koi.
But the salt, I
think, will destroy
his rocking breath.

Where he wants space
he will get salt.
Where key traces
of the silence

should hang inside
his cathedral
of musical
blood—

Instead, delicious
crystal drills
will crack it all
open; the church,

its ebbs and flows.
I scoop the fish
up by its nose,
a forked affair.

I show you him.
Looks fine to me
you say (Ha!), dim
and lovely you.

This happens more
times, stopping and
starting, me showing
you my full hand,

my fish. Where have
you gone? I was
hoping to wake
from this dream

with you drawing
the curtains, a gold
glow on the sheet
wrapping me up.

You aren’t here
but I’m aware
that somewhere
you have moved.



Today’s poem is from Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Max Ritvo, and appears here today with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Max Ritvo (1990 – 2016) was an American poet. Milkweed Editions posthumously published a full-length collection of his poems, Four Reincarnations, to positive critical reviews. Milkweed has announced two more books, Letters from Max (co-written with Sarah Ruhl); and a second collection of Ritvo’s poems, The Final Voicemails, forthcoming in 2018. Ritvo earned his BA in English from Yale University, where he studied with the poet Louise Glück, and his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. In 2014, he was awarded a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for his chapbook AEONS. He edited poetry at Parnassus: Poetry in Review and was a teaching fellow at Columbia. Ritvo died from Ewing’s sarcoma on August 23, 2016, and is survived by his wife Victoria; his father Edward Ritvo, his mother Riva Ariella Ritvo-Slifka, and his three siblings, Victoria Black, Skye Oryx, and David Slifka. Ritvo’s work has appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, Boston Review, and as a Poem-a-day on Poets.org. (Annotated bio courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Guest Editor’s Note: Knowing about the life and death of the poet can provide a lens through which to read each poem in Max Ritvo’s Four Reincarnations. This poem from the collection, “Holding a Freshwater Fish in a Pail Above the Sea,” offers a number of thematic opportunities, but is most powerful through the biographical filter. The poet controls the language—each word, line, and stanza confounds expectations and inspires repeated visits to the poem and its evocative images.

At the outset, there is fear and love for the fish bound in memory and fear. The gentle rhyming quatrains are almost imperceptible behind the fierceness of feeling, but they provide the rhythm and sway of the water controlling the speaker’s emotions even in a dream state. Shifting awareness supplies a type of psychoanalytic wish fulfillment accompanied by an acceptance of the inevitable.

Each turn in the poem feels natural and effortless within a controlled formal structure, and this makes the emotional charge more concentrated and pungent. The lines “Where he wants space/ he will get salt” are especially potent and seem to anchor the speaker in reality revealed by the metaphors and symbols that emerge from the subconscious. Ritvo’s poem exposes the terror in living a life that ends in death and does so in language that is accessible and miraculous.

Want to read more by and about Max Ritvo?
The Poetry Foundation


Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), the Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, and Rivet Journal.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Today and in the coming weeks, please help me welcome a series of guest editors to the newest incarnation of the Saturday Poetry Series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MARISA CRAWFORD



By Marisa Crawford:


I’m too sensitive for this world / this Foot Locker

Oh right, the bomb
Sorry so boring
300-year-old wiener dog
China teacups rimmed in gold
Oh right, underwater
Backwards somersault, no
Outside w/ the flowers
Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh like it matters
9th grade Metallica disaster
Cutest hottest-pink dress ever
Janie / not Janie / not over
Summer that bled into forever
See that backslash that’s the gash in my left arm
See that scar that’ll always be there
Janie’d be like, so show me so stop doing it
So eat something, J
So coconut cake bonne bell
You shoved it in my face / posted on my wall
Smell it, smells like a memory
Smells like a fake cake
This metal gate has been a gift to me
That metal guy at the party with the long hair and the gift for
Piercing the beer can / swallowing it all in one gulp
Was that the first time
He like, put his arms around me from behind
Somehow I willed it to happen w/ my mind
& then there was / a porch swing
Macbeth, my whole life, my death, everything


Poem

I like being a lil bit mean to Stephen
Wearing things that look architecture-y
Eating apple pie with my ice cream
I guess I couldn’t help it
I imagined my wedding brunch
on the tabletop catalog spread
called “A Perfect Match”
Girls at work who talk on the phone
in another language, girls who don’t
She asks me where I live in New York City
I don’t live there, I don’t live anywhere
Clip art of a nine-year-old
girl climbing a tree
leaning on her elbow
skinning her knee
VP of Creative sending an email
with the subject line “The Future”
You calling my tampon a “little mouse”
as you pulled it out



Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Marisa Crawford is a New York-based writer, poet, and editor. She is the author of the poetry collections Reversible (2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books, and the chapbooks Big Brown Bag (Gazing Grain) and 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples). Her poetry has appeared in publications including Prelude, Bone Bouquet, Glittermob, and No, Dear, and she’s written about feminism, art, and pop culture for Hyperallergic, BUST, Bitch, Broadly, The Hairpin, and elsewhere. Marisa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Weird Sister, a website and organization that explores the intersections of feminism, literature, and pop culture.

Guest Editor’s Note: Reading Marisa Crawford’s poems reminds one of the feeling you get while looking through a Viewmaster. The reader experiences a gut punch of image and sensory recognition as Crawford takes the reader to the a New York City street, to a party, to a phone screen, face-to-face with a tampon. She plays on our olfactory senses. Macbeth shows up and makes us briefly feel those feelings of doom and futility in the face of human fallacies, blood trails and all. In “Poem” we confront the absurdity and futility of office life. Crawford writes, “VP of Creative sending an email / with the subject line ‘The Future,’” and with that the future unfolds. What will it taste like? What will it remind us of? She is a master of non-sentimental nostalgia. There’s a lightness of being to reading these poems, but the poems themselves are not light. They speak of the feminist and the feminine, the collective experience of being alive in these weird times.

Want to read more by and about Marisa Crawford?
Marisa Crawford’s Official Website
Buy Reversible from Swtichback Books
Weird Sister


Guest Editor Natalie Lyalin is the author of two books of poetry, Blood Makes Me Faint, But I Go For It (Ugly Duckling Presse 2014), and Pink & Hot Pink Habitat (Coconut Books 2009), as well as a chapbook, Try A Little Time Travel (Ugly Duckling Presse 2010). She is the co-editor of Natural History Press. She lives in Philadelphia and is working to befriend a flock of crows.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Today and in the coming weeks, please help me welcome a series of guest editors to the newest incarnation of the Saturday Poetry Series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ALICE IN GREENPOINT


from Alice in Greenpoint
By Iva Ticic:


Alice in Greenpoint

Four glasses of fine red wine at a dinner party in Brooklyn
and you go from being a wallflower to discussing Trieste.

Though they mostly wanted to speak of Girls at this soirée—
An irony which caught in the mind of the writer
as an annoying bug caught in the web of a spider.

These four girls in Greenpoint discussing a show
about the four girls in Greenpoint
mirroring lives.

But I felt like Alice, the one from the book,
crossing on to the other side
of the baroque looking mirror the apartment contained— a
s if I haven’t been looking as it is
to check if I’m worthy, in presence of smooth skirts.

Meanwhile, the wine glasses have been placed on a puzzle
portraying Manhattan in three hundred pieces

minus one.

For there’s a piece missing in midst of the chatter
the clinking and clacking
with edges of crystal leaving a stain ring
on the Chrysler building.

The point of fixation and hypnotic frustration;
this elaborate jigsaw
without the very part which would have provided
someplace to draw meaning—

While white rabbits and grinning cats
are starting to be born
in the pregnant pauses of the evening.

And yet it gapes open, this odd imperfection,
shaped like a bug that chewed through the web

and eerily left.


On Loan

I have eavesdropped all day in search of something
beautiful.
Under Brooklyn Bridge where sewers funnel into beaches—

I have found it in the reverb
stolen from the unsuspecting:

The girl who flings her Conway bag
back and forth, a Sunday church bell—

Chiming for the crimson palette,
the holy shimmer of skyscraper
swimming on water.

I mean just look at that shit.

The boys who wrestle in shaggy grass,
strangling each other with an

Attitude adjustment
after
Attitude adjustment.

The lovers who say nothing.

A jet ski slits the water open like a wound;

I smell like coffee on the weekends,
if that’s something you’re into.


The Interpreter

I want to live in the hollow
of your Steinway piano.

Right there beneath the
slender silk of peeled ebony.

I want to become
a part of your conversation
between the pulse
of your fingertip symphony
and the dignified elephant
which you saddle and tame.

I want to learn the dialects
of this foreign arena.

Where are you taking me?

Give me the keys by which to decipher
the treble and bass
needed in order
to follow the melody
of tangy disorder.

Please bring me along.

I can be very still
while you improvise symphonies,
ponder the harmonies—

I’ll translate the hum.



Today’s poems are from Alice in Greenpoint (Finishing Line Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Iva Ticic, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Alice in Greenpoint: “Welcome to the world of Alice in Greenpoint where everything is an eerie reflection of itself but slightly different — the global village tilted and on air. Our speaker strides through a foreign landscape at once knowing and homesick – but for where? The traveler is in constant exile – but the poems are witty and joyous, brimming with expectancy and hunger. Such a debut collection!” –Marie Howe, award-winning author of What the Living Do and the State Poet of New York

Iva Ticic is an internationally published bilingual poet from Zagreb, Croatia, who has lived, worked and studied in the US, Honduras, and now China. Her poems and short stories appear in Four Way Review, Prelude Magazine, and The Tishman Review. In 2013, she was awarded the Academy of American Poets John B. Santoianni Award for Excellence in Poetry for her poem, “The Interpreter.” Alice in Greenpoint is her first published poetry collection.

Guest Editor’s Note: Ticic’s poetry rings the many changes of dislocation: in place, in time, in the long struggle to become one’s own self against all challenges. She maps the many misunderstandings we both try and fail to overcome in our lives. Even when we believe we do understand one another, we still wonder if we got it all. The title poem, “Alice in Greenpoint,” makes, among others, the excellent point that even if some people feel themselves seen, really seen, others are always standing nearby, looking on, amazed, mystified. There is always a missing piece. In “On Loan,” the speaker walks through the city looking for beauty, picking up bits of language like pebbles, keeping some, tossing others back into the water. “I have found it in the reverb,” she writes. In “The Interpreter,” she documents the place in between where the translator lives, nearly invisible, the only one to hear “the melody of tangy disorder.” Iva Ticic’s poems are built of the recognizable and quotidian, but also spangled with arresting phrases: “I keep dreaming of parallel lines/slowly diverging/like the first sign of trouble/between lovers” or “As if . . . to believe in something, anything—could never be innocent,” or “the holy shimmer of skyscraper/swimming on water.”

Want to read more by and about Iva Ticic?
Four Way Review
COLDNOON
Buy Alice in Greenpoint from Finishing Line Press

Originally from MN, Guest Editor Julie Hart has lived in London, Zurich and Tokyo and now in Brooklyn Heights. Her work can be found in PANK Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Poets Anthology and at juliehartwrites.com. She is a founder with Mirielle Clifford and Emily Blair of the poetry collective Sweet Action.


A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Today and in the coming weeks, please help me welcome a series of guest editors to the newest incarnation of the Saturday Poetry Series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: #METOO POETRY




Editor’s Note: As the #metoo movement that originated ten years ago with Tarana Burke reached a critical mass this week, together we bore witness to innumerable traumas. Perhaps, like me, you felt far more than you were able to articulate. In times like these I turn to poetry to find the words there are no words for. To that end, today I turn to poetry of witness and testimony. To poems that are unafraid to call out sexual assault and its aftereffects. To poetry that says: me, too.


“Seized” by Rachel Heimowitz

“I Should Quit Teaching” by Lois Roma-Deeley

Rupi Kaur’s #metoo poem

“bone” by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Nayyirah Waheed

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THEY WERE BEARS




From THEY WERE BEARS
By Sarah Marcus:


PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN BEARS

You said you were afraid of bears—

we weren’t safe until there was ice
along the shoreline. I said we all need trauma,

and my heart breaks every Autumn, so we broke
ourselves against those rocks until the cave mouth opened:

a womb for blind crayfish,
a passageway harboring beetles.

I want you to reach into the depths of your backwoods
and remember our Winters. We need the bears, ourselves

ursine sleeping in dens—the caverns drip-stoned and stunning.
I was and still am in search of a great bear

because people have always known bears—
we will always be shelter for each other.

When we first met, I told you that a long time ago,
grizzlies came down from the Rockies—

they were poisoned on the range, trapped,
hounded, shot out—we found cranial fragments.

We still listen to those legends of bounties paid
to mountain men, harboring that ancient fear of

the bears that made meat of us, boar and sow,
mauled and gnawed away. Our bones resting in caves,

because you were born to hunt, and I was
born of hunting: a witness of great fires.



LOVE POEM

First snow of the season—
your eyes say
there’s not much oxygen
                  in the mountain air
.

I have never wanted someone
                  as much as I want you.

I devalued the damage:
you won’t belong—stay gone longer—

                  let it melt.


I’ve been thinking about you
                  because we cannot be separate.
The gravitational pull defies
                  the thousands of miles between us.

Even in the deepest woods,
                  we kneel beside the rill,
the river’s riffle,
the spruce’s mantle of rime,

                  until the point of rock
                                  swells tightly around us.

There’s a chant building in the forest: I won’t be your secret.

Everyone knows how to leave,
but I don’t know how to be
in this city
without you.



MYTHOLOGY FOR DESERT LOVERS II

These things are real:
you are a desert moon rising a hundred mornings away.
My horses paw a cracked Earth.
The air threatening Winter.
The solitude of sand.
We can smell the danger

of you and her
in that house.
In every house.

When you are so strongly connected
to another person, what did you call it? Rare?
It’s like the sunset.
No one can hold that kind of beauty
for more than a moment.

Our small ribs are thick
enough to take on a prairie panic.
The fear of too much open space.
So many acres;
we can never catch up.

You say I’m always on your side
and this will always mean more
to a woman.

I try to explain that love is a violence,
even when it’s beautiful.
When you enter someone,
you must also leave them.

And there’s always that moment of relief
when I realize that I’ve always known—
I am a hundred deserts.

I will wait for you or some version of you
to become sky.



Today’s poems are from They Were Bears (Sundress Publications, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Sarah Marcus, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness. Marcus writes, ‘I want to say that there are places I have to go, and you have to follow me…through all this orange light, every version of the color red, we betray ourselves for miles.’ With stunning craft and intuition, Marcus places her lyric power against the beautiful, terrifying bones in us where words often feel broken and impossible. Her poems expand through their stark and luminous discoveries to reveal a natural and psychic world too complex to ignore. Marcus gives us sacred breath in which to claim that world when she writes, ‘We inscribe the rocks/with our names, wanting a sign,/want the sky to say:/This is mainland. Solid ground./The place you’ve been looking for.’” -Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Lighting the Shadow


Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan.com, and Marie Claire.com SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH.


Editor’s Note: In the Jewish calendar, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a surreal and reflective time of reckoning. During these days we are introspective, coming to terms with our true selves before turning outward and asking forgiveness from those who we have wronged. It is in these Days of Awe that I come back to a collection I have been meaning to review for quite some time. It is in this magical time of brutal honesty that I dive deeply into a carefully-wrought world that is far beyond my comfort zone, with eyes and heart wide open to its savage and beautiful truths.

They Were Bears is one of the most thoughtful–if not the most thought-provoking–poetry collections to be released in recent memory. Rife with hunger and blood and animal instinct, this work pulsates at the intersection of nature and violence, family, sex, and love. They Were Bears drags us mercilessly back to our animal nature, honoring vulnerability and calling out sexual violence. This book pulls no punches, spares us little. What is reflected in its waters is our truest selves, as beautiful and terrifying as they are wont to be.

The tender, ravenous, brutal honesty of the book’s thematic spectrum is brought to life by the true craftsmanship of the poet. This is an absolutely stunning collection on every level–its words and images thrash and breathe, fly and tether. The poems are lush in their soundscape, and on the page they mark their territory distinctly. And the moments. The breathtaking moments. How true their revelation, declarations, and admissions: “because you were born to hunt, and I was / born of hunting: a witness of great fires;” “I try to explain that love is a violence, / even when it’s beautiful. / When you enter someone, / you must also leave them.”

Mazal tov to Sarah Marcus on this incredible work, and may we all start anew together in these Days of Awe.


Want more from Sarah Marcus?
Sarah Marcus’ Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: IN THE ABSENCE


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From IN THE ABSENCE
By Dara Barnat:


IMPRINT

I hear you’re gone and I fall with you.

In that place part of me stays,

like a hand in clay,

even as I make rice for dinner, boil water,

measure the grains,

pour wine, set out flowers with all their petals.

The imprint holds the loss of everything.

It holds what we thought was joy.



IN THE ABSENCE

              Dark is just dark–

rooms and all we’ve built are nothing.

Chairs with their backs, tables with their legs, beds with their heads.

Outside, trees with their leaves.

I can’t write that wood into a vessel

that will carry us to a place

where life is a river never not flowing.

I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters

through the window, try to catch
              its meaning,

              but light is just light.



PRAYER I DO NOT KNOW

There’s no one here, but me
alone. I close

my eyes and try
to remember your face,

its light, your
fingers, their light

touch, your laugh,
the lightness. I say a prayer

that is my own:
May we live

a thousand years together,
in another life.



Today’s poems are from In the Absence (Turning Point Books, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Dara Barnat, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



In the Absence: Dara Barnat’s In the Absence evokes a yearning of the spirit so strong that it becomes presence, its light unstopped.


Dara Barnat is the author of the poetry collection In the Absence (Turning Point, 2016), as well as Headwind Migration, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2009). She also writes critical essays on poetry and translates poetry from Hebrew. Her research explores Walt Whitman’s influence on Jewish American poetry. Dara holds a Ph.D. from The School of Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University. She currently teaches at Tel Aviv University and Queens College, CUNY.


Editor’s Note: Dara Barnat’s first full-length collection begins by declaring that “Dark is just dark.” But the assertion casts a shadow question: Is dark just dark? For it is light that is at the heart of this work: “I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters / through the window, try to catch / its meaning, / but light is just light.”

But “light is just light” is no more the truth of these poems — and the poet’s journey that unfolds across them — than “dark is just dark.” This work is neither a book of questions nor of answers. Instead, In the Absence is an honest experience of grief that explores the inevitable, never-ending pilgrimage inherent within loss: “I hear you’re gone and I fall with you. / In that place part of me stays, / like a hand in clay.”

Not since Li-Young Lee’s Rose have I been so slain by a book of mourning. Like Rose, In the Absence mourns the loss of a father while acknowledging that such a loss is anything but simple, that the complications of life remain a reckoning for the living. “The imprint holds the loss of everything. / It holds what we thought was joy.”

Held close within this incredibly moving and painstakingly wrought collection is a poem titled “Walt Whitman.” I had the honor of featuring this poem here on the Saturday Poetry Series in 2013 as I marked my father’s first yahrzeit (Jewish death anniversary). Tomorrow will be five years since my father’s death. What at one year could be commemorated with a single poem, five years later needs an entire book. Such is the nature of grief — it does not diminish; it grows. And in its growing it becomes more painful and more beautiful all at once.

In the Absence transforms the poet’s personal grief into communion. I will re-read this book tomorrow as I remember my father on his five-year yahrzeit, and I will grieve. But, more than that, I will say a prayer that is the poet’s and is my own: “May we live / a thousand years together, / in another life.”


Want more from Dara Barnat?
Buy In the Absence from IndieBound
Buy In the Absence on Amazon
Poems in YEW
Poems in diode
Interview in Poet Lore
Dara Barnat’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LEAH UMANSKY

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By Leah Umansky:


HARD

It is hard to quiet the blackberrying pain.
The little chronicles, the streaks, and the intimate workings.

I will face this by red-winging my truths.
I will push my blues into orchids.


BALLAD

I decided to claim more space
         But I chose the opposite
What are the words I would go to: hunger// longing// love
         When you feel drawn to something you should.
Whatever your terrible is is up to you.
         The question is how you lead.
I lead myself to distress; I lead myself to happiness.
         This is the history of our times.
I claw my way to the surface.
         I get a hold of this world with my teeth
& wolf down what I thirst for.
         How do I take the I out of here?
(why should I take the I out?)

*

I am always hungry
         I am always thinking of my next meal
         Is it the preemie in me?
Is it just the want?

*

We all have our oddities.
         I am always trying to be practical, logical, rational,
but it doesn’t always add up.
         There is so much of my life that I am forever holding under the light.
What falls below the seam?
         What falls outside of this poem?

*

I want to put the happy in.
         I want to put the hard world in.
I want to say this is a ballad, and so it is.
         Let’s enter it differently.
Any mammal feeds a hunger
         Any heart needs oxygen.


CARNAGE

Everyone is saying no to me
Just as they do now
Just as they will
A kind of civil riot
A staged parade
It makes every kind of sense
That carnage that comes with falling hard,
That carnage that hassles and times,
That carnage that language picks up;
I am wanting to be picked up.
It is rarely an accident.
Elements are employed
Pounds are ranged
The number of possible routes are lost
All to force my foot door to door
To match the heart of my drive to
Coffee after coffee after coffee.
Take me as a whole,
Take these birds outside my window
Alive with the world’s chirp
Alive with the everyday thrill of
Worm or bug or crumb. Take them,
Then remember my thrills.
Everyone is saying no to me,
And I am flummoxed each time
I ask for more; or try for more.
I strive and I strive.
That’s the 21st century calling.
It’s doable. I travel great lengths
So I can match the heart
With the focus of each and every obstacle.
Can there be a rallying point?
This is not an accident.

(Is that what I should be learning here?)

Well, isn’t that magnificent.



“Hard” originally appeared in Thrush, “Ballad” originally appeared in The Inquisitive Eater, and “Carnage” originally appeared in Queen Mob’s. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Leah Umansky is the author of the poetry collection, The Barbarous Century, forthcoming from London’s Eyewear Publishing in 2018, the dystopian-themed chapbook Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016), the Mad Men–inspired chapbook Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), and the full length Domestic Uncertainties (BlazeVOX, 2012). She is a graduate of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches middle and high school English in New York City. More at www.LeahUmansky.com.

Editor’s Note: It seems I can’t read (or write) anything these days without seeing it through the lens of politics. Least of all poetry. Today’s poems — at once political and private — may or may not have been crafted to address the current moment. And yet they can be read as a direct address and used, accordingly, as a salve. What can we do, we ask? “I will face this by red-winging my truths,” says the poet; “I will push my blues into orchids.” Even in an ars poetica the poet’s words can function as a mirror: “The question is how you lead. / I lead myself to distress; I lead myself to happiness. / This is the history of our times.” No matter their intent, today’s poems are in the world now, speaking to us as they will. They might incite action or nurse wounds or take stalk of our humanity. “Take me as a whole,” they say, “Take these birds outside my window / Alive with the world’s chirp / Alive with the everyday thrill of / Worm or bug or crumb.”

Want more from Leah Umansky?
Border Crossing
Poetry Magazine
Jet Fuel
Minola Review
Quotidian Bee