May 2017 Poetry Feature

This May, we’re celebrating spring with new work by three of our contributors.



Flavored Graffito

                                                                                      Agrigento, Sicily

             Piz-stack-eee-oh, Graffito registers, the word flooding his noggin

                   like the weed-choked shrubs crowding what should-be-a-more-

         pregnant vacuity surrounding what little remains of Demeter’s


     temple, piz-stack-eeh-oh, but no, no, Graffito’s not actually hearing the term

             but he is receiving it, embracing it, even imbibing it, for

       the nut in question is in reference to a particular Graffito-ingested


             gelato flavor, piz-stack-eee-oh, and I know, ice-cream-cheek’d Graffito

          muses, I know the fences I just hopped over to better spy what

      negligible edifice remains of Demeter’s temple are, unlike, say,


           piz-stack-eee-ohs, not of a vibrant ubiquity but of a more

local, um, you know, functional, soul-numbing variety, and so it is that

        when he, Graffito, is to be the deity to which a sanctuary is dedicated,


                       piz-stack-eee-ohs and not brick or stone shall be the basic

              unit of construction, and in this way the sum of human

       interminglings shall be, however modestly, reacquainted with the sky via


            a well-shelled nut, which shall be gathered and molded in such

    a quantity as to reignite humanity’s awe of its own self-estranging

          capacities, which are in fact fully (and even ideally) compatible with


               a copiousness, damn near audible, of plain old pistachios.


Graffito’s Hinge



Water-soluble mandibles, crankshaft-operated parliaments,

       oxcart-cluttered financial districts, retaliatory

    tariffs dreamed-up by the great-great-great-great


          grandchildren of Gilded Age robber barons—ah, yes, Graffito

   conjures such fancies as he strolls, alone, the Ponte

      Sant’Angelo and studies the rotund aggression of the red-bricked


            fortress, yet when Graffito absentmindedly stumbles into a fellow,

   um, human, the latter, a rather striking young woman of immaculate Oxbridge

                  Italian intonations, says: I am sorry, sir. Mi scusi. Mi dispiace.


  And no problem, is Graffito’s reply, that’s it, that’s all, no problem, which instigates

conversation, which entails valuations of monuments within a six

  mile radius, and which in turn facilitates Graffito and his new


     friend’s jointly jaunting, in the next days, to the Tivoli Fountains,

         and to Caius Cestius’s pyramid, yet at the latter, Graffito’s companion,

Tinsley, remarks: the proximity of the vehicle traffic to ancient


                  edifices in this city rather quite floors me, and Graffito at once

            commences to detail his fantasies of the mule-cart-swathed Wall

                  Streets of provincial capitals, and of water-soluble


              mandibles, and let’s not forget the legislative bodies more

       functional for being somehow reduced to a simple piston-pumping

       motion, and Graffito and Tinsley, alas, either share


           a subdued, ironical chuckle, OK, or Graffito

               and Tinsley proceed to arrange to never

                   ever, well, see one another again.


Steve Barbaro’s poems appear in such venues as New American Writing, Denver Quarterly, Western Humanities Review, Prelude, Verse Daily, DIAGRAM, and American Letters & Commentary. He is currently finishing a novel, an excerpt of which can be accessed in Web Conjunctions



Hungry Ghost


The Hungry Ghost is not the bakery on State Street

of the same name, but the toothy fire the baker


thinks he’s tamed. At thirteen, a blast of lightning

levitated me, then bolted me to my bed until a fierce,


rhythmic flickering behind the blinds drew me up

to see the top half of Cindy’s house—roaring.


In woods and alleys, kids strike matches, grab

danger. Once, I followed sirens to a big blaze,


posed as a novelist desperate to get it right. A guy

ducked me under the tape, handed me a hardhat,


let me close enough to sweat, small in the scalding

light. Thinking love combustion, we forget smolder,


go for conflagration. We get scorched, apply simple

salve, drink too little water. Don’t we all fall silent,


enthralled, before woodstove or hearth or warming

our hands under the overpass, knowing only stone


and bone survive it? Fire, you made us who we are—

cooks, night owls, large-brained dreamers. Because


we can’t take you into our bodies, we settle for smoke,

inching ever faster toward the red-tipped end. But


oh my people, when it’s time, please. Give me

to the fire. Let it eat me, immaculate and gone.


Ellen Doré Watson’s fifth collection, pray me stay eager, will be published by Alice James Books in 2018. Her work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Tin House, Orion, Field, Gulf Coast, and The New Yorker. Among her honors are fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and to Yaddo, and a NEA Translation Fellowship. She has translated a dozen books from the Brazilian Portuguese, including the work of poet Adélia Prado. Watson serves as poetry editor of The Massachusetts Review, director of the Poetry Center at Smith College, and teaches in the Drew University Low-Residency MFA program in poetry and translation.




Night Driving

Dark movements rimmed with light.

— Naomi Shihab Nye


Giant shadows of wind, the semis blow by,

bemoaning lost mileage; the drivers

on that mad combination of caffeine, adrenaline,

& speed. The skyline something crossed out—

not a bad word, necessarily, but a right phrase

at the wrong moment. Again

I wanted to say how like the night she is,

familiar, surprising, uncontainable.

The road to her is 314 miles long.

It unravels like a paragraph. My travelogue

is the story of how we met in a cursive

no one can decipher. It includes a litany

of curses in a tongue long forgotten.

Sometimes I tell her I love you, which is to say

I confuse her name with God’s, particularly

when the last song on the radio is one

that always reminds her of an old crush.

States still separate us. My hands

on the steering wheel, its curve

like the curve of heaven, the arc of earth.

Ahead: the indulgent sadnesses of heartache.

Ahead: the flashing lights of cruiser & fire trucks

some accident on a fast-approaching interchange.


Gerry LaFemina is the author of numerous books of poetry and fiction, the most recent of which are Vanishing Horizon (poems, 2011 Anhinga Press), Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist (prose poems, 2013 Mayapple Press) and Clamor (novel, 2013 Codorus Press).


Julia PikeMay 2017 Poetry Feature

Two Poems in the Courtly Manner



Gather ye rosebuds come what may,

Old time’s a frequent flyer,

And many lovers that link today

May soon be forced to retire.


Let each of us have one, each of us be one

Soul unlinking from its mate in the past

To eat the golden apples of the sun.

Youth fondly supposes it will last.

Sunna JuhnTwo Poems in the Courtly Manner

April 2017 Poetry Feature

At The Common, we’re celebrating Poetry Month with new work by five of our contributors.


Fayum Portrait [Deal]

I’ve sent a map on wax paper–
                    What he loves arrayed as clumsy petals.
                            If it arrives,
someone will ink it in his back,
                                   so it will go with him
like a paw stuffed in a casing,
boardwalk mojo to ward off the hail of RPG, AK,

        FOB after FOB, Amputee Ward, TBI, Arlington.

Quasi-offering­ part-collateral, part-sympathetic,
        as when he dabbed his thumb in red paint

                    brushed it under his eye, then mine, a contagion

to assuage what’s left,
        as if one’s suffering staves another’s,
                    as if the animal might want it back.

        The deal– if he makes it, I’ll lie down on the table.

Flower, flag, fist­– he’ll draw whatever he wants
        over my chest. If not, I’ll etch it in my face.

                    One day, our skins will say
what we wanted from each other.

        Once a body owns a thing it offers it back.


Fayum Portrait [Martins]

Sometimes standing beside him,
        I hear the wind whistling through

                my brother, and martins drinking
        through their porous wings.

I mean, seems to, or I hear
                that way, and forget he was nursed

                                by centaurs, almost drowned
in armor by the god-hand. But if I place

a light against him, evidence­–
                tight hollow lines. In theory,

        they run unto physics. In a backyard,
                it hurts where light writes itself,

where hurt coils like a river slacking into time,
        where I make the river a field

                                and let the field go.

James Hoch is the author of A Parade of Hands and Miscreants.  He is Professor of Creative Writing at Ramapo College of NJ and Guest Faculty at Sarah Lawrence, and lives in the Hudson Valley.



Things I Will Never Say to Mr. DJ

You ask me, How young do you think is too young for me to date?

and I feel Oba’s machete slicing her flesh, see
amaryllis bloom pink, shield the place where her ear used to be.

I want you
to not be stupid

to hear my voice and see
a pashmina scarf dyed in Oshun’s irises to

look at me and feel
goats singing soft gold songs to

touch me and hear
ashes exfoliating your skin

to smell the chasm between us and taste
dancers whirling to drums inside calabashes
carried from Yorubaland to Trinidad.

I want you
to remember the lovely couple we made,
man and woman stopped by strangers on the street—
(ain’t black love beautiful?)
admirers we never corrected—then touch
the tips of your picket fence dreams and smell
curried mango bowing at my altar on a Thursday.

Mariam Williams is a Kentucky writer living in Philadelphia and pursuing an MFA in creative writing and a certificate in public history from Rutgers University-Camden. Her poetry has been published in The Feminist Wire, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Bozalta. Mariam currently is working on a chapbook that retells stories of silenced and condemned women of the Bible and on a memoir that explores intersections of faith, family, and feminism in her life. 



Two Women

I’ve watched the past
chew through her dreams.

The way a glass falls onto stone.
The way blood soaks cotton.

Thunder shook us –
we had to build in the dark flashes.
I could feel her heart beat in my fingers.
Shower of red leaves in the wind.

She held on to me
when they put the needle through her lip.

The triumph of knotweed and yarrow –
we took hold.

Margins rubbed away.
Her secrets crawled

under the house like an animal.
Inside – no tool bench,

no Craftsmen,
no master, no den,

no dresses in the closet
no crib in the attic.
Only our hands.
Only our mouths.

Alison Prine’s collection of poems, Steel, won the Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, FIELD, Hunger Mountain, and Prairie Schooner among others. She lives in Burlington, Vermont where she works as a psychotherapist.



Domestic Nocturne

Tomorrow I fly east; my wife flies west.
Divided aims, a shared bed.  A shared
darkness, wakeful with the prospect
of traveling.  I hold a glass of wine
to settle me, as she lies beside me,
so quiet I can hear her silence
as the attempt to fall asleep, to loosen
tensions our daughter tightly wound,
whose bedtime stories’ last “The End”
falls like a final curtain, a tragic period
to the breathless run-on sentence of her day.

I study the nightfall in our room;
how darkness opens as my eyes adjust,
till it seems the room itself has tasted
what light there is, and savors it—
though it’s me who eagerly takes it in:
the fog of painted wall, mass of bed
and bureau, dark starfish of ceiling fan.
Soft yellow auras, behind windowshade
and door, seem to frame the darkness—
like gold frames that Whistler made
(the painter I’m leaving home
to study), to frame his studies
of the coming on of night.

I want to write this down, this poise,
this moment hung between two days,
this quiet quickening; but switching on the light
would spoil it, and roil my wife awake.
When it became too dark to paint
the London riverscape, Whistler learned
to memorize the scene, committing to his mind
the river’s glow against the shapes of shadows
on the far bank, the pinprick gold of gaslights.

He could dedicate his memory
to his art.  And yet found so forgettable
his own children—infants bundled
to orphanage, his grown son barely
acknowledged.  And how far, tomorrow,
my wife will travel to receive
an embryo—all we could do to conceive—
a composition of cells that carries within
a possible child.  And again, the familiar pull
between the work I love (this expectant week
of haunting galleries), and love for my family.

But really, what choice?  I love
both ways; so what if either
makes me long for the other?  For now,
let me commit to memory
the gloom and glimmer of this room.
In my hand, the glass of wine collects
an ember of light I barely see, as I barely hear
her breath, now a rhythm of rest.
Tomorrow, we travel.  Tonight,
I’m more like my daughter, riding on
my waking, thrilled by this three-day-old, cheap,
bottom-of-the-bottle wine, as Art and Life—
the long and the short of it—bicker like Gods
above the mythic vessel of my bed.


Place Names of the South Plains

They named the towns for what they saw,
which wasn’t much: Plains,
Shallowater, Brownfield
Sometimes they found a wrinkle
of irony, a little grin
against grimness: Earth, Muleshoe,
. Land so flat
the highest point might be hats
of a settler or two,
like Floydada, Idalou

If they were to return today,
those founders, what would they find
to name? Maybe they would see
Shutdown, Allgone, or Onepump;
or the metroplex of Moved:
North Moved, South Moved, West Moved
and then the remarkable
Stillgoing, and Holdover.

And because it’s hard to imagine
a place without imagining yourself
in it, I wonder, if they saw my car
parked, looking like the bubble
in some vast spirit level,
and me, squinting across a dun expanse
that seems to serve no human aim
but to anchor a round horizon,
and if they asked me its name,
would I tell them, Revery, or Lost?

William Wenthe’s fourth book of poems, God’s Foolishness, was published by LSU Press in April 2016.  He has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts, and two Pushcart Prizes. He teaches at Texas Tech University.



Lines Written at Tyrone Guthrie

Two hours rambling over gorse-studded pasture. I’m hoarse
from shouting yellow yellower than the sun and more vanilla
than aether! Even the swans honk their approval of my out-
and-about and general brightening of the disposition. In this
country where every second shadow’s attached to a sinner,
they drink to excess but follow the hedgerows and stumble home
for dinner. Agnostic as I am, I haven’t talked to god
along a nature trail, nor met a god I ever liked that wasn’t
in a lotus posture: not Buddha – for I’m fond of women
and prefer Guanyin meditating amidst the marsh marigolds
or Mary, cross-legged, sniffing roses in a topiary manger,
or someone out of time like Gaia-Tellus who I believe
as I believe the Earth is round and spinning on a phallus.
I’m lost. We’re lost. God cast us out when Modernists
miscast him or wished him dead. And he’s been dead
ever since, or turned his back on us, a black monolith
in space the greatest telescope can’t penetrate. We’ve lost
the light from that old signal that goes back before the Big
Bang. That’s why our postmodernists obsessively observe
the sky for signs of icy H2O in distant universes and track back
now almost to the blast of the first Big Whimper, perhaps
just a temper-tantrum God’d thrown from another unbelieving
swarm of stars and planets, our parallel, our oldest lesson before
our sun was warm. Hell, what can I know beyond the mute
swan’s honk who, if his name were true, would be original
as silence, or sin, or sun, though I’m told there’s a hiss and hum
from the gases. We’re perfect asses here on earth. What’s it worth
to know that gods are gone, ghosts are phony, the fore-known
and the after-known are ignorant of us and us of them? It’s worth
my life, I guess, my sixty years vexed by the cradle that rocked me
from my first foundations, to my earnest vernal search, to my selva
oscura in the dark woods of middle life, to this very moment
growing always closer to the age of god who is ageless, unless
I clap my hands and scare off the swans and sing for all I’m worth,
though it be nothing, a yellow stain and sting along the hedgerow home.

Neil Shepard’s sixth and seventh books of poetry were both published in 2015: Hominid Up (Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and a full collection of poems and photographs, Vermont Exit Ramps II, (Green Writers Press, Vermont). His poems appear online at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Poem-A-Day (from the Academy of American Poets), as well as in several hundred literary magazines. He taught for many years in the BFA writing program at Johnson State College in Vermont and edited the literary magazine Green Mountains Review for a quarter-century. These days, he teaches poetry workshops at Poets House in Manhattan.


Sarah WhelanApril 2017 Poetry Feature

March 2017 Poetry Feature

At The Common we’re welcoming spring with new poetry by our contributors. (Be sure to listen to the audio link to Megan Fernandes’ “White People Always Want to Tell Me…,” read by the author.)

Sarah WhelanMarch 2017 Poetry Feature




There is a dark blue bible in the nightstand, a pitcher and torch

stamped on the cover in gold. I rub this symbol

with my thumb and I am comforted, knowing another

man was in this room before me, just to

place his light here.

Julia PikeMotel