Poetry

May 2020 Poetry Feature

By PETER LaBERGE, ROSE McLARNEY, NATHANIEL PERRY, and KERRY JAMES EVANS


New poems by our contributors
:

Peter LaBerge | Reliquary (June)

Rose McLarney | Her Own

Nathaniel Perry | March (I’m far away from home today)

Kerry James Evans | Golgotha

 

Reliquary (June)
By Peter LaBerge

midnight & the dead boys introduce
themselves once more, not by name
but by what they’ve left behind—

            hello Unlicked Stamps.
            hello Blanched Almond
Moon.
            hello Board Games in the
Pantry.

another queer boy’s death in media
res

           the unblinking eye
           of a cavalry horse gone
belligerent…
           last monday it was the
moon.


           nobody asked the moon if it
was

           finished being the moon

           before god popped it from
its socket.

more queer boys in media res. the
queer boys, first their names left out
of the news—

           hello John Doe.
           hello John Doe.
           hello John Doe.

on TV, they sprout names. on TV,
we watch each as boys, falling
through the snow of grainy home
videos—

           i fear we’ve etched each
little face
           in smooth clay like memory,  
           one next to the other,

           then printed them with
ground charcoal

           then left them out in the late-
spring rain
           to de-face like history—

 

Her Own
By Rose McClarney

Sillage is the scent following after
the wearer of perfume moving through a room.

It comes from the French for a wake,
as in the trail left by a jet through the sky.

Once, she thought it was chopped corn stalks,
fermented and fed, in the winter, to pigs.

You can guess the kind of place she came from,
how much of anywhere she’d been. When wind

blew from the direction of the silos,
she didn’t move, would only

raise her own hand to her nose for cover,
for its soap smell, and continue whatever task

she was set to. Flight, that there was other air,
were not ideas she held then.

 
 

March
By Nathaniel Perry

I’m far away from home today
and everything is breaking.
The heat pump stopped, the well went out,
and the dog is still making

us worry with what she is and isn’t
doing. Kate’s been calling
me asking for help, and I
am, to be honest, failing

to be much help at all. I sent
a friend to fix the well,
which he did, but that is really the only
thing I managed. If a bell

rings and you’re not there to hear it
or attend to what it means,
what is your relationship
to the bell? I’ve never been

a monk, but if you don’t rise and pray,
the prayer goes on without you,
I know. When Merton asked his abbot
if he could travel, he flew

to Thailand and died, or maybe was killed,
but his prayers went on without him
either way: he left his things at home
and knew no more about them.

It is so easy to separate,
I forget the work of staying
whole, is maybe another way
of putting it, of paying

my respects to what I’ll leave behind.
Today, I’m going home,
but Merton never made it back,
to M, to the small stone

hermitage he’d barely lived in,
to his east-facing Jesus
or to the knobby hills that rise
like beautiful excuses

around Gethsemani. And it’s useful
to remember that that will be,
one day, my fate as well. My kids
will stand at the spring and see

a sunset I won’t see. The beech
and hickory will clack
indifferent branches above the field
beside them as they walk back

to the house without me, gravel thin,
not one stone on a stone,
the sky above them blue but weird,
bare and blank as bone.

 

Golgotha
By Kerry James Evans

I feel better about my peanut butter
and jelly sandwich, the pears
swelling behind the house,
where a chubby train appears each day
at 3:00pm, its diesel engines
rattling so loud, they scare squash
clear off the vine. Don’t worry.
Redemption lurks in the back pew
of a rural Baptist church—
or that’s what we tell ourselves
after raising our heads for the altar call
to watch Jethro Smith finally
get saved. Everyone’s so proud
of Jethro for seeing the light,
which he will truly see next Tuesday,
when he rolls his Ford F-150 over a guardrail
and into the Buttahatchee River,
where so many dead bodies
have been devoured, even the river
has lost count, cattle-thick
water churning like the preacher’s doubt
when he commits the unfound body
to the earth. He got right with God,
he’ll say, Bible in right hand,
shovel in left. He’ll fling dirt
onto an empty coffin, then walk away,
head slumped like a yoked mule—
like the rest of us bent under
the weight of our collective
disappointment. But how can I talk
about the future when the past,
virulent as the holy ghost, knocks
like an old friend peddling
fire extinguishers—who, like a
translucent Gecko, shimmies
through the door with a big red can
of what the hell happened?
and my God, how do I get him
out of my house? What I wouldn’t give
to pursue other conversation—
one about how proud I am
for all your success, or Damn
if these aren’t the sweetest pears,
and Can you believe we’ve been
getting so much of this good rain!
I know it’s foolish, but I listen
in those flickers between breaths
—when a dialect gives way to a presence
beyond reason, a place so holy
it can hardly be seen or heard
—like dew drops on a watermelon.
Call it Golgotha. The crown of a hillside
made quiet by a simple breeze, a song
of such exacting glory you leave
the body altogether, and, like Jethro,
are content to drift downriver.

 

Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon). He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and his poems have appeared in Agni, New England Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. He will join the MFA in Creative Writing faculty at Georgia College & State University this fall. 

Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbooks Makeshift Cathedral (YesYes Books) and Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press). His work received a 2020 Pushcart Prize for Poetry and has appeared in AGNI, Best New Poets, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, and Tin House, among others. Peter is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal, as well as an incoming MFA candidate and Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at New York University. For more, visit peterlaberge.com.

Rose McLarney’s collections of poems are Forage and Its Day Being Gone, both from Penguin Poets, as well as The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, published by Four Way Books. She is co-editor of A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, from University of Georgia Press, and the journal Southern Humanities Review. Rose has been awarded fellowships by the MacDowell Colony, and Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences; served as Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place; and is winner of the National Poetry Series, the Chaffin Award for Achievement in Appalachian Writing, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ New Writing Award for Poetry, among other prizes. Her work has appeared in publications including The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Missouri Review, and The Oxford American. Rose earned her MFA from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. Currently, she is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Auburn University.

Nathaniel Perry is the author of Nine Acres (Copper Canyon/APR, 2011). Recent poems and essays appear in Kenyon Review, Image, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. He is the editor of Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review and lives in rural Virginia.

May 2020 Poetry Feature
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Kazakhstani Poet Aigerim Tazhi in Translation

Poems by AIGERIM TAZHI

Translated from the Russian by J. KATES

Image of book cover

Translator’s Note

For the most part, the Russian poets I have translated—however different in style and school—have been of my own generation and share many of my persuasions. How much more distant from me is Central Asia? Russian serves as a shaky bridge I cross with trepidation. But for the Kazakhstani poet Aigerim Tazhi, born in 1981 in Aktobe—formerly Aktyubinsk—Russian is solid ground underfoot. “I live in Kazakhstan,” she has said, “but I was born in the Soviet Union… I did not choose the Russian language, did not evaluate it… It’s just the language that I’ve spoken since childhood.”1

Kazakhstani Poet Aigerim Tazhi in Translation
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April 2020 Poetry Feature: Poems from John Freeman’s THE PARK

This month, we’re happy to bring you poems from JOHN FREEMAN’s forthcoming collection, The Park, out on May 5th from Copper Canyon Press.

 

Cover of John Freeman's "The Park," a black and white photo of park benches and trees

Table of Contents:

  • Easement
  • Ghost
  • Youth
  • Halfway
  • On Love
  • The Politician

 

John Freeman is the editor of Freeman’s, a literary annual, and author of the poetry collections Maps and The Park, as well as three books of nonfiction, Dictionary of the Undoing, The Tyranny of E-mail, and How to Read a Novelist. He has also edited three anthologies of writing on inequality, including Tales of Two Americas and Tales of Two Planets, a new book about global inequality and climate change, forthcoming from Penguin. The former editor of Granta, he lives in New York, where he is writer-in-residence at New York University. The executive editor at Lit Hub, he has published poems in Zyzzyva, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Nation. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

April 2020 Poetry Feature: Poems from John Freeman’s THE PARK
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Love, Under a Falling Sky

By MEGAN PINTO 

 

Say Chicken Little was right, that the sky 
is falling. What I want to know is,
will the moon fall too? Will it bounce softly 
like swiss cheese, or will it crumble
like a stale cookie? Do skies bruise? 
Do they ache? And is the sky
a metaphor for all the ills and evils 
of the world? A testament
to how the earth can only hold so much 
pain and grief? But why
would God send a chicken? Would you listen 
to a chicken? Is the chicken a metaphor 
for Jesus? Did the Bible mention this 
and somehow I missed it? Is this because
in 6th grade my teacher made me promise Jesus 
my virginity in a gift basket? Actually, if the sky falls,

Love, Under a Falling Sky
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Modern Gods

By JOHN FREEMAN

 

Backlit by the glow
from a small passageway,
he kneels into the fog
of yellow light,
head kissing the carpet.
I step around him,
respecting his privacy, when 
the mat becomes not prayer 
rug but builder’s tool,
a black piece of tarmac, laid down
before the bank so he could
peer close, fix the dead 
motion sensor so that people 
with money could 
be seen, all doors opening
for them.

Modern Gods
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Offering

By TARA SKURTU

It was the first time I’d lived
with a man, and I wanted him

to translate the name of our street.
He was holding my cold fist

in his own, and we were on
Ofrandei, in the middle of unpaved

Bragadiru, Romania, on our way
home. It’s something you give

to get something—like a sacrifice.
Like what you do for a god.

Offering
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