New poems by our contributors: TOMMYE BLOUNT, ROBERT CORDING, REBECCA FOUST, and LUISA IGLORIA
Table of Contents:
—An Extra Steps into the Robe
—War and Peace
Luisa A. Igloria
—Enrique Remembers Melaka Before Disappearing from Known History
An Extra Steps into the Robe
Burbank, California, 1914
It feels good grazing against my skin,
all that satin and muslin—a high
thread count to tuck in
the American Dream. Embroidery
and tassels fit for men like me
who would pay a good buck
to be a part of this invisible kingdom.
Ah! This flair for pageantry
seen in a film—the birth of a motion
picture uniting us all. It takes Clare West,
kneeling at my hem with a mouthful of pins,
to make it all work; her willingness
to abandon what is seen
for what isn’t readily seen yet
only in the imagination. In those early hours,
her eyes must’ve burned with pride
over all these yards—greens, golds,
whites bold enough to read
in the dark. Isn’t it the artist’s job,
when there is no color, to invent it?
By ROBERT CORDING
Since my son’s death, I’ve read each day
from the Book of Unknowing.
What I know, it says, is like spring snow,
melting as it falls. But I am not like the snow,
it reminds me, which vanishes and doesn’t care.
The Book says the red trucks like my son’s
that I sometimes follow for miles
will always keep vanishing. It says
the moon waxes and wanes, the sun appears
and disappears. The Book tells me: Be careful,
wisdom and self-pity can look the same.
It says remembrance is never hagiography.
That grief is the thumbprint of my soul,
and whatever I know, I know by its absence now.
It says I am asleep in the silence of the dead.
The Book asks if I am aware
that wherever I go I bring grief with me.
If I can learn how to love by learning how to die.
Every day. Love is necessary, the Book demands,
even when it is a splinter of glass
lodged in the heart. What I cannot see is
what lies ahead. What lies ahead is always
waiting for my arrival. On the first page
of the Book, it tells me I know nothing.
On the last page, I know nothing.
On the thousands of pages in between,
there are lists of everything I thought I knew.
I read and read, slowly returning
to who I was before I thought I knew who I was.
Love what cannot last, the Book of Unknowing
instructs and each day say a chorus of hosannas
for all that was my life and still is.
By REBECCA FOUST
It was about the redbuds blooming a hot current
along nude limbs in the nearly-dead woods
fringing the field. It was about the flecks
and pockmarks of blue tattooing your face,
and the planes of your face reshaped
by the shotgun blast. About your unraveling
pink sweater in a time and place where men
did not wear sweaters, or pink, or spend years
learning to play a guitar. It was about my parents
at home, not knowing I’d left before dawn
to meet you there in the muddy field. It was
about stealing their car to get to you. And about
the sun opening its ardent kimono against a sky
usually seen as a narrow selvage edging
the mountains. Opening, then billowing out
into blood and bruise. It was about those hues,
scarlet and violet and gold. It was about
the violets starring the field, their cool,
peppery scent and faces like children’s faces.
The stubble on your chin, and the stubble
of last summer’s corn spun by the frost
into glittering grotesques. Your Irish Setter
blazing a red wildfire across the field,
and the low stone wall we sat on, your hands
framing my face. How you kept them there
and looked at me without saying anything,
your beautiful, ruined face filling my eyes.
It was about the crocuses lifting up little caps
of dirt crumbs and snow. It was about the snow,
falling thickly all winter, and the ice storm
that sealed every branch and twig in a glass case,
the chinkle-sound in the woods when they fell.
It was about my parents, your parents,
everyone’s parents, dying of the same lung disease,
though I didn’t know it then.
But that day, it was about spring, first onions
releasing their sharp, alive scent
when we trampled them, and the feel of the field
under my boots, finally yielding. Then it was
the ground smelling of leaf meal and wet
rusted iron, dirt warmer than the air and damp
against my back, down the long length of me.
It was about looking up and past you
to a gap in the mountains—glimpse of a new
planet’s curve, a world of clean water
and air and unbanned books a whole town
could not fathom was there. It was about your hair,
long, thick and black, and the way your hands
smelled of coffee and bees. About darkness
and light, stalwart and stricken, thicken
and ache. It was about the gun,
and about having to steal the way out. About
the way your hands pulled an urgency from me,
like they had from your guitar. It was about
seeing past your face filling my field.
It was about the field filling the field,
filling your face with shatter and blast and utter regret.
It was about the field, and what lies beyond.
War and Peace
The first time I read War and Peace
I thought Pierre a narcissistic fool
to believe he was the one
appointed by fate or default
to assassinate Napoleon.
Pierre was drunk, pathetic, inept,
and clearly deranged—
not a good look, in any era.
After Trump, and during the first
pandemic confinement, I read
War and Peace again, ten pages a day
in a global group-read
designed to remind us that quarantine
used to look a lot worse
before the UN and the screens.
People ate babies during the siege
of Leningrad, and the crates
of tiny knitted sweaters and caps
still insulate police station walls.
Anyway, I read it again and this time,
Pierre was my man.
I followed him in those pages,
full of a strange elation
I could not understand,
squirreling his hapless, naïve way
through the ruined avenues of Moscow.
He wanted to get a clear line of sight
to Napoleon, pompous
and plumed on his tall horse,
a leader defined in every way
by his diminutive size. Even a very large
leader pushing 300 pounds can,
I suppose, be defined by his small stature.
I digress, but not really.
During the Covid-quarantine read
I put my skills to work
and, as I’ve been taught, identified
with the character, felt empathy
for his predicament, understood
his motivation, and so on.
Napoleon was, after all, destroying
Anyway, I loved Pierre then and loved
his simple faith and creed.
I no longer needed anything at all,
besides just one of those two things
and, maybe, a gun. I am telling you this, friend,
in the strictest confidence, trusting you
will not, in the future denounce me.
I loved Pierre something fierce then,
more than a son. I was rooting for him
even though I knew he was doomed
already by history
and by ten thousand PhD dissertations.
I am telling you this because I believe now
the way Pierre learned to believe,
and I believe there are others like me.
I am telling you this because I think
you are my friend, and I trust you.
Here is the truth: I wanted to be Pierre then,
and after I put the book down,
for the first time in many months,
I dreamed. I dreamed as I had never dreamed
before in my life, dreamed and dreamed
and dreamed of killing someone.
Enrique Remembers Melaka Before Disappearing from Known History
“Primus circumdediste me” ~ motto on Juan Sebastián Elcano’s coat of arms; 1522
Windless, we languish for days
in the straits. Magallanes is gone:
dead at the hands of warriors
in Mactan. His resting place,
the watery deep. Or the Datu’s yard:
did he serve serve as trophy
until they gave what was left of him
to the wild boars, to ants?
you are so close. Your shadow or shape
almost carries in the humid air. Perhaps
I only imagine so. When going down the hold,
your mingled aromatics enfold my face: buah
pala, buah pelaga from Ambon and Ternate.
Bunga lawang, its small, hard, fragrant
stars; bunga cengkih, the dry nailheads
we crushed with our teeth to sweeten
our breath, coming before the sultan.
And I was curious about how smooth
pods bore mark after mark, how I
could trace with a fingernail
the lines that spread
in circles outward.
Melaka, my mouth remembers
veins of kaffir lime leaves, nostalgia of duan
pandan. I’ve learned to say their names in other
tongues; at least, bring the mouth as close
as possible, before the words vanish the way
a small craft plummets over an edge. In the silence,
we hear only water’s pure, untranslatable voice.
Tommye Blount is the author of the chapbook What Are We Not For and the debut full-length collection Fantasia for the Man in Blue. Born and raised in Detroit, Tommye now lives in Novi, Michigan.
Robert Cording’s latest book (tenth) of poems is out—In the Unwalled City from Slant. New work is out or forthcoming in The Sun, Poetry Northwest, The Hudson Review, New Ohio Review, Southern Review, and other places.
Rebecca Foust’s fourth full-length book ONLY (Four Way Books 2022) received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Her recognitions include the Pablo Neruda, CP Cavafy, and James Hearst poetry prizes, and fellowships from Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and Sewanee. Recent poems are in Five Points, Ploughshares, Poetry, and Quarterly West.
Originally from Baguio City, Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Co-Winner, 2019 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Prize, Southern Illinois University Press, 2020), The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal, 2018), and 12 other books. Luisa was the inaugural recipient of the 2015 Resurgence Poetry Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by a panel headed by former UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. She is a Louis I. Jaffe Professor of English and Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Old Dominion University, which she directed from 2009-2015. She also leads workshops for and is a member of the board of The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. During her appointed term as 20th Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia (2020-22), Emerita, the Academy of American Poets awarded her one of twenty-three Poet Laureate Fellowships in 2021 to support a program of public poetry projects. www.luisaigloria.com