February 2024 Poetry Feature

New poems by our contributors CORTNEY LAMAR CHARLESTON, OLENA JENNINGS, MEGHAN MCCLURE, and JONATHAN FINK

Table of Contents:

  • Cortney Lamar Charleston, “It’s Important I Remember That Fascism Didn’t Come to America, It Was Already Here—”
  • Olena Jennings, “Jane Runs, Sirko Sleeps”
  • Meghan McClure, “Cut Through the Center”
  • Jonathan Fink, “Proxima Centauri”

 

It’s Important I Remember That Fascism Didn’t Come to America, It Was Already Here
By Cortney Lamar Charleston

                               wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.

But the cross in question wasn’t literal: in his hand was a Bible
turned upside down like the state device that martyred Saint Peter;
the flag was a black-and-white replica of the national 
banner with a thin blue vein through the middle 
like one that parts a brow between rage and reason.

There was tear gas deployed without a tear. There were 
rubber bullets fired from weapons that also fire lethal rounds. There were 
armored vehicles steering through the streets of the capital that stars our maps.

What we saw was only new to the people it was new to. 
Some of us knew better. Been knew.

                    What the word is           to describe a J. Edgar Hoover. 
                    What the word is           to describe a Eugene “Bull” Connor. 
                    What the word is           to describe a Frank Rizzo or Richard J. Daley 

from where we stand, where the leaves of grass brown and brittle.

Some of us have been to Wilmington, North Carolina before, 
where Air Jordan took flight from among other local luminaries 
under very different, desperate circumstances—

sprinting from bullets, loose lumber and ropes 
as their government, democratic and dark of hue, was tossed aside.

                    What the word is           for this begins softly enough in our mouths, 
                                                            but that’s not how it ends 

as the teeth cut against it, 
teeth which keep the record of who we were for forensics to later identify.

This is new to the people it’s new to, 
but some of us know better. Been known:

                    if you ever see a flock of black birds scatter on the breeze, 
                    understand that the murders have started up again―

again               in the sense of             active repetition.
Repetition        in the sense of             continuing practice.   
Practice           in the sense of             attempting to perfect.

 

* Courtesy Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

 

Jane Runs, Sirko Sleeps
By Olena Jennings

I used to read the glossaries in the story books.
I always had trouble with ж and ч even though
I was told to remember the frog, жаба,
and upside-down chair, ч.
I protested against the alphabet. It was not
what I wanted to spend my time learning.
I wanted to be eating the cheesecake
we picked up along with the books
in the Ukrainian church hall.
The cheese was soft in my mouth
like the letters. I didn’t know when I would
ever learn them, plucking them from my memory,
remembering my grandmother plucking the beets
from the garden. When she would cut them
the wooden cutting board would turn pink.
We were all bleeding in our own ways and I lingered
over the letters, finally solidified, cutting myself
with their sudden sharpness, ж and ч.

 

Cut Through the Center
By Meghan McClure

I’m telling you this 
as a last resort.

It would be easier 
not to. It would be easier 

if my body was healthy,
if this hadn’t happened.

But I want to give you
a tenderness to believe in.

To show you the world 
is not all sharp stones 

and fractures.
A week after surgery,

where I’d been cut through
my center and kept tucked 

into a deep drug sleep,
a nurse came to help me stand,

bathe, begin my return 
to the living world. He held my arm, 

led me to the shower,
untied my hospital gown,

untangled my tubes, and
knelt before me. 

Flayed and repaired, 
I didn’t recognize this body.

In turns, sunken and swollen—
in all the wrong places.

Seeing the bruised kaleidoscope 
of skin, my eyes swam.

Steady now, darling.
In shame, the mind bends

and it does not occur to us to speak
and so, I cried silently.

He wiped the dried blood so lightly
from around the staples 

holding my stomach together
that I held my breath

like I was entering a cathedral 
during service when you aren’t supposed to be

there and thought you’d just slip in 
to see the stained-glass windows

in the late evening light.
My tears hit this man,

barely older than my twenty-
something, on the back 

of his head, his hands. Sorry
I offered over and over. Sorry.

It’s okay, darling.
Steady, steady.

He knelt, bent his head, 
and dunked the cloth 

into the basin of warm water
and showed me how to stay alive here 

in this bright place of gleaming scalpels
and brilliantly glinting sutures.

 


Proxima Centauri

By Jonathan Fink

“A new world is unveiled every day,” Etianne Klein, 
a French scientist, posts online alongside an image 
from the James Webb Telescope of Proxima Centauri,
the star nearest the Sun, 4.2 light years from Earth,
as he praises the image’s detail revealing swirls larger 
than the storms of Jupiter, a surface of churning flame 
crimson as the blood that moves through his veins,
and space itself, dark as the chambers of a beating heart.
And who would not believe, or, at least, want to believe,
the telescope’s gold-plated mirrors unfurling 
in space like a monarch from its chrysalis,
like a dream itself, even when Klein admits
online that the image was not, truly, 
of Proxima Centauri but of a slice of chorizo, 
its backdrop not the abyss of space 
but a square of cloth on his kitchen counter,
and admonishes his readers about cognitive bias,
claims to authority, and the diversions of “cocktail hour,”
stating that “no object related to Spanish charcuterie 
exists anywhere else other than on Earth,”
which, though not his point, reminds me of the line          
by Robert Frost that “Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it is likely to go better,”
the appeal of both embarking and coming back, 
the boy climbing the birch tree until it could bear 
no more and set him down again. Even William Shatner, 
the actor sent to space on a billionaire’s rocket, on a lark, 
stared into the unblinking lens of the camera crew 
upon return and, pointing to the sky, described
the moment of entering space, how, “in that big window, 
it was only black and ominous, and that was death, 
and this was life, and everything else just stood still 
for a moment,” describing himself as overwhelmed 
with the sensation, Earth’s preciousness a cliché, 
he acknowledged, sure, but precious nonetheless, 
while he also plugged his new album, at 90, and a song
about lying in a field forty years ago and staring
at the moon and dreaming, always dreaming,
an actor known for his hokum, a cliché himself,
with videos of him reciting a beatnik version
of “Rocket Man” and starring in commercials 
where he battles a karate team and catches blow darts 
with his fingertips on behalf of a hotel reservation website. 
Shatner appeals, of course, because he is in on the joke,
a winking self-awareness, inexplicable, clumsily sly,
as when he and Nichelle Nichols were required
in 1968 to shoot two versions of their kiss 
as Kirk and Uhura, one on screen and one off, 
and they intentionally flubbed their lines
in the off-screen takes, requiring CBS to broadcast
arguably the first interracial televised kiss, 
a triumph of which they both spoke proudly 
long after the series concluded, the series 
virtually unwatchable from a contemporary 
lens other than as an artifact of cultural modes,
its pacing and rhythms maddeningly slow,
Kirk’s halting cadence as frustrating  
as the sputter of progress itself, as all futures
unfurling their precarious arcs like the billionaire’s rocket
or the USS Enterprise traversing, on wires, 
a Paramount soundstage. “Space,” Kirk repeats
in syndication, “the final frontier,” 
then records the stardate into the captain’s log,
a kind of space diary unlocked by his voice,
his tone unwavering as he stares
from the bridge into the starless dark
of the camera lens, of the future, and says,
“Warp speed, Mr. Sulu. Engage!”

 

Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Telepathologies (Saturnalia Books, 2017); Doppelgangbanger (Haymarket Books, 2021); and It’s Important I Remember (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming). He was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and he has also received fellowships from Cave Canem and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, his poems have appeared in POETRY, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, Granta and elsewhere. He serves on the editorial board at Alice James Books.

Jonathan Fink is Professor and Coordinator of Creative Writing at University of West Florida. He has published two books of poetry: The Crossing (Dzanc, 2015) and Barbarossa: The German Invasion of the Soviet Union and the Siege of Leningrad (Dzanc, 2016). He has also received the Editors’ Prize in Poetry from The Missouri Review, the McGinnis-Ritchie Prize for Nonfiction/Essay from Southwest Review, the Porter Fleming Award in Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and Emory University, among other institutions. His poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, Narrative, New England Review, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, and Witness, among other journals.

Olena Jennings is the author of the poetry collection The Age of Secrets (Lost Horse Press, 2022), the chapbook Memory Project, and the novel Temporary Shelter (Cervena Barva Press, 2021). She is a translator of collections by Ukrainian poets, Kateryna Kalytko, together with Oksana Lutsyshyna, Iryna Shuvalova, together with the author, and Vasyl Makhno.  Her translation, together with the author, of Yuliya Musakovska’s The God of Freedom is forthcoming from Arrowsmith Press. She founded and curates Poets of Queens reading series and press.

Meghan McClure is author of the chapbook Portrait of a Body in Wreckages (Newfound Press, 2017) and co-author of A Single Throat Opens (Black Lawrence Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Tupelo Quarterly, American Literary Review, Pithead Chapel, American Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in California.

February 2024 Poetry Feature

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