March 2023 Poetry Feature: New Poems by Our Contributors


Table of Contents

Kerry James Evans

—Honeybee Psalm

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto

—It’s Either Men Made God or God Made Men

Richard Michelson

—The Wedding in the Cemetery

Lakshmi Sunder

—My Mother Cuts My Nails


By Kerry James Evans

At seven, I ate my first real banana in the Azores, a volcanic archipelago of nine islands bubbled up like soap suds in the middle of the Atlantic. It was always windy and the bread tasted sweet. But on this one particular morning in spring, I walked into the backyard of a cottage where we were staying—my family and me; I remember walking down a stone path into a small banana orchard, then reaching up on my tippy-toes and pulling one down, ripe, then walking over to a rock wall, happy as I’d ever be. As I sat there, pushing my hair out of my eyes, I peeled the banana with such care, one might have thought I’d discovered the first fruit. There I sat, seven years old, eating a banana on a rock wall near the edge of a caldera while two peacocks paraded by, squawking, batting their eyelashes. The landlady saw me, asked if I’d had breakfast, Essas bananas são boas, não? Mas você já comeu seus ovos? She was short, like me. Her name was Maria, like the Maria from church, and she had curly black hair, a kind voice, but scarred—a voice like smoke, like she spent a few years singing in back alley Fado bars in Coimbra, then her mother got sick and she had to come home, stayed. Maria took my hand, and off we went to the big house, which wasn’t all that big. She said my parents were coming over as well. They did. We sat in wooden folding chairs on a veranda overlooking the orchard, which looked as if it were waving—all those leaves in the wind. The peacocks, she said, were her mother’s. Her mother hated them, she said. I told her I loved them, and she said I was young, and to eat as many bananas as I wanted.

Honeybee Psalm  
By Kerry James Evans

Evidently, a bee experiences sound
   with its whole body. I imagine
a dog’s bark is like ice water 
   splashed on its pollen-dusted back.

I imagine you don’t. Why would you?
  You are the only curve in the sea,
and I am a catamaran caught 
   in a lash of wind, the whitecaps

swelling, the rope a tangled state.
   Do you remember, or are you
remembrance itself—a wave
   breaking on the ship’s bow?

More and more, I perceive you as pi
   rolling down a limestone cliff, 
each number a blade of grass
   —hoof stomp, wild basil, chicory,

a game of hide-and-seek, the dog
   zooming down the hallway
for a treat—each piece
   of you parceled out like a game

—light distilled, a vision of vowels.
   Then, there is the bee, fastidious
—a creature of frequency, 
   a worker’s ultraviolet-painted paradise. 

God, save the Queen. Forgive me, 
   I just had the thought of a river 
ending in a forest of mirrors, 
   and all I saw was you reflected 

in a halo of jade. Never mind 
   the rest. Night is the shadow
a camel casts on desert sand.
   There has never been a sound

so sweet that it did not need
   the accompaniment of a harp
—is that you plucking strings?
   Aren’t you both the string 

and the song? Was David’s chord 
   the sound of your blushing?
I, too, know how it feels 
   to be seen. Last night, I dreamt 

of a labyrinth of thorns 
   and trapdoors, eyes peering
through cracks in cobblestone.
   I raced through it like a muskrat, 

and when I woke in a panic 
   I turned to you. I imagine 
it’s no different for you, turning to me
   —a gull skimming a bee-loud glade. 

Am I not the garden you made? 
   Is my name not the fire 
Prometheus stole, the riddle of spheres, 
   the Tower, the gyre, an unwound 

galaxy of red and blue thread? 
   No, you are the lamp and the crow. 
I am the stone the builders 
   rejected buried in a heap of doubt

in a city you once called home.
   Be still, you tell me. You are the temple.
I am the sea. Boats drift in the distance, 
   their sails perfect triangles of light.


It’s Either Men Made God or God Made Men 
By Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto

I wasn’t born to die in a minute.
I want to be alive for the moments ready to dress
And undress me, ready for the clouds sipping teas from the oceans, 
Ready for the embraces marking the right answers in wrong questions,
Ready for the son who sees the light with/against his father.
Sometimes, I wonder
What I know about history absorbing faces and distances and divergences. 
One day I would like to stand outside of my reality,
Just to see who wants to know why I was crying by myself at the bus stop.
Tonight marks the first day I experienced love fill a room.
From the outside of my experiences, I’ve been wondering
About the written elegies for the names that don’t mean anything anymore.
I have learnt about the secrets of reaching out. And it has implored me
To reach deep into myself. And there, I have found no absence.
In every absence, we do not hate everything. So I was told. 
But we do hate the bullets, the batons, the harassments
Pulling us away from ourselves, homes and schools.
Wherever you are gaze at what is left of everything, gaze 
At it until you start hearing it laughing and laughing at its own oubliette.
There’s something about laughter and men. Let me rephrase:
There’s something about men laughing at a thrashing bird gasping for air. 
It’s either men made God or God made men.
In this story’s basement, I want to know why it’s often my 
Mum’s voice in my head that turns out to be my voice of reason.
I understand that sometimes we cannot defeat our supplications.
I am nearer to my pains—it’s the only way I weigh my punctured 
Clouds, the only way I know I would save myself again. And again.


By Richard Michelson

It was essential, Einstein stated, that he bring his violin
to Berta Fanta’s salon on Prague’s Old Town Square.
It is 1912, four years until Relativity, and six before  
the first wave of the Spanish flu will kill, among the  
500 million infected, the painter, Egon Schiele, already 
despondent over the death, three days earlier, of his lover,

Edith, and their unborn child. Painting his pregnant lover  
the day before her death he could already hear the viola 
and mournful bassoon of Mozart’s Requiem Mass. Ready
now to sketch himself dying, he gazes into the small square 
of his shaving mirror, and recalls how he first entered the 
Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at age sixteen, even before

his initial shave, no younger student accepted before
or since. He died, never to know he’d won that spot over   
the seventeen-year-old Adolph Hitler, who’d later loathe 
“degenerate art” and “physicist Jews,” moving to Berlin 
to pursue politics, aborting both brush and pen. The square-
root-of-time displacing millennia-of-atoms is music already 
usurping Einstein’s brain as, nodding to Max Brod, he readies    

his violin under his chin. The pianist, who already has four
of his 83 books penned to literary acclaim, looks squarely    
into the eyes of his closest friend, Franz Kafka. Brod loves  
his quiet companion’s unpublished scribblings, which violate  
all of fiction’s conventions. He had offered Franz absinthe

for courage before inviting him to Berta’s if he’d recite the
story about a transformation into vermin.  Yet, rising to read           
to his fellow Jews, even Kafka cannot conceive of violence    
so extreme that each present will be dubbed a cockroach. For    
now, though, let’s leave these imaginative culture-lovers
in paradise; and in a Kafkesque absurdity of E=MC squared,    

time travel to British Columbia where we’ll reappear squarely    
inside a brothel owned by Bavarian born Friedrich Trump. The-
oretically viable, we can locate the villain who, full of self-love,
emigrated at sixteen to avoid the military draft. He has already        
planned a move to Queens, where he’ll die five months before
Schiele of the same deadly flu, his atoms still infecting us via  

his grandson’s love of Hitlerian speech; even Kafka cannot square
anti-alien taunts with Melania’s Einstein-visa violation. I pray Thee
Lord, a fevered Mozart pleads; forgive me, forget me, I am done for.


The Wedding in the Cemetery 
By Richard Michelson

The wedding in the cemetery featured scripture, loud
music, two rabbis, and the bride dressed in a shroud

my grandfather tells me. He’s inching toward the heart
of his lecture, while I’m composing till death do us part 

punchlines, my pre-teen self not yet grasping the subtext
or the year. 1918, he repeats, the Spanish Flu infecting 

a third of the world’s population, already fifty million 
dead and in my grandfather’s Polish shtetl, superstition 

has brought hundreds graveside to congratulate the groom. 
I think of this now while watching my niece wed via Zoom,

her plans amended by today’s pandemic; rabbi-by-remote 
reciting sacred rites, relatives clicking the thumbs up emoji

or the clapping hands, as ancient Hebraic prayers appear 
scrolling across a six-foot flat-screen TV. Love, not fear

must triumph, my grandfather says once again, as I suffer
one fortune-cookie aphorism after another. Someone offers

an on-line toast and we raise imaginary glasses. L’chaim
still reverberates off of every broken headstone. I Am 

That I Am, God tells the assembled. Pity the living guests, 
the dead jest, who believe themselves amongst the blessed.


My Mother Cuts My Nails 
By Lakshmi Sunder

In one breath you tell me I don’t love you 
          and in the next
                                           you ask me where the nail polish remover is 

The silver teeth of our clipper clomp down
          on the night and create moons for the granite to swallow 

Your pinky toe drips blood
          but when I point out the 
                    dot of festive red on the tile all you say is                                                                                                                                  oh

In this game I prove I love you by

          racing to my bathroom to get a glass jar

In this game I prove I love you by

          vacuuming up your fallen hair on the carpet

In this game 

          it’s never enough

The jar I found was once packed with the cocoa
          you fattened me with

You give me
mugs that hold slices of your soul

I give you poison

I pour the teal acetone into the pitcher
          and you place it under the sink like a discarded gift

The question I voice: what if we mistake it for mouthwash?
The question beneath the question: what if one of us drinks on purpose?

I don’t ask because it aches / because I know the answer

Like two dominos
if one perished, 
the other would be quick to follow



Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon). He lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where he teaches in the MFA program at Georgia College & State University and serves as the poetry editor for Arts & Letters.

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto (@ChinuaEzenwa) is from Owerri-Nkworji in Nkwerre, Imo state, Nigeria and grew up between Germany and Nigeria. He currently lives in Lincoln, NE where he is pursuing his Ph.D. in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a focus in Creative Writing (poetry). A MacPhee fellow, 2022- 2023. His works have appeared in Isele Magazine, AFREADA, Poet Lore, Massachusetts Review, Frontier, Palette, Malahat Review, Southword Magazine, Vallum, Mud Season Review, Salamander, Strange Horizons, Anmly, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Spectacle Magazine, Ruminate and elsewhere.

Richard Michelson’s most recent collection of poems is More Money than God (Pitt Poetry Series, 2015). He served two terms as Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA, where he owns R. Michelson Galleries and hosts Northampton Poetry Radio. Michelson has received a National Jewish Book Award and two Sydney Taylor Gold Medals from the Association of Jewish Libraries. His books have been listed among the Ten best of the Year by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker. He received a 2016 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship and his work was chosen to represent the Commonwealth at the 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival. His forthcoming collection, Sleeping as Fast as I Can (Slant Books, 2023) includes the poems in this issue. 

Lakshmi Sunder is a senior at the Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas with a concentration in creative writing. She particularly enjoys writing speculative fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. She has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Bennington Young Writers Awards, The New York Times Learning Network, and the YoungArts Foundation. Lakshmi is an editorial assistant at Apogee Journal and the founder of Write On, an organization that teaches free creative writing classes to students in the Houston area. 

March 2023 Poetry Feature: New Poems by Our Contributors

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