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).


May 2017 Poetry Feature

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