November 2021 Poetry Feature

New poems by our contributors.


Table of Contents:

POLINA BARSKOVA  |  Joy (translated by Valzhyna Mort, appears in both Russian and English)

ALDO AMPARÁN  |  Parable of the Haunted Cloak

TOM SLEIGH  |  A Dictator Walks into a Bar



By Polina Barskova

    to V.Z.

An earring returns, from under the cupboard, a bewept, 
priceless, pennyworth,
Venetian bauble. 
Twinkling with guilt 
through the dust or possibly fur. 
Say, Polina Annenkova, cast into the murk/the snows,
is it moss or musings
of a life past due: what will you do now?
We’ve grown used to your absence on earth,
wailed and listed you among losses—a hearty list. 
An ice chip in the Decembrist exile, a goofball, 
you will lie in the heat
of my palm then in a cozy box next to your pair
your baby sis
also scratched in the transit of time
by plain yearning and yearning for a pair.
Now you can be carried into the light,
in my ear, the whisper of you:
“How bright and nice and plain and good.”

Translated from the Russian by Valzhyna Mort



Вот возвращается из/под шкафа давно оплаканная бесценнейшая копеечная серьга,
Веницейское стеклышко.
Виновато поблескивая
Сквозь пыль, как будто сквозь мех.
Допустим, Полина Анненкова, упавшая в темь/ в снега.
Просроченной жизни: кем ты будешь теперь?
Здесь уже все привыкли, что нет тебя на земле,
Поплакали да зачислили в сытный список потерь.
Читинская льдинка дурочка, Будешь лежать в тепле
Моей ладони потом в уютной коробочке со своею парою,
Своею младшей сестрой,
Тоже несколько поцарапанной в ходе времени
Тоскою просто и по тебе тоской.
Теперь вас можно вынести в свет,
Чтобы каждая шептала мне на ушко:
«Как здесь светло и радостно и просто и хорошо».



Parable of the Haunted Cloak
By Aldo Amparán

Nights alone I tread 
I drag the cloak 

through the mud of the old 
municipal gardens 
ancient heirloom my family’s ghosts 

between its woven thread 
of silk & cotton 
some old 

cousin too distant 
to have known me 

in his life speaks 
broken Spanish 
from my left shoulder 
has forgotten 
his face

in a candlelit mirror 
he finds 
he’s become 
a nahual his dry jaw 
baring teeth 

in want of water 
my breast opens 

but my water 
is too soft 
he licks the wound 
until he makes of it a shadow 
by dawn 

my body full 
of shadows 

the mud-heavy 
cloak— my bestial 
cousin & I 

let the light kiss 

these fragments 
of dark 
on my skin


A Dictator Walks into a Bar 
By Tom Sleigh

In the hotel lobby, leaning against a marble column
from when the Romans ruled, I sip my vodka as gunfire
night and day ricochets in celebration

punctuating someone’s wedding or a moment in
someone’s mood in which blowing
off a clip into the air fights off boredom:

in this cellphone video that’s more slashes of light,
jiggle and jag than a stable point of view,
I watch them drag him from muck out of a culvert,

his kufi knocked askew, heavy body thrown
across a Toyota battle wagon
where an electrical engineer turned militia man,

who reminds me of my father, mild, unshowy,
studiously polite, doesn’t smile, frown, as he
watches himself slapping, in the footage that he’s

showing me, the Brother Leader, great Murshid,
the Guide—doesn’t comment, doesn’t shy away
from my oh so fine-tuned sensitivities

quivering on the brink, maybe a little drunk, my cloak of objectivity
already tattering into rags—his lumps, welts
not quite bleeding—unable to look away,

am I hoping to see blood? It isn’t every day that a dictator writhes
under your heel—the one powerful enough to say,
Those who do not love me do not deserve to live—

as if he himself were the soul in the body politic and we
were just an afterthought, accessory
to his glory, the merest janitors to his trash, or maybe

just the trash itself, all of us human trash waiting
to be burned. But now, it’s our turn,
and we’ve got him where we want him—

his livid puffy face, its blankness unto death
like slopped over paint running down the can—
his nose by now smashed in so his mouth

hangs open to the blahness of desert hardpan and cliffs shadowing
tank tracks back into the Nafusa Mountains
where just an hour ago we were driving and he was worrying

about load-shedding and high-voltage grids,
the tragedy of no infrastructure—while I was daydreaming
of vodka and peeling happy hour shrimp

glinting like armor plate—finally, I’ve seen enough; but as I
turn to give him back his phone he’s moved down
the bar and seems, head bowed, to be

peering into his drink with that intimate anticipation
that could signal a joke or a prayer speeding
to its punchline, only it’s the new kind

of humor, the new kind of prayer
in which the jokes aren’t funny and prayers don’t deliver,
and whether you’re praying or laughing, it’s all on you.


By Michael Dumanis

The creatures throwing
bran muffin at me
from the back seat
of the Volkswagen SUV

stopped talking to themselves
and now take turns
becoming dinosaurs,
their happiest

of games. They are a torture
I talked myself into,
and as I ferry them, my favorites,
I notice with my tongue

that I have managed,
in my sleep, to lose
the sliver of one side
of a premolar:

a portioning out,
a judgment, from the German
urteil, that which the gods
dole out, one arduous deal.

Most end up lucky
never to have been
marched barefoot,
like Cunigunde of Luxembourg,

over red-hot ploughshares,
nor forced to swallow feathers
in dry bread,
nor made to carry

through a hissing crowd
the planks of wood
their fate will nail them to,
nor waterboarded.

Most of us are lucky,
yet when we smile, we draw
attention to the contours of the skull
beneath uneasy skin,

to the confusion
polluting the eyes,
startled like burghers
in a painting by James Ensor,

whose work makes clear
what scared him
in the tranquil afternoon:
the dignified

deteriorating faces smiling
into him as he traversed
a bridge or saw
a mirror. And the skeleton inside.

Myself I prefer to retreat
into the jellyfish dream factory
of my open eyes, as we traverse
the span allotted, each hillside

pedicured and tilled, a burst
of starlings hurtling
themselves in trapezoids
at the clay sky above us:

the brontosaurus, the triceratops,
and me, who loves them,
if love is the right term
for what the stand of hollow trees

feels toward its greening
canopy, for how night rain
scatters itself
over the eager topsoil,

for the extent to which I’m able
to luxuriate in light, inhaling
steam, though I suspect
I am succumbing,

gradually, to an identity
deficiency, an overpowering
lack of sense,
as I continue serving

(until it’s time to ascertain
if the accused will sink
in innocence, or, obstinately, float)
what’s left of my life sentence

with all of you beneath this wire
and bird, amid the tangled
shadows, root systems,
a congeries of slate rooftops.



Aldo Amparán is a queer poet from the sister cities of El Paso, TX, USA, & Ciudad Juárez, CHIH, MX. He’s the author ofBrother Sleep (Alice James Books, 2022), winner of the 2020 Alice James Award. A CantoMundo Fellow, his work appears inAGNI, Best New Poets, Kenyon Review Online, Ploughshares, & elsewhere. Find him online at:

Polina Barskova is a poet and a scholar, author of twelve collections of poems and two books of prose in Russian. Her collection of creative nonfiction, “Living Pictures,” received the Andrey Bely Prize in 2015 and is forthcoming in German with Suhrkamp Verlag and in English with NYRB. She edited the Leningrad Siege poetry anthology Written in the Dark (UDP) and has three collections of poetry published in English translation: This Lamentable City (Tupelo Press), The Zoo in Winter (Melville House) and Relocations (Zephyr Press). She has taught at Hampshire College, Amherst College, and Smith College. In 2021, she will be teaching Russian Literature at the University of California at Berkeley.

Michael Dumanis is the author of two poetry collections, Creature(forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2023) and My Soviet Union(University of Massachusetts Press), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. His poems have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in American Poetry Review, The Believer, Colorado Review, Columbia Journal, Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Iowa Review, and Ninth Letter. He teaches literature and creative writing at Bennington College, and serves as editor of Bennington Review.

Valzhyna Mort is the winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize for her most recent poetry collection, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Author of Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon 2008) and Collected Body (2011), Mort is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA, Lannan Foundation and the American Academy in Rome. She was born in Minsk, Belarus, and writes in English and Belarusian.

Tom Sleigh‘s many books include House of Fact, House of Ruin, Station Zed, Army Cats (John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters), and Space Walk (Kingsley Tufts Award). His most recent book of essays,The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees, recounts his time as a journalist in the Middle East and Africa. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, A Lila Wallace Award recipient, and has received two NEA grants in poetry. His new book of poems, The King’s Touch, will be published by Graywolf in 2022. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Threepenny Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, and many other magazines. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA Program at Hunter College.

November 2021 Poetry Feature

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