New poems by our contributors:
Bruce Bond | Calvary
Adrienne Su | Buford Highway
Rachel Mannheimer | The New Me
Alana Folsom | Precoitus Floss
Richard Hoffman | A Prayer for the Souls in Purgatory
What you have heard is half true, half forgotten.
It’s what we have, a rubric written in old
blood whose spirit of inclusion admits
the occasional invention, the apocryphal
goat at midnight, for one, who has broken
down the gate again, and wandered through
the refuse of our neighbors. Forgive him.
Him and the others of a now more distant
Jerusalem whose pattern of lesser hardships
and small routines goes largely unreported.
No less imagined than the clouds of certain
portraits of the killing, the same weather
that hung above the clueless who pulled in
their laundry, looking up to see future there.
What they do not know cannot save them.
Or bring them comfort. Or the vague weight
of clouds when they make a night of day.
Imagine then, once the body is deposed,
the men who take the burden on their shoulders
go nameless through the margins to the grave.
Forgive them. They know not what they do.
Take this young man, a soldier of low rank,
his wave of nausea slow to gather and withdraw
into the obscurities holy books are made of.
He is sitting beneath an olive tree, counting
coins, fouled with blood, less a true believer
in the entitlements of kings than an otherwise
impoverished soul with a wife, an oath, a child.
A drudge of circumstance. That is the story
he tells himself, and the need for the ever
better listener feels fundamental, as work is,
and wine at dusk, and whatever cut of meat
and means the heirs of grief and privilege refuse.
I miss that red clay, Lawd, I
Need to feel it in my shoes.
Says miss that red clay, Lawd, I
Need to feel it in my shoes.
I want to get to Georgia cause I
Got them red clay blues.
— Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, “Red Clay Blues”
Before it was declared a food destination,
it was my family’s private destination.
Most weekends we gathered there, three generations.
The stainless pot of chrysanthemum tea
would always be replenished, same as iced tea.
We savored a thousand treasures of land and sea.
When my grandfather died, I was living up north.
When my grandmother died, I was living up north.
I resolved that no one else would die, going forth.
When my parents grew tired of amending red clay,
they sold the house they loved, and its yard of red clay.
While it doesn’t take a house to remember those days,
it’s strange to go back and pull into no driveway.
What conjures our home is a seven-lane highway.
The New Me
I woke up and was
the same person
who once brought an ex
to a fancy wedding.
We sat in folding chairs
on a densely seeded lawn.
There was an eight-piece
band. Still, I felt we had
the sturdiest theory
I have to wonder
if he still observes
How he answers
Novelty comes externally.
I saw a fruit cart
at the end of the day,
after the fruit had been sold.
Three tiers of Astroturf
on wheels. I couldn’t be sure
if the man meant me—
“Where you going
with that body?
You better put
that body back.”
Tonight I ask
him if I can
tie him up
for a change. He grins
a dumb grin I’ve learned
means he thinks
he’s getting what he wants.
I’ll be his
little library vixen.
I’ll even wear one of his tacky
pleather outfits. Crotchless
I take the floss
and lash his pale
wrists to the bed.
He tells me
maybe it’s too tight
that he might lose
No Pain No Gain
I say to him, which
I learned from the gym
when I used to go
to try to make myself
which I confused with
he’s telling me
to calm down
as if I’m the hysterical one
when he’s the one
turning red at his tips
from the pro-health
A Prayer For The Souls In Purgatory
I return from the future,
a spy, and imagine myself
the old woman in the lawn chair
in front of the apartment house on the corner, nylons rolled
to her ankles, smoking a cigarette, watching.
And then for a moment I’m the aproned grocer
picking over his produce in front of the store,
hand-cranking down the screeching awning to keep
the hot sun off the canteloupe,
retrieving his short pencil from among the oranges
and replacing it behind his ear.
After that I might become
the cabbie at the taxi stand, in mirrored sunglasses,
his elbow sticking out the window,
listening to WAEB.
Or the letter carrier in his eight pointed cap,
with his pockets full of dog biscuits.
Because someone must have seen something.
I’ll turn myself into Sister Maria Elena
the sixth grade class before me.
Or I’ll make myself
one or the other of the white-haired couple
rocking on their front porch
as the children pass on their way from school.
I am looking for what the boy did
just after what was done to him,
when the cairn of his years toppled,
when the stream of his days was diverted,
but neither that place nor
any of those people remain. Neither do I
remember to whom I meant to report all this.
Someone must have heard
something over the pipe organ
wobbling the cupped candles,
shivering the skin on the holy
water in the doorway fonts,
over Top 40 on transistors,
after the deafening Harleys
down Main, or after the sirens
of the air-raid drills, cold war
memories refreshed, relief
repurposed, march of progress
rhetoric, plenty for sale.
Did he cry? Would anyone
have heard? That boy made
certain no one could hear him
cry by never crying, ever.
Now old I continue
to turn from oblivion
for as long as I can
so long as there are
births and birdsong,
libraries to fathom,
tempos that change
meaning. I forgive
not one of them
from whom I would
take untroubled dying.
Bruce Bond is the author of twenty-three books including, most recently, Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (U of MI, 2015), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, U of Tampa, 2016), Gold Bee (Helen C. Smith Award, Crab Orchard Award, Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), Sacrum (Four Way Books, 2017), Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997-2015 (E. Phillabaum Award, LSU, 2017), Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir Book Prize, Elixir Press, 2018), Dear Reader (Free Verse Editions, 2018), and Frankenstein’s Children (Lost Horse Press, 2018). Five books are forthcoming including Plurality and the Poetics of Self (Palgrave). Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at University of North Texas.
Alana Folsom earned her MFA in poetry from Oregon State, where she co-founded and was the Editor-in-Chief of its literary magazine, 45th Parallel. Her poetry has been published in The Believer, Missouri Review, The Journal, and others. She currently runs NSFW POEMS, a poetry account and newsletter about her favorite illicit poems.
Richard Hoffman has published four volumes of poetry, most recently Noon until Night, which won the 2018 Massachusetts Book Award. His other books include the memoirs Half the House and Love & Fury, and the story collection Interference and Other Stories. He is Senior Writer in Residence at Emerson College, and nonfiction editor at Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices.
Rachel Mannheimer was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. She earned her MFA at NYU, was a Visiting Fellow at the Global Research Institute at NYU Berlin, and has received additional support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, and The Studios at MASS MoCA. Her poems have appeared in Narrative, Subtropics, Tin House Online, and elsewhere.
This poem is from Adrienne Su’s forthcoming book, Peach State, which focuses on the Chinese-American community in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s, often through food. Other poems from the collection have appeared in Bennington Review, New Ohio Review, The New Yorker, Poem-a-Day, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Best American Poetry 2016 and 2018. Her previous books of poems are Middle Kingdom (Alice James Books), Sanctuary (Manic D Press), Having None of It (Manic D), and Living Quarters (Manic D), and she has received grants from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts.