When we left we ascended into the light, sun- or street-, depending. Outside steps like stairs of the ladder, its heavenly two-way traffic. My first semester back from the Air Force. At 15-cents a draft, I could spend the night for what felt like pennies on the dollar, all on the G.I. Bill. A horseshoe-shaped bar. The low ceiling of tobacco smoke that spread its cirrus above us—locals mostly, including Evie and Althea, townie sirens bee-hived and bluejeaned since their 1950s teens. The neon script of beer signs lit the walls beside Norm the bartender’s warning, “ONLY L.C.B. CARDS EXCEPTED,” which elicited Shorty’s sorrowful tsk. We slathered slices of ring-bologna with umber mustard, ate red-beet eggs whose purples bled into golden yolks. We were treated to a non-stop jukebox among whose offerings were the same two songs—Hendrix wah-wahing his way through “All Along the Watchtower” and Marvin Gaye’s bewildered plaints in “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Just two of the deaths blocking the way back to then. A third: the bar-wooed lover I saw off and on again for years (her last house surrounded by cornfields, whose hair was the color of their silk). A letter sent to me in care of the Cellarette actually got there, addressed by a friend from Texas, who had misplaced my own. Kuttstown his misspelling. First Street, which didn’t exist. The place a cynosure all that winter into spring. I even got a big hug from Shorty himself one day: “I love you, you goddamned hippie,” which I wasn’t really, though I let it pass, heavened at the foot of the ladder.
Robert Gibb’s books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.
Tonight’s September sky is busy,
and the world gazes up,
knowing only what the internet tells them,
what news anchors describe with tv graphics.
We watch the white sphere greying slowly
into its holy auburn coma,
lacking any sacrificial ritual or gods.
Seventy miles away from me
my grandmother is dying,
asking her slate-faced doctor if
she could please just lie down, please,
when in fact she hasn’t risen from
bed in two weeks, hasn’t stood
beneath the sky in at least three Julys.
My father would have wheeled
his wide computer chair out to the grass
rolling over these earliest brown leaves,
with a bottle and binoculars,
would have willed away the clouds—
whose names he knew—
obscuring everything heavenly.
My cellphone camera documents only a blotch
of somewhat-glow behind clouds where,
a moment ago, I swear I saw
that last curved sliver—like a clipped toenail—
wink through clouds, attempting to cling
to its mother body, then relenting to the black
we all can agree is there.
Ohio born and raised, Kerry Trautman has had her work appear in various anthologies and journals such as Midwestern Gothic, Alimentum, Free State Review, The Fourth River, and Third Wednesday. In 2017, her poem “Pixie Cut” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editors at Slippery Elm. Her poetry chapbooks are Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press, 2012), To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and Artifacts (NightBallet Press, 2017).
Humankind needs larger birds:
red-tailed hawks scaled up
to pterodactyl proportions;
twelve-story great white egrets,
spear-sharp bills puncturing
our roofs like giant stilettoes;
a helicopter hummingbird or two
always hovering, thirsty for us
to make just one wrong move.
We need more natural predators
to humble us into greater regret,
more meaningful action. We share
too little of the terrestrial burden
that camels, mules, and antelope
bear. Let the crow outgrow
our bomber planes. Let the great
horned owl outsmart us.
And let them be, as we are,
locked doors unto themselves,
their hearts grand ballrooms
of sinew and mystery, their brains
locomotive engines of synapse
and being their own worst enemy.
Justin Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse, which won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd., in April 2021. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Best of the Net, Copper Nickel, Yale Review, and New Ohio Review. Recently a recipient of the Imprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry and the Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Coast, Justin lives in Houston, where he is pursuing his Ph.D.
So much of those summers scraped against cypress groves as we
paddled the pirogue and prayed against storms. The mud-bogged
Catahoula Lake bank would swallow James Larry’s pickup like
an egg in a snake’s throat. Days ended the same: heat showers,
catfish pliers and fillet knife in my hand, my father in his work
shop fumbling the knobs of an acetylene tank, him trying to talk
to me through the blue-pointed whirl of blowtorch, hunkering
down to his work, hood pulled over his face, his flame gutting
metal, labor and whatever wisdom I didn’t hear sifted through
the chokecherry, lifted crows from their perch in the red oak,
folded wasps and dirt daubers back into their nests while
momma and grandpa cooked yesterday’s catch in the fry shed
out back, the sizzle of cornmeal hitting grease, wet air battered
by fish musk, fried okra, the wild jasmine vine that ran the front
porch posts, and the lit citronella candles calling the dusk home.
Cody Smith is a Louisianian studying poetry in the Northwest where he’s an MFA candidate at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers. He spends most days lamenting creole food, sea level, and humidity. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Louisiana Literature, Permafrost, Glass Mountain, Cactus Heart, Belle Reve, among others. He is the editor-in-chief at The Swamp Literary Magazine.
You find yourself lost in a city block, the same streets
where you ate hamburgers with your teenaged boys,
the greasy taste still on your tongue,
their boy teases, their young laughter in your ear.
And then you are idling at a stoplight in another city, in another block,
and you are pushing a second-hand stroller
up toward the grocery store to buy the food
you can barely afford.
Then you are speeding
in your 1972 Volkswagen squareback, the window open,
you laughing against the rush of air,
your friend speeding alongside
you in her Datsun, both on your way to the college
you will later flunk out of but now teach at,
the same road you drive on now,
Here you are again, an unhappy,
married woman nearing middle age,
staring up at the Eiffel tower, not wondering how it was constructed,
but how you will leave your marriage.
The circles push you out and away,
pull you back,
you on a bench on the first platform,
Paris spread out like a picnic blanket,
a new husband beside you.
— Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and The Instant When Everything Is Perfect. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Mason’s Road, The Coachella Review, So to Speak, and Salt Hill Journal. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.