The Fig Wasp

BY Ting Gou

Think about the sweetness,
that purple sanctuary.
This is all a male, wingless,
will ever know. Sugar that drips
from his sister's’ bodies.
The wax world, a dense heart
of which they are the heartbeat.
Hold the right fig to your ear
and you can hear the universe
swarm with larval wasps. 
And isn'’t he, at least, pitiable, 
that even after being born,
this little honeyed bell is all he knows?
And what mythology does he invent
to explain a life so dark and sweet?
When you left, I would imagine
you inhabiting doorways. 
And for a year, how the light caught
the hairs on your arm.
Hold the right fig to your ear
and hear everything.
The male fig wasp bores a hole
through the hardened fruit for his sisters.
They escape and multiply. 
He crumbles in the sun. 


Ghost Ocean 13

Ting Gou reads "The Fig Wasp"

Ting Gou lives and writes in Ann Arbor, where she is pursuing an MD at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her poems have been anthologized in plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing. She holds an BA in molecular biology from Princeton, where she also completed a creative writing thesis. She was a previous editor of The Nassau Literary Review

Suicide Birds

BY Joseph Dante

Only here do you sweat when it rains. Only here do the doves crash into your car like kamikaze.
     We used to face an easier irony: the weather was still a cage, but the streets were always sky-wide and breathing. You could stand in the middle of this place, reach up, and almost press the patches of pink like buttons on a control panel.
     After the storm, Enid dug graves in the backyard for the skulls. Mom didn't appreciate this newfound morbidity of hers, but I could only laugh when she started making bets with bones on Auntie Christine's poker table. There was nothing left to do except play games with the wreck around us. Mom still tried to treat it like church anyway, kneeling and moaning in the decapitated gazebo.
     I was drying up, but I grabbed Mom's wrist and tried to thank her. I thanked her for keeping me soft and keeping me close for so long. It was her leash that allowed me to remain, one of the few boys with no muscles that could be left alone. When she wouldn't stop, I turned to Enid's pile on the table. She was stacking her bets until they started to resemble the gazebo top that had been torn away. I had the idea of kicking it into splinters and shouting into her good ear, but I collapsed in the grass instead.
     I licked at one of my remaining fingers and forced myself to listen to the lake as long as I could. I listened to it gurgle like a gut with old hunger, falling asleep watching it rise like a ribcage.


Joseph reads "Suicide Birds"

Joseph Dante is a writer from South Florida. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in PANK, Pear Noir!, Monkeybicycle, Paste, and elsewhere. He has been a reader for Hobart in the past and is currently a reader for Keyhole Press.


BY Josh Ruffin

In October, on the other
side of the coffee shop's ankle
to ceiling front window,

church bells tone and vesper
sparrows finally arrived from
the north boomerang out

beyond the tower and back
again. At the table, I'm having
a conference with a freshman
composition student who wants

to write about technology, how
it's like bad for humanity,

and in the laurel
green of whose eyes I see

fiber optics lacing the iris
like compression lines in the open
face of split rock. I'm distracted

neither by her 

beauty nor the beauty
of anything anymore, I hear

quadratics in symphonies for god
sake, and should be amazed
she routes delicate shocks from brain

to wire to ether to check

her bank balance, waiting
to take notes on what
I say. But I don't know what to say,

this silence like anything
instinct. Later, rain, and it perfectly
magnifies the world until
I with a swipe of my hand

blur it across my glasses. The hour bares
its teeth, the tower's parapets

empty, I pass below it and want
to dream child-like of flying,
a mechanical bird in song.

Spec Script: Knife-Forging Scene

          -For RL

When the time comes, there's nothing
left to say, or do you

hightail it to the misty
dreamt-up jungle, pup tent,

flint and grinning
dime-store skull you'll hang from

a young cedar to ward
off the good

spirits in hand. Be
still until the distant

blade of grass bending
beds down like a memory

of untended buckshot, match note for note 

the stitched lips of silence. Before you know it, your
edge is atom-thick and can

coax a groove into a band
of spider silk. Test it: split the fishing line

tethered to your own smile, bid moon
peek through the eye

and baying, enter heaven.


Josh reads "Progression" & "Spec Script: Knife-Forging Scene"

Josh Ruffin has held jobs as a college composition instructor, radio producer, peach picker, and ineffectual bouncer. He was a finalist for the Paumanok Poetry Award, and his work recently received a special mention in the Pushcart anthology. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Post Road, Booth, The Southeast Review, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He lives and works with his wife in Wisconsin.

Mack Street, 1992

BY Sarah Carson

Ask Dan Miller about the ball he says is not in his right hand, about the path he's worn in the grass from here to the porch, from here to first base, grey grass beat into dry dirt using only bare heels, the weight of small, hard bodies, the weight of an entire summer without rain. If this were a photo, he would be background, on a radio, the sound of hard feet thunking through a hollow hall, places where we've thunked for entire afternoons to the sounds leaves made on branches. It'll be a day like today when we will invent the stars, pull them across the sky through open upstairs windows, holding back the curtains with our pale, nicked up wrists. We will scale the roof of a porch that touches the moon and try to hold the tail of a train that crashes through narrow vacancies of light. We will let go over and over. We will run the tracks toes first, then heel. We will wait. We will not do it again.

Bad Cards

You were ten when you told the other kids in the neighborhood not to let Derrick in on their pick-up games of rock throwing, which is why the man that married Derrick's mom did not like you, why he pulled you up by the t-shirt onto the low stone wall that guarded off his proud colonial, explained to you about playing cards, how God deals them out individually, that Derrick's hand was somehow insufficient, somewhat short. The whole business of cards was new to you, though, and you thought about it all the way home to your house full of Parcheesi boards and Legos, country songs on tape. You didn't tell him that where you lived everyone played Hungry, Hungry Hippos, or, sometimes, if dad wasn't around, Mathblaster in long, productive spurts. By the time you knew how cards worked, you'd be grown, gone, your hand laid down to a boy who had called you at every bluff. When Derrick was a man he'd start sending you text messages about his fiancé, invite you over to play Xbox or watch movies on HBO. "No thanks," you knew you'’re supposed to say, but didn't. "My boyfriend never listens to me either," you'd say. "I, too, enjoy Chinese food." "I, also, have never really been in love."


Sarah reads "Mack Street, 1992" & "Bad Cards"

Sarah Carson was born and raised in Flint, Michigan but now lives in Chicago with her dog, Amos. She is also the author of three chapbooks, Before Onstar (Etched Press, 2010), Twenty-Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011), and When You Leave (H_NGM_N, 2012).  Sometimes she blogs at

Before the Cat

BY Amanda Faraone

It starts with the cat. One of those days. No matter how hard we try the cat gets under, around, through, hands outstretched in useless prayer. One of those days when I can see it, you are thinking: about Rhodes, the boat, and how that little calico ended up here, knocking wine bottles off the top of our refrigerator. 

It starts with a furry balled-up moment of empathy, and it grows to be a many-legged, wild-willed terror. Remember his paws all covered in flour, the trail to our king-sized bed, the pillow-sized lump beneath the covers, breathing?

One of those days when it is almost enough, the dripping coffee, clean towels, a shoulder kiss—and then the cat runs in. You used to say, or maybe just the once, how you couldn't see anything else, how there was only this.

It starts with the cat, but didn't it begin before that, before Rhodes? All I can remember is that night, or maybe it was more than one, when I slept, my head on your chest, and woke to find you up, hand on my hair. Those times when we couldn't wait; when the urgency overtook us; before the fear overran us, puncturing our ballooning hopes, scratching blindly, leaving us to wonder whose house this was, what kind of people lived here, and how they could go on like this, broken wine bottles bleeding all across the floor.

After the Dog

Where before there were times of uncertainty, quietness, resentment, once we get the dog, we find, there is now only the dog. Bounding, barking, wagging up all space. 

Now we find: every moment, interaction, misstep is, through the dog, transfigured. That there is humor, serendipity, however scatological. 

What'’s more: there is no end to material. What we are talking about when we talk about the dog doesn't matter, really; but we know, hidden in his four-pawed physicality, his splayed out displays of desire, his predilection for pregnant women, is a narrative, never-ending. An anchoring down.

You, turn to me, breath frosting, fishing for sticks in the sunlight—and I know you are only talking about the dog, but it gets me nonetheless: 

The dog, you say, he misses even strangers.


Amanda reads "Before the Cat" & "After the Dog"

Amanda Faraone is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her fiction has appeared in Curbside Splendor, red lightbulbs, and the 2NDHAND txt, among others. Her debut play, “The Last Sleepover,” was performed at the 2012 Chicago Fringe Festival.

The Burning Field

BY Duncan Campbell

I was in-between fears. I dreamed
only of a woman who removed everything
before bathing in the river. The pale band
left by her ring flashed minnow-like
under the surface. Her laughter
was a fire burning. Within the cornfields
I twisted an ear free from the stem, husked
it, and tallied kernels. The night was wet
like a truss of grapes trodden underfoot, 
the packed soil between corn lines riven
in narrow gestures. Pollen beads
dissolved into a paste that coated
everything. A lash hooked
in the corner of my eye. She walked
barefoot through the barbed thicket and a breeze
licked the corn tassels like a whisper of fire,
a flush of crows staining the pines. We say ghost 
to suggest a being that exists, 
barely felt, nearly transparent.
Stains in memory no amount of water
could scrub clean.

The Catharsis Gland

Edge of light each morning, hushed
and still without the source. Fog traces over the river
like someone dreaming of a river, smoke
budding from the chimneys of the lowland
Quonset huts occupied by the people
we call river-trash. I rub my eyes
and then am ruled by chores: count hens
for fox-kill, collect their eggs, 
and with a stiff brush scrape them clean. 
Sometimes an egg will break
despite my white-knuckled care. 
A boy could be punished for this
and for other events over which
he has no control, forced to write
with his off-hand because the left one
is sour, his mother struck dead by lightning
on a cloudless day. A boy
could be punished. One night I ran
off. The village men fanned through the woods
for a rescue but found only a frothing
handful of boy, body coated
in venereal sores. Oversexed, they murmured
to one another, and returned to normalcy. 
The day that I learned, a chiseled tooth
fell out of my mouth. It followed me for weeks, 
leaving a little scar in the dirt as it went.


Duncan reads "The Burning Field" & "The Catharsis Gland"

Duncan Campbell is a graduate of the MFA program in writing at the University of New Hampshire. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in elimae, Paper Nautilus, Stoneboat, Sun’s Skeleton, and Transom. He was the recipient of the Collins Literary Prize in 2010 and the Dick Shea Memorial Award in 2012. 

Start to Finish

BY Shawn Delgado

Monday: The scientist wakes up a chemistry problem of excited ions. He works toward equilibrium: the lowest energy state. His body is comprised of more than one hundred thousand reactants, so he can't know the names of all these equations, but he does propose that when you combine a body, music, and the ground (optional) with energy, dance is the product. He can seal energy in a letter before he lifts the flag on the mailbox. When he takes it to work, he leaves with a check and the bellies of his pets hang lower, heavier. Some days he finds he must reach into an embrace to ground some charge climbing his spine.

Friday: The scientist wants to stop moving without anyone asking where he's not headed. He drives to the end of an alley that dies into hundreds of paused head- and taillights piloted by people with grimaced faces trying to go to different homes from different jobs at the same time. He parks at the stop sign. The stereo settles on top of the world like fresh snow. He flicks on the hazard lights, and they heave in tandem, almost keeping time. No cars pull behind—no horns berate his fatigue. The cars outside his steel terrarium scrape lines forward like pigs marching up a ramp, then through a hallway where every door is numbered and lettered.


Shawn reads "Start to Finish"

Shawn Delgado earned a BS in science, technology, and culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his MFA. in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he is currently teaching. He is the author of the chapbook A Sky Half-Dismantled, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Connotations, The Cortland Review, Five Points, and Furious Season, among other places.

Blue Falsetto

BY M.E. Riley

          after Frank Stanford

You won’t look me in the face I'm a hound that's killed
things we once loved so you look 

my feet paled from winter paws
roughened by gravel stiff branches they 

hardly hold the weight of my body cold
statue you admire

Your waist is a place your chest gives ground
sandbar by river hums a summer song

I wish I could keep you barefoot and dance
lightly around young plants bearing in dry soil

Too much to raise your eyes across the rest of me
you look at my feet yours walked 

over spring ground where you found me
cover same terrain when you leave


M.E. reads "Blue Falsetto"

M.E. Riley sweats in New Orleans. She is an assistant poetry editor for Bayou Magazine, as well as a regular contributor to Bayou’s blog. Work has appeared in Nude Bruce Review, Eunoia Review, Belle Journal, and Tales from the South VI, among others.

Newfoundland: Crush and Rut

BY Tony Mancus

We're not lame here
it's just time
we ran back and forth
to change things

out. One machine did
the circles another one
did the jitter and jig
but it took a while and
chewed up all

our quarters. Here's a picture
of you as a child
with your favorite pair
of overalls on and the animal
you'd never want to win

from the claw game stuck
up in your stockings. 
There's a new patch of grass
stalking our shadows

on a hill behind us—look how the sun
has even gotten simpler
since it began 

wearing the wings we gave it.
It dips its face into the ocean
just beyond wherever

we are in time. For me
when the storms crowd
is best: we can stick our tongues out
into the water and not get a shock.

Bottle Heavy

I am writing my will is a concert. I am selling all of my garden devices. What makes things so green. The captain wears his hat and I am selling him the riggings. Trading him my vessel and bucket of saliva, the harrowing light of any Sunday when sport has stopped and warm weather and handshakes begin again to people this corner of the world. 

The truth is, my ship doesn’t move so much, but I am afloat within it. A tiny canteen strapped to my hip, the water there and outside tastes like salt. What’s buoyed inside me has a name. 


Tony reads "Newfoundland: Crush and Rut" & "Bottle Heavy"

Tony Mancus is the author of three chapbooks: Bye Land, Bye Sea, and Diplomancy. He co-founded Flying Guillotine Press with Sommer Browning in 2008. He works as a quality assurance specialist and lives in Rosslyn, VA with his wife Shannon and their two yappy cats.  

In Conversation

our collective misunderstanding of others: ghost ocean talks with tony mancus


Ghost Ocean: Your chapbook Bye Land was published last year by Greying Ghost Press; this fall, Tree Light Books is publishing its counterpart Bye Sea. Can you tell us about your early ambitions with both projects and their relationship to each other?

Tony Mancus: When I originally started, I hoped to build some kind of equally weighted structure that would loosely wrap around the theme each title suggested. The two chapbooks are two halves to what is now a three halved whole (the relatively newly added third half alternates between weird lyrics and prose-poems and might be tied to zombies somehow). The full manuscript takes the title of what is now the first poem in Bye Sea, “The captain versus.” Which is a cheap play off Neruda, but I kind of hope it works to give a sense of position to the various speakers—the captain here as not lovestruck, as set against most things, but not loveless either, as wanting contact but constantly messing it up. I think in Bye Land that is a little more prevalent, especially with the I/You split that recurs there.
It started out with this idea of captaining—of the questing godlike figure that is generally male (and hugely entitled) but often a stand in for our excessive ambitions and sometimes emblematic of our collective misunderstanding of others/the inhabited and uninhabited world/selves. It’s no wonder there’s been so much written in this vein (a lot of it really wonderful) since there are so many directions to travel with it (bad puns kind of everywhere here and trope-de-dope, but…ugh, sorry). When this first began I’d recently finished a crappy MFA thesis and had begun to wander further afield from this voice that I’d been holding pretty fast to for a long time and this was really the thing that started to take shape then. The first pieces may have actually stemmed from trying to crib something out of Sarah Manguso’s The Captain Lands in Paradise. And later Joe Hall’s Pigafetta and Alison Titus’s The Sum of Every Lost Ship were both kind of hovering near me as I was revising some of the pieces.

In any case, I'm super happy that Bye Sea has landed in your hands and you've been tremendously helpful as an editor—I really dig the shop talk and being pushed a bit to sharpen things further. Could I ask you something–what sparked with this manuscript for you? And what do you think a chapbook length work should or could do?

GO: Bye Sea is a strange, surprising, violent, heartbreaking world. It’s not any old ocean or ship, and the characters, especially the captain, all seem slightly off-kilter. The world you’ve created feels like this one but tilted off its axis. I’m curious if that’s a conscious decision or something that was a byproduct of the work and its energy. I feel like Bye Sea could power a small town.

As I see it, the chapbook is a great medium for narrative projects, especially ones that have a strangeness or an audacity that might be harder to sustain in a full-length collection. I haven’t read many books that attempt a continuous narrative or outrageous, fictional world and feel as potent as chapbooks I might consider in the same vein. Dan Boehl’s Kings of the F**king Sea is the first exception I think of. One of my favorite chapbooks is Sugar Means Yes, a collaboration between Julia Cohen and Mathias Svalina published by Greying Ghost. The language is eerie and beautiful, and there’s this lovely, abstract way the language builds a narrative that’s simultaneously clear and elusive. I think you bring a similar approach to narrative in Bye Sea; you’ve a wealth of vivid, concrete images, but the timeline’s sort of fluid and there’s this clash between (some) poems that seem to aim for ambiguity on the surface but the language collectively points in a more decided direction. I think that tension brings a depth to the narrative that makes it more fun, and also more meaningful, each time I return to the work—there’s always another treasure to mine.

What chapbooks that you’ve read do you think helped define your sense of what a chapbook is or can be? What draws you to chapbooks?

TM: I’m blushing over here. I think a lot of it is subconsciously guided, but that gets scrambled and worked over. I want to be able to remain in wonder and hope that the poems create that type of space in peoples’ heads—but without making things uninhabitable.

Oh, Sugar Means Yes is so good! I really like pretty much everything that Carl touches, which might be creepy. I have no idea how he does everything he does with Greying Ghost. It’s astounding. I loved Samson Starkweather’s Self Help Poems, another Greying Ghost title, for what its mission was/is. Also, a little book put out by Double Cross Press—The Grave in The Wall, by Brandon Shimoda. Stunning work and its presentation is just astounding. Fossil—this collaboration between Friedrich Kerksieck and BJ Love, put out by Small Fires Press—is a bizarre and wonderful world. Run by Kim Gek Lin Short from Rope a Dope, a punch and a kiss. I guess what pulls me is a combo between books built of narrative and voice and ones that work well away from that—through image and fracturing. 

And I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t say anything about the chapbooks that we’ve made for Flying Guillotine. All of what we’ve seen (from open readings) and what we’ve published has informed my understanding of what can happen in the space of a small book. 

To be honest, though, what draws me to a lot of chapbooks is their thingyness. I think that well designed chapbooks can really work to build an outward structure that reinforces the world that’s being reconstructed in the poems. And what’s wonderful about them is that they’re portable and self-contained. That you can sit and read a chapbook on a train ride and read something complete that might kind of mess up your entire life and reshape your take on the world in the best possible ways. But that’s more about good poetry than it is chapbooks. But what’s amazing with chapbooks is that they could be anything from just this Xeroxed and stapled paper that was lifted from an office copy machine or it could be something that’s been built of handmade paper and letterpress printed and sewn together or it could be something you’re holding on your phone—there’s such a wide spectrum, but in all cases, the people writing and making them are totally invested in what they’re putting out there.

GO: I think that wide spectrum—the Xeroxed, the letterpressed, the sewn chapbook—is part of what makes it so wondrous to me. What does a chapbook look like? is not a question with a single answer. Plenty of small and even university presses put out really artistic perfect-bound books, but they’re sardines on my bookshelves; my chapbooks, on the other hand, are displayed in this little box—easy to thumb through and corners of different books overlapping or peeking out from one side or another. I’d feel like I was doing a disservice to the intricate production of those books if I left them sideways and single-file like my others. 

With your own writing, when do you know you’ve got a chapbook on your hands? How do you determine whether what you’re working on is ripe for chapbook form versus a full-length collection?

TM: Oh, I forgot to mention Little Red Leaves—one of their chaps has these slides built into the pages–like a little panel cut out where the slide fits in. Super cool! And they’re just so colorful, in design and content. Yeah—what to do with these little gems…we just put up a bunch of shelving in our living room to display some of the chaps—it does feel like a disservice to have them stacked together, but I do have a pile at my desk that are all bunched up. Might work to swap them out somehow. I love the fact that Berl’s is able to present books all face-out! I’m super excited to visit next time I get up to NYC.

But to your questions, it seems like I’ve got two or three modes of construction. One is where I’m trying to pile up a bunch of material tied around thematic stuff. This tends to be working with individual poems that are usually in the 1-3 page range, mostly single page, though. If I’ve got a large enough pile, then it’s something that I try to arrange into a full-length. And that’s a lot of paper shuffling and pacing. But given my track record with full-lengths, it seems like something there isn’t working quite right. I do think this is how both halves of Captain Vs. came about. 

More recently, I’ve been working with a single document that I keep writing into which later becomes something that I pull from—so it feels like it’s collected by time and accretion more than anything else. But what makes this cohere is that usually my head is working mostly in a particular mode until the channel changes. Possession is one of my biggest fears, but it seems like it’s also sometimes how I feel like work gets set down. The notion of duende and where material comes from is really appealing to me, but also super scary. I mean, just sitting down and writing will almost always get you somewhere, but it helps when there’s a kick that’s charging the words—however that’s arrived at. 

With the big collected documents I can sort of see where the lines marking different approaches/obsessions are happening. Or if I’ve got two docs running, one will be toward a particular goal (which is how the new section of Captain came together), and the other will be a more general pile. This makes organizing a tad messy, and then I cannibalize things, too, which just leads to a boatload of version confusion. But it seems fairly organic and I don’t really mind getting lost in that.

Lastly, and most recently, there is something like what happened for Diplomancy, where I had a single long poem that originally was set out much closer together, and that I felt could use room to breathe. That’s how I’ve been trying to build chapbooks lately, with varied success—so it’s largely dependent upon my method of getting work down, I think. 

To address the core of the question, though, I think that chapbooks are these small self-contained wholes that can often be built together to make a larger fabric. Sort of like a weird panel blanket, which would be the full-length collection—a whole cloth that’s got different compartments built into it. In some cases the whole cloth is really more continuous, and less divided, and may be arrived at with significantly less stitching. But the idea of a thing built out of smaller things, of chaptering, or of rooms in a house, that sort of structural/construction metaphor seems to help me tremendously when I’m thinking about this. 

GO: Do you think poets tend to think of their writing processes as being more project-specific than other-genre writers? I’m thinking of your “modes of construction” and why some ways to approach a poem leave us empty-handed and others feel distinctly tuned to the content or style or some other characteristic of the work. In addition to “modes of construction,” maybe form is another way to think of this. Attempting to tackle a subject or idea in a certain form only to find a different form is what gives it life. As if Poem X were stalled in a sestina, but would come to life in couplets. Or vice-versa. What kind of a relationship to do you have with form? And how does that manifest in Bye Sea?

TM: I don’t think that it’s something that’s terribly particular to poets, though we tend to have a bit more at our disposal in terms of form. Though there’s definitely some interesting stuff happening with reconceiving of the formal structures in fiction. Seriously, a lot of this feels like divining. And really it’s just tinkering and temperament, I think. I love what line breaks do and I also like imposing really weird constrictions sometimes, like in 5 or 8 words I need to find another word that falls into the same sound category as this other word. Often, this is happening without me thinking too much about it. A lot of the time things go through different incarnations before I feel like they’ve found their proper bones. Like “Heated Madras,” for instance—that’s existed in about 6 different forms and I think, with your help, it’s finally found one version that works really well. I also have another version that’s in prose blocks that’s fairly recently rebuilt and I think that works in a different way, so I just tried to do some homophonic translating to make it keep similar sounding content but to morph it toward that shape a bit more. But I don’t know if any one form is ultimately “right,” and I really like being able to play with the possibilities and what kind of multiplicity of meaning can happen in the breaks. 

GO: I think, in a broad sense, I know a poem will stick with me when my first thought is “Damn, I wish I would have written that.” There are countless poems that I love and admire, but then there are poems that either pursue a question I’m obsessing over or maybe they’ve found a way to answer it that knocks me off my feet—poems that, if you collected enough, if the soul was a physical place, that’d be where they belong. Does that make sense? Do you have a poem that you feel that way about? For me, the one that comes to mind first is Bob Hicok’s “Pilgrimage.” It breaks my heart, but in this way that I always hope to have my heart broken.

TM: Oh man, that poem. I wasn’t familiar with it, but yes. Yes. I totally understand that and feel the same way a lot—sometimes there are pieces that I just admire for what’s going on in them, or how they tackle an issue or thought, but I know that I’d never be able to approach in this body and head that I’ve got. And they’re like paintings or some kind of other art that’s external to me. Something I know is beautiful and that I can sit and stare at for a good long while. But then there are pieces that I want to kind of just consume me – and they tend to be things that are living in the same place and time and context that I do. I don’t know if that makes sense, but yeah, Bob Hicok tends to make me feel that way often. And Terrance Hayes—I often I wish I could steal his moves. Pretty much anything that Mathias Svalina does just kind of kicks me right in the chest, and Ana Bozicevic does things that I can’t fully comprehend but that really just make me want to cry and laugh and scream. Oh, and jesus, Cindy King. And Sommer Browning. There are so many people who I just wish I could inhabit their heads for a stretch and I feel like the world would make better sense. In terms of individual poems that do this, I’d say Lorca’s “Romance Sonambulo” is the first thing that comes to mind that really just crushes me. There’s something to things that read like prayer, but godlessly so, that make me wish I believed in things better. 

GO: A godless prayer—I think you’ve named it for me. The urgency, vulnerability, the questioning, and petitioning. Always something in opposition. In Bye Sea, there's a constant struggle, a god-like figure lurking. Would you say that moments in Bye Sea are godless prayers? Can a god or god-thing exist in a poem and it still be a godless prayer? 

TM: I’d say in a way they might be trying to push toward that, but yeah, since there’s a figure that’s built into these pieces I don’t know that it’s really in the realm of godlessness. But I do think there’s something to that struggle built into the book—the speaker(s) are trying to reconcile the facts of the world in front of them against the facts that are built into what’s been told to them about the world. Reality set against belief, or the varied set of beliefs that one encounters moving through the world. I feel like I’m consistently grappling with this issue in poems and in life—that there’s so much that remains unknown but we’re constantly trying to explain to ourselves why in hell it is that we’re here. Both religion and science fail and we fall back on both of these things to try and set the world right and both offer something substantial. It’s funny that they’re often set at odds with each other and they’re both telling stories that are trying to impose reasons onto all these things that are unexplainable. 

GO: One poem from Bye Sea, “Bottle Heavy,” we’ve published in this issue of Ghost Ocean. In it you write “The truth is, my ship doesn’t move so much, but I am afloat within it.” and “What’s buoyed inside me has a name.” The ship’s crew, their vessel, the waters that carry them—these lines get blurred and you dream up some lovely images and ideas, especially when the language of one realm splashes into another. Could you talk about that overlap? How these spaces and the language crash into each other?

TM: I’ve been living on a houseboat this past weekend as we’ve been back and forth over some of these ideas, and oddly I think that’s been helpful in trying to get me to a place where I can better comprehend the impact of water. Which is bullshit, but also something that’s physical and somewhat truer than the piling up of language. I’ve been constantly fighting with my inner ear when I’m on solid ground. It feels like the whole world is a thing that’s moving, but really it’s just my head playing with me. I mean, the world is a moving thing, but when that becomes something that’s real, beyond just the idea of this rotating rock rifling through space it’s pretty bizarre. I think in the course of the manuscript there are numerous places where the world that exists is in conflict with the world that the people inhabiting the poems face. And that’s something that’s consistent in my experience of the world and in poems. Maybe these are all false equivalencies, but the “reality” that’s being dealt with in the poems isn’t far from the rock that we’re all spinning on. And I hope that the things that pull on me in the space of the waterlogged compartment that I hang around in regularly aren’t too far removed from the spaces that others inhabit daily. Or if they are, at least they’re not totally illegible.



In Review

water and salt / love and grief: a look at unrest

Chloe Yelena Miller. Unrest. Georgetown, KY: Finishing Line Press, 2013. 28pp. $14.00 paper.

A disturbance. A dissatisfaction. An agitation. What is unrest? A state of not being at rest? Or a request? 
     As I read these poems, I am more and more inclined to hear Miller’s voice as instructive. She shows me, her reader, how to be alive in the world by being in motion—mentally and physically, domestically and universally. Restlessness is not a comfortable state. But that’s rather the point. 
     The first poem in the collection, “Breach: Rupture,” begins “Liquid shifts to fill / its container— / now bedrooms, now dresser drawers.” The liquid here is water—the lethal water that seeped into New Orleans in 2005, ending many lives. Miller makes sure we know the context of this poem by stamping time and place under the title, but this is a rare nod toward explication on her part, and I think unnecessary. The poem contains all that it needs: the flood, the aftermath, the anger of an old woman whose hands “harden around the bleached / paper that named her,” and then the poet, who asks, “Should I speak for you?” and answers, “I offer my throat.” And yes, this poem is also an ars poetica, and the poet’s art shifts, in increments, insidiously, finding the shortest route, sweeping the reader along toward understanding. Words, like water, will fill their container.
     Miller’s restless ebb and flow contains a life. In this life, food is torn apart and devoured and eating reveals a lack. In this life, the sea is quiet and the ocean crashes. In this life, the dead haunt the living, who use mirrors to check for breath. Love, in this life, is a mother-to-be wondering “When your heels are slapped, will you scream?” (“Will you”); is a daughter massaging her father’s eyelids “with careful thumbs, / as if petting a goldfish” (“Dying at Home, 1937”); is a thumbprint that fits (“Chestnut”), even though, as we know, every thumbprint is unique.
     Water and salt. Love and grief. Words and the distance between. Miller’s work requires the reader to make shift, to be mindful, and to seek connections. The best lines, the best stanzas, are spare and open to interpretation. In the best of these poems, craft both carries and is carried by, the ebb and flow of images and ideas. The lines “I watch you through the holes in the sky— / my palm on your thigh, still,” from “Cubist Spring,” for example,may be unpicked by anyone who feels the need to investigate how rhyme, syntax, and space work together to seamlessly create meaning. But how much better it is to be in the poem and to know that “ . . . It is spring and love refuses / to stay between the lines of its shape.” 
     One or two poems in this collection work less well, and for me this happens when the poet’s craft becomes overly insistent. For example, “Wail” takes restlessness to an extreme, placing words and phrases across the page in what might seem like a lack of order—certainly, in a way which emphasizes the spaces between meaning. For me, the result is a distraction, leaving too much room in which to notice structure as artifice. But then one might, I suppose, argue that unrest requires an acknowledgement of at least this much dissatisfaction. 
     The last, and longest, poem in this chapbook is called “Haunt Me. Repeat.” If Miller required me to “unrest” as a prerequisite for becoming her reader, then this may be my response. “Haunt Me. Repeat.” Job done. 

—Jude Marr




Jude Marr is originally from Scotland. She is currently a teaching fellow at Georgia College in Milledgeville, where she is in her third year of a poetry MFA. It’s a long story. Jude’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, r.kv.ry., and Words Dance, among others. When not writing or teaching, she reads for Arts & Letters. Jude is poetry editor at Ghost Ocean.