DaVinci Heard the Sound of Stars

BY Brandon Courtney

          Scientists log the signature of stars by their music
in ledgers; coda marks like crosshairs inked

          into sheet music: a leap from beginning to end
back to beginning; paper folded in half. The light

          we see: tumult of stars, detonations spun so taut
they glow, singing to each other in different pitches,

          the sound they mistake for implosion: half-life
of helium decay. Scientists log the signature of stars

          in ledgers, not by lumens or location, but by the noise
they hear through headphones: a series of clicks,

          static, and hiss. The light we see: tumult of stars,
detonations spun so tight they glow, singing

          to each other. DaVinci studied stars on the surface
of Lake Garda until winter—a crust of ice floes: scabs

          mean the wound is healing he wrote, below
a charcoal sketch of an Italian sailor riddled

          with scurvy, recently returned from the Arctic Sea.
DaVinci knew writing backwards returned the bodies

          of the dead— those who craved them—those whose
voices he heard, singing from stars.


The Problem of Describing the Sea

          —after Robert Haas

If I said—remembering in November, the sudden
          punch of greater flamingo wing’s beating through

slate-gray clouds, a whole ocean, roan and rolling—
          If I said, black fillet of tongue spooning water

from shore, beak tipped like fountain pens pulled
          from the mouths of inkwells, the pink bellies of mud-

prawns.  If I said speckled flamingo tongue with lemon
          wedge, if I meant delicacy. If I said sea, if I said

anaphora of waves—or cankers chewed into flesh
          from salt sailing the jet-stream over Bahrain—

If I said, pallid sea-foam knocked against the boat
          cavity: cherry blossoms kicked through a threshold,

littering the entranceway—blue notes, reveille
          (Boatswain’s bugle smeared in a thin film of Vaseline

to keep from tarnishing.) Sea, I said. Rows of waves:
          field of headstones.


White Calf

He tells again of the miraculous birth, how the sable Hereford—
          bred for skin to salt-cure and tan, the marbled meat

behind its fortressed bones for blade-steaks—birthed an albino
          calf in November’s only downpour, after the dust-

bowl town prayed for rain, some celestial sign; the parishioners’
          salvation sprained hoof first from the vault

of the bovine’s hijacked womb. Rumors spread through the heart
          of the rustbelt, across state lines: a gaunt farmer,

starving, spared her flesh during the drought. At the miracle’s
          fever pitch, dozens of believers piled into truck

beds, packed hard rolls and bell-tents to camp in. They drove
          a hundred miles for the chance to touch the calf’s

rare flesh, offer amens, blessings, fresh raspberries fed through
          the ribs of the split-rail fence. Women, gowned

in their Sunday best, wept at the base of the calf’s hoof-heavy
          approach, at the slick ribbon of its tongue wetting

their palms. Alabaster, Bone, Conch Pearl, Wedding Dress, Snow
: Visitors clustered for months

with their own histories of white, pages of names. Now, dust
          rooster-tails behind pick-ups on the gravel road

that cuts in front of the farmer’s house. Nobody stops. The sign
          that hung at the farm’s entrance, the red lettering:

Midwestern Miracle, now bleached, unreadable. He yokes
          its neck to the skinny tree, and pulls a yarn

of milk from its mother’s teat, wondering if one day hunger
          will outweigh this divine obligation.


Controlled Burn

          How little I know of fire, watching flames
raze the neighboring farmhouse, deserted

          for decades, to a cinder pit; how the fire
shivered from blue sparks into black

          ringlets of soot, the way smoke accordioned
in dark columns above the conifers, fissured

          the charred roof in two—like the high school
girl, muscled into the house’s humid storm

          cellar, her wrists pinned, how liquored
college boys rifled themselves inside

          her and moaned. After, my brother and I
considered burning down the ramshackle

          house ourselves, but the county volunteers
had scattered it to wind. Firemen sowed a deliberate

          blaze, touched match-tips to fuel, and watched
fire walk its slow course through the clap-

          board’s hallways. A crowd formed a crescent
in the horsefield’s clover, but the throng hardly

          noticed the laddermen energizing their hoses,
whipping ropes of water against our windows

          with enough force to spider-web glass, shatter
heat from our shingles. I scoured the crowd

          until I found the only girl crying and we stood,
thunderstruck, watching its distant glow, red

          curls undoing October’s sky.

Cradling Wheat

          —Thomas Hart Benton, lithograph, 1939.

Because the hillside is belled and scorched in crosshatched
          shadows, because filigree clouds weather summit stones;

because the child in the foreground fights to hoist two
          pillars of red winter wheat and heave the honeyed bundle

like a noose of mooring rope; because the man scything
          the field’s blonde mane to chaff, slopes so low his wide-

brim hat grazes the barbs of spikelets. Because the men's
          postures echo the crippled curve of the chestnut tree,

their bleached white work shirts shouldering the full fever
          of sun, their hearts like anchors sinking their bodies to soil,

I nearly miss the artless field-hat bruised with light
          lying next to the wash bucket rimmed with muddy water.

I imagine the abandoned hat belongs to a child maimed
          by a windrower, bands of flesh slipped from his knuckles

in rings, skin fingered off like a glove, now his only task:
          to knot twine around the shocks of wheat, work the pump

handle until water runs clean; then no, he is here among
          the men, in another un-sketched field, felling rye as tall

as himself, watching a skein of snow-geese tower over the fresh
          mauled wheat, standing in the spoor of their honking. 

The Woodpile

          —Thomas Hart Benton, lithograph, 1939.

          How easily we pity the old man wilted
over wood blocks in the dead

          of winter, wearing only a sheep-
wool jacket and billed ushanka,

          his ungloved hands swinging an eight-
pound splitting-maul with such

          thoroughness, with such feeble arcs,
we forget the beauty and necessity

          in his labor: the bite of the maul’s
iron tongue into softwood, the dumb

          shatter of a cherry tree’s thick trunk,
snow’s white fire. There must be ten

          inches of powder, an armor of ice
to blister the fence-posts, chicken-wire,

          and naked branches. Sunless clouds
hold the promise of sleet or something

          older: rain to cannibalize drifting snow.
Still, he’s careful with his swing, landing

          the wedge square into the cord of cedar
like a man who’s seen the splitter’s

          blade glance the ledge of bark and cut
to the soles of a leather boot,

          seen toes burnt black inside a nest
of melting snow.


Ghost Ocean
8 & 9

Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue! 

Brandon Courtney was born and raised in Adel, Iowa. He served four years in the United States Navy. His poetry and flash fiction is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets 2009, Linebreak, BOXCAR Poetry Review, The Journal, The Raleigh Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Tar River Review, Gargoyle, and The Los Angeles Review, among many others, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He was also recently nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, and is a finalist for the Oboh Poetry Prize. He attends the MFA program at Hollins University. 

Advanced Horror Writing: The Screenplay

BY Susan Slaviero

If this were a real horror movie the opening scene would be skin-shallow, crow-mouthed. The villain wants to be loved, but so does the gun. Ignore his promises of surgery, poppet. He might core you with a dull spoon, a rotten spindle. Or, there might be a witch who sees tumors in tea leaves. Perhaps a wolf with a den full of relics, the patellas of schoolgirls embedded in beeswax candles that smell of formaldehyde and poppies. He is stalking you through the barbed ferns. Don’t worry. It’s all been done before. This is the fine distinction between hunt and haunt. Cut to the next scene, a liverlike smear on white canvas, dark feathers, a wormy doll beneath the floorboards. The audience expects bloodied teeth, perhaps a blue, blue eye clenched in a blackbird’s beak. They won’t be disappointed. As the film progresses their bodies wither to dry husks. They taste ammonia beneath their tongues, hear the hum of strange machinery. When the credits roll they emerge from their chrysalis, a fresh flock of gargoyles: greedy, ravenous.


The Monster: Classifications and Explanations*

How to track the monster

Press your sternum to the ground and lift your eye to the rent in the bloodgrass. Seek unnatural leavings: curdled meat in a coconut shell, hexagonal eggs, a shallow grave dug behind a dead girl’s ear. The brush will be freckled with burgundy. It will show patches of blight that suggest salt, or a nuclear detonation. Suckberry. Belladonna. The signs are nebulous. There will be a notable absence of rabbits.

How to recognize the monster’s lair

Probably a hive, pink and ugly. It might be necrotic. Look for stone tables littered with the husks of deboned Jezebels with rosemary in their hair. Or perhaps you will notice a book of rare poisons in the cupboard with the spoons and tea towels? The walls will be chalky, the mirrors painted black. You will find paper cups filled with pointed teeth, grommets behind the brickwork, boiling pots of rattlesnakes and witchvine.

How to know the monster when you see it

If it’s a parasitic bloom with the powers of telepathy, you’re probably being digested already, even if you think you’re in a warm parlor. If you’re lucky, it will be a masked killer baying at a kitchen clock and you’re the one holding the gun, but it isn’t always this easy. The monster might have a proboscis or a circle of eyes on its bare back that swivel in unison. Consider the possibility that it will be hideous, but know that a beautiful cluster of heads is as deadly as it is hypnotic.

How to know if you are the monster

You will know you are the monster if you begin to make your own monsters. These are the homunculi living in the bones of your cheek that make you itch and hunger for fat mugs of milk or maybe you just think you are hungry. Maybe you are lonely. Maybe you will sew yourself a mate out of mannequin limbs and furry rodents you catch with your feet. Maybe you are the unsympathetic character in a horror movie who lives alone and keeps mounds of termites in the basement for nefarious purposes. You will never quite believe you are the monster, even when they find you sleeping in a nest of newspaper with a fresh heart in your pocket.

No. Not even then.


Fairytale of the Body 

Root. Wrack. You said we were linked as in anklet. You admired my pinned wings, the symmetry of my pelvis. Do not swallow, you said, putting a nickel to my lips. Fall, I thought. There was mothwater to drink. A turtle shell crushed beneath a rough brick. You lit a match, drew blood from between your webbed fingers. You were made entirely of ants, teeming in the shape of a boy. When you looked at me, the moon turned to ash. You likened this murder to seduction. This was the dream where you cramped my spine beneath your heel, where I haunted the pocket of your shirt. You said I would lose a tooth and call it a diamond. Remember me as a frog, curled in a damp hole. You left yourself a note: This was August.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Susan Slaviero is the author of CYBORGIA, a full-length collection of poetry available from Mayapple Press.  Recent chapbooks include A Wicked Apple (Hyacinth Girl Press 2011,) Apocrypha (Dancing Girl Press 2009) and An Introduction to the Archetypes (Shadowbox Press 2008).  Her work has appeared in journals Fourteen Hills, Flyway, Oyez Review, Artifice Magazine, Mythic Delirium and elsewhere. She designs and edits the online literary journal blossombones and performs with the Chicago Poetry Bordello. 

*Susan won a Pushcart Prize for "The Monster: Classifications and Explanations," featured in Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses.

the devil's fetch

BY CAndice Wuehle

all the bombs were in my own bones this year.
all the doll in the dram, all the effigy in the I.V.
i didn’t get fear when the organ went quiet, was removed.
My. i didn’t take what I didn’t get. Good. built a
little body made mostly of shocks. God. all of me is all
of you and I wonder when we will know how far I am
from where I was. My? i can’t take you to the land I mention
in my ether if you turn me off. Good? i’m no marionette
you’ll see all my strings are wrapped up in being not married
yet. God? if you take me to the starveling wood I will
swear I am for you. My tongue is the only one in my
mouth, baby. Good spells are all I learned in the underocean,
baby. God never pried open my shell and jubileed a profane
script until I misspelt my own name and was only everyone, baby.

My Good God, that never happened. This year I am myself.
This year I feel no pain, I feel nothing, not at all, I am clam.

Question: Are we breathing The Water or The Air?


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Candice Wuehle is a Romanticist currently completing a Masters in English Literature at the University of Minnesota. Her work can most recently be read in Gigantic Sequins, Barely South Review and SOFTBLOW. This fall she will be attending The Iowa Writers' Workshop.

IV. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience

BY Margaret Bashaar

Open a hole in the back of your throat.
When the hands pass through your body
it will be as easy as breathing.
You can decode anything with the right cipher -
radio static, the silence between measures.
What else can you do with all these algorithms,
all these long strings of zeroes?
Know this - it is two different things,
to scratch at your skin
until it bleeds and to let the flesh
of your palm bloom to a flower.


X. On slander or calumny

When you peel back the hangnail,
when you dislodge the arrowhead from
your skin notice how your teeth grit,
how your pinked flesh hums in that moment
before the blood comes.
You have always known what you would do
if the house caught fire, if the glass shattered.
You have always known the shape
of a man’s mouth when he lies,
how hot your neighbor’s breath.
This is not the final straw.
This is not the step-ball-change
you thought it was.


XVIII. On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body

I am breathing out dust all the time now, dear,
each exhale a cloud, a commotion.
My skin is more hollow each time you touch me -
I have never known such long silence
as when my body is parallel to yours.
You are learning the names of stars,
you are memorizing the periodic table.
I am trying to recall the words to
that song - you know the one.
I am trying to remember who that song was for.


XX. On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practice it

When the rat scurries
across the floor,
when birds explode
from the bonfire,
do not move.
When your legs are tied
in a pretty bow
do not cut them off,
do not follow the line
to make them straight.
When your head
begins to tilt,
your eyes cross, my dear,
uncurl your back.
The night
is not always for sleeping.
God is counting your prayers.
He stacks them
in a file like a clerk.
When the claxon wails
he already knows
who you will save,
the difference between
your first phone call
and the one you want to make.
So peel your body back,
the need for it.
Keep your eyes open and get well.
If I tell you enough times
I am not hungry
someday I
will be the one who believes it.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Margaret Bashaar's most recent chapbook, Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel was published by by Blood Pudding Press in 2011. She edits the chapbook micro press Hyacinth Girl Press and her poetry has also appeared in publications such as elimae, Caketrain, So to Speak, Boxcar Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, her son, and far too many typewriters which may or may not be haunted.

Thayer House

BY Jamie Winger

Everyone in our family wears ties. We come home from school in a row of pressed collars and slim creased pants. Our father sits at the head of our table, white sleeves folded up to his elbows, tie blossoming out of his vest, a wilted black lily. Our father crosses himself, forehead to heart, shoulder to shoulder, his silence telling us to do the same. His grip on our hands reminds us that he loves us, and his prayer reminds us that we are all waiting to die.

During harvest season the wind will blow through our town from the fields that surround it. Shavings of dried grain will flutter from the top of white towers and fall onto our house like snow. Our father tells us to sweep the sidewalks around our house. He tells us to brush the fallen shavings out of the crevices in our house's window sills. Our father says our house is old, Victorian. We have to take care of it.

When children come to our house, they are wheeled in between tall narrow windows, beneath pointed turrets that stretch into the sky. When children come to our house, there is no laughing or crying, only silence. Our father tells us to keep out of sight. We play quietly upstairs so no one can hear our laughter floating down through the chandeliers. Our father tells us that as we get older, there are fewer people who love us and who will cry for us. Everyone loves a child, our father says.

When a child comes to our house, our father goes to the child's parents' house instead of asking them to come here. He tells them to gather a collage of pictures. This gives the parents a reason to look at their child through years of discolored photographs. This gives them something they can do. When a child is dead in our house, our father places white flowers over the child's eyes, shuts the door quietly, and sings a lullaby as he massages color back into the child's limbs.


Andrew Cullom, 1955-1973

When Andrew was in our house, we slipped past his body on our toes, our breaths half held, waiting for his headless figure to disappear into the attic, float up into the rafters and become cobwebs, crisscrossing the inside of our house's pointed turrets like forgotten lace.

Every time we left his body in a room, we wished to never see him again, but he stayed. We helped our father, read to him by lamplight outside the door while he reconstructed Andrew's head from the spinal cord up. He labored for nights, laying wire across an empty abyss like a cartographer tracing lines of latitude and longitude in space, until the form of a human head expanded into three dimensions.

He caressed wax into cheekbones, brows, lips, working from faded Polaroids that gave only impressions of who Andrew was. Our father brought those uneasy impressions, those haphazardly kept pieces of memory, into a coherent whole that was better than the original.

Even as children, we knew we were looking at something impossible. Beautiful. Something too special to spend eternity in the ground. Something seen for just a few moments so we’d sleep a little easier when we felt Andrew's breath on the edge of our dreams.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Jamie Winger lives and writes in Chicago. He enjoys spending time with his robot girlfriend, who makes attractive "gleep glop gloop" noises, pays attention to his jokes, and makes him feel witty, intelligent, and loved. He is also frequents 1980s New Wave dance clubs and is a lover of finely crafted burritos.


BY Christopher PRewitt

For the poisoned moon
the untouched girls
want to shoot,

for the want of getting
away from nature
and the branches

hanging between my teeth,
I was given four blades to snip and bleed.
In the laughter at the dinner table,

I want to hide from death.
Father polishing his lungs
in a black-stained napkin

before sliding it back down his throat,
like a sword swallower by the caravan.
Four blades to fold and pocket

now that I’m old enough
to go to the city to watch the dancers
posing like crucifixions around the poles.

Four blades, five years per blade
that I have sweated
weeding the family plot.

I do not wish to see the moon end,
at least not at once.
Drip by drip, O glow, punctured moon.

Drip a little light at a time
on the girls’ flat stomachs,
on the soil that’s kept us going

too long,
soil I have given and must give my life to,
soil I do not wish to become.


Assemblage on Sunday Morning

Sometimes I feel as though
I have nailed an egg to my forehead;
other times I realize
that I’m only driving to Marmet,
West Virginia.

Prayer alone isn’t enough
for my breasts to swell.
I will never carry a child
by its stiff ankles
into this city

where the mouth of the river,
in a congregation of fog,
mumbles elegies
into backyards, hanging among
heavy quilts on clotheslines.

Whatever I am looking for
must be beautiful
in a jar
of soft thighs and hard veins
my god doesn’t want me to see.

Outside Tudor’s Biscuits,
I can keep my car engine running
while a gap-toothed girl in
a medical gown
receives a photo
of a highway at night
that the milk of countless headlights
tries to spill over.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Christopher Prewitt resides in Blacksburg, VA with his wife. Formerly a poetry editor for Inscape (Morehead, KY) and Minnesota Review, Prewitt regularly publishes poetry, fiction, and essays. He is a recipient of the Virginia Tech Poetry Award as well as the Billie & Curtis Owens Creative Writing Award.

Gods at Florence and Byrne

BY John Harvey

My neighbor’s gods scream all night for a sacrifice,
and I have to think the poor guy’s on his last child.
It’s market day so as soon as dull blue tints windows

jade-skinned and gold-skinned gods wrap
their horns in long black scarves, tramp out
my neighbor’s door, and go to market—

looking for cutters, amputees, women with penises,
or just a twelve-year old straight boy from Wisconsin.
No matter the masks and earth-toned pant-suits,

fire spinning above their leathered skulls
gives them away. My own gods demand far less,
but can’t stop crying. They’ve given up eating.

They distrust clouds, vomit all night, count
miscarriages and suicides.
This doesn’t mean they’re harmless.

Beneath my front porch steps, they’ve
built a steel-gray sky, barren earth, a strip-mine
turned upside down, spiked with feathers

and scales, incisors, blackened pieces
of sun and moon. They’ve got someone hooded
and I don’t think I’m supposed to see this

but they have dogs—no eyes, coat hangers
for legs, and bellies open in great wounds.
Someone holds a hammer, asks questions.

I’d like cheerier gods, like my neighbors,
but I don’t attract that sort.


My Own Little Dungeon In Spain

Father’s locked me in the dungeon again. He found me whipping
the bathroom rug with my belt—clasp and hook
snaring wool, burlap. There’s a little window where blue
glows like an old diorama. Father yells the bright sky

falls to me when he dies, so why don’t I stop punishing
sofas, kitchen counters, why don’t I get along
with things of the world? Clouds anchor in soot-covered

branches, but I’m not taking the bait. Here’s a lullaby.
Down by the docks a crowd fishes a little girl
out from a scurry of crabs. She wears a faded, mustardyellow
dress and white blouse grayed by fish kissing,

nibbling her bows, ribbons, pale-white web between
her fingers and toes. She’s beautiful and the crabs
want a little bit, want to take some light back home,

down to their lightless depths. My father whispers Spain
is just the place for me . . . dinner tables set with mouths
stuffing headless children down throats, bat-winged
faces talking the night sky, arms and torsos roped

round bent, broken trees like carved fists of ham.
I yell there’s no coming home from Spain. All drowned
children ride waves, rivers and seas, to wash up

on sun-ravaged shores, and all dream such brilliant blues
that they rise out of mud and silt, float above cities
of skeleton-spires like great birds riding warm currents,
hawking a rabbit as it dashes across a patch-work quilt

of burned–yellow and blood red. My mother curses
there is no Spain. We’ve invented almond groves
and Granada out of leather belts, barred windows, and boxes

of paperbacks where women are tied to trees and raped
long into the night. She leans against the door,
asks why I can’t be the son she loves, why can’t
I become the son who deserves her love.

I crawl a chalk-line, draw a hole, spit pools; prick
my thumb, squeeze out some blood. Nothing.
It must be noon already and no one’s brought

my breakfast. Grandmother’s ghost stands
in the corner and glares, then fades into bruises
I’ve collected on my legs, behind my knees.
She’s not happy. Cancer ate her from the inside out.

When I’m not bottled deep under earth, father drags me
to cemeteries, tells me to say something nice to his dead brother,
but as soon as uncle pops his head out, raises his hand,
really nothing more than bones and a few tattered

scraps of skin, well my father stamps his foot down and cries
he can’t have the dead begging, not in his family.
I hear the sun bounce down the road like a dirty ball

and all I want is for some dog, some mongrel to snare it,
snarl and growl and shake, bite it in two, then leave pieces
in a ditch for some beggar to find, take home, and boil
a weak, dark soup. I’ll stay in my dungeon in Spain

for weeks striking different poses: young king beating a horse
that won’t move; a widow’s hands gnarled and useless; father home
from work, head in his hands, crying.


The Usual Décor

A town goes to pieces.
Dead starlings litter the park,
necks snapped. My mother’s teeth
scrape glass as she watches

light flay open a little boy
trying to stick his hands
down coat pockets, deep
into the earth.

I’m the tourist she doesn’t see,
an invisible hand
turning her back to bed.
My mother curses her life.

She tells me about a shed
behind the house, a buried cat
and I shouldn’t go out there.
Dark violets coil around her wrists.

She can’t move. Her bones
dig through cartilage, muscle
trying to get out. I can’t see you,
she cries. I rub my palm against

her cheek. I’m here, I say.
The son you might have loved
as you become
the mother I can bury.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

John Harvey is Resident Playwright for Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company in Houston, TX. His latest play "Under the Big, Dark Sky" opened in April 2011. In spring of 2012, the Center for Creative Work at The Honors College, University of Houston will premiere his translation of Aristophanes' The Birds. His poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, and XCP and in other journals.

For What's-His-Name

BY Rhonda Lott

If I never write your name, it will crack
like polygons in parched clay. You who thought

you knew my form before my third
line broke, and you who refused to read me.

You are a Soviet Union,
as your face melts after a Cold War.

You are hysteria, an obsolete disease.
The longer I stare, the smaller

you become. No more the leviathan, just
the fat shadow of an oblivious fish,

a shoemaker setting up shop on a beach,
a glover peddling through the rainforest.


How to Braise a Heart

Forget everything you know, the butcher will tell you. Take your heart home, tear off the cellophane, pump icy water through the veins. Soak for half an hour before you cut away the strings grown taut from years of strain, from a body shying against barbed wire, eating unlucky clover. Sear the meat on every face, but leave it whole. The older the organ, the more time it takes. Simmer until small and soft. Drain away the slime. Forget those pink plastic silhouettes in the seasonal aisle, those silk roses in a tussle of tissue, that baby drawing his bow with an otherworldly poison. Expect a tough, dark muscle that rests heavy on the tongue like the sum of the body’s parts.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Rhonda Lott is currently a doctoral candidate at Texas Tech University. Her previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Los Angeles Review, Cream City Review, The Southern Humanities Review, and more. She also serves as an associate editor and artist-in-residence for Stirring: A Literary Collection. 

dear survivors

BY Joshua Young

we’ve heard people talking about ghosts and how they make dead soldiers. we’re not interested in justice or the intentions of the spiritual.

we just wanted our homes to stand though this, but the shaking came and pried our walls apart, tore my roof from its place, lifted our foundation from the ground.

the fire worked its way around the house and crawled through the back half of town, sending survivors into the river to wait it out. when it got quiet at the water, the other survivors didn’t even bother to rummage through what the fire left.
two days later, there are soldiers scattered in the meadows above the city. we do not look through their belongings. the other survivors have been talking about their dreams, about a city in the west, about heading there. 


the hills are sepia in smog-light. in the valley, there are no ghosts, but the locals have claimed so for years. they say there are only shadows moving along the ground, not bodies. we witness this miracle. only days later, from the ridge, we see the source. there are feral children down there, stalking food—they’ve lived down there for years, before the wreckage, now they are free.


the ghost rebellion wasn’t organized. but it was nightly, and silent. foxes weren’t aware. we find their bodes outside, charred. we never see the murderers in action, but murder happens. locals have their stories—it’s ghosts making them pay. adults whisper to children and peer through the syrup night, “look,” they say, “can you see them in the woods? can you see them hatching plans? they’ll protect us if the soldiers come. if we sacrifice. if we take it that far.”


in the lighthouse, we’re casting shadows, all flashlights and stumble, and in the stairwell’s creak, through the blur of dirty glass, we hear it outside. not cicadas, nor the sound of what’s still banging around, settling. there are no survivors, just a couple of squirrels. 


in the pines and cedars we give chase. only one soldier left after the ghost-killings, and he’s sobbing—his gun jammed when he tried to fire on us, so he dropped it and ran—we hear him crunching and crying through the forest, and in a clearing, he spins around and shouts what do you want? we want to know why he’s setting fires. orders he says, then asks us why we killed his platoon. we tell him that we didn’t. we tell him ghosts don’t like fires. his face turns still and wind beats against his body. the weed tops slap his thighs and he collapses. the wind retreats and ghost hair floats between us and the body. we know what this means. we know there’s no need to check his pulse. 


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Joshua Young is the author of To the Chapel of Light (Mud Luscious Press/Nephew) and When the Wolves Quit: A Play-in-Verse (Gold Wake Press). He studies poetry in the MFA program at Columbia College Chicago, where he also teaches First Year Writing and works as Poetry Programs Assistant. He lives in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago with his wife, their son, and their dog. The pieces in this issue of Ghost Ocean are part of a larger project, This is the Way to Rule. For more information about his films, writing, and other projects visit the story thief.

Letter to Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale

BY Julie Marie Wade

“There are a good many roads here,” observed the shaggy man, turning slowly around, like a human windmill. "Seems to me a person could go 'most anywhere, if starting from a place like this."

Each time, crossing Kansas, I think of you there, among the baleful hay of Wamego.  

One Halloween, in a blue gingham dress with braids in my hair & a fat cat crammed in a basket, I set out down the dustless streets, determined to make my adventure.

It’s not that I cared less, you see; it’s not that I’ve ever forgotten.  But there’s something in the air that can’t quite contain you, in the faces of family & farmhands you once thought you knew.  (They thought they knew you, too.)   

Dorothy, I’m wishing I could show you how the longing just stops—or suddenly fades—while Aunt Em in the crystal grows fainter.  

Perhaps I’ve lost my good heart like the Tin Man, leaning here with this ax in my hand.  Still, don’t you reckon—every now & again—a cyclone could really come in handy?
We have planes, trains, & automobiles.  We even have hot air balloons.  But Dorothy, a word about those ruby shoes: if they’re really yours, as they were never mine:

Close your eyes, by all means; click your heels three times.  There’s no place like—no place like—

Say Helena.  Say Galveston.  Say Kalamazoo.  Just promise you won’t say Home.


Letter to Judy Garland as Francis Gumm

You didn’t imagine—how could you?—the fame the future had in store.  Days like these I half-expect to see your face on a pro-life poster, testament to the talent & beauty of the unwanted child.  

You were the baby, the one who came late & lonely & never longed for.  (I was the first, the last, the only: nothing but a promised victory in a lengthy war.)

I remember the sound of you singing in the dark, my Fisher Price record player that spun the past softly, made it stick.  Spun the past so sweetly, in fact, I mistook it for the present, & you for the dreamed-of sister, warbling in the other room.

When I saw you the first time on our black-&-white TV set—grown but still small, a pretty Midwestern girl making believe she was Hollywood in the strange disembodiment of the stage—

Your voice a tower dwarfing your form, shrinking the world to one raw desire: hit the high note, hit it every time, & there was lift-off in your language & the dark flutter of your eyes—your lungs a cannon you were blasting out of…

It was Judy you became, mid-air, over the rainbow & over the moon; Judy, brought low again under the big tent—all eyes on her; the spotlight too bright, the encore too long—

Judy, the great hush like snow that has fallen.
Francis, the name buried under the snow.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Julie Marie Wade is the author of 2 collections of lyric nonfiction, Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010), which won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir in 2011, and the recently released Small Fires (Sarabande Books, 2011), a current Lambda Literary Award finalist.  She is also the author of the poetry chapbook Without (Finishing Line Press, 2010), and the forthcoming poetry collection Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013), which won the Marie Alexander Poetry Series.  In May 2012, Julie will defend her dissertation at the University of Louisville, followed by a grand celebration at Lynn's Paradise Cafe.