by Joshua Bennett
1. Pop’s motive; how his fists seek shelter: I wasn’t being fresh when I told
my father his word was good as fish grease in a heatless house far as Mama or I
was concerned. So I don’t know which word cut him clean like that, what tensed
each arm or gave his precious temper flight. I never say the right thing. All my
rebuttals land awkwardly, like they started dying on the way down.
2. Sartorial process through which desire is produced, as if a crop or
alibi: Back in his day Pop was the freshest dude this side of the BK Bridge and the
runner-up wasn’t close enough to make out the color of his socks, you dig? He used
to rock these three-piece polyester suits that made him look like a redwood come alive
just to stunt. Story goes mama saw him in a club downtown & his rendition of the
hustle was so smooth she got stuck in his glow for like a whole minute before the
bridge gave her body back to itself. Or maybe it was the other way. Maybe mama
was both the dance floor & the light that called it forth. Maybe Pop never danced,
but was so lovely Mama released her hold on the room for the length of the second
chorus just to show the charmer how to move as if the heat were its own currency:
danger you could pay the rent with.
3. Not yet faded or impaired: The freshest memory I have of my father takes
place in an IHOP in Washington Heights & he is eating eggs, describing my
diction as if it were on display, floating in a bulletproof box: “The way all those
words come out of your head, man. It’s amazing. It’s like a book or something.”
Morning After We Hook Up
by Lisa Summe
Here in this motel parking lot there are enough cigarette
butts to build a statue of you, enough McDonald’s straw wrappers
around the garbage can to tie you up and keep you here.
Five minutes in a parking lot with you is an accidental
permanent thing. I can’t look at you because last night.
I can’t look at you because where are my sunglasses,
because here we are in a dirty-ass parking lot
five years after we broke up, filled with apologies
and come here to me. Here’s the millionth poem I wrote
about wanting you again. I wanted to write a poem
about how I didn’t go home with you. I wanted
to write a poem about how your same yellow dress
lost its charm and how your tattoos just aren’t cool anymore.
I wanted to put a bible verse in here to make myself feel better
about loving you and leaving you and loving you again,
and also because it’s Sunday, but I don’t read the bible.
I can’t think of anything I believe in
besides the holiness of last night at The Wild Rose.
The kiss on the shoulder suddenly, with a shirt on.
One big swallow of whiskey. Jukebox filled with country songs.
How ‘bout baby we make a promise
and not promise anything more than one night.
Forgiveness for everyone: the saint, the sinner,
and even me the moment you led me out the door,
post-Washington Apples, post-you really miss being
with a girl. You always said I never took initiative,
that I just did whatever you wanted, that I wasn’t my own self.
Yes. So I said let’s go somewhere and be the worst versions
of ourselves again. Let’s leave our fingerprints on the walls,
our hair in the drain. The truth is that I will feel your body
even from states away, even with clothes on.
If I had three wishes, I’d give them all to you
if you’d use the first one to disappear forever,
and by forever, I mean call me later.
At a Distance of My Own
by R.M. Ryan
How is it—
returning from the house in the woods
on the bread-crumb trail, holding my sister’s hand—
that we got separated and no matter how hard
we yelled and stamped our feet
and yelled Here I am,
we got farther and farther apart.
I sat there crying
at the uselessness of it all
until I actually started feeling better,
and I remembered stories of boys
raised by animals in the wilderness
and saw, then, looking at me,
birds, just out of reach
but studying me as I studied them
so I followed along at a distance of my own
especially the pair of cardinals
who hopped from tree to tree,
the male like a bloody heart through the air,
the female you didn’t notice right away
but a brown luminescence afterwards.
Where now was the boy
raised by the wilderness, I wondered
as I came out of the woods behind the birds.
I was now the company of crows
who loudly celebrated something,
and a white egret like a pale exclamation point
throwing something over and over in the air
rubbery like a ball.
My God, those balls were frogs!
She was eating frogs, throwing them in the air
and swallowing them as they fell:
all those potential princes gone.
Where now was the boy
raised by the wolves I wondered
as I walked on up the road—
not toward home but toward somewhere else.
There were other cries in the distance now of Here I am.
The crows, still in their loud party,
walked stiffly, rocking from side to side,
sometimes hopping just ahead of me
as if they knew the way
to wherever it was
the boy raised by the wilderness