All the Words for Salvation

My mother tells me not to think
sad thoughts about the refugees. I’m thinking of me

at ten. Muddled with a gun
from the safe gun-safe, & my two boys already queued up

in the middle of me, there
on the rich side of town. I shot the snow. Once, I posed

for a painter-man in an empty place.
The place lonely on a lot & us alone. His look

like soot in a lung. I’d engineered that
end, like the black-drunk swim in Superior, like the semi

in the snow, & now look at me
not on a raft. Look at me not holding my children on a tipped

rim of sea. Look at me
in Iowa. I’m so sad but I’m a wide, opened thing. All this land

so sad without buffalo, without a long
system of roots. I’m planting & thinking of a mother on a raft

& I’m in Iowa. I need hands for some
task. Sad is not her word. Something awful is her word, & what

a lie to pretend it’s not there
& leviathan. My land is empty of anything better

than the bearing
of her. My hands on her face, & let me be

the land. You,
mother. Your babies are beautiful.


Aubrey Jane Ryan is the author of “Good Beast,” winner of the Phantom Books Breitling Chapbook Prize. Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Anti-, Matter, Hobart, Booth, New Madrid, El Aleph, Quarterly West, Consequence, Diagram, Kindred, Phantom Limb, Squat Birth Journal, The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has been featured on broadsides by Team Nerd Letterpress. Aubrey is the winner of the Booth Poetry Prize as selected by Linda Gregg and has been three times nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Iowa with her husband, two small sons, and a garden of edible weeds.


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