Category: Issue 18

Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge

(1879-1957)

“There was a sense of detachment—this was I and yet not I;
this was the wife of the President of the United States.”

Sunny Grace, Silent Cal. Vermonters transplanted to western Mass.,
Cohorts of the same “boating, picnicking, whist-playing set,” a couple
Of conventional Congregationalists. For tempest or passion, lass
And laddie, look elsewhere. Cal’s “I will be married to you” as soulful
As it gets. And this man had competition! Betrothed to another chap
She needn’t have signed “yes” to thin-lipped, tight-mouthed, costive
Coolidge. For two lines, let’s pretend she didn’t—our lagniappe
To her bio: single woman speed skating New England ice, restive
In stale air, remains unsubordinated. In Cal’s White House: no plenty,
No waste. No bobbed hair. No taking up Lindbergh’s offer to fly
Her…anywhere. Agoraphobic Cal snoozes twelve of every twenty-
Four, talk his exercise. Gracious Grace “stabilizes despair,” beautifies.
But there was that once: lost on a Black Hills ramble with bodyguard Jim,
Silent Cal turned raver. Where was the First Lady? Ha-ha. Not with him.

*

Kat Meads’s poetry has appeared / is forthcoming in Suffragette City, Blackbird, Rattle, Hamilton Stone Review andUnsplendid. Her most recent book publication, In This Season of Rage and Melancholy such Irrevocable Acts as These(2016), is a novel about (among other things) politics in the 1970s American South.

Ida Saxton McKinley

(1847-1907)

“Nothing can make me happy again.”

Ida’s idea of a punishing God, mutatis mutandis. Two daughters born
Only to pass. Lone brother George sidewalk slain in Canton.
Mother succumbs, father follows, history’s next nut job, Leon C., sworn
Enemy of the “enemy of the people” takes out another president, stuns
The same nation, deprives epileptic, phlebitic Ida of her man/servant
William, Sweet William, who halted Congress to bring her thread. Not
That you’d think it of invalid Ida, but in her day: charming, observant,
Actuarially shrewd. Managed a bank, for godsakes. First fiancé: a hot-
Blooded ex-Rebel—but, yep, he dropped dead too. Did Ida fall, smack
her head? If she convulsed, collapsed, beckoned, Sweet William rescued.
If a president’s wife needs goof balls, goof balls arrive, none keeping track
Of how many. Loopy Ida in her velvet chair, knitting slippers to foist onto
Charity cases. The case in Buffalo: “Careful, oh do be careful, how you tell
my wife.” Took it on the chin, Ida did. Another—just another—death knell.

*

Kat Meads’s poetry has appeared / is forthcoming in Suffragette City, Blackbird, Rattle, Hamilton Stone Review and Unsplendid. Her most recent book publication, In This Season of Rage and Melancholy such Irrevocable Acts as These(2016), is a novel about (among other things) politics in the 1970s American South.

When my son says I’m a girl and a boy,

I’m sitting here pressing on the bump of my nose. My nose—
I keep meaning to figure out which way I need to tilt my head
in photographs, so as not to be photographed
with this bump on my nose.
I can’t remember to care long enough, though,
to figure out which angle exactly minimizes
or maximizes my just-so. I feel embarrassed
when I see myself in a picture, but I don’t feel embarrassed
when I look in the mirror. Hello, wild thing,
I say; I see you’re going with wet bed-head again today.
Thumbs up. Now let’s get this party started. I think people
are generally generous toward my presentation.
Actually, I think they don’t care. Actually I think they care
about a lot of things. My hair, yes, I know,
it has never looked more like a pair
of cocker spaniel ears, swinging to and fro
in under-washed clumps. Self-deprecation
can be really satisfying. You don’t need to tell me I’m not
“that bad.” Do you feel frustrated, reader,
by my lack of attendance to my son’s early awareness
of the spectrum of gender, the body’s ability to be both?
Do you want me to say something to him?
My mom has suggested that I organize a get-together
with some of my daughter’s friends and their moms.
All the moms could wear their old prom dresses, she says.
My daughter would love it if I wore my prom dress
to the park. Actually, a few years ago
she would’ve loved it. Now, I think,
she accepts my disappointing preference for pants
and my sea-green vest over everything,
nine months a year. It’s nearly always vest season,
I say, with a little jazz hands. I’ll never wear a prom dress
to the coffee shop or to the grocery for her, though
if my son is her, I will do it, I will do it for him.

*

Ellen Welcker’s second collection, RAM HANDS, is forthcoming in fall 2017 from Scablands Books. Her first book, The Botanical Garden, was selected by Eleni Sikelianos for the 2009 Astrophil Poetry Prize (Astrophil, 2010). She lives in Spokane, WA.

Vibrissae

But it’s strange to kill / for the sudden feel of life. / The danger is / to moralize / that   strangeness.  —Robert Hass

Do you know a strangeness deeply or well? I sometimes feel things, as though I too, possess the sensitive vibrissae of a wildebeest or wild boar. I know I don’t know you, in the animal sense, or in the sense that we are but friends that haven’t yet met, or in the sense that we are twins of light and matter, containers, each, of our highly specific toxic concoctions. Is it strange? To kill for the sudden feel of life? One animal supposes. One animal supposes she is on the one hand born to it. Her whittled spines and grinders for tearing and terribly gnashing. Her industrious microbiome. One supposes this is not the whole story. One recalls the domination of flora and fauna, of female beasts like me: the stripping, the naming and caging. The separation of sense from sense. I cannot live with myself. To tear and gnash the flesh of another whom I have not had the will to kill, to eat these bodies and eggs, to prefer breast to leg. And the rest of it—in truth I cannot see the danger of it. Already I kneel down, say: oh hey there, pretty buddy, hey there, good boy.

*

Ellen Welcker’s second collection, RAM HANDS, is forthcoming in fall 2017 from Scablands Books. Her first book, The Botanical Garden, was selected by Eleni Sikelianos for the 2009 Astrophil Poetry Prize (Astrophil, 2010). She lives in Spokane, WA.

The Capitol of Dyslexia

I don’t mean to complain,
but things are getting hazy again.
Too late to wonder whether this weather
is tethered to something we’ve done,
nature’s karma, non-compliance
with her laws, at a loss now over how
to hit the brakes, fix what’s broken.
They’re fracking over in Hoboken;
I see it from the car. When we stop for gas,
the waitress comes to pour us tap water
and asks: leaded or unleaded? Dread
seeps into our vegetation, every bite
laced with hesitation. In Methuen,
Mass., he won by one vote, our man
on whom mass media took a pass,
while his competitor bared her
private part, her email server.
Not our finest hour, this odyssey to D.C.,
rivals unraveling, laying the lies
on thick to allay suspicion—
liar’s paradox. To live with evil
is liar’s paradise. The rightwing louts
have clout, caviling uncivilly, so
cavalier, shouting all they weren’t
allowed to say aloud, before; it’s
their right to bear fear. He wasn’t
armed, didn’t even make a fist;
nonetheless they stopped and frisked.
Who’s standing on principle—the
nation’s big shots, our principals?
Should underwater borrowers seek
principal forgiveness or just opt out,
drown in debt? Bankers, you wankers,
take that bet. In California, state of
emergency, desolate desert urgency,
farmers are dowsing, though they doubt
it will end the drought. What a state
we’re in. I cried a raft of tears for the
drowned Syrian boy, media’s metonym
for denying those from over there their
human rights. The powers that be are
cracking down on sacred rites; take off
your shoes and identity before the flight.
Cops dressed in their machine guns
after another shooting, straight men
in a twisted situation. For every cry
of outrage, there’s the one who weeps,
says nothing, another who’d rather
hold firearms than hands, yet another
stonewalling logic with criminal evasion.
Playboy prophets praying, the wannabe
politico boasting cunning anticipation.
Those breeding hate from hate
think it makes us great—our swaggering
state of alienation. Shock’s sum,
numb, a wicked calculation. Seriously,
who’s laying out the facts, who’s
holding up a mirror, who’s looking out
for us, other than the spy in my computer?
(I could write an essay on the NSA.)
What’s acceptable except furor?
It’s more than I can bear; there’s blood
coming out of my eyes, my soul, my
wherever. Let’s share the blame. In silence,
compliance. I don’t mean to complain.

*

Alexandra Haines-Stiles is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, where she studied twentieth century literature and language as well as creative writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Mays Anthology, Hanging Loose, Copper Nickel and elsewhere. She lives in New York and London.

The Dust Settles

Right now, if I go into the conference room,
afternoon doldrums motivating feet, I’ll see it.

Inside a shaft of light pouring through
high-rise windows, a portal illumined

all the way to the walnut table where papers
are stacked in temporary towering limbo.

Category “pending,” they await review by Legal,
and then, a continent away, the scrofulous children

of peasants will watch new transmission lines
hobble onto steel feet, begin to buzz with power.

But right now all that is projection, not equity,
to the immiscible dust that floats and hangs

inside or outside the great moneyed river that laps
Lower Manhattan and Lakeshore Drive, burns through

San Fran fog and makes a man stepping from a Pritzker Prize
architect’s upthrust four blocks over loosen his tie.

The dust is settling, scrawling its name on the documents.
The dust is coating every conversation in this building.

The dust is insinuating itself into urinals and onto lipstick
on TP and muffin crumbs and cups of coffee.

The dust is becoming http:// and www and #everything
as it dances over cubicles, anoints heads

and coats shoulders, and covers without aplomb
the steps and missteps of dinosaurs, gods, and men.

At the end of the day it walks out the door with me
and seeks my pillow, preparing to build dunes

in my dreams, just like it once did at Cheops, Pompeii,
as all of us climb high and higher, then tumble softly down.

*

Albert Haley is a graduate of Yale and the University of Houston’s creative writing program. A former winner of the Rattle Poetry Prize (2007), he is also the author of the novel Exotic and short story collection Home Ground. He lives in Abilene, Texas.

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.

Labor Day

Jelly for your bread and an
ostrich feather fan upon your
stinging face. Sing grace my tenor, turn your
eagle eye from my
primitive rage, the tenet that I
hate to break but broke.

Please. Plenty before and after will
eke a limbo stick for me
to master and I will master it—
enough to earn some love, to win the
race I do not want to race.

Modesty, your perfect face, it’s you
I bend for though I veer, I
strike my silver
helmet upon the devil’s
lip, ache and swing, rise and beg.
Employ my heart, its abundant meat. It
reeks for you. It does not fake.

*

Bridget Lowe is the author of At the Autopsy of Vaslav Nijinsky (Carnegie Mellon University Press) and her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. She lives in Kansas City.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Jurisdiction
over the
sun and
enough
Perrier to bathe in. A private
harbor in which white

polos perform an impassioned
exegesis of tennis. The
totalitarian urges of
Ebenezer Scrooge
recast as moveable

merchandise. Tenderness as
irreversible pity, a
shitty play on weakness. In-
herited financial
literacy disguised as higher
education. A revenge fantasy to mitigate
risk. Hope as rigor mortis.

*

Bridget Lowe is the author of At the Autopsy of Vaslav Nijinsky (Carnegie Mellon University Press) and her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. She lives in Kansas City.

Mise En Scène

Gardens ago, overrun as they were then
with creatures dangling among limbs’
fruits & weathering leaves, a feather boa
swooned in love with an elephant’s
elegant trunk. The two of them singsang.
A scrim of rain passed, twinkling the trees.

Throbbing lightly strangleheld, each one’s
muscle wound the other’s workaday knot.
Night prospered overhead & throughout
plump heaven the constellations
hummed in their struts, twangling fresh
foam toppling the oceans below: slid off, gushed up.

I’m bit-cast now in the clown troupe, ostriches at hopscotch.
We flounce & skip stricken cities’ empty grids,
towers’ ruins’ & tipsy scaffolds’ shadows’
diamondback-&-giraffish reticulations hung
in curtains of dust: dress-rehearsing this latest
great extinction’s brute obstinate opera.

*

Martha Zweig’s work has received Hopwood and Whiting awards. Her collections include Monkey Lightning, Tupelo Press, 2010; What Kind (2003) and Vinegar Bone (1999), both Wesleyan University Press, and Powers, Vermont Arts Council, 1976. Get Lost, 2014 Rousseau Prize winner, is forthcoming from The National Poetry Review Press.