Megan Neville is a writer and educator based in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Rust Belt Love Song (Game Over Books, 2019), and her work has been published by or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets (Poets.org), Cherry Tree, Cream City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Longleaf Review, Lunch Ticket, Jelly Bucket, and elsewhere. She is a poetry reader for Split Lip Magazine, and was a finalist in Write Bloody’s 2019 book contest. Find her on Twitter @MegNev.
TRIPLE SONNET AND THREE CHEERS OF WHITE RUSSIANS
ordered a White Russian, and my date’s
waiting for me with his pitcher of beer,
and what was I thinking, ordering a drink
with cream in it, but at least it’s not milk,
when the wife asks me to recite a poem—
“Just a line,” she says. “I want to hear
your voice more,” as she calls her husband
to come over, and I forget about my date,
wondering if these people are looking to make
their celebrity fantasy come true, quenching
their desires for an Asian baby, only I’m not
a baby anymore, despite what some men
I behave myself way too much, and I wonder if
the three of us are actually starring in a play
of three acts: in Act I, my character meets them
at a bar, and the wife character says she wants
to adopt me, but the audience knows, and I know
what this woman and her husband really want
isn’t an adoption, but a three-way encounter, and
hello, that’s the beauty of theater: the truth always
comes out. And question: is it considered Oedipal
or Elektra if you bang someone who is playing
your parent? I’m asking for a friend, really, since
I can’t say I’d do it, because I’m not anyone’s
fetish, and look, I get it. I hate clothes, and I might
mini skirt, and I love the video of the drag queen
getting a bib in the mail, saying she’ll bedazzle it,
rhinestoning it all over, and that would solve
at least two of my problems, and I’m drinking
a cocktail with cream in it, but at least it’s not
milk, sitting atop a pool table, spreading my legs
just a little, but not too much, reminding me of
time the Russian architect offered to buy me bulk
candy if I watched a German film with him, and
no boy, no, don’t you dare try to buy me, and deep
down, I’m really such a good girl, and in this three-
act play, I end up leaving the couple at the bar, alone
with their fantasies, return to my date—chug his beer.
TRIPLE SONNET FOR CHARGING ADMISSION
because my dress keeps riding up during
a performance, and that’s what I call art.
That’s what I call power. That’s what I call
walking into the room in the nude, and Alexa,
play something that takes me to the pink section
of the nail salon, also known as Yena’s favorites,
also known as the pink pussy section—orgasm
on the cheeks in the greatest shade of all time,
and thanks to you and you, and of course, you,
and aren’t fingers the most delicate feature on
a woman, other than the collar bone, and I love it
when celebutantes are asked what their favorite
body part is, and they all point to their collar bone,
and brush on some highlighter there, ladies.
I love nuance, like a whiff of coconut milk cream,
also known as not giving it all away. But baby,
if you want to give it all away, I won’t blame you.
I won’t blame you if you want to march into the room,
skirt riding up, feeding ice cream to an audience
member, and save a little for me, why don’t you.
And I love nuance, or how in Art History 200,
we’re taught to study the way artists painted
the hands of their muses, or in the words
of a boyband, Do you want to hold her hand?
Does she come alive out of the canvas?
And I think of Raphael’s La Fornarina:
over her breasts, and oh, that smirk, and oh,
that look into the camera. My heart pounds
for her, and I think wow, she really knew what
was going on, didn’t she, Raphael’s name on fabric
over her arm, and I heard he was the dreamiest
Renaissance man, marking his paintings with
one look into the audience, because in the words
of today, having a camera around makes life
just a little more worth living, which is a wise
saying by a wise woman. And Rita says I need
to charge admission, because my dress
keeps riding up during a reading, and all
I have to say is buy a ticket. Baby, I own it. I own you.
TRIPLE SONNET FOR LOSING MY VIRGINITY AGAIN
in Singapore when I’m in a deep sleep
on a queen bed with fluffed pillows
and white sheets—Good night, Dorothy.
And sometimes in life, I feel like a virgin,
because my ears aren’t pierced, no tattoos—
aren’t I such a nice girl for you to take home
to Mommy? Let me bake cookies for her,
messing up in pigtails and a frilly apron
in the kitchen, while the intercom yells,
Baking is a science, or some other gibberish
I don’t care for—I’m such a nice, wholesome
girl licking the batter, and cookie dough’s
the best topping for brownies and ice cream,
exposing my butt cheeks, straight out of your
pornographic memory, straight out of a home
video—press play, lick my cake, press play,
lick my cake—go ahead and lick whipped cream
off my nipples, off my chest, and I dream
of losing my virginity again in deep sleep
in Singapore, but now I’m transported to
an office, sitting on an office chair, answering
office emails, and an office man opens the door,
and he’s got the same face as a man I knew
from college. I get up, stroke his hair, tell him
to sit down, and I want him to enter me, oh
so badly, and he enters me right then and there
aside, and I moan in pain, I moan in pleasure,
but isn’t that so cliché, reading like romance
novels, or remember in the early 2000s
modeling competitions when girls faced off
with looks serving Harlequin covers—look,
she’s a milkmaid and he’s a farmhand. Look,
she’s a poor girl and he’s from the upper crust,
and back in the office, I moan more, then wake
in Singapore on a white bed with fluffed pillows,
and I feel pain. I feel like I’m bleeding, only
there’s no blood. I think about my double loss
of stupidity and how no pain will ever top
the pain I feel right now as I’m awakened again.
Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2020 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Poetry Editor of Hobart.
Today my gut is squashed-blackberry rotting on sidewalk.
I want to say purple or spilled but I keep swallowing Bruise.
And perhaps it is indigestion or constipated grief
But it has valleyed into sour harvest and, besides the hedging,
I am not doing a damn thing to clean up this rot.
Today I am reaping valor in futuring my own decay.
I like to believe that I am mothering it, this decay.
That I found it, abandoned, on some dingy sidewalk,
That I didn’t have the heart to leave it laying in the rot,
That I chose it, it chose me, and I brought it home, this bruise.
I am swaddling it and feeding it ripe cherries and hedging
A fence around its heart so it doesn’t fossilize to grief.
The OED marks obsolete all meanings of the word grief.
Suggesting: for lack of evidence the word is in decay.
To say that this very morning, as I found myself hedging
against the bile come up my throat directly onto sidewalk,
apologizing to strangers for spilling my invisible bruise,
Grief seemed to be the only way to language this rot?
It is known that radiation turns poisonous when it starts to rot.
Say when they first drop the bombs: it is grief,
When your children play in its snowfall: a bruise,
When you give birth to a grape or an octopus: decay.
I don’t know where to begin cleaning up: soiled sidewalk
in a body fissuring to waste beside immaculate hedging.
For this reason, I must begin with the hedge.
It stands so prepared, dressed so well, to witness my rot.
So confidently a part of and apart from this sidewalk.
Under it, too, lay vines smothered in grief.
Yet, it sits on its florid, nauseating throne of decay,
And I stutter apologies around my lacerated bruise.
I want to say purple or spilled and I keep swallowing bruise
Because I am trying to say it’s in the hedging:
In it soured the greed and apathy. It is decay
that they seed the poison, the bombs, the rot
then leave it all outside and abandon grief.
All you are left with is uninhabitable sidewalk.
So I am staying with decay and excavating the bruise,
I am hacking at both sidewalk and hedging,
And I am calling it rot but I mean: Grief. Grief. Grief.
LET’S SAY THAT UNKINDNESS, TOO,
Let’s say that unkindness, too,
can wear the look of care.
Say one in the hand, is
worth two in the bush.
In these cherry-stained grasslands,
sincerity makes heady promises.
In rage I lemon-ball your eye,
find: an emerald glacier in pre-melt rest.
Say, hospitality looks different house by house,
house by house, I lose my grounding.
In the yellow one, all the tables are too tall;
my elbows a little skinned after dinner.
In the blue one time passes so quickly
I am always at angles with the furniture.
This year, everything lays within measure.
The whole house rolled out foot by foot.
I enter the room, piles of folded clothes
line the floor. Say, this too is
An unkindness. On an August night,
with all the loves of my life
stoking a makeshift campfire,
I no longer thirst for gardenias.
I peel the floorboards, find marigolds
shrining a pilgrimage of ant-hills.
Despite basal tears over tonsured hair,
I now write of the Hawthorne
Docks in a baptismal way. Say, unkindness dissolves
into kindness in the image of Home.
House by house, I dander into couches and
fall to the skin of so many cabinets.
Nanya Jhingran is a poet, scholar & community organizer from Lucknow, India currently living in Seattle, WA. Her work has appeared in Cathexis Northwest Press and is forthcoming in The Crossing and TRACK//FOUR. She holds an MA in Literature from the University of Washington-Seattle where she is now working on her PhD. When not reading books or writing poems, she is found cooking large meals for friends and chasing her cat, Masala, around the house. Twitter: @nanya_biznes
after Terrance Hayes
I come from a long line of code-switching enunciations
Gualmar, Cosco, Estánfor, & Piksa Hoot all in my neighborhood
& matter of fact everyone I know works there. I was once asked
to report anything “suspicious” as I drove by a kids toy motorcycle
straddling highway dividers that made me question illicit definitions.
I’m from “hijos de su chingada madre” straight out the
hocico of mi chingada madre. Phrases as sacred, aftermath not
calculated till A+’s in algebra & English teacher scolded parents
nuisance & unfocused & illiterate & diction deficient
“hijo qué dijo tu maestra” y “nada, no te preocupes” translating signs
from English to Spanish soon as I learned to breathe. CA my home
they say it’s empathy’s fault that causes these quakes. I took cover
when the 4.3 hit, sister shouting to stop shaking her bed. My ancestors
whispered in my ear to unfinish degrees advised otherwise, true to
blood that circulates through these frijolero veins. I’ve been asked:
What the 5 fingers say to the face? What the fajo say to the nalgas?
What the chubby boy say to esteem? Self-doubt express the only way
I know home. I’m from a technicality, youngest in my family
miscarried unmet sister would have beared a beautiful
first communion dress, instead it was me. My search history reeks
of fermented agave & missing employee names + obituary. South City
& Zapopan raised me. Dutch crunch sandwiches & tortas ahogadas
would test positive in my curly hair, if my culture was considered
a drug; a threat. Which it is. I come blessed like the
15 Virgen de Guadalupes found in my home. They say I never stay
put & yet laid me in a crib. When the morning came I was out
the door crawling, walking, running
& I haven’t stopped since.
Kevin Madrigal is a decolonizer of food, art, and health. He is a Chicano first-generation child of inmigrantes Mexicanos from Sur San Francisco. In 2016, he founded Farming Hope in San Francisco to provide employment opportunities in food for folks experiencing homelessness. Through his writing he hopes to honor his ancestors and work towards a better future within his community. He is working on a collection of poems about anxiety and promoting positive mental behaviors through acknowledging, identifying, and countering disruptive thoughts. In his free time, you can find him listening to hip-hop / rap and on the dance floor with friends.
FOR MY SON WHO ASKS WHY
Maybe we only get to be a mother once
and the rest is repetition I keep thinking
I’ll get another chance at the garden
to glow slick with some stamen to honey
and honey this womb Have you seen the
conifer twirled in winter this is the gentle
with which I would shimmer if I could
double and brew but puff puff pass out
is hardly a bedtime story even if the dragon
is delicate not gory even if the sirens
shed their sex dredged sweat and invite
you to tarry who is to say I deserve two
I never thought of semen as another kind
of dreaming but lately it has the same
oracle bright shade crystal balls emanate
and if I could just gather in its gloss
muck my ovaries and toss in its wake then
what then I could fan out: so many blades
Alexa Doran is the author of the chapbook Nightsink, Faucet Me a Lullaby (Bottlecap Press 2019), and is currently a PhD candidate at Florida State University. Her series of poems about the women of Dada, “The Octopus Breath on Her Neck,” was recently released as part of Oxidant/Engine’s BoxSet Series Vol 2. You can also look for work from Doran in recent or upcoming issues of Passages North, Salamander, Pithead Chapel and Harvard Review, among others.
BALIKBAYAN FOR MY STEP-SISTER FOR THE FIRST & ONLY TIME WE MET
Sorry I made you cry. I was crying, too, at
your door in your crying father’s arms. I
didn’t know you’d be there. I was yelling
when I hung up on pops last. A weaker conn-
ection. A crack in a golden Beamer’s wind-
shield. A hairline. Then all at once black &
yellow static slid into the astonished gap
between his lips. Not a word since. What else
have I been silent about? To whom? I have to
say: I love you. It’s almost impossible to be-
lieve. My son is your age; my youngest, your
sister’s. In my bed they still sleep, so some
nights when I rise, it’s from your dreams.
Dujie Tahat is a Filipino-Jordanian immigrant living in Washington state. He is the author of Here I Am O My God, selected by Fady Joudah for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship, and SALAT, selected by Cornelius Eady as winner of the Tupelo Press Sunken Garden Chapbook Award. Their poems have been published or are forthcoming in POETRY, Sugar House Review, ZYZZVA, Southern Indiana Review, and elsewhere. Dujie has earned fellowships from Hugo House, Jack Straw Writing Program, and the Poetry Foundation, as well as a work-study scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. They cohost The Poet Salon podcast.
RESTRICTION IS THE NAME I GIVE THE MOUTH I
WANT TO OPEN
When we cannot sleep
it is as if the sky chokes
the room. Outside shifts.
The only place soft enough
to palm is a bombless field.
In the after, no after, no—
On the radio, static. Outside,
a photographer learning
what her hands might make.
Night tears itself like a cloud.
Daybreak: soft, forgettable,
the only hiding spot they’ll
never find, a room for
undress. Tragic, really:
the rehearsed pageant of day
in the city street, the hands,
what they forage. I get lost
in the squall. A bombless
field. The photographer
learning to form, to function:
the lie of a photograph
heavy in what it holds outside
its frame. When we cannot
sleep it is as if our
nightmouths shut, refusing
to open until light.
In this it resembles the old money:
America, some expired red
bank card, empty in its gold hoard.
I never signed the back. All the new
thinking is about money and how
to reach it and I read a study called
THE ORIGINS OF CREATIVITY
about successful artists who come
from wealth. To come from wealth:
like we are hatched from the dollar’s
crisp breast as children of this dark
machine. This argument is elegy
to what it signifies. I fight
with my friends over beers about
stipends and waivers so we can
survive in graduate school, in the
heat of professional development
and expert exploitation. We want
to be rich because plane rides
cost money. We are love animals
and distance is the unit that feeds us.
We talk like we know what’s coming
next, we recite blackberry blackberry—
On a Sunday in New Mexico,
I retrieve some old money
from a drawer to do laundry.
It is hot and dry. While I wait
for vacancy, I talk to J
on the phone about ethical
consumption and its impossibility
in this delirious state of buy.
We get naked like it’s our job.
I say to the street-side lamp, expose
me, like I would to a lover.
The washer is in use, cycles.
I keep an eye on my clothes
because my new neighbors have
a tendency to browse like magpies.
I tell J all relationships are
about loss and in this they resemble
the departing flight, the long goodbye.
It is always about loss prevention
while the machine hums like
a woodpecker in its rhythms.
Caroline Chavatel is the author of White Noises (GreenTower Press, 2019), which won The Laurel Review’s 2018 Midwest Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in Sixth Finch, AGNI, Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, and The Journal, among others. She is editor and co-founder of both Madhouse Press and The Shore and is currently a PhD student at Georgia State University.
SEARCH & RESCUE
When I was 14, I bled a clot of blood so big it looked like a liver. Mother banished, I took it to my father, wrapped like a gift in toilet paper. All color but white left his face as he asked if I had unbuttoned my jeans in recent history. I still walk around half-naked, looking for my orphan liver.
In The Nightingale’s Prayer, two girls live in the belly of a mountain. They carry water on their heads in clay pots. The wind carries Hanady to a man who spoke the tongue of goats. No string of wind passes between them in the night. We see the girl in sunlight, belly bulged like the ribs of a pot. Dishonor turns to dust the promise of gold—her uncle blocks the desert like a door. Here the camel kneels like a mountain crumbles.
The nightingale’s prayer.
Tongue of knife in the neck.
All the movies of my childhood obscured the true color of blood.
It was something staining the white sand black.
The nightingale’s prayer.
Tongue of knife in the liver.
I try, but I can’t sit down and write everything I fear all at once because I don’t fear it all at once.
I keep track of how soon I bring up my intact hymen in conversation.
I feed my liver sugar to purge old blood.
I crave dirt. I carve a house out of salt. I cover the holes with names.
The name I gave my body I thought meant dream but it doesn’t it means this small thing.
Sometimes I want to call us Rare Birds.
Then I pluck small knives from our eyes.
Pick a new color for my liver.
I recall my orphan,
and I scurry in search of a mother.
If I want to want you, isn’t that enough? I ask
as I realize: love is like digging
a hole that’s already been dug. Love is like a hole
I start, but say nothing about the digging.
Giant white rocks rise like dead trees
from the hard earth. Because our bodies are alloys
of pain and pleasure, we play with them.
In a way, what else is there to do?
We try everything: we scream, we pray,
we curse, we climb the giant lily rock,
the flying saucer, the mushroom, the winged lion
and the frog, but we are so alone inside this desert.
The desert is alone inside itself, one of us
cries. Last night I doubted myself without mercy:
When you said love is black and white,
did you mean….at the same time?
Everyday I bend and harvest black
stones like berries from the hard chalk
floor and fix them over my eyes. When you ask,
I say: You are the light of my eyes.
Sara Elkamel is an Egyptian poet and journalist living between her hometown, Cairo, and New York City. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at New York University. Named a 2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar by The Adroit Journal, Elkamel has had poems appear in The Common, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, American Chordata, Winter Tangerine, and as part of the anthologies Halal If You Hear Me and 20.35 Africa, among other publications
Husband, we are on the backroads
of rural Oklahoma because Google told me
tonight will be a super moon.
The dirt here is red & caked
& even the cows seem to suspect
we don’t belong––lean against
their fences as we rattle by
spitting clumps & rocks & clay
in our tires’ wake. Dust can say little
about direction or intent but everything
about speed. We are moving too slowly.
You told me yesterday you worry
about growing old––which means
you are worrying about time
& how we will fit everything
in that we want. I am not
sure how to make enough time for you
so I give you a blow job instead
pull you inside & swallow. The moon
is rising now against the sky’s throat
––round & fat & almost audible
& this is what we came to see.
I can imagine the pain of this birth
––opening across the sky for anyone
to watch. Hoping for a kind of witness.
Roseanna Alice Boswell is a queer poet from Upstate New York. Her work has appeared or will soon appear in: Driftwood Press, Jarfly Magazine, Capulet Magazine, and elsewhere. Roseanna holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University, and is the creator of Bunny Zine Press. She is currently a PhD candidate in English at Oklahoma State University. Her first collection, Hiding in a Thimble, is forthcoming with Haverthorn Press. Find her on Twitter @swellbunny posting about feminism and her love of exclamation marks.
HOW WE GOT HERE
One day the world was born
and on another day—after eons of fish and lizards,
and trees being the earth’s tallest buildings,
a boy woke up from the darkness of his mother.
Or at least that’s how Virgil imagines
he got here—tired from the first
nine months of travel, a born rambler.
He thinks of her sometimes come evening,
staring into the campfire’s oracle, wondering
if the pilot light in her heart stays on for him
or if it glimmered out long ago,
a firefly lost in the trees.
And when Virgil sleeps, he remembers being wild,
remembers his slim body covered with scales,
then feathers, then fur, his nose
searching moist earth for clues
that tether him again to that early story.
The pines called out for him, the spring, the orchards.
And when he wakes today, stirring
from his animal distance,
his yawn’s more like a growl
under the sky’s preposterous ocean,
while the fire hums, sending final sparks
VIRGIL SEES THE END OF THE WORLD
And the rivers, spellbound, stood listening—
brings him to this vision.
There’ll be a great burbling
from the middle of the river
where fish will start singing,
each with their own gleam
the sun paints over them,
gills trumpeting open
while bears stumble down
grabbing them from the air.
Only, the fish are townspeople
filling the bears’ hands
like loaves at the endtimes,
and those lumbering beasts
more like what waits to claim us
when we wash ourselves
in the calm Lethe of forgetting.
But Virgil will stay, neither living nor dead,
sitting at the dock between worlds, his feet
in that water turning cool with souls. He’ll find
a sparkle in his fiddle one more time to play us all out.
He’ll keep remembering, keep the bow rocking,
rosin clouds rising from what’s left,
strings humming down to darkness until
the bears are in the sky again, dipping for fish
in a river long gone dry.
Rebecca Macijeski holds a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has attended artist residencies with The Ragdale Foundation, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Art Farm Nebraska. She has also worked for Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry newspaper column, as an Assistant Editor in Poetry for the literary journals Prairie Schooner and Hunger Mountain, and is the recipient of a 2012 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, Poet Lore, Barrow Street, Nimrod, The Journal, Sycamore Review, Potomac Review, Storyscape, Fairy Tale Review, Puerto del Sol, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Gargoyle, and many others. Rebecca is Creative Writing Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor at Northwestern State University.
*Italicized portions of these poems come from David Ferry’s translation of The Ecologues of Virgil.