2020 Poetry

Alli Cruz


I pour black beans
onto rice until my plate
is bathed in a black
lake. The first I swam by myself
was in the Philippines — a place called
Hidden Valley Springs. As we got into the car,
I asked my Tita Lisa
If it’s hidden, how will we know
when we get there?
How will we

a body?

Land linked only
to itself. I recognize myself—
body whole & connected—
in the nights Ma calls me from home;
her voice, a lullaby. Reconciling
disparate parts.

Alli Cruz is a Filipina-Cuban American poet. She is a Levinthal scholar, currently studying English & Creative Writing at Stanford University. Her work has appeared in Hobart Pulp and The Louisville Review.

2020 Poetry

Melanie Kristeen

associative thinking

both of my parents have been struck by lightning
Sean says this makes me incredibly lucky
or cursed—either way he’s in the kitchen doorway
blue jeans brown belt no shirt
& I’m clutching an heirloom for cutting—when
I think of lightning I think of my mother’s hands
thick fingernails unpainted—swollen at the knuckles
deep in dingy sink water under an open window
a bolt snaked through—up to the elbows
in cold electricity her arms wilted
starting at the fingers—my father played a game of
trust when we were young—would hold our hands
palm down against a table—spread fingers wide & stab
in between with a pocket knife—faster & faster—don’t move
Sean says—he hugs me from behind—I’ve got a blade in hand
& the tomato bleeds out—
I think of my body as the people who’ve been inside it—Edwin
thinks of me every time he brushes his teeth—I know for certain
he could not love me despite years of trying
to talk himself into it—I’ve got a tattoo in his handwriting
just above the knee on my right thigh—how I dream
of pulling sandpaper across that fucking ink
till blood swarms over—our first time Sean said he didn’t mind blood
so we threw a towel down & went at it—there was something
about his breathing—familiar & warm—a bayou with solace in it
& I should have said I love you
the moment I meant it—he’s leaning cross-armed like Byron
against the door frame—a repurposed sapling—when
I think of lightning I think of my father—
scrappy kid crashing dirt bikes in the orange groves
near his white trash trailer park home when
bright white clouds pooled around—a crack & a flash—it hits him
on his right thigh—leg goes numb & he comes crashing—through
the kitchen window I can see live oaks & South Austin—longing
or something like it—I’ve been quiet—
Sean kisses my forehead
with a mouth full of potato & bacon

Melanie Kristeen is filled with generalized anxiety. She tentatively thinks of herself as a radical feminist, poet and educator who hails from San Antonio, Texas. She just graduated with an MFA in poetry at Texas State University and is currently the 2019-2020 poet in resident at the Clark house in Smithville, Texas. She has been the recipient of a Damsite residency in New Mexico and has been published by University of Hell Press and Black Bough Poetry. She was also a commissioned, featured artist for Luminaria: San Antonio Arts Festival in 2017.

2020 Poetry

Forrest Rapier


The river makes people go crazy—
I’m from a hurricane alley
where weather comes home angry-drunk,

& crushes the fishing pier like it’s a popsicle stick
model of a spinal cord I built for the science fair.
When I brought the glued-wreckage to class,

six-hundred strange teeth laughed at schooldesks,
& I misspelled ‘nationalism’ in the gymnasium.
Where I’m from, neighborhood

avenues have street fruit names, an asphalt canopy—
Orange, Cherry, Lemon. Glen died at Seawalk Pavilion,
& Danyelle shot her neck off in a Queen

bed near Egret’s Bluff—I know Glen paints light
over Panhandle forests while Danyelle climbs
sanity’s cliff. Haloed-zero friends of mine

spacewalk moon pistils, & tongue nectar
with alien hummingbirds on Neptune’s abandoned
beach—we fly flocks of V’s over frozen oceans.

Forrest Rapier is a recent MFA graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the recipient of a University Poetry Prize awarded by the Academy of American Poets. His work appears in Saw Palm, The Greensboro Review and Best New Poets.

2020 Poetry

Maeve Holler


to be seen & not heard

When I was knee-bruised and exploding like yellow from my mouth. When my body was all punches and stiff kisses. When my belly started to feel like a hill to climb. When I wasn’t ready for the rain to come. I was at arms, living for combat, and he taught me the alphabet of silence. At first, I thought it was a game, a hide-and-seek—I spit my words out backwards, my throat spellbound & tangled. I stopped asking questions. Instead, my fingers grew toward a creation of answers: the sky wasn’t blue, the walls all had headaches, there weren’t any trees. Colors existed only on paper, only to be whispered between me & whatever figure of God I was taught to love. That world was like underwater, like a chamber of safety, free of gravity, of noise. I swam alone. I washed my face in that type of wilt—all my new scars were absorbed into that chamber. The game became an exercise in consumption. I ate my words. But I wish I could tell him now: If you cut out my tongue, I will write you a letter.* I wish I could tell him: an animal’s thoughts don’t spill like logic, the magic of coral can’t be undone. I am not seasonal, I cannot drift out to sea like this.

Maeve Holler is a poet from Shelton, Connecticut. She is currently the Managing Editor for the literary magazine Sinking City and a third year MFA candidate at the University of Miami. She received her BA in English and Gender & Sexuality Studies from Tulane University in New Orleans. Maeve’s work, which focuses on depicting working-class experiences and retelling familial folklore, has appeared in LevelerScalawagThe Cardiff ReviewWildnessMantra ReviewLotus-Eater MagazineT.NY’s The EEELBroad! Magazine and elsewhere. Her in-progress manuscript won GASHER Journal’s First Book Scholarship in June 2019.

*line from Tory Dent’s poem “The Murder of Beauty / The Beauty of Murder”

2020 Poetry

Emma Aylor


Where I live for now they
say the crows are smaller
overall; bill also small—
our mythmade familiars,
harbingers of
the devil’s own luck. I see
them and think
of mountains, younger
hikes in the shortest
days among brittle
limbs and lichened
slabs left like so
much midden: the Priest,
Devil’s Marbleyard, Harkening
Hill. The long grasses whose
color stole along
with the gone sun, leaving
a two-dimensioned
There the black
angles roosted stickily, calls
ragged as the dry grass
leaving burrs at our ankles.
I learned lately
that crows may not
exactly, but do
learn places associated
with conspecific
death, learn the people
they must associate with crisis, learn
the masks volunteers
had to wear,
as controls, as charms
against being too
poorly remembered.
On my last
trip home from back
home one eyed me from slack
wire beside the gas
station, seeing my wild
face more closely
than I may
myself, wary of
risk; planning
to remember a version
of being I’ve made
plans plain to waive.

Emma Aylor’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in PleiadesPoet LoreSixth FinchBarrow StreetSalt Hill, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Raised in Bedford County, Virginia, she currently lives in Seattle.

2020 Poetry

Kathryn Merwin


I have thrown stones into the river

        just to watch them sink without struggle. I have

made a sea of knives around my house. I can see you,

       uncolored, spying through the black trees.

You don’t know it, but my arrow is aimed

         at your heart. I imagine letting the wind undress it,

coaxing the night between us apart with one bend

          of my finger. Because the oceans cannot mix,

I watch you from the sand. Your foam slides

         through my fingers: you recoil at my feet.

This is the terrible truth. I only love you

when you are disappearing.

Kathryn Merwin’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Cutbank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, Sugar House Review, Prairie Schooner, and Blackbird. She has read or reviewed for the Bellingham Review and The Adroit Journal, and serves as co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal. She holds an MFA in poetry from Western Washington University and currently lives in the District of Columbia. Connect with her at

2020 Poetry

Liam October O’Brien


Come down to the river, come, where a boy up the mudbank canters:
find cover.
Crouched drinkers in the grassy water: sinkers. Armored.
A white skirt fills
and billows. Boy hard up in the shadows: the banked fir.

Come down here, conjurer—come eager watcher—filleter
the dusty minnows,
muscling fish, shelled copper fly on his funeral downriver, come
the gone caresser—

Liam October O’Brien grew up on a small island. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in the HIV Here & Now Project, New South, The Iowa Review, the Lambda Literary Spotlight, Electric Literature, and the Denver Quarterly. He completed his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow. He is one of the founding editors of Vetch: AMagazine of Trans Poetry & Poetics.

2020 Poetry

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


Tied to plastic-cup rims
we pressed to our ears. How far

apart we could stand then and still hear
each other’s secrets? Remember playing

cat’s cradle? How the single strand
became many, moving weightless

from my fingers to yours, each shape
a spider web, a snowflake, a fallen

house? Remember how I couldn’t sew
or knit or braid, but you knew how to stitch

all things together and return buttons
to their rightful place? You told me to hold

a piece of thread between my teeth.
Keep it in your mouth, you said, working

the needle around my wrist. This will keep
your memories from being stolen. Remember?

How far apart we could stand then, connected
only by thread, the fear of not remembering?


Skin can hide neither. I got you, our son says,
squeezing our dog’s ear like the worm
he severed bare-fingered or the hatchling’s neck

he hasn’t yet. She takes it, the pressure
of his grip, the delight at holding her so
completely. I kicked the door of his nursery

shut one night, our cat screamed
human, screamed abandon, Egypt
when they took her first-born sons.

The cat’s tail caught between the hinges—
wall, wood, rust—skinned fur clinging
to white paint like a souvenir.

Its tip, all bone, like a newborn’s,
an emaciated finger. No scar, just scared
of what comes next, our son’s wailing, louder

than the animals’. Shaking, the dog—claws
studding her shredded ear—is a split
of black silk, is the tattered wing

of crow or raven, is deaf augury. And we
won’t know their healing, their missing
flesh, frayed cartilage, bleeding

on the hardwood at my bare feet.

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019); Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize, and 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books, 2021). Her poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. Julia is the editor of Construction Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband. 

2020 Poetry

Bethany Breitland

Bethany Breitland has worked as a barista in California, bouncer in Boston, a high school teacher in the Northeast and in the New South, tutor, researcher, and a florist. She has worked and continues to work as a mother, a partner, and an activist. Currently living at the end of a dirt road, her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and has been published by the Apeiron Review, Up North Lit, Forklift, OHIO, Helix Magazine, and deLuge.

2020 Poetry

Sarah Bates


I’m watching the second episode of Planet Earth when he finally messages back, earthy colors are great! This is the part in early spring where the hatchling emerges, vulnerable. This is the part where the Himalayan snow leopard adapts its body and its behavior in order to survive. My mother keeps telling me to download a dating app in order to join the others at sea. I can’t hear her over the snakes missing their chance, more baby iguanas finding their way onto the flat ground. Because I, too, want a little corner of Madagascar to myself. I, too, want to be like everyone else at 27 who seems to be getting on with it. Part of the reason why I love the color blue is because it is always letting our bodies go towards the way of our fears. Like men studying rats, bees gathering the tops of mulberry trees in order to dispose of them. Last night I allowed the ants to teach me something new about the waxing gibbous, a shadowy peace asserting itself like a person. I’ve been trying to figure out the color of the car while we were in it, the sound of you balancing my body on top the metal, the rust, a beating heart beside a brown paper bag. I never told you how I had to stop in the middle of Highway 56 to see the dead coyote in the gutter, to bury its milk jaw, its gun-broke hip joint. I knew you had never seen pictures of the Blue Ridge in October, the baby iguana outrunning a racer for the second time. I knew that in the last five minutes, the seeds would disperse and the danger would be gone. The pressure of growth is in every part of every living thing.

Sarah Bates has an MFA in Poetry from Northern Michigan University and currently teaches at Southern Utah University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Fugue, 45th Parallel, The Rumpus, Meridian, Best New Poets 2017, American Literary Review, Seneca Review, The Normal School, Rattle, RHINO, and Hotel Amerika, among others. Her manuscript, O-Six, was a finalist in the 2018 Saturnalia Poetry Book Prize. Her manuscript, Tender, was a finalist in the 2018 Bateau Press Chapbook contest.