Free to travel, he still couldn’t be shown how lucky
he was: They strip and beat and drag us about
like rattlesnakes. Home on Brattle Street, he took in the sign
on the door of the slop shop. All day at the counter–
white caps, ale-stained pea coats. compass needles,
eloquent as tuning forks, shivered, pointing north.
Evenings, the ceiling fan sputtered like a second pulse.
Oh Heaven! I am full!! I can hardly move my pen!!

On the faith of an eye-wink, pamphlets were stuffed
into trouser pockets. Pamphlets transported
in the coat linings of itinerant seamen, jackets
ringwormed with salt traded drunkenly to pursers
in the Carolinas, pamphlets ripped out, read aloud:
Men of colour, who are also of sense.
Outrage. Incredulity. Uproar in state legislatures.

We are the most wretched, degraded and abject set
of beings that ever lived since the world began.
The jewelled canaries in the lecture halls tittered,
pressed his dark hand between their gloves.
Every half-step was no step at all.
Every morning, the man on the corner strung a fresh
bunch of boots from his shoulders. “I’m happy!” he said.
“I never want to live any better or happier than
when I can get a-plenty of boots and shoes to clean!”

A second edition. A third.
The abolitionist press is perfectly appalled.
Humanity, kindness and the fear of the Lord
does not consist in protecting devils. A month–
his person (is that all?) found face-down
in the doorway at Brattle Street,
his frame slighter than friends remembered.

Last week’s poem of the week, Rita Dove’s “David Walker (1785–1830)

When I say Frances, I mean the maple trunk
bulging through the chain-link fence. I mean the pit bull
with spiked collar who lives on the other side.

I say Frances, and I sound like a leaking bike tire.
Frances: my purple Schwinn, my flowered banana-seat.
My legs pumping through the subdivision

that springs from the field. Frances
rides on the air. You might say, I don’t understand,
and I’d say, This is not my voice. It’s something

in the leaves that keeps speaking. Something that saw me
as a child, rubbed a coin on the sole of my foot, charmed.
When I say Frances, I mean a woman. I mean

a place. The dead cling to the land. The living cling
to a story that, like currency, changes hands.

An old poem of the week, Laura Van Prooyen’s “Location: Frances

Another installment of Wes Hazard’s playlists: So You’re Picking Up Margaret Atwood From the Airport

"1. Prince – The Future

Prince’s soundtrack album for Burton’s first Batman went to #1 and featured some of his most radio-friendly work between Purple Rain and the name change. Still, relative to his other hits of the era these don’t get heard much anymore. We should all work to change that. The lyrics fear a future not too far from some of Atwood’s speculative fiction but even more importantly you might get a chance to talk about her Jungian breakdown of Gotham’s finest.”

There are probably some general wise moves to make—don’t piss everyone off, write more than once a month, read some books, and so forth—there isn’t one correct way to get wherever it is you’d like to end up. The lack of set rules may be a bit terrifying, especially those first steps in any given direction outside of school. But they’re crucial steps. This really just boils down to accepting risk. The world doesn’t have an outstanding road map for a young writer, but when you’re fully engaged in your own work, you’re always going to be able to make your mark. It’s nothing to fear, especially when taking a few steps off the beaten path is, always, inevitable.

Ask Me

She’s so darling about the whole thing—
asking me to be a bridesmaid

when we both know but won’t say
how two years ago she called me

drunk from a bar bathroom, her slurs
knotted like fingers in hair.

Sweat pooled in the crook of my arm
as I swore to her, Girl, he’s a dog.

It was the season of abandoned
couches that mushroomed in lawns,

the smell of Palmetto bugs soaked
in hot tequila. God bless

the state lines: I said yes when he asked
on a beach towel between Florida

and Alabama, yes the timeshares
loomed behind us in their turquoise

and salmon knolls, yes the jellyfish
floated thin as ghosts. How long

until I became just a sad and empty bag?
Weeks later, he and I ate sundaes

on a breezy patio, my eyes rimmed
in salt, while a baby screamed

at the next table over. The dogs and I
have this in common—our mouths

remember everything we put in them:
the bright fruit’s unexpected gristle.

Our own Anne Barngrover has some poetry in Paper Darts.
The bravery and vulnerability of this stunning first collection took my breath away as the speaker asserts in the poem “The Interviewer Acknowledges Grief”: “Because you/ can’t reassure me I have/ the right to ask anything// of women whose bodies won’t/ ever again be their own.” Seam ends, though, with a line of hope: “The moon filled the dust-polluted sky: a ripe, unsheathed/ lychee. It wasn’t enough light to see clearly by, but I still turned/ my face toward it.” I am excited to read more from this poet who is steadfast in her search for the truth even in the most unimaginably dark places.
For National Poetry Month, Anne Barngrover gives us the top five poetry books she brought home from AWP in Best of AWP14 SWAG. Above, she discusses Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, Southern Illinois University Press.

"The track I break out when I need reminding that no matter how coal-lumpish whatever I’ve written is, time and pressure transforms coal into diamonds which can then be polished to dazzling brilliance. Despite the mood music, my usual method of revision wasn’t working—that method being staring at the words on the screen, and/or reading and re-reading a printed-out copy until new or different words magically enter my brain—and I was ready to give up on the unlovely mess before I keeled over mumbling and twitching or threw a brick through my computer monitor (perhaps an overreaction to bad prose)."

Q Lindsey Barrett: Writing Beyond Good: Mining for Diamonds

There are several things that matter. First, the composition of a magazine’s staff. Of our five senior staffers, three are women; four of our seven graduate editors are women; and eleven of our fifteen interns are women. Second, we have to consider a literary magazine in its entirety, not just as individual pieces. If we’ve accepted seventy percent of the content for an upcoming issue, looking at the gender breakdown, and seeing which way we are leaning, matters. Third, we have to encourage the writers whose work we turn down (which, rather obviously, is most of them) to send work to us again. Our submitters can’t feel shut out. The extra time it takes to write a personalized rejection and say “we want to see more from you” makes a huge difference, something our interns and staff are doing already.

Who will count the bones
Whoever has finished counting the stars

What are ribs
Beached coracles from a distant country
that has seven words for thirst

And metacarpals
They shine on x-rays like far off streets at night
that veer off into all we have touched

What are shins
Arrows falling for years

Then where is the bow
I saw it once shining
in a little boat drifting on the river

What is the heel
What has been rounded by the glassblower’s breath

What is the heel
The calyx that holds the moon

What are tracers
Embers of a stolen childhood

What are tracers
They shimmer like the black beads of a bracelet hanging from a hand
They return what has fallen to earth
They shine like skinned rabbits strung from a butcher’s window in last light

What is hair
The only thing that will pick a lock made of rain

What is the jawbone
A lyre in its next life

What is the heart
A web that holds drops of dew

Then where is the spider
It has gone to the river to bring back stars

Then what is the river
It shines like skin where the shroud has worn through

What is the river
It has untied the black scarf from your mother’s hair
& wrapped it around itself

Who are the people on the riverbank
Spots on the flank of a deer
rising from its bed of stars

Our poem of the week is Mark Wagenaar’s “Questions after a Mass Grave Is Found Outside Srebrenica.