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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Pulitzer awards are not the culmination of what we see in proper and polite and unquestionable society. Pulitzers award the defining moments that make us question. Or they should. It is what we have come to expect and why we have been disappointed.
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
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
Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
If the protagonist’s goals are not met, what will happen? Are there potential consequences? What is at stake? The ‘what’ that is at stake is what gives your story meaning