Kathryn Nuernberger is the author of two poetry collections, The End of Pink and Rag & Bone. Her collection of lyric essays is Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, Gettysburg, Gulf Coast, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor of creative writing at University of Central Missouri, where she also serves as the director of Pleiades Press.
Finger Painting in Latter Days
August 2005, Katrina plummets
Mississippi; buries manmade
beaches under tumbling floods.
In New Orleans’ 9th ward, some
still wade loss, fissured faith, cracks
in lips, skin, left from the boiling
heat of one summer’s winter. But,
joining another year’s relief team,
grandmother folds her tithe
in a crisp envelope, still believing
in her widow’s mite.
August 2012, Isaac hits Haiti;
people, belongings, flounder and
course down streets. After weeks,
mother still weeps for baby,
swallowed in a current; for father,
trying to get “our baby” back.
But, months later, she’s among
children, women, men, a neighbor
fishes off muddy streets and
welcomes at a table of rice,
beans—meat, ancient as pain,
vital as comfort.
August 2017, Harvey whirls through
Texas, hefts Beaumont into the sea.
Harris County teachers lose four
young students swept into a bayou.
Toxic spills flood floods.
Headlines read: Houston fights
mosquitoes over pools of stagnant
water; fire-fighters strike from home.
But, of kindness amid wreckage,
an historian turned poet writes:
“healing waters run deeper here.”
September 2017, Maria plows
a demolition path towards Puerto Rico.
In her wake, the port of riches cries
for food, drinking water, medicines
contained in scorching ports,
just a truck-drive, an airlift away
while officials plan plans and waiver.
Weeks after Irma’s slap, the Virgin
Islands still insist, “remember us.”
And Barbuda remains silent. But,
in St. Martin, a teacher tells tv news
about a saving grace in colors of earth,
sky; her story pivoting epiphany.
She collects children from their play
in ruin’s hush near broken cathedral
steps, stirring puddles under rainbows
arcing wastes. They will use brazen
hues of yellow ochre, green, orange,
red, blue—colors so loud God sways
to the splash, splatter, and smoothing
stroke springing up fallen homes,
schools, the church. One, whose canvas
is a resurrected tent for storing school
supplies, echoes a zephyr of voice,
so familiar it pangs, “Miss, I paint
mango leaves.” He lets her see, proud
of what his fingers have made: a leaf
purpling to fine wine; some green
around a brown-line tree. Her heart
takes in his passionfruit and melon
giraffe, head held high in low silver
spears of stratus, hooves on a coconut
curve of earth—images conjuring
her son another storm stole years earlier
and forever. “My son liked animals,”
she tells her young muse.
Beginning her story’s end, she thinks
of her child up there where the artist
has painted an apricot sun on blue
heaven skies. Her muse is the last
of the children she’ll take back
to the tents they call home. Late
afternoon, she's steering the boy
away from his canvas, away from her.
“We will tell ta maman of your good
work,” she says, cradling his painted
fingers, so at least for the length
of their trek, she adds with thanks,
her hand “was not empty.”
Stronger, August 2017
(for Heather Heyer)
might have been her mantra that day.
and a year of days,
it certainly was her mother’s;
identifying her body,
picking up her last pay,
checking on her sick Chihuahua,
bidding “my child,
down by a driver furrowing
to irrigate tares that angels
of our better natures,
them from wheat, will one day
gather for burning.
listening above political parlance,
to hear Heather’s
story, take up the mantra now.
Her fall for standing
against what makes
the word “evil,” flesh, sows a seed,
so love grows stronger
in the hearts
of pink hats, purple shields, poised
some raised in monuments of concrete
and bronze; poised against
a hydra of hate,
whose spew from many heads, many
heads, gets drowned
humming “Amazing Grace” because,
on Heather’s day, America,
rising to her finest
claimed, I am more than my troubled
history. On tonight’s
someone says Heather’s legacy
was born August 12th,
Centuries of slain say much earlier
in every defender
who has been and is to come,
who has been
and will be outraged,
who has paid and will pay attention.
Those who centuries
of "strange fruit"—and
every creed, age, color of martyr—say
are the ones who have known
and will know
what Heather knew; the ones who
have and will bet
on their very precious
lives, that truth reigns and will remain
the moral arc,
often hidden, but
ever bending toward the right and just.
Olga Dugan is a Cave Canem poet. Her award-winning poems appear or are forthcoming in The Peacock Journal, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Kweli, The Southern Quarterly, The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku, Cave Canem Anthology: XIII, Pirene’s Fountain, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Scribble. Holding a Ph.D. in Literary History from the University of Rochester, Olga is a Lindback Professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia.
“Some are here as refugees, some are here as citizens, some are here without papers, but they are all my people.”
—Gene Wu, Member, Texas House of Representatives, USA.
Spirit of nomads,
escorts of wandering caravans
guide us as we commence our
journey to strange lands.
We have waved our farewells to the wind,
with our feet imprinted in river beds.
We have grasped a handful of soil
and poured it out to the four corners
of the earth:
to the East we said “go”
to the West we said “go”
to the North we said “go”
to the South we said “go”
with the wish whispered by parents
as their children set out on a journey
of unlikely outcome.
Go before us,
and may our progenies
the place of our origin.
Our children would grow up here
on foreign soil,
seeing the old land as a mystic place,
only spoken about in noon day tales
as National Geographic episodes,
and the old tongue a riddle
that needs to be solved,
an arithmetical equation
in a notebook without pages.
For them, this is where they belong
this is where their memories reside,
this is where they have their friends,
their schools, jobs, and shopping malls.
We on the other hand
will make new ones
as we are caressed by nostalgia
of the memories we left behind,
and make up for it by trading tastes
with new ingredients for old delicacies.
Valentine Okolo is a thinker, writer, and artist. He was part of the online team of the U.K-based magazine, Know Yourself, and while it existed was art and self-expression editor. He has also served as an editor to a few other magazines as well. He is currently an editor for businessiqonline.com, the fastest and largest circulating business magazine in Africa. He tweets at @poetval.
Some of us don’t breathe the air
outside the womb. Our mothers eat from cans
or toil over assembly lines, waiting for men who never call.
We make fists under the depth of a wondrous sea
while our mothers cup their bellies for one two or three.
Those of us who breathe may circle around the sun,
before our father, wherever he is, finds us
like an anchor at his feet.
Eréndira's fiction appears in West Branch, The Puritan, Day One, The Cossack Review, The Black Warrior Review, Fourteen Hills, and others. Her poetry is featured in The Sunlight Press and Mothers Always Write. Her essays are featured in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, The Tishman Review, Cordella Magazine, Front Porch Commons: A Project of the [CLMP], and many others. She has work forthcoming in The Mudroom. She is writing a novel.
[the control of the bird]
i told my daughter the control of the bird is a soft balling of freedom thrown back into the air one more time and she should never once discount flight happening right in front of her because that could be the last time it happens and it’s a longshot that hollow bones will last much longer in a world that has bet heavy on the idea that it can trap the sun
i told my children each bullet is a promise to at least one person that they will die in a puddle that they will be turned into the sky and the fireball that consumes it that each bullet is a solar flare that laps up whole families with each slight burst that each bullet can swallow the firmament whole
[the noise ripens]
i told my son the noise ripens in your gut all you have to do is open your mouth wide enough to birth the field that can become the crop that will lift your words high enough to have a chance to be stumpled upon by a party that is searching for the almost destruction of youth and willing to settle for the shape of the story you give them so good luck son because this next ohio is all yours
Darren C. Demaree is the author of six poetry collections, most recently “Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly” (2016, 8th House Publishing). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
Driving on a Country Road at Midnight, I Summon Du Fu
“…the river of stars casts its trembling shadow.”
Clouds blot the ceiling of everything,
a gray algal bloom
strangling your river of stars.
a red pulse of heat lightning. Dendrites
firing within the cortex
of a behemoth cloud-brain. I struggle
to explain modern neuroscience to you,
settling at length on a metaphor
of a million tiny candles
lighting & relighting one another.
Sitting beside me, the fringe
of your robe is caught in the seal
of the passenger door, & your moldy boots
crunch on a leaf-litter
of grocery store receipts. Although
it is a balmy summer night in Florida,
you exhale cold vapor made green
by the glow of the dashboard,
& shiver, still prisoner to the damp paw
of the Hunan winter that beat
the life from your flesh.
You speak to me, but I can only
understand you when you recite.
When the clouds part, I point
out the stars, the same stars
that once witnessed an old bureaucrat
re-thatching his wind-scoured roof.
You shake your head. Beauty & awe
are luxuries you can’t afford in death.
I try to argue, but you begin reciting:
“Man is the most foolish animal,
for man alone stands upright—stands
only to be ground to chaff
between the twin millstones
of Earth & Sky.”
Sometimes I can hear you
dreaming—loud as falling starlight,
or a canary singing deep
in the black marrow of a mountain;
clear as moth’s wings in a thunderstorm,
or an ant’s stomach digesting honey
ten feet below ground.
Jonathan Louis Duckworth received his MFA from Florida International University. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, PANK Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Jabberwock Review, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.
On a breezy, April afternoon we stood out of breath from our climb.
Daffodils thrust up in the clearing of a old home-place,
leaning in clots of barren growth.
We passed into an opening of disjointed boards,
through a short hallway into the living-room.
Mostly fallen from exposure, sun-bleached, moss-covered lumber
clung together with rusted nails, corroded hinges,
this hull from as far back as 1853, 1913?
Only bleary photographs could show that life.
Time passes. Wind slips in. We don’t see with the same eyes.
Along one wall, pieces of ironwork and glass lay covered in dust,
a single wasp comb where the light-bulb hung.
Ceiling edges and outside sills have coiled in vine.
Sparrows lodged in half-rotted walls.
Leaves cluttered the floor, creaked even under her light feet
as she crept toward the hearth.
Those fingers worked among loose brick;
each one tumbled down, each nail, with ease removed.
Worn, though still intact,
five or six boards of tongue-and-groove wood painted sickly ocher,
now faded, chipped and peeled in places so worn the wood grain shown.
Each side was carved as a pillar,
straight lines cut top to bottom.
The shelf was a sanded two-by-four,
curved backing rounded in arcs, met mid-way, curled out on each side.
We carried her mantle upside down, guided,
pushed through grass, lifted over rough ground.
Easing around thorns, half-way down the path,
her arms grew tired, so we sat for a while on rocks
beneath a stand of oak and pine.
I want more than a remnant.
I remember what they said to me, all of them, every word.
John Timothy Robinson is traditional and a graduate of the Marshall University Creative Writing program in Huntington, West Virginia. He has published in 39 journals since August 2016. John teaches for Mason County Schools in West Virginia. Most recent work appears in: The Magnolia Review, Tipton Poetry Journal and Plainsongs.
As in, how many more days can we camp without
getting killed by Alvaro, Alvaro who drinks enough
for three, Alvaro with teeth the color of licorice.
As in, how much longer until Patagonia gets
a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous or Adulterers
Anonymous, or Andes Anonymous as in, we climb
up and over the Andes in every conversation.
Hard to talk about the weather when pumas fall
from the sky, when condors and armadillos lurk
like innuendos. As in, a single man is more lonely
than a guanaco macho surrounded by ten hembras.
How much further to the end of the story, the one
where la gaucha y el gaucho ride off with a horse,
one of them steering towards the ivory cliffs.
Born in Miami, Dana De Greff received her MFA in fiction from the University of Miami and is the Founder & Executive Director of PageSlayers Summer Camp, a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge Winner. She has been accepted or awarded scholarships from Tent: Creative Writing; the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop; and The Key West Literary Seminar. Her work appears in Philadelphia Stories, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, and elsewhere.
December 9th, 1980
Red salvia, lime green chrysanthemum,
lonesome pots of geraniums, browning,
slowly decaying in the cold wind,
in the spotted, anemic sun,
the alcohol of autumn’s mood
drowning the front lawn’s color,
rose daphne shrubs, changing their hue,
the orchestration of birds in the trees
carefully awakening the oak tree’s canopy,
the neighbor’s bullied gutter,
and, the soft, cracked egg of morning sun,
spilling over the old, hard-edged porches,
over rows of parked cars, the soft-drink ale
of morning, fizzling over Hamtramck,
sad-like, lonesome, an effluvium of gloam
mixed in the morning’s flirtatious glitter,
and, the quick eruption of snow flurries –
winter white, a crystalline frizzante
surrounding me, taking me over –
stirring me into wakefulness again
as I step outside, smell the dawn,
take it deep into my nostrils.
The woman I left last night, already
a lost note of music, a transient feather
already taken by the evening’s
calving of moonlight, by the night’s
twilight cave, by a Sagittarius moon,
and, John Lennon, murdered:
shot dead outside the Dakota Hotel
by a man composed of fear –
lost, erratic birds cloying at him,
tearing his mind from rim,
a pistol rising from his hand
like a pointed deformity –
and killing Lennon dead in a blunt,
pitter-patter of gun-shot-fire.
We listened to the news on the radio,
sat there sipping our coffee
at a kitchen table in Hamtramck,
my brother and I,
felt the first bite of winter,
Lord, you shoot your paintball color
straight up through the petals
of this orange lily
sprouting through cracked pavement
alongside the Temple Bar –
in Detroit – where I sit
at a stool reading how the angry man
shook his twenty one month old baby
back and forth
like he was doing some kind of polka dance
with her – until the baby lost
the light behind her
daffodil face –
and she dropped vacant
with the dull grace
of a pool hall ball. It makes no sense
how the light explodes right through
the lily face –
as if you, Lord, couldn’t quite recall
how to shove the straw
of color into something
already alive and willing, a lily, oh Lord,
and so you did so violently,
as if all life is in vivid color,
fermented in holy fire,
some radiant limelight.
Even the shoeless woman
the brown bag of liquor –
gulping it like she’s
a vampire drinking
the red blood inside your
carotid arteries, rambles on
about the mania
of the orange lilies
growing from the forgettable
side grass along the wall
of this bar,
even as she grabs hold of one,
fingers it up to her mouth
like it’s a tootsie roll.
God, we become psychotic creatures
when surrounded by
and beauty – like we’re attendees
at some high school dance,
impulses raging –
and we don’t know what to do
but yank at one another,
stretch and pull
at one another,
suck the temper of light
like strings of taffy.
Even the juke box can’t take it,
this song, Love Hurts.
Lord I remember her,
my child, my fireball
as she raced so fast
across that park
where her mother
and I were sitting together,
trying to work back
into our marriage
from some pull and tug
of a polka dance we were doing
with each other,
because we couldn’t handle
the taffy of romantic love,
And how that child raced up
to greet us
on a summer night
as the dusk marched in –
draping the monkey bars
in obsidian –
and how her face, like an orange lily,
like a quick streak of light,
with limelight –
glowed like a firefly
as she grabbed
hold of our necks to embrace us.
And my wife and I
cried so hard
when she ran off to climb
the monkey bars.
And we had a chance
to watch her, and cry some more
at how the moonlight
colored her orange
like a lovely lily as she played,
while we made our way back in again,
to our romantic love.
We are swords of light, I fear,
cutting one another
We are the limelight that aches –
as it cozies up against the side
of a wall – oh Lord of color.
Come back to me, sweet child
who followed the moonlight,
rolled over in it:
come back, and dance your festive
dance of fireflies
beneath the lonely stars –
so that I can feel again the lullaby
of your innocence:
what you gave
to your mother and me,
as we watched you
dance, that night.
I long for it – this dance we do –
that holds us tight.
Ken Meisel is a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, Swan Duckling chapbook contest winner, winner of the Liakoura Prize. His books are The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door (FutureCycle Press: 2015), Scrap Metal Mantra Poems (Main Street Rag: 2013), Beautiful Rust (Bottom Dog Press: 2009), Just Listening (Pure Heart Press: 2007), Before Exiting (Pure Heart Press: 2006) and Sometimes the Wind (March Street Press: 2002). He has work in Cream City Review, Rattle, Midwest Gothic, Concho River Review, San Pedro River Review, Boxcar Review, Firefly, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Lullwater Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Lake Effect.
Ashley M. Jones received an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, where she was a Knight Foundation Fellow. She was a finalist in the Hub City Press New Southern Voices Contest, the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Contest, and the National Poetry Series. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and her debut poetry collection, Magic City Gospel, was published by Hub City Press in January 2017. She is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
I’m trying to write a letter
to my god-daughter in London
after reading Between The Word
and Me and although the book
is good and true she is not black
or white she is beautiful and smart
and I want to warn her but not
alarm her or draw a line down
her as America’s constant war
demands and yesterday at George W.
Bush Airport in Houston after a month
in Costa Rica with my doors unlocked
and fair priced dentistry I felt I was
walking into a maximum security prison
with a live Trump-feed and I stood
in line with all the other tired and
hungry thinking I was going to die
or at least put a part of my soul on hold
cause you have to choose here one
extreme or the other and don’t
cross the tracks too much cause
if you do mix both sides will have
guns and love using them and
the nearest port of entry may be
behind you although we are lucky
cause they stamp our passports
cause our countries have money
I’m still trying to write the letter
to my god-daughter with her own
history and life all I can think of
saying is go elsewhere until things
blow up and over because they
certainly will and I don’t want you
caught in the middle your beauty
is above and beyond the lines
they force us to draw and follow
David Morgan O'Connor is from a small village on Lake Huron. After many nomadic years, he is based in Albuquerque, where a short story collection progresses. He contributors monthly to The Review Review and New Pages. His writing has appeared in Barcelona Metropolitan, Collective Exiles, Across the Margin, Headland, Cecile's Writers, The Great American Lit Mag, Bohemia, Beechwood, Fiction Magazine, After the Pause, The Great American Lit Mag (Pushcart nomination) , The New Quarterly and The Guardian. Follow David on Twitter @dmoconnorwrites or visit his website: davidmorganoconnor.com
FRED OTT'S SNEEZE
Once, when I was a teenager, I caught
a man bending over in a long string
of sneezes. An older woman leaned close
and said, You can always tell how a man
will be in bed by how he sneezes.
After that, I couldn't help myself:
I'd think: he makes that exact expression
when he comes. I'd never waste my time
talking to any man who suppressed his sneezes.
One of the earliest motion pictures
made for the Edison Kinetoscope showed
a man take a pinch of snuff,
and the resulting sneeze. You'd watch it
through a peephole: 81 frames
of involuntary bodily contortions.
Seen in slow motion, it appears that Fred Ott
has a religious revelation:
beatitude, oblivion, explosion.
People paid to see this:
they called it entertainment.
The burbot is a long thin fish.
Todd calls it an eelpout and curses its name;
it steals the bait he intends for walleyes,
it wraps around his arm when he releases
the hook, its teeth are numerous and sharp,
and its beard, the single barbel, odd.
He curses it and throws it back.
The French call it river cod
and poach the liver in white wine and make pate
called foix de lotte de rivière. Alaskans
call it ling cod and bake it whole; chefs prize
its flakes of tender white flesh.
I’ve never tasted the fish.
Todd shows me photos on his phone:
he wants to brag about his tricked-out
ice-fishing shack with its large-screen TV
and all the walleyes he catches.
Everyone in Wisconsin, he insists,
hates the eelpout. Turns out it’s the only
freshwater fish in the cod family.
Was it separated from its salty kin
by continental shift, by some early
unmarked cataclysm? The burbot is the only
freshwater fish to spawn in winter,
at the same time as saltwater cod.
Burbots rise each winter from the depths
for a shallow orgy, sometimes a hundred or more
intertwined bodies in a quivering ball,
releasing eggs and sperm, churning
beneath a blanket of ice.
IN MEMORIAM: MING THE CLAM
(1499 – 2006)
The oldest known living
was dredged up
still alive, age 507,
can count the rings
on their shells the same way
study tree rings.
The ocean quahog
or arctica islandica
lives in the top two inches
of muddy substrates
off the freezing coasts
of northern Europe
and North America.
Climate, sea temperature,
the environmental changes
are embedded there,
coated in a tough black
Inside her shell,
Ming shone like the moon.
Kim Roberts’s fifth book of poems, The Scientific Method, was released from WordTech Editions in February 2017. She is the co-editor of the journals Beltway Poetry Quarterly and the Delaware Poetry Review, and editor of the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010). Her book of walking tours, A Literary Guide to Washington, DC from Frances Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston, will be published in Spring of 2018 by the University of Virginia Press. Roberts is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, HumanitiesDC, and the DC Commission on the Arts, and has been a writer-in-residence at 15 artist colonies.
Her website is http://www.kimroberts.org.
Sitting by the Hudson*
Rio was never home
until I got far enough
for home to expand into a whole country
it was just river
in the beginning of a sentence
or in front of a proper name
And Rio Doce
was then just water
flowing through a valley
if not milk
and if not the honey
implied in its name
it was home
if not for me, then
for the men of Mariana
I see crying on a screen
*“Sitting by the Hudson” was written as a response to news of the rupture of a dam releasing toxic Mud over Valle do Rio Doce, Brazil (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brazil-mine-disaster-floods-area-with-toxic-substances/).
So as not to wake you
I unzipped just enough
to slide my hand
past the hard shell
of the suitcase
As I felt
that all I wanted
was a notebook
to go for a walk
I made out the outline
of the buttons
on your father’s shirt
and the clean soles
of the high heels
I know I’ll never wear
then twirled my fingers
you can’t yet tie
and sailed my hands over
the smooth plastic
of a ship
to which I didn’t hold the key
I cupped a sleeping lion
stroked its mane
pried open its mouth
and as I felt
its plush little teeth
take a nip at me
and I laid the animal
back on its pillow of t-shirts
without a roar
and when you reached
with your little boy hand
towards the space beside you
I was already back there
sucking on the tiny spot
of blood on my index finger
and adjusting the blanket
that kept us
Ananda Lima’s work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Offing and is to appear in LIGO Magazine and The Heavy Feather Review. She holds an MA in Linguistics from UCLA, was selected an AWP Writer to Writer mentee and has attended workshops at Bread Loaf, Sewanee and Tin House. Ananda is currently working on a novel set in Brasilia, where she grew up as the daughter of migrants from Northeast Brazil, as well as a poetry collection centered on identity in immigration and motherhood. Find her at http://www.anandalima.com.
On the mudflats of a vast Caribbean lagoon on the Orinoco Delta coast a tight standing flock of common stilts face an east wind, the ones behind step ahead pushing the front ones forward
Each morning’s first frigatebirds fill the huge eastern proscenium minutes before sunrise
In graceful Venezuela, little kids on the street doing the samba in place, the sliding lane-shift flow of a Caracas freeway, frigatebirds soaring over long coasts, trucks lurching down red-earth mountain tracks, the Orinoco
Iberoamérica. Venezolana, venezolano
Piña, papaya, caraotas negras, arepas de maíz, queso blanco y café
It is glorious to be at the top of the immense vertical continent with the ability to drive off south through the equatorial double tropic into the far, ocean-bound cold exterior pendant peninsula of Patagonia approaches a Paris-to-Beijing Eurasian scale
Study in awe the huge scaly yellow legs and talons of a common black hawk waiting like a dark Madonna in a shrine in the shroud of a mangrove over a roadside tidal pool
Stunned in the presence of a harpy eagle on perch, an avenging angel almost a meter high, head ruffed and bushy, divided crest that goes hornlike when erect, thighs barred black, massive tarsi, bare, its black chest patch clearly visible, tail marbled and barred with black
The nearly omnipresent caracaras, abrupt and crazy like few beings in nature and barely more than half the size of harpy eagles, plunge around flying low off from roadkills
Their facial skin color changes from orange to bright yellow when excited
Bound for caracas spilling from its high mountain valley with over six million people
In Nueva Esparta on a red-earth mountain cutbank above the sea, mushrooms appear one night like smooth-cap parasols (Leucoagaricus naucina), frosted silvery so white as to glow in the false dawn
A buffy hummingbird singing nearby in first light flies off, flies back in and begins again to sing, can see her tinier tongue when she opens her tiny beak
Before the sun is up, another buffy hummingbird and a female ruby-topaz in an arroyo farther along the hillside
Search for the ruby-topaz male, crown feathers to the nape glittering ruby red, back dark olive brown, throat and upper breast glittering topaz orange, a tuft of down white feathers on the flanks, tail rufous chestnut tipped black, insect size at three and a half inches long
But either the ruby-topaz male is not here, or if he is somewhere in the acres of steep hillside brush, when looking one way he is behind, when looking left he is right, when looking back behind he is foreground low in front
One bushy tropical hillside, a big place for one darting hummingbird
Eighty-six species of colibries, tucusitos, and chupaflores in Venezuela
Their families, the Sunangels, the Pufflegs, the Brilliants, the Lancebills, the Violetears, the Mangos, the Sabrewings, the Starfrontlets, the Coquettes, the Woodstars, the Emeralds, the Goldenthroats, the Sapphires, the Hermits, the Barbthroats, the Hummingbirds
Spot neotropic cormorants, the clumsy feather-duster plunging around of a smooth-billed ani, tropical mockingbirds, brown pelicans, an osprey, eared doves, ruddy ground doves, a carib grackle, black-faced grassquits, a bicolored conebill
In the straits skirting the Isla Coche bound for Cumaná, a pomarine jaeger half a meter long, yellow eyed close off the rail
Flies with us there for half a minute, its twisted spoon-shaped tail streams unmistakably, hulk gliding singularity, the great circumpolar skua that ranges here in winter
An opportunistic voracious jaeger like that in sight of the coast of Sucre state’s canyons and mountainsides all resplendent with nectar-sipping hummingbirds is as amazing and as wild as anything on earth
Walking from the ferry slip in Cumaná
The city still full of Cumanagoto faces
The elegant Tainos were Arawakan brothers of the Cumanagotos, who except for language were gone in a lifetime after Columbus hit, every Taino on the planet dead within fifty years of 1492
The Tainos left words like these, savannah, maize, hurricane, tobacco, cigar, canoe
Ultramarine yellow, yellow ultramarine, and light chrome yellow
Ten years after Columbus came, Bartolomé de las Casas arrived in Hispañola and started a model Indian community in Cumaná
His magnum opus, Historia de las Indias, was not even published until 1875 in Spanish
Like a nineteenth century humanist, he preached against Indian slavery and medieval Spanish free-booting lust and greed, Catholic colonial issues that people still argue about
Ask the car rental guy, an old ballplayer, about Las Casas and he grins, points to his face, “¡Cumanagoto, cumanagoto, cumanagoto!”
Against the sun going down in salt-coast haze an alpomado falcon, Falco femoralis, hunting high over a yellow grass bajada with its white-barred blackish tail obvious in the indirect light, hovering there it looks twice as large as a kestrel
The birds appear like gifts, oriole blackbird, scaled dove, gray kingbird, great kiskadee, boat-tailed grackle, yellow oriole, golden-fronted greenlet, scrub greenlet, tropical gnatcatcher
In the same feeding flock within a mangrove swamp beside a Radio Sucre transmitter, a male prothonotary warbler, brilliant yellow, brilliance as emphatic as Bartolomé de Las Casas seeing his god in Indian slaves’ eyes
Climb the first mountain pass on the way west to Caracas, a waved woodpecker’s hatchet-shaped head shows up over a switchback hammering on a tree-size cactus, woodpecker speckling, red cheek and ear patch back toward its nape, Celeus undatus
Yellow earth impure yellow ocher on the headlands and mountains above the bays
Driving out of lightly populated Sucre toward Anzoátegui and Miranda before Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz, each river’s green canyon, bananas, maize, papayas, Muscovy ducks, sheltered hamlets on blacktop lanes off the coastal highway, red sand beaches inside coves and inlets
Oxide yellow is yellow ocher on the cutbanks and bare rock-face passes headland to headland down along
A hundred kilometers west in colonial Barcelona’s numbered-street barrio grid with wrought iron grills and sixteenth century carved hardwood doors
A rock guitar mass going on at dusk in Barcelona’s big white early-Baroque cathedral on the plaza Boyacá, a quiet square encircled by high elegant patios, blue-screened TVs inside high windows
Evening coastal glow off the Paseo Colón in adjoining Puerto La Cruz and dinner thereat a big bright parrilla managed by a homesick Peruvian from Lima who talks Sendero Luminoso, Brazil, and goes on about Lima like a New Yorker about New York
In the dawn from a river bridge west of Barcelona watch yellow-shouldered parrots flying out from roosts in twos and threes turning their heads toward one another on the wing, talking away
Greenlets, seedeaters, a plumbeous kite, a smooth yellow-headed caracara lifts off fast away from the river bank with a thin brown and black snake in its talons and see three green kingfishers working riparian territories a tenth the size of what North American kingfishers claim
Píritu’s colonial buildings and blue woodwork along the coast, its parks and trees laid out below long hills, Laguna de Unare on sand tracks to Boca de Uchire, stilts, dowitchers, spotted sandpipers, five kinds of herons
Scarlet ibises rising and then disappearing behind big mangroves
Empty sand flats, double-striped thick-knees, and stone curlews that are often kept in semi-domesticity around Venezuelan homesteads to keep the insects down
Into Miranda State where not only the river canyons but everything is green
Hamlets become like villages, villages like strip mall towns, approaching the capital where one quarter of all Venezuelans live
The freeway up to El Marques at the eastern lip of the city’s mountain bowl and on in down the urbanized high valley
Massive highrise cityscape, nearly a thousand meters above sea level
Pico Ávila in the range between Caracas and the sea overlooks everything from over two thousand meters over all that city, all that green
On the trails back down off the summit the green jays seem to follow, bold peeking and prying in and out of the foliage almost all the way back down into the city
D. E. Steward, writes serial month-to-month months of which “Los pájaros” is one. This Chroma project was begun in 1986 and continues unbroken. He has 364 of these calendar months with more than two-thirds published. The first six years of them are in press as Chroma I (Archae Editions, 2017) with further volumes to follow.
"i fight with my girlfriend because the fascists want me dead / peleo con mi novia porque los fascistas me quieren matar" by Raquel Salas Rivera
i initially think we fight out of hunger,
because she looked for the pills and i put them in the oven.
i had to take care of my mother at 14
when she cried like alice.
we reached el yunque’s peak
to see only water and wind.
i have a list of reasons in my bag.
reasons to hate yourself and all others by extension:
my father has cancer.
the same father who would vote for trump,
if he wasn’t puertorriqueño,
but he is puertorriqueño, like his cancer,
his very puertorriqueño cancer.
here my friends hoard hormones,
there my friends spent years stealing from the state that stole their
resources, which don’t exist.
i feel rage towards my white friends,
who don’t care about the imposition of the control board,
for whom this is the first dictatorship.
i’m crying at them the rage i feel toward my gf,
but i let it go because i’m worried about their sweetness.
i can’t breathe in basements.
the codified letters are to be read with a metronome.
this chest//rage//discordant ink.
fascism isn’t new.
fascism lived in condado.
fascism pushed my face into the sand
when it reached our beaches.
who cares is fascism’s motto.
who cares if the minimum wage goes down in puerto rico.
who cares if all your people die slowly.
fascism is so not-new, that i don’t know the difference
between the rage i feel and the rage i felt.
i fight with my gf because she opened the window and it was cold.
i fight with her because it’s cold and i’m not in puerto rico.
i fight with her because the lamplight is too strong.
i fight with her because it isn’t the río piedras sun.
the fascists want us dead.
neither one of us says it because it’s obvious,
like saying capitalism is the root of all our problems.
it’s so obvious we forget,
or we want to forget because destroying it feels impossible,
when barely living is too much.
i fight with my girlfriend because she forgets
my boricua friend’s name
and because i’m tired.
i self-medicate with poems.
i do rebirth rituals.
i fight with her because i love too much for these times,
because love is an elemental resource,
but never as elemental as self-defense,
which is the most love of all the loves.
we fight because it’s 12,
because a day doesn’t pass where we aren’t afraid,
because all the cross streets read enemy,
because any white man could be armed,
because i am boricua and they record my conversations,
because she is jewish and carries numbers in her blood,
because the fascists are organized
to kill us.
these are obvious things, things we know,
things that reverberate.
many theorists say trauma is time out of joint.
the audiotrack speed
doesn’t match the images.
my mouth also doesn’t say what my face wants;
the words come out too fast and hurtful,
as if it didn’t recognize her.
i think trauma is more like
they put the audiotrack on another series,
as if i spoke for her
and she spoke for the fascists.
it’s so obvious those aren’t her words
it’s so obvious, like saying
capitalism is the root of all our problems
or we can’t fight if we are dead.
inicialmente pienso que peleamos por hambre,
porque buscó las pastillas y las puse en el horno.
tuve que cuidar a mi madre a los 14 años
cuando lloraba como alicia.
llegamos a la cima del yunque
para ver sólo viento y agua.
tengo una lista de razones en el bulto.
razones para odiarte y a todos por extensión:
mi padre tiene cáncer.
el mismo padre que votaría por trump
si no fuese puertorriqueño,
pero es puertorriqueño, como su cáncer,
un cáncer muy puertorriqueño.
acá mis amistades acumulan hormonas;
allá mis amistades llevan años robándole al estado que les robó
recursos que no existen.
siento rabia hacia mis amigxs blancxs,
a quienes no les importa la imposición de la junta,
para quienes esta es la primera dictadura.
les estoy llorando la rabia que siento hacia mi novia,
pero la suelto porque me preocupa su ternura.
no puedo respirar en los sótanos.
las cartas codificadas se leen con metrónomo.
este pecho//rabia//tinta discordante.
el fascismo no es nuevo.
el fascismo vivía en condado.
el fascismo me restregó la cara en la arena
cuando llegó a estas playas.
qué importa es el lema del fascismo.
qué importa que en puerto rico bajen el salario mínimo.
qué importa que toda tu gente muera lentamente.
el fascismo es tan no-nuevo, que no conozco la diferencia
entre la rabia que siento y la rabia que sentí.
le peleo a mi novia porque abrió la ventana y hace frío.
le peleo porque hace frío y no estoy en puerto rico.
le peleo porque la luz de la lámpara es demasiado fuerte.
le peleo porque no es del sol de río piedras.
nos quieren matar a los fascistas.
ninguna lo dice porque es obvio
como decir el capitalismo es la fuente de todos nuestros problemas.
es tan obvio que nos olvidamos,
o queremos olvidarlo porque destruirlo se siente imposible
cuando apenas vivir es tanto.
le peleo a mi novia porque se olvida del nombre
de mi amiga boricua
y porque estoy cansadx.
me automedico con poemas.
realizo rituales de renacimiento.
le peleo porque amo demasiado para estos tiempos,
porque el amor es un recurso elemental,
pero nunca más elemental que la defensa propia,
que es el amor más amor de todos los amores.
nos peleamos porque son las 12,
porque no pasa un día que no nos dé miedo,
porque todos los cruzacalles leen enemigo,
porque cualquier hombre blanco podría estar armado,
porque soy boricua y me graban las conversaciones,
porque es judía y lleva números en la sangre,
porque están organizados los fascistas
son cosas obvias, cosas que sabemos,
cosas que repercuten.
muchos teóricos dicen que el trauma es vivir a destiempo.
la velocidad de la pista del sonido
no cuadra con las imágenes.
mi boca tampoco dice lo que quiere mi cara;
las palabras salen raudas e hirientes
como si no la reconociera.
creo que el trauma es más
como si le pusieran la pista a otra series,
como si yo hablara por ella
y ella hablara por los fascistas.
es tan obvio que no son sus palabras,
es tan obvio, como decir
el capitalismo es la fuente de todos nuestros problemas,
o no podemos pelear si estamos muertxs.
Raquel Salas Rivera has published poetry and essays in numerous anthologies and journals. In 2011, their first book, Caneca de anhelos turbios, was published by Editora Educación Emergente. In 2016, their chapbook, oropel/tinsel, was published by Lark Books & Writing Studio, and their chapbook huequitos/holies was published by La Impresora. Currently, they are a Contributing Editor at The Wanderer. If for Roque Dalton there is no revolution without poetry, for Raquel there is no poetry without Puerto Rico. You can find out more about their work at raquelsalasrivera.com.