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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 28, 2017

Liz Ahl
Defending the Constitution

After such a stink of a week,
spent mostly trapped inside
anxiety’s humid closet, sweating
and sorting out actual threats
from the hot but temporary blast
and bombast of empty rhetoric,
we needed to flood our home
with other scents. The cozy tang of
18 hour overnight slow-cooker stock
conjured from the saved chicken bones,
and vegetable trimmings. The gingery
perfume of West African peanut soup.
The smoky paprika and vinegar
wafting off the all-day pork shoulder
until we couldn’t stand it any more and
dove in. At the airports, lawyers
and protestors carried on with the good work
that called them: defending the Constitution,
loving the neighbor, shouting the truth,
while up here in the woods, we cooked
and ate, stored and saved, shoring up
our own constitutions, fortified and braced
ourselves for the next week back at work.

 

Liz Ahl is the author of Beating the Bounds, forthcoming in 2017 from Hobblebush Books. She has written four chapbooks: Home Economics and Talking About the Weather, both from Seven Kitchens Press in 2012 (the latter as part of the “Summer Kitchen” series); Luck (Pecan Grove, 2010), which received the New Hampshire Literary Awards “Reader’s Choice” in Poetry Award in 2011; and  A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, winner of the 2008 Slapering Hol Press chapbook contest. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration, Atlanta Review, Able Muse, Measure, Cutthroat, and Rappahannock Review.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 27, 2017

Judson Evans
Ring of Gyges

Gyges chanced to turn the stone of the ring on his finger inward, toward the palm of his hand. Instantly he became invisible.
Plato, The Republic

Disembodiment is a kind of terrorism
—Ta-Neshisi Coates

for Mitzi Okou

I want to write about the shootings, the fear,
and I want to write about the Ring of Gyges,
the unearthed feeling in the gut, a fiberglass
submarine dry-docked in the gravel of the gas station.

I want to write about what happens in the interval
between the mask of terrified and mask of the terrible.
As the explorer of the cave finds the giant’s buried body
like an internal organ cast up into light

and snaps off a finger for the marvelous ring,
or the way wreckers of drowned ships
pry a body apart for a bill clip, anesthetized by the distinction of
pallor, the violated distance,

I want to unscript the dissection, a cop feeling the levitation
of a badge, the way added silver lessens
the gravity, The Ring of Gyges placed for the first time
on a finger, the twisted bezel, eye-scan technology,

and that long-ago moment behind the A&P store
divided by a wall, that first omnipotence
of seeing the other without being seen, the mother and handsome
dutiful son carrying hampers of white clothes

from the Laundromat, the refuse heap
all around me, rotting tomatoes and cabbage,
which I flung, saw splatter because I could,
and ran for hours, chased in and out of alleys,

I want to write about the teeter-totter
rhythm, the slip, the ship, the shape of power,
heads or tails of a spinning dime: the nimbus
bent between shapes and shades.

Not every cop feels lighter by the weight
of a gun falling under the spell
of the invisible, by motion of the spin distorted
draw of motion, two sides of the shield.

The cop with a loaded gun approaching the boy
with black water pistol, the discoverer of a ring tests
the safety of numbness, safety of
numbers—nimbus moment’s open flame,

infantile ring of being safe if not seen, the cop behind
the badge, the convex of the shield, bronze body beaten
thin but impenetrable, both feet planted on car hood,
firing through the windshield, not

proximity but range. But what if the shield were flipped,
vacuum-cast concavity, windpipe and belly, between impulse
and injury? Blind, the camouflaged place is called, built
to the body’s vulnerability. The fleshed out stillness

of the object stopped, prey-object, the drained-of-prayer
subject running from the car, shots in the back that follow, tagged, tasered,
it. The couple in the front seat executed again and
again, the turn that can’t be taken back, the names

of children’s games taken by torturers: swing, waterboard, or submarine,
A nickel ride or drone’s impacted distance. Childhood
memory putting on the cloak of invisibility deemed
colorless, the first dream of freedom minus risk,

its weightless, print-less tracks, its destructive wake,
as a child steals Beatle cards from a case in the candy
or jams the handle of the pistachio machine in the Laundromat
to fill his pockets to the ripped lining with absence

of surveillance. I want to write about the chance
in what is seen, the choice in what is
of vision. I want to write about pulling you back
drunk outside the gay bar going after the cop roughing up

the queer kid, your conviction/ my compliance.
What are you looking at? The force contained in who asks
the question? How it’s possible to entertain an optical illusion,
aura of spinning dime, the flip side, the submarine called

Depraved Heart, buoyant by its unanchored freedom, held
for questioning, held for cursing, find only the poverty
of the projection that won’t unfold from the silver nimbus
as the moon is called half or full or a man shackled becomes

handcuffs, seat belts, earplugs. I don’t want to write
about the woman hanged in her cell, the victim of a car
crash crawling toward help, shot through, unshielded.
I want to write about the broken ring, the evacuated

space of a sacred circle where jurors sit,
not the spun dime but the two bars of gold,
competition in the crowd for the straightest verdict,
not The Ring of Gyges as a parable, but

the paradox of our bodies held against us, opaque,
canted toward the light, not The Tale of Gyges, but the dialogue
that follows—the pause, the risk, the difference  of
justice: submersible, pigment-less, yet legible.

 

Judson Evans‘s poems have appeared most recently in Volt, 1913: a journal of forms, Cutbank, and Laurel Review. His haibun have appeared in a number of anthologies of the form, including Journeys 2017: An Anthology of International Haibun (CreateSpace, 2017), edited by Angelee Deodhar, and Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun (Tuttle Publishing, 1998), edited by Bruce Ross. He is Director of Liberal Arts and teaches courses on utopian societies, ancient Greek literature, and Japanese poetry at The Boston Conservatory. He was chosen as an Academy of American Poets emerging poet by John Yau (2007) and won the Philip Booth Poetry Prize from Salt Hill (2103).

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 26, 2017

Stephen Hollaway
Orientation

We have been here before: standing on our head
to reorient ourselves, feet unwilling
to accept nothing as their base, our brains
filling with blood, our core exhausted;
we fall on the tumbling mats we tried to make
our ceiling. On them we sit crossways
as if we knew how to meditate,
as if we could breathe deep of unreality
and find fantastic peace, our minds
flipping our vision upside down
so we can function in the gravity
of the situation.
We have lost
elections before and senseless wars,
times of jokers and fools and monstrous liars.
We try to remember the world did not end,
we are still here, there were always
the possible kindnesses, bread broken together,
talk of what was and might still be.
And yet we tire when we see the trend,
hopes frittered away, justice denied.
We sang, once, as if the kingdom had come,
as if we had grown into a new humanity,
but more than once the disappointment came—
not just in leaders but in ourselves the people.
We wrapped our bodies around the rock as it rolled
down the mountain once again, stopping
with our faces low, peering at that peak
where righteousness and mercy surely dwell,
after every tumble less sure than the last.

 

Stephen Hollaway is a pastor writing from an island thirteen miles out to sea from Rhode Island. This is not far enough away from America.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 25, 2017

Melinda Thomsen
Multi-Layered Chocolate Cake at Mar-a-Lago

“He was eating his cake,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Xi, “and he was silent.”

The three layered chocolate cake
sports a white chocolate sign
that says TRUMP. It rests on a dollop

of white chocolate icing. So, if you order
the cake, you must read TRUMP before
you pick it off and fling it on the floor.

If you eat even one smidge of that white
chocolate diamond TRUMP sign, you swallow
hubris, ignorance, and shallowness whole.

What happens next? Amnesia takes over.
You forget you launched 59 tomahawk
missiles at Syria. You brag they went

to Iraq. You blank on the North Korean
dictator’s name who you just insulted
that morning. That intoxicating confection

of cocoa, eggs, and butter with whipped,
creamy cherry frosting dabbed between
each layer will lobotomize you. Delicious

dark chocolate Ghirardelli icing over
the top reflects only you, a pearl couched
in a blue point oyster, your world.

Dessert permeates your mind. Fingers
of sugar wrest whatever humanity
is left in your brain and rain paranoia

through out room in TRUMP platelets.
Those hardened candies skitter endlessly
under chairs and across neighboring tables.

You order more slices. You shoot TRUMP
signs off faster. You turn into a wood chipper
shooting TRUMP pieces everywhere you can.

People start staring at you as horror creeps
across their faces in a slow march, drained
by hunger and exhaustion, as they remember.

 

Melinda Thomsen is the author of the chapbooks Naming Rights (Finishing Line Press, 2008) and  Field Rations (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Her poetry has appeared in Heliotrope, Poetry East, Big City Lit, New York Quarterly, Heart of the Order: Baseball Poems, Blues for Bill: A Tribute to William Matthews, and Token Entry: New York City Subway Poems.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 24, 2017

Miriam Sagan
Untitled

not everything speaks
nor is it
necessarily silent—the artificial
painted sky inside
the casino
pastel clouds on elusive blue
neoclassical statuary…
what I want
but won’t purchase—
green or pink gelato, your view
of reality
this is…Venice?
of course not
we’re inside
an enormous building
inside
and idea of a city
in the Nevada desert
where fake gondoliers
are actually
poling real
fake gondolas
and singing
arias
in real Italian
to actual tourists

the mime is silent
sheathed in white, or is it shrouded
blank
as the unlined page
but for a dollar
she will smile and
gesture you over
to have your picture taken
with her
this was startling
as if she’d spoken
words of endearment
or if, after all this
I myself had fallen silent.

***

women in headscarves
at the motel breakfast buffet
sit as Fox news
blares
I sit next to them
and the mother of the group
shoots me a dazzling smile,
one girl
wears no scarf
hair falling freely
maybe a cousin
or she’s young enough.
of course I don’t know
but will make up something
since I lack a book
to read over coffee,
mourning doves hoot
and at the rest stop
large signs
warn us of rattlesnakes
while the yucca’s
spiky daggers
house a little flock
of finches,
the new moon
of the Jews
waxes
and you wished the priest
emerging from Christmas eve mass
a boisterous “Happy Hanukkah”
we sat
on the plaza
of old Mesilla
where hundreds
of luminaries—
candles in paper bags of sand—
were lit
and the sun
that shone over everyone
all day
set in the west.

***

pass the checkpoint
in the dark
driving south
towards the border, no need
to explain
why you are heading away
from the country of your birth,
Venus as
evening star
on the right hand
shining over the neighborhoods
of Las Cruces
lit for X-mas
houses outlined
in lights
forming
the luminous shapes
of houses
Orion’s belt
hangs vertical
before us while overhead
dim Pleiades,
in our conversation
you driving
me with my old feet
still up on the dashboard,
the checkpoint is
down, no need
to stop
it’s possible
to tell the truth
without recrimination
as the past
continues on its own
story, with or without us,
darkness
like braille
surrounds us
with a tale
we can understand
just by
touching it.

 

Miriam Sagan is the author of 30 published books, including the novel Black Rainbow (Sherman Asher, 2015) and Geographic: A Memoir of Time and Space (Casa de Snapdragon). winner of  the 2016 Arizona/New Mexico Book Award in Poetry. She founded and headed the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College until her retirement in 2017. Her blog, Miriam’s Well, has a thousand daily readers. She has been a writer in residence in two national parks, at Yaddo, MacDowell, Colorado Art Ranch, Andrew’s Experimental Forest, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Iceland’s Gullkistan Residency for creative people, and another dozen or so remote and unique places. Her awards include the Santa Fe Mayor’s award for Excellence in the Arts, the Poetry Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts, and A Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 23, 2017

James Diaz
A Wound Pulled Me In

I look for horizon line
something descending
like I don’t know what
to call it even
maybe the sound of dying
or shattered things brought indoors

a name on paper
very little reassurance
we are more than fragile
I want to say we are more than we know what to do with

I want to fight you
but I don’t know the method here
the math is odd
and your mouth fierce
a furnace eating poems
I can’t write fast enough
to keep up with your not needing to know how human we are
and deserving
and belonging here
almost more than you

I want to say goodness will win
but I’m not so sure anymore.

 

James Diaz is the founding editor of the literary arts and music journal Anti-Heroin Chic. His work has appeared in Cheap Pop Lit, Ditch, HIV Here & Now, Foliate Oak, Pismire, Chronogram and My Favorite Bullet. His first book of poems, This Someone I Call Stranger, is forthcoming from Indolent Books (2017). He lives in upstate New York.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 22, 2017

Ellen Welcker
Abstractions

I love you, she said, but I love Earth a little bit more.
It was clear she felt bad saying it. A flawless explanation followed.
The totalitarianism of the lanternfish has no song in it.
To absorb one’s mate is a devastating miracle. Remoras
hover around the gills, feeding on fecal exposition like a ghost crab,
in other words, like an education. And the hammerhead
shark is an education. And the great blue whale is an education.
The blobfish, right now, is in a decanter with its own ice cooler.
It’s an exhibition, an emptying out, a devastation.

 

Ellen Welcker’s books are Ram Hands (Scablands Books, fall 2016) and The Botanical Garden, which was selected by Eleni Sikelianos for the 2009 Astrophil Poetry Prize (Astrophil, 2010). Chapbooks include The Pink Tablet, forthcoming in 2017 from Fact-Simile Books; Mouth That Tastes of Gasoline (alice blue, 2014); and The Urban Lightwing Professionals (H_NGM_N, 2011). Recent poems are in Okey-Panky, Gramma Daily, and the anthology WA 129, and forthcoming in Poetry Northwest. She is a 2016 WA State Artist Trust GAP grant recipient, and she lives in Spokane.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 21, 2017

Maya Jewell Zeller
spell for conjuring order: Pleuronectiformes

this is the spell I cannot speak/ the one that has me flattened/ both eyes on the surface/ the sky/ the upper margin/ born again in debris, in the feces of the ocean floor/ you say you feel a renewal/ whenever we talk/ the body of text justified/ against each slender wall/ I call you morphogenetically unusual/ I call you on the phone/ I call you bilaterally symmetrical at birth/ at birth you had eyes on each side/ this is the spell I cannot speak/ the one that leans to one side/ like a backslash/ like back lash/ or wash/ I tell young people you don’t break a line; you compose it/ I tell them a poem is conjured like a spell/ meanwhile I conjure the spell I can’t speak/ on the page I seek you/ after several days the upright fish begins leaning/ the way a person does after years in Idaho/ in my state they call this brainwashing/ everyone knows I’m a sucker for laying the gray matter flat/ & scrubbing/ everyone knows I could give a shit about grammar/ everyone knows I’m a slut for confession/ an open mouth, a summer/ a woman saying things I wish I could say/ my friend says she found my soul mate/ in the middle of all this, she says its gunter grass and he’s dead/ go figure/ she shows me a page of text in which the speaker milks a squid/ she knows I’ll find this sexy & reassuring/ we all know I’ve been making phone calls while writing this down/ the squid takes some coaxing, like pleasuring a mermaid/ I read from a script that demands the resignation of another government asshole/ I demand your resignation immediately/ did you know when the fish leans sideways its eye migrates? / I can well imagine both milking a squid and the inky current of a mermaid’s pleasure/ as for the fish, both eyes end up on one side/ I’m not even kidding/ I take fish very seriously/ Of course over here we cannot stop talking/ there’s such a high call volume I cannot get through/ I leave a message imploring the Senator/ I think next of conjuring you/ With this development/ a number of other complex changes in bones, nerves, and muscles occur/ and the underside of the flounder loses its colour./ As an adult the fish lives on the bottom,/ with the eyed side uppermost/& probably this will result in more phone calls/ and several revisions of syntax/ and some inside jokes / by inside, I mean, inside my own puny matter/ everyone knows I’m a slut for the gray matter/ I could go on/ but we both know I can’t go on—

 

Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of Rust Fish (Lost Horse Press, 2011) and Yesterday, The Bees (Floating Bridge Press, 2015). She lives in the Inland Northwest with her family.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 20, 2017

Claire Wahmanholm
The Witch

A rich talker, thought the children
from their bone cages. They had been watching
the witch for several days and didn’t believe
a word she said. No one ate children anymore.
Not here, at least. And anyway,
not good children. They had already explained this
to the witch so now they just said it aloud to each other.

If she was really going to eat us, one said,
she would have done it by now.
And if she was really going to eat us,
said the other, where’s the oven?
They had heard that this was how
it was done, back when it used to be done,
which was a very very long time ago,
if it had ever even happened at all.

The children thought back to the footprints
they had made in the mud of the riverbank.
It had not rained in several days. Someone would see
the footprints and follow them along the river
and find the hut and the children inside it.
Not that there was any danger.

The hut was getting warm. The children no longer
recognized each other without their
outer layers—their winter coats, their shirts,
their skin. The river appeared then disappeared
through the woods like an enormous needle,
stitching its dark mouth shut.

 

Claire Wahmanholm‘s poems most recently appear or are forthcoming in Birdfeast, Bennington Review, The Collapsar, Newfound, New Poetry from the Midwest 2016, Bateau, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Memorious, The Kenyon Review Online, Handsome, Best New Poets 2015, Elsewhere, BOAAT, The Journal, Winter Tangerine, and DIAGRAM. Find her online at clairewahmanholm.com.

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What Rough Beast | Poem for April 19, 2017

Juan Chemes
Mothers

To turn ninety six to dust
and dust into dust-storms
and dust-storms
into nothingness

and dare to call
that pissing contest
mother?

(not my
mother or
almost any
other mother)

To defy and risk my mornings
and turn mornings into mourns
and mourns into dust and dust
into dinosaurs?

(You don’t even
know their mother
the one who
drops the mic) so…

Enjoy,
may your
devil’s feast
be your monster’s ball.

 

Juan Chemes is currently writing a thesis for his MFA in creative writing at Adelphi University in New York City.

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