Transition: Poems in the Aftermath

A poem a day by a different poet responding to the election from Nov. 9 to Jan. 20
Submit poems via our Submittable site.

Transition Poem 63 @ Jan. 10, 2017

Stephanie Kaylor
On Board

truck: commodities for bart-
er or exchange, etymologically
preexisting the engine, its
oil & mechanics only incidental
((bearing no weight no name
but that which was waiting at
the loading dock
like a virgin womb
finding itself taken
onboard))

***

in Pennsylvania
the men were always
real men waiting
was the road between
here
and there

on the horizon
a woman in diamonds,
the lipsticked outline
of a sun setting into No

***

a girl waits
at the truck stop
where she heard her life
will be great

again
in the passenger’s seat
of a vehicle made for one
solitary driver sweating

his crumpled bills still
warm in her faux leather
purse, he told her
afterward she owed him
change

pants around his ankles

a withering erection
pointing toward god

 

Stephanie Kaylor is a student at European Graduate School whose research interests include feminist theories of relationality and narrative structure. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Queen Mob’s Tea House, BlazeVOX, and The Willow Review.

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Transition Poem 62 @ Jan. 9, 2017

Joanna Fuhrman
To a New Era

Fuck you with your tufts of violence
growing above your groin
with your busted lip called media
and your automatic, gilded
imitation-platinum blade-studded cock ring,
encircling a planet you’re ready to destroy.

The Old Era may have been a fragment
floating in an ocean of private prisons,
chicken-shit rivers, and remote
controlled wars, but it smelled like lilacs
and artistically-sourced lattes
and it knew how to read on a 12th grade level.

Unlike you who reduces Wollstonecraft’s
Vindication of the Rights of Women
to a garbled idiom tattooed in micro-script
above Frankenstein’s monster’s blazing pee-hole.

Please, gods of sunlight and morning naps,
goddesses of semicolons, give us
another chance to welcome in
the better angels of nurture,

to open our arms wide enough that our flesh
becomes a stained-glass house
the exile can find comfort in and recreate
out of whispers and tulip hearts.

Let our desire for kindness be larger
than the sickness of our fear.

 

Joanna Fuhrman is the author of five books of poetry, most recently The Year of Yellow Butterflies (Hanging Loose Press 2015) and Pageant (Alice James Books 2009).

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Transition Poem 61 @ Jan. 8, 2017

Jason Schneiderman
Anger

When I was angry,
I kept asking how
anger works.
No one understood

my question.
Friends thought I was joking.
Or being obtuse.
Friends would say: What

do you mean
how anger works
Anger is anger. What
are you asking.

And I would say:
Well. Is anger
a finite
material.

Is anger like hydrogen,
and there’s simply
a certain amount
of it in the universe.

Is there a zero sum
of anger, a law
of the conservation
of anger,

and can we
pass it back
and forth.

Can you take my anger
and leave me less?
Can I take your anger
and then have more?

Is anger a renewable
resource, like trees
or coral reef, subject
to natural rhythms

and mass die offs,
forest fires,
and warming tides,
cycles of growth and depletion.

Is anger something
you spend like money,
that you save or spend
and is gone as it goes,

or something that
is replenished like ejaculate,
more on the way
as soon as you send some off

or is anger like ova,
each egg coming
on its own schedule,
until they run out.

Is anger like pus,
a response to a wound,
that you can drain,
or that you can heal,

Or is anger like a gas
you can vent
so it won’t explode
the tiny vessel

or is anger like water
that will explode
the water balloon
unless you tie it off

at the right time.
I thought someone
had to know
the answer

because I was consumed
by anger,
it was under
everything I did

I felt it all the time,
all the time,
and it never
departed.

I didn’t have a breakdown,
though I asked friends
if what I was experiencing
was a breakdown (no,

they said, a breakdown
looks only
like a breakdown), and
I looked OK,

but no one knew
how to help me,
and I told a friend
that I wasn’t OK

and she told me
that I was OK,
but the anger was there
all the time,

like a pair of shoes
that were always
between me
and the ground I walked on,

and I kept asking everyone
how anger works:
Can you drain it?
Can you vent it?

Can you stop it?
Can you heal it?
Can you trade it?
Can you sell it?

And no one,
no one, no one,
no one knew
what I was asking

until finally
someone asked me
to describe
what I was feeling,

and she said
you’re not talking
about anger
you’re talking about rage,

and I realized
that I’ve never
experienced anger.
I only know rage.

Which helped a lot.
Which explained why
I could only think
about striking out

and then not strike out.
Which explained why
I knew which plants
in my garden could be made

into poisons, and how.
Which explained
why my daydreams
turned into

elaborate fantasies
about harming people,
until I did the things
I imagined to myself,

and listen, please listen,
I knew it was bad,
and I wanted out, but
I couldn’t write

my way out of it,
and I couldn’t think
my way out of it,
and I couldn’t love

my way out of it,
and I couldn’t read
my way out of it,
and I thought I would live

with it forever,
that I would contain
it at whatever price
I had to pay,

and I’m telling you this,
and I need you to listen,
because I’m saying
that I do understand

what it’s like to want
everyone else to suffer
as much as you
are suffering,

and I understand
what it’s like
to want to die
both to contain

the pain of rage,
and to spread
the pain of rage,
and when you read

of this murder or
that bombing, know,
these killers are not
inhuman or monstrous,

but rather that they
are weak vessels for rage,
that they are balloons
that burst with their rage,

that they are pipe bombs made
of flesh and bone,
and peace is what I want
more than anything else,

but peace is so fragile,
so easy to take, so easy
to lose, and so they take it
from you, to feel less alone,

and I’m out of it now
because I thought
I had done it to myself,
but I didn’t. And I see

that now. I’m closer
to peace. I’m further
from rage. I’m a bomb
no longer ticking,

but I was a bomb.
Hold me tight.
I was a bomb.
Hold me tight.

 

Jason Schneiderman is the author of Primary Source (Red Hen Press 2016), Striking Surface (Ashland Poetry Press 2010), and Sublimation Point (Four Way Books 2004). He edited the anthology Queer: A Reader for Writers (Oxford University Press 2015). His work has appeared in journals and anthologies including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Poetry London, Grand Street, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Story Quarterly, Tin House. He is Poetry Editor of the Bellevue Literary Review and Associate Editor of Painted Bride Quarterly. He is an Associate Professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York.

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Transition Poem 60 @ Jan. 7, 2017

Kristi Maxwell
Before After

The breadking appeared
in breaking’s misspelling: his rise
accidental, and, now, yeas exchanged
for yeast. The laughability tempers
the tragedy, but does not change it.
Language always the jester.
What do you think the Cheshire cat’s
grin was made of if not the word teeth?
But it wasn’t the word, though t’s
touched t’s to demarcate each tooth
in the cartoon mouth. It was the idea—
and the irreconcilability between the idea
and its articulation.

 

Kristi Maxwell is the author of Realm Sixty-Four (Ahsahta Press, 2008), Hush Sessions (Saturnalia, 2009), RE- (Ahsahta Press, 2011), That Our Eyes Be Rigged (Saturnalia Books, 2014), and Plan/k (Horse Less Press, 2015). Her honors include the Greta Wrolstad Scholarship for Young Poets through the Summer Literary Seminars, the Phyllis Smart- Young Prize in Poetry, and the Margaret Sterling Memorial Award.

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Transition Poem 59 @ Jan. 6, 2017

Cammy Thomas
November 1968

—a reflection for November 2016

My Classics teacher at Boston University
came to class wearing a black armband.
Nixon had won, Nixon the war-monger,
the racist, the liar, had won.

The fear had started sooner, with JFK’s
death, Jackie’s pink, blood-stained suit,
the caisson and the riderless horse.
In Georgia, Lester Maddox threatened black people
with ax handles. In Memphis, April 1968,
King was shot dead and the cities burned,
and in June, the day after my graduation,
Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

When that summer’s Democratic Convention
turned into a riot in the streets of Chicago,
I thought the old way must end–
“The whole world is watching”–
the revolution would come and we could
exit Vietnam, cancel Wall Street, and
live in the peace of all nations.

I thought the world would right itself
and the elders give way. Instead,
George Wallace, unabashed
segregationist, won five states.

Instead, napalmed Vietnamese children
appeared in Ramparts Magazine,
their eyes burned off, limbs infected–
tiny amputees too sick to cry.
And that was my government.

I learned that the world kept turning
even when children were tortured.

I didn’t end the war. Peace sign
around my neck, I walked barefoot
down Fifth Avenue, sang
Bob Dylan songs by heart,
read aloud from Howl, hitchhiked
to Arizona, to Mexico, to California.
1968 was the first time I voted,
and the bleakest, up until now.

 

Cammy Thomas has published two collections of poetry with Four Way Books, Inscriptions (2014), and Cathedral of Wish, winner of the 2006 Norma Farber Award from the Poetry Society of America. She teaches at Concord Academy. Visit cammythomas.com.

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Transition Poem 58 @ Jan. 5, 2017

Christine Stoddard
Thirty Pounds in Three Months

On August 8, 2016, all 5’1 of my Salvadoran flesh and bones weighed 115 pounds.
My weight was documented, though I am myself undocumented.
This doctor accepted all patients, including ones whose parents stopped communicating with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
when she was still in lacquered pigtails, watching Topo Gigio on Saturdays.
The doctor’s office quoted me the same rates any documented person would pay,
but, sometimes, I still wondered if the office manager would call the police to cart me away in my hospital gown, nalgas flailing in the faces of passersby.
I did not harbor much trust or even hope, given that I was always second-guessing where to dock my ship next. Was it safe to live here another year without papers?
I worked for an auto repair shop, taking my weekly salary in cash, which my boss skimmed off the top from overquoted jobs that clueless customers also paid in cash.
But if my boss fired me, where would I work next? Who would hire me without my papers in order? Who would pay me as well as this seedy little business paid me every week to keep their office in as tip-top shape as I kept my ship? How would I feed my son? Would I have to return to El Salvador, which I had not seen since I still thought Papá Noel was real? Since I was too young to appreciate the lorocos in my pupusas? These questions were etched in my psyche, as common as asking what the weather was or if I needed to go to the grocery store. But the news made them multiple. With each tweet, each meme, each sound bite, I gained half an ounce.
I became less mobile. I sat on the sofa, hugging my son as I scrolled through my phone as a reflex. In reality, I was barely aware of his presence. I mainly thought of him when hunger hit me. No, not hunger, simply a need for food. The election spurred my oral fixation and I had to shove whatever snack, however unappealing or unnecessary, into my mouth. He said. She said. Back and forth ad nauseam.
On September 8, 2016, all 5’1 of my Salvadoran flesh and bones weighed 125 pounds. I might have noticed if I weren’t so preoccupied. Instead, I boiled more beans after work and obsessed over the latest immigration scares, as if my fear could change anything. All that changed was the fit of my clothes, especially pants.
By October 8, 2016, I had to buy new clothes as urgently as I needed to visit the doctor. That was how I found myself dialing the doctor’s office from the dressing room of a discount department store. I wept as I spoke to the receptionist.
The doctor could not explain my weight gain. She only asked questions for which I had no answers. Normally, I had answers to questions, but suspected pirates would raid my ship at any moment. Surely I could not respond to “Who are you voting for?”
with “I am an illegal alien and cannot vote even though I have lived in this damn country most of my life—25 years—but that’s how it is because the law is cruel.”
The doctor promised to run a few tests and get back to me. I heard nothing.
By November 8, 2016, I did not recognize myself with 30 extra pounds on my frame.
My face was bloated, my hands were fat. Yet as I watched a map of the U.S.
blush until it glowed red, I knew I wasn’t suffering from cancer or a thyroid condition. And I knew that it would take me four years to lose the weight,
though I might be slimming down por allá because of the new administration.

 

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist who lives in Brooklyn. Christine also is the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine, as well as the author of Hispanic & Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), Ova (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and two miniature books from the Poems-For-All series.

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Transition Poem 57 @ Jan. 4, 2017

J. Bradley
To the frog-faced men who use the word cuck as a knife

There is such joy when your wife tells you
how this week’s stranger opened her
like a love letter, when she says “yes”
after you ask whether he left anything behind.

You can’t blame her for finding men thicker than you
in all the right places. Your skin flushes
when you compare the scale of their parts to yours.

She always comes home to you.
While she sleeps, you count all the teeth marks,
bruises, and handprints. What they don’t understand
is that some men need to feel small
in order to be men.

 

J. Bradley is the author of the poetry collection Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), the novella Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012), the graphic poetry collection The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014), illustrated by Adam Scott Mazer, the prose poem chapbook It Is A Wild Swing Of A Knife (Choose the Sword Press, 2015), the flash fiction chapbook No More Stories About The Moon (Lucky Bastard Press, 2016), the novel The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016) and the Yelp review prose poem collection Pick How You Will Revise A Memory (Robocup Press, 2016). His flash fiction chapbook, Neil, won Five Quarterly‘s 2015 e-chapbook contest for fiction. His story, “Kyle”, was selected for Wigleaf‘s top 50 (very) short fictions for 2016. He is the curator of the Central Florida reading series There Will Be Words. He received an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.

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Transition Poem 56 @ Jan. 3, 2017

Pat Schneider
Hope Is Not a Thing

God, I bow down.
I don’t understand.
The world we love
strains to the point
of exhaustion.

Mercy thins, hope
is not a thing with
feathers. It is a gold
trinket in a crow’s
nest, out of reach.

Teacher, teach us.
We have been here
before. The story’s
end is hidden in
a cloud of future.

Our minds fail us.
Assail us, O God.
The world falls apart.
The only hope now
is the human heart.

 

Pat Schneider‘s most recent book is How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice (Oxford University Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in Chrysalis, Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal, Minnesota Review, Ms., New York Quarterly, North Dakota Quarterly, Sewanee Review, The Sun, and Thema, among others. Pat is the founder of Amherst Writers & Artists, an international network of workshop leaders who use the writing method described in Pat’s book, Writing Alone and With Others (Oxford University Press, 2003). For her work with underserved populations, Pat has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

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Transition Poem 55 @ Jan. 2, 2017

Marie Coma-Thompson
Asses

Magic, do as you will
and let the beaches fall
into the asses
of the people

and let the speakers
have their voices switched
for nails and high-pitched
drones

and let the rocks
fill up with water
and soften at their edges,
and I say

I will throw you.

I say

You will be a legend to
all water
balloons

and I say

I’m closing my eyes now, and
let’s see
who you hit

 

Marie Coma-Thompson lives in Louisville, KY where she teaches Kundalini Yoga and attends graduate school for clinical mental health counseling.  She has been a featured reader at the Speak Social reading series as well as a featured emerging writer at the InKY series. Her work has previously been published in Maudlin House.

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Transition Poem 54 @ Jan. 1, 2017

Timothy Liu
Ode to Barack

When I knew
he wasn’t coming

back, I didn’t

wash the sheets
for over

a year, his scent

mixed with mine
until that too

became so faint

it retreated
into memory

like everything

else I had
to let go of

as I stripped

our mattress
to make room

for whomever

else might
want to

fuck me harder.

Timothy Liu‘s latest book of poems is Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia Books, 2014). He lives in Manhattan and Woodstock, NY. Visit timothyliu.net​.

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