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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 104 — Nancy Naomi Carlson, Miles David Moore, Katherine E. Young

Nancy Naomi Carlson

My Father’s Word

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”

—William James, 1892

My father paces his shrinking room with a single bed. Unadorned walls bruise his fists. He forgets what a razor is for. No more eggs over easy, shaped like amoebas each morning, nor canned salmon and peas mid-day. He forgets what a fork is for. No more tracking his stocks in the news, but he checks on the date throughout his waking hours. He records each meal on paper slips. He remembers the year Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game, but forgets how to turn on his pocket radio, held together by rubber bands. He can’t decide what to wear, nor on which side his part is combed. No more favorite color, though Mother reminds him that blue brings out his eyes. He no longer remembers how to undress for bed. Last night he recalled a greeting in French for his Haitian aide, but some nights he only screams. No more rowing a boat to the shore. No more dancing away the night. Each dawn a surprise.

Copyright © 2017 by Nancy Naomi Carlson.

Corpse Pose

We practice dying a little each time, like the German Shepherd I trained to play dead, until the day he got carried away. We twist into Bharadvaja’s pose. After downward-facing dogs and plows, we are lizard, we are cobra, we are dragonfly, falling. Imperfect, we crave garlands. We must learn to let the body fend for itself in the dark. The heart, slack with indifference, slows. We release the white bird of breath from its cage, and the mind scatters. No birds of paradise flock to our body’s leavings. We are the eye of the needle, we are carrion flower, we are half moon, rising.

Copyright © 2017 by Nancy Naomi Carlson.


—School counselor’s log

This seems too easy a job, easing her into the salt-licked ocean of feelings despite herself, despite her initial recoil at my lapping questions: If a DC-bound train leaves New York at 9 a.m. and meets at noon a New York-bound train that left DC at 10 a.m., what is the speed of each train? Who is steering the train—your mother, your son, or your ex? Does its rocking motion make you sick? She’s not particularly fond of word problems. She hates the numbered streets of New York with their ever-increasing, unstoppable rise, like rage, and wants to change trains to mine. She’d like to be the horn that warns those who dwell on tracks to repent. I self disclose: I prefer calamitous coal. When I stick out my hand, I conduct the air. Maybe I’ve said too much.

Copyright © 2017 by Nancy Naomi Carlson.

After I Swallowed the Willow Tree

After I swallowed the willow tree, I began to sprout twinned stems from ring fingers, baskets from hollowed ears. From my head, a hive of bees that crowned me queen. They promised to bring me spoils of flight, but I demurred, too proud. From my hands, a meadow that led to a stream. I stooped for a drink. I drained the river dry and found a penny wedged between two reeds. Heads or tails, I bet the lark. She called tails as we watched the coin arc past our eyes, then plunge into my open palm. I won. She wept inconsolably. I swallowed her song, and through me the earth ceased to mourn.

Copyright © 2017 by Nancy Naomi Carlson. Previously published by Denver Quarterly.

About the Author

Nancy Naomi Carlson has received grants from the NEA, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. She has authored 7 titles, including 4 books of translations. Hammer with No Master (poems by René Char) was a 2017 CLMP Firecracker Poetry Award finalist. Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as APR, Boulevard, Gargoyle, The Georgia Review, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner.

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Miles David Moore

It Was Over So Fast

like one of the shorter

fugues from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier

but you were distracted

and missed the first notes;

the rhythm skittered senselessly away.

Just as you caught up

with the comingled voices

and you realized this

was something that nourished you—

music to love, and even to live by—

it stopped.

Copyright © 2017 by Miles David Moore.

Poem of Ecstasy

It is just before the light seeps in,

and the radio has been on all night.

The host announces the next selection,

Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy,

which you have never heard before,

and the station has never played before.

The music is formless layers of smoke

billowing from far underground.

You see the gunmetal gray miasma

and smell the world on fire.

You like to leave the radio on

all night. You like to have

those great purveyors of tapestries—

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms—

unfurl their wares in front of you,

weaving them into your dreams.

Tonight, however, it did not work.

The music was only the chittering

of zoetrope fiends on your bedroom wall.

You hugged yourself in the dark,

knowing the shadows would be real by morning.

You thought please don’t let the light come

oh god please no light

And then—light.

Scriabin’s conflagration

ends on a triumphant chord

that does not seem to fit the music.

The sky-blue-pink of a sunny dawn

butters the room. The radio,

serene as Wilhelm Kempff’s piano,

plays “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

Copyright © 2017 by Miles David Moore.

Sir, I Exist

In the half-second

after the longest red light in the world

changes to green

comes the parade:

a blaring wall of ambulances,

police cars, fire trucks

from the opposite side, demanding

the absolute and total right

to go save someone’s life.

The last beast in the caravan

switches its blinking red tail

through the intersection as the green light

flickers yellow,

leaving you at the longest red light again.

From the tiny Fiat at your side

comes the single beep

of the man late to the dry cleaners

or the date with his One and Only

or driving himself to dialysis.

It is the sad, inexcusable rage

of one caught in something larger than he—

the superseded,

the left behind.

Copyright © 2017 by Miles David Moore.

About the Author

Miles David Moore was founder and host of the IOTA poetry reading series in Arlington from 1994 to 2017, when IOTA closed its doors. He will resume the series at FireFlies in Alexandria in November 2017. He is a reporter for Crain Communications Inc. and film reviewer for the online arts magazine Scene 4. His books of poetry are The Bears of Paris (Word Works, 1995); Buddha Isn’t Laughing (Argonne House Press, 1999); and Rollercoaster (Word Works, 2004).

Katherine E. Young

Bar at the Folies-Bergère

It starts with the scent of lavender as she

buttons clean pantaloons, laces up stays,

smooths her bodice and shakes out the frills,

ties the black ribbon about her neck.

Her costume smells, as they all do: mingled

sweat and makeup, the fabric itself,

splashed, perhaps, with the licorice twist of absinthe.

Then come powder and rouge, the small earrings,

a pink and white corsage already starting

to droop. Her props are placed on view: beer bottles,

champagne, a vase containing two pale roses,

cut glass bowl of oranges that may

or may not indicate a certain kind

of availability. Leaning on

the marble bar, she doesn’t look at you

(Why should she look at you? Can you give her

what she needs, or even cab fare home?):

posing, perhaps, or perhaps beyond posing,

her face bleak, artificially rosy amid

the moon-pale globes and crystals shimmering

in the ersatz heaven of the cabaret.

Perhaps a man inspects her in the glass,

perhaps he’s looking past; neither of them

seems to see the woman on the trapeze,

feet squeezed into ankle boots of lizard green.

Later, she observes his red-gold lashes,

watches his still-young face slacken in sleep,

breathes in his scent of cigars, cheap brandy,

scent that clings to her fingers like orange

oil as she works her nails beneath the skin,

methodically stripping the pith to find

whatever’s left of the fruit’s sweet flesh.

Copyright © by Katherine E. Young.

Commissioned by the Washington Shakespeare Theatre and published in Poets Are Present Anthology (Washington Shakespeare Theatre, 2015).

The Moor Browses Books in Baghdad

My parts, my title, and my perfect soul

Shall manifest me rightly.

—Othello, I, ii

On the Baghdad street best known

for booksellers, a cameraman pans

the brand-new kitchen of a café

passed down, father to son, for generations.

One son — the old man says in the film —

had brought his child to work that day.

Other sons boiled coffee, paid bills,

took out the trash. The car bomb

blew up all five sons, splattered them

across the café walls; the old man himself

found his grandson’s headless corpse.

He says this calmly, clearly — as if

he’s telling someone else’s story.

Here in Washington, DC,

where the film’s being screened,

spring clenches its bony fist again,

pale shiver of cherry blossoms

dotting gnarled tree limbs.

Panhandlers zip their jackets,

jangle change; someone sings

Teddy P. through a portable mic.

At the theater next door, the Moor

darkens his brows; Desdemona

slips out for one last smoke.

Waiting for the curtain’s rise,

a couple in row D recounts

what they remember of the plot.

“But what’s his motivation?” asks the woman,

“The cause of all that hate?”

“It’s mentioned early,” says the man,

“Something petty, I forget.”

When, in Scene One, the villain hisses

his reasons, the man nudges the woman:

here, pay attention!

The Moor’s still offstage — but we know

he’s lurking in the wings: one hand

might be settling a wayward badge,

the other fingering a scar’s smooth seam.

Perhaps he’s soundlessly mouthing

the tale that makes women swoon:

how grand, how inscrutable is this man!

Is he badge, scar, costume, tale,

all of these at once — or none?

Is he an honest, an honorable man?

He clearly thinks so. We think:

how poorly he knows himself.

But what should we expect of the Moor?

Is he not skin of our skin, bone

of our bone, brother in all but name?

Perhaps he, too, once passed

through Baghdad: perhaps he lingered

as we would on the booksellers’ street

where, one day, someone else’s sons

— also men of parts, of titles, of equally

perfect souls — will nudge a car full

of explosives toward a parking spot.

Here, pay attention!

The old man in the café on the rebuilt street

where they sell books even now is saying

“For my country, for Iraq,

I’d give my sons again.”

Again the Council urgently convenes.

Backstage, the props mistress checks her list:

handkerchief, hairpins, pillow, sheets.

A thousand and one nights,

a thousand-thousand and one nights,

again and yet again

— sheer stupidity of it all! —

a man whose soul’s in shreds

will smother the woman who loves him,

will murder another man’s children,

will sacrifice his sons.

Here, pay attention!

For now, at last, they summon the Moor

— haste you, Sir — entreat him

most piteously to sally forth,

save the Civilized World once more.

Copyright © by Katherine E. Young.

Commissioned by the Washington Shakespeare Theatre and previously published in Asides Online (2016).


In this final scene, my son’s on stage,

bouncing his ball beneath the hoop,

berating himself with every miss.

A spotlight circumscribes his world:

foul line scuffed between the beds,

basket adjusted to just his height,

chicken wire strung up to save

the neighbors’ roses. Here in the wings,

a lover beats me black and blue.

Soon he’ll shove me back before

the footlights, where the actor playing

my husband will rouse himself, bemused,

finger my bruises, disconnect

on cue. I’ll exit, towel off

my pancake base, peel back my lashes

in the green room mirror. Meanwhile

the Awful Messenger arrives,

speaks his lines to my son, who’s

already screaming as shot after

errant shot ricochets into

the plastic phlox, the black-eyed susans.

Copyright © 2010 by Katherine E. Young.

Previously published in Subtropics 19 (Spring/Summer 2015).

About the Author

Katherine E. Young is the author of Day of the Border Guards, 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize finalist, and two chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Subtropics, and many others. Young is also the translator of Two Poems by Inna Kabysh; her translations of Russian and Russophone authors have won international awards and been published widely in the U.S. and abroad; several have been made into short films. Young is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts translation fellow and currently serves as the inaugural Poet Laureate for Arlington, Virginia.

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